May 15, 2021

A la Carte: Surprise! Creamy Cauliflower Rice with Shrimp is a Winning Combo

Lee White

I used to write about the surprises I often find in my garage freezer. I used to call it Lee’s Freezer Diary. The truth is that if I kept a diary, perhaps there wouldn’t be surprises, since the freezer often looked like Fibber McGee’s closet.

(For those younger-than-me readers, it was a radio show in the 50s and maybe in early television in the 60s. Fairly often, Fibber’s wife, Molly, would try to get something out of the closet and got nearly run down by the treasurers Fibber hoarded.)

When I moved from Old Lyme to a condo in Groton, I swore I wouldn’t go to all the food sales and buy way more than I’d need for the next two years and the overloaded freezer. I am better than I used to be, but a few times a year I still hoe it out. And the surprises are often real treasures: one-pound packages of shrimp, just a little icy, but ready to cook after two hours of thawing and drying the babies of excess water. 

A couple of weeks ago I got my Real Simple magazine. The food recipes are pretty simple and really easy to make. This shrimp dish is a real keeper and, in two weeks, I have made it twice. You do know that most of the shrimp we get has already been frozen, so feel free to buy lots when it is on sale and keep it frozen until you use it. 

Creamy Cauliflower Rice with Shrimp

From Real Simple, May, 2021, page 125

Yield: serves 4 (for me, it might serve 4, and it will be find nuked the second meal

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 pound peeled and deveined medium shrimp, tails removed
¾ teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1 medium leek (white and light green parts only), thinly sliced (2 cups)
¼ cup dry white wine
1 12-ounce package fresh riced cauliflower (4 cups)
½ cup low-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
2 ounces fresh baby spinach (2 packed cups)
¼ cup heavy whipping cream
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, finely shredded (about ¾ cup) plus more for serving

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.

Add shrimp and ¼ teaspoon salt; cook, stirring often, until firm and pink, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Add wine, cook, stirring constantly, until wine is fully absorbed, 1 to 2 minutes.

Stir in cauliflower and broth; cook, stirring often, until broth is fully absorbed, about 3 minutes.

Stir in spinach, cream and remaining ½ teaspoon salt; cook, stirring constantly, until spinach wilts, about 2 minutes.

Add cheese; cook, stirring constantly, until melted, about 1 minute.

Remove heat and stir in cooked shrimp. Serve immediately with more cheese, if desired.

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. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years, but now lives in Groton, Conn.

A la Carte: Pasta, Pesto … and Chicken!

Lee White

I woke up to this sun-filled morning and decided that, for dinner, I wanted pasta with the basil pesto I still have from last summer’s batch.

I am happy just with pasta, but my body didn’t need, with its still pandemic 20 (extra pounds), five or six ounces of pasta.  I wondered if I still had Pam Anderson’s How to Cook Without a Book on how to make a thin chicken cutlet to go with that pasta. 

I looked in my bookshelf and I hadn’t given it away to the Book Barn. Not only that, I still have the column in my computer files, from 2014, but I hadn’t made it since my move to a condo.

So, I foraged into my garage freezer and found boneless, skinless chicken breasts and found the pesto from my kitchen freezer. That evening, I made the chicken with the Marsala pan sauce. This way I only needed two ounces of pasta. 

I took the tiny package of pesto and warmed the plastic in my hands. I drained the pasta, added the pesto, topped it with some fresh parmigiana, and placed it on a warmed plate with the chicken Marsala.

Show me a restaurant, who can do that as well as you (or I) can!

Sautéed, Boneless, Skinless Chicken Cutlets with Pan Sauce

Adapted from How to Cook Without a Book by Pam Anderson (Broadway Books, New York, 2000)

Yield: Serves 4

Photo by MadMax Chef on Unsplash.

2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon oil
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, each cut horizontally and opened (like a book)
Salt, ground black pepper and one-quarter cup flour poured into plastic bag
Pan sauce (see below)

  1. Heat butter and oil into an 11- to 12-inch skillet over low heat. While pan is heating, dredge breasts into flour mixture and shake out excess. (You will sauté them in batches single file, if necessary, so that they do not steam.)
  2. A couple of minutes before sautéing, increase heat to medium-high. When butter starts foaming and to smell ‘nutty,’ arrange the chicken breasts in the skillet. Cook, turning only once, until chicken breasts are rich golden brown, about three minutes per side.
  3. Remove chicken from skillet and place on warmed platter… 

Pan Sauce Possibilities

How to Make a Pan Sauce

  1. Measure pan sauces ingredient in a measuring cup (liquid always total ½  cup.
  2. Pour liquid into hot skillet once chicken cutlets (or pork or veal or fish, for that matter), scraping off good browned bits.
  3. Reduce liquid to ¼  cup.
  4. Tilt skillet and whisk in butter or cream, and spoon over each portion and serve.

Red Wine-Dijon Pan Sauce

Liquid  ¼ cup canned low-sodium chicken broth;  ¼  cup full-bodied red wine
Flavoring—1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Fat—1 tablespoon butter

Measure broth, wine and mustard in a measuring cup. Following instruction for making a pan sauce above

Marsala Wine Pan Sauce

Liquid—1/2 cup Marsala wine
Fat—1 tablespoon butter

Follow instruction for making a pan sauce above

Balsamic Vinegar Pan Sauce

Liquid—1/4 cup balsamic vinegar; one-quarter cup canned low-sodium chicken broth
Fat—1 tablespoon butter

Combine vinegar and broth with a measuring cup. Follow instructions for making a pan sauce.

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. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years, but now lives in Groton, Conn.

A la Carte: Celebrate the Season with Spring Green Spaghetti Carbonara

Lee White

There was snow in parts of Connecticut, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, according to friends and family who live in those places, but not here (crossing fingers here for the next month or so). But there has been rain, and lots of it, for the beginning of April. Now it has been glorious, except for that night that dropped to 28 degrees. 

But to me it is spring.

I bought a large flat of pansies and a new garden trowel and will put them in my little plot of land in front of the porch.

Birds are busy. At friends in Madison, a dozen red-winged blackbirds were looking for some swampy areas with tall grasses to nest.

I have a very tall sort-of evergreen that is at least three stories tall. All kinds of tiny birds, sparrows, finches, wrens and chickadees consider this fluffy slim tree a high-rise and are nesting together. In a week or so I will put out hummingbird feeders, but if I don’t get them this year, my seventh year, I will consider they found a better place after their sabbatical.

In any case, I saw this springy recipe in Food Network magazine. I love carbonara, and I like the fact that Ina Garten has lightened it up a bit and added lots of vegetables, making it like a spaghetti primavera. It is yummy.

Spring Green Spaghetti Carbonara


Adapted from Ina Garten’s recipe on Food Network magazine issue of April, 2021
Yield: serves 6

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 ounces spaghetti
½ pounds snow peas, julienned lengthwise
1 cup shelled fresh peas (1 pound in the pod), or frozen peas (what I always use now)
12 to 14 thin asparagus, bottom third discarded and tips sliced in 2-inch pieces
2 tablespoon good olive oil
8 ounces small-diced pancetta
½ cup heavy cream
2 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
¾ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus more for servings
5 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced diagonally
¼ cup minced fresh chives, plus extra for serving
Zest and juice of one lemon

Bring a large pot of water with 2 tablespoons salt to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Reserve a cup of the pasta water, then add snow peas, fresh peas and asparagus to the spaghetti and cook for 2 minutes longer. Drain pasta and vegetables together.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a medium (10- to 11-inch) saute pan over medium heat, add the pancetta and cook for 7 to 9 minutes, stirring occasionally, until browned, Transfer pancetta to a plate lined with paper towels and set aside.

While pancetta cooks, fill a large bowl with the hottest tap water and set aside to heat the bowl. Just before you drain the pasta, pour water out of the bowl.

Put the cream, eggs, egg yolks and ¼ cup of the reserved pasta sauce water into the bowl and whisk to combine. Immediately add the hot pasta and vegetables and toss with tongs for a full minute of two until the pasta absorbs the sauce. Add enough reserved pasta water to keep the sauce creamy. Add ¾ cups parmesan, the scallions, chives, lemon juice and zest, 1 tablespoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper and toss well.

Add pancetta, sprinkle with salt* and serve hot, topped with extra chives and parmesan.

*I tend to under-salt. That last sprinkle of salt might not be necessary Taste and decide yourself.

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. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years, but now lives in Groton, Conn.

A la Carte: A Better Bit of Brisket Made for a Super Seder

Lee White

It was such a nice seder for Passover 2021. My friend Lisa and Eric invited six of us, all but eight of us vaccinated twice, the others soon to get their second. We played boules for a couple of hours; I hadn’t seen Jacques, the Hopkins or the Yavaris for over a year.

In addition to appetizers including home-made latkes, along with gefilte fish and chopped liver, we drank wine.

For dinner, it was potluck: Jacques made chicken with lettuces (which I had watched him make a week ago on television), Raisa and Paula made roasted vegetables, Lisa made her incredible baby potatoes in truffle oil and the Hopkins made cookies.

And as if we more needed dessert, there was that, too.

I made a new fresh brisket entrée. I have probably made it 25 times, from many recipes, but I figured, if it was my regular brisket, Jacques would know I used Lipton’s onion soup and Coca Cola. So I made the new recipe below. It was so much better than anything I’d ever made before.

Here is this new recipe:

Cook Classic Beef Brisket in the Slow Cooker
Adapted from Kitchn by Meghan Splawn (online)

Yield: Serves 8 

1 5 to 6 lb. beef brisket, preferably flat cut
2 tablespoons kosher salt, divided
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 large sweet onions, thinly sliced
1 pound sliced mushrooms
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 cups low-sodium beef broth (I used three tiny bouillon cubes in warm water, well mixed)
½ cups ketchup
½ cup packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup of Coca-Cola (very much optional)

Pat the brisket dry with paper towels and place into the slow cooker; hopefully the cooker is a 6-quart or larger. (If the brisket has a particularly thick fat cap, you can remove it now. The author doesn’t and neither do I; the fat makes for an even more luxurious brisket.) Sprinkle the brisket on all sides with 1 teaspoon of the salt.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and mushrooms and cook until softened and beginning to brown and char in some spots, at least 15 minutes, stirring every once in a while. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes more.

Add smoked paprika, black pepper, thyme, oregano and remaining 1 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally until very fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes. Carefully add the onions, mushrooms and garlic over the brisket.

Remove the skillet to medium-high heat, add the broth and using a spatula or wooden spoon to scrape all the lovely browned bits up off the bottom. Add the ketchup, brown sugar and tomato paste and stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then pour over the onion mixture and brisket. Cover and cook on low for 7 to 8 hours (or maybe a bit longer)

Transfer the brisket to a clean cutting board and slice. Either serve immediately or store with the gravy. 

To make the gravy: Pour the juice from the slow cooker into that skillet, heat element to high and cook until it is slightly reduced. As it bubbles, in a small bowl add a teaspoon or a bit more of the cornstarch and add cold water to make a slurry. Pour it into the bubbling juice and continue to stir the juice. If it needs to be a little thicker, add a bit more cornstarch and cold water to the bubbling juice; continue stirring. Taste and add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

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. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years, but now lives in Groton, Conn.

A la Carte: Smart Spice Veggie Soup Goes Easy on Calories, But Big on Taste

Lee White

I had such a lovely weekend in Newburyport, Mass., two weeks ago. My granddaughter Casey, a junior at UMass-Amherst, is still in on campus learning in-person, but Sydney, whose 26th birthday we were celebrating, was there, as was middle-granddaughter Laurel, a tennis teacher/elementary school teacher.

We all met at my daughter-in-law’s house and my son, Peter (the two are divorced, but still friendly and very involved with their daughters) was there for dinner. It seemed odd that we were all enjoying wine (if the girls are drinking, I am definitely old.) I made Bolognese, pasta, salad, dressing and garlic bread that I’d made at home. 

We waited a few hours before we dove into the red velvet cake. We each had a slice with our coffee, but I took three quarters of it home. I sent a big slice to my friend Richard and had a tiny slice on Sunday, but today I will remove the frosting, cut the rest of the cake into chunks and freeze them.

When there is another celebration, I will make a trifle, layering the cake with strawberry jam, pudding, sliced bananas and sliced strawberries, topping the trifle with whipped cream and shaved chocolate.

In the meantime, I am trying to lower my pandemic 20 via intermittent fasting. For me, I can eat from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m., then fast until the next day at 11 a.m. I don’t get hungry because my dinner salad takes me half an hour finish and I go to bed early.

I must lose at least those 20 pounds and there is no way I would try on my old bathing suits after 12 months of eating through pantry and refrigerator.

In addition, this week I will have my first in-person interview. For a year, my biggest decision was what to wear from the living room to the kitchen. For these interviews, sweatpants and a UConn sweatshirt will not do. 

As for the diet, this is one delicious soup and each serving is about 250 calories with the chicken, 198 without. If you don’t have kale, use any kind of lettuce, the greener the better.

Smart Spice Veggie Soup

Adapted from Power Spicing by Rachel Beller (Clarkson Potter, New York, 2019)

Yield: serves 6

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, shopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium carrot, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper or 1 teaspoon red curry paste
8 cups low-sodium vegetable chicken broth
1 head cauliflower, cored and cut into florets
2 zucchini, diced
4 cups chopped kale
2 cups cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Cook onion 3 to 4 minutes, until softened. Add garlic and cook another minute more.

Add carrots and celery; cook 3 minutes. Add turmeric, ginger, black pepper and cayenne (or red curry paste). Stir until veggies are coated with spices.

Increase heat to medium-high, add broth and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to low and add chicken (if using),  cauliflower and zucchini. Cover and simmer 15 to 20 minutes, until cauliflower is very tender.

Stir in kale and beans and cook a few minutes, until kale is wilted.

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. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years, but now lives in Groton, Conn.

A la Carte: Crepes Cake is Beyond Delicious

Lee White

I guess I thought, once I had had my second dose of COVID vaccine, plus waited the two-plus week to make sure I was safe from the infection and to be around people, but still safely masked most of the time, friends old or older than I could go out to dinner, in a restaurant.

I was wrong. Nobody wanted to go out and play.

I am still reading two to three books a week, watching too much television, finishing Sunday’s New York Times often by Monday night and still tired of my own food. Both UConn basketball teams have made the NCAA brackets (the men by a hair’s breadth, the women one of four in the highest bracket), but there is no college basketball this week.

I called my friend Nancy Trimble and she said there is America’s Cup sailing from New Zealand but says I don’t stay awake long enough to watch it. She is right, but I can DVR the finals and I have NBCSN. 

But am I that bored? Yup.

While a friend of mine once said watching sailing is like watching paint dry, Nancy promised me it isn’t these days. Is it multihulls? I asked. To me, that is not sailing. She said these are single-hulled boats and each of the finals last around 25 minutes. She is right. These boats are fast, we can watch it from four different angles (three different cameras and one digitized), it is exciting and, for a woman of any age, the men are gorgeous.

The boats are, too. 

I still am reading a lot, writing a lot, watching too much television (my latest is the Morning Show, on Apple TV) and still a bit tired of my own cooking. But I haven’t made crepes in years and they freeze easily, layered with piece of waxed paper.

They are great for savory or sweet leftovers and I love a crepes cake. You can layer the crepes with chopped walnuts, maple syrup, bitter or sweet jam or even orange butter. I made the crepes in under half an hour and had them in the freezer in no time.

They are so delicious. Your first or second crepe might not look good. On the other hand, they taste delicious. Eat them. Your new ones will be gorgeous. 

Grand Marnier Crepe Cake

From Gourmet magazine, March, 2008
Yield: at least 24 to 40 crepes, depending on size of pan

6 eggs
1 cup of whole milk (2 percent is fine)
3 cups chilled heavy cream, divided1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, divided
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, divided
2 teaspoons grated orange zest, divided
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier or Cointreau

Blend eggs, milk, one-half cup cream and one-half teaspoon vanilla with flour, salt, one-quarter confectioners’ sugar and 1 teaspoon zest in a blender until just smooth.

Brush a 10-inch nonstick skillet lightly with some of the melted butter, then heat over medium-high heat until hot. Pour in a scant one-quarter cup of batter, immediately tilting and rotating skillet to coat bottom. (If batter sets before skillet is coated, reduce heat slightly for next crepe.)

Cook until underside is golden and top is just set, 15 to 45 seconds. Loosen edge of crepe with a heatproof rubber spatula (I used my finger nails), then flip crepe over with your fingertip and cook 15 seconds more. Transfer to a plate. Continue making crepes, brushing skillet with butter each or every couple of times and stacking crepes on plate.

Beat remaining 2 and one-half cup of cream, one-half teaspoon vanilla, three-quarters cup confectioners’ sugar, 1 teaspoon orange zest and Grand Marnier in a large deep bowl with an electric mixer until cream holds stiff peaks.

Center a crepe on a serving plate and spread with one-quarter cream. Continue stacking crepes and spreading with cream, endings with a crepe. Chill, covered, at least 4 hours or up to 24 hours. Serve with fresh berries for garnish, if you like.

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. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years, but now lives in Groton, Conn.

A la Carte: Chicken Adobo with Coconut Rice is ‘Good and Easy’

Lee White

This was another interesting food and friend weekend. I began the week with a Milton cauliflower pizza, which lasted for two evenings. I also finished up the beef stew topped with some quinoa I’d cooked and refrigerated. I like playing with quinoa.

Then I made a sheet pan dinner that also lasted for two night. This time I placed parchment paper on the sheet before I added salt, pepper and truffle oil to the potatoes, salted and peppered the broccoli and topped the chicken thighs with butter, curry powder and a little honey.

The latter (the curry, butter and honey) is the first combination I made with chicken maybe 50 years ago. The combination was delicious. (I had used frozen broccoli I’d bought at Trader Joe’s and wasn’t sure it would go straight from the freezer to the oven, but it worked out very well.

On Saturday, Sue and Karen came over on Saturday to watch the noon Connecticut women’s basketball game (yes, we won by lots). We ate snacks (Cheez-Its, trail mix from Costco, peanut butter cups from Aldi). After we won, I put tiny potatoes into the oven, created an enormous salad and Karen grilled a rib eye filet they’d bought from their own house (a new cut for me) on the Weber. Dinner was delicious.

Then we watched two movies in a row: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (meh) and Judah and the Black Messiah (Daniel Kaluuya and movie memorable). All together, eight hours of three things I like the most: good people, good food and movies.

Hope we do this more often.

Now I am back to routine: write a column or two, thaw some chicken for dinner, prepare for a 6 p.m. board of meeting, finish book for book club. The recipe below is a very good and very easy. Use any fairly spicy chile you have. I always have cans of unsweetened coconut milk. I also buy big packages of sweetened coconut chips for my salads, but if you don’t have chips, a little toasted coconut works fine.

Chicken Adobo with Coconut Rice
From Fine Cooking, February-March, 2021
Yield: serves 6

For the chicken:
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
1 serrano pepper, stemmed, seeded and minced
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon fresh cracked black pepper
6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (3 to 3 ½ pounds)

For the rice:
1 cup long grain white rice
1 14-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup toasted unsweetened coconut chips; more for garnish
3 scallions, sliced

In a Dutch oven, combine vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, brown sugar, serrano, bay leaves and black pepper. Add chicken, skin-side down, Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Simmer, covered, 15 minutes. Turn chicken and simmer 15 minutes more. Place chicken skin-side up, on a rimmed baking sheet.

Bring cooking liquid to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil gently uncovered, until thickened and reduce to about 1 cup, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the heat. Discard bay leave. Skim the fat.

Meanwhile, preheat broiler. Broil chicken, 5 inches from heat, until skin is browned and crisp, 4 to 5 minutes.

Make the rice: Place rice in a fine-nesh sieve and rinse with cold water, Place in a 2-quart saucepan. Stir in coconut milk, ½ cup water and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Simmer, covered, 15 minutes. Remove from the heat. Let stand 10 minutes.

Fluff the rice with fork. Stir in toasted coconut and half the scallions. Serve the chicken with the rice. Drizzle with sauce and sprinkle with remaining scallions. Garnish with additional toasted coconut.

A la Carte: There’s Always Something to Celebrate with Red Velvet Cake

Lee’s Red Velvet Cake recipe can be adapted to make delicious cupcakes. Photo by Owen Bruce on Unsplash.

I have not seen my son, daughter-in-law and their three grown daughters since Thanksgiving of 2019. I missed another Thanksgiving, Christmases, Greek Easters and many birthdays.

But Sydney, my second oldest granddaughter, will celebrate her March 16 birthday with her nuclear family and me in Newburyport, Mass. I will bring dinner, probably Pasta Bolognese, a big salad, lots of garlic bread and dessert. And that dessert will be Red Velvet Cake. 

The day Sydney was born, we drove from Old Lyme to the hospital in Beverly, Mass. I had been eating clementines in the car. When I held her in my arms  and she was then fewer than 24-hours-old, she sucked my orange-scented finger. From that day, I was hers forever.

Maybe I will take her a bottle of Grand Marnier!

Red Velvet Cake*

Adapted from The Confetti Cakes Cookbook by Elisa Strauss (Harper Row, New York, 2007)
Yield: serves at least 12 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter each pan, line bottoms with parchment, then butter parchment. Set aside. 

3 ½ cups cake flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa (not Dutch process)
1 and ½ teaspoons salt
2 cups canola oil
2 and ¼ cups sugar
3 large eggs (I have extra-large, which is fine)
6 tablespoons red food color (3 ounces!)
1 and ½ teaspoons vanilla
1 and ¼ cups buttermilk
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 and ½ teaspoons white vinegar

Whisk cake flour, cocoa and salt in a bowl. Place oil and sugar in bowl of an electric mixer and beat a medium-speed until well blended. Beat in eggs one at a time. With machine in low, very slowly add red food color (be careful, it can splatter). Add vanilla. Add flour mix alternately with buttermilk in two batches. Scrape down bowl and beat just long enough to combine.

Place baking soda in a small dish, stir in vinegar and add to batter with machine running. Beat for 10 seconds. Divide batter among pans, place in oven and cake until cake tester comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool in pans 20 minutes, then remove from pans, flip layers over and peel parchment. Cool completely.

*To make cupcakes: use cooking spray to muffin cups (or use cupcake liners), add batter and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, checking for doneness with a toothpick. 

Red Velvet Cake Icing

Adapted from The Waldorf-Astoria Cookbook by John Doherty with John Harrison (Bulfinch, 2006)

2 cups heavy cream, cold
16 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature (reduced-fat is fine)
8 ounces mascarpone (available in most supermarkets in the fancy cheese section)
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

Softly whip cream by hand in electric mixer. Cover in bowl and refrigerate.

Blend cream cheese and mascarpone in bowl of stand mixer or in large bowl with electric hand mixer until smooth. Add vanilla, pulse briefly and add confectioners’ sugar. Blend well. Fold in whipped cream. Refrigerate until needed. Yield: enough icing for top and slice of three-layer cake.

Place first layer cake on wide plate. Place pieces of waxed paper under each quadrant, about 2 or 3 inches in. Place lots of icing on top of layer and spread about half an inch to the end. Add second layer and to that again. Place the top layer on top and frost the entire cake around the sides. Add lots more to the top and spread. (I had enough left over for one one-layer cake). Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Lee White

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. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years, but now lives in Groton, Conn.

A la Carte: Apples for the Asking

Photo by Pierpaolo Riondato on Unsplash.

This was another fun food week.

I am, as I mentioned before, tired of my own food. With few exceptions, I am eating my own food almost every day since the end of last March. Oh, sure, some takeout, but it is expensive and not a whole lot better than what I can make at home.

Okay, it can be a whole lot better than I can make at home.

But BTP (before the pandemic), I rarely ate three meals a day, so these days my own food can be caloric, way more caloric, like including chocolate chip cookies I’d frozen warmed up in the microwave.

So this week was nice.

My friend Richard Swanson dropped me off some homemade hot dogs (I never knew anyone who tried to make his own hot dogs). I put the hot dogs into a lightly toasted piece of challah and added some Gulden’s mustard. It was really good. He also made his own mile-high chocolate cake and left a slice of that, too.

Earlier that day, my neighbor and friend, Sue O’Farrell, asked if I liked apple sauce. Who doesn’t like apple sauce?

After dinner she also sent warmed apple crumb dessert. That was good, too. She gave me the recipe for her applesauce. And I found another recipe for baked apples I’d not made.

Here they are.

Apple Sauce

From Sue O’Farrell

5 pounds of apples, peeled, cored and cut up
1 cup water
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cups fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

Place all the ingredients into a slow cooker set on high for 4 hours. When it was cooled for about 30 minutes, she used an immersion blender to puree the applesauce. (I do not have a stick blender, so I pureed it in my Ninja when the sauce was cooler.) 

Baked Apples

[From some magazine(!), October, 2017]

Yield: 4 servings

4 small Honeycrisp apples, cored and seeded, bottom intact
4 tablespoons softened butter
½ cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon cardamom
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ cup chopped walnuts

Mix butter and spices together and fill each apple with butter mixture. Place on a baking pan. Bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes, until apples are tender. Great with ice cream.

Lee White

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. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years, but now lives in Groton, Conn.

A la Carte: Crispy Peanut-Chile Chicken with Sweet Potatoes … to Love!

Lee White

I was so thrilled with the roasted sweet potato pie I made last week, that I decided to use sweet potatoes again for a recipe I found in an almost-two-year-old magazine I was about to toss.

This time the recipe called for chicken and sweet potatoes, with the addition of peanut butter and hot chiles.

I had an appointment with my primary doctor in the afternoon (after I had missed the appointment a week ago, having found the appointment card stuck in another food magazine!), so on my way to the new appointment, I picked up some Thai chiles and more cherry tomatoes. I had already thawed the chicken thighs.

This recipe is a true winner. The sweet potatoes, the tangy tomatoes, the hot peppers (feel free to seed them and discard the seeds) and the bland of the chicken made a terrific dinner plus one lunch and another dinner for one.

I think you will love this.

Crispy Peanut-Chile Chicken with Sweet Potatoes
From Fine Cooking, April-May 2019
Yield: serves 4

½ cup peanut butter (smooth or chunky)
2 Thai bird chiles (it says to seed one, but maybe use one and seed that, too)
5 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
4 cloves of garlic, minced
Kosher salt
8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs
1 large onion, chopped
¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into ½ inch dice (about 2 pounds)
7 ounces cherry tomatoes (about 1 cup)
2 ounces (½ cup) shelled roasted salted peanuts, coarsely chopped

Thoroughly combine peanut butter, chiles, 3 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 teaspoons of garlic and ¾ teaspoon salt in a gallon-sized zip-top bag. Lightly sprinkle the chicken thighs and add to the marinade. Refrigerate for 1 hour, massaging every 15 minutes.

Position rack in the center of the oven and heat to 375 degrees. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large ovenproof skillet, preferably cast iron, on medium heat until shimmering.

Add onions, remaining garlic, 2 tablespoons cilantro and ½ teaspoon salt and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until onion softens and garlic is fragrant, 4 to 5 minutes.

Stir in sweet potatoes. Cover pan and cook until sweet potatoes just start to soften, stirring once, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat.

Remove lid from skillet and add tomatoes. Remove chicken from marinade and place smooth side up over the tomatoes, spooning marina ride on top of each. Scatter with peanuts over the chicken and transfer skillet to the oven.

Cook until chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees, about 30 minutes.

Heat broiler on high, then cook until top of chicken and peanuts turn light golden, 1 to 2 minutes, watching closely so it doesn’t burn.

Let the chicken rest for 10 minutes before serving, sprinkle with remaining cilantro.

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. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years, but now lives in Groton, Conn.

A la Carte: A Duo of Delicious Desserts for Dreary Days

Lee White

As promised, as part of February’s Black History Month, I get a chance to make two recipes for this column.

The banana pudding with vanilla wafers has been a favorite for a very long time. As a matter of fact, some years ago I went to a slumber party at Ginger Smiley’s house and we were asked to make our favorite-ever dessert. Mine was a banana pudding. (Ginger, never to be outvoted, blew out the jelly of jelly donuts, added peanut butter cups and shared them warm. Never tasted anything that good before or since).

So, here is a gorgeous dessert—and if you don’t have a trifle bowl, it is just as good layered in a Pyrex pan.

The other, a spiced sweet potato pie, I had never made before, although I have made pumpkin pies a lot. This recipe is beyond delicious. I did not parbake the pie shell, since I never do with a pumpkin pie.  

Sweet potato pie. Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Civil Rights Spiced Sweet Potato Pie
From Yankee magazine, January/February 2021
Yield: 8 servings

2 medium sweet potatoes, roasted, peeled and mashed
¾ cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
½ cup sweetened condensed milk
4 tablespoons salted butter, mashed
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 9-inch pastry shell, parbaked (parbaking optional)
Whipped cream, for serving

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl, using a standing or handheld mixer, beat mashed sweet potatoes together with brown sugar, condensed milk, butter, flour, spices, salt, eggs and vanilla until well blended and smooth. 

Poor filling into pie shell. It will be full but should not spill over the sides, although I decided to put the pie atop a big piece of aluminum foil. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degree and bake until top is puffed and browned, 20 to 30 minutes more. Cool on a wire rack for at least 2 hours. Serve with whipped cream.

The Best Banana Pudding
From AllRecipes.com
Yield: serves 20

1 5-pounce package instant vanilla pudding mix
2 cups cold milk
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 2-ounce container frozen whipped topping, thawed
1 16-ounce package vanilla wafers (I always use Nilla Wafers)
14 bananas, sliced

In a large mixing bowl, beat pudding mix and milk 2 minutes. Blend in condensed milk until smooth. Stir in vanilla and fold in whipped topping. Layer wafers, banana and pudding mixture in a glass serving bowl (also called a trifle bowl).  Chill until serving.

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. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years, but now lives in Groton, Conn.

A la Carte: Celebrate Black History Month by Making ‘Peace Through (Puerto Rican-Style Shepherd’s) Pie,’

Lee White

Even though I was born in New York State, and went to college there, too, I have always considered myself a New England girl. My husband and I met in New York City and we lived in New Jersey for a few years, but as soon as we could, we moved to New England, first to Massachusetts and then to our home in Connecticut.

I have always had a subscription to Yankee magazine and we liked two- or three-day weekends much more than going somewhere for a whole week. On those weekends we would drive to Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire. Two days at a hotel in Boston was divine. As for Rhode Island: we would have dinner at Al Forno or, sometimes, just drive to Providence for dinner on Federal Hill.

These days, with a pandemic and with fewer friends to drive with, I often snuggled into bed with Yankee magazine and dream about the places we had been, or wished we’d visited. 

A few nights ago, after two hours of Longmire on television, I went to bed with the January/February issue of Yankee. It was all about pies.  In a wonderful article by Nadine Nelson about Common Ground, a New Haven, Conn., high school, urban farm and environmental education center, she wrote about Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the Peace Through Pie project, a national nonprofit and communities fundraising movement, in February — Black History Month. 

The article was great, but which pie to make? Samosa-style potpies, root vegetable cheese tart, pear-cranberry cheddar pie with hazelnut crumble, or how about a casserole-like pastelon, a Puerto Rican dish that includes plantains, which are now available in most of our shoreline supermarkets.

Next week another pie: Civil Rights Spiced Sweet Potato Pie, also for Black History Month.

Puerto Rican-Style Shepherd’s Pie

 

From Yankee magazine, January/February 2021

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 ripe plantains (yellow with black spots), peeled and halved crosswise
3 tablespoons salted butter, plus more for the pan (unsalted butter is fine)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ground beef
1 teaspoon adobo seasoning*
1 medium onion, diced
1 small green bell pepper, diced
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon paprika ( preferably smoked)
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 cup tomato sauce
1/3 cup pimento-stuffed green olives, sliced
2 teaspoons capers (optional)
2 large eggs, beaten
1 ¼ cups shredded Monterey Jack, mozzarella or cheddar cheese

Season a medium pot of water with salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Add plantains and simmer until tender, 15 minutes. Transfer plantains to a bowl and mash with 3 tablespoons butter until smooth. Set mixture aside.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter a medium baking dish; set aside.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add beef and adobo seasoning and cook, breaking up with a wooden spoon, until it is browned. Remove beef from pan and transfer to a bowl. Reduce heat to medium and add onions, pepper, cumin, paprika and oregano; cook stirring until translucent, about 6 minutes. Return beef to skillet and add tomato sauce, olives and capers and simmer, stirring occasionally, until liquid evaporates. Remove from heat.

To assemble casserole, spread meat mixture in the bottom, Pour eggs over meat mixture, then spread plantains over that. Top with cheese. Bake, uncovered, until cheese is golden brown, 30 minutes.

*I did not have adobo seasoning, but I did have chipotle in adobo, so I used a teaspoon of that instead.

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. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years but now lives in Groton, Conn.

A la Carte: Pork in a Pandemic, Roasted with Sauerkraut Gives Lots of Leftovers

Lee White

The pandemic has certainly made my days and weeks disappear.

Has it really been almost 11 months since our children went to school? Last January, would we have understood the phrase “remote learning”? Would we have known what the heck this thing called Zoom is?

Most seasons used to involve food. April meant that first sweet radish, sliced thin on sweet buttered French bread. The first salad made with soft Boston lettuce. The first platter of fried clams or a lobster roll sitting outside at Captain Scott’s or Fred’s Shanty or the Clam Castle. A hamburger or hot dog in someone’s yard on Memorial Day or the Fourth of July. Playing boules on summer Sundays.

Sure, I have cooked a lot. Honestly, I have cooked more than I ever thought I would. But so little of what I have cooked has been very seasonal.

Fortunately, I made corn chowder with corn I froze two summers ago. I didn’t bake as much since I’d no dinner parties and I was afraid I’d eat that pie in two days. Why open a bottle of wine when I would forget it in the refrigerator? 

And here I am, foraging in the big freezer in the garage. Wow, a pork roast dated 2019. I always made a pork roast on the last cool day in October. Here it is, almost February 2021, and I hadn’t made one yet.

But here it is. It’s a big one, enough for six to eight people. At the end of the recipe, I tell you how to make casseroles out of the rest.

Roast Pork Dinner … and Leftovers (for another day)

There is only one problem with this great pork and sauerkraut dinner: the pork is roasted over the sauerkraut, so you can’t make gravy from scratch. I use one of the gravy mixes you can buy at the market, preferably Knorr. To do a leftover casserole, make extra vegetables and mashed potatoes.

Yield: 2 for dinner; the casserole will feed 4 to 6 for dinner

Preheat oven at 350 degrees.

Large can of sauerkraut
6 pound (about) pork loin, bone-in (make sure butcher breaks chine so chops are easy to cut apart)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Apple sauce (24-ounce or so)
2 to 3 pounds Yukon potatoes
Fresh vegetables (broccoli, carrots, Brussels sprouts, beans, peas or a combination)
2 envelopes gravy mix

In the sink, place sauerkraut in a colander. With your hands, twist water out of the kraut as much as you can. 

In a large Pyrex baking dish, form sauerkraut into a flat loaf with your hands. Put the pork loin, bone down, onto the kraut. Season with salt and pepper. Place pork and sauerkraut onto the oven and cook for one and one-half or two hours.

Remove from the oven and, using two big forks, put kraut into another baking pan, placing the pork back onto the Pyrex baking dish. Mix apple sauce with sauerkraut in the smaller pan, and place both pans into oven. Bake for another hour.

While pork and kraut bake, make your mashed potatoes, vegetables and gravy mix. Serve.

***

After dinner, create the new casserole(s) in a freezer-safe, oven-safe container by layering the casserole(s) with mashed potatoes, vegetables, sauerkraut and small chunks of pork; pour leftover gravy on top. Place casserole(s) into a jumbo zippered plastic bag and freeze. When ready to serve, thaw, remove zippered plastic bag and roast in a 350 degree oven until hot. Serve with fresh gravy and apple sauce.

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. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years but now lives in Groton, Conn.

A la Carte: Something Different for Breakfast? Try These Savory Muffins

Lee White

Hopefully, by the time you read this, I will have an appointment for my first (and maybe my second) COVID vaccine, although that may not be the case.

My last missive from VAMS (Vaccine Administration Management System) says, “Thank you for registering … If you have not gotten that notice … ” How in heaven’s sake would someone know that they had not gotten that note if they haven’t gotten it? In any case, everyone I know has gotten an appointment and has had their first inoculation … but not me.

I am probably fine, but I would like the vaccine.

I get tested every seven to 10 days and have been pretty isolated. I am reading two to three books a week and watch too much television (even the documentary about Tiger Woods!), and cook, cook and cook. I have been eating healthy, even though I haven’t lost much weight.

I miss terribly not going out to restaurants and have not gotten much take-out either. I give myself props for that because I do know that good restaurants (and I know we have lots of good restaurants) use good ingredients, including butter, cream and sugar. I use way less of those ingredients.

My daughter Darcy cooks a lot and we talk every day about what we ate for our meals. I like it when I have already eaten so that her dinners don’t make me hungrier. This recipe came from a friend of hers, who had found it in the Jan/Feb issue of Relish.

Darcy, as always, changes ingredients and amounts, too. I do not until I have made it more than once. Overall, the recipe is good, but it needed a bit of sugar, so the one you see has a tablespoon or so of sugar. I did add a bit more broccoli than it called for.

Each morning, I eat one and it holds me until noon or 1 p.m.

Photo by Isabella on Unsplash.

Savory Muffins

Slightly adapted from Relish magazine
Yield: 12 muffins

Prepare a 12-cup muffin tin and use vegetable spray into each. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

1 egg
1 cup milk (2 percent is fine)
¼ cup canola (or any vegetable) oil
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 to 2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon dried mustard
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup frozen or fresh broccoli florets, cooked in boiling water for three minutes, drained and chopped
2 scallions, chopped 

Mix together egg, milk and canola oil. 

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and mustard. 

Add the egg mixture and fold into the dried ingredients. 

Using a rubber spatula, mix in the cheese and broccoli. 

Using a large tablespoon, fill each muffin cup with the batter; slightly flatten each muffin 

Bake about 18 to 22 minutes, until golden and toothpick comes out clean.

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. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years but now lives in Groton, Conn.

A la Carte: Baby, It’s Cold Outside … so it Must be Time for Soup!

Lee White

It has been pretty cold outside and, for that matter, inside my condo. 

I keep my thermostat at 60 degrees, until friends are coming for dinner (which doesn’t happen these days because of the pandemic) or coming to watch the UConn women play basketball (my neighbors don’t have SNY network). When they visit, I turn the heat to 65. They wear their puffy jackets and I offer them down throws.

But to be honest, it has been cold enough that I often turn the heat to 65 during the day. Sometimes I forget to turn it back down at night. By the time I am in bed under my electric blanket and my down comforter, I boil.

So, often, I have to go back downstairs and turn the thermostat down. (I know, I can get a smart thermostat that does this for me, but I keep saying, “Yeah, just another two or three months and it will be warm again.” Also, I am mechanically inept and I don’t know how to put in a new thermostat.

What I do these days to keep myself just warm enough is with food. I make stews and soups and I roast a big chicken every couple of weeks.

This recipe below is from a magazine I had been hoarding for a few months because its cover promised “Time for Soup!” I love lemon soup and this reminded me how much I miss St. Sophia’s Greek Festival in New London.

There I always begin with its lemon soup, choose pastitsio for my entrée and finish with a piece of baklava. I have made baklava myself and maybe I should try pastitsio, too. In the meantime, here is a great recipe for the soup.

Greek Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup
From Food magazine, October, 2020
Yield: serves 4

6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
½ cup orzo
1 large egg plus 2 egg yolks
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from about 1 ½ lemons)
1 ¾ cups shredded rotisserie chicken (skin removed)
1 ¾ cups frozen peas and carrots

Bring the chicken broth to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add orzo and cook 2 minutes less than the label directs.

Meanwhile, whisk the egg, yolks, ¾ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper in a medium bowl. Whisk in the lemon juice. Reduce hear under the orzo to low, scoop out 1 cup broth with a ladle and pour it into the egg mixture in a steady stream, whisking with the other hand. Then pour the egg mixture into the saucepan with the remaining broth and orzo in a steady stream, whisking constantly.*

Stir the chicken into the soup, increase the heat to medium and bring it to a gentle simmer, stirring often, Cook stirring, until the soup thickens slightly, about 4 minute. Stir in the peas and carrots and warm through.

*You need to warm up (or temper) your eggs before you add them to the broth or else you’ll get scrambled egg soup! Whisk the eggs with a little hot broth first, then slowly whisk them into the soup.

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. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years but now lives in Groton, Conn.

A la Carte: All About Apricots … in a Pie … for Christmas

Lee White

With Christmas just around the corner, we are probably looking toward another different holiday. In my heart of heart, I believe that our next festive holiday, if not Easter, will be Memorial Day weekend with backyard barbecues and parades with marching bands.

I really do believe this.

In the meantime, many of us have been cooking and baking for Christmas. Perhaps dinner will be a baked ham with pineapple and brown sugar, scalloped potatoes, Brussels sprouts with bacon and, of course, pies. My friend Jean Howard, whose son, Lee Howard is my New London Times’ editor, makes an apricot pie that should be awarded medals. She evidently made one for Thanksgiving and Lee and his Libby saved a piece for me.

Jean explained that the recipe is simple, but the dried apricots are important. They must be California apricots, she explained, not the Turkish ones. I looked up the difference. The former are dried whole, without the pits, while the California ones are halved, less sweet but have are more “apricot” flavor. I found them at Trader Joe’s. 

I had never made a dried fruit pie, but I have hydrated fruits for other recipes (and for braising) and love the very intense flavor that hydrating brings to food. I also looked into other recipes and added a few fillips to Jean’s recipe. And, for me, I needed a little more sugar.

I also remembered that my friend, Rose Levy Beranbaum, also reduced fruit liquid to some pies. I also added some grated lemon and a whisper of pure almond extract.

Below is Jean Howard’s recipe for one of the best recipes you will ever make. 

Photo by Maša Žekš on Unsplash.

Jean Howard’s Apricot Pie

Adapted with love from me and Nick Malgieri

1 pound California (or slab) apricots, diced into ½ –inch dice
3 cups water
¾ cups sugar
3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoon grated lemon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ teaspoon pure almond extract
1 prepared dough for a 8- to 9-inch pie*

Cook apricots and water to a boil in a medium unreactive pan; bring to a boil, remove from the heat and cool for about 2 hours.

Transfer apricots and water to a bowl. Set a strainer over the saucepan in which the apricots soaked and drain the apricots well, letting the liquid fall back into then pan

Combine sugar and flour and whisk the mixture into the apricot liquid. Place pan on low heat, stirring constantly, until it comes to a low boil. Stir in zest, butter and almond extract. Pour liquid over apricots and allow to cool.

When ready to assemble and bake the pie, set a rack on the lowest level in the oven and preheat to 375. Roll the dough around the pie pan, saving some for some lattice, if you like. Put the pie in the oven and decrease the temperature to 350 degrees. Bake until filling is simmering, about 45 minutes. 

*Seems like everyone is using a prepared dough these days, but if you would like my recipe, which my late friend, Deb Jensen, gave me, write me at leeawhite@aol.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. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years but now lives in Groton, Conn.

A la Carte: Happy Hanukkah! Enjoy Latkes with Lee

Lee White

It could be old age, or COVID, or rehabilitation with my new hip or nothing at all. But it feels as if my wonderful daughter was here for two days instead of two weeks. In any case, my new hip is perfect. My hip has given me a new lease on life. I was on my walker for a few days, onto my cane the next week and driving on the third. 

Thanksgiving was as perfect as that holiday can be without any of my family members together. My next-door neighbors and I shared a traditional meal and, for some reason, everything tasted better than it had been in other times. And, of course, there were the sandwiches. Wished I had not tossed off the stuffing by mistake.

My longest drive was to Madison, to see my sweet friends Lisa and Eric and their dog Lucy. We ate outside on a lovely day and when it got a little cooler, Eric plugged into a heat lamp. We ate Lisa’s quiche, roasted potatoes dusted with truffle oil and a bright, green salad of which I couldn’t have enough. Lisa says it is a white balsamic she gets from Fairway. Knowing her, a bottle will be in my mailbox soon.

Now the rest of the holidays are almost here.

Actually, Hanukkah started yesterday, Dec. 10, and so it is time for latkes.

Here is a recipe I have used for years. The recipe calls for using a hand grater for the onions and the onions, but I use a food processor. The only difficult part is wringing out the potato and onion water, but it is a small matter when you get to eat them.

And, by the way, latkes could be for any holiday, or no holiday itself, especially if you add these toppings from the new Food Magazine:

  • pastrami, warmed sauerkraut and spicy mustard
  • egg salad with chopped chives, dill and salmon roe
  • hummus, chopped Kalamata olives and chopped parsley
  • thinly sliced fennel and lemon juice
  • ricotta, a pinch of cayenne and honey
  • gravlax and crème fraiche
  • warmed refried beans, shredded, pickled jalapenos, sour cream and thinly sliced scallion.

Or, at our house, two big bowls of applesauce and sour cream!

My parents told me that whether people eat latkes with apple sauce or sour cream depends on whether their ancestors are from the (richer) German-Spanish-Austrian (apple sauce) or the less-classy Polish or Russian relatives (sour cream). Mine are from the less-classy relatives, but I love and serve both.

Latkes are traditionally served during Hanukkah … but Lee White says they can be served at any time! Photo by Mark Mitchell – Flickr: Potato Latkes, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32143883

Latkes

Yield: serves 8 to 10

6 to 8 large russet potatoes
1 medium onion
2 large eggs
1/4  cup matzoh meal or flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
vegetable oil
salt and pepper, to taste

Peel potatoes and onions. Cut them into chunks that will feed in the feeding tube of the food processor. With the grating disk, grate potatoes and onions into food processor. Place grated potatoes and onions into a colander and push as much liquid out. Then (here’s the hard part), put grated potatoes and onion into a clean dish towel and squeeze, squeeze and squeeze. 

Put squeezed potatoes and onions into a bowl. Mix eggs, flour or matzoh meal and baking powder into the potatoes and onions. Add salt and pepper. 

Heat about an inch of oil into a skillet until fairly hot. Drop tablespoons of mixture into the skillet and fry, turning once. (I sometimes flatten the pancakes a bit.) Drain on paper towels.

You can keep the pancakes warm in a 250 degree oven until ready to serve, but I find that people want to eat them as soon as they come out of the skillet and drained.

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. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years but now lives in Groton, Conn.

A la Carte: Chicken Soup for the Soul … and so Many Other Things!

Lee White

Sometimes you make something so easy, and so often, you assume everyone does it, too. That is me with chicken soup.

I do buy those quart-sized cartons of chicken soup for the pantry. Sometimes it is low-sodium (which is often a little more expensive) or low-fat (even if we are not sure how low fat is really low).

But my mother never bought canned soup, primarily because she only made two kinds of soup—chicken soup from scratch or cabbage soup, made with water. The smell of the house when she made cabbage soup made be gag. 

I grew up drinking chicken soup. It was one my mother made regularly.

She probably added salt and did not skim up the fat. It was a long time ago and I don’t remember anyone talking about a low-salt or low-fat diets and we didn’t even know the word “cholesterol.”

In our house we drank it “neat,” as if it were scotch. My father and I fought over the warm, left-over carrots. My mother made chicken sandwiches for us the next few days. It was pretty bland, but the only herbs in our kitchen were salt, pepper and paprika.

I began making chicken soup when I married my husband. Like my mother, I use a fat 3 ½-pound chicken. The ingredients are simple. I added more carrots because I love the left-over carrots, cold, still tasting like chicken soup. I add a little salt but more pepper, because I love pepper.

My husband thought the leftover chicken was bland; of course it was, all the flavor was in the soup. But I like chicken sandwiches with mayonnaise, which is a bit salty. I also make chicken salad with onions, celery, dried mustard and garlic salt. I also make enchiladas or tacos with the left-over chicken.

The soup is bland, too. All it tastes like is chicken soup.

But here’s the thing: The soup becomes the stock or broth for all the other soups you make. Taste that home-made soup; then taste the stock from that can or carton. Isn’t that amazing?

So make this soup.

I still eat it “neat.” But you can add chopped chicken to it, or add rice or noodles or more fresh vegetables. The ones you cooked the chicken with are dreary; dump them out, unless your pets like it with their kibble.

I put the soup through a sieve twice. Then I freeze it for all the soups, stews, braises or for the liquid in your Instant Pot.  

Chicken Soup and Broth
Adapted from “Italian Holiday Cooking” by Michele Scicolone (William Morrow, New York, 2001)

Serves 6 to 8 (makes about 3 quarts of broth)

You can use this recipe as a base for any soup or stew you wish or as the liquid in your braise or Instant-Pot. Photo by Jad Limcaco on Unsplash

1 chicken (about 3 ½  pounds, a big one is okay if your pot holds it))
1 pound (about) chicken legs and thighs
4 to 6 medium carrots, cut into big chunks
2 celery ribs, cut into big chunks
2 onions, peeled and quartered
6 sprigs flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
6 to 10 peppercorns
salt to taste (I begin tasting and salting about 1 hour before the soup is done)

  1. Remove the liver, gizzards for another use. Rinse chicken and chicken parts well. Place in stock pot at least large enough to hold 6 quarts of liquid. Add 4 quarts (16 cups) cold water. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Lower heat and cook for 30 to 60 minutes, skimming off the foam and any fat that rises to the surface.
  2. Add vegetables, parsley, peppercorns and a little salt. Cook for 2 hours. (If you’ve skimmed off the foam during the first part of the cooking, you’ll hardly have to pay attention during this two-hour period.) Let cool slightly. 
  3. Strain broth. Remove chicken from bones, discarding skin and bones. Pour the soup into a sieve twice. If you are serving the broth as soup, return to rinsed pot and add chicken, sliced fresh carrots, celery and onion and simmer until tender. If you only need the broth, reserve the chicken meat for another use.
  4. Let soup or broth cool slightly, then cover and refrigerate for up to three days. When ready to proceed, scrape fat off surface if you like. I, however, don’t. Soup can be frozen for up to three months.

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.

A la Carte: Zucchini Cake For Now … or Later (It Freezes Beautifully)

Lee White

Sometimes, I wish I had a garden, but I don’t like dirt or insects. My late husband’s family always had vegetable and flower gardens. My parents could have had a garden, but they didn’t even know what a trowel was, never mind seeding, weeding, picking or cooking vegetables. 

When I married my husband and we bought our first house, one with a small yard, we had a little vegetable garden. When we moved to Charlton, Mass., we had one that was about a quarter of an acre. That was way too much. We grew everything, from potatoes and onions to carrots and corn (the raccoons loved corn and they enjoyed it best by pulling the stalks down to the ground, opening up all the ears and eating just a little out of each.)

We grew zucchini, too. Lots of zucchini. So I grated zucchini, let it sit in a colander for a while, then squeezed them with tea towels, packed it in plastic bags and froze the packages in our big freezer. Then came Hurricane Gloria. We lost power for close to a week. Even thing in the freezer thawed.

When we moved to Old Lyme, my husband made four garden beds and that was just about perfect. Zucchini and yellow squash were not our list. 

I still have zucchini recipes I like. I love them stuffed with meat and rice and I love them just with breadcrumbs and herbs or spices. But zucchini and summer squash are always available in supermarkets and are always reasonably priced.

I just bought a few small ones and made this cake. I might ice it with a cream cheese frosting. I have also made it in a Bundt cake (at 325 for an hour and a quarter) and serve it with some sorbet or ice cream. The cake freezes beautifully, but not if power goes out for a week.

Zucchini Cake
Created by Carol Cornwell of Wolfe Island, Ontario.
Yield: 2 cakes

2 and one-quarter cups all-purpose flour, and extra for dusting pans
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
4 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
7 cups grated zucchini, squeezed and drained for around 30 minutes
1 cup granulated sugar
½  pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup light brown sugar
5 eggs
1 teaspoon coffee espresso powder (or 2 tablespoons brewed coffee)
1 and ½ /teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon chai powder (optional)

Adjust oven rack to center position and heat oven to 350 degrees.

Generously grease and flour bottom and sides of two 9-inch by 1 and one-half inch or 9-inch by 2-inch round cake pans. (I use cooking spray.)  Invert pans and rap sharply to remove excess flour.

Wisk flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in large bowl; set aside. Toss grated zucchini with 1 cup granulated sugar in colander set over large bowl; drain for around 30 minutes. Meanwhile, melt butter in large skillet over medium-low heat, stirring frequently; cook until golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes.

Transfer to large bowl; cool for 10 minutes, then whisk in remaining granulated sugar and brown sugar. Add eggs one at a time, whisking thoroughly before adding the next; add coffee and vanilla. Add flour mixture, stirring until almost combined then add zucchini.

Divide batter evenly between pans; smooth surfaces with rubber spatula. Bake until cake feels firm in center when pressed lightly and toothpick inserted into cake center comes out perfectly clean (40 to 50 minutes.)

Transfer pans to wire racks; cook for 10 minutes.

Run knife around perimeter of each pan, invert cakes onto rack, then turn over. Serve warm or at room temperature. 

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.

A la Carte: How to Bake an Election Cake!

Lee White

According to Walter Woodward, PhD, Connecticut’s Historian, years ago there was a Connecticut Election Cake Recipe. 

The newer recipe I found, “A Modern Election Cake Recipe,” looks like a half birthday cake, half fruit cake. It calls for yeast, some butter and buttermilk (the latter of my favorite add-ins for all cakes) vanilla, eggs, and so on. Like a fruit cake, you add golden raisins and a quarter cup of dried fruit. And, like a yeast bread, the batter must be allowed to rise for 1 ½ hours in a Bundt cake.

I kept thinking how difficult it would be for that yeast to do its job, rising with all that heavy fruit pushing it down. Also, like a fruit cake, it is topped with a glaze. 

I am not terribly fond of fruit cake. I think about that joke about fruit cake: you know, there is only one fruit cake and it just gets re-sent every year. 

I do love the idea of an election cake these days, what with a wild election, a pandemic and more time spent in the kitchen. Also, Adam Young, of Mystic’s Sift Bakery, will be judging a non-partisan cake contest. We will find out who won on Nov. 2, but I will guess that it won’t be the election cake Amelia Simmons wrote about it in 1796, in Hartford.

In any case, for your Nov. 3 election get-together (social distancing and masks, please), why not make any cake you like, glaze it or frost it with five-minute or chocolate icing or perhaps a decadent buttercream?

I like the recipe below, from Southern Living. I would drizzle it with dark chocolate. You could make it as cupcakes. If you frost it, you might use a pure extract in the frosting, like almond or pecan.

Or, what the heck, it’s your house … paint the frosting blue or red!

Decorate your Election Cake red or blue … or both!

Million Dollar Pound Cake
From Southern Living magazine

Yield: serves 10 to 12

1 pound butter, softened
3 cups sugar
6 large eggs
4 cups all-purpose flour (White Lily if you have it)
¾ cups milk
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy and lighter in color, 1 to 7 minutes depending on the power of your mixer. Gradually add sugar, beating at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until yellow yolk disappears.

Add flour to creamed mixture alternately with milk, beginning and ending with flour. Bear at low speed until mixture blends after each addition. (The batter should be smooth and bits of flour should be well incorporated to rid batter of lumps. Stir gently with a rubber spatula. Stir in extracts.

Pour into a greased and floured 10-inch pad. (I use Pam cooking spray with flour; it is in the blue can at the supermarket.)

Bake at 300 degrees for 1 hour and 40 minutes, or until a long wooden pick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from pan and cool completely on a wire rack.

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.