July 22, 2017

Nibbles: Super Squash Soup Warms The Heart

It was a bit of an iffy week, with some weather including rain, heat (mid-seventies in October!) and a pretty cold evening when I thought I might take the soft and comfy throws into the living for the cats and me.

Each of the days, while my friend Nancy was vacationing in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, I fed her feral cats. She had packed up eight enormous plastic bins of dry cat food and left me a quart-sized bottle for fresh water. Each early afternoon, I would change my shoes for sneakers and walk a path down a hill and into the woods, rife with poison ivy, to the little den she fashioned with one of those plastic igloos and a large green trash can set on its side to hold the food and water.

I am a city girl so for decades I thought poison ivy was a maple leaf (three points on a leaf) for three leaves, so I guess I am not allergic to the little devils though my husband knew exactly what they looked at and was very sensitive. On the other hand, I did get scraped by some twigs and wound up with a few infected sores which are fine, now.

Doug and I were never leaf-peepers. We grew up in upstate New York and together we lived in New England. We never thought it important to drive hours to Vermont or New Hampshire when we saw gorgeous colors up and down I-95 and in our own backyard. But my good friend Kirsten McKamy and her adorable partner, Charles, invited me to have lunch at his 1750 cape in Storrs, Conn.

It took about an hour from my condo on the shoreline to Storrs and I must say that the foliage was spectacular. His magnificently restored house sat in seven acres, at least two of which were mowed. The vivid green of the lawn, the enormous maples and oaks and the big pond across the road turned my quiet Sunday into quite a picture.

Even better was the food: an herb “cake,” squash soup and two desserts, Kirsten’s pear tart and my apple cake. I will serve that soup the next time I have friends for dinner. Then again, maybe sooner.

Roasted Kabocha Squash Soup with Pancetta and Sage

From Epicurious

Roasted kabocha squash soup with pancetta and sage

Roasted kabocha squash soup with pancetta and sage

Yield: 8 servings (about 11 cups)

1 4-pound kabocha squash, halved and seeded

1 cup vegetable oil

20 whole fresh sage leaves plus 1 and one-half teaspoon chopped fresh sage

One-quarter pound sliced pancetta, coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

3 and one-half cups chicken broth

3 and one-half cups water

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Dollops of crème fraiche (optional)

Roast squash: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roast squash, cut sides down, in an oiled roasting pan in middle of oven until tender, about an hour. When cool enough to handle, scrape flesh from skin.

While the squash is roasting, heat vegetable oil in a deep small saucepan until it registered 365 degrees on a deep-felt thermometer. Fry sage leaves in 3 bathes until crisp, 3 to 5 seconds. Transfer leaves with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain.

Cook pancetta and make soup: Cook pancetta in a 4-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring, until brown Transfer pancetta with slotted spoon to power towels to drain.

Add olive oil to pancetta fat remaining in pot, then cook onion, stirring, until softened. Stir in garlic and chopped sage and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add squash, broth and water and simmer 20 minutes to blend flavors.

Puree soup in batches in a blender, transferring to a bowl. (Use caution when blending hot liquids.) Return soup to pot and reheat. If necessary, thin to desired consistency with water. Stir in vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.

Serve sprinkled with pancetta and fried sage leaves. If you like, dollop spoonsful onto soup.

Cooks’ note: you can make soup 3 days in advance and chill, covered.


Nibbles: Chicken and Wine with Capers Perfect for Boules Bash

Inn-607x401When Linnea [Rufo – the owner of and executive chef at the Bee & Thistle in Old Lyme] and I talked about what she would make for her boules party, she thought about Lasagna Bolognese.  This can be made ahead of time and baked just before dinner time, usually around 7 pm.  A big salad (we usually have somewhere around 45 people for dinner), maybe Charlie van Over’s bread. I would do a bar dessert while Linnea would get ice cream and fruit.

A couple of weeks later, we talked again. I said I would make the Bolognese sauce and the salad, too, if she would like.  “No, I’m not doing lasagna. I’m going to do chicken in wine with capers.”  The Bee & Thistle doesn’t even have a walk-in freezer and here she is choosing chicken with wine and capers, and she wanted to play boules, too. I thought she was nuts.

It turns out she wasn’t crazy. She had done most of the work ahead of time and the final roasting would take place in a big, big oven (it is a restaurant, after all) along with roasted zucchini. Everything was delicious and I, who can’t find a word for how boring zucchini is to me, loved this zucchini. Here are her recipes:

Chicken and Wine with Capers

From Linnea Rufo, executive chef of Bee & Thistle inn

Yield: serves 6

6 very large skinless boneless chicken breasts

Flour, salt and pepper to taste, for dredging

2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup of a nice white wine

1 large chopped shallot

2 cups low-salt chicken stock

One-half cup fresh lemon juice

1 cup capers, rinsed

One-half cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped


3 large lemons, halved (optional)

Cut each chicken breast horizontally so each opens like a book.

Chicken with white wine and capers

Chicken and wine with capers

Heat oil in a large high-sided skillet or a small roasting pan. Dredge the chicken in the flour, salt and pepper mixture, shaking excess and sear chicken until brown on each side. Do this in batches so you don’t cook them to the point where they will steam. If you are serving later, cool chicken and wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until just before dinner.

Before ready to serve, in the same skillet with all the browned pieces, heat and deglaze with shallots and wine. Add stock and lemon juice. Place chicken pieces in the broth and roast until chicken is done. Add capers and cook another few minutes. Place chicken and sauce in a platter and sauce with the juice. Sprinkle with parsley.

Optional: If garnishing, place half lemons on a grill until brown and serve each on top of each chicken.

Roasted Zucchini

Also from Linnea Rufo

Here is a zucchini that is truly memorable. And easy to make. So if a neighbor rang your doorbell and ran away and you open the door and see 10 pounds of zucchini, call him and thank him.

Small zucchini

Fresh chives

Extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Wash and dry the zucchini. Cut the bottoms and tops off, cut them into thin strips and place in a large bowl. Mince the chives and add to the zucchini. Top with olive oil and salt and pepper, to taste. With your hands (or with a big spoon), toss together. Leave them to macerate on the counter for a few minutes or in an hour or so. Set the oven at 350 degrees. But the mixture in a baking sheet and roast for 15 to 20 minutes, tossing once or twice during the roasting. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

headshot_LeeAbout the author: Lee White (left) 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 newspapers, and Elan, a quarterly magazine, all of which are now owned by The Day. 


Nibbles: Lee on Life, Lemon Cake and Lids … Well, Canisters Actually

My kitchen is starting to look like as kitchen, but not like the kitchen I had before.

I am not complaining.  The kitchen in Old Lyme was created by me and my husband.  As always, it was the first room to be finished.  It was two rooms and a hall.  It was dark and applianced in harvest gold.  The counter was Formica or faux Formica (is that an oxymoron?)  The floor was linoleum.

In around two months, the two rooms began one, the hall was annihilated, and the door to what would become a patio became French doors.  The counter was granite on the island, butcher block on two other walls.  I had a six-burner gas cooktop, two electric ovens and a warming drawer.  Under the cooktop were two enormous shelves that held my two-foot salad bowl and my big stockpots.

My new kitchen is pretty, too.  But I have an electric range with one oven.  My dishwasher died after two turns with dishes.  I do have granite counters, but no island, no easy action to my special rack for muffin pans, warm cookies or half-sheet pans.  But I am making do and consider myself lucky that a mediocre cook learned how to be better with a great kitchen.  I am good enough, now, to cook anywhere.

Parties have begun and I am expected to bring food to the homes of terrific friends.  Last week I made potato salad (yes, two of my stockpots are on top of another rack over the sink.)  This week I may make a dessert.  I gave away at least 10 loaf pans and round pans and square pans in 8”, 9” and 10” sizes.

Here is the lemon cake everyone likes; as Staples says, “We have that!”


Lemon Cake

Adapted from Barefoot Contessa Parties by Ina Garten (Clarkson Potter/Publishers, New York, 2001)

Yield: Two 8-inch loaves

Lemon-cake_592½ (one-half) pound unsalted butter at room temperature
2 ½ (two and one-half) cups granulated sugar, divided
4 extra-large (or 5 large) eggs at room temperature
1/3 (one-third) cup grated lemon zest (6 to 8 large lemons)
3 cups all-purpose flour
One-half teaspoon baking powder
One-half teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher (or sea) salt
Three-quarter cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided*
Three-quarter cup buttermilk at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the glaze:

2 cups confectioners’ sugar

three and one-half tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 8 ½ (eight and one-half) by 4 ¼ (four and one-quarter) by 2 ½ (two and one-half) inch loaf pans.

Cream butter and 2 cups of the granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment for about 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy. With the mixer on medium speed, add eggs, one at a time, and the lemon zest.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, combine one-quarter cup lemon juice, the buttermilk and vanilla. Add flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Divide batter evenly between the pans, smooth the tops and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until a cake tester comes out clean. (I find that on convection bake, this takes just over 35 minutes, so check with a cake tester after this period of time.)

Combine one-half cup granulated sugar with one-half cup lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until sugar dissolves.

When cakes are done, let them cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then invert them onto a rack set over a tray. Spoon lemon syrup over inverted cakes. Allow cakes to cook completely.

For the glaze, combine confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice in a bowl, mixing with a wire whisk until smooth. (It should be thick but if it’s too thick, add a few drops of water.) Turn cakes right side up and pour glaze over tops of cakes. Allow glaze to drizzle down sides.

This is where I use the release kind of Reynolds Aluminum foil to wrap the cakes. But wax paper works well, too. The important part is to wrap them so the wrapping doesn’t strip off the glaze when you unwrap. After wrapping (if you’re not serving these right away), I put them in zippered freezer bags and freeze until ready to use.

*If you squeeze all the lemons you use for the zest (7 or 8), you get about 1 cup of juice, enough for cake, syrup and glaze..

Canisters for dry goods

One thing I did not mind leaving at my old house was the weevils.  Maybe they are not exactly weevils, but they began as evil little things and wound up as moths.  I spent lots of money on Pantry Pests, not as ugly as fly paper, but not the prettiest thing in my pantry.  Before I left the old kitchen, I dumped all the dry food, like flour, sugar (although I don’t think they like sugar), barley, couscous and the like, along with the canisters that held the stuff.

For over two weeks, I looked for canisters that would hold at least 10 pounds of flour, 5 pounds of sugar and enough rice and quinoa to hold weevil-free white goods.

I found them in T.J. Maxx.  Not sparingly, they are made by OXO Good Grips, a company that began with a potato peeler for people whose grip wasn’t as good as it used to be.  I wrote about them years ago and they sent me a Christmas card signed by all seven of OXO’s employees.  They still make incredible, reasonably priced, gadgets. Especially now that my grips are not as young as they used to be.

headshot_LeeAbout the author: Lee White (left) 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 newspapers, and Elan, a quarterly magazine, all of which are now owned by The Day. 


Nibbles: Strawberry-Rhubarb Crumble is Always a Winner

strawberries&rhubarbI spent a fair amount of time with friends and sometimes  acquaintances turn out to be friends.  As usual, we talk about food.

One of the evenings, three of us were to eat Thai food at Spice Club and walk over to see, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” in Niantic Cinema.  Because one of us hurt his back, we ordered pizza and I made a salad.

I like to make the salad dressing because I don’t like too much vinegar, but I wasn’t sure what might be available to make the dressing.  There was a lemon in the refrigerator and the only vinegar was balsamic.  I am tired of that, so I used the lemon.  I asked if there was fresh garlic.  There was, but it was in a plastic bag in the crisper of the fridge.  It was sad and tired, but I found two cloves that were good enough.  I also mentioned, not that anyone asked, that garlic doesn’t want to be in a plastic bag nor in a refrigerator crisper (and neither do lemons, by the way).

So we talked about grocery shopping.  Neither Gil nor Max love grocery shopping as much as I do.  Then again, maybe no one likes to go grocery shopping as much as I do.  I always go with a list, but sometimes I actually make the list while I am parked in the lot of the supermarket, i.e., I just want to go grocery shopping and pretending I had a  list means that I must go grocery shopping.

On one of my five-times-a-week supermarket jaunts, to get two tomatoes and a quart of Lactaid, I saw rhubarb and bought six ruby-red stalks and some anemic strawberries.  I had  frozen strawberry juice from last summer.  I also have lots of Deborah Jensen’s crumble mix  in the freezer.  So I made three strawberry-rhubarb crumbles.  Friends ate one, and I froze two, unbaked.

Here’s the recipe.

To make rhubarb: 2 pounds rhubarb, washed, trimmed at both ends and cut into 1-inch pieces. Place rhubarb into a bowl and add one-half to one cup of sugar, 2 tablespoons cornstarch and, if you like, one-half teaspoon of pure almond extract; stir together.

To prepare strawberries: Buy one pound of strawberries, remove leaves and part of the core. Wash them in a colander, halve the berries and put them in another bowl. Add a little sugar, toss them and let them sit on the counter for a few hours (or overnight in the fridge).

To make a crisp, use the following recipe.

Deb Jensen’s Perfect Crisp Topping

Yield: makes around 5 cups (put the rest in two small plastic bags, freeze them and save for another two crisps)

1 cup flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup oatmeal (rolled oats)
1 cup walnuts or pecans
1 cup almonds or pine nuts
1 and one-half stick (8 tablespoons) butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Add all ingredients into a bowl and mix together with nice, clean hands.  Place the rhubarb and strawberries in a buttered ovenproof glass or ceramic gratin (8″ by 8″ or a 9″ x 12″) and top with enough crisp topping to cover.  Bake until rhubarb bubbles, about 30 minutes.

headshot_LeeAbout the author: Lee White (left) is a resident of Old Lyme in a section of town where she and her house are the oldest members.  She 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 the Shore Publishing newspapers, and Elan, a quarterly magazine, all of which are now owned by The Day. 


Two for One Nibbles: Best Meatloaf Ever: Craving Cookies? Try These in Oatmeal

To paraphrase from Philip Roth’s “Love Story,” what can I say about a winter that simply won’t go away.

Last Wednesday I shoveled five different times, just to allow me to get from my front porch to get my newspapers.  And the same number of times so I could get to my garage.  I failed.  The snow was so heavy I was exhausted.

Friends were able to visit me for dinner Sunday, but they had to clomp through now-hardened moguls.  When they left Sunday night, it was snowing again.  Weather reports now say Thursday and Friday, there may be sleet, snow and freezing rain.

meatloafOn Super Bowl Sunday, Joan Gordon brought me a terrific meatloaf she made the day before.  We had sandwiches on good rye bread, salad and dessert while we watched the Stupid Bowl.  I ate the rest of the meatloaf over the next few days.  It is superb.

Lenny Schwartz’s Market Street Meatloaf (adapted)

Yield: serves 8

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Three-quarter cup finely chopped onion

Three-quarter cup finely chopped scallions (white part and 3 inches of green)

One-half cup finely chopped carrots

One-quarter cup finely chopped celery

One-quarter cup finely chopped red pepper

One-quarter cup finely chopped green pepper

2 teaspoons finely minced garlic

3 large eggs

One-half cup ketchup

One-half cup half-and-half cream (Joan used sour cream)

1 teaspoon cumin

One-half teaspoon nutmeg

One-quarter teaspoon cayenne pepper

Salt and pepper to taste

3 pounds lean ground turkey

Three-quarter cup breadcrumbs, toasted and crumbled (Joan uses whatever is in the bread box)

  1. Melt butter in large heavy skillet over medium low heat and add onions, scallions, carrots, celery, peppers and garlic.  Cook stirring often until moisture has evaporated, about 10 minutes.  Set mixture aside to cool, then refrigerate it, covered, until chilled, 1 to 2 hours.
  2. Beat eggs, ketchup, half-and-half, cumin, nutmeg, cayenne, salt and black pepper in a bowl. Add ground turkey and bread crumbs.  Add chilled vegetables and knead with your hands until well mixed.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  4. Form into loaves or one big loaf and place on a rimmed baking pan.  (You can cover the baking sheet to avoid cleanup.)  Bake until loaf is cooked through to about 160 degrees (about 45 to 50 minutes.  Let loaf rest for at least 20 minutes.

Sweet  Thoughts 

There is almost nothing sweet about my pantry, refrigerator or freezer.  Oh, they’re pretty enough and I keep them clean inside and out.  But when I look, I find not one sugary something to crave my sweet tooth.

This, of course, is reasonable.  I am down many pounds at this point and I have another 20 to go.  I’m afraid that if I had some homemade brownies or Girl Scout cookies in the freezer, I might eat them without thawing them.  If there were Newtons or jelly beans in the pantry, they would be, figuratively, toast.  There are pints of ice cream in both freezers,but ice cream was my husband’s siren song, not mine.

Of course, I can cook sweet things in a New York minute, like my cooktop chocolate pudding.  That would be fine if I would eat just one cup, but I usually eat all four ramekins.  Or make the recipe for a microwave chocolate cake in a mug.

But I figured if I make something truly luscious that I could have “one of” and then give the rest away, I might be happy enough.  So I did have one, gave all the rest away and I’m keeping this recipe.

Oatmeal Sandwich Cookies

“A Good Appetite,” by Melissa Clark (New York Times, page D2, January 22, 2014)

Yield: 36 cookies

Three-quarter cup sweetened coconut

1 cup unsalted butter

2 tablespoons honey

2 large eggs, at room temperature

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1 and one-half cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoons sea salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

4 teaspoons ground cinnamon, divided

3 cups rolled oats

One-half cup dates, pitted and chopped (actually, buy Sunsweet dates, pitted and chopped)

5 tablespoons granulated sugar

For the filling:

6 ounces cream cheese, softened

6 tablespoons mascarpone

3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

1 and one-half teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Toast coconut in a rimmed baking pan until lightly colored and fragrant, 7 to 10 minutes. Cool. Raise temperature to 375 degrees.
  2. In bowl of mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter until light. Beat in brown sugar and honey and beat until very fluffy, about 5 minutes Beat in vanilla.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk flour, salt, baking powder and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. With mixer on low, beat flour mixture into butter mixture until combined. Beat in dates and coconut.
  4. Line 3 baking sheets with parchment or Silpat. In a small bowl combined granulated sugar and rest of the cinnamon. Roll heaping tablespoons of dough into balls, then roll them in cinnamon-sugar. Transfer to baking sheet, leaving 1 and one-half inches between balls. Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Let cool in pan 2 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.
  5. Make filling: With a mixer, beat in cream cheese until smooth.  Beat in mascarpone, confectioners’ sugar and vanilla. Scrape down sides of bowl.  Sandwich about 1 tablespoon filling between two cookies.  Repeat until done.

headshot_LeeAbout the author: Lee White (left) is a resident of Old Lyme in a section of town where she and her house are the oldest members.  She 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 the Shore Publishing newspapers, and Elan, a quarterly magazine, all of which are now owned by The Day. 


Nibbles: It’s Cold Outside … So Try Caribbean Bread Inside

One morning a few days ago, the outside thermometer outside was -6 and the  bedroom was 47 degrees Fahrenheit (I don’t heat the bedroom because I like the electric blanket on my bed atop my featherbed and over the goose down comforter to keep me warm).

Yesterday it was 57 degrees Fahrenheit and pouring.

This morning, outside, it was 6 above.  At 10:45, it measured 10, a veritable heat wave.

I just bought my third SoftShine Throw (the cat Junie took the first one, Elderlee the second) to keep myself warm in the den.

But I am happiest in the kitchen, where my metabolism is in overdrive.  Last week I made chicken soup, onion soup, chicken salad from the chicken soup and some extra for pad Thai.  I took an unbaked meatloaf from the freezer, thawed it and roasted it for sandwiches (made in my Joseph’s Flat Bread).

When my newest Fine Cooking arrived, I devoured it (figuratively, of course).  Tony Rosenfeld, who writes great food articles for that magazine (headquartered in Newtown, Connecticut), wrote about chili.  I love chili, although I’m more interested in chili whose main ingredient is not chili powder.

His recipes showed me how to use seven different meats, 18 flavor accents (and he says to use at least two and up to six), deglazing and stewing liquids, eight different beans and lots of vegetables and garnishes.  I made one with meat, yellow peppers, cayenne, canned tomatoes, black beans, cannellinis, summer-frozen sweet corn and a squish of lime.  It was better than great.

With it, of course, came Caribbean cornbread, from a recipe given to me by Karen Goodspeed some years ago.

Caribbean cornbread

Caribbean cornbread

Caribbean Cornbread

Yield: 8 to 12 people

Preheat oven to 325 degrees

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cups cornmeal
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (one-half pound) unsalted butter at room temperature
¾ (three-quarters) cup sugar
4 eggs
1 ½ (one and one-half) cups cream-style corn
½ (one-half) cup crushed pineapple, drained and squeezed a little
1 cup shredded jack or mild cheddar cheese
Butter and flour a 8- or 9-inch Pyrex dish.

Whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt and set aside.

In a mixer, cream butter and sugar together. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Add corn, pineapple and cheese and mix to blend. On low speed, add dry ingredients and mix until blended well.

Bake until tester is clean, about 1 ¼ (one and one-quarter) hours and golden on top. Do not underbake.

headshot_LeeAbout the author: Lee White (left) is a resident of Old Lyme in a section of town where she and her house are the oldest members.  She 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 the Shore Publishing newspapers, and Elan, a quarterly magazine, all of which are now owned by The Day. 


Nibbles: All in a Day’s Work — Hummus, Spiced Pecans

Seasonal spiced pecans.

Seasonal spiced pecans.

The snowstorm two weeks ago took me by surprise.  It isn’t as if the meteorologists got it wrong; as a matter of fact, they pretty much got it right.  But I don’t watch local television weather reports: I get The Day every day, along with The New York Times.  I TiVo Jeopardy (and lots of other shows, some good enough to talk about, others of which I am ashamed that I watch them.)  But I don’t watch television in the morning or from 5 to 7 p.m.  I am usually in bed before the 11 o’clock news.

As a result, I realized just Friday afternoon that I would not be driving to New York State for a memorial service for the wife of a high school classmate.  On Sunday morning I decided I would miss a Sunday afternoon party at my friend Tracie Armao’s house because I did look at the Weather Channel and thought the melting ice might freeze before I could get home.

What I did, instead, was cook.  I had leftover chili, so I also made a meat loaf (for sandwiches, primarily), onion soup, chicken soup (with the chicken I would make into salad for the week), hummus and spiced pecans.  Here are the two latter recipes, one for  hummus I adapted from Claire’s Corner Copia Cookbook (Penguin, New York, 1994) and the other, for pecans, Kim Severson, Atlanta Bureau Chief for The New York Times, put on Facebook.


Yield: serves 8 to 10

2 to 3 15.5-ounce cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 cup tahini (sesame paste, found in health stores and most supermarkets)

One-quarter cup olive oil

Juice of 2 to 3 lemons

One-quarter cup water

Lots of cloves of garlic (I use at least 6 to 8)

Salt and pepper to taste

Dash or two of cayenne pepper

One-half teaspoon paprika

Place all ingredients except salt, pepper, cayenne and paprika into a blender or food processor.  Puree into smooth.  Taste and add salt, pepper and cayenne (careful about that cayenne!)  Pour into a bowl and serve with pita, tortilla chips and/or raw vegetables.

Spiced Pecans

One and one- half teaspoons salt

Three-quarter teaspoon black pepper

Three-quarters teaspoon cayenne

One-half teaspoon ground ginger

One and one-half teaspoons cinnamon

2 to 3 tablespoons brown sugar

5 tablespoons butter, melted

6 cups pecans (although less expensive unsalted nuts would work, too)

Set oven at 350 degrees.  Whisk all ingredients except pecans together in a small howl.

Brush 1 tablespoon of butter over the top of a large rimmed baking sheet.  Add nuts, and toss to coat.  Spread nuts in a single layer and bake about 10 minutes.

Place pecans into a large bowl, add remaining butter and toss.  Add spice mixture, toss and add baking sheet to the oven.  Roast 4 to 5 minutes, stirring once.

Cool and try not to eat them all.


Nibbles: North Carolina Memories Stir Up Cinammon-Apple Cake

Cinnamon apple cake

Cinnamon apple cake

Another glorious September on the Outer Banks. Last year’s week was a little busier, with Richard’s mother and her two little dogs, and Ralph’s sister and brother-in-law visiting for a few days.

This time it was just us. I slept late every morning ‘til almost 8 a.m. With a teeth brush and  a comb sliced through my hair, I’d go upstairs, say good morning to Ralph and Richard and give a pat to Ethel, take a  can of V-8 and walk onto the deck. What to do, what to do? No newspapers to read, Later, I’d curl up on the couch to read my e-mails, see if anybody’d called, pull out half a dog cookie (Ethel liked to hide them between couch cushions) and read for a while. Eventually, we’d all consider the beach (and I the pool) and maybe have  lunch. Ralph showed me how to count carbs instead of calories and I wound up losing almost 4 pounds on vacation!

While on the beach or pool, I would figure out dinner from the fresh and frozen food I’d taken with us. Pasta twice with two different sauces (Bolognese and a fresh tomato marinara with pepperoni), meat loaf, a roasting chicken that we ate two different ways and grilled chicken that Ralph turned into salad for a couple of meals. I had taken along vegetables I’d either frozen or had bought at Trader Joe’s in Connecticut. We ate salads every day. And I’d bought lavash: few carbs, lots of vitamins and nutrients. We ate like royalty. I went into town once with Richard so we could pick out a cake for Ralph’s birthday. Ralph never went into town at all.

There will be another September Outer Banks vacation next year and I am again invited. On our last morning, I took a few pictures as the dawn broke over the ocean’s horizon. September can’t come soon enough.

Next week my North Carolina housemates will come to dinner with three new friends of mine. I will make pad Thai (good for Ralph’s carb counting, fine for Richard who doesn’t eat seafood and nut-, seed- and corn-free for one of my friends). And we will finish with this apple cake, given to me by my friend Deb Tyler.

Cinnamon-Apple Cake

Adapted from Cooking Light magazine, January, 2000

1 and three-quarters cup sugar, divided

6 ounces regular or low-fat cheese cream, softened

one-half cup butter, softened

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 large eggs

1 and one-half cups all-purpose

1 and one-half teaspoons baking powder

one-quarter teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

3 cups chopped peeled apples (Barbie uses more and so do I)*

cooking spray

Yield: 12 servings

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Spray an 8-inch springform pan (or 9-inch springform or square pan; with 9-inch pan, reduce baking time 10 minutes)

Beat 1 ½ (one and one-half) sugar, cream cheese, butter and vanilla at medium speed of a mixer until well blended (about 4 minutes). Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition; set aside.

Place flour, baking powder and salt into a small mixing bowl and whisk together. Add flour mixture to creamed mixture and beat at low speed until blended. Remove bowl from mixer. Combine ¼ (one-quarter) cups sugar and cinnamon. Add 2 tablespoons cinnamon-sugar with apples in a bowl, then add to batter. Pour batter into pan. Sprinkle with remaining cinnamon mixture.

Bake at 350 degrees for one and one-quarter hours or until cake pulls away from sides of pan. Cool cake completely on a wire rack.

*The recipe calls for Rome apples. I use whatever I have, but remember that much of the liquid is from apples, so don’t use all Delicious apples or other apples that are a bit dry.


Nibbles: Quinoa with Pistachios, Parsley and Mint … and a Taste of Boules

Generally speaking, the boules parties that take place in eight venues Sunday afternoons in the summer are foodie delights.  Each year Gloria Pepin, chairwoman emeritus, and our president, Christine Hopkins (who will, we hope, stay as president forever, since the job is a pain) tweak our very loose rules.  It once began at 3 p.m. and is now at 2 p.m.  As we get a bit older, we think about going home a little earlier, although some of us decide to stay over rather than drive home.

This past year, the ladies decided that we should make the food prep easier.  It is a bit difficult for those of us who are not real chefs to compete with the rock stars so this year, each host and their co-hosts could choose from buffet, bistro or sit-down dinner.

All but one of us chose from the two former.  But Lori and Michel Nischan obviously lost the memo.  The wildly energetic couple, who runs the Dressing Room in Westport (and he founded the non-profit Wholesome Wave, which tries to get good, healthy, organic food to everyone in America) created for us a luscious boules party on the second to last boules party of 2013.

We chose from three different meats with four different sauces, tomatoes, mozzarella and basil in a delicious vinaigrette, haricots vert with peaches and terrific toasted bread (the last of which also served as bruschetta to lots of vegetables from their own garden.  There were also mussels, mussels, mussels, which I adore.

As for dessert, there were three pastry chefs at the party, Jacques Torres, his wife, Hasty, and Wendy Laurent who is pastry chef at l’Escale in Greenwich.  The desserts included a raspberry tart, a linzer torte, gigantic chocolate chip cookies, more cookies and two kinds of chocolate truffles.  And to begin and end the party, there was an ice cream.  Before we played, there was an ice cream truck that served lots of my childhood favorites, like the Good Humor Strawberry Shortcake and Toasted Coconut.  After dinner, along with dessert, came Jacques Torres’ housemade ice cream.

By the time you read this, the boules finals will be over.  I and  my teammates will have spent time talking to our friends, since our team was third of three teams.  There is always next year.

The team that beat us was captained by Norma Galehouse.  She beat us two out of two.  Norma is Jacques Pepin’s assistant.  Jacques’ wife Gloria was on my team.  She threatened to fire Norma for winning.

Another member of Norma’s Team,  Marla Kosenski, a high school teacher of French in Old Saybrook, made a salad that may be  my favorite salad ever.  She is gluten-intolerant, and I must admit that I loved this salad so much that, for me, this could be an entrée any night of the week.  She found the recipe in the Vegetarian Times a few years ago and has loved it every time she makes it.

Quinoa salad with pistacchios, parsley and mint.

Quinoa salad with pistacchios, parsley and mint.

Yield: serves 4

One-half cup shelled pistachios

1 cup quinoa

One-half teaspoon salt, plus for to taste

One-quarter cup finely chopped parsley (preferably Italian parsley, not curly)

One-quarter cup olive oil

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons finely chopped mint

Toast pistachios in a small skillet over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes, or until fragrant and golden brown. Transfer to cutting board, cool slightly, then chop and set aside.

Toast quinoa in heavy saucepan over medium heat 3 minutes, or until light brown and beginning to pop.  Stir in salt and 2 cups water. Cover and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 15 minutes, or until water is absorbed. Transfer to a serving bowl and let cool.

Add parsley, oil, lemon juice, mint and toasted pistachios to cooled quinoa. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let stand 20 minutes for flavors to develop. Adjust seasonings, adding a little more lemon juice, if necessary. Serve on bed of leaf lettuce, if desired.


Nibbles: Black Bean Chili in Crock Pot

Last week I spent a period of four to five hours at the DMV in Old Saybrook. I had finally decided to sell my beautiful, charming, adorable 2005 VW convertible. I didn’t really need two cars (the Forester was my husband’s car) and, truly, I couldn’t afford them both. I mentioned this to friends at dinner at the Gordons’ house. Two weeks later we had dinner at Campania with the same couples. At the end of that dinner, Theresa handed me a check for $500. I had no idea why. “I’m buying the VW,” she laughed.

Classic Black Bean Chili

Classic Black Bean Chili

Then the fun began. Because I had lost the title and because my daughter is the actual owner, at DMV’s suggestion I began to express mail forms for Darcy in Phoenix. It turned out that everyone was doing everything they could to make this happen quickly: the Postmistress in Old Lyme twice called me to let me know each of the express mail packages had arrived. The people were extremely kind at the DMV, especially Rachel, a supervisor who explained all the information for me and, I hope, has become a friend with whom I will soon have lunch. Plus, the DMV is airconditioned, I had my Kindle and was reading Curtis Sittenfeld’s new book.

I really do not like this very hot weather and I loathe humidity, so I was glad for air conditioning. I take rides in my car. I went to the movie by myself (“The Internship,” which was very silly, but it took place at Google. I love Google.). Yesterday we had boules at the Pepins’ house and it was hot and humid and the mosquitoes found me. When I got home, I put the air conditioner on in my bedroom and fell asleep within minutes. I woke up at 3 with a sore throat and a very dry mouth. I turned the unit to “fan only” and fell back to sleep ‘til 7:30.

What will I cook tonight, and every night until this heat subsides? Salads, maybe rice biryani which I can make on my rice cooker. BLTs (on Saturday, when it was a bit cool outside, I cooked three pounds of bacon, put it in a big plastic bag in the “meat” crisper, where it will last for at least two months). I will make two or three different salad dressings in the blender, which will last through July and most of August. And I will make black bean chili in my slow cooker (which is really a Rival Crock Pot, so I can call it a Crock Pot).

Black Bean “Chili”

Created by Christopher Prosperi, chef/owner, Metro Bis, Simsbury

1 bag of dried black beans

 1 28-ounce can of tomatoes with juice

 1 pound andouille or hot or sweet sausage, cut into 1-inch chunks

 1 pound (or so) boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into chunks

 2 tablespoons chili powder

1 tablespoon cumin

 2 tablespoons molasses

 1 medium onion, diced

 3 to 4 cups low-sodium chicken stock

In a large slow cooker, pour ingredients, in order. Cover slow cooker and turn to “low.” Cook for around 7 to 8 hours. Remove lid, stir everything around, place lid back on and cook for another one or two hours. (If “chili” needs more liquid, add some more stock.) Half an hour before dinner, make rice (I would use jasmine or basmati, but plain rice is fine, too). To plate: Put rice on warmed plate, scoop “chili” on rice, making sure you get some of everything in the slow cooker and serve. (If you’d like to top the “chili” with grated cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese and/or sliced scallions, this might be nice.


Fire Up the Grill for the Fourth

Who can resist a tasty burger on the fabulous Fourth?

Who can resist a tasty burger on the fabulous Fourth?

I am working on the assumption that you will be firing up the grill tomorrow, July 4, for a gorgeous, dry and warm Fourth of July party at your house.  And that you will be serving hamburgers.

If your Fourth is like mine, things have changed since the days when I was a child.  In truth, my parents did not have a grill.  My aunt and uncle did have a grill.  They kept kosher at their home and one Fourth party they didn’t realize that the kosher hot dogs were covered with plastic.  Those hot dogs didn’t make it to the plates.  Later on, as a young mother and wife, we grilled burgers and hot dogs.  I’m not sure we had a lot of sides and, since I didn’t really learn to cook until I was in my late twenties, I probably bought potato and macaroni salad.

Once grilling became so popular, we grilled lots of things, from fish and chicken to stone fruit and pineapples, which we served with homemade ice cream.  Today, some people are nervous about rare burgers and nitrite-filled hotdogs.  Worse still, some of my friends are vegetarians and some of their children are, too.  One or two are vegans.  So this column is about two things—a perfect hamburger and a luscious grilled eggplant.  For me, I’ll be serving both at my next barbecue.

How to Cook a Great Burger

Yield: 4 hamburgers

1 one-half pounds excellent ground chuck *

Sea salt or kosher salt to taste

6 toasted rolls (preferably fresh hard rolls)

1. Turn grill to hot and close the lid.  If you are using a charcoal grill, add charcoal, light them with a chimney stuffed with newspapers and light the charcoal.  Charcoal should be gray before you begin the burgers.

2. Cut the ground chuck into six pieces and lightly turn the pieces into balls.  Again, lightly, pat them into patties.

3. When grills are hot, open lids and place burgers onto the grill.  Do not use a spatula to push down on the burgers and do not flip them until you can turn them without losing half the patties on the grill.  Flip the burgers only once.  Sprinkle with the flipped burgers, to taste.  (If you are adding cheese, add after you have flipped the burgers.)  If you like your burgers rare or medium rare, this whole operation will take no more than four minutes on the first side, maybe one on the second.)

4. Place hamburgers on toasted rolls and serve immediately. (This is a time when you don’t want to let the meat rest.  I love my burgers when the juice makes the bottom of the roll a bit wet.)

Coal-Roasted Eggplants

From “Into the Fire” by Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hersheimer (Bon Appetit, July 2013)

Yield: 4 servings

Prepare a hardwood-charcoal fire in a grill.  Let coals cool to medium heat (coals should be covered with ash and glowing red with no black remaining).

Place two small eggplants (about 1 pound total) directly on coals and cook, turning occasionally, until skins are blackened and flesh has collapsed, 10 to 15 minutes.  (Alternatively grill on the grate of a gas or charcoal grill over medium-high heat, turning occasionally, 15 to 20 minutes.)  Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet and let cool slightly.

Carefully remove skins from eggplants, leaving stem intact.  Place eggplants on a wire rack set inside the same rimmed baking sheet and let stand 30 minutes to allow excess water to drain.  Just before servings split lengthwise and serve with the best extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle coarse salt for a simple side.  Or, since space is at a premium, buy a copy of the new Bon Appetit and make one of three sauces: Yogurt and Sumac Sauce, Smoky Tomato Sauce or Lime-Mint Sauce (or, for that matter, a good marinara sauce).


Nibbles: Polenta

CORN_POLENTAWe are so pleased to welcome back our dear friend, neighbor and food writer extraordinaire Lee White.  Today, she teases our palates with a polenta served at Simsbury’s Metro Bis and attributed to cookbook writer, Kelsey Banfield.  Sorry we can’t write much more about it now … must go and get cooking!

Over the years my husband and I, then I alone and sometimes with friends went to wine dinners at Metro Bis in Simsbury.  The restaurant’s owner/chef Chris Prosperi and owner/author Courtney Febbroriello became friends in 1999 when I wrote the book, “Connecticut Chefs 2000.”  The two began holding wine dinners, most of which included cookbook writers whose recipes became the dinners we ate and enjoyed.

For me to drive at least an hour or more, depending on traffic, was actually pleasant because  the food was great and the company fun.  I rarely tasted the wine (well, maybe a little sip) because I am sure that I, who drinks so little, will be the one to get stopped on the way home.

Last week I drove alone. I was seated with two farmers, each woman under the age of 30, and with Courtney’s father.  The guest cookbook writer, Kelsey Banfield, had written “The Naptime Chef: Fitting Great Food into Family Life.”  I loved all the food, but what was stupendous was a polenta and a salmon dish, each of which can be made is just a few minutes and cooked in less than 20 minutes.  The polenta can be made ahead of time and warmed.

Below is the polenta recipe; next week I will give you the salmon recipe and one for a carrot soup made by my friend Joan which I adapted a bit.

Creamy Parmesan and Chive Polenta*

From Kelsey Banfield’s “The Naptime Chef” (Running Press, Philadelphia and London, 2011)

Yield: serves 4 to 6 servings

4 and one-half cups low-sodium chicken stock, divided

1 cup medium-grind polenta or corn grits

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

One-quarter cup finely chopped fresh chives

One-quarter cup whole milk (two-percent is fine)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup (4 ounces) freshly grated Parmesan cheese

  1. In a large saucepan bring 4 cups of chicken stock to a boil over      medium high heat. Reduce heat to a simmer and add polenta, stirring as you      pour it in to break up any lumps.
  2. Adjust heat to the polenta remains at a simmer and add the salt,      pepper and chives. Use a long-handled wooden spoon to stir continuously as      everything is added, scraping the bottom of the pan from time to time to      keep the polenta from sticking to the bottom. Continue to stir until the      polenta is thickened, about 15 minutes.
  3. Once the polenta is smooth and thickened, turn off the heat and stir      in the milk, butter and Parmesan. Taste for seasoning and one or two      pinches of salt if needed. If eating right away, pour the hot mixture into      a heat-proof bowl and serve hot.

Make ahead tip: Store cooked polenta in the refrigerator—still in its saucepan—covered with plastic wrap. To reheat it, place it back on the stovetop over medium heat and pour in additional chicken stock and stir the polenta until it is creamy and heated through.

Variation ideas: for some fun variations, try using a nuttier cheese like Gruyere, or spice it up with a few pinches of chili power to add heat.

*I had never made polenta before. One of what things I learned is how forgiving it is. I had six big eaters at dinner, so I added some more grits and seasoned it well. Since polenta is more a canvas than a painting  itself,  I used chicken stock I had in the pantry, then added vegetable stock when I ran out. I didn’t measure the chives or the Parmesan. When I reheated the polenta, I added more stock than the recipe called for, but I could have used water. Also, I used corn meal and corn grits Chris game me from Young’s Farm in E. Granby, CT. As I cooked the polenta, I could, literally, smell the farm itself. Wine enthusiasts call grapes’ soil its terroir. I always thought that was sort of silly. I don’t think that anymore.