October 20, 2021

A la Carte: Lee Offers a New Twist on Vegetables … With a Bit of a Kick!

Lee White

A few weeks ago, my refrigerator was filled with tomato sauces and chicken. I had made that huge, seven-pound chicken, which I ate for at least five days (sandwiches, tacos, chicken salad.)

As for the tomato sauce, Judy Robertson gave me some from her garden and two other condo friends gave me her mother’s recipe for sauce with chicken while another gave me some topped with her own ricotta-filled shells. 

Then there was more chicken. For the first time since the dreaded COVID, friends and I ate dinner at our favorite-always restaurant, Sneekers, on a Friday night.

Dick had his go-to fish and chips (baked potato, no cole slaw), Judy had an enormous mac and cheese loaded with lobster while I had the chicken-fried chicken (fried boneless, skinless chicken), mashed potato and the white, black-pepper-flicked gravy, which the southern people love for their chicken-fried steak.

In any case, I am now craving vegetables, mushrooms in particular. I am not brave enough to forage, but I love them. This recipe includes just about every vegetable plus mushrooms.

Curry Vegetables
Adapted from Bon Appetit, September 2021

Photo by Roam In Color on Unsplash.

6 tablespoons coconut oil, divided
6 cups 1-inch mixed veggies (zucchini, carrots, cauliflower, eggplant, okra and/or mushrooms
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 2-inch piece turmeric peeled (or ½ teaspoon ground turmeric}
2 tablespoons curry powder
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 2-inch piece ginger, peeled, finely grated
1 habanero, Fresno or jalapeno chile, finely chopped
1 13.5 ounce can full-fat unsweetened coconut milk
1 ½ cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1 tablespoon plus 1 ½ teaspoon honey
1 15-ounce (or so) frozen green peas
Small handful chopped cilantro
Juice of ½ lime (optional)
Steamed white rice for serving

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Melt 3 tablespoons coconut oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Transfer all to a large bowl, add veggies and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Divide vegetables between 2 rimmed baking sheet and roast until almost tender, and starting to brown in spots, 10 to 12 minutes. Set aside.

Heat remaining coconut oil in a large skillet over medium. Add seasonings and cook, stirring often, until fragrant. Add onion, garlic and ginger, season with salt and pepper and cook stirring often, until onion is translucent and spice mixture looks dry and clumpy, 6 to 8 minutes.

Add chile, coconut milk and broth to skillet and bring curry to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced by about one-third, enough to coat a spoon, 13 to 17 minutes. Stir in honey, taste curry and season with salt and pepper, if needed

Add peas and reserved roasted vegetables to skillet and return curry to a simmer. Cook until vegetables are fork-tender, about 4 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and stir in cilantro.

Let sit 5 minutes, then stir in lime juice if using. Serve with rice alongside.

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. Contact Lee at leeawhite@aol.com.

A la Carte: Dinner in Less Than 30 Minutes? Try Sheet-pan Gnocchi

Lee White

I have always assumed that people use coupons when they go to supermarkets. I am a newspaper and magazine freak, and I always clip coupons (and try to remember to take them with me, too.)

In my much younger days, before I knew how to cook at all, I clipped newspapers coupons not only to save money (my ex-husband was a student and I was the full-time secretary/mother/bread-winner/cook) and hoped there might be recipes in the food section of the Ithaca (NY) Journal.

We only had one car and, as I remember, we only had one supermarket. Back then, there was one lettuce (iceberg), maybe no frozen vegetables and, possibly, no plastic trays of meat in the refrigerator section.

I learned to cook from friends, my first mother-in-law, and from my first cookbook, the latter of which came free with a set of encyclopedia my ex- decided to buy.

Today I visit, on a regular basis, four supermarkets within five minutes of my house. Which ones I go to first might have something to do with coupons. I don’t clip (or use an app) to try something new, unless a friend or my daughter suggests it.

I am, however, just as likely to see something new and shiny at the market, buy it and see if I like it.

Such is the case with Giovanni Rana’s “Italy’s Most Loved, Imported from Italy” Skillet Gnocchi.

Two weeks later, I found a recipe that called for shelf-stable or refrigerated potato gnocchi. So I made this recipe. The dish was delicious and the recipe so simple and quick that even a full-time worker, mother, bread-winner or cook can get this dinner done in less than half an hour.

Sheet-Pan Gnocchi
(possibly from Bon Appetit, clipped the recipe, page didn’t include magazine name)
Yield: 4 servings

½ large red onion, cut into ½-inch-thick wedges
2 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 pints cherry tomatoes
1 package shelf-stable or refrigerated potato gnocchi
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil divided, plus more for drizzling
1 teaspoons kosher salt, divided, plus more
Freshly grated black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 cups baby arugula
1 cup basil leaves, large leaves torn
2 ounces Parmesan, shaved

Place rack in middle of oven; preheat to 425 degrees. Toss onion, garlic, tomatoes, gnocchi, 3 tablespoons oil and ¾ teaspoons salt in a rimmed baking sheet to coat. Season generously with pepper and toss again to combine.

Roast, stirring once or twice, until gnocchi are golden and start to crisp, most of the tomatoes have burst and onion is golden 20 to 25 minutes.

Remove garlic from baking sheet, peel and place in a small bowl. Mash with ¼ teaspoon of salt (garlic should be very soft.) Whisk in lemon juice and remaining 1 tablespoons oil, dressing with pepper and more salt if necessary.

Add arugula, basil and parmesan to baking sheet and drizzle dressing over; toss to combine.

Divide among plates and drizzle with more oil, 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. Contact Lee at leeawhite@aol.com.

A la Carte: Roasted Chicken Under Garlic Bread Offers Taste of Autumn, Hint of Winter Meals to Come

Lee White

Oh, no, it’s chicken again, I thought, as I looked at the last column I wrote weeks before I left to see my daughter in California.

But during the many days I spent there, I thought about all she’d cooked for me—tacos on Thursdays and nachos on Friday (both made with a roasted chicken she’s bought at Costco.) 

I guess the acorn doesn’t fall from the tree. In addition to the splash pool at her town’s pool, dips in the Pacific Ocean with her friend, Elizabeth, who lives steps from the ocean in Long Beach, a movie with Darcy starring Matt Damon (Stillwater, don’t miss it!) and a cookout on Labor Day, her food was incredible, as always.

But on the flights home (and the long drive home from Bradley), I was thinking I’d like to get a roasting chicken. While I ask the post office to hold my mail when I travel, I ask my neighbor to keep my The Day newspapers. As I read the news the next morning, the advertising pages included Perdue roasting chickens for $0.99 a pound at Stop & Shop. I bought three and froze two.

I remembered a recipe by cookbook writer Melissa Clark for roast chicken under bread. I grabbed the last frozen half baguette I’d slathered with butter, oil and garlic from last winter. So, on the first day of 2021 football, the final US Open tennis final and a Connecticut Sun game I’d DVR’d the night before, I roasted one of those chickens under the garlic bread.

My yummy dinner included three sliced local heirloom tomatoes and savored the beginning of autumn and winter meals to come.

Roasted Chicken Under Garlic Bread
Yield: Serves 4, plus leftovers

8 ounces good white dry wine (never cooking wine, of course)
2 ounces (4 tablespoons) butter
1 good-sized roasting chicken (about 5 to 6 pounds), gizzards removed, chicken patted dry and salt and pepper tossed into the cavity
Garlic bread (recipe below)

In a small saucepan, over medium heat, allow butter and wine to reduce for 15 minutes.

Turn oven to 350 degrees. In a roasting pan, place garlic bread, cut-size up. Top with chicken. Place the chicken in the oven for about 20 minutes, then pour the wine/butter over the chicken. Roast the chicken until crispy (temperature should be 165 degrees Fahrenheit, at the thickest part of the thigh, without touching a bone).

The garlic bread should be crispy and soft at the same time. Serve within 10 minutes, with bread cut into croutons around the chicken. 

Garlic Bread

Yield: A large baguette will feed at least 6 people; if using it under the bread, open the loaf and place under the chicken, cut side open; otherwise, freeze it in foil. 

1 large baguette, sliced through horizontally

In a small food processor (or processed with a small mixer), add 8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted softened butter, 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 6 to 8 garlic cloves — minced, and chopped parsley. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Slather each half of the loaf with the garlic mixture and put the slices together if not using immediately.

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. Contact Lee at leeawhite@aol.com.

A la Carte: Two Columns This Week and a ‘Nibbles’ Too! Enjoy Eggplant Parm Panini, Clam Chowder with Corn & Chorizo

A la Carte-1: Creamy Corn and Clam Chowder with Crispy Chorizo

Lee White

It was a really nice week. My oldest Troy childhood friend in the world visited for two days. (Her name is Rosalie. She is about a year older than me and, no, I was not named after her.) We ate lobster rolls at Captain Scott, I grilled steaks on the grill and we had sweet corn and a big salad, and the last night we ate not-great pizza and Coca-Cola, like we did a gazillion years ago.

I also had a nice coffee chat with David Collins at Mystic Depot and we talked for almost an hour. He suggested I stop at Sea Well on Masons Island and buy a pint of the scallop and bacon soup he thinks is incredible. I did and he is right; see the Nibbles* column below.

Best of all was I got my COVID booster shot. The day before the storm, I stopped at Stop & Shop to pick up a few things (not toilet paper or a gallon of milk). I went to the pharmacy on-site and asked if I could get the booster. I filled two forms and got my shot. Sunday I ran a fever for about 14 hours, during which I took a couple of ibuprofen. Today I am fine.

Oh, yes, Bon Appetit magazine came in the mail. There were nice ideas for autumn meals, but I saw a recipe (below) that required sweet corn. Our local sweet corn will probably be available for at least another month. I love clam chowder and this recipe uses the blended corn as a thickener. But feel free to add a soupcon of heavy cream or a pat of butter when you serve it!

Creamy Corn and Clam Chowder with Crispy Chorizo

Photo by Kevin Lanceplaine on Unsplash.

Adapted from Bon Appetit, September, 2021
Yield: 4 servings

5 tablespoon vegetable oil, divided
4 ounces fresh chorizo, preferably Mexican, casings removed (any dry sausage will do)
1 teaspoon hot smoked Spanish paprika or regular smoked paprika
1 medium onion, finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
24 littleneck clams (about 2 pounds), scrubbed
4 ears of corn, kernels removed (about 4 cups)
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Kosher salt (I use fine sea salt)
Cilantro leaves with tender stems (for serving, optional)

Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a large pot over medium-heat. Add chorizo and cook, breaking up into smaller pieces with a wooden spoon and stirring every minute or so, until browned and crisp. About 5 minutes. Sprinkle in paprika and stir to combine, then scrape chorizo and all into a small bowl. Wipe out pot.

Pour remaining 2 tablespoons oil into same pot . Add onions and garlic and cook, stirring often, and adding a splash of water if starting to brown, until softened but not browned, 10-12 minutes. Add clams and toss to combine. Cover pot and cook until clams open, 5 to 7 minutes. Uncovered and transfer opened clams to a medium bowl, leaving liquid behind. If any clams are still closed, cover pot again and cook remaining until opened, about 4 minutes more. Transfer open clams to bowl, discard any that have not opened at this point. Tent bowl with foil.

Pour 3 cups water into pot and bring to a simmer. Add corn kernels and cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Remove pot from heat and puree one third of chowder in a blender until very smooth. Return puree to pot and mix well. (Or use an immersion blender, if you have one and blend directly into the pot until you have blended about one-third and chowder is partly thickened.) Stir in lime juice, taste and season with salt if needed.

Divide chowder among shallow bowls and add clams. Spoon chorizo and oil over and scatter some cilantro on top (if you are using cilantro; I know some people hate it!)

A la Carte-2: Eggplant Parm Panini

One of the many vegetables I never tasted growing up was eggplant. As I have mentioned before, the only veggies I grew up with were canned green beans, canned peas and canned corn. We didn’t have a garden, but in the summer we would have fresh sweet corn and local tomatoes. If we had salad, it was iceberg lettuce, anemic tomatoes, maybe a few chunks of cucumber and a choice of bottled dressing. 

I love everything about eggplant—its shiny exterior, its gushiness in a ratatouille, roasted in the oven or the whole eggplant charred on the grill. Eggplants are best when they are young. They do not need to be peeled. They are watery, so you can slice them, salt them a bit and allow the slices to dehydrate between paper towels. 

In my newest issue of Real Simple magazine, I cut out four recipes, one for eggplant on a panini. The next morning I looked at a shelf in my kitchen and saw my panini press. Why had I not used it during the pandemic? Or even before it?

This recipe can be made in a panini press or in a skillet pressed down by another. The recipe calls for roasting the eggplant in the oven, but you could do it on your grill. You don’t need to fry it in a lot of oil. It is particularly delicious while tomatoes are still luscious and local.

Eggplant Parm Panini

Photo by Huzeyfe Turan on Unsplash.

From Real Simple, September, 2021
Yield: makes 4 sandwiches

1 eggplant, cut into 8 1-inch rounds
2 tablespoon vegetable oil
¾ teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1 1-pound ciabatta, split horizontally and quartered (8 slices total)
1 big tomato, cut into 8 thick slices
¼ cup fresh basil leaves
1 8-ounce ball fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (about ½ cup)
¼ cup marinara sauce 

Place a large, rimmed baking sheet in oven and preheat oven to 450 degrees. Toss eggplant with oil in a large bowl until fully coated. Arrange eggplant evenly on preheated baking sheet; roast, flipping halfway through, until tender and browned, 15 to 20 minutes. Meanwhile, heat a grill pan over high (or heat a panini press).

Season eggplant with ½ teaspoon salt. Place 2 eggplant slices on each of the 4 bread slices. Top eggplant with tomato slices; season with remaining ¼ teaspoon salt. Top with basil and mozzarella; sprinkle with Parmesan. Portion each with marinara. Top remaining 4 bread slices with marinara and form 4 sandwiches.

Place two sandwiches on grill pan and top with another heavy pan, pressing down to flatten sandwiches. Cook, flipping once, until cheese has melted and bread is crispy and browned on both sides, about 3 minutes per side. Repeat with remaining sandwiches. (Or cook all 4 sandwiches in a panini press.)  

*Nibbles:  Sea Well Seafood Mystic Scallops and Bacon Chowder

David Collins has written for The Day for as long as I have. Now he has a column but when he was a reporter, he did some good restaurant reviews. So he suggested I try Sea Well’s scallop and bacon chowder, I drove the few minutes to Masons Island by 9:45 a.m. but it didn’t open until 10, so I sat in my car, windows open to the sea air and read on my Kindle.

The chowder must be lots of people’s favorite because the nice clerk pointed to plastic containers in the cooler. I took one home. That night I had it with a salad. It was thick with milk or cream or butter, or all three; the scallops were chunky and really tender, and the bacon was a splendid, salty counterpoint to the excellent soup. 

There is another Sea Well in Pawcatuck at 3 Liberty St. (860-599-2082). When we lived in Canterbury, I drove 40 minutes there to buy fish. On my first visit, a chalk board said they had cod pieces. I laughed and laughed, but no one there thought it was funny. I guess you had to read about Shakespeare plays in the 15th and 16th century! 

Sea Well Seafood Mystic
106 Masons Island Road
Mystic, CT 06355
Tel: 860-415-9210

A la Carte: Chicken Tikka Masala Makes a Perfect Meal With Friends

Lee White

The isolation, almost a year, actually, didn’t bother me as much as those who had to fill supermarket shelves, teach children at home or lose a job. Because I live alone, I have always pretty much eaten when I want to eat and pretty much eat what I want to eat.

But I sure missed the fun of sharing food with friends. So when friends offered to come to my home and cook in my kitchen with food I love but cook rarely, how could I resist?

Marla and Rich Kosenski knew that my Instant Pot sat in its box for almost a year before the pandemic. Then I took it out of the box and bought books on the Instant Pot. Even Weinstein and Scarbrough’s Instant Pot Bible frightened me a bit.

Then a retired teacher form Groton offered to come and teach me how to use it. Once I understood the concept, I began to love it.

Then came the pandemic. Marla and Rich, using their and my Instant Pots (dueling Instant Pots), cooked (I prepped). 

Below is chicken tikka masala. It was beyond delicious.

Just to be sure, I made it myself. Prepping took fewer than 10 minutes. I sautéed in the Pot for 10 more minutes, then dumped in the spices and the chicken, and pressure-cooked for 10 minutes.

After, I made brown rice (2 cups brown rice, 2 cups water, ½ teaspoon salt. Pressure cook for 20-22  minutes. Let it release by its own. Keep the extra rice for other dishes).

Chicken Tikka Masala
Adapted slightly from a recipe from Marla Kosinski

Yield: enough for 4 to 6 people

1 ½ tablespoons olive (or other vegetable oil)
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic minced
½ teaspoon ginger (I used dried ginger)
½ cup chicken or vegetable broth, divided
1 ½ tablespoons gram masala
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
½ to 1 teaspoon kosher salt (I use sea salt).
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional, but I love cayenne)
1 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
1 14-ounce can petite diced tomatoes, juices included
½ cup coconut milk
Fresh cilantro, chopped (optional for those who hate cilantro)
2 cups cooked rice, for serving (I used brown rice)

In the Instant Pot, sauté oil until shimmering but not smoking. Add onion and Saute until softened, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and cook until soft and fragrant. Mixture may stick a little t the bottom; this is normal.

Add ¼ cup of chicken broth and cook, gently scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to loosen any stick-on bits, until chicken broth is reduced by half. Add spices and stir to combine. Stir in rest of the broth and tomatoes. Pressure cook on high for 10 minutes. Quick release when done. Stir in coconut milk. Serve over rice on plates and topped with 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. Contact Lee at leeawhite@aol.com.

A la Carte: Time for Tea … so Let’s Have a ‘New Tea Cake!’

Lee White

The recipe below is, I think, almost perfect.

Ruby chips.

I have been playing for more than a year to find ways to use a new flavor bean found by the Callebaut chocolate company called a ruby chip (available on Amazon.com.) It is a deep pink and looks like any chocolate chip, but it takes nothing like a chocolate chip. Instead it has floral notes and when you taste it, you look for its essence.

Priscilla Martel, my human food encyclopedia, asked if I’d like to share the cost of an enormous cache. But I had a difficult time finding a way to use them where its flavor could shine.

Over the past month or so I played around a recipe for banana bread, leaving out the banana and pure vanilla extract. I added ruby chips, fresh fruit and buttermilk. I made it with fresh strawberries twice, once with fresh raspberries. I may try it with plums.

If you can’t get ruby chips, try regular chocolate chips or maybe cinnamon and adding back the pure vanilla extract instead of the almond. 

A New Tea Cake

Yield: 3 loaves each of which will feed 10 and freeze beautifully

4 cups all-purpose flour
1½ cup sugar
1½ tablespoons baking soda
1½ teaspoons salt
2½ cups toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
12 ounces ruby chips in tossed with 2 tablespoons flour (other chips will work)
½ cup sour cream
4 large eggs, beaten
2 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 cup buttermilk
12 ounces butter (1½ sticks), melted and cooled
1 pint fresh strawberries or raspberries, coarsely chopped

Adjust oven rack to middle position, heat oven to 350 degrees and use spray Pam on the bottom of the three 8-ounce loaf pans.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, pecans and chips in a large bowl. Toss the fruit with about 2 tablespoons flour and, using your hands, add the fruit.

In another bowl, add sour cream, eggs, extract, buttermilk and butter. Fold into the dry ingredients and add the mixture fairly equally into the prepared pans.

Bake loaves for about 55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cool in pan about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.

Try not to eat it until it is cool. Better even a few days later. Yummy if toasted and topped with just a little butter.

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. Contact Lee at leeawhite@aol.com

A la Carte: Need to Slow Down Your Metabolism? Try Auntie Todd’s Slow-Carb Muffins

Lee White

Todd Lyon, restaurant reviewer, food writer, all-around great person and fashionista from New Haven, Conn., found that her body had turned its back on her … sort of. She developed Type 1 diabetes. She loved breakfast, but found out that her favorite breakfasts (cereal, toast, pancakes, fruit juice and the like) gave her body a jolt but metabolized quickly. 

“Eventually, it became clear that I needed a breakfast of slow carbs that wouldn’t cause a spike, but had enough protein and fiber to stay for several hours” Todd explained. “After a whole lot of trial and error, I came up with this recipe and it worked so well that my A1C readings—that’s a three-month reading of glucose levels—dropped by 1.5 points, which is a big deal in the wonderful world of diabetes.”

In the world of non-diabetes, this is a terrific recipe for all of us.

Many supermarkets now carry flours other than all-purpose and sweeteners other than sugar-laden jams. I suggest we go online and get the King Arthur Catalog. Once you have the flours, you might do as I do: make packages of the dry ingredients so you just put the packages in the freezer and make another 12 muffins in a few minutes 

I will make these muffins for breakfast whenever I don’t crave eggs over easy and rye toast or a bagel with cream cheese, a slice of tomato and sliced onion. 

Slow-Carb muffins. Photo by Yehor Milohrodskyi on Unsplash.

Auntie Todd’s Slow-Carb Muffins
From Todd Lyon, New Haven.

Yield: 12 muffins
Approximate nutritional value per muffin: calories 220; carbs 14 (adjust for fruit); fiber 12.4 grams

Dry ingredients
1 cup ground-milled flax seed
½ cup coconut flour
½ cup almond flour
½ cup crushed nuts (almonds, pecans and/or shelled pistachios)
¼ cup cinnamon (this is correct; it’s a lot of cinnamon)
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
3 teaspoons baking powder

Wet ingredients
6 eggs
½ cups coconut milk or almond milk
½ cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon pure almond extract
About 6 tablespoons sweetener: agave nectar, local honey, no-sugar-added jam
Optional 1 cup chopped apple, peaches, pears, blueberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray muffin cups with Pam or other oil.
Blend dry ingredients by hand. Blend wet ingredients with mixer until lightly foamy.
Combine wet and dry ingredients by hand. Fill cups and bake for 18 minutes.

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: So You Have Heard of a BLT … Well, Why Not Try a BLT Soup?!

Lee White

By the time you read this, my CSA (community-supported agriculture) will have begun.

Will the farm stand at Stone Acres be filled with the summer’s best of the best? Well, not really.

Sweet corn will be a few weeks away (and usually the Connecticut’s first sweet corn comes from the Windsor area) and tomatoes may not available for another month or more. 

I love my own CSA, but, like the signs announcing “yard sale” that beckoned years ago (I’m looking to get rid of stuff now, not getting more), my little Hyundai Kona brakes for farm stands.

Last week I bought two quarts of strawberries from Scott’s Yankee Farmer in East Lyme and asked when the corn would be available. “Maybe in a few weeks,” the younger Scott said.

I know that White Gate will have the biggest yield of the most heritages in every size, and that Whittle’s — closest to where I live — will have big, gorgeous red ones for the longest period, maybe into October.

In the meantime, there will be lots of greens, from bok choy to all kinds of lettuce.

From the first cookbook I ever bought after I met my husband (The New York Times Cookbook by Craig Claiborne), the second or third recipe I made was for Wilted Spinach. 

Today I scoured my bookshelves looking for that cookbook and could not find it, so I just ordered another copy.

But I did find in my computer files a recipe that called for lettuce, this one called BLT soup. I love this recipe and I think you will, too.

I will send you that wilted spinach recipe (but if any of you have the 1961 Claiborne book, let me know.)

By the way, save the bacon fat from the BLT recipe; you will need it for that wilted salad, too.

Butter Lettuce Soup with Bacon and Tomato
Adapted from The BLT Cookbook by Michele Anna Jordan (William Morrow, New York, 2003)

Yield: serves 4

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided)
1 small yellow onion, diced (I use the sweet ones, and Vidalias are almost here)
2 large heads of butter (or Bibb or Boston) lettuce, cored, washed and dried
Salt to taste and freshly grated black pepper
3 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
4 cups low-sodium chicken stock or vegetable stock
4 slices bacon, minced
1 cup (or more) very good canned diced tomatoes (as always, I use Muir Glen)
2 tablespoons snipped chives
½ cup or more little cherry tomatoes, halved
4 tablespoons crème fraiche or sour cream

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a medium-large soup pot set over medium-low heat; add onions and sauté until soft, about 10 to 15 minutes. Meanwhile, cut lettuce into one-half inch-wide slices. Stir into the cooked onion and season with salt and pepper; add parsley and pour in the broth. Increase heat to medium-high, bring broth to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for 7 minutes.

Cook bacon until crisp and drain on paper towel. Using an immersion blender, or in batches on a blender, puree the soup. To serve hot, ladle the soup in bowls, drizzle with diced tomatoes, crisp bacon, chives, the cherry tomatoes and crème fraiche.

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 New Twist on an Old Favorite with an Unexpected History

Lee White

Sometimes I try to come up with recipes that have themes or special times of years, such as holidays like Memorial Day, the Fourth of July or Labor Day.

But I sometimes I forget, before Columbus landed first in the Bahamas and later on the coast that would become America, that the native Americans were here first.

I also forget about the white people, who came soon after Columbus, who herded Black Africans, took them from their homes and families to work, against their will, in the white people fields and houses in the 17th century.

A new documentary from Netflix called “High on the Hog” tells the story of these enslaved people, who tried to keep their own lives and traditions alive along with their culinary journey.

In this documentary, I learned that Thomas Jefferson  and George Washington owned Black chefs, who went with the masters to Paris, brought back French techniques and recipes, which they blended with the ingredients available in the New World. For their own food, in the slave quarters, they took the ingredients the white owners didn’t want — the leftover pieces of vegetables and fruits,  the peels of potatoes and, most of all, the bits of beef, sheep and chickens the owners threw away. 

The recipe below was adapted from a recipe I found in a cookbook from 2001.

Until I saw this documentary two weeks ago., I never knew the first recipe for macaroni and cheese was created by enslaved Black people working in their masters’ kitchens. 

I hope you stream “High on the Hog” on Netflix.

Queens (N.Y.) Mac and Cheese
Adapted from Macaroni & Cheese: 52 Recipes, from Simple to Sublime (Villard, New York, 2001)
Yield: 4 to 6 servings

6 tablespoons butter, plus extra for baking dish
1 pound elbow macaroni
3 12-ounce cans evaporated milk (2 percent milk works well, too)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoon Red Devil sauce (or less, to your taste)
4 cups (1 pound) coarsely grated sharp Cheddar cheese
½  pound Velveeta or American cheese, cut into one-half inch cubes
½  cup heavy cream
1 egg, lightly beaten
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs), or fresh bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a 3 and ½ -quart deep baking dish or 9 by 13 baking pan.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat and cook the pasta until al dente, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain, pour into a large mixing bowl and toss with 4 tablespoons of the butter.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring milk to a scald and add to the macaroni. Add mustard, Red Devil sauce and Cheddar and stir well (the cheese should start to melt. Add Velveeta and cream and stir well. The macaroni and chunks of cheese should be swimming in the sauce. Add egg and mix well. Season with salt, if necessary, and plenty of pepper.

Pour into the prepared baking dish that has been place on a sheet pan to catch spills (the baking dish will be completely full. Sprinkle with the bread crumbs and dot with remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Bake until golden brown and bubbling, 25 to 30 minutes.

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: Cowboy Beans … a Sure-Fire Favorite

Lee White

I have had the requisite failures in the kitchen, and they may have been legion, but the one I remember happened decades ago and it had to do with baked beans.

We lived in our first old house in Leicester, Mass. It had massive stone kitchen fireplaces, this one with a beehive oven. That failure was on a day we invited friends for dinner.

It was a cold winter, and we had taken a few classes on hearth cooking. I decided the dessert would be a bread pudding, but I would make it in the regular oven. I knew if a meal was mediocre, dessert should be a sure-fire home run, and a dessert made with buttered bread, lots of eggs and cream, a few shots of bourbon and a caramel sauce would be one.

Good thing that dessert was terrific for I made baked beans from scratch.

I’d read lots of recipes, some from a beehive oven, others bubbling on a cast-iron pot hanging from the side of the hot over, a third right on the coals and the lid topped with more hot coals. I let the beans soak overnight in water. I used all the right ingredients with the beans: pieces of fat, brown sugar, ketchup, onions, some mustard. I let it hold on the coals for hours. We had hot dogs with the beans.

The kitchen was redolent with all the right smells.

How were the beans? Like eating buckshot, but much bigger pieces of buckshot. As friends worried about the fillings in their teeth, they smiled, kindly, but after a few bites, they ate the hot dogs.

The bread pudding was wonderful.

There had been plenty of beer and wine. 

I no longer make from-scratch baked beans. Today I just doctor canned beans. Sometimes I just doctor Bush Beans Original beans. They rarely need much doctoring. But here is a recipe that would work every time … and no need to worry about your fillings!

Cowboy Beans

From Savory magazine by Stop & Shop, June, 2021 (free from the supermarket)
Yield: serves 8

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped (I always use a sweet onion)
2 jalapenos, seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 pound 90 percent lean ground beef (85 percent is fine, too)
2 15.5 ounce cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 15.5 ounce can reduced-sodium beans, drained and rinsed
¼ cup smoky barbecue sauce
½ cup strongly ground coffee
2 tablespoon spicy brown mustard

In a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot, heat oil on medium-high. Add onion and jalapenos and cook 5 to 6 minutes, until tender, stirring often.

Add garlic; cook 2 minutes, stirring.

Add ground beef and season with salt and pepper. Cook until browned, 5 to 7 minutes, stirring and breaking up beef with oven.

To Dutch oven, add beans, barbecue sauce and coffee. Stir to combine.

Heat to a boil on high and then reduce to a simmer. Cook 15 to 20 minutes, until thickened and beef is cooked through, stirring occasionally.

Stir in mustard. Season with salt and pepper.

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 Special Soup for Summer … Asparagus, of Course!

Lee White

I had promised to send you my friend Stacie’s flan recipe, but time, as often, got away from me last week. 

Perhaps I was dreaming about a  book I just finished reading, “We Begin at the End,” a sort-of growing up and murder mystery recommended by my good buddy, Rick Koster of The Day. Or maybe I was thinking about a new novel I am reading now, “The Plot,” written by an author whose books I have loved.

This one is a novel inside a novel written by an author who is writing a novel. I even went out for a late lunch/early dinner with friend Ginger Smyle.  After our meal, we got bought  ice cream in Mystic, and sat on a bench beside the Mystic River, pretending we were tourists.

But most of all, I am dreaming about vegetables, for my CSA begins in a couple of weeks.

There weren’t be many veggies ready for my weekly trip to Stone Acres in Stonington, so I drove to Trader Joe’s and bought a few packages of their frozen vegetables (almost as good as the ones we will get at the farm markets by mid-July).

And in the supermarket I bought what is still available or somewhat is local: asparagus.

I will cook as much asparagus as I can, because it will not be fairly local until next spring. And remember, those skinny stalks are not as delicious as the fat ones. Break the bottom at the point where it wants to, then use a potato peeler up to about an inch of the “flower.”

Cream of Asparagus Soup

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

Yield: about 2 quarts

1 cup sliced onions
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 pounds fresh asparagus, washed, bottom broken and peeled about an inch from top “flower”
2 quarts lightly salted boiling water
2 tablespoons flour
salt
freshly ground white pepper (black if you don’t have white)
½ cup heavy cream, crème fraiche or sour cream, optional*

Cook onions and butter until tender and translucent. In the meantime, cut the tender green from the asparagus tips; drop the tips into boiling water and boil 2 minutes, or barely tender. Dip out with a skimmer, reserving water, and refresh tips in bowl of iced water to set the color; drain and reserve.

Chop the remaining stalks into one-inch lengths and add to the onions with a sprinkling of salt. Cover and cook slowly 5 minutes.

Stir in flour and cook, stirring, 3 minutes more. Remove from heat, and, when bubbling stops, blend in the hot asparagus cooking water (I skim the water into the mixture.) Simmer, uncovered, 25 or 30 minutes, or until tender enough to puree.

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

You can serve this soup hot or cold.

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

*The soup does not need cream but it is delicious. Another way to use the cream is to swirl a little cream into each bowl before adding the asparagus tips.

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

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.