Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Celebrate Everything!

Debbi Baker Covington’s first cookbook was a big success and sold well among her Wilson friends as well and her catering clientele in Beaufort, S.C., where she lives with husband Vince.

The slim, paperback volume published in 2005 included recipes she grew up with and recipes she used in her catering business.

Her new cookbook is also packed with 182 recipes from Catering by Debbi Covington as well as a few from her youth, but the coffee table book is quite different and still reflects a sophisticated palate and menus that are popular with current food trends.

“Celebrate Everything! Delicious Menus for Festive Gatherings and Easy Entertaining” is filled with colorful images of the food that has made Covington so popular in Beaufort and led Southern Living to recognize her as a “master of entertaining” in a 2010 feature story.

Covington, a 1981 graduate of Fike High School and 1986 graduate of Atlantic Christian College, said her cooking style has changed so much and so fast in recent years.

Much of that has to do with the Food Channel showing the country new foods to try and with the availability of specialty food items.

It hasn’t been that long, she said, that she had to travel to Charleston or Hilton Head in South Carolina or Savannah, Ga., to get some food items she needed. When she came home to Wilson, she could shop in Raleigh. But now, many specialty food items are available in Beaufort and other locales, including lime leaves, Thai chili peppers and canned curry, leaving more room for experimentation.

Covington enjoys trying new foods in her travels and adapting them for her catering business. But she hasn’t always had that variety in her diet.

Growing up in Wilson, she mostly ate chicken, barbecue, chicken dumplings, fried flounder.“It was pretty much the same stuff,” she said.

After moving to Raleigh, she learned about Mexican food and had her first chimichanga. When she moved to Wilmington, she ate steamed oysters and clams. She was always willing to try something new, and she still is.

A more recent trip to the winery at Biltmore Estate and a good meal inspired her to go home and make a fabulous dish herself.

She’s always saying, “Wow! That tastes really good, but I can change it.”


“Celebrate Everything!” includes many of those adapted recipes and is set up by menus.

For instance, her Easter brunch menu has recipes for ham and cheese rye strata, pecan pie muffins, glazed carrots, green salad with fresh fruit and blackberry-basil vinaigrette and Mama’s deviled eggs. Her supper club menu features creamy red pepper soup with croutons, romaine and grapefruit salad with citrus dressing, red pepper and spinach stuffed chicken breasts, potatoes baked in sea salt with herbed butter, black walnut bars and sparkling water.

Covington, who writes a food column for Beaufort’s Lowcountry Weekly newspaper, has a number of favorites in her new cookbook and encourages those who buy the book to try all of the salads. She especially recommends the crunchy fennel salad with grapes, dates, olives and almonds in the Halloween chapter. The salad is very pretty, she said, and she likes the different textures.

“It’s amazing.”

Other favorites include drunken spaghetti and broccoli salad with lemon pepper-blue cheese dressing. Both recipes are in the chapter, “Celebrate the Sound of Music: A Midsummer Night Supper on the Porch.” And the praline pumpkin imperial is a really good dessert, she said, so is her mother’s coconut cake made with black walnut extract.

Gorgeous color photographs by commercial photographer Paul Nurnberg make the dishes especially inviting — which was Covington’s aim.

“You eat with your eyes first,” she said. “If you see what you’re going to eat, it makes you more inclined to try to make it.”

She also wanted to give ideas on how to present her menus and set up elaborate table settings as examples.

Covington made all of the food photographed in the 216-page book. She cooked in the mornings, and she and Nurnberg worked together to shoot photos of the food. Then she changed clothes and ate the food with friends who were photographed as well.

“Those were long days,” she said.

The dishes, china, serving wear, linens and decorative items are all Covington’s. She estimates that she has 50 sets of dishes and china, some that she inherited from her mother.

“Some people buy shoes; I buy dishes and sets of glasses,” she said.

Covington is pleased with the way her book turned out and has already sold quite a few of the books since its release this summer.

“I think it’s gorgeous,” she said.

“Celebrate Everything!” by Debbi Baker Covington is $34.95 and can be purchased locally at Barrett’s Printing at 409 S. Goldsboro St. It can also be purchased online at cateringbydebbicovington.com. Click “cookbook.”

Vanilla-Topped Brownies
  • 1 (21.5-ounces) package fudge brownie mix
  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 (16-ounce) can chocolate fudge frosting
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare brownie mix according to package directions (but don’t bake). Spread into greased 9x13-inch baking pan.

In a small bowl, beat cream cheese, butter and cornstarch until fluffy. Gradually beat in sweetened condensed milk, egg and vanilla until smooth. Pour evenly over brownie batter.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until top is lightly browned. Cool thoroughly. Spread with frosting. Store covered in refrigerator.

Makes 24 brownies.

Debbi said her mother made these brownies at her bridesmaids’ luncheon in 1991.

Debbi Covington | “Celebrate Everything!”

Fish Tacos with Cilantro-Lime Slaw and Chipotle Mayonnaise

For the mayonnaise:
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 chipotles in adobo sauce
  • 1 tablespoon adobo sauce
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
For the slaw:
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Zest of 1 lime
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1 (16-ounce) package coleslaw mix
  • 1/2 cup green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
For the tacos:
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Flour, to dredge
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 pound tilapia fillets cut into 8 equal strips
  • 8 (6-inch) flour tortillas
  • 1 avocado, sliced
Place mayonnaise, chipotles, adobo sauce and lime in a food processor and puree; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, garlic, sugar, lime zest and lime juice. Stir in cabbage, green onions and cilantro; season with salt and pepper.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Season flour with salt, pepper, chili powder and cumin. Dredge the tilapia in seasoned flour; shake off excess. Cook the fish until golden brown on all sides.

Meanwhile, warm the tortillas according to package instructions. To make the tacos, spread chipotle mayonnaise on the tortillas, fill with cilantro-lime slaw, fish and avocado. Serves 4.


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