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

The Great Zucchini

Think of it as a versatile, delicious little black dress.

Only it’s very dark brown instead of black, and it’s not a dress, but a cake.  But otherwise…

This is week three of dispatches from my adventures when I joined Lisa Prince and WRAL’s Brian Shrader as they prepared and filmed four recipes for Local Dish, WRAL’s cooking segment that airs each Friday on the noon news.

This week’s chocolate cake, y’all.

In keeping with the summer produce theme, this is a zucchini cake.  And there are two really important things that I need you, Gentle Reader, to take from this essay.

The first is the importance of cooking time.  There is a little butter and four eggs in this cake, but no other fat.  So, most of the moisture comes from the grated zucchini and the applesauce in the recipe.    

Which means, if you overcook it, you will get a dry result that will stick in your throat and make you sad.  It cooks for 60-70 minutes, but you should start checking it at 55 minutes.  As soon as a toothpick comes out clean but moist, get it out of the oven.  And after it’s been out for 10 minutes, get it out of that pan.

The second thing is, once it’s cool you can top it with anything from powdered sugar to a decadent vanilla fudge icing topped with crushed Oreos.  You can go simple and use whipped cream or a couple scoops of vanilla ice cream.  Or let the ice cream melt.  It then becomes a fancy custard sauce called crème Anglaise.  Set the cake on a puddle of that (for crème Anglaise use an ice cream containing only milk, cream, eggs, sugar, vanilla, and maybe a pinch of salt).

Here are two of my favorite toppings.

Mama Cat’s Vanilla Fudge Icing

½ cup butter

1 cup granulated sugar

¼ cup milk

Heat ingredients in saucepan until it begins to boil.  Let cool slightly and mix in 1& 3/4 -2 cups sifted powdered sugar, and 2 teaspoons vanilla.

Pour over fully cooled cake and top with crushed Oreos (optional) or anything else you’d like.

Mom’s Fudge Glaze

6 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons cocoa

3 cups powdered sugar

6 tablespoons milk

2 teaspoons vanilla

In saucepan, melt butter.  Stir in cocoa until dissolved.  Mix in sugar.  Add milk and vanilla; whisk until smooth. 

Pour over cooled cake and allow to set.

The cake calls for cinnamon, but you could also tweak it with things like cayenne or espresso powder.

 Chocolate Zucchini Bundt Cake  

2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2 ½ tsp. baking powder

1 ½ tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 cup sugar

½ cup butter, room temperature

4 eggs

¾ cup unsweetened applesauce

1 Tbsp. vanilla

2 cups shredded zucchini

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Generously coat bottom and sides of 9 to 12 cup Bundt pan with cooking spray.

Mix flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in bowl.  Set aside. Beat sugar and butter with mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, applesauce then vanilla.

Reduce mixer to low. Beat in dry ingredients until blended. Fold in zucchini.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 60-70 minutes or until done. Cool on wire rack 10 minutes.  Remove from pan and allow to cool completely before topping.

This cake also travels really well for picnics and potlucks; or wrap a slice and tuck it into a bagged lunch.  With both zucchini and apple sauce in it, you could almost call it healthy with a straight face.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at

Breaking Broken Bread

I really dislike being on video.  I feel I have a face and voice for the printed word, and I’m okay with that.

My friend Lisa Prince, though, is both adorable and engaging on the TV.

Every Friday during WRAL’s noon news, she, along with the equally adorable Brian Shrader, host Local Dish, which showcases North Carolina foods.

August’s theme is all about creative ways to use the NC produce available in late summer.

Because nothing and no one in my life is safe from being fodder for this column, I’ve had an ongoing request to shadow the preparation and filming of Local Dish.  Last week I spent three days hanging out watching the creation of five segments that will begin airing this Friday (8/2).

And proving, once again, what a truly nice person Lisa is, she gave me all the recipes and the permission to share.

Tuesday, I met her and her sister Michele at the Raleigh State Farmers market.  Our goal was to buy fresh ingredients for Chocolate zucchini cake, tomato upside down cornbread, a zesty leek Swiss chard soup, roasted eggplant, and panzanella salad.

Lisa’s sister, Michele putting cornbread in the oven of her beautiful kitchen.

Wednesday, we met at the filming location, Michele’s kitchen, and prepped enough ingredients to make a finished dish and create the dishes for the camera.

Thursday was filming day.  Brian and Lisa cooked for photographer Mark in a relaxed atmosphere that was full of laughter and lots of good food to sample.

I’d never actually eaten Panzanella salad because I’m not crazy about cucumbers and consider the idea of bread swimming in and soaking up all that juice highly suspect. 

When I’m wrong, my military father has always taught me to own it.  I’m owning this.  I was completely wrong about my prejudice toward Panzanella salad—or, at least Lisa’s Panzanella salad.

Tomato and Cucumber Panzanella Salad

(tentative air date-August 30)

(NC Ingredients: tomatoes, basil, cucumber, cheese – Category: Salad)

Servings: 2

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Total Time: 10 minutes

1 large cucumber, peeled and de-seeded

1-pint grape tomatoes, mixed varieties, cut in half

4 slices crusty French bread cut into cubes

Salt and Pepper to taste

4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 Tbsp. white balsamic vinegar

¼ cup shaved Parmesan cheese

2 Tbsp. fresh basil, shredded

Cut the cumber long way and remove the seeds with a spoon. Then slice long way again and cut into cubes about the same size as the grape tomatoes that are cut in half. In a large bowl, combine the cucumber, tomatoes and bread. Season with salt and pepper.

In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper.

Drizzle olive oil mixture onto salad and toss to coat. Add in the cheese and basil and gently toss to combine before serving.

Lisa’s Notes: This fresh light summer salad is perfect on a hot day. The flavors of the ingredients speak for themselves.

Brian (and I) were surprised that the bread used wasn’t toasted first.  But we both learned something that will change the Panzanella salad game forever.

If you’re not serving the salad for an hour or more, toast the bread.  The veggies will release lots of juice which the bread cubes will then suck up and become flavored with lots of garden-fresh flavors.

Brian wanted to use the torch and toast it himself…

But if you serve immediately after assembling, use fresh, soft bread.  It will be coated in liquid and flavored, but it won’t have time to absorb the juice and get gummy and unpleasant. 

And unpleasant is the last adjective I’d use to describe this delicious summery dish.

Thanks for your time, and thanks to Lisa, Brian, and the Local Dish crew for their time.

Contact debbie at

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.


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.

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.

Local Dishing

Lisa Prince works for the state department of Agriculture.  For the past ten years, she’s done a weekly cooking segment for WRAL; Local Dish.  She also has two shows on PBS; Flavor NC, which started in 2011, and the newly debuted From The Vineyard.

Although she was very familiar with the procedure and format of Local Dish, shooting a full television show was unfamiliar territory.  There’s a shot called a “stand up”, where the talent (that would be Lisa) speaks directly to the camera.  She told me about her first time.When they got ready to do the shot, Lisa stood still and silent waiting for the cue card boy.  Large, in-studio productions have many on staff, including those handy cue card boys.  Pilots of regional PBS shows shot on location though, not so much.

The director waited, and then asked, “Did you not know you had to memorize this?”

Lisa said, “No.  But I do now.  Give me ten minutes.”  She walked around while feverishly memorizing.  But ten minutes later she did her first stand up, and five years later she’s still traveling the state, and entertaining food curious North Carolinians.Last week we met for a food chat at La Farm, in Cary.  She recruited me to judge some food contests at the State Fair, but we’ve never had a chance to sit and talk.

Lisa was born and raised in Fuquay-Varina.  She’s known her husband since preschool.  But they didn’t start dating until high school.  They have a nineteen-year-old son, currently at NCSU.

I asked her about her favorite restaurant.  Here’s her answer, in her own words.

“The Angus Barn for the restaurant I have enjoyed going to since I was a little girl. The big red barn on the hill where the service is so amazing and special occasions are celebrated.But for a favorite that is closer to home: that would be Little Hen in Holly Springs. They are a locally sourced farm to table restaurant. The menu changes seasonally and is always filled with delicious surprises. My husband and I love going there often.”

I asked Lisa the menu for her birthday dinners; it was some type of beef, and a variety of vegetables from the State Farmers Market.

But always, always on the menu would be lace cornbread.  Here’s her family recipe.

Betsy’s Lace Cornbreadlace-cornbread1 cup House Autry White Self-Rising Corn Meal Mix

2 cups water

3/4 cup canola oil

In a 10 inch skillet or pan, heat oil on medium setting.  Mix cornmeal mix and water together, stirring well.  The mixture will be thin.  Drop in heated oil by the Tablespoon.  Cook about two minutes on one side and then turn over until golden.  Place on a paper towel to drain.  Serve warm with butter.  Makes approximately 24 to 30 piecesPersonal note from Lisa:  This cornbread recipe has been in my family for generations.  My grandmother (Mama) could fry up the best lace cornbread and my parents have mastered it pretty well.  Now, I’m the next generation and I have finally gotten it down.  This does take some practice and patience but it is worth it.  It took me 3 batches before I got it right!

When you see somebody on TV, you never know who they really are.

But with Lisa Prince what you see is what you get.  She’s smart, funny, and enthusiastic about all things grown and eaten in NC.  And she’s very kind and very generous to a nosy but grateful food writer.Thanks for your time.