It’s a Two-fer!

I always forget how much I love eggplant until I eat it.  Then I wonder why I don’t eat it more often. 

There are a few good reasons: eggplant is best in the summer; from the farmers market or your own garden.  It’s uber-delicate, and gets bruised at the slightest bump, or even a harsh word directed its way.  And cooking it’s usually a complicated, messy pain in the keister.   

This week marks the final week of the Local Dish series with two delicious recipes made from NC products. 

First up is a delicious soup with a deceptively fancy name.  The eggplant dish, we’ll get back to.

Le’CHOP Soup 

Servings: 4

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 45 minutes

2 Tbsp. avocado oil

1 leek, light green and white parts, finely chopped

1 cup swiss chard stems, finely chopped

1 habanero pepper, seeded and finely chopped

1 sweet yellow onion, finely chopped

4 cups chicken stock, divided

1 potato, diced

1 cup buttermilk

1 Tbsp. onion powder

1 Tbsp. garlic powder

Salt and pepper to taste

In Dutch oven, heat avocado oil on medium-high heat, then add leek and swiss chard. Cook for 3 minutes until softened. Add habanero and onion and cook until onion’s translucent. Move contents to a bowl.

With Dutch oven still hot, deglaze with ½ cup chicken stock. Add remaining chicken stock and bring to light boil and add potatoes. Cook for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to low and stir in onion and garlic powder. Add cooked vegetable mixture back into Dutch oven and simmer for one minute. Remove from heat.

Pour half of mixture into a food processor, blend and pour into bowl. Add remaining vegetable mixture to food processor and blend slowly, while adding buttermilk. Pour back into Dutch oven, add salt and pepper, stir then heat on low to warm back up. Or use submersible blender.

Garnish with chives and small dollop of sour cream.

Lisa’s Notes: This is a great way to use leeks and chard. If you aren’t a fan of the heat, leave out the habanero or try a jalapeno. The stems can be a little bitter so try using the leaves instead. We liked leaving some potatoes chunky when blending. Domino Ireland won first place with this delicious soup in the NC Vegetable Growers Contest at the NC State Fair.

And, finally, the eggplant.  This is the easiest to make eggplant recipe I’ve had the pleasure to eat.  It’s also the most forgiving.  It’s cut into cubes and roasted, so it doesn’t need to be perfect, blemish-free, straight from the garden eggplant.  You could make this in the middle of February and the dish would be just as tasty as mid-August.

Debbie’s notes: If you enjoy them, capers are a terrific addition.  The briny Mediterranean flavor is perfect with this recipe.  And when cold, the dish makes for a perfect bruschetta.  

Roasted Eggplant

1 Eggplant, diced ¼”-1/2” thick with skin on

1 Tbsp. olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

2 Tbsp. lemon juice

2 Tbsp. kalamata olives, sliced

2 Tbsp. green olives sliced

2 Tbsp. Feta, crumbled

1 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. In medium size bowl, combine eggplant, olive oil, salt and pepper. Pour onto baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes.

Once done, return to bowl and toss with remaining ingredients. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Lisa’s Notes: The dish can be enjoyed hot or room temperature.

I hope you enjoyed my adventures with television.

I’ll be back next week with the best dish I’ve invented in years.  And it’s made with only things I had on-hand. 

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at

Don’t be that guy

I cook with stock all the time.  I use it for sauces, and gravies; I cook rice and pasta in it.  And almost every single time, it’s from a box, or the grocery store.  I’ve only ever made stock from scratch, once, which I recounted a month or so ago.


There is currently running a commercial for pre-made cartons of stock.  It’s actually a brand that I consider quality, which I’ve used numerous times.  I do though take issue with the message of this ad. In various vignettes, people are insisting they cook because they make “they make the best chicken noodle soup”.  Then they proceed to show them adding some chicken meat, a few veg, and some bagged egg noodles to a bubbling pot of said company’s chicken stock.


These poor, deluded folk are not chicken soup makers.  At best they are “stuff-put-er-inners”.  To produce homemade chicken noodle soup you must start with a chicken, and maybe even make your own noodles.

Anything less is practically opening a can.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  I have enjoyed many cans of varieties of chicken noodle (stars, noodle-o’s, curly, spaghetti-shaped) soups.  But I never tried to pass it off as scratch-made.

Now, if you want to make a chicken soup that begins with stock (canned or made in your own kitchen) which you can still claim as your own, I’ve got a recipe for you.

This is a rich, creamy, lemony chowder.  It’s a little bit of a riff on Panera Bread’s creamy chicken and wild rice soup.  It also freezes and reheats well.

Lemon chicken and wild rice chowder

chick chow

8 tablespoons butter divided

1/2 cup flour

3 carrots, peeled and cut into same size pieces

4 stalks celery, leaves and all, chopped

1 small onion, chopped

3/4 cup dried mushrooms, reconstituted and chopped

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon dry thyme

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

Zest of 2 lemons, divided

Juice of 2 lemons

1 cup rice and/or grain mix with wild rice (I like Bob’s Red Mill Brown and Wild Rice)

1 1/2cups frozen shoe peg corn

1 cup white wine

5 cups chicken stock

1 1/2 cups skim milk

1 cup heavy cream

4-5 cups cooked chicken, white and dark, cut or ripped into bite-sized pieces.

Make roux:

Melt 6 tablespoons butter in small skillet.  Whisk in flour and cook over low until light blond in color.


In a large heavy pot, melt 2 tablespoons butter.  Place in pot: Carrots, celery, onion, mushrooms, thyme, bay leaves, half the lemon zest, salt and pepper.  Cook until there is some color on veg, and carrots are starting to soften. 

Stir in rice and/or grain mix and let cook until they start to brown around the edges.

Deglaze the pot with wine.  Cook, stirring often until it’s all cooked in.

Pour in stock and skim milk.  Bring to slow simmer.  Add corn.

When the rice/grain is fully cooked (time varies according to type), bring to a boil and whisk in roux until it’s cream soup thickness. 

Turn down to low.  Pour in lemon juice.  When the juice is thoroughly mixed in, stir in cream and gently add chicken.

Check for seasoning, and keep warm until service.  Garnish each bowl with a sprinkling of lemon zest.

Makes 8-10 servings.


This soup is delicious and quite impressive.  A soup that you can be proud to call your own.  So you don’t need to pretend you did something you really didn’t.

Don’t be that guy.

that guy

Thanks for your time.

Hello Yellow

It’s a bum rap.

Calling a faulty piece of machinery a lemon—it’s wrong and unfair.  It’s just blatant anti-lemon propaganda.

It may not look like much, but don’t you dare call it a lemon.

Lemons are one of the tastiest and most versatile items in any kitchen.

The other day I was waxing rhapsodic about lemons, and said, “Lemons make everything better.”

A miracle can grow on a tree.

And Petey said, “Not if you don’t like ‘em.”

Well first off, I don’t think that person exists.  But, for the sake of argument let’s say that this freak of nature is out there somewhere, leading a lonely, lemon-hating life.

There are unconfirmed reports coming out of North Korea that this man is an unrepentant lemon hater. Figures.

Unbeknownst to him, he probably ingests them all the time.

Many fruit juices add lemon to keep them from becoming cloyingly sweet.  Lots of salad dressings contain a spritz or two.  And all kinds of dishes, especially long cooked ones, are finished by squeezing a bit of lemon juice into them.  Just enough to perk up the flavors, but not enough to taste.

Recently I cobbled together a recipe for sautéed spinach.  Except for creamed spinach, I’ve never liked it cooked, because it seems bitter and slimy.  But I read about a method that’s easier, and less messy.  I had a surfeit of spinach in the fridge, so I decided to experiment.  Besides, The Kid loves sautéed spinach, and I get a kick out of giving my culinary schooled child a little schooling from me.

Popeye called. He wants in.

To my surprised delight, wilting the spinach by microwave gets rid of both bitterness and sliminess.  I loved it.

Sautéed spinach

32 ounces fresh baby spinach (2 large boxes)

*1 tablespoon garlic oil

1 large shallot or 1/2 red onion, diced

¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

Juice of ½ lemon

Kosher salt to taste

Cracked black pepper to taste

*To make garlic oil, peel 2 cloves garlic and bruise by giving them a whack with a spoon.  Place into skillet with olive oil.  Warm until fragrant, then remove cloves with slotted spoon and discard.

Directions for spinach: Place raw spinach into very large bowl, pressing down to get it all in.  Cover with damp paper towel.  Microwave for 2 minutes.  Toss and put back into microwave.  Cook in 2 minute increments until completely wilted.

Put into colander and let it cool enough to handle.

Once cool, squeeze with your hands to get out as much water (and the bitterness it contains) as possible.  Put it on a cutting board and roughly chop.  Return to colander and squeeze it again to get out all the liquid you can.  Let rest in colander until ready to cook—or refrigerate and hold for up to 6 hours.

Heat skillet, add garlic oil.  Add shallots, season, and cook until translucent.  Stir in spinach, and nutmeg.  Season.  Sautee until it’s hot and it seems almost dry.

To preserve color of the spinach, take pan off heat then stir in lemon juice.  Check for seasoning, and serve.  Makes 4-5 servings.

Even though there’s lemon in the spinach, it only brightens the flavor.  So, there you go, mythical lemon hater.

But if you like lemon, there’s all kind of places to put it for a kick of citrus.

Lemon can make a good thing better.

Add it to scrambled eggs—but only after cooking; adding it to raw will curdle them, which is a pretty unappetizing sight at breakfast.  Give soup a hit; I recently added lemon juice to both Panera’s cream of chicken, and a bowl of egg drop soup.  Turned out awesome.  But lemon loves salt, so taste and re-season if needed.

Not just savory, lemon’s heavenly in sweets.

For a quick delicious dessert that will impress and delight your diners, make a granita.

A granita is a frozen non-dairy dessert that when placed in a goblet, looks like a million bucks.

See how pretty?

Just make a pitcher of lemonade and pour it into a baking dish and freeze (add a splash of grenadine for pink lemonade).  Every 15 minutes, take it out and scrape with a fork.  Keep doing this until it’s completely frozen and looks like snow.  Scoop into wine glass, and garnish with a sprig of mint or a twisted strip of lemon peel.

I hope I’ve convinced you to appreciate this sunny, daffodil-colored fruit so much that you, like me, are beseeching life to give you some lemons.

May I some more, please?

Thanks for your time.

Memories and stone soup

Originally published in the Herald Sun 5/12/2012

Stone soup with onion straw garnish.

Stone soup with onion straw garnish.

When I asked you to help me out by sending food stories to share, I mentioned a particular letter that was the catalyst for the request.
Right after the egg essay ran, Jo Darby sent me a note.
It was funny, sweet, and extremely well written. I wanted to share it with all of you.
So, in what I hope is the first of reader storytelling, here is Jo’s tale about her mom; a terrific cook, and my kind of woman.

“An Egg Story
We were poor when I was little but that didn’t ever stop my mom from trying to be creative with what little she had to feed us with. She died almost 30 years ago but her children still long for her rice pilaf. She filled our bellies with mostly rice mixed with a few token slivers of vegetables showing, but somehow managed to imbue that rice with a flavor that was subtle on taste and somehow fully fragrant to our hungry noses.
Her Spanish garlic soup was little more than a pot of water, garlic and olive oil. But so wonderfully tasty that we salivated like good little Pavlovian children when we walked in the door home from school and smelled what dinner would be.
One Easter she had the bounty of eggs given to her by a local farmer and she wanted to do something extra special with them. We wouldn’t have baskets or chocolates but By Golly she was going to do her best to delight us with an unusual treat. One of her friends had given her a book of French country cooking and she perused the pages slowly, deciding at last to poach them in wine (which was very cheap and plentiful from the bodega).
From our various spots in the house we inhaled the wonderful scent of garlic being gently heated in olive oil, we sniffed approvingly at the smell of toasted bread, the fragrance of simmering wine. Finally she called to us to sit down at the table so as to be ready for the eggs immediately they were done. Five children waited eagerly to see what she had wrought with the humble egg. Beaming, she brought our plates, setting before each one of us a plate of her latest creation.
There was dead silence as she took her place at the table. Perplexed she wondered aloud why her little wolves were not gobbling down the wonderful treat? We could not. We looked at each other, at our plates, at her. She must have known her error as soon as she made it in the kitchen but, food is food and would not be wasted. She must have been hiding her angst behind cheerful encouragement. Eat, she said.
With horror, we picked up our forks. Squeezed our eyes shut and tentatively raised the tiniest morsel to our mouths. Some of us managed to swallow, others cried, one of us gagged. Many years later, we would roar with laughter at the recollection of her French recipe of eggs poached in wine. Someone at the bodega made a mistake. Red wine was sent instead of white. When she poured the wine, imagine her surprise when the liquid going into the pan was deep burgundy. Her disappointment must have been profound. Just say Purple Eggs at one of our family get-togethers and see what happens. We still laugh until we cry. One of us still can’t eat eggs.”
Jo Darby

Debbie here again:
When I was a kid, I loved the story of Stone Soup. And elevating simple food is an obsession. Thusly, I was intrigued by the idea of the garlic soup.
After some thought and research, I came up with this version.
This is definitely a peasant soup, but there’s something in it we can all give to our food that money can not buy. Time and attention. And that is the component that can turn the other four (I cheated with six) ingredients into a golden, silky, bowl of poetry.
I made the garlic confit one day, and the pot of soup the next. You can portion out the actual creation of the soup. But time is really the key. If you don’t want to put in the hours, don’t bother. There is no way that the resulting product can be the same.
This soup takes a whole day to make correctly, but Jo is right. This stuff is what angels have for lunch, after they get done singing.
I can only imagine what her mother’s tasted like.
Thank you, Jo.
And for everyone else, thanks for your time.

Spanish Garlic Soup 2012 Edition

Garlic confit (recipe below)
1/4 -1/3 cup garlic oil (from the confit process)
1 loaf country bread, something rustic and crusty, cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes, crust and all
1 cup white wine
2 quarts chicken stock
3-4 cups water
1 bay leaf
3/4 cup heavy cream
salt & pepper

For the garlic confit:
35 (yes, 35) cloves garlic, peeled
4-5 cups oil (I used combo of olive and canola)
salt and pepper
In a very heavy large pot, put in garlic and cover with oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and set on very low, just above warm. Cook slowly in oil until cloves are a light caramel color, approximately four hours. Cool, and remove garlic from your new garlic oil. You will have more than you need for this recipe, so put the excess oil into a container and refrigerate; it can be used for a gillion things.
In the same pot, toast the bread cubes in the garlic oil, a couple handsful of bread with a couple of tablespoons of oil at a time. This brown crusty goodness on the bread translates into tons of flavor.
When all the bread is toasted, put it all back into the pan, along with the garlic confit. Toss together a bit, and then deglaze with the wine.
When the wine is cooked off, pour in all the stock, stir, cover, and cook very low for about twenty minutes.
Uncover, stir, and add more water, because the bread will absorb it like crazy. Keep cooking slowly, and adding water until it is thick, but not too thick, like a cream soup.

Season with salt and pepper. Add and taste until the amount is correct, and an extra dimension of flavor is revealed, that will literally make you sigh. This soup is simple, so please don’t neglect this.

Cook for two or three more hours, and then either use a hand blender or a regular blender for it until it’s completely smooth. Stir in cream, check for final seasoning, and keep warm (but don’t let boil) until service.
Yield: one humongus pot of seriously yummy soup