Pearl, We Hardly Knew Ye

i never wantedThis is the column I never wanted to write.

Before I say anything else, I want to state that I am not a picky eater; nor do I have the palate of a preschooler.  But, the favorite food of most people is comfort food, or something from their childhood.  Just sayin’.

dewey's cake

Dewey’s delicious, delicious cake.  My birthday’s in TWO.WEEKS!!!

I’ve made no secret of the fact that my two favorite foods are heavily frosted birthday cake and potato salad.

But because I love tater salad so much, I have very strong opinions about it.  I don’t like it refrigerated. It absolutely has to be a waxy potato, like a red skin, or a Yukon gold.  don’t like celery, and mustard and pickle relish are evil abominations.4Because of having exacting standards for potato salad, there are very, very few store-bought or restaurant made varieties that I like.  I can really only think of four.

There was a deli in La Jolla named Kangaroo that made a version I enjoyed (now closed).  A restaurant in Elizabeth City named Copeland’s at which Petey and I ate at three times a week when we were first married (also closed).  A Greensboro sandwich shop Jam’s, who makes a lemon potato salad.  And, chain eatery Wingstop’s potato salad, called Pearl’s.  It’s full of big chunks of hard-cooked egg, and way too loose, but somehow still a favorite.

jams

They sell a pretty mean Reuben, too.

Jam’s is still open, and so is Wingstop.

But, yesterday when I went into my local Wingstop for some Pearl’s, I was told they’d stopped selling it.discWhich was both a bummer and an opportunity.  An opportunity because I was still looking for a topic for this week’s column.  The same hand that slapped the potato salad-laden fork out of my mouth also handed me something about which to write.  I decided to do some online investigation to make Pearl’s at home.

The case of the missing potato salad.

So, I went all Nancy Drew and found three online clues.  The first was a scrap of a recipe on Pinterest and included honey mustard.  One was a recipe offered by an ‘insider’, that was a basic potato-onion-egg-mayo version.  And seven years ago, Wingstop put a video on YouTube showing the making of their honey mustard tater salad.  The honey mustard was part of their “secret sauce” but they offered nothing more as to its ingredients.wingstop spudTwo things I then knew for sure: the salad was made with russets, and it contained both mustard and relish, so I have to walk back that abomination thing, and the no mustard recipe was a fraud.

I then did some kitchen experimentation and came up with a close-ish approximation.  I’ve also sent a recipe request to Wingstop corporate and will follow up in another column if I hear back.

Pearl’s Wingding Potato Saladwingstop ps4 pounds russet potatoes cooked in boiling salted water until fork-tender

4 eggs, medium-hard cooked, peeled, and rough-chopped

1 small white onion, chopped

¼ cup sweet pickle relish

½ cup Dijon mustard

½ cup Trader Joe’s creamed honey

½ cup mayonnaise

½ cup sour cream

Salt & pepper to tastehoney dreWhen the potatoes are barely cool enough to handle, peel.  Cut all except one into cubes.  Chop reserved spud and put into dressing bowl and give it a smoosh until it’s chunky/mashed.  Add relish, onion, mustard, honey, mayo, and sour cream.  Stir together until well combined.  Season and reseason, if necessary.Add still warm potatoes and eggs.  Mix until everything’s coated.  Season, cover and refrigerate for an hour. Serves 6-8.

So, I’ve decided something.  When it comes to food, I’m going to stop assuming I know everything about my palate, and also that I know anything about everything else.  Standing around with my mouth wide open in shock is getting old, and it just makes me look dumb.gobsmackedThanks for your time.

The Potato & The Cow

Quotefancy-1700540-3840x2160

Is there nothing miraculous chocolate can not do?

I contemplated, Gentle Reader, opening this post with an apology.

The potential source of my remorse is the subject of this week’s column.

It’s my favorite food: potato salad.

Just a few weeks ago I wrote about lemon potato salad.  That recipe is an adaptation of the potato salad served in a Greensboro deli.  It’s perfect for spring.

But this one’s quite different.Sometimes an idea will come to me, and I’ll think it’s the smartest, most original notion ever thunk.  Then, I’ll google it, and realize that I am at least the seven millionth brain to have come up with this brilliant thought.

Curse you, Google!

This week’s a potato salad that I recently came up with.  I fully expected this new recipe to be new to me alone.  I figured that once again, my brainstorm would be instead, a disappointing drizzle.

But a quick google returned no results.  It looks to me at least, that this is actually a new idea.  The potato salad that I can’t believe is really a new idea, Gentle Reader, is…

Pimento cheese potato salad.store boughtYou can boil up some spuds, and stir in some store-bought pimento cheese, and it’ll be fine.  But to really make it special, make it all from scratch.  If there are few elements in a recipe, use the best ones you can find.

So, let’s make some stuff from scratch.

Pimento Potato Salad

Pimento cheese:

pimento cheese recipe

*This recipe will make about twice the amount you need, but to make it in a smaller quantity just doesn’t work quite right.

4 cups sharp (black wax wrapped) hoop cheese *If you can’t get your hands on hoop cheese, get the oldest sharpest cheddar available in your area.  You want it to take your breath away, and when you eat it, have a little crystallization at the finish.

1 4-ounce jar of pimentos

½ cup mayonnaise; either homemade or your favorite store-bought

Salt and pepper

Shred cheese on the large holes.  Drain pimentos, reserving liquid. 

Put shredded cheese and pimentos into a bowl.  Add mayo and fold together, adding pimento juice as needed to get to a smooth, spreadable consistency.

Season, taste, and season again if necessary.  Refrigerate for at least 2 hours to overnight to develop flavors.

*Potato Portionboiled spuds6-8 medium-large sized Yukon gold potatoes (2 ½-3 pounds)

¼ cup vinegar

¼ cup kosher salt

Fill a very large, heavy pot with water.  Add vinegar and salt.  Put in potatoes and turn on medium-high.  Cook until fork slides in easily.  Drain, and cool completely.

When cooled, peel and cut into salad-sized chunks.

*Salad Preparation

pc potato salad

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons snipped Chinese chives (also called garlic chives—use regular chives if you can’t find them)

2-3 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley

Put potatoes into a bowl with chives.  Put in olive oil and season with a big pinch of salt and pepper.  Add parsley, holding back just a little for garnish.  Gently mix together.  Taste and re-season is needed.

Add about ½ cup of pimento cheese and stir.  Add more as needed until ingredients are liberally coated with pimento cheese.  Sprinkle with parsley.

Let sit covered at room temperature 30 minutes before service.  Serves 6-ish.pim ch potato saladThis goes really well with Southern summer food, like fried chicken or catfish.  It also works with bratwurst or grilled Italian sausage.  It’s pretty and tasty to serve this on a bed of lightly dressed greens or topped with a big handful of microgreens.  And to be really unique, instead of Yukon gold, use sweet potatoes instead, or combo of both.  Just peel and cut up sweets before boiling.

I hope you like this new idea about potato salad.  And I trust you now know why I didn’t apologize for two potato salad recipes this close together.

Because potato salad means never having to say you’re sorry.

But him?  I’m wicked sorry about him…

Thanks for your time.

 

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

Preparation:

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. 

Dressing:

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.

Eating the Blues Away

At my advanced age, I honestly didn’t think it was possible.tater salad collageI’m talking about one of my very favorite topics of conversation, and my very favorite food group; potato salad.

On the way home after a doctor’s appointment with Petey today, we stopped at Fresh Market.  I had gotten an email about a New York Strip sale for $5 a pound (Don’t grab your car keys, shockingly I was confused.  It wasn’t at Fresh Market, and it wasn’t New York Strip—being my spouse is one never-ending adventure.)

But as I always do on any visits to Fresh Market, I check out my two favorite departments; the bakery and the prepared foods.As is the delightful norm, the bakery was full of freshly baked delicious-looking, potentially jean-busting breads and desserts.

Dominating each store like the main square in a medieval town is the large, four-sided prepared food department.  It contains everything from sushi to ribs.  And then there are the salads.  There are different chicken salads, maybe five pasta salads, a really creamy macaroni and cheese, and salads of the spud variety.

Normally, Fresh Market has two or three, with flavors like loaded baked potato, sour cream, and egg or sometimes, herb.  At one time or another I’ve taken them all home.  And I’ve enjoyed them.Buuuut…

Today in the case was a potato salad which not only had I not seen or tasted, this was a version of which I’ve never heard or even thought about.  And, let me be clear, I spend a lot of time thinking about potato salad.

And I mean a lot of time.  Like an almost not quite right in the head amount of time.  So, up until the other day I thought that when it came to potato salad, there was nothing new under the sun.

Fresh Market turned my potato salad world on its head with…Blue cheese.

It was really all about the dressing.  This was a relatively common mayo/sour cream version.  But then those deli mad scientists went and added crumbles of a mild blue.

Red and Blue Potato Saladred and blue potato salad

3 pounds small red potatoes, left unpeeled and cut into bite-size chunks

2 stalks celery, thinly sliced

½ red onion, diced

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Salt & pepper

Dressing:red and blue dressing1 cup mayonnaise

½ cup light sour cream

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Pinch of onion powder

1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon

½ cup crumbled blue cheese

Salt & pepper

Cook potatoes in very heavily salted water until fork-tender.  Drain and let cool completely.

90 minutes before service, make dressing: Whisk together first six ingredients.  Gently fold in cheese.  Season with care because blue cheese is salty.  Cover and refrigerate for one hour. 

Place cooled spuds, celery, onion, salt and pepper into large bowl.  Drizzle first tablespoon vegetable oil over veg and toss to coat.  After dressing has been refrigerated for an hour, stir into potatoes until it’s a bit wetter than you want for finished salad (the taters will absorb some dressing).  Cover, and let sit unrefrigerated for 30 minutes.

Right before service, drizzle salad with the final tablespoon of oil and fold in lightly so that the salad has a slightly glossy look.Serves 6-8.

At Fresh Market, I bought a ½ pound of the salad for the sole purpose of reverse engineering and getting the recipe to pass along to you, Gentle Reader.

Not really.  I mean yeah, I thought about you and getting the recipe, but mainly I wanted some to take home and devour in private.

That would be a sheepish grin…

Thanks for your time.

 

They call me Tater Salad

Both of us were very happy at dinner tonight.For Petey, there were big, fat, baked pork chops. When I took them from the freezer, I made a rub using coffee salt, freshly cracked peppercorns, ground caraway seeds, thyme, and fresh rosemary.  I rubbed it all over the chops and put them in the fridge to thaw.

When it came time to cook them I tossed them into a bag of flour.  Them I ran them through a pan of buttermilk and pressed pecan pieces and whole grain cracker crumbs all over them.I set the oven to 375 degrees.  I put a little vegetable oil into a shallow baking dish and nestled the pork chops inside.  I inserted a probe thermometer into the thickest part of the thickest chop.

Common wisdom used to be to cook the pork chops until there was no moisture left in the meat.

But there are a few problems with that tactic.  Pork is very much leaner than it used to be, so the meat comes out dry.  And cooking them to a temperature of 160 or so makes the meat come out very dry.  So the end result is pork that is very dry.Did I mention it would be dry?

Even the USDA, historically a very conservative and safety conscious bunch, now recommends that pork only needs to be cooked to 145 degrees.  I cook our pork chops to 140, which gives us a very light pink center.  Even if pink is not a color you want in your chop, 145 will be cooked through, but still juicy, and a radical sea change from the chalk-like 160 or higher.

So that was Petey’s treat.  What was mine?Tater salad.

I don’t remember exactly I lost my heart and mind to potato salad, but I do know that unbelievably when I was little I didn’t like it.  If you’ve read more than one or two of these essays, you know that my two favorite foods on the planet are potato salad and birthday cake.  And even I know that woman cannot live on birthday cake alone—although I’d be happy to volunteer for a study to find out exactly how much birthday cake one can live on.  So if you know somebody in research…Anyway.

My treat tonight was the potato salad portion of the program.  And I was trying out a new recipe.

That’s the great thing, but also most problematic part of potato salad.  When I googled recipes, I got 6.33 million results.  Putting “classic” in front only lowers that number to 1.78 million.  There is no one right recipe.  It varies according to culture, geographical region, ingredient availability, and even mood.

What.The.Literal.Hell?

What this means is that there are numerous amazing, delicious versions of the dish.  And there are just as many recipes for dreck.  Mustard, celery, relish?  Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

But, you might think that broccoli or olive oil are abominations.  Everyone has a place at the potato salad table.  So pull up a seat, and grab a fork.

Thanks for your time.

Parma potato salad

parma potato salad3 pounds red skin or yellow potatoes

½ red onion, diced

½ cup pancetta, cut into strips, cooked until crispy, and set aside

3 tablespoons pancetta fat, divided (if you don’t have enough, add olive oil)

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

Zest of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 cup mayonnaise

Salt & pepper

In a large heavy pot with heavily salted water, boil unpeeled potatoes until a knife easily pierces it.  Drain, and let cool.  When fully cool, peel and cut into bite-size chunks.

Place into a large bowl along with onion, and drizzle 2 tablespoons of fat over veg, along with salt and pepper to taste.  Gently stir to coat.  Cover, and let sit at room temperature for thirty minutes.

Make dressing.  In a small bowl whisk together the last tablespoon of fat, Parmesan, lemon juice, zest, thyme, and mayo.  Season, taste, and reseason if necessary.  Cover and refrigerate thirty minutes.

Thirty minutes before service mix dressing into potatoes starting with about ¾ of it, adding more if needed. 

Sprinkle pancetta on top of each serving.  Serves 4-6.

I’ve never said this before, but I can’t even.

   

To each his herb

Last week I talked about spices, and warm flavors.This week it’s herbs, and cooler flavors.

Fresh herbs are always best, but sometimes you don’t have the luxury.  There’s some dried thyme, as well as oregano and dill in my spice cabinet in case of emergencies.   But because those dried herbs can quickly lose their mojo, keep dried herbs no more than six months (label the bottle with date you brought it home).  rolled-herbs

To keep the fresh herbs longer, you’ve got two choices.  Either lay out about 6 pieces of paper towel on the counter.  Spritz the paper with cold water.  Then set a bunch down, and roll.  After that bunch is covered, lay down another bunch.  Roll, then lay another bunch, and so on.  When all the herbs are wrapped up, spritz the paper bundle, and place in a large zip top bag.  Refrigerate.

You second choice is easier but you don’t get quite as long a shelf life.  Trim the ends off the herbs.  Fill a tall glass with water, and place in the trimmed herbs like flowers in a vase.  Change water daily.

“Rosemary for remembrance”.  I’ve grown rosemary since Uncle Will, my honorary grandfather, died when The Kid was two.  I bought one very hardy, low maintenance Mediterranean variety which is now a large shrub outside my front doors.  It’s both fragrant and ornamental—many places use it for landscaping. rosemary-basilBasil is a soft leafy herb with that distinctive, fennel/licorice flavor.  It’s a staple in Italian foods.

I like to heat two cups of extra virgin olive oil and add a big handful of each herb.  Before adding the herbs I roll them between my hands to bring out the oils.  I then let the herbs steep until it cools.  I strain it and store it, covered, in the fridge.  This oil is great for dipping bread into.  It’s also good brushed on meat before grilling.  And if you’re not big on red sauce on pizza, brush a little of this aromatic oil on it, then arrange your toppings.

I make a paste of fresh thyme, lemon zest, Parmesano Reggiano, smashed fresh garlic, olive oil, and salt and pepper.  I either crust a pork tenderloin with it or smear some under chicken or turkey skin. lemon-thyme-pasteQuite a few years ago my mom developed an allergy to eggs, and from then on, left them out of the potato salad.

I discovered I liked it better without eggs, so I made it that way, as well.  Only I added fresh dill and flat-leaf parsley.

I made it one night when we were visiting family friend Chef Chrissy.  When I served it, Chrissy mentioned that it was a little ‘passive’.  I think that was a nice way of saying boring.  Then Chrissy’s dad, Bear tried it.  He informed me that it was the best tater salad he’d ever eaten.  So from then on it was called…

Passive-aggressive potato saladpassive-potato-salad

8 medium-size red or Yukon gold potatoes, boiled to fork tender, cooled, peeled and cubed

½ yellow onion, diced

3 tablespoons each parsley and dill, chopped finely

4 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided

1-1½ cups Hellmann’s mayo

Salt and pepper to taste

Place cooked, cubed potatoes in large bowl.  Add onions and herbs, drizzle in 2 tablespoons oil and toss.

Starting with 1 cup, stir in mayo.  If you need more, add more.  Season, taste, and re-season if necessary. Cover and let sit at room temp for 1 hour.

Right before service, stir in last 2 tablespoons oil.Serves 4-6.

When using fresh herbs in cooking, the later you add them, the fresher the flavor will be.  And always hold a little back, to sprinkle on the finished dish.  If only you could perk up your own life the same way…Thanks for your time.

Patriotic Party Guest

You can ask The Kid, and there will be full confirmation—I am a corny, kitschy, sentimentalist.

When Petey and I travel, we both love to do the touristy thing.  I’m the girl that would totally stop at World’s Largest Jack-in-the-Box (Middletown, CT), the Indian Death Tiki of Awesomeness (Maggie Valley, NC), and spend the night in dog shaped digs at the Dog Bark Park Inn (Cottonwood, ID) or beneath boulders at Kokopelli’s Cave Bed & Breakfast (Farmington, NM).

OMG, I love these things…

Each fall I literally do a happy dance in the grocery store the first time I see the mellow-creme pumpkins on sale (and don’t even start–they are a completely different confection from candy corns).

I buy one loaf of spongy white, Sunbeam or Wonder bread a year.  It’s used to make my annual Thanksgiving night, before bed, turkey sandwich.

My sweater is exactly like the one in the middle.  Yes, folks, it’s so bad they put it in a very famous Saturday Night Live sketch (I owned it before the sketch).

At Christmastime, I watch hours and hours of fifty-year-old cartoon and Claymation holiday-themed productions.  Each year, If not physically restrained by Petey, I would happily perch on Santa’s lap for a nice, long chat.  I own a Christmas sweater so ugly it’s illegal in 25 states and actually has functioning bells on it.

So when there is a barbecue or picnic for the Fourth of July, you darn well better believe that there will be food, beverages, décor and fashion in red, white, and blue.

For dessert, I buy Independence Day hued M&M’s and liberally scatter them, along with handfuls of broken pretzel pieces, on top of my dark chocolate, fudgy brownies.  And I serve Sundaes with homemade vanilla ice cream drenched in fresh cherry and blueberry sauces.

Blue historically, has been hard to find in savory foods.  I guess there’s blue cheese, and I like it fine, but it’s only blue because of mold; which isn’t really very festive when you think about it.

About fifteen years ago, the US was introduced to a colorful new spud.  Even though it’s known as a purple Peruvian potato, don’t be fooled.  Most of them are as blue as the moon in Kentucky, Elvis’ suede shoes, and a K Mart special.

Uncle Sam’s potato salad

red white blue spud salad

3 pound purple/blue potatoes

2 tablespoons olive oil

Juice of half a lemon

Salt and pepper

24 ounces Cherub baby tomatoes, left whole

8 ounces goat cheese crumbled

5 or 6 slices bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled

Leaving on the skin, cut the potatoes into bite-size piece and cook in heavily salted, boiling water until fork-tender (15-20 minutes).  When still hot, toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil and lemon juice.  Season, and taste for seasoning. 

Let cool completely then put into a large bowl with tomatoes.

Dressing

lemon herb dressing

Whisk together:

1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup lemon juice

2 tablespoons parsley, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh mint, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Refrigerate dressing for at least two hours.

Thirty minutes before service, add dressing to potato/tomato mixture, a little at a time until the vegetables are lightly coated.  Gently mix in goat cheese.  Cover and let sit indoors at room temperature (not outside, where it’s hot, you don’t want a trip to the emergency room for dessert).

Before service, sprinkle the bacon on top.  This way it will still be crispy when eaten.  Serves 8-10.

And if you don’t get it together for the fourth, don’t fret.  This potato salad also works for Bastille Day, on the 14th.  Though, you should probably call it Frere Jacques potato salad.

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.
What?
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
Roux:
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!
Today.
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.