Oh, Fudge!

If you’ve ever wondered how long fudge can stay in the freezer, I have the answer.

Not sixteen months.

Have you ever seen those giant teeth at the dentist’s office?  You know the ones that are about a foot tall, which open to a cross section of the different parts of a tooth? Well, it’s a life-size model of my sweet tooth.

When it comes to chocolate fudge, there are two different types.  There’s creamy fudge; the kind with marshmallow cream—quick and easy.

Then there’s traditional, classic fudge cooked in a pot on the stove until it reaches a very specific temperature.  Then it’s beaten vigorously.  It can go wrong much easier than right. At the state fair, All-American Fudge makes a stellar example.  It’s better than any old-school version I could make, so I let them do it.  Every year I buy two pounds, bring it home, triple-wrap and freeze it.  I then ration it like it’s the very last pizza at a Super Bowl party.

Well, last year I rationed it too well, and when the fair rolled around, I had about a pound left, so I didn’t buy any more.  Thus, sixteen-month-old awful fudge that broke my heart and left me without fair fudge for Eight.More.Months.But.

There are two fudges of the easy, marshmallow cream variety that are close to my heart.

The first is a PB&J fudge.  I shared my recipe with Lisa Prince, who along with Brian Shrader does a segment every Friday on WRAL’s noon news, called Local Dish.  This was last Friday’s dish.

Peanut Butter & Jelly Fudgepb&j fudge1 7-ounce jar marshmallow cream

1 11-ounce package white chocolate chips

¾ cup creamy peanut butter

¼ cup crunchy peanut butter

¾ cup butter

2 ½ cups granulated sugar

pinch of kosher salt

1 cup heavy whipping cream

¾ cup jelly, jam, or preserves of your choice

Line 8-inch square baking dish with parchment paper. Set aside.

In large mixing bowl, add marshmallow cream, white chocolate chips and peanut butters. Set aside.In large saucepan, combine butter, sugar, salt, and whipping cream. Bring to boil over medium-high heat. Boil for 4 full minutes.

Pour boiling mixture over ingredients in mixing bowl. Using electric mixer, beat for 1-2 minutes, until completely smooth and creamy.pb&j swirlPour half of mixture into baking dish. Drop spoonsful of jam. Using a knife, lightly swirl into the fudge. Top with remaining fudge and dollops of the rest of the preserves. Gently swirl again with knife, just until marbled.Refrigerate 4 hours, or overnight, until set. Cut into bites. Store in airtight container in refrigerator up to a week.

The other fudge is a long-time favorite; chocolate peanut butter.  It’s easy and tastes so darn good.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudgechoc pb fudge3 cups sugar

4 tablespoons cocoa

1 tablespoon butter

¾ cup milk

1 cup peanut butter

1 cup marshmallow crème

*When measuring peanut butter and marshmallow cream, spray measuring cup and spatula with cooking spray to facilitate removal from cup.

Mix together first 4 ingredients in saucepan. Bring to rolling boil. Boil exactly 3 minutes. Remove from heat and add marshmallow creme and peanut butter. Stir until melted then pour into buttered 8X8 pan. Let cool.The secret to this is to boil exactly 3 minutes. Use a timer. I’m not joking.

I’m sad and disappointed about my fair fudge.

But.

When I get my next fudge stash, I can’t bear to get less than two pounds, and I know it doesn’t last forever in the freezer.  So, like it or not, to avoid wasting food, I’ll be forced to eat more fudge more often. What a bummer.

Thanks for your time.

It Takes All Kinds

As I write this it is Sunday night, closing day of the State Fair.  I’m a little sad it will be a year until the next one.  But I truly believe I wrung every bit of fun, food, and fellowship from the fair that was humanly possible.

I fulfilled that promise I made to myself to purchase and devour three of the dinner plate sized doughnuts from Peachey’s; one for each day of my attendance.Image may contain: food

fair donut

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So, these doughnuts…

The Kid and I judged in three specialty contests under the genial supervision of Lisa Prince, her sister Michele, and the rest of the State Fair staff that make each occasion a sort of quasi-family reunion of judges and staff.  During the SPAM contest yesterday, I was one of four Debbie’s in the room.  That multiple moniker situation was a snapshot of every class of mine in elementary school.I wonder if any of those other Debbie’s thought those snack cakes had been made just for them?

And, I indulged in one of my favorite state fair activities.  It’s a pastime that Petey introduced me to years ago.People watching.

The North Carolina State Fair is a parade of the entire range of humanity from NC.  If you sit still long enough (not the easiest of feats for me), you will see every single one of them.

The first thing I notice is the candy-coated shell of each human:The (usually young) (usually) female dressed in a symphony of inappropriate clothing; short, tight skirt or dress and gravity-defying shoes that would be uncomfortable to stand in, let alone walk miles in on varying terrain.

The fall enthusiast that is rushing the cooler weather in enough, too-heavy layers of clothing to have their third heat stroke by lunchtime.And conversely, the guy that can not, will not, admit summer is over and shows up in shorts and flip-flops no matter how frigid the temperature may be.

The city slicker dressed in their best facsimile of country cousin.  If you look carefully you’ll see the tags they forgot to remove from their spanking new, ridiculously expensive designer over-all’s.

Dontcha just wanna run him over with a John Deere?

The fascinating human interactions:

The couple on a first date.  Their desire to be easy to get along with will result in numerous moments of paralysis brought on by indecision of what to do, where to go, when and what to eat.  When exiting the fair one member of this couple is likely to be burdened with a mammoth stuffed animal that is three-quarters the size of the bearer.tiredThe family consisting of two ferociously exhausted parents and their brood of multiple children under the age of five.  Each child will want to go somewhere and eat something different and they want it, NOW!  Mom and Dad would just like a nap.

The farmer or rancher that has finished his business at the fair and is ready to go home.  And, his wife who hasn’t been on a date since last year’s fair and won’t be ready to leave until at least next Tuesday.That kid with that noise-making toy that sounds like all of the cats on the planet are screaming at once with a couple of faulty bag pipes thrown in.  If the toy is silenced, the sound is immediately replaced by the unearthly shrieking of a furious, empty-handed toddler.

Petey is the pooch, the kitten is the rest of the world.

Petey has a patient soul and could sit for days studying the humans that populate this earth.  I, on the other hand, have always hated to slow down long enough to take notice of my fellow man.

But the older these aging bones get, the more attractive sitting and looking become. Thanks for your time.

We Have A Winner

I just wrapped up my third year of working with Lisa Prince of the state ag department, WRAL’s Local Dish, and Flavor NC on PBS.  At the State Fair I help judge some of the specialty contests.  These are the competitions sponsored by entities such as King Arthur flour, SPAM, and the North Carolina Pecan Growers.

It’s a huge honor, and more fun and food than any one person should have, but somebody’s gotta do it, and I will proudly take this bullet on behalf of the people of North Carolina.There are folks that have been doing this for years and have judged 20-30 contests.  I’ve only done nine, but have learned a few things.  About entering cooking competitions, and a few other random truths.  I’ll start with those unrelated, incidental lessons.Traffic and parking: However long it takes to get from your house to the fairgrounds on the odd, non-fair Tuesday, quintuple it.  For weekend fair days, multiply it by six or seven.  For opening or closing day, just spend the night before out in the parking lot.

When sampling sixteen or seventeen pies, take no more than two bites each.  If you feel unable to control yourself with an especially delicious entrant, get it away from you.  And even those two bites can add up.  Post-judging, it’s probably best to dial back the midway munching.  Maybe only have one turkey leg, and either ice cream or funnel cake, but not both.If you plan to enter any type of cooking contests, I have a few tips.  They may not give you the win, but sometimes the difference between placing and being an also ran is quite narrow, and this advice may give you a few extra points.

Flavor and seasoning: Taste, taste, taste.  Make sure your food is seasoned.  If it’s a processed food such as SPAM, be careful your dish isn’t too salty.  Other foods need more salt.  There’s no way to get it right without tasting. Acid is your friend.  Dishes should have balance.  Rich, fatty foods need something to break them up, and the best way is by adding the acid of citrus juice, vinegar, or tangy dairy such as yogurt, sour cream, and buttermilk.  It will make your dish stand out in what can be a sea of mouth-coating, stomach-churning, heaviness.Make your dish at home, over and over, tweaking the recipe as needed.  Get your most brutally honest friends and family to give you feedback.  The girlfriend that doesn’t want to hurt your feelings is doing you no favors if she will not tell you the truth.  On your end, if you can’t take criticism and comments, contest cooking is probably not for you.If you don’t like the theme ingredient, pick another competition.  In the SPAM contest, the kids made their entries all about the SPAM.  Many of the adults tried to hide it.  Bad idea.  You must embrace the food and celebrate it.  This isn’t a game of, “How to get the kids to eat liver without realizing it”.  It’s to elevate and showcase the chosen ingredient.

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Any excuse for a little cupcake porn. AmIright people?

Read the brief carefully.  You might make the best cupcake anybody’s ever eaten in the history of cupcakes, but if the instructions are to make a breakfast item, you will lose.  It will probably break the judges’ collective hearts to eliminate your cupcake, but they, and you, have to follow the rules.

I have seen winners who’ve been cooking for decades, and others who’ve only been at it for weeks.  So my final advice is—go for it!Thanks for your time.

Ridiculous to Sublime; Just Add Coffee

Flavor NC production observation, day two:

The filming on this day was at Porter Farms and Nursery, in Willow Springs.  But, before any travel I needed some coffee, stat.Here’s something that will give what follows some context; a generous portion of my blood is composed of caffeine.  Whether it’s an expensive fancy coffee beverage, a glass of my homemade sun-tea that’s so strong Petey and The Kid call it jet fuel, or chocolate so dark it absorbs surrounding light, my engine runs on that stimulant of the jacked up, jittery gods.  Without it, I am a cranky toy, with failing batteries, and a belligerent headache.

Oh, and waiting any length of time, for any reason, makes me lose my mind.

Didja ever notice the Starbucks mermaid has her legs/fins flung behind her head and is holding them there?

At the closest Starbucks to my house, I placed my order and got out of the way (people who stand right in the middle of the store, in everyone’s way while they wait for their drink need repeated, severe beatings).  After a few minutes the barista sets down a cup and mumble-announces what’s in it.  I grab it, see there are three of something in it (I get three pumps of caramel).  That’s good enough for me, I take a taste.

Don’t judge.  In my defense, there was very little caffeine in my system.  I’m lucky I found the store, or the jeep to take me there.

Turns out, shockingly, that I’ve picked up the wrong cup.  Embarrassment and apologies then ensue.  I finally get the correct 20 ounces of go-juice and get on the road for the forty-five-minute drive to Willow Springs.

When I arrive at Porter farm it turns out I’ve beaten host Lisa Prince, her sister and associate producer Michele Holland, and photographer/show owner David Dalton.  And Lisa and Michele only live 15 minutes away.

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From left: David Dalton, Lisa Prince, and Charity Morris.

The first person I meet is Charity Morris, the farm stand manager, cheerleader of everything Porter, and its social media maven.  She’s barefoot, with wavy, surfer girl blond hair, and wearing a luminous, welcoming smile.  She’s to be our main guide today as owner Ashley Porter is the quintessential, Gary Cooper “strong silent” type who’s not so much camera shy as camera averse.

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Ashley Porter’s hand, holding a decorative mini pumpkin in a luminous jade green.

The farm stand itself looks like a set for a movie.  The vegetables are gorgeous, each one a shining example of itself.  They’re arranged beautifully but organically, as if a breeze with design training and impeccable taste has blown them just so.  Our star of the shoot, okra, spills out of a large basket in a riot of shape and color.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe attached building contains two of my favorite summer items—air conditioning and homemade ice cream.  Charity loves to use freshly harvested produce for it.  We’ve just missed the blueberry sweet corn, but the fresh watermelon ice cream becomes part of the shoot.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter visiting the okra field, we drive to the farm annex where the fields went on as far as we could see.  One portion was full of countless plants heavy with different varieties of ripe tomatoes.  Purely as research I ate a couple; sweet, and warm from the sun.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANext was summer squash of different shapes and colors.  Then were pumpkins, a few for cooking, but most were purely ornamental, including ones that were pale green and covered with what looked like warts.  Our host Ashley said they were perfectly suited for jack-o-lanterns and Halloween decoration.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe concluded our visit back at the farm stand.  Lisa and Charity did a shot that culminated in biting into a raw piece of okra.

Again, as research for you, Gentle Reader, I sampled a small, raw pod.  It was fuzzy like a peach, with a bright, strong okra flavor, and no slime.  It was really good.And nope, it didn’t taste like chicken.

Thanks for your time.

Find your thrill

My mother loves them.anna tedThe Kid likes them about as much as Anna Wintour loves polyester sweat pants, and Ted Nugent loves gun control.

Me?  I take after my mom; I love blueberries.

Nine years ago I planted three blueberry bushes in my backyard.  Two of them quickly went to the big garden center in the sky.  But for some reason, no matter how much benign neglect I visited upon it, one lived.

It took five or six years, but that bush finally started producing berries at an average of fourteen per season.  Once I see them begin to develop and ripen, I’d watch them like they were a pregnant giraffe.  But somebody else was watching as well.

Did you know that birds have very few taste buds?  And did you know that birds could care less if blueberries are fully ripe?  It’s true; they locate food by scent and touch.

And did you know that off the bush, blueberries won’t ripen, but rot?

So every year is a race against time and sunshine.  Which will come first?  Ripeness and harvest?  Or larcenous, be-winged, no-tasting, butt heads feasting off my labor?Out of maybe 75 berries in six years, I’ve harvested about twelve.  I stand next to the shrub, eating a paltry few with one hand, and shaking my fist at the beaked bandits with the other.

Last summer I decided to get serious about my blueberries.  I trimmed the bush and fertilized it.  Then I planted three more.  The added plants would increase the rate and success of pollination.

So now it’s May, and I have my veteran bush and the single survivor of the great blueberry planting of 2016.  But this year my original shrub has at least two or three hundred little green berries that will hopefully turn into a successful harvest and subsequent muffins, and jam, pancakes, and ketchup.Yup, you read that right; ketchup.

I’ve always loved Dairy Queen’s peanut buster parfait.  In fact, in high school, I once talked a friend into driving me from Elizabeth City to Nags Head one night just to procure one.  And this was before the new highway was built. Of course, the undeniable compulsion may have partly stemmed from ingesting copious amounts of Foster’s lager (for me, copious amounts are 8-12 ounces—I’ve never been much of a drinker).

But the point is, I love salty/sweet combos.

And, as odd as blueberry ketchup may sound, it’s actually really good, and extremely versatile.Add some bacon, and it makes a delicious and different PBJ.  Use it in a vinaigrette, marinade, or barbecue sauce.  Replace cranberry sauce with blueberry ketchup in that post-Thanksgiving sandwich.  Serve it on cornbread, or stir it into a bowl of chili.   The intense flavor of blueberries and spice is the perfect foil for vodka or gin in a martini.Blueberry ketchup would be a novel addition to the condiments at your next cook out.  Imagine the blue goo on a cheeseburger made with Swiss or pepper jack cheese.

Lisa Prince works for the North Carolina Agriculture Department, and hosts the PBS shows, Flavor NC and From the Vineyard.  She also appears Fridays on WRAL’s noon news.  With kitchen buddy Brian Shrader, she cooks seasonal recipes.

Brian and Lisa

Brian & Lisa

May is blueberry month.

This Friday (May 26th), they’ll be cooking my blueberry ketchup recipe.

In case you can’t tune in, I’ve got the recipe here for you.  I’m guessing I’ll have to miss it, because I’ll be in the back yard with my eyes on the sky and my hand on a slingshot.  Or, possibly I’ll be out there dressed as a scarecrow.Thanks for your time.

Blueberry Ketchup

Ingredientsblueberry ketchup2 ½ cups fresh blueberries

1 medium shallot

1 ¼ cups sugar

½ cup red-wine vinegar

2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger

1 tablespoon lime juice

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Put all ingredients into large saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir until sugar dissolves. Bring to simmer, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until blueberries have mostly broken down and sauce has thickened, 20 to 30 minutes. Spoon into a large bowl and refrigerate until chilled and thickened, about 4 hours.

Coffee and Dish

Have you ever watched WRAL’s noon news on Fridays?Every week they have a short cooking segment that focuses on NC products.  It’s hosted by Bran Shrader, a wide-eyed, fresh-faced reporter who looks like the mischievous kid that might TP the vice principal’s house on Friday night, but show up bright and early on Saturday to help clean it up.

His culinary cohort is Lisa Prince, a member of the NC Agriculture Department who acts as guide to all things Tarheel food.  Her knowledge is bolstered by an infectious enthusiasm that makes you want to run right into the kitchen and get to work.Lisa also hosts the PBS show, Flavor NC, and a new show celebrating the grape called From The Vineyard.  Lisa travels around the state, talking to farmers, chefs, and other diverse folks who have a love for, and connection with feeding North Carolina.

WRAL takes recipe submissions from viewers to make on air.  A couple years ago I sent in a recipe and months later Lisa contacted me to let me know it would be made on the show.  During our email exchange I told her that I wrote food columns for the Herald Sun.  She asked me if I might be interested in judging specialty food contests at the State Fair, which she coordinated.She had me at food.

At this year’s fair (my second as a judge) I asked Lisa if she would be willing to have a food chat after the all the state fair business was concluded.   Last week we met at La Farm; a carb lover’s paradise, for coffee and a food chat.

I started by asking about her TV appearances.

Local Dish, her cooking segment on WRAL, is celebrating its 10th anniversary.  It started as a one-off holiday episode.  It was so popular they eventually decided to air it every Friday.

There’s no glam squad and no crew to prep the ingredients.  Lisa does her own hair and makeup, and she and her sister do all chopping and measuring themselves.  They shoot each episode in her sister’s kitchen, which means familiarity and a working pantry that can supply any missing items.Five years ago a new program was born on PBS, when Lisa was approached to do Flavor NC, an edible travelogue which talks to North Carolina food folk from one end of the state to the other.  Now there’s a new show, From The Vineyard.

I asked for a recipe and she offered this cornbread recipe that is a favorite of her WRAL partner, Brian Shrader.  Here it is, in her words and with her notes.

Pimento Cheese Cornbread

A friend shared this recipe with me who got it from Kathy Moore. She had this cornbread recipe and decided one day to make cornbread cupcakes. Then she decided to “ice” them with some pimento cheese she had made. A new dish was born!pimento-cheese-cornbred2 boxes Jiffy cornbread mix

1 cup sour cream

1 cup cottage cheese

1 stick (8 TBSP.) butter, melted

4 eggs

1 large can corn, drained (optional)

1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated

Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together and pour into a greased 9 x 13 pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes, until golden. When out of the oven, top with pimento cheese.

*Lisa’s Notes: Be generous with the pimento cheese.  It’s the best part.  Use a good quality pimento cheese if you aren’t making it from scratch.  I also like to use jalapeno pimento cheese for a little extra flavor.   This is a great side dish with chili.**Debbie here-the amount of pimento cheese is not specified, but Lisa said ‘generous’ so I would start with 16 ounces and go from there.

Lisa Prince is one more person that I have been lucky to get to know because of this gig.  And just like almost every other food-related acquaintance I’ve made, she is insanely generous and lots of fun to be around.

It’s not just one Thursday in November.  Writing this column, meeting the folks, and eating all the amazing food; for me it means that every day is Thanksgiving.Thanks for your time (and I really mean it).