May 16, 2022

A la Carte: Terrific (Homemade) Treats to Take to Friends

Lee White

Column #1

A year ago, a COVID vaccine was my holiday hope to family and friends (and everyone else in the world). I think all we wanted was a vaccine that this once-a-century pandemic could be handled and we wouldn’t have to watch Andrew Cuomo every single morning on television (although we didn’t know then that his final showstopper would be his last ever).  By the end of February, I got my first shot and the second three weeks later. Last August I got my booster.

So here it is:  December, 2021. Thanksgiving is behind us. Many of us spent that holiday with friends and family. And what do we talk about now? We talk about the idiots who refuse to be vaccinated. And the problems with delayed flights (although we are thrilled we can begin to fly).

And a new phrase has entered dictionary: supply chains. We see pictures of enormous ships hugging the coast of Long Beach, California. Will there be enough toys for the kids and, for us, every new computer gadget made in China? 

Some years ago, as I drove home after Christmas, I heard this on NPR: Here is what each child should get for Christmas [or Hanukkah]: one thing she needs, one thing she wants and one book.

To this I add: something homemade from your kitchen to take to friends at the holiday. And next week I will give you Richard Swanson’s recipe for the best granola clusters I have ever tasted, along with my daughter’s recipe for fudge. And maybe my dentist’s peanut brittle.

Photo on Unspalsh by Food Photographer | Jennifer Pallian

Chocolate Syrup
Recipe from my grandparents’ grocery store a century ago.

2 cups granulated sugar
4 big tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup boiling water
Dash of salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In a saucepan, add whisk sugar and cocoa.

Stir in water and continue cooking the mixture until it begins to boil; bring the heat to simmer and continue to cook for 5 minutes.

Remove from the stove, add a dash of salt and the vanilla extract.

When cool, add to little Mason jars.

Caramel Sauce
From Cecina Simpatica by Johanne Killeen and George Germon, Harper Collins, New York, 1991

2 cups heavy cream
½ cup sugar

In a saucepan, scald cream and reduce heat to very low;  keep warm.

Heat sugar in another saucepan over medium heat, stirring often with a wooden spoon. The sugar will slowly melt into a clear liquid and gradually darken (don’t worry if the sugar lumps; break up lumps with the wooden spoon and they will melt into the caramel as it darkens.)

When caramel has turned a medium-dark mahogany, pour it slowly into the hot cream, whisking constantly. The caramel will splatter so be careful. If the temperature is too low, you may find portions of the caramel solidify. In that case, increase the flame under the cream and stir until the bits melt and mixture becomes smooth.

The caramel sauce thickens as it cools and will solidify in the refrigerator, where it will keep for days. It may be reheated gently to pouring consistency. Pour the caramel into little Mason jars and refrigerate.

Column # 2

Wow, has my kitchen gotten a workout since the day before Thanksgiving. I made two apple pies, two pumpkin ones, a batch of corn bread and Asian-style green beans. The latter became just green beans, since the sauce I made created would have seared the mouth of anyone who tried it.

Over the weekend, I made chili and a butterflied boneless leg of lamb for three meals, and today I made a batch of the tastiest granola ever. I was also going to make the famous H.G. Sawyer peanut brittle, but it really needs weather a little colder, perhaps below 32 degrees, for it to break into chunks. But I have made it so many times that you can trust the recipe. 

Both the granola and the brittle are easy to make and are wonderful housewarming gifts when you are invited to visit over the holidays. I have even more recipes, so if you need a few more than those from last week’s column, and the ones below, e-mail me at and I’ll send a few more.

Amazing Peanut Brittle
From the late H.G. Sawyer, dentist from Groton, CT

4 cups sugar
1 ½  cups white and/or dark Karo syrup
1 ½ cups water
4 cups Spanish peanuts
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon vanilla
3 tablespoons baking soda

Butter two rimmed cookie sheets.

Mix sugar, syrup and water into a heavy-bottomed large pan. Stir with long wooden spoon.

Place candy thermometer into the mixture. Heat at medium-high until thermometer reaches 320 degrees (this will take a long time to hit 290 degrees and very little time to hit 320.)

Add Spanish peanuts, stir, then add butter and vanilla.

Stir, then add baking soda and stir until frothy, about 15 to 20 seconds.

Pour into cookie sheets and thin to about one-peanut high. (It is great to have a silicone spatula for this.)

Place outside at it is cold out or put sheets in refrigerator until hardened, about 20 minutes.

Break brittle apart and place in tins or zippered bags.

Photo by Alice Pasqual on Unsplash.

Granola Cereal Clusters
from Richard Swanson of Waterford

Yield: as gifts in small boxes, perhaps 10-12

½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup light corn syrup
1/3 cup honey
4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
2 1/4 cups old-fashioned oats (best not to use quick oaks)
3 cups Cinnamon Toast Crunch
4 cups Honey Nut Cheerios
2 cups chopped pecan, walnuts or almond
¼ cup finely chopped coconut

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line half-sheet baking pan (17” by 13”) with parchment; spray parchment lightly with cooking spray.

Place oil, corn syrup, honey, vanilla, cinnamon and salt together in bowl of stand mixer with flat paddle and stir on low until fully mixed. Add oats, cereals, nuts and coconut and stir on low until thoroughly combined and cereals are somewhat crushed into smaller pieces. About 2 minutes.

Transfer mixture to prepared sheet and spread across entire surface in even layer. Using a stiff metal spatula, press down firmly on mixture until very compact. Bake until lightly brown around edges, 35 to 40 minutes, rotating halfway through baking. 

Transfer sheet to wire rack and let cool completely, about 1 hour. Mixture will be slightly soft until fully cooled. Break into chunks. Store in airtight container.

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 and the Shore Publishing and the Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years but now lives in Groton, Conn.
Contact Lee at

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