An Okra Walked Into A Bar…

This week was going to be the week I finally gave out the recipe for the world’s greatest sweet potato pie.  The life-changing pie that I had at my friend Maxie’s church potluck.

Honest, this pie made me, who’s never been a fan of sweet potato pies literally steal a piece to take home for later, then ration each bite so it took me three days to eat.

But I changed my mind (the pie’s coming next week—I promise).

Even though I may come off like I have this exciting, glittering social life, unless it’s the grocery store or library, I honestly don’t get out much.  The last time I was at the movies, Greta Garbo was the next big thing.

They all had 1990s skinny eyebrows in the 1930s…

Well, Friday night, I went with a friend, to a bar.

It was a wild, frenzied night of abandon.  We each had one alcoholic beverage and shared two appetizers (I know, I need to calm down from my hard-partying, rock star ways.).

I had something delicious with blueberry and rum to drink.  One plate was poutine, a French-Canadian delicacy comprised of French fries covered with cheese curds and brown gravy—it truly is food of the gods, and this place makes the best.

Hummina hummina.

But the second item is the reason you won’t be getting that sweet potato pie recipe this week.

It was okra.  I thought that cornmeal coated, fried okra was this poor, misunderstood, and maligned vegetable’s highest calling.  But I was wrong.  It’s the okra we had Friday night.

Okra is such an ancient vegetable that no one actually knows where it first grew; either Africa or Asia.  But it’s no mystery that Africans brought it to America where it’s been growing for so long in the South that Thomas Jefferson wrote about it.

Growing okra is not for the faint of heart.  It must be tended by hand, in the heat of the summer.  There are spines on it which cause some people to swell and itch.  The roots are shallow, so you must take care weeding and harvesting as not to damage it.  Okra grows up to six feet so there is much stooping and reaching.  And if you wait too long to gather it, it becomes too tough and woody to eat.

You know, I love okra, but I don’t think even I love it this much.

And the eating of it brings another stumbling block.  There’s no pretending or camouflaging it, okra has an unapologetic green, earthy, vegetal flavor.  And then, of course, there’s that texture.  In scientific parlance, it’s called mucilage.  Most of us know it as slime.  That’s why the favored preparation is breading and frying.  It all but eliminates the s-word. 

Is that not glorious?

It’s almost as if okra’s daring us to love it.

But if you don’t love this okra dish, there’s no hope for you.

Cast Iron Skillet Okra

1pound okra, cleaned and cut in half, lengthwise

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Kosher salt, to taste

Preheat oven to 180 and place a shallow oven-proof dish inside.

Put ½ tablespoon of oil into cast iron skillet and heat to medium-high.  Lay half the okra, cut-side down into skillet in single layer and cook for 4 minutes.  When it’s very browned, flip over and cook 2 minutes more, until tender.  Then sprinkle with half the salt and toss lightly to make sure each okra’s salted.  Place in dish in oven to wait and cook the second half.

Serves 2-4.

So, here’s the thing.  This stuff is so good, so easy, that if you don’t try it, you’ve got only yourself to blame.  But I won’t be mad, I’ll just be disappointed.  Disappointed, over here in the corner, eating this wondrous okra.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at

Quel delizioso!

Nature loves diversity.

Or, as any self-respecting, pocket protector owning, socially awkward uber-geek knows that put another way, is the statement which forms the basis of Vulcan philosophy; infinite diversity in infinite combinations.

The diverse combination of which I speak today isn’t quite as exotic as the love child of a blue-skinned, antennaed Andorian and a species which looks like nothing so much as an evolved Tyrannosaurus Rex, a Pahkwa-thanh.It’s an egg dish which is a culinary marriage of Italy and France.

In France, there is something called a galette.  There are actually two somethings.  One galette is a free-form pie.  You roll out a large circular shape of short crust pastry.  Rustic is the name of the game here, so you don’t want a flawless geometric circle with clean, perfect edges.You then place the filling on the dough, leaving a two-inch border around the edge.  The edge is folded up and painted with an egg wash.  If it’s a sweet galette, sugar is sprinkled over the whole confection, and it’s baked to golden perfection.  A savory version is made the same way, only sprinkled with salt, pepper, and any herbs or spices desired.

But it’s the other type of galette which is used in our diversity dish.

I like pie, I really do.  My mom makes a pecan pie to break your heart.  Warm apple pie wearing a scoop of rich vanilla ice cream is a well-deserved, delicious classic.  And all Edwards frozen pies are really tasty, but their lemon merengue with vanilla wafer crust is almost a religious experience.Like I said, pie is a gift from the culinary gods, but the second type of galette has to my favorite…it’s taters.  If I had to give up either pie or spuds forever, it would be goodbye pie.

In this galette, waxy potatoes are peeled and sliced about 1/8 inch thin.  Then you melt some butter in a cast iron pan and, starting at the center, lay down slices of potato in a rosette pattern.  Repeat for a total of three layers, seasoning each layer.With a traditional galette, you brown the first side, then place a plate over the skillet, flip it, return it to the pan cooked side up, and brown the bottom.

With this treatment, you flip the potatoes and turn the heat down.  Then for the Italian portion; called a frittata, beat beat up 6 eggs, season them, and stir in some bacon, caramelized onion, lightly steamed broccoli florets, and sundried tomatoes.  Pour it over the spuds and cook for 5 to 6 minutes or until it starts to set around the edges.frittata galetteSprinkle the top with crumbled goat cheese.  Then set the pan in the oven under a low broiler until the frittata is just set, and it’s puffed and very lightly golden.  Remove from oven, slide it onto a serving platter, let it sit for a minute or two, then slice and serve.   It will feed six.  It’s actually good cold, so leftovers make a great lunch the next day.

So, when I was telling The Kid about this recipe, I didn’t explain which kind of galette I was talking about.  And when I got to the part about flipping it, my child got very confused, with visions of an up-ended free-form cherry pie.  But when I explained it was a potato galette the dish got a vote of confidence.

So my lesson is a new twist on a brunch dish.

And The Kid’s advice is if you have a pie, don’t flip it upside down.Thanks for your time.

Flipping a steak…on its ear

Denver steak is one nifty piece of beef.



Even though cows have been domesticated for 5000 years, the cut called Denver steak was only ‘discovered’ in 1990 by meat science professors at the Universities of Nebraska and Florida.

It’s the fourth most tender bovine muscle; just behind filet mignon, the flatiron, and the ribeye cap.  Because it’s a newer cut of steak, it can be hard to find.  Ask your own butcher or try First Hand Food’s Denver steak; they’re a North Carolina supplier of pasture-raised meats (check their website for where to find them).

But as much as I like Denver steak, it’s really the preparation method that’s the star of this piece.  It takes the normal, accepted way of home-cooking a steak, and turns it inside-out.

Reverse Steak


Served here with sauteed spinach and potato salad.

First dry-age your steak (heavily salt, loosely wrap in paper towel and let rest in fridge for three days).  This will intensify the flavor and get seasoning througout the meat.

When ready to cook, place the meat on a cooling rack on a foil covered cookie sheet.  Insert a probe thermometer (or use an instant-read during the cooking process) set to 120 degrees, and place in a 275 degree oven.

When the steak reaches temp (about 30-45 minutes, depending on thickness) remove from oven, and let it rest while you get a cast iron, or other heavy bottomed pan, screaming hot. 

When the surface is almost molten, sprinkle freshly cracked pepper on each side of steaks.  Drop in some butter, then place in steaks.  Cook until a golden crust is formed, then flip and cook other side.  Let rest for 5 minutes or so, then serve. You’re looking for a final temp of around 125 degrees for medium-rare.

This reverse technique cooks the steak uniformly throughout, with no overly cooked gray ring around the outer edge.  The only caveat is the meat should be at least an inch thick, and the thicker the better.

But beware: you’ll think that you’ve messed up when you take it from the oven.  It comes out looking like a flaccid piece of beef jerky.  It will be ox-blood in color and tired in appearance.  But that’s ok, I promise.


Sad, isn’t it?  But there’s a happy ending.

Cooking this way cuts down on the smoke and grease-flying of stove-top cooking.  It’s also a more leisurely process, making the preparation of sides a measurably less nerve-racking experience.

Steak night is a big night.  So do it right.  You want to make it memorable because it was so delicious, not because you ruined dinner and ended up dining on Big Macs and Mylanta.

Thanks for your time.

Do your homework

This column was originally published in the Herald-Sun 6/6/2012.

For you, gentle readers, I do quite a bit of research for these essays. I watch way too much food television. I experiment, culinarily. I also read many articles on the interwebs. (Confidentially, I would probably do it even without the motivation of a weekly column.)
Recently, on Huffpost, there was a piece on the dos and don’ts of shopping warehouse clubs.
It caught my eye, because I love me some sweet, sweet, Costco. It holds a dark fascination for me that really isn’t healthy.
My relationship with Costco isn’t an easy one. Many early trips saw me trying to fit all kinds of random things into my car trunk. If anyone out there has any use for the entire filmography of Dana Andrews on Beta Max, please let me know. And I honestly don’t know why I thought my little family could use up 235 D batteries before the next ice age.
But, after much time, and exercising superhuman self-control, occasionally I can get out of there for less than $100. Not often, but occasionally.
The catalytic article supplied a list of foodstuffs that one must or must not buy at a warehouse club.
A few of the do-bees on the list, meat, cooking oil, and nuts, are good ideas, for me. They butcher their meat on-site, and it is usually beautiful. Unless you feed twenty or more diners each night, you will have to break it up into smaller amounts, and freeze it. My own shopping habits have produced quite a bounty for freezer bag industry. I guess that makes me a job creator.
Costco has a cut of meat that they call tri-tip. It’s not the usual triangular shaped piece of beef you might be familiar with. It’s cut into long strips, five or six inches long, and an inch wide. The great thing about this steak is that you can cook it for a long time, like stew meat (it’s great for beef Stroganoff), or you can cook it quickly for a juicy, flavorful, yet oddly shaped steak. The carnivores at my house enjoy a simple, mock fillet mignon that I came up with.

Tri-Strip Mignon

4 Costco tri-tip strips
8 thin slices of bacon
salt and pepper

Cook bacon on a plate wrapped in paper towels in microwave for about 1 1/2 minutes on high until it’s hot and has lost some grease into the paper towel. This will par-cook it, so it will be much easier to crisp in the pan. Wrap a slice evenly around a piece of seasoned meat, from end to end. Truss it up with butcher twine.

Into a dry heavy skillet (cast iron is perfect) heated to medium, medium-high, place the steaks, and cook them until the bacon is browned and crisp, turning them as they cook. By the time the bacon is done, the meat will be cooked medium rare.
When done, remove from pan, and let rest, lightly covered, for 6-8 minutes. Serve whole, or slice into pretty little rounds.

Those buys make sense for me. Some of the other purchasing suggestions, though, were akin to encouraging a canary to buy dental insurance.
Cereal: Each October The Kid and Petey eagerly urge me to purchase boxes and boxes of the seasonally available Boo Berry and Frankenberry cereal (not big Count Chocula fans). That’s pretty much the only cereal they eat.
I just checked. It is now early June, and I have 3/4 of a box of Boo Berry, and an unopened box of Frankenberry. I should chuck them, but it’s funny to see the monsters grinning down at me from the top of the fridge.
Another list must-buy: coffee. Petey can’t abide the stuff (he’s a Mountain Dew man), and I only like coffe in ice cream and ridiculous lattes prepared by someone other than me. Being a college student though, The Kid loves it. We bought a fancy maker from Starbucks that makes a single, large travel mug’s worth. The problem is, not long after purchasing said maker, the mug was lost. The machine will only work with the special receptacle, so Gramma kindly purchased a second (the entire thing, they don’t sell the cups separately). After that one’s vessel went AWOL, the coffee maker became an expensive, shiny paperweight. Coffee is now purchased by my child, prepared and iced, from Bean Traders, in a massive jug that looks like it should contain white lightening. So, buying seventeen pounds of coffee isn’t a wise choice for us.
Some of the don’t-bees are just as wrong (for me).
Fresh produce. We may not like melons enough to eat eight of them before they go slimy and brown, but my family can put away loads of things like asparagus, mushrooms, and fresh cherries. They carry big bags of sugar snap peas that we love, and there’s enough for few dinners in each sack.
Milk was a recommended commodity. I do buy their heavy cream in quarts. Cream lasts a long time, and we always use it up. But a two gallon jug of milk? I could sail to Singapore on the oceans of expired milk I’ve dumped.
Condiments, such as mayonnaise, were no-nos. But I’m Southern girl. Believe me when I say we can, and do, use up a gallon of that magical white stuff on a regular basis. Mustard and ketchup though, not so much.
Every family is different, and the Huffpost list takes for granted that everyone eats and lives exactly like the writer.
Thus, my point. Before you go all consumer-crazy, and fill your warehouse cart with stuff that will be thrown away, unused, do your homework.
Maybe the thought of six gallons of pickles makes you queasy. Then don’t buy them. But if you can’t start the day without a couple of gerkins dunked in your morning beverage, it’s a very smart buy. Just be realistic, and get only what’s right for you.
Thanks for your time.