Wine & Dine

When I was a kid, you could buy wine and beer at eighteen.  Once I came of age, I was legal to buy and drink any and all alcoholic beverages not sold at the ABC store.

Most of my friends cleaned out the beer coolers on a regular basis.  But I don’t like the taste.  There, I’ve said it.  The Kid is a beer nerd and often offers me a taste of something, “I think you might actually like this one!  It’s a vanilla-blueberry-Cap’n Crunch-flavored IPA!”.

Yeah, nope.

But when I turned eighteen, I could lawfully purchase alcohol, so I kinda had to.

I turned to wine.  My drink of choice was Boone’s Farm Tickle Pink.  And it was worth every penny of the ninety-nine pennies it cost.  A Kool-Ade-flavored hangover for less than a dollar.  

It’s entirely possible the photographer had indulged before this photo was taken…

But, as I got older, my taste in wine matured, as well.

I discovered German Rieslings.  Then I found dry French whites, settling on my favorite of Chateau de Montfort’s Vouvray.  I buy a bottle every once in a while, for special occasions.

There are three wines though, that I always have on hand.  I use them for cooking.  First is a sherry, then a light, dry white.  Almost anything will do; lately, it’s been Trader Joe’s Espiral, a super fresh effervescent white.  And lastly, dry Marsala. 

This Italian wine is my favorite for cooking.  It has a distinctive, smoky, caramelized flavor.  I love it and use it in anything with mushrooms or tomato. 

The other night I used it in an experimental pasta dish.  The flavors of mushroom, tomato, and cream were familiar. 

The pasta cooking technique was not. 

It’s a take on those one-pot pastas which instead of cooking in a large pot of water are cooked in a smaller amount of stock that cooks entirely into the noodles along with sauce ingredients.  I made the sauce separately so I could brown the veg and get a creamy mouth-feel.  I then married the two together right before service.

One-Pot, Two Pot Mushroom & Corn Marsala Pasta


1-7 oz. bag of small pasta (I used vermicelli)

I tablespoon butter

2 cups + 1 tablespoon chicken stock

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Big pinch of pepper

Melt butter in a large skillet.  Add pasta and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until it’s caramel brown and smells toasty.  Watch this and don’t let it burn.  Add stock, salt, and pepper.  Bring to a low boil and cook until it’s al dente and the liquid has cooked in, but it’s silky and stir-able.


1 lb. mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

1 small yellow onion, chopped

1 ½ cups frozen white shoepeg corn, thawed

1 teaspoon dried thyme

¼ teaspoon dried rosemary

Salt & pepper 

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1/3 cup dry Marsala

½ cup shredded Parmesan

1 ½ cup 2% or skim milk

¼ cup heavy cream

Sautee vegetables in the butter with thyme and rosemary.  When the veg are lightly browned, stir in tomato paste.  When paste has darkened, deglaze with Marsala.  When the wine’s cooked in, add cheese and dairy.  Bring to low boil and allow to reduce to sauce-like consistency.  Season to taste.  Turn to medium-low.


Gently stir cooked pasta into sauce until coated.

Serves 6.

Another terrific thing about this dish.  Leftovers nuke up beautifully.  Just add a splash or two of milk and it’s almost as silky and unctuous as freshly made.

And it’s a good thing I lost my taste for Tickle Pink.  Sometime in the last thirty years or so, they wised up and stopped making it.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at

The Red Menace

There are three types of people.

There are folks who like brown/mushroom gravy inside, outside, and on the side of their meatloaf.  And there are those who love meatloaf to come sporting a shiny red cap of glaze.

I actually have a Kitchenaid, but other than that, this looks exactly like me when cooking.

But there are the enlightened ones, those noble humans whom, like myself, have love for both varieties.

The Kid?  Not so much.  That child likes red meatloaf about as much as flat beer and the heartbreak of psoriasis.  If it ain’t brown, The Kid ain’t down.

There is one little logistical glitch, though, with red meatloaf.

We can do way better than this…

When I make brown meatloaf, I start by making a nice, rich mushroom gravy.  I then use it in the mix, I ladle it over the top for baking, and spoon it over the mandatory buttermilk mashed potatoes.  And no matter its complexion, with an old school protein like meatloaf, potatoes are in fact, mandatory.

French fries just don’t work.  It’s like black suede boots with a white eyelet dress.  Baked potatoes are an option, but fully dressed is an awful lot of starch and fat.  And red meatloaf isn’t terribly flashy as a main, you don’t want it to disappear completely next to the showgirl that is a loaded spud.

My answer is to serve braised baby potatoes.

Braised Baby Potatoes with Herbs

braised creamers

2 pounds baby potatoes or little creamers, washed
1 cup beef stock
4 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped herb of your choice (like chives, dill, or tarragon)
Throw everything into a large heavy pot with a lid.
Cover and cook on medium until the potatoes are fork-tender (15-20 minutes), stirring frequently.
Uncover and let the liquid cook down into a thick, buttery sauce.
Right before service, stir in herbs and check for seasoning. Makes 4 servings.

I’ve broken down the meatloaf into small steps.You can do them early in the day; or even the day before, then put it together right before baking.

Red Glazed Meatloaf

Glazed onions:

glazed onions

1 yellow onion, chopped

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

½ teaspoon dried thyme

½ tablespoon granulated onion

1 tablespoon tomato paste

½ cup Marsala wine

Pinch of salt and pepper


Heat a skillet and add veg oil.  Put in chopped onion, thyme, granulated onion.  Cook until onions start to brown around the edges.  Stir in tomato paste.  When the paste darkens, pour in Marsala.  Let the wine cook out, then take off heat.

Meatloaf mix:

red meatloaf

4 slices multi-grain bread, ground fine in a food processor

4 eggs 

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons horseradish

2 pounds ground chuck

Salt and pepper


In a large bowl, place in bread crumbs, eggs, Worcestershire sauce, and horseradish.  Add cooked onions.  Mix everything with vigor until it is a homogenous mass.  Break beef into large chunks and put in bowl.  Using clean hands or disposable gloves, mix meat and bread crumb mix until it is completely mixed in.  Form into loaf shape.


red glaze

1 cup ketchup, divided

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

2 teaspoons brown sugar

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

2 teaspoons horseradish

Pinch salt and pepper


Take out ½ cup of ketchup and set aside.  Whisk together the other half cup of ketchup and the rest of the glaze ingredients.  Spread 1 tablespoon of this in the bottom of the dish in which you’re baking the meatloaf.  Using a paint brush, paint the glaze all over the meatloaf.

Bake at 350 for 40 minutes.  Remove from oven and pour/paint the plain ketchup on the top.  Return to oven and bake 30 minutes more.

Remove from oven and let rest for 20 minutes before service.  Serves 5-6.

I served this with my cool, crunchy broccoli salad.

Bacon Broccoli Salad

broccoli salad 2.0

4 large stalks of broccoli
4 pieces bacon
1/3 cup grated parmesan, divided
1 cup mayonnaise
Hot water
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
Place bacon on parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. Put it in the oven, then set oven to 350 (if you put the bacon into a hot oven it will seize up and never fully render; it also keeps the slices flatter). Cook for 15 minutes, flip each piece over and cook until it is golden brown and crispy. Remove from oven to a paper-towel covered plate. Reserve ¼ cup bacon grease for dressing.
While the bacon is cooking, cut the broccoli into small, bite-size florets. Place into a large bowl with half the cheese.
For dressing, whisk together mayo, bacon fat, and parmesan. Thin with hot water, a little at a time until it’s the consistency of pancake batter. Mix into broccoli until it’s lightly coated. Refrigerate until service. Makes about 8 servings.

If you have leftovers, the meatloaf makes epic sandwiches.  Just slice and put it in a hot skillet.  Cook until it browns and forms a crust.  Flip and cook the other side then melt a thick slice of horseradish cheddar on it.

You know, I’ve been thinking about that “three kinds of meatloaf people” philosophy, and I think I need to amend it.

What if you don’t eat red meat? Or you like it cheese-stuffed, or bacon wrapped?  Maybe you like it spicy, or Horrors! What if you actually don’t like meatloaf at all?

You know…there is one meatloaf that I could live without.

Thanks for your time.

Days Of Tickle Pink Wine and Rose’s Lunch Counter

Originally Published in the Herald Sun 5/14/2012

I’m pretty much cross-eyed from evaluating thousands of pairs of shoes online.
One of my oldest and closest friends (we were actually in the Brownies together), Rhiannon, told me our high school class is having a reunion in September.
It is not too early to window shop webtastic windows. September will be here before we know it. In the past I’ve used getting jury duty and a trip to the dentist as an excuse to look for new shoes.
I have the perfect dress (J Crew, dark heather gray jersey wrap dress, timeless and simple), but I need absolutely fabulicious kicks, and bag, and wrap, and…
In 1982, I graduated from Northeastern High School, in Elizabeth City. In the only public high school in the county, I was ranked 17 out of a senior class of 362 (It’s sad I need for you to know that, isn’t it?).
Fourteen months later, I married Petey.
Although, as a child, I’d taken cooking lessons a few times (including classes at the VEPCO building on Ehringhaus St, in E City), I was no cook. I was a restaurant-frequenter, and a heater-upper.
Luckily for my new groom, this was when all the microwave meals started coming onto the market. Otherwise it would have been peanut butter and jelly on Wonder bread, or ptomaine under an oxygen tent.
We supped at Copeland’s Grill four or five days a week (Tragically the Hughes Blvd diner is now closed). For $1.49, we ate a meat, two sides, bread, drink, and a dessert. I always ordered popcorn shrimp and double potato salad. They also had a stripped down version; meat and two sides for 99 cents.
Truthfully, I think Copeland’s contributed to the survival of our marriage (and us) those first years.
I took a few recipes and the Betty Crocker cookbook along with me to our honeymoon cottage. My mom gave me her famous pork chops and mushroom gravy recipe (apple sauce offered, but optional).
She’d made it since her own wedding. It was one dish from a repertoire of only two or three held by the new bride almost fifty years ago.
The first night she made them for her strapping six foot, two inch new husband, she made two. He ate both. She wanted him to get enough to eat, so the next time she made three. He ate them. Every pork chop dinner, one more chop; every night, he finished them all.
Finally, on the night he had finished seven servings, all was revealed.
Mom was sick with the financial worry of satisfying her new spouse’s bottomless pit. My poor dad? Just sick.
In O’Henrian fashion, Mom wanted Dad to get enough to eat. My sweet father didn’t want to hurt his bride’s feelings by not eating all she had prepared for him.
I’ve made this porker dish since the very beginning of my marriage. The recipe and flavor, like my cooking abilities, have become deeper, and more complex over the years. But one thing hasn’t changed in almost thirty years, the boring couple that ate it in a 12X60 trailer, still do, only now in a 1600 square foot Victorian in Durham, NC.
Before I give up the recipe, I want to talk about one ingredient: the onion marmalade.
Every couple of months, I buy five or six pounds of regular yellow onions. I then take a full day to cook them down into about two cups of deep, amber-colored caramelized onions.
If you can’t, or won’t, do this, you still need slowly, deeply browned onions.

Debbie Covers Mom’s Smothered Pork Chops

4-6 3/4-1 inch thick pork chops (whatever cut you like), approx 2 lbs.
seasoned flour
1/4 cup onion marmalade *
2 lbs cremini mushrooms, cleaned, stems removed and sliced into 1/8 inch slices
3-4 cloves garlic chopped finely
1 cup marsala wine, apple brandy, or beer
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 cups chicken stock
2 cups beef stock
1/2 cup whole milk, half & half, or cream
2 tablespoons low or no-fat milk
2 tablespoons dijon mustard
1 tablespoon apple jelly or honey
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon fennel seed, crushed in mortar and pestle
(they can be a bit tough to find in the store, but add a really complex, resonant flavor like
nothing else)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary, dried; use 1/4 teaspoon
1 large or 2 small bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup flour
Cook together slowly in a small skillet until the color of peanut butter.

Pre-heat oven to 325. Shake chops in a bag of seasoned flour, shake off excess, and brown in a large, heavy, Dutch oven (they only need browning, they’ll finish in the oven).
Remove to a holding plate.
In same pot, cook mushrooms, with salt, pepper, and thyme.
Cook until all the moisture is cooked out, and you can see a good amount of browning. Add garlic, and cook just ’till it barely starts to color. Put in onions, then deglaze pot with booze. Add the tomato paste while you can still smell the alcohol, the tomato has flavors that are only released when exposed to spirits. Let it reduce until it’s very thick.
Stir in remaining ingredients, except for roux. When it comes to a boil, slowly whisk in roux, until smooth, and gravy thickens. Check for seasoning, and balance of flavor.
Put chops back in, cover, and bake in oven for 1 1/2 hours.
Let pot sit on counter for ten minutes before opening.
To serve dish:
Remove pork to serving platter (carefully; they are literally falling apart tender). Whisk sauce in pot to smooth out, remembering to scrape all the goodness off the bottom.
Serve with buttered rice, and salad or spring veg.

*Faux Onion Marmalade: 2 yellow onions, peeled, cut in half, and sliced into 1/4 inch half moons. Cook onions on low with 1/2 tablespoon olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, a splash of balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper. If you have an electric skillet, use that, otherwise, use a heavy bottomed frying pan.
Done well (read:slowly), this will take up to an hour. But you can do it days ahead.

It will definitely shock some old friends from NHS that I have a food column that’s not about dining out.
Sonic was and is a favorite for grab and go grub. In fact, when we were dating, Petey wooed me with their pink lemonade.
They don’t have it on the menu anymore. Also absent, a guilty pleasure; “Frito chili pie”. Luckily, I know the difficult, top-secret, recipe.

Frito Chili Pie
1 cup Fritos
1/2 cup canned chili (Petey likes Wolf Brand), heated
handful shredded hoop cheese
Top Fritos with chili and cheese, and put under broiler, until gooey, melty, and lightly browned. You can also tear open the front a snack size bag of Fritos, and pour in the hot chili and cheese, and put the whole thing under the broiler, for more of a cave man experience.

There are countless amazing cooks in the Harbor of Hospitalty. Rhiannon’s amazing, beautiful, talented grandmother, Georgie, was one of them. I can’t tell you how much wonderful food I put away in her kitchen, while wearing my nightgown.
The Kid met Miss Georgie, and Rhi’s strong, stubborn, secretly sweet, grandfather, Mr. Harland, as a toddler. It was eternal love at first sight for all three.
Miss Georgie’s friendship was one more link that led to culinary school.
While living in E City, I was too immature and uninterested to ask for cooking lessons, from her, or anyone else. I can never get that chance back.
Please, let me be your “Don’t Bee”:
If somebody cooks you something amazing, or is generally a wizard in the kitchen, ask for lessons!
One of these days, I’ll spill about my first attempt at a dinner party, in 1983, in my little skirtless home, in Steven’s Mobile Home Park, a lonely drive of twenty three miles from the bright lights of Elizabeth City.
Go Eagles!
Thanks for your time.