When Life Gives You Lemons…

So, it very well may be the end of an era.

Every Easter, since the beginning of time, dinner has been ham, turkey, pasta and potato salads, baked macaroni and cheese, baked beans, and snowflake rolls (my mom and The Kid love those rolls, but I’ve always thought they had the consistency of stale doughnuts).

Usually, I make the ham and sometimes bring along my blueberry-speckled lemon cheesecake.  A few weeks ago, we were wandering through Costco, lurching from one sample to the next.  In the back at the bakery, they were sampling their key lime pie.  And it’s really good, y’all.  Not too sweet or sour.  Light, but luscious.

Anybody want a slice?  I got plenty.  Really.  Have some.  Please, I beg you, have a slice.  Or two.  Or fourteen.

For $12 you get a pie big enough to serve the entire population of Paduka, Kentucky; I couldn’t make it at home that cheap.  It’s perfect for Easter dinner.

I was also thinking about bringing the potato salad this year.

Lemon and dill are extremely spring-appropriate.  And the potato salad I was thinking of is a lemon potato salad.  It’s a twist on a recipe that is served at a favorite Greensboro deli, Jam’s.  I adore it, and years ago begged one of the owners for the recipe.

Here is that delicious potato salad, and their Reuben, which is also pretty darn kick-ass.

Their version has an unfortunate surfeit of celery.  And as any right-thinking human knows, celery in potato salad is an abomination.  It’s not quite as heinous as mustard or Miracle Whip, but it is pretty darn close.  They also put a large amount of white pepper in it.

They use the wrong brand of mayonnaise, too.  But because I don’t have it in me to engage in the Great Mayo Crusade of 2018, I’m not naming names.

And you can’t make me.

Lemon Dill Potato Salad

spud vinegar

3 pounds waxy potatoes

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

3-4 tablespoons salt


Place salt and vinegar in a large pot of water, along with unpeeled, whole potatoes.  Cook on medium until potatoes are fork tender.  Remove from heat, drain, and allow to cool completely.  Once cool, peel and cut into salad-sized chunks. 


lemon dressing

Juice of one lemon

2 eggs, hardboiled

½ yellow onion

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped

Salt & pepper

To make dressing, place first four ingredients into food processor and blend until smooth.  Whisk in mayo and dill.  Season, taste, and re-season, if necessary.  Refrigerate for at least an hour.

Gently fold dressing into the potatoes, starting with about half.  Gradually add more until the consistency is to your liking.  Taste and re-season if necessary; don’t forget lemons, fats, and potatoes all need plenty of salt.

Cover and allow to rest in a cool dim place, but not in the refrigerator for 30-60 minutes before service so the flavors can meld and develop.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAServes 8-10.

So, here I am, ready to win Easter with my famous glazed ham, key lime pie, and killer potato salad.

Then, Mom called.

The menu of our normal buffet luncheon was completely changed.  No ham, no turkey, and no salads—including potato.  She had decided on a make-ahead dinner; beef Stroganoff (hers is actually incredibly delicious, almost makes up for the no potato salad), and Aunt Candy was bringing her famous ziti.

Okay…And no pie was needed either, she was making carrot cake and a chocolate icebox dessert.But I am constitutionally unable to go empty-handed.  I just can’t do it.  So, in keeping with the bunny theme, I shall be making the trip with the prepped ingredients for a double batch of my carrot soufflé.

Happy Easter, and I’ll look for you on the bunny trail.Thanks for your time.

Easy as Pie

So, here’s the thing.

Dewey’s cake: Best.Cake.Ever.  If I lived closer to Winston-Salem, I’d weigh 800 pounds.

I love carbs.  Carbohydrates and the yummy fat that goes on and around them.  Heck, two of my favorite foods—potato salad and birthday cake, are both gloriously fat adjacent carbs.

A life-long love affair.  Petey Who?

But I have a big beef with the comingling of certain starchy types.  Namely bread or pastry with potatoes.  I don’t eat spud subs, potato pizzas or pie.  But it’s not because I don’t think they’d be tasty because I so think they would.  It’s something else entirely.

I guess we could call it nutritional conscience.

It’s like wearing way too much jewelry, driving a super flashy, crazy loud car, or beating a basketball opponent 75-13.  It’s arrogant, in-your-face, over-kill.  And no good can possibly come from it.  Whether it’s karma, the ultimate sin of tackiness, or the urgent need for a coronary by-pass, some things just ain’t fitting.Last time I was at Costco I picked up one of their dump truck-sized boxes of mushrooms.  I wanted to do something other than the usual mushroom vehicles of gravy, or salad, or soup.  I decided to make a pie.  The earthiness of mushrooms and potatoes make them perfect for each other.  But potatoes and pastry crust are a no-go combo.

So, I let the spuds be the crust.

Mushroom Pie with Hash Brown Crust

hash brown crust

For Crust:

4 cups shredded potatoes

6 tablespoons butter, melted

1 teaspoon salt

salt & pepper

An hour or so before baking, grate the potatoes into a colander.  Sprinkle with teaspoon of salt, and stir so salt’s evenly distributed.  Let sit in colander for at least an hour.  Then place spuds into kitchen towel and twist it around to get the most water out you can.

Preheat oven to 450.  Pour melted butter into shredded potatoes.  Season.  Toss until everything’s well-coated.

Place spuds into 9-inch pie pan sprayed with cooking spray.  Press into bottom and sides in even layer.

Bake for 20 minutes, then turn on low broiler and cook 10 minutes or until lightly browned and dry.

When done, remove from oven and set aside to make filling.


mushroom pie2 slices crispy bacon, fat reserved

24 ounces mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

1 yellow onion

2 tablespoons fresh thyme

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 cup white wine

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup low-fat milk

2 eggs

1/2 cup hard cheese, such as Parmesan, Manchego, aged Cheddar, grated

15 gratings of fresh nutmeg

1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 325.  Put mushrooms and onion into heavy-bottomed pot with butter, thyme, salt, and pepper.  Turn on medium-high and cook until totally dry and browned, stirring occasionally.

While the mushrooms cook, whisk together dairy, eggs, nutmeg, and cheese, reserving 2 tablespoons cheese.

Add tomato paste and Worcestershire.  When color of tomato paste has deepened, pour in wine, scraping up browned bits.  Cook until the veg are completely dry.  Spoon into potato crust and smooth top.

Slowly pour egg mixture over ‘shrooms.  Sprinkle top with reserved cheese, parsley, and bacon.

Bake for 25 minutes, then turn on low broiler and cook until set and lightly browned. mushroom pieRemove from oven and let sit 15-20 minutes before serving.  Serve with something green.  Feeds 8.

It was really tasty. It was less eggy than a quiche, but it did have a custard-y component.  And the watchword here is dry.  Make sure the shrooms are cooked to Sahara-level desiccation.  The drier the ingredients, the better the final product will be.

Because even though you may disagree with me about carbo-overload, nobody wants wet pie.

Wet pie.

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.

Heidi, cuckoo clocks, and enchiladas

The sad, grubby little clipping had been stuck on the fridge forever. I’d torn the recipe from some magazine months, or even a year ago.
But the last time we were in Costco, I decided I was going to put up or shut up. I’d give that recipe a try. So, I bought one of their roast chickens.
I’d like to stop right here, for a moment, and talk about the rotisserie chickens at the supermarket.
I think a few years ago a law must have been passed that every grocery store in the country has to sell a roasted chicken.
Costco has one of the best clucker deals around. For 5 bucks you get something so large, it might possibly have been a pterodactyl. I got 8 cups of meat from the one I bought. Since I only needed 3 cups, I froze a large zip bag of the rest. I made a big pot of pasta with some of it, and a bunch of chicken salad with the rest. So for $5, I got meat for 8 meals, counting leftovers.
But, back to the recipe.
When I was in the ninth grade, all the kids who had taken Spanish for 3 years went to Mexico for spring break. We visited Mexico City, Jalapa; a university town, and Veracruz; a beach town.
Most of the meals we ate were at the hotels, as part of the package. But one night in Veracruz we went to a restaurant and ordered off a large menu. One of our chaperons ordered fish, and a whole fish (eyeballs and all) was brought to him. I’d never seen anything like it in my life. Freaked me right out.
I finally picked something that the other kids assured me wouldn’t be too spicy for my famously wimpy palate—enchiladas Suizas de pollo (Swiss chicken enchiladas).
They were brought out to me, and my classmates were right on the money. They were zippy, but not crazy-hot. There was an abundance of cheese and sour cream (which is why they are called “Swiss”). I loved them. They have become one of my favorite Mexican meals.
The recipe I cut from the forgotten magazine was a casserole that had a hot red sauce and was a riff on tamales. But I don’t do hot sauce, and once I had changed ingredients, added stuff, and made it my own, the experience was very much like my beloved enchiladas Suizas. The casserole was easy to assemble, and could be done in stages. The traditional enchiladas are more labor intensive and the results are not always consistent. The casserole gave me all the flavor and texture, without the work and drama.
Recipe note: I used homemade guacatillo sauce, or you can buy some from Chubby’s. A very good bottled alternative is La Victoria mild green taco sauce. Also, I split the casserole into two 8X8 pans. One pan I finished cooking and we ate that night. The other I got to the point of the second bake, wrapped it up tightly, and froze it.

Chicken enchilada Suiza casserole
1-8 1/2 oz. package Jiffy corn muffin mix
1-14 3/4 oz. can creamed corn
1-4 oz. can green chiles, drained
2 eggs lightly beaten
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon Goya bitter orange adobo
2 cups shredded cheddar or pepper jack cheese
2-3 cups guacatillo sauce
3 cups shredded cooked chicken (white and dark meat)
Sour Cream
Preheat oven to 400. Spray 13X9 pan with cooking spray.
In a large bowl mix first 7 ingredients and 1 cup cheese. Pour into pan and bake for 20 minutes.
Remove from oven, and pierce casserole about 12 times with sharp knife. Spread guacatillo over top. Scatter chicken over, and cover with the rest of the cheese. Bake for 20 minutes. Let rest out of oven for 10 minutes, then slice and serve. Makes 8 servings.

I was delighted with the finished dish; we loved it. Poor old Petey overindulged, and got a bit of a tummy ache. But not too much of one, because at lunch the next day I nuked the last slice for him, and he happily devoured it.
Thanks for your time.