November 18, 2017

A la Carte: Mushrooms by the Million? Sounds Like Soup!

I am such a spoiled princess, even if I don’t have anyone around to spoil me.

Because the temperature is dipping into the 40s at night, I opened two windows in the living room and one in the bedroom. Since I had turned on the central air in late May and hadn’t yet turned it off on the first of October, I thought I would go into this slowly. (Actually, I am not a spoiled princess in the winter—I like cold weather and keep my thermostat at around 60 degrees until late March or early April.)

Once I feel if a snap of coolness, I begin to think about what to cook for the next two seasons. In the late spring, summer and early fall, I buy a lot of fresh produce at farm markets let those ingredients speak for themselves, eating them raw, like tomatoes, sweet peppers and salads with a whisper of dressing, or simply grilled with a little olive oil and fresh herbs.

Last week I began dream of squashes and roasted vegetables and soups. I was at BJs, loading up on bags of flour and sugar (pies, cookies, cakes) and saw big containers of mushrooms. Soup, I thought. Lots of soups on the cooktop and in my slow cookers (I am also thinking about an Instant Pot. Let me know what you think about yet another counter appliance since my old blender is gone and the pressure cooker is in the garage.)’

Anyway, I made two batches of mushroom soup. I had a couple of recipes in my head, but decided that it is time to play around with soup. So this recipe is all mine. And I must say, it is better than any other mushroom soup I’d ever made. Once again, a few steps are important—saute the mushrooms and onions, add cream sherry twice (I have Harvey’s Bristol Cream Sherry, but I also have a bottle of Sheffield Cream Sherry of California at a fraction of Harvey’s)  If you want to add more onions or more mushrooms, be my guest. Maybe 1 percent milk would work.

Lee’s Mushroom Soup

1 stick of unsalted butter
20 ounces or more fresh, sliced white mushrooms
1 large onion, peeled and diced fairly fine
4 tablespoons cream sherry, divided (never use supermarket cooking sherry)
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk (I use 2 percent)
1 32-ounce carton low-sodium, low-fat chicken or vegetable stock

In a large heavy-bottomed pot (I use a Le Creuset Dutch oven), melt butter on medium heat and add mushrooms. Stir periodically until mushrooms take up all the butter, then add onions. Continue stirring until onions are light blonde in color. Pour 2 tablespoons sherry into the pan and cook until almost dry. Toss flour over mushrooms and onions and stir until veggies are coated. Add milk, stir, then turn heat to medium low. Add the rest of the sherry. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring periodically. Add all the chicken or vegetable stock, stirring, and add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for another 10 minutes or so and taste again for salt and pepper.

I wait until the soup is cool, then puree it just a little in my big Ninja of use an immersion blender. Or do neither. Soup can be served immediately or refrigerate and reheat over gentle heat. If soup is too thick, add more stock or water.

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A La Carte: Perfect Pork Chops with a Mustard Twist

Last week I bought a new grill cover for my Weber. I was a bit unhappy, since I have only had the grill for just over two years and the cover I bought with the expensive grill, is falling apart. I’m not sure I should he surprised, but I am getting to that age where I expect quality should last a while. At least I don’t start sentences by saying “When I was younger,”

This, however, doesn’t mean the grill won’t be used all winter. My patio is just a few steps from my living room/dining room and, unless this coming winter is like the one wo years ago, during which I could barely find my grill, you will still see me throwing some chicken or burgers and hot dogs onto the Weber (without a coat on, no matter how cold it is).

I took a tour into my garage freezer and found four three-packs of pork chops I’d bought on sale at the supermarket, so I took one of the packages out last night. I can eat one or maybe two; the other one or one and a half I will cut up and toss into a large salad tomorrow. (I do the same the same thing with strip steaks I buy in three-steak packages at BJ’s—I wrap aluminum foil on each and freeze them—I can’t eat an entire steak, but it is lovely on a salad or for a stir-fry the next day.)

I found this recipe in my computer and hadn’t made it in almost a decade. I love mustard and this is a great way to cook pork chops.

Pork Chops with Mustard Sauce

Adapted from Fine Cooking, November, 2008, page 94a

Yield: serves 4

Preheat oven to low (150 to 160 degrees)

8 one-half-inch-thick boneless pork chops (about 3 ounces each) or 4 thicker pork chops
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 or more tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsalted butter (regular butter will do since you use so little)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil; more as needed
one-half cup dry white wine
three-quarter cup heavy cream
one-half cup lower-salted chicken broth
one-quarter cup stoneground or country-style mustard

Put salt, pepper and flour in a plastic bag and dredge chops in bag, shaking off the excess.

Put butter and oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. When hot, add 4 of the pork chops and cook, turning once, until golden on both sides and just cooked through, 4 to 6 minutes total. Transfer pork to a serving platter, tent with foil and place in low-degree oven. If necessary, repeat with remaining chops adding another tablespoon of oil to the pan, if necessary.

Our off any fat in the pan, add wine and scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Increase the heat to medium-high and boil until wine is reduced to about 2 tablespoons, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in cream, chicken broth and mustard and boil until reduced to a saucy consistency, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Return pork and any juices to the pan, turn to coat with the sauce and then transfer back to the serving platter. Drizzle any sauce remaining in the skillet over the chops and serve.

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A La Carte: Apricots and Almonds Make Great Galette!

Apricot and Almond Galette

My mother always wanted to live in San Diego, but as far as she got was Troy, NY.

She was born in the beginning of the 20th century, died in the beginning of the 21st century and was buried in an ecumenical cemetery not more than 20 blocks or so from where she lived her whole life.  San Diego, she said, correctly, had the perfect climate: fairly sunny, warm in the daytime and cooler at night. No snow ever.

For me, almost any season is okay. I like the autumn smell of wood smoke in the air and in winter, curling up with two cats as I read long, meandering novels. Spring never seems to linger too long and, now, we bid adieu to summer.

No matter the season, I love to cook. I am still having such fun with all the summer vegetables. I eat two or three tomatoes a day. I am grilling zucchini and summer squash outside or sautéing them with a little butter and garlic and salt on the cooktop in the kitchen. Last night I roasted a spaghetti squash, then tossed the innards with chopped tomatoes, basil and a little butter. Today I will make a frittata with sweet peppers for a 9:30 am meeting at my house.

Next weekend I will make a little dessert with fresh peaches and almonds. The recipe below, from calls for apricots, but any stone fruit will do.

Apricot and Almond Galette

From Bon Appetit, June, 2017

Yield: 4 servings

One-half cup blanched almonds
One-third cup sugar, for more for sprinkling
1 large egg
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
One-half teaspoon almond extract (optional, but I do love almond extract)
One-half teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour (plus more for surface)
1 package frozen puff pastry, preferably all-butter, thawed
12 apricots (about 1 and one-quarter pound), halved and pitted (or other stone fruit, quartered if large)

Place a rack in middle of oven and preheat to 425 degrees. Pulse almonds and one-third of sugar in a food processor until very finely ground. Add egg and pulse to combine. Add butter, almond extract (if using), vanilla extract, salt and 1 tablespoon flour; pulse until almond cream is smooth.

Roll out pastry on a lightly floured surface just enough to smooth out any creases.

If you are using a package of pastry than as 2 sheets, stack and roll out to a one-quarter- to one-third rectangle.

If your package contains a single 16-inch to 10-inch sheet of puff pastry, halve it crosswise and roll out one half on a lightly floured surface until rectangle is one-quarter to one-third inch thick, saving remaining half for another use. Transfer to a parchment-lined (or Silpat-lined) baking sheet. Fold over edges of pastry to make a one-half inch border around sides. Prick surface all over with a fork (this keeps the pastry from rising too much when baked and helps it cook through. (Spread almond cream over pastry, staying inside borders. (Chill dough in the freezer for a few minutes if it becomes too soft to work with.) Set apricots, cut sides up, on top of the cream. Sprinkle lightly with sugar.

Bake until pastry is golden brown and puffed, 15 to 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees and continue to bake until pastry is deep golden brown and cooked through and apricots are softened and browned in spots, 15 to 20 minutes longer.

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A la Carte: When it’s Humid and Hot, Salmorejo Hits the Spot

Salmorejo

Yes, it has been humid and hot, hot, hot.

Usually at this point in late summer, I am sort of done with the beach. Last Saturday I went out to dinner with friends and to see a movie (“Wind River” is terrific. Don’t miss it.). Because we  had decided to go to see the movie in Mystic, although it is not our favorite destination cinema hall (don’t like the recliners that don’t “recline” our legs), we had wine at my condo before the movie.

Nancy mentioned that I was pretty tan and had I been at the beach that afternoon. “No,” I explained, “this was pretty much left over from my four days at the New Jersey shore. Anyway, it was too hot to go to the beach,.”

As September begins to beckon, I think about cooking. Sure, I cook during the summer, but I grill meats, vegetables and desserts on my Weber, prepping salad and eating inside. Of course, produce is gorgeous this time of year and, finally, there are tomatoes.

Last week I stopped at Becky’s in Waterford and bought tomatoes, beets and a pint of those yellow cherry tomatoes. Maybe they are called Sun Gold. In any case, I ate the full pint by the time I got off I-95.

Last night I looked over my new issue of Food & Wine, the issue about Spain. I looked up the recipes and found one for a tomato soup. It sounded divine. I had enough tomatoes to double the recipe. It should be served cold. I love cold soup, especially when the weather is still sticky and hot, so I would happily eat it for a couple of days. And the recipe uses no heat, just a blender.

Salmorejo

From Food & Wine, September, 2017

Yield: serves 4

2 and one-half pounds vine-ripened tomatoes, cored and chopped
One-half pound rustic white bread, crust removed, cubed (2 and one-half cups)
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
One-quarter cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving, if you like
Kosher salt
2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
One-half cup chopped serrano ham (prosciutto will do nicely)

In a blender, puree the chopped tomatoes with the bread, garlic, vinegar and one-half cup of water at high speed until very smooth. about 1 minute. With the blender on, drizzle in the one-quarter cup of oil until incorporated. Season with salt, Cover and refrigerate until the soup is cold, at least 30 minutes.

Divide the soup among 4 bowls. Garnish with chopped eggs and ham, then drizzle with olive oil and serve.

Make ahead: The soup can be refrigerated for up; to 2 days.

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A La Carte: You Can’t Beat Beets!

Borscht

Not everyone likes beets. This is hard for me to understand. What’s not to like with beets. My mother didn’t like vegetables. I found this later in life, when I asked my mother why we I didn’t have vegetables, canned or fresh, except for sweet corn and tomatoes in the summer and canned green beans and canned peas in the fall, winter and spring. Simple, she explained. She didn’t like vegetables.

She did, however, like borscht. It was one of five or six dishes she actually made. Even later in my life I found out that she did like borscht but that she never made it from fresh beets. Rather, she used canned beets.

I love beets and I especially love borscht. I make it often and, in my everlasting quest for fresh tomatoes (maybe by the time you read this, there will be local and fresh tomatoes), I am finding beets. Last week I went to White Gate Farm in East Lyme, a place I visit rarely because I find the prices exorbitant, figuring that if any place had tomatoes, they would. They didn’t, but I did see beautiful beets. I bought two bunches (beets are always inexpensive), and that evening I made borscht.

This is my mother’s recipe and requires three ingredients: beets, onions and lemons. To this, you add water, salt and pepper. If you want a bit of sophistication, top perhaps with fresh dill fronds. My family ate in icy cold, with a warm boiled potato and a big dollop of sour cream. I dispense with the potato and just spoon a tablespoon or two of the sour cream into the soup. It turns it a gorgeous dark pink.

Borscht

Yield: serves 6

6 good sized beets, peeled and cut into 2-inch cubes*
1 large onion, peeled and quartered
Juice of one lemon
Salt and pepper, to taste
Fronds of dill (optional)
Sour cream for serving

Place beets and onion into a good-sized soup pot, with cold water to cover.

Bring to a boil, then bring to a simmer for about 45 minutes, or until beets are soft. Add lemon to soup and allow it to cool. Using the grating or slicing tool of a food processor, process the beets and onions. Add vegetables back into the dark, red broth and warm the soup. Add salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate. To serve, pour cold soup into bowls (I love to use white bowls), stir in sour cream, add dill fronts and serve.

*I would love a few recipes for beet greens. I throw them into the disposal, but I know many think that is sacrilegious.

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A La Carte: Corn Chowder with Lobster Makes Perfect Ending to Beach Day

Corn chowder

There are beach days and there are beach days.

I am not sure there has ever been a summer that didn’t include a salt-water vacation.

As a baby, toddler and teenager, there was Belmar, N.J. I had Angrist and Kasdan cousins who lived there full-time, although the two Angrist brothers worked in New York City, one as a librarian at CCNY and the other a pathologist at Albert Einstein medical school.

Charlie’s wife, Claire Kasdan Angrist, was a teacher of French as Asbury High School. Her twin brother had a son, who became a well known movie director. Claire and her sister, Sylvia Angrist, had married brothers. Claire and Sylvia used to play Scrabble in French.

And every day the sun shone, there was the beach.

Today is July 4, 2017. And today was a beach day as glorious as any I can remember.

Today, too, were two beach stories in The Day. On the front page was a story about the Miami Beach Association fencing in Old Lyme to stop a “significant increase in the inappropriate behavior of persons using the beach.” The second story, first page of the second section, was a feature saying Groton’s Eastern Point Beach “concession stand still serving up favorites”

My beach used to be Old Lyme. You needed a beach pass and there were very few parking places, but it wasn’t fenced.

Today, my beach is the one in Groton. As a City of Groton citizen, and an old woman, too, it costs $11 for the season. The beach is gorgeous and huge. And on this gorgeous, sunny Fourth of July, as I left the beach to go home to write this column, there are dozens more parking places available and the $1.75 foot-long hot dog is as good as it ever was, as long as a gull doesn’t get to it first.

Summer doesn’t get much better than this. And just imagine, fresh tomatoes and sweet corn are still to come. I still have packets of the latter in the freezer and I bought some lobster to go with it.

Corn Chowder

Adapted a lot from an 1964 edition of Joy of Cooking

One of the best things about this recipe is there is neither butter nor heavy cream in this recipe. Sure, some salt pork for flavoring, but this is pretty healthy.

Yield: serves 6 to 8 as a main dish with a salad and maybe some good bread

2 tablespoons olive oil
6 to 8 ounces salt pork, diced
One-half cup chopped onions
One-half cup chopped celery
1 green pepper, seeded and chopped
1 and one-half cups peeled diced raw potatoes (with Yukon Gold, you needn’t peel)
2 cups water
One-half teaspoon salt
One-half teaspoon paprika
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk*
6 to 8 ears of fresh corn, blanched for 2 minutes in boiling water, then drained in iced water
Meat from claws and tail of one and one-half to two-pound cooked lobster, cut into small chunks
3 cups hot milk*
Chopped fresh tarragon, and more for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste

Pour oil into a heated, heavy-bottomed stock pot, add salt pork and sauté until browned.

Add onions, celery and green pepper and sauté until translucent.

Add potatoes, water, salt, paprika and bay leaf and simmer until potatoes are soft, around 15 minutes.

Add flour and 1 cup of milk and stir until mixture is thick.

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A la Carte: Craving a Crunch? Enjoy These Cashew Butterscotch Bars

Cashew Butterscotch Bars

It has been a while since we had a one-two-almost-three punch snowstorm. On the Wednesday before the storm, I had a meeting at 6 p.m. and then another at 6:30 (I was about 15 minutes late for the second one). In the first, my condo board meeting, we talked about the fact that snow was on its way.

We tried to figure out whether it was really going to be a tough one, or not. I felt it might be a real one, and I was prepared. Plenty of food for the cats (because, after all, they could not care less as long as they had a few warm velour throws, a clean litter box and cans of Fancy Feast to go with their dry food).

I do have a freezer full of people food, but that freezer is in the garage, a good walk easy when the weather is good but possibly not so if it really does snow for hours and hours. As it turned out, it snowed for around 10 hours and I couldn‘t get out of my condo for another half a day (except to shovel a path from my back door to the bird feeders).

But I had decided I wanted to cook.

It is actually my therapy, whether the weather is too hot or too cold, or too snowy. I had gotten chicken thighs from the freezer the day before and bought a big chunk of beef chuck and some ground meat for chili. For two of the recipes I used my slow cooker. I bought my first just  after my first marriage dissolved; my new one I have had for about eight years; I love my slow cooker although I usually sear the meat that will go into the crock pot these days.

The chicken thigh recipe was more work than it was worth  The pot roast was amazing (I added almost everything except the kitchen sink including half a can of Campbell’s tomato bisque from the fridge.) The chili, for which I used a package of Wick Fowler’s 2-Alarm Fire Chili, was yummy.

But a few days later, I wanted something sweet. Not chocolate, though. I found this recipe I had saved from the New York Times years ago. Boy, are these addictive.

Cashew Butterscotch Bars

From the food section of The New York Times, sometime within the past ten or so years

Yield: 36 bars*

Ingredients:

Two sticks plus 5 and one-half tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus butter for greasing pan
Three-quarter cup plus 2 tablespoons (packed) light-brown sugar
1 and three-quarters teaspoons kosher salt
2 and one-half cups all-purpose flour
10 ounces butterscotch chips
One-half cup plus 2 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 tablespoon and 2 and one-half teaspoons water
2 one-half cups salted cashew pieces

1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 13-by-18-inch jelly roll pan, including sides.

2. To make the crust: in a mixer with a paddle or in a bowl with a rubber spatula, best ½ (one-half) plus 2 tablespoons butter and all the brown sugar together until smooth. Stir salt into flour, then add flour to butter and sugar mixture. Mix until dough is well combined but still crumbly; if dough is mixed until a ball forms, crust will be tough.

3. Pat the dough evenly along bottom of buttered pan, taking care not to pack the dough down. Place pan in oven and bake 5 minutes. With a fork, prick dough deeply all over. Return pan to oven and bake until sough is lightly browned, dry and no longer soft to the touch, about 7 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack; do not turn off the oven.

4. To make butterscotch topping: In a large saucepan, combine remaining 3 ½ (three and one-half) tablespoons, butterscotch chips, corn syrup and 1 tablespoon plus 2 ½ (two and one-half) teaspoons water. Place over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until butter and butterscotch chips are melted, about 5 minutes. Pour topping over crust, using a spatula to spread, evenly all the way to the corners. Sprinkle cashew pieces on top, pressing down light.

5. Bake until topping is bubbly and cashews are lightly browned, 11 to 13 minutes. Transfer to a rack and cool completely before cutting into two-by-three-inch bars.

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A la Carte: Welcome the New Year with Oyster Stew

Oyster stew

Just once were we far away from home on New Year’s Eve. It was at Key West and it was wild. We ate dinner at a restaurant. I don’t remember much of the dinner (it wasn’t the champagne, honestly, it wasn’t.) But it was the first time I’d tried creamy crème brulée. Remember, it was the early 70s, iceberg lettuce was the only lettuce in a supermarket and I’d never tasted oysters.

In the next few years, I added New York City to my geographical resumé and tasted lobster, Mexican food, Szechuan dishes and escargots. I began to write about restaurants, although still pretty green, but not that many people were “criticizing” food.

More important, I started to cook. I was the daughter of a woman who didn’t cook and I had married a man whose mother did cook but hated it. I had seen a way to nurture my husband. I loved to cook and I was fearless in the kitchen. My husband loved my food. We had to go out to eat. I was paid to go out to eat, but my real laboratory was my kitchen.

After that New Year’s Eve, and one at the “21” in Manhattan, our New Year’s Eve was at home or at friends’ home. The following day, my husband always made oyster stew for dinner. Now that I am husbandless, I still make oyster stew, but I no longer have to shuck them. Instead I go to one of the many fish markets in our area and get the shucked oysters and a pint or more of their “liquor.”

Oysters Rockefeller Stew

From “Chowder land” by Brook Dojny (Storey Publishing, N. Adams, MA, 2015)

Yield: 4 servings

4 ounces bacon, cut into one-inch pieces (about 1 cup)

2 tablespoons butter, plus more if needed

1 large leek, cleansed, thinly sliced (white and pale green parts only)

1 celery stalk, finely chopped

One-eighth teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 cups bottled clam juice of seafood broth

1 cup water

2 pints shucked oysters with its liquor, cut in half if large

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce (I would use way less)

2 cups heavy cream

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

4 ounces baby spinach, thinly sliced (about 3 cups)

1 tablespoon medium-dry sherry (never use cooking sherry)

Cook bacon in large heavy soup pot or Dutch oven over medium-low heat until crispy and fat is rendered, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove cooked bits with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towels and reserve. You should have 2 tablespoons of fat in the pot; if there is too much, pour some off; if too little, make up the difference with additional butter.

Add butter to pot and cook leek and celery over medium heat until softened but not browned, about 8 minutes. Stir in cayenne. Add clam juice and water and bring to a simmer.

Add oysters and Worcestershire and cook over low heat until edges of the oysters begin to shrink and curl at the edges, about 2 minutes. Stir in cream and season with salt and pepper to taste. If  there is not enough liquid, add a bit more water. Let sit at room temperature for at least an hour, or refrigerate overnight.

Reheat over very low heat so the stew does not curdle and stir in spinach; cook for 2 minutes, or until spinach wilts. Stir in sherry, ladle into soup bowls and sprinkle with reserved bacon.

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A la Carte: Pot Roast is Perfect Between the Holidays

A delicious pot roast simmers gently on the stove.

A delicious pot roast simmers gently on the stove.

It has been a busy holiday season, beginning at Thanksgiving. I will light my candles on my menorah beginning Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, the first time I can remember Hanukkah beginning on Christmas Eve. (In the Jewish calendar, which sometimes has an extra month, Hanukkah can arrive from November through most of December and is an eight-day holiday. I do not remember my parents giving me eight presents, one on each day, but I am not complaining in any way I was deprived. Just sayin’.)

I am not also saying that I married a Protestant just so I could have Hanukkah and Christmas, but it is fun to do both. For Christmas this year, I will spend the day with my daughter-in-law’s family in Somers, Conn. And in no way did I convince my stepson to marry a Greek girl so I could also have Easter dinner and Greek Easter dinner, too, but that is sort of fun, too.

The holidays made for a lot of leftovers, but at some point you want something that masks the kitchen smell like simple comfort. I love the idea of making a  pot roast between  Christmas and New Year’s Day. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that pot roast is terrific the day you make it and maybe even better a day or two days later. This is a really good recipe given to me from a friend some years ago.

Pot Roast

Adapted from Ralph Turri

4 to 5 pound beef roast, most fat removed (chuck roast has little fat)

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

1 packet of Knorr reduced beef stock

3 to 4 cups water

5 carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks

1 medium onion, peeled and cut into large slices

2 stalks of celery, cut into big chunks (optional)

fresh herbs wrapped in cheesecloth (optional)

salt and pepper to taste

For the gravy:

4 tablespoons flour mixed into 1 to 2 cups of water

1 teaspoon Kitchen Bouquet (optional)

one-half cup milk

8 ounces of sliced mushrooms

salt and pepper to taste

Dry roast with paper towels. Into the large, heavy-bottomed pot with a cover, heat oil and butter. On medium-to-high heat, sear the roast on all sides. Add packet of stock and water and bring to a boil. Add vegetables and bring back to a boil again. Reduce heat to simmer and cook, covered, for about 3 hours. Remove roast to a platter and keep warm..

Strain all vegetables from the pot and herbs (I dump the veggies). Place the pot with the broth on the cooktop on medium-high until it reduces by two-thirds. Whisk the flour-water mixture into the broth stir constantly until the broth becomes gravy. Add Kitchen Bouquet (if using), milk and mushrooms and cook on simmer for a few minutes. Add salt and pepper taste. Slice the roast onto the platter, add some gravy to the slices and serve gravy in a gravy bowl.

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Nibbles: Turn Turkey Leftovers Into Turkey Chilli

turkey_chilliYou may be reading this column the day before Thanksgiving. If you are serving a feast for four or eight or maybe up to 20, just peruse this column. You have enough to do without reading this, but the recipe below may help you with turkey leftovers. (There is no clear segue here, but if you are hosting and see yourself in the weeds, e-mail me (leeawhite@aol.com) and we will work you through it.)

Many people make soup with the turkey carcass, although I have never loved turkey soup. To me, the flavor is gone after the gobbler has spent hours in the oven. My stepdaughter, Molly, makes a good turkey soup by roasting the bones at a high temperature in the oven and using the bones for the broth.  But I often use the leftover turkey for casseroles, enchiladas or even pad Thai.

Or chili.

This recipe calls for a pound of raw, lean ground turkey. Using it, it is the beginning of the recipe below. On the other hand, begin this recipe with the lightly sautéed vegetables After you add the broth, beans and tomatoes, add about a pound or more shredded turkey, and simmer, as the recipe explains. This recipe belongs to a friend’s daughter who adapted the recipe from Cooking Light. I doubled the recipe so it would feed more. I also changed the beans from garbanzo beans to kidney beans primarily because, if you’re on Weight Watchers, kidney beans have half the points as garbanzo beans.

Turkey Chili

Yield: Serves 8

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 (or more) pounds of lean ground turkey

3 cups chopped sweet onion, divided

2 cups chopped green bell pepper (or other sweet peppers)

4 (or more) cloves garlic, minced

2  (or more) tablespoons chili powder

4 tablespoons tomato paste

2 teaspoons cumin

2 teaspoons dried oregano

one-half teaspoon ground cinnamon

one-quarter teaspoon ground allspice

1 cup low-sodium chicken broth

2 15-ounce cans kidney beans

28-ounce can diced tomato, undrained

5 tablespoons chopped semisweet chocolate

one-half teaspoon salt

one and one-half cups (3 ounces) shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Heat a Dutch oven (like a Le Creuset pot) over medium-high heat. Add olive oil. When moderately hot, add turkey and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring to crumble. Add 2 cups onion, bell pepper and garlic; saute about 3 minutes. Stir in chili powder and next 5 ingredients (through allspice); cook 1 minute. Add broth, beans and tomatoes; bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove chili from heat and stir in chocolate and salt. Top with remaining 1 cup of onions and cheese. Stir immediately.

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Nibbles: Savor Seasonal Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

These delicious Pumpkin Whoopie Pies won't last long!

These delicious Pumpkin Whoopie Pies won’t last long!

I am not sure when chocolate began to disappear as my drug of choice or, in truth, never was. Even as a child, when given a dime for penny candy (yes, I am that old!), I chose those Mary Janes and “watermelon” slices and those wax bottles filled with juice. On the other hand, my go-to birthday cake was chocolate layer cake, filled between layers with strawberry jam, topped with crusty white chocolate icing and drizzled with dark chocolate.

Over the years, I considered chocolate an add-on. It might want one candy from a Whitman sampler but not a whole Hershey bar. I still like sweets, but favor butterscotch pudding, blondies, carrot cake and rice pudding, the last served warm with cinnamon.

Until I went to college, I had never tasted pumpkin pie, candied sweet potatoes, vanilla-scented cookies or bread pudding. Now, when I crave dessert, it is more likely to be a slice of pineapple upside down cake or Key lime pie.

As a result, I love autumn. I have in my pantry cans of pure pumpkin and the October issues of food magazines are filled with recipes for pumpkin. Here is one I have been making for years. (If you try to buy cans of pumpkin in the spring or summer, you may be out of luck, so buy a few extra this fall if you love this recipe as much as I do.)

Pennsylvania Dutch Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

Yield: 12 to 18 “pies”

4 and one-half cups flour
1 tablespoon cream of tartar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
one-quarter teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 and one-half teaspoon ground ginger
1 and one-half teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup flavorless vegetable oil
2 and one-third cups brown sugar
1 can real pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
one-half teaspoon fresh grated lemon zest
1 and one-third cups oats (quick- or regular-cooking)
milk or buttermilk, if needed, so the batter isn’t too thick to drop onto cookie sheet

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray several cookie sheets with Pam (or use butter).

Thoroughly stir together flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger and allspice in a large bowl.

In second bowl, with a mixer, beat butter, oil and brown sugar until smooth and fluffy. Beat in pumpkin, egg, yolks, vanilla and lemon juice. Gradually beat in flour mixture, then add oats. If too thick, add some milk or buttermilk until it looks more like cookie batter.

Drop 2 and one-half tablespoons batter at a time onto the baking sheets, about 3 inches apart.* Using your index finger (dipped in water), turn cookies into circles about the same size. Place cooking sheets on the bottom third and top third of racks. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, reversing them at about half-time. Remove from oven and cool for around 3 minutes before put cookies on wire cooling racks.

For the filling: Cream 12 ounces cream cheese, 2 large egg whites, one-quarter pure vanilla extract, one-quarter teaspoon grated lemon zest. Gradually add confectioners’ sugar. Chill for about 15 minutes. To assemble, place one cookie, flat side down, on a platter, spread about 2 tablespoons of filling and top with flat-top of another cookie.

*If you would like smaller pies, use 1 tablespoon each of the batter

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A la Carte: Weeknight Red Curry

Red Thai curry

Red Thai curry

It was a nice quiet birthday, beginning with my daughter-in-law and three of my granddaughters and ending with pineapple rice with chicken at Spice Club in Niantic and a terrific movie at the Niantic Theater.

With some trepidation, I drove from home to Newbury, Massachusetts, Friday of Memorial Day weekend. The traffic began on I-95 in East Lyme to 290 in Worcester, continued on 495, then, finally, back to 95. I watched young Casey play tennis at her school. We all went to their house while Casey changed. Nancy and I had a nice glass of red wine and then drove to Flatbread in Amesbury for salad and pizza (one of the pizzas was topped with fiddleheads and golden beets). (My middle granddaughter, Laurel, drove; even one glass of wine makes me a bit tipsy.)

With no traffic on the way home, I was home in just over two hours. I watched a little television I’d DVRed and went to bed early. On my birthday, friend Sarah and I had met at the Spice Club for Thai food and then we walked to see Love and Friendship, a new film from one of Austen’s smaller books. Don’t miss it!

Today I decided to make another. I always have cans of unsweetened coconut milk in the pantry and red curry paste in the refrigerator. (I am not sure red curry paste ever has an expiration date; in any case, I have had little opened cans, covered, in the fridge for half a decade.) I went through some recipes I’d clipped once from Cooking Light. I found a package of cod in the freezer and, as always, a finger of ginger there, too. Dinner was ready in less than an hour.

Weeknight Red Curry*

Yield: 4 servings

1 large shallot (half a small onion will do)

6 garlic cloves

1 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and cut into pieces

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons red curry paste

2 teaspoons ground turmeric

1 (14.5 oz.) can canned tomatoes (I always use diced Muir Glen)

1 (13.5 oz.) can unsweetened coconut milk

1 pound mixed vegetables, cut into 1-inch pieces (frozen veggies are fine)

1 pound firm white fish, skin removed

Cooked rice noodles, cilantro leaves with stems and lime wedges (for serving)

Pulse shallot, garlic and ginger in a food processor to finely chop. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add shallot mixture and cook, stirring often, until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Add curry paste and turmeric and cook, stirring, until paste is darkening in color and mixture starts to stick to pan, about 3 minutes. Add tomatoes. Cook, stirring often and scraping up brown bits, until tomatoes start to break down and stick to pot, about 5 minutes.

Stir in coconut milk and season with salt. Simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until mixture is slightly thickened and flavor meld, 8 to 10 minutes. Add vegetables and pour in enough water to cover. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are crisp tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Season fish all over with salt and nestle into curry (add a little more water if it is very thick). Return to a simmer and cook just until fish is cooked through, about 5 minutes.

Spoon curry over rice noodles and top with cilantro and a squeeze of lime.

*I use vegetable or chicken stock instead of, or with, water for more flavor.


Nibbles: Pittsfield Rye Bread

A few weeks ago I watched a movie in New London called “Deli Man,” part of the International Film Series. I grew up with a terrific Jewish deli in Troy, New York. It, and thousands, is gone now, primarily because Jewish immigrants insisted that their children go to college and “make something of themselves.” As a result, there are few now, even in New York City, where there are more Jews than in Israel. Gone, also, is H&H and Ess-a-Bagel.

On a drive home from Massachusetts, I stopped in Worcester to get some rye bread, bulkies (hard rolls) and bagels at Widoff on Water Street. It, too, is gone. Instead, hoping against hope, I drove to the Big Y in Norwich. Happily, it (and many other Big Ys) still carry superb Pittsfield rye bread—marbled, seeded, unseeded, and dark rye (pumpernickel). I had a toasted slice with butter and placed the rest into the freezer for another day.

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A la Carte: Asparagus Soup Two Ways

AsparagusThis is the time of year I always yearn for. I think about what is available in the supermarkets (rhubarb is in!) and I will buy asparagus.

I have a few tips for you about asparagus. Buy your asparagus with tips tightly wound. It can be thin or thick (I prefer the thick ones). I cut about half an inch or an inch from the bottom with a sharp knife (I do this five or six stalks at a time). Then I peel around the stalk 2 or so inches from the top. This way, every stalk is incredibly tender.

I love roasting the asparagus in a little oil and salt. But I also love to blanch the stalks in boiling water for maybe 3-4 minutes. I serve it with a little butter and salt. Sometimes I make a hollandaise sauce, which I adore, but it may be gilding the lily (or gilding the asparagus).

I am also crazy about risotto. I would add asparagus stalks, cut on the diagonal, each about 1 inch, and add them about halfway to the point when the risotto is ready, about 10 minutes.

Here is a lovely recipe for asparagus soup from Julia Child. If you need a recipe for risotto, e-mail me at leeawhite@aol.com and I will send it to you.

Cream of Asparagus Soup
Adapted from The Way to Cook by Julia Child (Alfred Knopf, New York, 1994)

Yield: about 2 quarts

1 cup sliced onions
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 pounds fresh asparagus, washed and trimmed about 2 inches from bottom
2 quarts lightly salted boiling water
2 tablespoons flour
Salt and freshly ground white pepper (use black if you don’t have white)
1/2 cup heavy cream, crème fraiche or sour cream, optional

Cook onions and butter until tender and translucent. In the meantime, cut the tender green tips from the asparagus stalks. Drop the tips into boiling water and boil 2 minutes, or barely tender. Dip out with a skimmer, reserving water, and refresh tips in bowl of iced water to set the color; drain and reserve. Chop the remaining stalks into one-inch lengths and add to the onions with a sprinkling of salt. Cover and cook slowly 5 minutes. Stir in flour and cook, stirring, 3 minutes more. Remove from heat, and, when bubbling stops, blend in the hot asparagus cooking water (I strain the water into the mixture). Simmer, uncovered, 25 or 30 minutes, or until tender enough to puree.

When the mixture is a bit cooler (maybe 15 minutes), pour into blender (or use a soup blender). If you like the soup clearer, you can use a sieve or Foley food mill. The soup will be a lovely pale green color; to keep it that way, reheat it only just before serving. Carefully correct seasonings.

You can serve this soup hot or cold. If you are using cream, crème fraiche or sour cream and serving it hot, gently reheat the soup and add the cream just before serving. If you are serving the soup cold, refrigerate the soup and swirl in the cream before serving. To decorate each bowl of soup, garnish with the asparagus tips.

About the author: Lee White has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976 and has been extensively published in the Worcester (Mass.) Magazine, The Day, Norwich Bulletin, and Hartford Courant. She currently writes Nibbles and a cooking column called A La Carte for LymeLine.com and the Shore Publishing and the Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day.

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A la Carte: Lamb Stew

Braised Lamb with Spinach - Gourmet magazine

Braised Lamb with Spinach – Gourmet magazine

Last Saturday, I took a bunch of hamburgers along with some hamburger rolls out of the freezer. It had been a nice week, and I thought I might fire up the grill and pretend it was almost summer. After all, not only were my crocuses up and gorgeous, but so were my little daffodils. I hadn’t seen my lilies of the valley, but it is my birthday flower and, I thought, they would be popping up soon.

Then Sunday happened. By the time I woke up, there had been a little snow but the temp was in the high thirties. I made a chicken soup with carrots and celery and onions, since I was going to drive to Cromwell to see a middle school show directed by Tom Sullivan. His wife, Barbara, and I have become good friends and she mentioned that Tom had a horrible respiratory upset but had been working all week to get the show on the stage. What could I do but make chicken soup for him?

I left the house at 11:30. There had been snow, odd snow, gigantic flakes, maybe hail? I made it to Cromwell, adored the play and, then drove to Norwich to watch the women’s game. No problem driving home and I watched the second game and went to sleep. The cats let me sleep until 9:30. I opened one eye. No, it couldn’t be. Snow! Not one to let a little bad weather stop me, I had to make a decision—would I drive to Connecticut College to hear Bryan Stevenson talk about his book, Just Mercy? Sure, why not? Got there okay but scared myself to death driving home. Once into the kitchen, I tossed the hamburgers and rolls back into the freezer and took out some lamb. Tomorrow I will make lamb stew instead.

Braised Lamb with Spinach
From Gourmet, March 1991

Serves 4-6

8 garlic cloves
1 ½-inch cube peeled fresh gingerroot
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, trimmed and cut into 1 ½-inch pieces
1 3-inch cinnamon stick
7 whole cloves
1 bay leaf
3 onions, chopped fine
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 cup chopped drained canned tomatoes
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon salt
1 and one-quarter pound fresh baby spinach
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, or to taste
1 tablespoon pine nuts, toasted lightly

In a blender, purée the garlic and the gingerroot with 1/3 cup water; set aside. In a heavy kettle, heat 3 tablespoons of the oil over moderately high heat until it is hot but not smoking, then brown the lamb, patted dry, in batches. With tongs, transfer lamb as it is browned to a bowl. To the skillet add the remaining 3 tablespoons oil, heat until hot but not smoking, and fry the cinnamon stick, cloves and bay leaf, stirring, for 30 seconds, or until the cloves are puffed slightly. Add the onions and cook the mixture over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are golden. Add the garlic purée and cook the mixture, stirring, for 2 minutes, or until the liquid is evaporated. Add the cumin, coriander and cayenne, and cook the mixture, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and yogurt, simmer the mixture, stirring, for 1 minute, then add the lamb, salt and 1 cup water.

Bring the mixture to a boil and braise it, covered, in a preheated 350°F oven for 1 to 1 1/4 hours, or until the lamb is tender. The lamb mixture may be prepared up to this point 2 days in advance. Let the lamb cool, uncovered, then chill it, covered.

At serving time, reheat the lamb mixture. In a large saucepan, bring 1 inch water to a boil, add the spinach, and steam, covered, for 2 minutes, or until wilted. Drain the spinach in a colander.
Add the lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Distribute the spinach over the stew and stir it in gently. Transfer the stew to a heated serving dish and sprinkle with the pine nuts.


Nibbles: Coney Island Hard Root Beer

One of the perks of writing about cooking, instead of writing restaurant reviews, is that I can go to restaurant press dinners, since being anonymous isn’t necessary anymore.

Last Friday I went with friend Elise Maclay to Tale of the Whale in Stamford. The food was almost all seafood, from tuna tartare (one of my very favorite dishes) to fish tacos and an edgy bouillabaisse with at least five or six different fishes. Did I need dessert? Not really, but along came a Celebration Sundae (with at least a quart of ice cream and toppings), chocolate cookie ice cream sandwiches and an adult root beer float. I decided against the first two but fell in love with the float. The next day I stopped at a local liquor store and asked if there was such a thing as adult root beer. I bought a six-pack of Coney Island Hard Root Beer. A 12-ounce bottle is 5.8 percent alcohol. I don’t drink hard liquor (or beer) but, in a tall glass with good ice cream and whipped cream, I could be converted.

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Nibbles: Ricotta Cheese Pie

2013-04-05-springform-pan-pouringcheesecake_580

This was an odd Easter weekend for me. On Good Friday, I picked up my daughter-in-law Nancy and second-youngest granddaughter Casey in Newbury, Massachusetts, then drove up to Kennebunkport Inn.

It all began with an e-mail from the beautiful hotel in Maine. It is less expensive to spend a day or two there in the late fall, winter and early spring, but the advertisement said it would be even less so for March and April, with a special discount of 29 percent. Hmmm, it was time to visit my cousins from Portland (she a breeder of Corgis, he a retired AP reporter). Perhaps a Friday night dinner at Fore Street (one of the many in Portland) and a visit with cousins Adrienne and Jerry. So I called Nancy, and asked if it was time for a road trip. (Our last had been last year in Boston to see a Bette Midler concert and an overnight stay in a boutique hotel in walking distance from the concert.) She was game and said, since it was a school holiday for Casey, could she come too? What a treat I said. She is a high school sophomore and great company.

I called the Kennebunkport Inn, doubting there would be rooms available, but we got one big room with two double beds and a twin for Friday and Saturday. Not only that, I got a reservation for us at Fore Street on Friday night. By the way, Nancy and Casey are Greek; my cousins are Jewish, as am I; so we celebrate Greek Easter and Passover (which isn’t a Jewish Easter but a spring kind-of festival) later this spring.

In any case, I didn’t make Easter dinner for anyone and, hopefully, I will be invited to Greek Easter. Here is what I will make. It is a luscious dessert that everyone loves.

Ricotta Cheese Pie

For the filling:
2 cups ricotta cheese or cottage cheese
1 cup cream
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon

For the crust:
1 cup melted butter
1 tablespoon sugar (no sugar if using cookie crumbs)
1 cup graham cracker crumbs (or chocolate wafer cookie or vanilla wafer crumbs)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter or spray with nonstick cooking spray a 9-inch springform pan. Wrap the outside of the pan with two layers of heavy aluminum foil.

To make the crust, in a bowl combine crumbs, sugar and melted butter (this can be done in the food processor). Press crumbs evenly over bottom of pan, saving a few for the top. Refrigerate while you make the filling.

To make the cheesecake filling, in your food processor or electric mixer, mix ricotta, cream and sugar until well blended and smooth. Beat in flour and salt; then add eggs, one at a time, processing or beating until incorporated. Finally, add vanilla extract and cinnamon and process until incorporated. Pour into prepared crust and dust top with crumbs. Take care not to overmix.

Bake about 50 to 60 minutes, or until cheesecake is set, yet moves slightly when the pan is gently shaken (the edges of the cheesecake will have some browning). Remove from water bath and cool on a wire rack. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, or preferably overnight.


Nibbles: Perk on Main

A couple of weeks ago, I judged the 14th Annual Chocolate to the Rescue. For the past few years, the fundraiser benefits the Middlesex Family Shelter and, according to John Roberts, executive director, I have judged each year since its inception.

As always, the chocolate was delicious. I am not sure who won but the chocolate seems to get better and better every year. My favorite this year was from Perk on Main, primarily because it was warm crepes folded around warm chocolate, raspberries and blueberries. Even better, it is a café that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner in two different locations: 6 Main Street in Durham and 20 Church Street in Guilford. And if that were not enough, there is Perk on Wheels. Check out www.perkonmain.com.

About the author: Lee White has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976 and has been extensively published in the Worcester (Mass.) Magazine, The Day, Norwich Bulletin, and Hartford Courant. She currently writes Nibbles and a cooking column called A La Carte for LymeLine.com and the Shore Publishing and the Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day.

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Nibbles: Enjoy Gluten-Free Apple Crisp, Try Tiano Smokehouse

Gluten-Free Apple Crisp. King Arthur Flour photo

Gluten-Free Apple Crisp. King Arthur Flour photo

I love social media, but before I tell you why I do, here is what I do not love. I never, ever have a meal, at my house, someone else’s house or in a restaurant with my cell phone next to my plate. If I forget to turn my phone off at a movie, I turn it off as soon as the note on the screen asks. If I am in a meeting and forget to turn it off and someone calls me, I turn it off without looking to see who called.

I don’t text. My friends know that. As soon as someone tells me why I should text, I listen to their reasons. No one has yet convinced me.

Here is what I love: I have met friends from high school, many decades ago, and I am thrilled we are “friends” again. I love seeing what cookbook authors, chefs and teachers are up to. I love the fact that I can order tickets, books and gift certificates for myself, my friends and my children and grandchildren.

Yesterday I bought four sets of tickets for the UConn women’s basketball games at Gampel. When the brackets were set, UConn e-mailed me the tickets. I print them.

I also love that I can “meet” friends I have never met. Seven years ago, I wrote about the fact that my husband had died. Sybil Nassau had just lost her husband and we e-mailed back and forth for years. A few weeks ago, we met at the Shoreline Diner in Guilford. She reads my columns; I e-mail her when I know about gluten-free menus, recipes and new products. She herself is gluten-intolerant (though she does not have celiac disease). I am not.

She is branch manager of GIG, Gluten-Intolerance Group. Her daughter writes the newsletter. She gave me a copy in which there are a dozen recipes. So many supermarkets have shelves and shelves of gluten-free products. Even the King Arthur catalog has pages and pages of gluten-free products (kingarthurflour.com). This recipe looks great.

Gluten-Free Apple Crisp

4 cups apples, peeled and sliced
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, divided
1 pinch nutmeg
½ cup almond flour
1/2 cup certified gluten-free old-fashioned oats
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons softened unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a pie dish with cooking spray. In a large bowl, toss together apples, sugar, water, cornstarch, 1 teaspoon cinnamon and pinch of nutmeg until well combined. Set aside.

Make the oatmeal topping*: In a bowl, gently combine almond flour, oats, brown sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon and butter until crumbly.

Place apple mixture in the dish. Sprinkle topping evenly over the apples and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until apples are cooked through, juices are bubbling and topping is browned. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

*You can quadruple or even more, then save the topping in little plastic and freeze for more crisps you might make.


Tiano Smokehouse

On a recent Sunday morning, before I had to drive to Middletown to judge chocolate at Chocolate to the Rescue, a fundraiser for Columbus House, I read a review in the New York Times. Tiano Smokehouse, a barbecue restaurant in Middletown, got a rave from Rand Richards Cooper. As Joan Gordon and I drove to Middletown, we talked about stopping at Tiano to get some ‘cue. (Joan is the only friend I have who would, for sure, go to a restaurant right after we judge chocolate.)

What a find this place is. We took lots of food for takeout. I ordered a pulled pork dinner—half a pound of pork so perfect that I never added barbecue sauce on it, creamy mac and cheese (they also have one they called macaroni Alfredo), creamed spinach and a luscious piece of cornbread. I figured I would eat half that night and the rest the following night. Ate it all in one sitting.

Tiano Smokehouse, 482 South Main Street, Middletown, 860-358-9828

About the author: Lee White has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976 and has been extensively published in the Worcester (Mass.) Magazine, The Day, Norwich Bulletin, and Hartford Courant. She currently writes Nibbles and a cooking column called A La Carte for LymeLine.com and the Shore Publishing and the Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day.

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A la Carte: Chicken Salad from Poached Chicken Tenders

chicken salad photo 2

In early February, the members of Groton’s Board of Education met for its retreat. Since I am a new member, I was truly excited to sit with my fellow members along with the superintendent and assistant superintendent. I didn’t actually realize that many of us are new members, since some are two-year members and some four-year members. Each is elected and, in many cases (including mine), the roles changed from Democrats to Republicans.

I thought there might be some partisan bickering (see Trump and all the Republican skirmishes and Clinton-Sanders disagreements), but in Groton it was non-partisan before the election and after. I liked the concept of a retreat, off the record and into a new venue, this year at the Submarine Museum. For four hours we newbies asked questions for which the superintendents and the veteran members had answers.

Best of all was the food. I agreed to make the desserts, which everybody enjoyed. (Restaurant owners know that if the meal is mediocre, delicious desserts can save the day.) But Andrea Ackerman, former Groton teacher and principal, handled the savories. I think it is fun to make pastries and sweet stuff, but when I smell cabbages and quiches, I begin to salivate. I especially like standby dishes that include twists and turns that I never thought would work.

Andrea’s chicken salad was my favorite. For me, chicken salad (and I do love chicken salad) is always the last thing I make with the roasted chicken that goes from Sunday dinner, to a chicken and gravy sandwich, to an omelet with vegetables and chicken, and, three days later, chicken salad. For Andrea, it is the first meal, which begins with poached chicken tenders. And she says it is even better the next day.

Chicken Salad
From Andrea Ackerman, Ed.D., Noank resident and assistant chair of the Groton School Board

As with most savory dishes, this is approximately how Andrea makes it. If you like more of one thing or less of another, taste as you go.

Yield: serves 2 (for dinner) or 4 (for lunch)

1 pound chicken tenders
Sprinkle with garlic salt, steam and let cool. Cut into ½-inch cubes.

Dressing:
1 cup mayonnaise (she likes Cain’s but I’m sure Hellman’s would be fine)
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
Garlic salt/garlic powder/pepper
1 full teaspoon celery seed

Mix:
Cubed chicken
1 small onion, diced
1 or 2 celery stalks, diced
¼ cup dried cranberries (or Craisins)
¼ cup chopped pecans
¼ cup chopped walnuts
Season to taste with garlic salt/garlic powder/pepper

Fold in dressing. Add more mayonnaise if it seems dry.

Again, these measurements are good guesses, and everything tastes better the next day.


Nibbles: New (to me) Restaurants

I don’t write restaurant reviews anymore. Mostly I cook, write about cooking and eat my own food. I do go out to eat, but often only to restaurants I love. But in a one-week span, I ate at two new restaurants and one I reviewed almost 25 years ago.

The nearly-three-decades-old restaurant is the Willimantic Brewing Company in Willimantic. It is bigger, as is the menu. We shared barbecued pork sliders and chicken pesto sliders. Both were luscious.

At a new place in Norwich, These Guys, I had a superb Caesar salad, a roast vegetable grilled cheese sandwich and, instead of fries, I had a side of Brussels sprouts. All terrific.

At Smokash, in Uncasville, I had pierogis, kielbasa and sauerkraut. Two days later I ordered it again and took it to a Polish friend who was in the hospital.

Restaurants are alive and well, even north and west of the shoreline.

About the author: Lee White has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976 and has been extensively published in the Worcester (Mass.) Magazine, The Day, Norwich Bulletin, and Hartford Courant. She currently writes Nibbles and a cooking column called A La Carte for LymeLine.com and the Shore Publishing and the Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day.

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Nibbles: Curried Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie – Terrific Winter Comfort Food

Curried vegetarian shepherd's pie

Curried vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie

I bought a 10-pound bag of russet potatoes, planning to make scalloped potatoes for Super Bowl Sunday. Then I didn’t. I looked at the amount of food I made, which included pink beans (because I love pink beans), kidney beans and black beans for chili; lots of tortilla chips for guacamole; cheeseburger pie; and Velveeta and Rotel tomatoes; plus a pie for dessert. We didn’t need any more starch.

But I still have all those potatoes and I want to make mashed potato bread, so I looked for a recipe I could use up at least some of it. In the new Food Network magazine, I spied recipes for Shepherd’s Pie. One called for just veggies. I made it. It is terrific.

As with winter comfort food, I would add more carrots, maybe more mushrooms, maybe more peas. I find turnips a bit sweet (although I’m not sure many other people find that to be true). I like curry so I might add more. I might use some winter squash …

Curried Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie
From Food Network magazine, March 2016

Yield: serves 6

2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and quartered
Kosher salt
2 bay leaves
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 carrots, chopped
1 small rutabaga, peeled and chopped
1 medium turnip, peeled and chopped
2 leeks (white and light green parts only), sliced one-inch thick, rinsed well
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 ounces button mushrooms, quartered
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground coriander
¼ cup freshly ground nutmeg
1 ½ cups half-and-half
1 cup frozen peas
Grated zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons curry powder

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put potatoes in a large saucepan, cover with cold water and season with salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer until tender, 20 to 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, fill a separate large saucepan with 6 cups water; add bay leaves, thyme sprigs and 2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil. Add carrots, rutabaga, turnip and leeks; reduce heat to medium low and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Reserve 1 1/2 cups cooking liquid, then drain the vegetables. Discard bay leaves and thyme. Pat vegetables dry; set aside.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add mushrooms; cook until they release their liquid, 3 minutes. Increase the heat to medium; cook until liquid is evaporated, 2 to 3 minutes. Sprinkle with the flour, coriander and nutmeg; cook, stirring, 1 minute. Whisk in the reserved vegetable liquid and ¾ cup half-and-half. Bring to a simmer; cook until thickened, 3 minutes. Stir in the carrots mixture, peas and lemon zest and juice. Return to a simmer, then remove from the heat. Season with salt and stir in the parsley.

Drain the potatoes and let cool slightly Return to the pot and add the curry powder and the remaining 4 tablespoons butter and ¾ cup half-and-half. Season with three-quarters salt and mash well.

Spread mushroom mixture in a 3-quart baking dish. Dollop the mashed potatoes on top; spread with back of a spoon. Bake until bubbling around the edges and the topping browned in spots, about 20 minutes. Let rest before serving.

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Nibbles: Pork Roast with Maple and Rum Glaze

Maple-Glazed-Pork-Roast

Maple Glazed Pork Roast, Yankee magazine

Just before I went to bed on a Sunday or two ago, I watched Lady Edith call Lady Mary a “bitch” more than once. (That’s “Downton Abbey,” for those of you not hooked on this Masterpiece Theatre show, which will end maybe by the time you read this. Sob.)

My reading matter was “Five Days at Memorial,” a nonfiction book about Memorial Hospital in New Orleans, before, during and after Hurricane Katrina. But before I began the book, I decided to read my new issue of Yankee magazine.

I have been subscribing to Yankee for years and the food editor is Amy Traverso. The recipes she chooses are always good. In the new issue, there is a story about maple syrup season. I loved a feature about two sugar shack competing owners in Vermont and a “flatlander” who decided to move to Vermont just over 10 years ago. (“Flatlanders,” according to Vermonters, are those who haven’t lived for at least a couple of generations in their gorgeous state.)

Dori Ross convinced the two owners to allow her to market their maple products. By the way, Ross, who got this article into Yankee, is a marketing guru because the owners are making a lot more money now.

There were recipes, of course, and reading them had me salivating. I don’t make pancakes or waffles at home, but I am crazy about maple anything. I was planning to make dinner for my neighbors, so when I saw a recipe for a pork roast using maple syrup, I was hooked. I rarely give you recipes I have not tried myself, but, just by reading the ingredients, I know it will be absolutely delicious.

Soon, I plan to make a spinach, feta and grape salad with maple-soy vinaigrette and maple affogato, an ice cream treat, also from that article.

Maple-and-Rum-Glazed Pork Roast
From Yankee magazine, March/April 2016

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

1 3-pound boneless pork-loin roast, tied at intervals with kitchen twine (perhaps the butcher at the supermarket will do that for you)
2 teaspoons plus 11/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1 cup maple syrup
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons apple-cider vinegar
1 tablespoon dark rum
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and set a rack in the lowest position. Sprinkle pork all over with 2 teaspoons salt and let it sit for 10 minutes.

Now make the glaze: In a medium-sized bowl, stir together syrup, mustard, cider vinegar, rum, cinnamon, and remaining 1 1/4 teaspoon salt until blended.

Place the pork, fat side down, in a 9×13-inch roasting pan (Pyrex would be good) and pour the glaze over the meat. Transfer to the oven and cook 30 minutes, basting halfway through.

Remove meat from oven, turn it fat side up, baste and return to the oven. Cook, basting every 15 minutes until the meat reaches 150 degrees when an instant-read thermometer is inserted into the center, 30 to 40 minutes more. Remove meat from the oven and let it rest 10 to 15 minutes. Slice and serve with additional glaze on the side.

Chicken Fried Chicken at Ninety Nine Restaurant & Pub

Generally, I avoid medium-sized, medium-inexpensive franchising restaurants, the ones I used to call fern bars. There are a few that are standouts for certain menu items: the Cobb salad at Chili’s and risotto with chicken and butternut squash served with a Caesar salad at Brio. But generally, I would rather get a burger and fries at Five Guys or choose the salad bar at Ruby Tuesday.

But now I can add the chicken fried chicken at Ninety Nine Restaurant & Pub. In the group of $9.99 dinners is the chicken fried chicken, a pounded-thin chicken breast, lightly battered and fried, a lovely mound of mashed potatoes and, for a vegetable, sweet corn. Best of all, like its sister, chicken-fried steak, it is topped with white, somewhat peppered country gravy. No, it is not on my healthy, low-calorie diet, but sometimes one must splurge. This is a nice splurge.

Around the Valley Shore area, Ninety Nine Restaurant & Pub is at 117 Long Hill Road in Groton. A few Other Connecticut restaurants are in Cromwell and Glastonbury and Norwich.

About the author: Lee White has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976 and has been extensively published in the Worcester (Mass.) Magazine, The Day, Norwich Bulletin, and Hartford Courant. She currently writes Nibbles and a cooking column called A La Carte for LymeLine.com and the Shore Publishing and the Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day.

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Nibbles: Two Culinary Memoirs, Two Delicious Recipes – Enjoy Both!

Over the past month, I have been reading interesting recipes. That’s not a big deal, since I pore over recipes daily from newspapers, cookbooks and, especially, food magazines. These days I tear recipes from magazines and newspapers, then chuck them out.

Hear&Soul_in_the_Kitchen_PepinMany of my 500 cookbooks are gone, too, living at the  Book Barn. But two food memoirs I bought recently, and which I cannot recommend highly enough, are Jacques Pepin’s “Heart and Soul in the Kitchen” and Ruth Reichl’s “My Kitchen Year.” I read each of these books in bed. I am hungry while I read them, both for the recipes (which “taste” lovely) and the prose, which is glorious.

In Jacques’ book, he talks about cooking with Shorey, his granddaughter, his best friend, Jean-Claude Szurdak, the “greats,” like Julia Child and James Beard, his wife, Gloria (no slouch in the kitchen, either) and his daughter, Claudine. And much of the book is about Connecticut, where he and his family have lived for more than 30 years.

A-Kitchen_Year_ReichlRuth Reichl’s memoir is pretty much about one year in her kitchen in upstate New York, one year during which  she and all her colleagues lost their jobs, and we lost Gourmet magazine. She wrote and cooked and wrote and cooked, through fierce winter storms and power outages. She learned how a pantry and some great recipes can keep sadness at bay. Both books should be under your menorah or Christmas tree this year…

Both these recipes include pantry items that require little money and little time at the supermarket. Most items may already be in your own pantry.

Rice with Cumin and Green Olives

From Heart and Soul in the Kitchen by Jacques Pepin (Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 2015)

Yield: serves 4

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 and one-half cups thinly sliced washed leek greens

1 cup diced (one-inch) onions

1 and one-half cups long-grain white rice

1 teaspoon ground cumin

Three-quarter teaspoon salt (less if stock is salty)

3 cups homemade chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth

One-half cup pitted green olives, cut into three-quarter-inch pieces

Heat butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat/ Add leek greens and onions and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add rice, cumin, salt and stock and bring to a boil. Stir in olives, cover, reduce heat to very low and cook for 20 minutes, or until rice is cooked through and tender. Fluff with a fork and serve.

 

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

From My Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl (Random House, New York, 2015)

Yield: serves 4

one-quarter to one-half pound bacon

1 pound spaghetti

Garlic

3 eggs

Parmesan cheese

Pepper

Bring as pot of water to a boil, salt it well and toss in the spaghetti. Most brands of spaghetti take about 10 minutes, which is all the time you need to make the sauce.

Cut anywhere from a quarter to a half-pound of bacon into small pieces and brown them in a liege skillet with a couple of whole peeled cloves of garlic.

Break eggs into a big bowl. Grate a generous amount of Parmesan cheese (about half a cup). Cook your pasta al dente.

Drain the pasta and immediately plunk it into the bowl with the eggs, tossing frantically so the hot pasta will cook them. Remove the garlic from the bacon and add the bacon, along with as much of the bacon fat as your conscience allows. Toss/ Add cheese. Toss again. Add salt to taste.

Grind a good amount of pepper over the pasta and serve. You will instantly understand why this quick, easy dish given so much comfort to so many people.

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