December 4, 2020

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.

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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.

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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.

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A la Carte: Meatballs are Perfect for (Small) Pandemic Gatherings

Lee White

Feeding small groups of people during the pandemic is a problem.

For our fundraiser for Democratic candidates (you knew I was a Democrat, didn’t you?), I decided to make meatballs and red sauce. As I learned long ago, everyone’s favorite “ethnic” food is Italian and, even though I have not a whit of Italian blood, I make lots of foods from Italy. 

So, the question was: how could I make sauce and meatballs at home, get it into a slow cooker, get it plugged it outside our headquarters and allow people to get their own portions without using a ladle, or big spoons and giant forks, because of double dipping. The answer, I decided, was toothpicks and a lot more meatballs than sauce.

I make a killer marinara that is ready by the time pasta is al dente and wondered if it would hold long enough for the tiny meatballs to cook thoroughly. They did. The other problem was getting the meatballs tender enough so they were soft but still tasty. They were.

I used a new recipe that I found on the internet, once again from a “blog” called Kitchn. I doubled the recipe, made the meatballs smaller and used panko instead of bread crumbs. They were incredibly good and the sauce made the meatballs so much better than had I roasted them in the oven.

One problem: they were so tender that the plastic toothpicks turned the balls almost to shards.  As it turned out, I wound up using a fork to put them on small paper plates.

When I got home, I had some left in the fridge so I boiled a small pot with ditalini (tiny pasta cylinders) and realized that the sauce may have been the best “meat sauce” ever.

Below is the new recipe for meatballs, followed by quick red sauce, which I use with most all of my red sauce recipes, although I change the herbs, spices, a bit of vodka (for vodka sauce) and a bit of heavy cream depending what I have on hand.

That sauce recipe is great when making lasagna or chicken parm.

The ever-popular meatballs in red sauce. Photo by Fidel Fernando on Unsplash.

Meatballs

Adapted from Emma Christensen, Kitchn, August 20, 2020

Yield: makes around 40 1-inch meatballs

1 cup fine, dried breadcrumbs (I use panko)
1 cup milk
2 large eggs
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
½ cup finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
3 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 to 2 ½ pounds ground meat (I used ground beef, or a mix of pork and beef)
1 cup freshly chopped onion (or grated on the large holes of a box grater)
2 cloves garlic, minced

Combine milk and breadcrumbs in a small bowl and stir to combine. Set aside while preparing rest of the meatball mixture. Breadcrumbs will absorb the milk and become soggy.

Whisk egg, salt, pepper, parmesan and parsley. Add ground meat and use your hands to thoroughly mix together. Add the onions, garlic and soaked bread. Mix them thoroughly together with your fingers. Try not to overwork the meat; pinch the meat between your fingers rather than kneading them.

Form the meatballs, again gently. I then take the meatballs into the simmering sauce and cook them for at least 45 minutes, stirring every ten minutes or so. 

Perfect Marinara Sauce

Yield: serves at least 8 to 10 people; sauce freezes beautifully with meatballs or alone

1 cup chopped onions
3 to 4 garlic cloves, minced
2 to 3 28-ounce cans good canned tomatoes (I use only Muir Glen)
Salt and pepper to taste

In a very large skillet or a Dutch oven, saute the onions and garlic over low heat, until the vegetables are soft and translucent, but not browned. Add the canned tomatoes (I buy whole canned tomatoes and puree them quickly before adding them into the pot). Bring to a nearly bubbling boil, Add salt and pepper to taste. You can simmer the sauce for just a few minutes, or add meatballs or sausage for up to an hour or a little less, until the meat is done. Stir every five or 10 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.

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A la Carte: Love Linguine? Just Add Spinach, Lemon Cream, Parmesan to Make a Delicious Dish!

Lee White

It was a nice week with more company at home in four days than I have had in the last four months.

Tuesday evening, I had five friends for dinner. We are all good friends, all five from Lyme, and all but I had spent a bit of time together. I had visited one couple twice over one month. My dining room table is very large and, while we could converse, it was too big for us to whisper (not that we would!)

After dinner, we sat in my living/dining room, at least five feet apart, and watched the Connecticut Sun lose for the second time in a row. All of the WNBA women are playing at one enormous arena for the entire summer.

Then, on Saturday, my stepdaughter, Molly, visited from Newton, Mass. She currently has the longest commute ever—two weeks in Massachusetts, then two weeks in San Francisco. She had sheltered in San Francisco for three months and when she flew to Massachusetts she had to isolate for two week.

Now, with the continuing COVID situation in California, she will spend at least six weeks here on the East Coast. Anyway, we had a nice dinner at Olio, but before she drove back to her apartment, I gave her a few packages of tuna salad, tomatoes, cherries, peaches, and sweet corn. 

Even though it was a busy week, including Zoom meetings and writing, I had some time to do read lots of my food magazines. I did some interesting cooking. In all the years I have written this column, I never have a problem finding a new recipe or figuring a new way to make an older one.

But this past week I found three new recipes and had all the ingredients on my counter, in the refrigerator or in the pantry/hall closet. Two I have made and both were delicious. The third I haven’t made yet, but a friend had given me three lovely little eggplants, so I will make that one tomorrow or the next day.

All three can be ready to eat by the time the water is boiling and the pasta is al dente. Will add the new one or two next week.

Linguine with Spinach, Lemon Cream and Parmesan
From Costco Connection, August 2020

Yield: 4 (as a entree) or to 6 to 8 as a starter or side

1 pound linguine
1 pound baby spinach
1 small or medium-firm zucchini, cut into fine julienne strips (optional)
2 lemons, washed and dried
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, for serving

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the linguine and cook until al dente, about 9 minutes. Stir in spinach and zucchini, if using. Cook, stirring frequently, until spinach is tender, about 2 minutes.

Meanwhile, zest the lemons, removing only the yellow skin and avoiding the white pith. Halve the lemons, and squeeze the juice into a small bowl. 

Remove and reserve ½ cup of the pot of water, drain the linguine into a strainer. Pour the lemon juice over the pasta.

Add pasta water, cream and lemon zest into the empty pot and cook over medium-low, stirring, until the cream thickens slightly, about 1 minute. Add linguine and toss well until thoroughly coated. Season with salt and pepper and serve in a bowl with the cheese.

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 also for the Shore Publishing and Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day.

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A la Carte: Friday Means Fish: How About Healthy, but also Delicious ‘Poached Cod in Tomato Curry’?

Lee White

I still have not had an ear of sweet corn, but the farm stands do seem to be in high cotton*.

(*I have actually never used that phrase, but I have been reading novels that take place in Virginia lately, and one person used “high cotton,” so I looked up the phrase and, originally, it meant that the crops, usually cotton, were doing particularly well, so I thought I would use this to talk about how great all the crops seems to be doing.)

Last week, I took home more kinds of green beans, lots more basil and two different sizes of tomatoes—one a little bigger than grape tomatoes and the other smaller than a medium-sized salad tomato. And both were a burnished reddish-brown. All were beyond delicious.

My food magazines are loaded with local vegetable recipes, especially my Bon Appetit. A few weeks ago, I had dinner with a friend at The Spot in Groton, close to where I live and yet I’d never eaten there. I ordered a baked stuffed cod with sweet potato fries and a fairly large, very good, Caesar salad.

A hour later, at home, I was reading August 2020’s  Bon Appetit and saw a recipe for poached cod in tomato curry. The next day I bought some cod and made the dish. It was very good, but I realized some people don’t enjoy Indian curry.

For those of you in that category, try making it as a Thai curry. I always have red curry paste in the refrigerator and unsweetened coconut milk in the pantry. Next time I will use those ingredients instead of the red chile and the Indian curry. 

In any case, here is this very nice recipe—healthy and delicious. And in case you have coconut milk but not coconut cream, use the top layer of the coconut milk.

Poached Cod in Tomato Curry

Adapted from Bon Appetit, August, 2020
Yield: 4 servings

3 tablespoons ghee, virgin coconut oil or vegetable oil
1 red chile, halved, seeds removed, thinly sliced
1 1-inch piece ginger, peeled, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
4 cardamom pods, crushed*
1 teaspoon ground coriander*
½ teaspoon ground turmeric*
1 ¼ pounds cherry tomatoes (about 2 pints)
¼ cup unsweetened coconut cream (or the top layer of canned coconut milk)
Kosher salt
4 5-ounce skinless cod fillets
1 cup basil leaves, torn if large

Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Cook chile, ginger and garlic, stirring often, until garlic is softened but has not taken on any color, about 3 minutes. Add cardamom, coriander and turmeric and cook, stirring, until fragrant — about 30 seconds. Add tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the tomatoes burst and release their juices 12 to 15 minutes. Stir in coconut cream, taste and season curry with salt.

Reduce heat to medium-low. Season cod with salt and nestle into curry. Cover and cook at a bare simmer until fish is opaque throughout and beginning to flake, 5 to 7 minutes. (Thicker pieces will take longer to cook.)

Gently transfer cod to shallow bowls. Stir basil into curry and spoon over fish.

*If you do not have cardamom pods, coriander and turmeric, use 2 teaspoons of Indian curry powder.

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 also for the Shore Publishing and Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day.

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A la Carte: Pesto is Perfect for Pasta … and More

Lee White

I am amazed how friends have managed to get tasks done during this pandemic isolation.

The Fitzgerald’s garden looks like something out of a French painting with pots of herbs on the fence,  homemade cushions with seating for friends and two gorgeous cocker spaniels lazing on my legs, adding to the ambience.

The Robertson’s grass look like a golf course and their bird-feeders have hovering mammas feeding fledglings.

Even my condos are so full of perennials they are about to spill onto the sidewalks.

I seem to do less house-cleaning and more reading, cooking and watching television. The house is clean (the kitchen always pristine), but the clutter gets to me. I do put the bills where they need to be, so I can pay them, and I get rid of junk mail quickly and take it — plus the newspapers — to the dumpster, but the magazines I put in neat piles and sometimes forget to read them.

Such was the case with the May/June  issue of Yankee, which probably arrived in April. I love Yankee, especially its columnists. I have known Amy Traverso, its senior food editor, for a long time and her articles and recipes are really good.

In that issue, she writes about The Blue Oar in Haddam, Conn., on our part of the shoreline. And in another, she has a recipe for strawberry shortcake, with the shortcake made with pistachios. Obviously, local strawberries are gone but I will use the shortcake recipe with pistachios — it uses heavy cream instead of butter, making the recipe easier to make.

Another piece is about Krista Kern Desjarlais and her two restaurants in Maine. You may remember her from her restaurant in Westerly called Three Fish. Decades ago, she was serving pastries that were not only delicious but picture-perfect. I wrote about her then and have followed her ever since. I ate at her Portland, Maine, tiny restaurant, Bresca, a few times and loved everything about it. 

In the magazine, she included a recipe for Pistachio Pesto. I make basil pesto every summer, package about two big tablespoons in plastic snack sizes, freeze the packages separated by paper towels and the little ones into a bigger plastic bag. (The paper towels allow you to separate the snack packs one at a time. You can warm the packets in your hands and they are warm by the time your pasta has boiled and drained.)

To make pesto, use any herb for the sauce. And if you are out of pine nuts (pretty expensive and difficult to find), use walnuts. The flavor will be different but still tasty. Krista suggests pistachios. I never thought of that.

Use the recipe below and, this summer, choose almost any herb you have and any nuts available. In addition to cooking pasta with pesto, use it in marinara or most other red sauce or in stew this winter, especially if you make pesto out of parsley.

Krista also uses a tablespoon each of lemon zest and lemon juice and a little shallot. All this sounds delicious, doesn’t it?

Photo by Artur Rutkowski on Unsplash.

Pesto alla Genovese

(from 365 Ways to Cook Pasta by Marie Simmons, Harper Collins, New York, 1988)

I triple or quadruple (or more) and freeze pesto in small zipper plastic bags. The pesto will last for more than a year and will thaw in minutes. 

Yield: 1 cup or enough for 1 pound of pasta

2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
1/3  cup pignoli (pine nuts)
1 large garlic clove, chopped
¼  teaspoon salt
½  cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Finely chop basil, nuts, garlic and salt in a food processor. With processor still running, add oil in a slow, steady stream through the feed tube until mixture is thoroughly blended. Transfer to a bowl and fold in the cheese.

Freeze in tiny freezer bags. When ready to use, you can thaw the pesto in freezer bag between your hands.

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 also for the Shore Publishing and Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day.

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A la Carte: Not Your Normal Nachos … a Dipping Party with a Difference

Photo by Herson Rodriguez on Unsplash.

Last week, on Facebook, a friend sent me a terrific party idea that had me dreaming how much fun it would be. 

In a dining room (my friend says it is not her dining room table), someone plastic-wrapped an entire top of a dining room table, then dumped many big packages of tortilla chips around all the edges of the table.

In the center, there were big bowls of chopped onions, tomatoes, lettuces and chopped cilantro, along with sour cream and guacamole.

Just before the party began, they added pots of warm refried beans (black or pinto beans) and warmed queso (if it were me, it would be Velveeta).

Probably after a few Margaritas, the party would begin as the guests made their own nachos. 

Now, I would have done that on a big picnic table in the yard or on a deck or patio. Unfortunately, in the middle of a pandemic, big parties aren’t happening these days.

Maybe next summer, wouldn’t it be fun to do this?

Then again, with your own shelter-in-place family, you can do it this year. But this summer, consider dips with chips and fresh vegetables, outside, with no double-dipping. You can dip with toasted pita chips, tortilla chips or, best of all, sliced fresh vegetables.

My new Food Network magazine suggested five dips a bit more exciting than onion or warm artichoke. Here are three from the magazine’s July/August 2020.

Roasted Pepper Skordalia

Broil 2 large red bell peppers, turning, until charred, 15 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, cover and let steam 20 minutes. Remove skin, stems and seeds. Puree the peppers in a blender with ¼ cup each blanched almonds and lemon juice and 6 tablespoons olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Meanwhile, cook 2 russet potatoes (peeled and cut into chunks) and 6 smashed garlic cloves in salted simmering water until tender, about 12 minutes. Drain and return to the pot. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until dry, about 2 minutes; remove from the heat and mash. Fold in the pepper puree. Drizzle with olive oil, lemon juice and top with chives.

Beet Cashew Butter Dip

Put three medium beets on a sheet of foil and drizzle with olive oil; wrap in foil and place on a baking sheet and roast at 400 degrees until tender, about 1 hour and 20 minutes; let cool. Rub off the skins. Puree beets in a food processor with ¾ cup cashew butter, 3 tablespoons lemon juice, ½ of one jalapeno, 1 small chopped garlic cloves and 1 teaspoon each chopped ginger and ground cumin; season with salt and pepper. Add ½ cup fresh mint and puree until smooth. Drizzle with olive oil and top with more mint.

Tomatillo Guacamole

Cut 3 avocados, remove the pit and scoop out of the fruit. Smash the avocado and a pinch of salt in a medium bowl. Stir in 3 diced tomatillo (husked and rinsed). ½  cup diced cucumber, 2 chopped scallions, 3 tablespoons each chopped cilantro and pickled jalapeños and the juice of 1 lime; season with salt and to with more 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 also for the Shore Publishing and Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day.

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A la Carte: Forget the Calories and Savor Every Bite of a Carrot Cake Cookie Sandwich!

Lee White

Well, summer is here, but it doesn’t seem as if the music is “Under the Boardwalk” or “Polka Dot Bimini.”

At Eastern Point Beach, where I live in the City of Groton, weekends will only be open to City residents. There will be no day passes to the glorious beach and Town of Groton, Noank, half of Mystic and Groton Long Point will have to sun bathe and play with their children in the gentle waves Monday through Thursday.

I noticed on Facebook that at noon on Sunday, just a few chairs or blankets dotted the large sandy beach and there were few cars on the expansive parking lot. Neither will there be a snack shop, since, in past years, crowds would be four deep to get hot dogs, hamburgers, salads and ice cream.

But many restaurants who only offered takeout are beginning to open inside their businesses, although at way fewer than 50 percent occupancy. It will be a long slog for owners, some of whom I have known for decades. I had breakfast Saturday at The Shack in Groton. The long counter was closed and tables were put away; Booths and tables were at least six feet away, or maybe eight or 10. 

I am still cooking mostly at home.

I have Zoom meetings and tele-physician appointments.

I have had my hair cut and colored, which makes feel better, but I do realize I am a very lucky woman (mostly for those who have to see me). Then again, restaurant meals, hair appointments and plenty of food to cook at home is very much a first-world problem. 

Last week was enjoyable because I spent some hours at Fitch High School graduation, among about 300 cars filled with family and students in parking lot. There was a giant television with terrific audio. There is no doubt that none of us will ever remember the graduation of 2020. 

I also made a recipe given to me by Beth Horler, a friend who is a teacher in our school system. It is beyond delicious, easy to make and one bite will make us feel like a kid again. It uses a carrot cake boxed mix and each double cookie is filled with cream cheese frosting.

I have a carrot cake I love that is from scratch and uses two jars of baby carrots. If you want that recipe for the whoopee pies, e-mail me at leeawhite@aol.com.

Writer’s Stop Original Carrot Cake Cookie Sandwiches
Adapted from Beth Horler’s recipe

Will make between 6 or 12 cookies, depending on how big the cookies are.

1 box carrot cake mix
¾ cup water (per box instructions)
1/3  cup vegetable oil (per box instructions)
3 large eggs (per box instructions)
8 ounces cream cheese, softened (low-fat is fine)
8 tablespoons butter (softened)
1 cup of confectioners’ (powdered) sugar
½ cup crushed pineapple, drained
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Make the carrot cake recipe listed on the back of the standard box. Before you do,  preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a cooking sheet (or use parchment or Silpat.)

Drop round tablespoons onto cookie sheets. Place them in the preheated oven for about 10 minutes.

Set them aside to cool. 

In another large bowl, add powdered (confectioners’) sugar. Place your butter and cream cheese inside the bowl. I also crushed the pineapple by hand a little more. Add vanilla extract to the rest of the bowl. Blend the ingredients together until frosting is creamy. 

Place a tablespoon or more of the frosting on every cookie and sandwich them together.

Forget the calories. Eat salad for the next two days!

About the author: Former Old Lyme resident 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 a cooking column called A La Carte for LymeLine.com and also for the Shore Publishing and Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. 

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A Bumper Edition of A la Carte: Pad Thai & Scampi (with ‘Metro Bis’ & ‘Trader Joe’s’ Connections Respectively)

Lee White

Editor’s Note: We apologize but somehow we missed the first of these contributions from Lee White. It should have been published a week ago (June 17), but — in the simplest of terms — it wasn’t. However, we can’t (nor do we want to) just skip it because Lee’s recipes are too good to miss and also the story in her preamble is in two-parts, so you need to read last weeks before this weeks. Does that make any sense? We hope so! Enjoy … and, as always, ‘bon appetit’!

June 17

It had been a sad week for Minneapolis and the rest of the world. On Sunday, as much of American knows, the week ended with a peaceful march. Mine ended in Groton, Connecticut, as around 1,000 Fitch High School student-led citizens walked from one of our parks to the City of Groton Municipal Building. We board of education members met at the former Fitch Middle School and gave bottles of water to marchers.

And, of course, there is the pandemic. Mine began on March 13, the day our school (and most others) decided that our students would not be coming back to their teachers and their classrooms. Except for two doctors’ appointments, I’ve had no one in my home, hadn’t shared a meal with friends or family, hadn’t hugged anyone or shook anyone’s hand. My heart is sad for those who have lost friends and family.

Today I am making gallons of pasta sauce for my neighbors and to take to E. Bloomfield, N.Y., south of Rochester. My niece and her daughter will fly to pick up my sister-in-law and drive them all to their home in New Mexico. It may be the last time I see my husband’s sister, whose dementia has progressed to the point where she can no longer live in her mid-1800’s house, a place where I met my soon-to-be husband and, a year later, she began as the sister I had never had before.

Last evening I thought about making pad Thai, My friend Chris Prosperi, whose parents are Austrian and French, learned to make Pad Thai from a Thai friend years before he opened his incredible restaurant, Metro Bis, in Simsbury, Conn. He has as much Asian blood as I do, but this is the just a piece of the circle that becomes our family, too.

Pad Thai Sauce

1 bottle (32 Ounces) Mae Ploy sweet chili sauce
2 and ½   cups sugar
3 cups water
½ cup fish sauce
3 cups rice vinegar 

In a sauce pot on medium high heat combine all ingredients. Simmer for 2 minutes until all sugar is dissolved. Cool and set aside. Recipe makes 1 gallon which may be used as a dipping sauce for spring rolls, marinade for chicken, or dressing for salad greens when mixed with oil. The sauce will keep in the refrigerator for two months.

Photo by Timothy Dykes on Unsplash.

Pad Thai Noodles

Yield: 2 servings

1 package medium rice noodles
1 to 3 tablespoon vegetable oil
½ pound chicken, thinly sliced
4 eggs
¾ cup pad Thai sauce or more if you like (recipe above)
1 12-ounce package mung bean sprouts (but any sprouts will do)
½ cup scallions (green onions), chopped
½ cup chopped dry roasted peanuts
1 lime, quartered 

In a large mixing bowl soak the noodles in warm water until pliable, approximately 20 minutes. Drain and set aside. On high heat in a hot wok or large sauté pan heat oil and add chicken. Stir fry for 2 to 3 minutes. Crack the eggs into the pan and stir fry until the eggs are cooked and scrambled. Add pad Thai sauce and reduce the mixture. Place a good handful of noodles in the pan approximately (2 cups or so) and cook for an additional 3 to 4 minutes until the liquid starts to dry. Fold in 1 cup of sprouts and the scallions. Remove from the heat and serve with sliced lime, chopped peanuts and the remaining bean sprouts. Top with optional chili garlic sauce for more spice. Extra noodles may be refrigerated for up to 1 week.

June 24

The drive back from Rochester was uneventful, but on the way I realized that I had driven for 13 out of the past 30 hours. It was a lot of driving for me. I got home around 5 p.m. and boiled some ziti and added two packages of basil pesto I’d frozen last year, topped with a sprinkling of parmesan. It was delish and I was in bed by 9 p.m.

The night before, I had taken everything for dinner, figuring on about six people. It turned out we were 10 family members, but with a big salad, two boxes of rigatoni, two enormous disposable pots of Sunday Gravy sauce (with four kinds of meat in it) and garlic bread, we had almost enough food for all.

My sister-in-law, Roslyn, had made peanut butter cookies. There were so many memories in her home, including the first time I’d met my soon-to-be husband.

We had such a good time that night, but we knew it might be the last time we would all be together. Two days later, Roslyn, her daughter, Jamisyn, and Jamisyn’s daughter left E. Bloomfield, N.Y., with Ros’s Border Collie, heading out for Jamie’s home in New Mexico. It may be a long visit for Roslyn, or it may be forever.

In any case, I had not made a big dinner for three months, since the pandemic curtailed the spring of 2020.

The day after I returned home, I raided the freezer in my garage and found some red shrimp I had bought at Trader Joe’s, maybe a year ago or maybe longer than that.

I remembered being excited when I bought it, because the only red shrimp I’d seen was from Stonington Seafood. The Bomsters, who owned Stonington Seafood, sold only the seafood that had caught themselves, on their own boat, where they were able to flash-freeze within minutes.

Do you remember when, getting seafood there, you picked up your fish from a freezer and left the money on an honor system? 

Anyway, I thawed the Trader Joe’s shrimp on a colander, then dried it and made scampi. (By the way, scampi is an Italian name for shrimp, so there is really no reason to call it shrimp scampi). It made a whole lot, so I topped the scampi on a pound of linguine and shared it with my neighbors. 

Photo by Frank Wouters from Antwerpen, Belgium, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Scampi

Yield: 4 servings

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 to 3 tablespoons butter
8 to 10 cloves garlic, minced
Zest of 1 lemon
1 cup (or a little more) good white wine
1 pound extra-large shrimp, shelled, deveined, dried
a little chicken broth for extra liquid, if needed (homemade or good canned)
20 to 25 grape tomatoes, halved (optional)
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons butter
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
fresh Italian parsley, chopped
freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Romano cheese (optional)

Bring stockpot of water over high heat.

While water is coming to a boil, in a large skillet, heat olive oil and butter. Add garlic; saute for 30 to 45 seconds. Add white wine and allow to reduce. Add zest and stir. Reduce heat and add shrimp. When they turn pink and curl up, turn them over. When done, add tomatoes (if using) and lemon juice and cook for another few minutes. Add another 2 tablespoons of butter. Cook for a minute.  Add salt and pepper to taste and toss with parsley (or toss parsley when serving).

Meanwhile, liberally salt boiling water and add pasta. Cook just until ‘al dente’ (something a little than package directions say). Drain pasta, and then add to sauce. Toss. Serve hot (and, although Italian purists cringe, I also serve freshly-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Romano cheese.)

About the author: Former Old Lyme resident 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 a cooking column called A La Carte for LymeLine.com and also for the Shore Publishing and Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. 

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A la Carte: A Princess Calls it ‘Filthy, Sexy Mush’ … So Much More Exotic Than ‘Zucchini Pasta Sauce’!

Lee White

Oh, my, it was a long-overdue restaurant week and perhaps it will never be a forever restaurant week. But those restaurants lucky enough to have an outdoor space may now see our faces, and we theirs. Yes, it is still distancing and wearing masks and will be so until there is a vaccine that works and is available for everyone.

But last week was wonderful. Last Wednesday I met my friends Nancy and Andy at Captain Scott’s and we sat six feet apart on a big metal table and ate our lobster rolls and fries. I bought a bottle of chilled white wine called Imagery, a California Chardonnay they said was delicious. It was almost my birthday and they gave me a beach towel covered with images of lobster and a card saying that, when we can, we will have a lobster dinner at Ford’s in Noank.

The next day I drove with Linda Guica (masks on and all windows open) to Metro Bis. We had lunch with owners Chris Prosperi and Courtney Febbroriello, at a big table and talked for three hours. I had not sat on a table with anyone for 10 weeks. I didn’t realize how much I had missed my friends.

Yesterday, on the couch, I read The Day and The New York Times, read my book (the fifth book of the Quinn Colson novel by Ace Atkins) and watched three hours of the second year of Ozark.

I also saw a recipe created by Meghan Markle, whose husband is Harry, the royal son of Prince Charles. She supposedly calls it her Filthy, Sexy Mush pasta. I drove to the supermarket and bought the only ingredient I did not have–zucchini.

It can be made in a slow cooker, on the slow cooker part of the Instant Pot or on a big pot on the stovetop. I added a few other ingredients from a recipe from Kitchn, online, and made it. It does take four hours, but all you have to do is remember it is there and stir it a few times.

It is beyond delicious and is vegetarian and almost vegan.

Filthy Sexy Mush, aka Zucchini Pasta Sauce

Yield: at least 4 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil
6 small zucchini, bottom and top sliced and cut into cubes
½ small onion, diced
½ cup water
1 vegetable bouillon (I used chicken bouillon)
Zest of one lemon
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan, divided
1 pound pasta (from angel hair up to rigatoni)
Chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Place oil in a large pot and heat. Add zucchini and allow to caramelize, stirring (about 10 minutes). Add onions and saute until onions are translucent. Add lemon zest, a bouillon cube, pepper flakes and half a cup of water. Bring to a boil, then turn heat to a simmer and cover. Cook for four hours, stirring when you think about it  When it is done, add half the Parmesan and butter.

About half an hour before it is done, heat a big pot of water and add the pasta. Cook according to the box of pasta. Drain and add half the mush and stir. Put into four warmed bowls and top with grated Parmesan and chopped parsley.

About the author: Former Old Lyme resident 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 a cooking column called A La Carte for LymeLine.com and also for the Shore Publishing and Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. 

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A la Carte: Pineapple Upside-Down Cake is Perfect for Parties!

Lee White

I remember the first time I went to the Fancy Food Show at the Javits Center in New York City. I had taken the train into the city, grabbed a cab and arrived at 10 in the morning. It is the biggest food convention in America and I thought I could see everything in one day. By early afternoon I was bushed and my feet hurt. It was lunch time and I  picked up a sandwich 

On my way back to the vendors, I saw cookbook authors autographing their books, including a stunning black woman laughing and signing her book. I picked up B. Smith’s Entertaining and Cooking for Friends and stood in line. As she signed my book, she asked what I did and where. “I’m a restaurant reviewer in New London, Connecticut.” With a smile as bright as the cavernous light-filled lobby, she suggested I have dinner with her and her husband at their restaurant that evening. Oh, I wish I could, I said, but I have to get a train to get home. “Oh, stay at our place in the city and go home tomorrow,” she suggested. 

I didn’t, but I have always wished I had. She was a lovely hostess and presided over at least three restaurants (New York, Union Station in Washington and the Hamptons). She had a television show for many years. She wrote cookbooks and her first, and my first of hers, is stained with ingredients of recipes I have cooked. Barbara Smith died, at 70, February 23, 2020, in her home in Sag Harbor, NY, with her husband, Dan, by her side. She had suffered with dementia for many years. People called her “the black Martha Stewart.” Martha could only wish.

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

From B. Smith’s Entertaining and Cooking for Friends by Barbara Smith (Artisan, New York, 1995)

Topping

¼  cup unsalted butter, melted
½  cup firmly packed light-brown sugar
7 slices canned pineapple (reserve one-half cup juice for cake)
13 candied cherries (I like maraschino cherries)

Cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½  teaspoon baking soda
½  teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
¼  teaspoon ground cloves
½  cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
½  cup heavy cream
½  cup reserved pineapple juice
whipped cream, for garnish if you like

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease the sides of a 9- by 13-inch round baking pan with nonstick cooking spray or melted butter.

For the topping: beat the melted butter and brown sugar together in a small bowl. Spread this over the bottom of the prepared baking pan. Arrange 6 pineapple slices around the edge of the pan and one slice in the middle. Place a cherry in the middle of each pineapple slice and the rest between the slices around the edge.

To make the cake: Stir together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger and cloves in a large bowl. In another larger bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (I use my big KitchenAid for this for about 4 minutes). Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Using a spatula, alternatively fold in the flour mixture and the heavy cream and pineapple into the butter and sugar mixture until well blended. Spread the batter over the pineapple slices and bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let the cake cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Then run a sharp knife around the edge to loosen the cake, invert a serving plate over the cake pan and turn the cake and plate over together. Remove the cake pan. Serve warm with whipped cream.

(If you have a little time, visit Coffee’s on Route 1 in Old Lyme and pick up a pint of Reed’s ginger ice cream. It is amazing with this cake.)

About the author: Former Old Lyme resident 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 a cooking column called A La Carte for LymeLine.com and also for the Shore Publishing and Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. 

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A la Carte: May Means Meatballs … and Sausages and Gravy!

Lee White

It is May and May usually means lots of sunshine and warm evenings.  It is my favorite season of all, because trees are budding out, tulips are bright and gorgeous, lilies and irises are two weeks away as are lilies of the valley, mu birth flower. I am grateful that the people who sold me my condo, whom I knew from the yacht club, were gardeners. The best I can do is add a few annuals, but they planted the perennials, including a healthy and lush bright red azalea. 

I am also seeing much more wildlife than I’d ever seen in the six years I have lived in Groton. Driving down Rte. 1 and turning a right on my way to Eastern Point Beach, I watched a male fox ambling across the road, heading toward a small apartment complex. I turned another right to watch him and noticed a man on a walker in the fox’s way. I honked my horn so the man would not collide with him.

This morning, before I walked into my office, I looked at the parking lot and spied a turkey, the first I had seen in our complex. It was a young tom, in no hurry at all. I waited another 10 minutes and didn’t see another. I am feeding birds a bit longer than I usually do. (I take away the feeders and suet and add hummingbird feeders, although I haven’t seen one ever.) I am especially thrilled with catbirds and neon yellow finches. It is warm enough to open the outside faucets so I can add water to the bird bath, which they like. 

On the other hand, I still turn on my electric blanket. There is a reason we are told never to plant basil until Memorial Day. This past weekend, I wanted a make a good red sauce with meatballs and sausage. And I have everything for the dish, including pork chops, chopped beef and Italian sausage. If you have just one or two of the meats, the dish will be still fabulous.

Photo by Fidel Fernando on Unsplash.

Sunday Gravy with Sausages and Meatballs

Adapted from Johanne Killeen and George Germon, “On Top of Spaghetti,” (Morrow, New York, 2007)

Yield: Serves 4 to 6 as a main dish

One-quarter cup extra virgin olive oil3 pork chops (total weight 1 to 1 and one-half pounds)
1 and one-quarter pounds Italian sweet sausage, halved horizontally
1 cup chopped onions2 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced
½ teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes (or crushed) tomatoes
6-ounce can tomato paste
Cheese finds from Parmigiano-Reggiano or bits of Pecorino Romano (optional)
Mary’s meatballs
1 pound dried spaghetti or rigatoni, cooked
freshly grated Pecorino Romano

Heat oil in large heavy-bottomed stockpot. Add pork chops and sausages and brown on all sides. Transfer chops to a plate. Toss onions into pot with garlic, fennel seeds and salt. Saute over moderate heat, stirring frequently and scraping up any bits, until onions are soft and golden.

Put chops back in the pot with any juices. Add tomatoes, 2 cups water and tomato paste. Drop in rinds if you have any. Cover pot, bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Gently drop meatballs, a few at a time, shaking the pot to make room for the meatballs. Cover all the meatballs, cover pot and simmer for an hour or more. 

To finish sauce, take out chops, remove bones and chop of the meat and add to sauce. Check for seasoning. Ladle sauce over hot pasta and dust with cheese.

Mary’s Meatballs

Yield: makes 26 to 28 meatballs

12 ounces ground beef
4 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed, cut into tiny cubes (I used challah)
three-quarters cup milk
three-quarters to 1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
8 fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 egg, lightly beaten
fine sea salt and pepper to taste

In a large mixing bowl, combine beef, bread and milk. Add cheese, basil, parsley, egg and salt. Mix gently but thoroughly. Form into small meatballs, no larger than one and one-half inches in diameter.

About the author: Former Old Lyme resident 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 a cooking column called A La Carte for LymeLine.com and also for the Shore Publishing and Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. 

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A la Carte: Asparagus & Tomato Frittata Tempts the (Locked-Down) Tastebuds

Since this shelter-in-place began in March, I have been frantic about getting tested. I knew it might not do much good, but without being tested, there was no yardstick to find out how many people might be sick. Our illustrious president, at the beginning of his press briefings, said anyone who wanted to be tested would be. Of course, he was lying.

But a couple of weeks ago, Groton paired with PhysiciansOne Urgent Care to test 200 people who would, online, answer questions and give their insurance numbers, a credit card and their social security number. I did it, even though I was nervous about it. After I was accepted. I called our mayor, Patrice Granatosky, and asked if I’d done the right thing. She called me back a few minutes later and said the company was a good one and was sure everything was fine. 

I did get tested in my car at Fitch High School at 9 a.m. on Sunday. It was just the nasal swab, not the finger stick that would tell me if I had had the virus, but something is better than nothing. There were no lines, it took no more than 30 seconds, and I will get the results in a few days.

But here is the great thing about living in this city. I told Patrice I had gloves (whenever I have a doctor’s visit, I nab a few to take home; when I cut hot peppers I use disposable gloves), but I had ordered masks two weeks before and my California daughter was sending me one, but I didn’t have a single one to use.

Half an hour later, Patrice called me from my condo’s parking lot; she had found a mask her neighbor made. Who has a mayor who would go out of her way to do that, I ask? I gave her a banana cake with candied ginger, hazelnuts and chocolate chips. 

Let’s face it, that’s all I can really do: bake and cook. I found this recipe in an advertisement for Kohl’s. I am looking for lots of food that contain vegetables and protein. I had lots of eggs, grape tomatoes (love ‘em), potatoes and asparagus. I think it will feed four, but I ate it in two days.

Roasted Asparagus and Tomato Frittata

1 pound cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound asparagus spears, cooked
2 shallots, finely chopped (I used Vidalia onion)
1 pound potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch cut, cooked*
10 eggs
4 ounces shredded Parmesan, Romano or Gruyere

Preheat oven to 425. Toss tomatoes with oil and salt. Spread onto a sheet pan and roast until blistered, about ten minutes. Reduce heat to 350.

Reserve 1 spear of asparagus. Chop remaining into ½ inch pieces. Heat a 12-inch non-stick skillet over medium-high with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add shallots and a little salt. Cook until golden, 5 to 6 minutes. Add chopped asparagus and potatoes. 

In a medium bowl, beat eggs with a little salt and pepper. Pour into skillet. Stir until eggs thicken. Top with tomatoes and reserved tomatoes and reserved asparagus spear. Bake in oven 14 to 16 minutes. Top with cheese and cut into wedges.

*I might use frozen hash browns, instead, and cook them with the shallots.

Lee White

About the author: Former Old Lyme resident 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 a cooking column called A La Carte for LymeLine.com and also for the Shore Publishing and Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. 

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A la Carte: Something Special for Easter? How About Sweet Honey Chicken with a Hint of Curry?

Well, it has been an interesting two weeks. 

I spend quite a time on Facebook with friends and family. My family seems fine. My brother and I do not talk often. This has little to do with the fact that we are not close. I like him and he likes me, but eight years is a big number. He went to college when I was nine and, except for vacations, he never really came back to Troy. After college, I moved away and just went back to see my parents.

In any case, he did call last week. He is sheltering in place with his lady friend and they are content. So am I. His children and mine are far away but all are fine. 

I feel closer to my friends on Facebook. Mike DiMauro, The Day’s sports editor, talked about making marinara vodka sauce two nights ago and shared a picture. He thought it might be as good as the one he gets at Filomena’s in Waterford. When I go to Filomena’s, one of my favorite restaurants, I usually get the chicken piccata.

Funny, too, is the fact that I had made marinara vodka sauce the same evening Mike did. I made it with penne and shared it with my neighbors. (I put the pasta on the red bench outside my porch; my neighbors walk out, pick up the dinner and take it home.)

After I ate hot dogs and peanut butter and jelly sandwich for three days, I began to cook with abandon. I made pounds and pounds of vegetables I had in the freezer. I made from-scratch baked beans with bacon, three different pasta sauces and some risotto 

I also made the first chicken dish I’d ever made without a recipe. I had everything I needed except real chicken breasts. I did have some boneless skinless chicken, but it fell flat. This is an easy dish, but it needs the bones and skin from thighs and/or breasts. I think you will like this recipe.

Chicken with Honey and Curry

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Butter a large baking pan (I use Pyrex 8” by 11” or bigger) with butter and set aside. 

Preheat oven at 350 degrees.

10 to 12 thighs
3 large chicken breasts, skin and bone on, cut in half
salt and pepper to taste
4 ounces (1 stick) butter
4 tablespoons good curry powder
one-quarter to one-half cup honey, to taste

Wash and dry chicken pieces. Place skin side up in buttered pan and add salt and pepper. Place in oven.

In the meanwhile, in a saucepan melt butter with curry and honey. Keep warm.

After 10 minutes, pour sauce on top of the chicken pieces. Begin to baste the chicken pieces with the sauce every 10 minutes or so. Bake chicken for a total of 50 to 60 minutes, when the chicken pieces have a dark, golden color.

Place cooked rice in a large, attractive bowl. Place chicken pieces over the rice, then pour the sauce all over the chicken and the rice. Serve immediately.

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 a cooking column called A La Carte for LymeLine.com and also for the Shore Publishing and Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. 

 

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A la Carte: The Irrestible Magic of Maple-Apple Blondies

Wow, three days of watching movies at The Garde:- The Farewell (wonderful) and Jojo Rabbit (which I was wary of seeing but, at the end, fell in love with it).  Then I saw Bombshell, but I liked the television adaptation about Roger Ailes/Fox better (The Loudest Voice). The Showtime movie made Russell Crowe (as Ailes) even more of an animal.

It was a busy week, but I found time to get to Shop-Rite and bought a rotisserie chicken, lots of vegetables (two big heads of cauliflower, which I cut into florets to parboil and freeze), green grapes, bananas and apples, along with pork cutlets and hot Italian sausage. When I got home, I wanted something sweet, so I made these blondies, below.

I tasted just one and will take the rest to a meeting. Nothing decadent is left in the house, except four pints of Haagen Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s.

Maple-Apple Blondies

From 100 Best Apple Recipes (Better Homes & Gardens, Meredith Co., 2019)

Yield: 36 bars

Nonstick cooking spray
¾ cup butter
2 medium apples, peeled, cored and chopped (about 1 and ¾ cups)
1 cup packed light brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup pure maple syrup
2 eggs
2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 recipe for maple icing

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 13- by 9-inch pan with foil, extending the foil over edges. Lightly coat foil with cooking spray. In a medium saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium heat. Add apples and cook about 12 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Remove apples from saucepan and set aside.

In the same saucepan, melt remaining butter over medium heat. Remove from heat and stir in both sugars and maple syrup until smooth. Stir in eggs and vanilla until combined. Stir in flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Stir in cooked apples. Spread batter in prepared pan.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until evenly browned and edges are puffed. Cool in pan on a wire rack. Spread maple icing over bars. Let stand until icing is set. Use edges of foil to lift uncut bars out of pan. Cut into 36 bars. 

Maple Icing

In a small bowl, stir together 2 cups powdered sugar, ¼ cup maple syrup and 2 tablespoons melted butter. Stir in enough milk (about 2 tablespoons) to make a thin spreading consistency.

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 a cooking column called A La Carte for LymeLine.com and also for the Shore Publishing and Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. 

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A la Carte: Pepperoni Pasta is Easy to Prep, Delicious to Eat

The other Sunday, I drove to the Mystic Marriott to judge the chocolate gala to benefit Fairview in Groton, I used to call rest homes like Fairview old persons’ homes.  Now that I am actually an old person, there are other names that sound nicer, like independent or assisted living. Some years ago a friend told me that when she gets old, she wants to be at Fairview, with its gorgeous view of the Thames River. And when her time comes, she said, she wants someone to wheel her down the rolling green hills right into the river.

These days she might have a different take, since Fairview’s many-acred “campus” is gorgeous and has single houses which people buy long before they need any assisting at all. And among the hundreds of people who paid to get a sugar rush that Sunday, Fairview will fund activities for the very active residents there. 

The chocolate was pretty delicious, gorgeous and, for two of the competitors, mighty edgy. The biggest awards went to Franck Iglesias, executive pastry chef at Foxwoods, and Mark Vecchitto at Octagon, housed at the Mystic Marriott. By the way, we three judges (including The Day’s Rick Koster and Maurice Beebe, who was chef/owner of the late North End Deli) did not know whose chocolate we were eating; the establishments were numbered and only at the end did we know who was whom.

As with most dessert contests, by the end of the day I mostly wanted a hamburger. In truth, I got home and ate a tuna sandwich, because there were no leftovers in my refrigerator. With more weather events ahead, food to be make for a friend after surgery, and some dishes to take for a party coming up, it was time to cook.

This is one of my first ever pasta dishes. My nephew made it for me first, about 30 years ago, from Jeff Smith’s first cookbook. I have adapted it so much that I consider it my own. I will double the recipe for my friends and as leftovers for myself. 

Pepperoni Pasta

Yield: serves 4 to 6

2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium-sized sweet onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-ounce can of whole or diced tomatoes
1 or so jigger of vodka (optional)
one-half pound thinly sliced pepperoni (buy the pepperoni sliced at the supermarket’s deli counter)
salt and pepper to taste
one-quarter teaspoon cayenne pepper (more if you like it spicy)
one-quarter cup heavy cream
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
lots of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Romano cheese
1 pound pasta (I like rigatoni or penne, but any pasta will do)

Photo by sheri silver on Unsplash

Place a big stockpot full of water on the stove and bring to a boil.

In the meantime, in a large skillet, warm oil, then add onion and garlic. Cook over medium-low heat until translucent (try not to brown the herbs.) Add the entire can of tomatoes; while warming, mash tomatoes if you are using whole tomatoes rather than diced tomatoes. When hot, add vodka and cook for about four minutes, at which point most of the liquor will have evaporated. Toss in pepperoni and stir; cook for another few minutes. Add salt and pepper, to taste, and beginning adding cayenne pepper, tasting each for amount of spiciness. 

In the meantime, when water is boiling, add quite a bit of sat (a few tablespoons), then add pasta. Stir until water comes back to a boil, drop heat to medium and cook until al dente (a bit of chewiness).

While pasta is cooking, add heavy cream and stir until a pretty coral color. Turn heat to low and cover. When pasta is al dente, drain but keep half a cup of pasta water to add to sauce if necessary. Add pasta to sauce (or vice versa). Toss well, adding pasta water if you want to thin it a bit. Add fresh basil and cheese; serve immediately, with more cheese so people can add more to their bowls.

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 a cooking column called A La Carte for LymeLine.com and also for the Shore Publishing and Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. 

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A la Carte: A New Dish for a New Decade — Roasted Shrimp, Caulifower with Quinoa

Like many of you, I have made one or two or more resolutions. I, for one, am on that intermittent fasting. I don’t eat before 11 a.m., nor after 7 p.m. This is an easy diet for me: I like lunch more than breakfast and I often am in bed at 8:30, where I read for at least two hours. So dinner at 6-ish works for me. I have lost around seven pounds since mid-December, even with the holiday parties. 

My friend Judy promises to watch less television and learn how to use more of her computer’s abilities, especially Google maps, since she is an assessor. I am promising myself that I will buy fewer shoes and clothes. All summer long I wear my jelly sandals, of which I have around 15 pair, and in the winter I wear boots outside. I never wear shoes in my condo, even when the temperature hovers around 20 degrees. As for clothes, my Nordstrom, Nordstrom Rack and Macy’s have zero balances.

Almost everyone I know are getting into plant-based food meals. I eat chicken and fish a few times a week;  I have a hamburger or a lamb chop maybe once a week. I do like pasta and chili, whose main ingredients are the beans and the pasta rather than meat balls or pork. I also have stopped at Burger King a few times for that Impossible Burger. With the mayonnaise-based dressing, onion, lettuce and tomato, I don’t miss the burger at all. Truth to be told, I only order my burgers at Haywire in Westbrook.  Once Jack Flaws opens his new place in Centerbrook, I will be a true carnivore, if only for a few hours.

Today, though, I will be making this for dinner. This recipe comes from the free magazine from Stop & Shop. I had just read on Facebook that Ina Garten now only serves shrimp that she has oven-roasted. Evidently Stop & Shop’s test kitchen thinks the same way.

Roasted Shrimp and Cauliflower with Quinoa Tabbouleh

From Savory by Stop and Shop, January 2020

Yield: serves 4

One-half cup dry quinoa, rinsed
3 cups cauliflower florets
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
One-quarter teaspoon salt and pepper
1 cup fresh parsley
1 pound frozen, peeled deveined raw shrimp, thawed
One-quarter teaspoon salt and pepper
One-quarter teaspoon smoked paprika
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Cook the quinoa according to package directions.

In a medium bowl, toss the cauliflower with 2 tablespoons oil, salt and pepper; reserve bowl. Arrange on a large rimmed baking sheet in single layer. Roast 15 minutes.

Meanwhile. Very finely chop parsley and add to a large bowl. In the same bowl cauliflower was in, toss the shrimp with the smoked paprika, 2 tablespoons of oil, and salt and pepper.

Once cauliflower is roasted, push cauliflower to one side of baking sheet and arrange shrimp in a single layer on other side. Roast 5 minutes until shrimp are cooked through and cauliflower is tender.

Fluff the quinoa and add to bowl with parsley. Add lemon juice and remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve the shrimp and cauliflower over the quinoa .

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A la Carte: A Day for Dauphinois (aka Scalloped Potatoes)

If you are reading this column today, you know that yesterday was Christmas. If you have little ones, they probably woke you up at dawn, to let you know that Santa had arrived.

When our little ones were young, we spent Christmas with my husband’s sister in East Bloomfield, N.Y. We arrived on Christmas Eve, early enough to get to my in-laws’ church in Rochester. There my husband turned the pages of the lovely old pipe organ as my father-in-law played.

After that, we all drove to Roslyn’s house. Our children, our parents and we slept everywhere—kids in sleeping bags in the living room and family room, our parents in the bedrooms upstairs/ Doug and I slept in a Sofabed  two rooms away from the living room (that room, much later, became the bird room, but that’s another long story).

I’m not sure how Ros made this happen, but no presents were open until we had a full breakfast, waffles or pancakes or French toast, bacon and sausage and, for us, gallons of coffee. Then the fun began.

Wrapping paper and bows filled the living room and the kids squealed. We adults opened our gifts one at a time, exclaimed how thrilled we were with every present. We showed each of our treasures to the others. And every year we gave Roslyn a special one—always a gag gift, often naughty. She was supposed to show them to our parents.  Sometimes she didn’t.

Dinner, around 4 p.m., was easy: often prime rib, which came out of the oven as we turned the heat to 450 degrees. Then we placed the pan of Yorkshire pudding, which, of course, is not a pudding at all. Sometimes it was a ham, instead. If it was, there would be scalloped potatoes, which everyone loved. 

Today I am making a big ham for my neighbors, their son and his teenage daughter. If I could have gotten one, it would be a spiral sliced, Honey Baked Ham. It may not be local and it may be overly sweet, but I love that ham. There will be sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese (for my neighbors’ granddaughter), lots of vegetables and for dessert something special—perhaps crème brulee or chocolate pots de crème. The next day I will make a very French scalloped potatoes with slivered left-over ham nestled inside.

I love this recipe! (See below)

Gratin Dauphinois

From A Passion for Potatoes by Lydie Marshall (Harper Perennial, New York, 1992)

1 large garlic clove, peeled and minced
2 pounds Yukon Gold or russet potatoes, peeled and sliced one-eighth- to one-sixteenth-inch thick
1 and one-half teaspoons sat*
1 and one-third cups half-and-half cream
1 tablespoons cold butter
One-half cup heavy cream

Yield: serves 4 to 6 

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 2-quart rectangular or oval dish 14 by 8 by 2 inches.  Scatter the minced garlic in the dish.

Overlap 3 layers of potatoes in the pan, sprinkling salt between each layer. Dribble in the half and half, barely covering them. Dot the top with butter.

Bake in the middle of the oven for 45 minutes. Pour the heavy cream on top of the potatoes and tilt the pan to baste the top layer. Bake for 45 minutes more, or until golden brown.

*If you are adding ham to the gratin, leave out the salt in the recipe, but serve with a nice finishing salt at the table.

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

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A la Carte: Time for Turkey? Sure, But What to do With the Left-Overs — How About Making Turkey Hash Salad?

Oh, my, Thanksgiving is upon us, although it is late this year. As you read this, you actually have an extra week to buy your turkey and make the stuffing (I make the stuffing the day before, refrigerate it and stuff much of it into the cold turkey). I have made roasted turkey almost every way possible. I have brined it, roasted it upside down before turning it upside, baked it is plastic bags and wrapped the top in cheesecloth. I have bought Butterball and organic turkeys.

Here’s what I do now. I buy the least expensive turkey, usually about 12 to 16 pounds. I always buy my turkey frozen. My deal is this: the fresh turkey at the supermarket may have been in the cooler for many days. My turkey was probably frozen before it got to the supermarket.  I do thaw the turkey in the refrigerator for at least three days.

Usually, by the morning of Thanksgiving, I think it has thawed, but it hasn’t and my hands are frozen and sore by the time I get the bag of giblets out of the cavity. I stuff the turkey, baste it with butter and white wine. If the white meat is a little dry at the end, I figure that the gravy, the moist stuffing and the buttery mashed potatoes will turn that meat luscious. 

If you want my Turkey 101, its gravy and its stuffing, e-mail me at leeawhite@aol.com. As for my favorite leftover, it is a turkey sandwich and its sides, at least three to four inches tall. My second favorite, if you have enough of everything, is to make a casserole and eat it on Sunday. If you are sick of turkey, freeze the casserole.

Also, you can make so much mashed potatoes, then freeze the potatoes in 1 cup packets and make mashed potato bread. For that recipe, e-mail me.  And here is another recipe. It’s delish. 

Turkey Hash Salad

From Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins, The New Basics Cookbook (Workman, New York, 1989)

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

5 teaspoons Dijon mustard
one-half cup red wine vinegar
1 cup light olive oil (or other good vegetable oil)
12 small red potatoes
one-half teaspoon kosher or sea salt
2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
12 large cloves garlic
8 ounces bacon cut into one-half-inch pieces
one-half cup finely chopped red onion
one-quarter cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
3 cups coarsely shredded cook turkey
1 bunch arugula, rinsed, trimmed and patted dry
2 bunches watercress, rinsed, trimmed and patted dry

Whisk mustard and vinegar together in a small bowl. Slowly pour in three-quarters of the oil, whisking constantly. Set the vinaigrette aside.

Prick the potatoes all over with the tines of a fork. Combine remaining one-quarter oil, salt and 1 teaspoon of the pepper in a bowl. Add potatoes and toss until well coated with the mixture. Place the potatoes in a shallow roasting pan and bake, uncovered, for 1 hour, turning occasionally.

Remove potatoes from the oven and allow them to cool. Then cut them into one-half-inch slices and place in a large bowl. 

Place the garlic cloves in a small saucepan. Cover with water, bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain, allow to cool. Then peel.

Saute bacon in a heavy skillet until crisp. Transfer bacon to paper towels to drain, reserving the fat.

Add garlic cloves to bacon fat in the skillet and cook over low heat for 2 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon. Discard the fat.

Add red onion, parsley, remaining teaspoon of black pepper and the vinaigrette to the potatoes. Toss gently.

Add turkey, bacon and garlic cloves. Gently fold all ingredients together.

Arrange the arugula and watercress on a large serving platter and place the salad on top. Serve immediately.

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

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