December 19, 2018

A la Carte: Got Leftovers? How About a Turkey Casserole?

Perhaps you are reading this column on the morning after Thanksgiving as you drink your cup of coffee or tea. It has been quite a few years since I sat with the newspaper and figured out which I should do first. I have been in my condo for almost five years and only created Thanksgiving dinner once, and only for around six or seven of us.

Many, many years ago, when my own daughter was still in elementary school, there would have been at least four little ones (two nieces, one nephew and Darcy) or up to 10 or more (more nephews, nieces, two step-sons, one step-daughter and all their parents). Even when the little ones became high schoolers, we still did Thanksgiving. Although there were extra bedrooms, there were sleeping bags filled with humans on floors everywhere.

The last Thanksgiving enormous dinner was in Old Lyme, just a few months before I sold the house and moved into my condo. That crowd included more than 20 friends and family. Many of the family members stayed over the weekend, and, except for a few sandwiches, there were no leftovers.

These days turkey day happens at my daughter-in-law’s condo in Newburyport. My stepson and Nancy have divorced, but it is amicable. My Massachusetts granddaughters will be there (one already graduated from college and living in Boston, the middle a senior at Clark in Worcester and the baby now a freshman at UMass in Amherst.) There will be leftovers, but I will leave them in Massachusetts, because I bought two Butterballs at BJs.

As you read this, one is thawing in my refrigerator, the stuffing is in the freezer, the gravy is made (with an Ina Garten recipe made with no turkey juice, which she calls a base. I will add that base to the basting as Mr. Tom comes out of the oven. With the mashed potatoes, vegetables, gravy, stuffing, turkey and cranberry (I love the canned kind for this casserole), I will make at least two or three casseroles.

Because I never grew up with casseroles, I actually like these better than the original meal. Here is my go-to recipe for this and any kind of meat leftover this winter.

Photo by Jonathan Pielmayer on Unsplash

Turkey Leftover Casserole

3 to 4 pounds of turkey, dark or white meat, slices or chunked, divided
2 pounds of vegetables (beans, turnips, Brussels sprouts, corn or squash), divided
2 to 3 pounds of mashed white potatoes and/or sweet potatoes, divided
1 to 2 pounds stuffing, divided
1 can of cranberry sauce (or made-scratch) cranberry sauce, divided
Leftover gravy from Thanksgiving, or packaged or carton gravy

In a large casserole dish (or a big gratin dish or a big Tupper-type holder), begin to layer the ingredients. I begin with a little mashed potato, then turkey, some gravy, vegetables, mashed potatoes, stuffing and a few slices of cranberry sauce. I end with mashed potatoes and drizzled with gravy, if you still have some. Each casserole will feed at least four to six people.

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A La Carte: ‘Tis the Season for Some Scrumptious Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread!

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread

Writing can seem like a lonely profession, but if you are a journalist, it never is. I always wanted to be a journalist and go to either Michigan State or Northwestern. Unfortunately for me, I got a New York State Regents Scholarship and my father, who wasn’t sure I wanted to be a student (I liked the social part but not so much the academics), told me to pick a college in the state college or university system since, at that time, it was free tuition and the scholarship would pay for my room, meals and fees.

He was sort of correct.

Eventually I finished my degree years later at the University of Rochester, where work got me free tuition. As an English major, I still wanted to be a journalist, but I liked my job and liked the fact that I made a bit more money than a journalist. I began writing, free-lance, and found that there was nothing lonely about being a food writer. I began as a restaurant reviewer; a decade or so later, I became more interested in what goes on in a home kitchen rather than a restaurant kitchen.

I love cooking and I love writing about food. Most of all, I love food writing for newspapers, because my readers e-mail me information about ingredients and recipes and tell me they like me (yes, there are Sally Field moments). Last week I heard from two farmers, the owners of 18th Century Purity Farm in Plainfield and Moosup and Scotts’ Family Farm in Essex. They both said they grow the Lodi apples I wanted, but its season is early and short, and the apples were gone by mid-September.

I put both of the farms on my calendar for the week after Labor Day, 2019. Also that week, my editor, Lee Howard at The Times in New London, said a reader was looking for a recipe for chocolate chip pumpkin bread. I played with a recipe. The recipe called for two nine-inch pans but, even at one hour, it was gushy in the middle. The next day I made it again and put the batter in three-loaf pans.

Perfection … and delicious … and dairy-free.

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread

Adapted from Food Network Kitchen

3 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs, lightly beaten
16 ounces canned pureed pumpkin (not the pumpkin pie filling)
3 and one-half cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
One-half teaspoon ground cloves
Two-third cup water
2 cups chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour three 9-inch loaf pans (I use Pam with flour, the blue can). Stir (I use my KitchenAid low) the sugar and oil. Stir in the eggs and pumpkin. In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon and cloves. Blend the dry ingredients and the water into wet mixture. Fold in the chocolate chips. Divide the batter into the loaf pans. Bake until cake tester comes out clean, about 1 hour. Let stand 10 minutes. Remove from the pans and cool.

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A la Carte: Looking for an Incredible Dessert? Look No Further Than ‘Banana Split Cake’

Sample a piece of delicious Banana Split Cake!

Almost every Friday evening, I share an early dinner with friends from Groton and Noank at Sneekers. As I have mentioned before, the food is really good and the prices are easy on the wallet. The two owners, Annie and Rhonda, have been friends for years and they opened Sneekers over 30 years ago. They and our favorite waitress, Kelsey, take good care of us and all of their customers.

Before we decide what we will have for dinner (from a regular menu, a specials menu and an Early Dinner menu), we peruse at the blackboard dessert menu,  often ordering at the same time with our entrees, since the three or four special sweets disappear pretty quickly.

The cakes and pies are made elsewhere, we think. It is said that the sweets are made by Rhonda’s sister or cousin. I have often asked. Rhonda and Annie who makes the cakes and pies. In response, they smile. I think they think I might put the information in my columns. They are probably right. In any case, the cakes are always three layers, often creamy, sometimes fruity. The fillings are heavenly and the frosting ethereal. The plate is decked with whipped cream and maraschino cherries.

Last week it was a cherry lemon cake. Kelsey gives us four forks and we share one slice. As we talked, one of our group mentioned a cake her mother made, with Cool-Whip, pineapple and cherries, similar to an ice box cake. I have a similar recipe, too, and it contains  bananas.

My mother used to make a pistachio pudding cake. It was a box cake and baked in a Bundt pan, so there was no filling and, since my mother baked rarely, no frosting, either.

When I got home, I found the Cool-Whip recipe in my files. It requires no baking and is incredibly easy and yummy. I rarely use Cool-Whip, but it works well with this dessert. Do feel free to use real whipped cream. (By the way, if you add a scant teaspoon of dry instant pudding to the whipped cream, it will stay whipped for a couple of days without weeping.)

Banana Split Cake

I think this recipe was given to me by Barb Boynewicz of Stonington. It is an incredible dessert.

Yield: 12 to 14 servings

3 sticks (each 8 tablespoons) butter, preferably unsalted, separated
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
2 eggs
1 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
1 20 ounce can crushed pineapple, drained and squeezed
4 bananas, sliced
1 large container Cool Whip
1 cup walnuts, chopped
10 maraschino cherries, halved

Melt 1 stick butter and add graham crumbs. Form a crust in 9- by 13-inch baking pan.

Put 2 sticks butter, confectioner’s sugar, eggs and pure vanilla extract in a bowl and beat at high speed with an electric mixer for 10 minutes. Spread mix over graham cracker crust.

Spread crushed pineapple over filling. Place sliced bananas over crushed pineapple. Cover with container Cool Whip, Sprinkle top with walnuts and placed cherries on top.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerator for 16 to 20 (or somewhat more) hours.

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 Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day.

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A la Carte: Bake the Best Big, Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies!

Big and chewy oatmeal raisin cookies

A few days after I made banana bread (about six overripe bananas I had, to which I added five overripe ones from Noank friends), I decided it was time to make cookies. (By the way, all four of the banana breads left my homes to friends’ kitchens, because I didn’t want to eat them.) Alter all, I had already thawed two pounds of unsalted butter and, while looking for the chocolate chips (wafers, actually), I saw an unopened package of cinnamon chips and an unopened package of candied ginger.

So I searched for my favorite oatmeal cookie recipe and could not find it under any headings—oatmeal, cookie, cinnamon, nothing. And it wasn’t in my paper file, either. Is it possible I never wrote about them? Anything is possible, I guess, so I found the same book I had used for the banana bread and didn’t even have to use the index; I just leafed through the nearly 600 pages and it opened to Big and Chewy Oatmeal Cookies. I have probably made that recipe so many times that it had three or four different stains on it and maybe some of the pages were damp too.

As with many recipes, I double this one. They freeze beautifully. I pay little attention to raisins (not crazy about raisins, anyway) and for this recipe I use those two ingredients I love: cinnamon chips and candied ginger. How much of each?  The recipe calls for one and a half cups of raisins, so I use 1 cup of cinnamon chips and half a cup of candied ginger; I chop the latter coarsely with a sharp knife. But you can use any combination for this recipe or none at all if you just want a delicious oatmeal cookie

Big and Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

From The Best Recipe by editors of Cook’s Illustrated (Boston Common Press, 1999)

Yield: about 18 large cookies

1 and one-half cup all-purpose flour
One-half teaspoon salt
One-half teaspoon baking powder
One-quarter teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
One-half pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar*
1 cup granulated sugar*
2 large eggs
3 cups rolled oatmeal
1 and one-half cups raisins (optional)

Adjust oven racks to low and middle positions and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line two large cookie sheets with parchment paper. (I use Silpat instead of parchment.)

Whisk flour, salt, baking powder and nutmeg in medium bowl.

Either by hand or with electric mixer, beat butter until creamy. Add sugars, beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time.

Stir dry ingredients into butter-sugar mixture with wooden spoon or large rubber spatula. Stir in oats and optional raisins (or chips or candied ginger or dried cranberries).

Working with generous 2 tablespoons of dough each time, roll dough into 2-inch balls. (I often make smaller cookies.) Place balls on parchment- lined cookie sheets, leaving at least 2 inches between each ball.

Bake until cookie edges turn golden brown, 22 to 25 minutes. (Halfway through baking, turn cookie sheet from front to back and also switch them from top to bottom.) Slide cookies, on parchment, to cooling rack. Let cool at least 30 minutes before peeling cookies from parchment.

*I have found that three-quarter cups of both sugars is plenty sweet enough

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A la Carte Goes Colorful with Crispy Cod with Chorizo, White Beans and Cherry Tomatoes

Crispy cod with chorizo, white beans and cherry tomatoes.

Back in January, I was invited to a dinner party. The food was incredible, beginning with an appetizer of a seared sea scallop, topped with shredded duck and enveloped with a sunny yellow hollandaise and an arugula in subtle vinaigrette. As an “intermission,” there was glorious white lasagna which melted in our mouths. The entrée was beef and carrots in Borolo, silken mashed potatoes and fresh green beans with pine nuts.

The chef had also sent to our tables of 12 a freshly made bread that had been low risen for two days before it was put in the oven. There were two desserts—one a cassata (a traditional Sicilian cake) and soufflé. All the savory dishes were created by Tom Cherry, who spent a lot of time and love on that dinner, although his real job is plastic surgery. The desserts were created by Bette Hu, who calls herself “just a home cook.” Actually, these two may be just “home cooks,” but, truth be told, I am a home cook. These two people are true artists.

I have said before that real chefs can make magic with a few pans, a few sharp knives and a working stove. While Tom and his wife Lynn have a Viking stove in emerald green with eight to 10 burners on his cooktop and a few ovens at his disposal, he could do that in my galley kitchen and electric stove. I, on the other hand, would need his Viking to be that proficient. As I left that evening, I tried to figure out how I could sneak that Viking into my car. I couldn’t/t!

People often ask me what I consider most important to have in a kitchen. In my last house in Old Lyme, I could hold 20 people in the kitchen as I cooked, had a 42-inch cooktop with six gas burners, two ovens and a warming drawer. The granite counter held 10 and part of the counter was four inches below the regular one, so I could make pastry without making my shoulders ache. My pantry took up another room.

Today I have a fair amount of counter space and a nice deep kitchen sink, but the cooktop has four electric burners, there are two ovens but one is very shallow and most of my pantry is in the hallway closet, along with coats. I have a lot of counter-top appliances, but I have learned how to use those electric burners so that they do not ruin the good pans I have collected over the years.

What I need most in my kitchen these days are my knives (on a magnetic bar so the knife block doesn’t take up counter top), those good pans and Silpat liners for my many, many nested sheet pans, the last of which I use often.

In a recent edition of Rachael Ray Everyday, I saw a recipe for a cod that can be made in a sheet pan that fits in my shallow oven. 

Crispy Cod with Chorizo, White Beans and Cherry Tomatoes

From Rachael Ray Everyday, February, 2018

Yield: serves 4

2 cans (15 to 15.5 ounces each) cannellini beans, rinsed
8 ounces cherry (or grape) tomatoes, halved
5 ounces cured chorizo, casing removed and meat chopped into small pieces
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
One-half teaspoon crushed red pepper
Salt and freshly ground pepper, divided
4 tablespoons olive oil
One-half cup panko
1 tabelspoon finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley plus one-quarter cup coarsely chopped
4 boneless, skinless cod fillets, 5 to 6 ounces each
3 tablespoons tartar sauce

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. On a large rimmed baking sheet, toss beans, tomatoes, chorizo, garlic and crushed red pepper with 2 tablespoon oil, 1 teaspoon salt and one-quarter teaspoon freshly ground pepper.

In a shallow bowl, toss panko and 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley and season with salt and pepper. Brush the tops and sides of the cod fillets with tartar sauce. Press the tops and sides of the fillets into the panko mixture until coated. Arrange the fish to the center of the baking sheet. Arrange the bean mixture in an even layer around the fish.

Bake until panko is golden and the fish flakes easily with a fork, 10 to 15 minutes. Sprinkle with the coarsely chopped parsley and drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons oil.

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A la Carte: Mushrooms by the Million? Sounds Like Soup!

I am such a spoiled princess, even if I don’t have anyone around to spoil me.

Because the temperature is dipping into the 40s at night, I opened two windows in the living room and one in the bedroom. Since I had turned on the central air in late May and hadn’t yet turned it off on the first of October, I thought I would go into this slowly. (Actually, I am not a spoiled princess in the winter—I like cold weather and keep my thermostat at around 60 degrees until late March or early April.)

Once I feel if a snap of coolness, I begin to think about what to cook for the next two seasons. In the late spring, summer and early fall, I buy a lot of fresh produce at farm markets let those ingredients speak for themselves, eating them raw, like tomatoes, sweet peppers and salads with a whisper of dressing, or simply grilled with a little olive oil and fresh herbs.

Last week I began dream of squashes and roasted vegetables and soups. I was at BJs, loading up on bags of flour and sugar (pies, cookies, cakes) and saw big containers of mushrooms. Soup, I thought. Lots of soups on the cooktop and in my slow cookers (I am also thinking about an Instant Pot. Let me know what you think about yet another counter appliance since my old blender is gone and the pressure cooker is in the garage.)’

Anyway, I made two batches of mushroom soup. I had a couple of recipes in my head, but decided that it is time to play around with soup. So this recipe is all mine. And I must say, it is better than any other mushroom soup I’d ever made. Once again, a few steps are important—saute the mushrooms and onions, add cream sherry twice (I have Harvey’s Bristol Cream Sherry, but I also have a bottle of Sheffield Cream Sherry of California at a fraction of Harvey’s)  If you want to add more onions or more mushrooms, be my guest. Maybe 1 percent milk would work.

Lee’s Mushroom Soup

1 stick of unsalted butter
20 ounces or more fresh, sliced white mushrooms
1 large onion, peeled and diced fairly fine
4 tablespoons cream sherry, divided (never use supermarket cooking sherry)
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk (I use 2 percent)
1 32-ounce carton low-sodium, low-fat chicken or vegetable stock

In a large heavy-bottomed pot (I use a Le Creuset Dutch oven), melt butter on medium heat and add mushrooms. Stir periodically until mushrooms take up all the butter, then add onions. Continue stirring until onions are light blonde in color. Pour 2 tablespoons sherry into the pan and cook until almost dry. Toss flour over mushrooms and onions and stir until veggies are coated. Add milk, stir, then turn heat to medium low. Add the rest of the sherry. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring periodically. Add all the chicken or vegetable stock, stirring, and add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for another 10 minutes or so and taste again for salt and pepper.

I wait until the soup is cool, then puree it just a little in my big Ninja of use an immersion blender. Or do neither. Soup can be served immediately or refrigerate and reheat over gentle heat. If soup is too thick, add more stock or water.

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A La Carte: Apricots and Almonds Make Great Galette!

Apricot and Almond Galette

My mother always wanted to live in San Diego, but as far as she got was Troy, NY.

She was born in the beginning of the 20th century, died in the beginning of the 21st century and was buried in an ecumenical cemetery not more than 20 blocks or so from where she lived her whole life.  San Diego, she said, correctly, had the perfect climate: fairly sunny, warm in the daytime and cooler at night. No snow ever.

For me, almost any season is okay. I like the autumn smell of wood smoke in the air and in winter, curling up with two cats as I read long, meandering novels. Spring never seems to linger too long and, now, we bid adieu to summer.

No matter the season, I love to cook. I am still having such fun with all the summer vegetables. I eat two or three tomatoes a day. I am grilling zucchini and summer squash outside or sautéing them with a little butter and garlic and salt on the cooktop in the kitchen. Last night I roasted a spaghetti squash, then tossed the innards with chopped tomatoes, basil and a little butter. Today I will make a frittata with sweet peppers for a 9:30 am meeting at my house.

Next weekend I will make a little dessert with fresh peaches and almonds. The recipe below, from calls for apricots, but any stone fruit will do.

Apricot and Almond Galette

From Bon Appetit, June, 2017

Yield: 4 servings

One-half cup blanched almonds
One-third cup sugar, for more for sprinkling
1 large egg
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
One-half teaspoon almond extract (optional, but I do love almond extract)
One-half teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour (plus more for surface)
1 package frozen puff pastry, preferably all-butter, thawed
12 apricots (about 1 and one-quarter pound), halved and pitted (or other stone fruit, quartered if large)

Place a rack in middle of oven and preheat to 425 degrees. Pulse almonds and one-third of sugar in a food processor until very finely ground. Add egg and pulse to combine. Add butter, almond extract (if using), vanilla extract, salt and 1 tablespoon flour; pulse until almond cream is smooth.

Roll out pastry on a lightly floured surface just enough to smooth out any creases.

If you are using a package of pastry than as 2 sheets, stack and roll out to a one-quarter- to one-third rectangle.

If your package contains a single 16-inch to 10-inch sheet of puff pastry, halve it crosswise and roll out one half on a lightly floured surface until rectangle is one-quarter to one-third inch thick, saving remaining half for another use. Transfer to a parchment-lined (or Silpat-lined) baking sheet. Fold over edges of pastry to make a one-half inch border around sides. Prick surface all over with a fork (this keeps the pastry from rising too much when baked and helps it cook through. (Spread almond cream over pastry, staying inside borders. (Chill dough in the freezer for a few minutes if it becomes too soft to work with.) Set apricots, cut sides up, on top of the cream. Sprinkle lightly with sugar.

Bake until pastry is golden brown and puffed, 15 to 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees and continue to bake until pastry is deep golden brown and cooked through and apricots are softened and browned in spots, 15 to 20 minutes longer.

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A la Carte: When it’s Humid and Hot, Salmorejo Hits the Spot

Salmorejo

Yes, it has been humid and hot, hot, hot.

Usually at this point in late summer, I am sort of done with the beach. Last Saturday I went out to dinner with friends and to see a movie (“Wind River” is terrific. Don’t miss it.). Because we  had decided to go to see the movie in Mystic, although it is not our favorite destination cinema hall (don’t like the recliners that don’t “recline” our legs), we had wine at my condo before the movie.

Nancy mentioned that I was pretty tan and had I been at the beach that afternoon. “No,” I explained, “this was pretty much left over from my four days at the New Jersey shore. Anyway, it was too hot to go to the beach,.”

As September begins to beckon, I think about cooking. Sure, I cook during the summer, but I grill meats, vegetables and desserts on my Weber, prepping salad and eating inside. Of course, produce is gorgeous this time of year and, finally, there are tomatoes.

Last week I stopped at Becky’s in Waterford and bought tomatoes, beets and a pint of those yellow cherry tomatoes. Maybe they are called Sun Gold. In any case, I ate the full pint by the time I got off I-95.

Last night I looked over my new issue of Food & Wine, the issue about Spain. I looked up the recipes and found one for a tomato soup. It sounded divine. I had enough tomatoes to double the recipe. It should be served cold. I love cold soup, especially when the weather is still sticky and hot, so I would happily eat it for a couple of days. And the recipe uses no heat, just a blender.

Salmorejo

From Food & Wine, September, 2017

Yield: serves 4

2 and one-half pounds vine-ripened tomatoes, cored and chopped
One-half pound rustic white bread, crust removed, cubed (2 and one-half cups)
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
One-quarter cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving, if you like
Kosher salt
2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
One-half cup chopped serrano ham (prosciutto will do nicely)

In a blender, puree the chopped tomatoes with the bread, garlic, vinegar and one-half cup of water at high speed until very smooth. about 1 minute. With the blender on, drizzle in the one-quarter cup of oil until incorporated. Season with salt, Cover and refrigerate until the soup is cold, at least 30 minutes.

Divide the soup among 4 bowls. Garnish with chopped eggs and ham, then drizzle with olive oil and serve.

Make ahead: The soup can be refrigerated for up; to 2 days.

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A La Carte: You Can’t Beat Beets!

Borscht

Not everyone likes beets. This is hard for me to understand. What’s not to like with beets. My mother didn’t like vegetables. I found this later in life, when I asked my mother why we I didn’t have vegetables, canned or fresh, except for sweet corn and tomatoes in the summer and canned green beans and canned peas in the fall, winter and spring. Simple, she explained. She didn’t like vegetables.

She did, however, like borscht. It was one of five or six dishes she actually made. Even later in my life I found out that she did like borscht but that she never made it from fresh beets. Rather, she used canned beets.

I love beets and I especially love borscht. I make it often and, in my everlasting quest for fresh tomatoes (maybe by the time you read this, there will be local and fresh tomatoes), I am finding beets. Last week I went to White Gate Farm in East Lyme, a place I visit rarely because I find the prices exorbitant, figuring that if any place had tomatoes, they would. They didn’t, but I did see beautiful beets. I bought two bunches (beets are always inexpensive), and that evening I made borscht.

This is my mother’s recipe and requires three ingredients: beets, onions and lemons. To this, you add water, salt and pepper. If you want a bit of sophistication, top perhaps with fresh dill fronds. My family ate in icy cold, with a warm boiled potato and a big dollop of sour cream. I dispense with the potato and just spoon a tablespoon or two of the sour cream into the soup. It turns it a gorgeous dark pink.

Borscht

Yield: serves 6

6 good sized beets, peeled and cut into 2-inch cubes*
1 large onion, peeled and quartered
Juice of one lemon
Salt and pepper, to taste
Fronds of dill (optional)
Sour cream for serving

Place beets and onion into a good-sized soup pot, with cold water to cover.

Bring to a boil, then bring to a simmer for about 45 minutes, or until beets are soft. Add lemon to soup and allow it to cool. Using the grating or slicing tool of a food processor, process the beets and onions. Add vegetables back into the dark, red broth and warm the soup. Add salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate. To serve, pour cold soup into bowls (I love to use white bowls), stir in sour cream, add dill fronts and serve.

*I would love a few recipes for beet greens. I throw them into the disposal, but I know many think that is sacrilegious.

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A La Carte: Corn Chowder with Lobster Makes Perfect Ending to Beach Day

Corn chowder

There are beach days and there are beach days.

I am not sure there has ever been a summer that didn’t include a salt-water vacation.

As a baby, toddler and teenager, there was Belmar, N.J. I had Angrist and Kasdan cousins who lived there full-time, although the two Angrist brothers worked in New York City, one as a librarian at CCNY and the other a pathologist at Albert Einstein medical school.

Charlie’s wife, Claire Kasdan Angrist, was a teacher of French as Asbury High School. Her twin brother had a son, who became a well known movie director. Claire and her sister, Sylvia Angrist, had married brothers. Claire and Sylvia used to play Scrabble in French.

And every day the sun shone, there was the beach.

Today is July 4, 2017. And today was a beach day as glorious as any I can remember.

Today, too, were two beach stories in The Day. On the front page was a story about the Miami Beach Association fencing in Old Lyme to stop a “significant increase in the inappropriate behavior of persons using the beach.” The second story, first page of the second section, was a feature saying Groton’s Eastern Point Beach “concession stand still serving up favorites”

My beach used to be Old Lyme. You needed a beach pass and there were very few parking places, but it wasn’t fenced.

Today, my beach is the one in Groton. As a City of Groton citizen, and an old woman, too, it costs $11 for the season. The beach is gorgeous and huge. And on this gorgeous, sunny Fourth of July, as I left the beach to go home to write this column, there are dozens more parking places available and the $1.75 foot-long hot dog is as good as it ever was, as long as a gull doesn’t get to it first.

Summer doesn’t get much better than this. And just imagine, fresh tomatoes and sweet corn are still to come. I still have packets of the latter in the freezer and I bought some lobster to go with it.

Corn Chowder

Adapted a lot from an 1964 edition of Joy of Cooking

One of the best things about this recipe is there is neither butter nor heavy cream in this recipe. Sure, some salt pork for flavoring, but this is pretty healthy.

Yield: serves 6 to 8 as a main dish with a salad and maybe some good bread

2 tablespoons olive oil
6 to 8 ounces salt pork, diced
One-half cup chopped onions
One-half cup chopped celery
1 green pepper, seeded and chopped
1 and one-half cups peeled diced raw potatoes (with Yukon Gold, you needn’t peel)
2 cups water
One-half teaspoon salt
One-half teaspoon paprika
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk*
6 to 8 ears of fresh corn, blanched for 2 minutes in boiling water, then drained in iced water
Meat from claws and tail of one and one-half to two-pound cooked lobster, cut into small chunks
3 cups hot milk*
Chopped fresh tarragon, and more for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste

Pour oil into a heated, heavy-bottomed stock pot, add salt pork and sauté until browned.

Add onions, celery and green pepper and sauté until translucent.

Add potatoes, water, salt, paprika and bay leaf and simmer until potatoes are soft, around 15 minutes.

Add flour and 1 cup of milk and stir until mixture is thick.

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A la Carte: Welcome the New Year with Oyster Stew

Oyster stew

Just once were we far away from home on New Year’s Eve. It was at Key West and it was wild. We ate dinner at a restaurant. I don’t remember much of the dinner (it wasn’t the champagne, honestly, it wasn’t.) But it was the first time I’d tried creamy crème brulée. Remember, it was the early 70s, iceberg lettuce was the only lettuce in a supermarket and I’d never tasted oysters.

In the next few years, I added New York City to my geographical resumé and tasted lobster, Mexican food, Szechuan dishes and escargots. I began to write about restaurants, although still pretty green, but not that many people were “criticizing” food.

More important, I started to cook. I was the daughter of a woman who didn’t cook and I had married a man whose mother did cook but hated it. I had seen a way to nurture my husband. I loved to cook and I was fearless in the kitchen. My husband loved my food. We had to go out to eat. I was paid to go out to eat, but my real laboratory was my kitchen.

After that New Year’s Eve, and one at the “21” in Manhattan, our New Year’s Eve was at home or at friends’ home. The following day, my husband always made oyster stew for dinner. Now that I am husbandless, I still make oyster stew, but I no longer have to shuck them. Instead I go to one of the many fish markets in our area and get the shucked oysters and a pint or more of their “liquor.”

Oysters Rockefeller Stew

From “Chowder land” by Brook Dojny (Storey Publishing, N. Adams, MA, 2015)

Yield: 4 servings

4 ounces bacon, cut into one-inch pieces (about 1 cup)

2 tablespoons butter, plus more if needed

1 large leek, cleansed, thinly sliced (white and pale green parts only)

1 celery stalk, finely chopped

One-eighth teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 cups bottled clam juice of seafood broth

1 cup water

2 pints shucked oysters with its liquor, cut in half if large

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce (I would use way less)

2 cups heavy cream

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

4 ounces baby spinach, thinly sliced (about 3 cups)

1 tablespoon medium-dry sherry (never use cooking sherry)

Cook bacon in large heavy soup pot or Dutch oven over medium-low heat until crispy and fat is rendered, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove cooked bits with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towels and reserve. You should have 2 tablespoons of fat in the pot; if there is too much, pour some off; if too little, make up the difference with additional butter.

Add butter to pot and cook leek and celery over medium heat until softened but not browned, about 8 minutes. Stir in cayenne. Add clam juice and water and bring to a simmer.

Add oysters and Worcestershire and cook over low heat until edges of the oysters begin to shrink and curl at the edges, about 2 minutes. Stir in cream and season with salt and pepper to taste. If  there is not enough liquid, add a bit more water. Let sit at room temperature for at least an hour, or refrigerate overnight.

Reheat over very low heat so the stew does not curdle and stir in spinach; cook for 2 minutes, or until spinach wilts. Stir in sherry, ladle into soup bowls and sprinkle with reserved bacon.

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A la Carte: Pot Roast is Perfect Between the Holidays

A delicious pot roast simmers gently on the stove.

A delicious pot roast simmers gently on the stove.

It has been a busy holiday season, beginning at Thanksgiving. I will light my candles on my menorah beginning Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, the first time I can remember Hanukkah beginning on Christmas Eve. (In the Jewish calendar, which sometimes has an extra month, Hanukkah can arrive from November through most of December and is an eight-day holiday. I do not remember my parents giving me eight presents, one on each day, but I am not complaining in any way I was deprived. Just sayin’.)

I am not also saying that I married a Protestant just so I could have Hanukkah and Christmas, but it is fun to do both. For Christmas this year, I will spend the day with my daughter-in-law’s family in Somers, Conn. And in no way did I convince my stepson to marry a Greek girl so I could also have Easter dinner and Greek Easter dinner, too, but that is sort of fun, too.

The holidays made for a lot of leftovers, but at some point you want something that masks the kitchen smell like simple comfort. I love the idea of making a  pot roast between  Christmas and New Year’s Day. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that pot roast is terrific the day you make it and maybe even better a day or two days later. This is a really good recipe given to me from a friend some years ago.

Pot Roast

Adapted from Ralph Turri

4 to 5 pound beef roast, most fat removed (chuck roast has little fat)

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

1 packet of Knorr reduced beef stock

3 to 4 cups water

5 carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks

1 medium onion, peeled and cut into large slices

2 stalks of celery, cut into big chunks (optional)

fresh herbs wrapped in cheesecloth (optional)

salt and pepper to taste

For the gravy:

4 tablespoons flour mixed into 1 to 2 cups of water

1 teaspoon Kitchen Bouquet (optional)

one-half cup milk

8 ounces of sliced mushrooms

salt and pepper to taste

Dry roast with paper towels. Into the large, heavy-bottomed pot with a cover, heat oil and butter. On medium-to-high heat, sear the roast on all sides. Add packet of stock and water and bring to a boil. Add vegetables and bring back to a boil again. Reduce heat to simmer and cook, covered, for about 3 hours. Remove roast to a platter and keep warm..

Strain all vegetables from the pot and herbs (I dump the veggies). Place the pot with the broth on the cooktop on medium-high until it reduces by two-thirds. Whisk the flour-water mixture into the broth stir constantly until the broth becomes gravy. Add Kitchen Bouquet (if using), milk and mushrooms and cook on simmer for a few minutes. Add salt and pepper taste. Slice the roast onto the platter, add some gravy to the slices and serve gravy in a gravy bowl.

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Nibbles: Turn Turkey Leftovers Into Turkey Chilli

turkey_chilliYou may be reading this column the day before Thanksgiving. If you are serving a feast for four or eight or maybe up to 20, just peruse this column. You have enough to do without reading this, but the recipe below may help you with turkey leftovers. (There is no clear segue here, but if you are hosting and see yourself in the weeds, e-mail me (leeawhite@aol.com) and we will work you through it.)

Many people make soup with the turkey carcass, although I have never loved turkey soup. To me, the flavor is gone after the gobbler has spent hours in the oven. My stepdaughter, Molly, makes a good turkey soup by roasting the bones at a high temperature in the oven and using the bones for the broth.  But I often use the leftover turkey for casseroles, enchiladas or even pad Thai.

Or chili.

This recipe calls for a pound of raw, lean ground turkey. Using it, it is the beginning of the recipe below. On the other hand, begin this recipe with the lightly sautéed vegetables After you add the broth, beans and tomatoes, add about a pound or more shredded turkey, and simmer, as the recipe explains. This recipe belongs to a friend’s daughter who adapted the recipe from Cooking Light. I doubled the recipe so it would feed more. I also changed the beans from garbanzo beans to kidney beans primarily because, if you’re on Weight Watchers, kidney beans have half the points as garbanzo beans.

Turkey Chili

Yield: Serves 8

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 (or more) pounds of lean ground turkey

3 cups chopped sweet onion, divided

2 cups chopped green bell pepper (or other sweet peppers)

4 (or more) cloves garlic, minced

2  (or more) tablespoons chili powder

4 tablespoons tomato paste

2 teaspoons cumin

2 teaspoons dried oregano

one-half teaspoon ground cinnamon

one-quarter teaspoon ground allspice

1 cup low-sodium chicken broth

2 15-ounce cans kidney beans

28-ounce can diced tomato, undrained

5 tablespoons chopped semisweet chocolate

one-half teaspoon salt

one and one-half cups (3 ounces) shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Heat a Dutch oven (like a Le Creuset pot) over medium-high heat. Add olive oil. When moderately hot, add turkey and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring to crumble. Add 2 cups onion, bell pepper and garlic; saute about 3 minutes. Stir in chili powder and next 5 ingredients (through allspice); cook 1 minute. Add broth, beans and tomatoes; bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove chili from heat and stir in chocolate and salt. Top with remaining 1 cup of onions and cheese. Stir immediately.

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Nibbles: Savor Seasonal Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

These delicious Pumpkin Whoopie Pies won't last long!

These delicious Pumpkin Whoopie Pies won’t last long!

I am not sure when chocolate began to disappear as my drug of choice or, in truth, never was. Even as a child, when given a dime for penny candy (yes, I am that old!), I chose those Mary Janes and “watermelon” slices and those wax bottles filled with juice. On the other hand, my go-to birthday cake was chocolate layer cake, filled between layers with strawberry jam, topped with crusty white chocolate icing and drizzled with dark chocolate.

Over the years, I considered chocolate an add-on. It might want one candy from a Whitman sampler but not a whole Hershey bar. I still like sweets, but favor butterscotch pudding, blondies, carrot cake and rice pudding, the last served warm with cinnamon.

Until I went to college, I had never tasted pumpkin pie, candied sweet potatoes, vanilla-scented cookies or bread pudding. Now, when I crave dessert, it is more likely to be a slice of pineapple upside down cake or Key lime pie.

As a result, I love autumn. I have in my pantry cans of pure pumpkin and the October issues of food magazines are filled with recipes for pumpkin. Here is one I have been making for years. (If you try to buy cans of pumpkin in the spring or summer, you may be out of luck, so buy a few extra this fall if you love this recipe as much as I do.)

Pennsylvania Dutch Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

Yield: 12 to 18 “pies”

4 and one-half cups flour
1 tablespoon cream of tartar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
one-quarter teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 and one-half teaspoon ground ginger
1 and one-half teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup flavorless vegetable oil
2 and one-third cups brown sugar
1 can real pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
one-half teaspoon fresh grated lemon zest
1 and one-third cups oats (quick- or regular-cooking)
milk or buttermilk, if needed, so the batter isn’t too thick to drop onto cookie sheet

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray several cookie sheets with Pam (or use butter).

Thoroughly stir together flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger and allspice in a large bowl.

In second bowl, with a mixer, beat butter, oil and brown sugar until smooth and fluffy. Beat in pumpkin, egg, yolks, vanilla and lemon juice. Gradually beat in flour mixture, then add oats. If too thick, add some milk or buttermilk until it looks more like cookie batter.

Drop 2 and one-half tablespoons batter at a time onto the baking sheets, about 3 inches apart.* Using your index finger (dipped in water), turn cookies into circles about the same size. Place cooking sheets on the bottom third and top third of racks. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, reversing them at about half-time. Remove from oven and cool for around 3 minutes before put cookies on wire cooling racks.

For the filling: Cream 12 ounces cream cheese, 2 large egg whites, one-quarter pure vanilla extract, one-quarter teaspoon grated lemon zest. Gradually add confectioners’ sugar. Chill for about 15 minutes. To assemble, place one cookie, flat side down, on a platter, spread about 2 tablespoons of filling and top with flat-top of another cookie.

*If you would like smaller pies, use 1 tablespoon each of the batter

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A la Carte: Weeknight Red Curry

Red Thai curry

Red Thai curry

It was a nice quiet birthday, beginning with my daughter-in-law and three of my granddaughters and ending with pineapple rice with chicken at Spice Club in Niantic and a terrific movie at the Niantic Theater.

With some trepidation, I drove from home to Newbury, Massachusetts, Friday of Memorial Day weekend. The traffic began on I-95 in East Lyme to 290 in Worcester, continued on 495, then, finally, back to 95. I watched young Casey play tennis at her school. We all went to their house while Casey changed. Nancy and I had a nice glass of red wine and then drove to Flatbread in Amesbury for salad and pizza (one of the pizzas was topped with fiddleheads and golden beets). (My middle granddaughter, Laurel, drove; even one glass of wine makes me a bit tipsy.)

With no traffic on the way home, I was home in just over two hours. I watched a little television I’d DVRed and went to bed early. On my birthday, friend Sarah and I had met at the Spice Club for Thai food and then we walked to see Love and Friendship, a new film from one of Austen’s smaller books. Don’t miss it!

Today I decided to make another. I always have cans of unsweetened coconut milk in the pantry and red curry paste in the refrigerator. (I am not sure red curry paste ever has an expiration date; in any case, I have had little opened cans, covered, in the fridge for half a decade.) I went through some recipes I’d clipped once from Cooking Light. I found a package of cod in the freezer and, as always, a finger of ginger there, too. Dinner was ready in less than an hour.

Weeknight Red Curry*

Yield: 4 servings

1 large shallot (half a small onion will do)

6 garlic cloves

1 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and cut into pieces

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons red curry paste

2 teaspoons ground turmeric

1 (14.5 oz.) can canned tomatoes (I always use diced Muir Glen)

1 (13.5 oz.) can unsweetened coconut milk

1 pound mixed vegetables, cut into 1-inch pieces (frozen veggies are fine)

1 pound firm white fish, skin removed

Cooked rice noodles, cilantro leaves with stems and lime wedges (for serving)

Pulse shallot, garlic and ginger in a food processor to finely chop. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add shallot mixture and cook, stirring often, until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Add curry paste and turmeric and cook, stirring, until paste is darkening in color and mixture starts to stick to pan, about 3 minutes. Add tomatoes. Cook, stirring often and scraping up brown bits, until tomatoes start to break down and stick to pot, about 5 minutes.

Stir in coconut milk and season with salt. Simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until mixture is slightly thickened and flavor meld, 8 to 10 minutes. Add vegetables and pour in enough water to cover. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are crisp tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Season fish all over with salt and nestle into curry (add a little more water if it is very thick). Return to a simmer and cook just until fish is cooked through, about 5 minutes.

Spoon curry over rice noodles and top with cilantro and a squeeze of lime.

*I use vegetable or chicken stock instead of, or with, water for more flavor.


Nibbles: Pittsfield Rye Bread

A few weeks ago I watched a movie in New London called “Deli Man,” part of the International Film Series. I grew up with a terrific Jewish deli in Troy, New York. It, and thousands, is gone now, primarily because Jewish immigrants insisted that their children go to college and “make something of themselves.” As a result, there are few now, even in New York City, where there are more Jews than in Israel. Gone, also, is H&H and Ess-a-Bagel.

On a drive home from Massachusetts, I stopped in Worcester to get some rye bread, bulkies (hard rolls) and bagels at Widoff on Water Street. It, too, is gone. Instead, hoping against hope, I drove to the Big Y in Norwich. Happily, it (and many other Big Ys) still carry superb Pittsfield rye bread—marbled, seeded, unseeded, and dark rye (pumpernickel). I had a toasted slice with butter and placed the rest into the freezer for another day.

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A la Carte: Asparagus Soup Two Ways

AsparagusThis is the time of year I always yearn for. I think about what is available in the supermarkets (rhubarb is in!) and I will buy asparagus.

I have a few tips for you about asparagus. Buy your asparagus with tips tightly wound. It can be thin or thick (I prefer the thick ones). I cut about half an inch or an inch from the bottom with a sharp knife (I do this five or six stalks at a time). Then I peel around the stalk 2 or so inches from the top. This way, every stalk is incredibly tender.

I love roasting the asparagus in a little oil and salt. But I also love to blanch the stalks in boiling water for maybe 3-4 minutes. I serve it with a little butter and salt. Sometimes I make a hollandaise sauce, which I adore, but it may be gilding the lily (or gilding the asparagus).

I am also crazy about risotto. I would add asparagus stalks, cut on the diagonal, each about 1 inch, and add them about halfway to the point when the risotto is ready, about 10 minutes.

Here is a lovely recipe for asparagus soup from Julia Child. If you need a recipe for risotto, e-mail me at leeawhite@aol.com and I will send it to you.

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 and trimmed about 2 inches from bottom
2 quarts lightly salted boiling water
2 tablespoons flour
Salt and freshly ground white pepper (use black if you don’t have white)
1/2 cup heavy cream, crème fraiche or sour cream, optional

Cook onions and butter until tender and translucent. In the meantime, cut the tender green tips from the asparagus stalks. 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 strain 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.

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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Nibbles: Ricotta Cheese Pie

2013-04-05-springform-pan-pouringcheesecake_580

This was an odd Easter weekend for me. On Good Friday, I picked up my daughter-in-law Nancy and second-youngest granddaughter Casey in Newbury, Massachusetts, then drove up to Kennebunkport Inn.

It all began with an e-mail from the beautiful hotel in Maine. It is less expensive to spend a day or two there in the late fall, winter and early spring, but the advertisement said it would be even less so for March and April, with a special discount of 29 percent. Hmmm, it was time to visit my cousins from Portland (she a breeder of Corgis, he a retired AP reporter). Perhaps a Friday night dinner at Fore Street (one of the many in Portland) and a visit with cousins Adrienne and Jerry. So I called Nancy, and asked if it was time for a road trip. (Our last had been last year in Boston to see a Bette Midler concert and an overnight stay in a boutique hotel in walking distance from the concert.) She was game and said, since it was a school holiday for Casey, could she come too? What a treat I said. She is a high school sophomore and great company.

I called the Kennebunkport Inn, doubting there would be rooms available, but we got one big room with two double beds and a twin for Friday and Saturday. Not only that, I got a reservation for us at Fore Street on Friday night. By the way, Nancy and Casey are Greek; my cousins are Jewish, as am I; so we celebrate Greek Easter and Passover (which isn’t a Jewish Easter but a spring kind-of festival) later this spring.

In any case, I didn’t make Easter dinner for anyone and, hopefully, I will be invited to Greek Easter. Here is what I will make. It is a luscious dessert that everyone loves.

Ricotta Cheese Pie

For the filling:
2 cups ricotta cheese or cottage cheese
1 cup cream
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon

For the crust:
1 cup melted butter
1 tablespoon sugar (no sugar if using cookie crumbs)
1 cup graham cracker crumbs (or chocolate wafer cookie or vanilla wafer crumbs)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter or spray with nonstick cooking spray a 9-inch springform pan. Wrap the outside of the pan with two layers of heavy aluminum foil.

To make the crust, in a bowl combine crumbs, sugar and melted butter (this can be done in the food processor). Press crumbs evenly over bottom of pan, saving a few for the top. Refrigerate while you make the filling.

To make the cheesecake filling, in your food processor or electric mixer, mix ricotta, cream and sugar until well blended and smooth. Beat in flour and salt; then add eggs, one at a time, processing or beating until incorporated. Finally, add vanilla extract and cinnamon and process until incorporated. Pour into prepared crust and dust top with crumbs. Take care not to overmix.

Bake about 50 to 60 minutes, or until cheesecake is set, yet moves slightly when the pan is gently shaken (the edges of the cheesecake will have some browning). Remove from water bath and cool on a wire rack. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, or preferably overnight.


Nibbles: Perk on Main

A couple of weeks ago, I judged the 14th Annual Chocolate to the Rescue. For the past few years, the fundraiser benefits the Middlesex Family Shelter and, according to John Roberts, executive director, I have judged each year since its inception.

As always, the chocolate was delicious. I am not sure who won but the chocolate seems to get better and better every year. My favorite this year was from Perk on Main, primarily because it was warm crepes folded around warm chocolate, raspberries and blueberries. Even better, it is a café that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner in two different locations: 6 Main Street in Durham and 20 Church Street in Guilford. And if that were not enough, there is Perk on Wheels. Check out www.perkonmain.com.

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

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Nibbles: Enjoy Gluten-Free Apple Crisp, Try Tiano Smokehouse

Gluten-Free Apple Crisp. King Arthur Flour photo

Gluten-Free Apple Crisp. King Arthur Flour photo

I love social media, but before I tell you why I do, here is what I do not love. I never, ever have a meal, at my house, someone else’s house or in a restaurant with my cell phone next to my plate. If I forget to turn my phone off at a movie, I turn it off as soon as the note on the screen asks. If I am in a meeting and forget to turn it off and someone calls me, I turn it off without looking to see who called.

I don’t text. My friends know that. As soon as someone tells me why I should text, I listen to their reasons. No one has yet convinced me.

Here is what I love: I have met friends from high school, many decades ago, and I am thrilled we are “friends” again. I love seeing what cookbook authors, chefs and teachers are up to. I love the fact that I can order tickets, books and gift certificates for myself, my friends and my children and grandchildren.

Yesterday I bought four sets of tickets for the UConn women’s basketball games at Gampel. When the brackets were set, UConn e-mailed me the tickets. I print them.

I also love that I can “meet” friends I have never met. Seven years ago, I wrote about the fact that my husband had died. Sybil Nassau had just lost her husband and we e-mailed back and forth for years. A few weeks ago, we met at the Shoreline Diner in Guilford. She reads my columns; I e-mail her when I know about gluten-free menus, recipes and new products. She herself is gluten-intolerant (though she does not have celiac disease). I am not.

She is branch manager of GIG, Gluten-Intolerance Group. Her daughter writes the newsletter. She gave me a copy in which there are a dozen recipes. So many supermarkets have shelves and shelves of gluten-free products. Even the King Arthur catalog has pages and pages of gluten-free products (kingarthurflour.com). This recipe looks great.

Gluten-Free Apple Crisp

4 cups apples, peeled and sliced
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, divided
1 pinch nutmeg
½ cup almond flour
1/2 cup certified gluten-free old-fashioned oats
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons softened unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a pie dish with cooking spray. In a large bowl, toss together apples, sugar, water, cornstarch, 1 teaspoon cinnamon and pinch of nutmeg until well combined. Set aside.

Make the oatmeal topping*: In a bowl, gently combine almond flour, oats, brown sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon and butter until crumbly.

Place apple mixture in the dish. Sprinkle topping evenly over the apples and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until apples are cooked through, juices are bubbling and topping is browned. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

*You can quadruple or even more, then save the topping in little plastic and freeze for more crisps you might make.


Tiano Smokehouse

On a recent Sunday morning, before I had to drive to Middletown to judge chocolate at Chocolate to the Rescue, a fundraiser for Columbus House, I read a review in the New York Times. Tiano Smokehouse, a barbecue restaurant in Middletown, got a rave from Rand Richards Cooper. As Joan Gordon and I drove to Middletown, we talked about stopping at Tiano to get some ‘cue. (Joan is the only friend I have who would, for sure, go to a restaurant right after we judge chocolate.)

What a find this place is. We took lots of food for takeout. I ordered a pulled pork dinner—half a pound of pork so perfect that I never added barbecue sauce on it, creamy mac and cheese (they also have one they called macaroni Alfredo), creamed spinach and a luscious piece of cornbread. I figured I would eat half that night and the rest the following night. Ate it all in one sitting.

Tiano Smokehouse, 482 South Main Street, Middletown, 860-358-9828

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: Chicken Salad from Poached Chicken Tenders

chicken salad photo 2

In early February, the members of Groton’s Board of Education met for its retreat. Since I am a new member, I was truly excited to sit with my fellow members along with the superintendent and assistant superintendent. I didn’t actually realize that many of us are new members, since some are two-year members and some four-year members. Each is elected and, in many cases (including mine), the roles changed from Democrats to Republicans.

I thought there might be some partisan bickering (see Trump and all the Republican skirmishes and Clinton-Sanders disagreements), but in Groton it was non-partisan before the election and after. I liked the concept of a retreat, off the record and into a new venue, this year at the Submarine Museum. For four hours we newbies asked questions for which the superintendents and the veteran members had answers.

Best of all was the food. I agreed to make the desserts, which everybody enjoyed. (Restaurant owners know that if the meal is mediocre, delicious desserts can save the day.) But Andrea Ackerman, former Groton teacher and principal, handled the savories. I think it is fun to make pastries and sweet stuff, but when I smell cabbages and quiches, I begin to salivate. I especially like standby dishes that include twists and turns that I never thought would work.

Andrea’s chicken salad was my favorite. For me, chicken salad (and I do love chicken salad) is always the last thing I make with the roasted chicken that goes from Sunday dinner, to a chicken and gravy sandwich, to an omelet with vegetables and chicken, and, three days later, chicken salad. For Andrea, it is the first meal, which begins with poached chicken tenders. And she says it is even better the next day.

Chicken Salad
From Andrea Ackerman, Ed.D., Noank resident and assistant chair of the Groton School Board

As with most savory dishes, this is approximately how Andrea makes it. If you like more of one thing or less of another, taste as you go.

Yield: serves 2 (for dinner) or 4 (for lunch)

1 pound chicken tenders
Sprinkle with garlic salt, steam and let cool. Cut into ½-inch cubes.

Dressing:
1 cup mayonnaise (she likes Cain’s but I’m sure Hellman’s would be fine)
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
Garlic salt/garlic powder/pepper
1 full teaspoon celery seed

Mix:
Cubed chicken
1 small onion, diced
1 or 2 celery stalks, diced
¼ cup dried cranberries (or Craisins)
¼ cup chopped pecans
¼ cup chopped walnuts
Season to taste with garlic salt/garlic powder/pepper

Fold in dressing. Add more mayonnaise if it seems dry.

Again, these measurements are good guesses, and everything tastes better the next day.


Nibbles: New (to me) Restaurants

I don’t write restaurant reviews anymore. Mostly I cook, write about cooking and eat my own food. I do go out to eat, but often only to restaurants I love. But in a one-week span, I ate at two new restaurants and one I reviewed almost 25 years ago.

The nearly-three-decades-old restaurant is the Willimantic Brewing Company in Willimantic. It is bigger, as is the menu. We shared barbecued pork sliders and chicken pesto sliders. Both were luscious.

At a new place in Norwich, These Guys, I had a superb Caesar salad, a roast vegetable grilled cheese sandwich and, instead of fries, I had a side of Brussels sprouts. All terrific.

At Smokash, in Uncasville, I had pierogis, kielbasa and sauerkraut. Two days later I ordered it again and took it to a Polish friend who was in the hospital.

Restaurants are alive and well, even north and west of the shoreline.

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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Nibbles: Curried Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie – Terrific Winter Comfort Food

Curried vegetarian shepherd's pie

Curried vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie

I bought a 10-pound bag of russet potatoes, planning to make scalloped potatoes for Super Bowl Sunday. Then I didn’t. I looked at the amount of food I made, which included pink beans (because I love pink beans), kidney beans and black beans for chili; lots of tortilla chips for guacamole; cheeseburger pie; and Velveeta and Rotel tomatoes; plus a pie for dessert. We didn’t need any more starch.

But I still have all those potatoes and I want to make mashed potato bread, so I looked for a recipe I could use up at least some of it. In the new Food Network magazine, I spied recipes for Shepherd’s Pie. One called for just veggies. I made it. It is terrific.

As with winter comfort food, I would add more carrots, maybe more mushrooms, maybe more peas. I find turnips a bit sweet (although I’m not sure many other people find that to be true). I like curry so I might add more. I might use some winter squash …

Curried Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie
From Food Network magazine, March 2016

Yield: serves 6

2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and quartered
Kosher salt
2 bay leaves
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 carrots, chopped
1 small rutabaga, peeled and chopped
1 medium turnip, peeled and chopped
2 leeks (white and light green parts only), sliced one-inch thick, rinsed well
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 ounces button mushrooms, quartered
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground coriander
¼ cup freshly ground nutmeg
1 ½ cups half-and-half
1 cup frozen peas
Grated zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons curry powder

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put potatoes in a large saucepan, cover with cold water and season with salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer until tender, 20 to 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, fill a separate large saucepan with 6 cups water; add bay leaves, thyme sprigs and 2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil. Add carrots, rutabaga, turnip and leeks; reduce heat to medium low and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Reserve 1 1/2 cups cooking liquid, then drain the vegetables. Discard bay leaves and thyme. Pat vegetables dry; set aside.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add mushrooms; cook until they release their liquid, 3 minutes. Increase the heat to medium; cook until liquid is evaporated, 2 to 3 minutes. Sprinkle with the flour, coriander and nutmeg; cook, stirring, 1 minute. Whisk in the reserved vegetable liquid and ¾ cup half-and-half. Bring to a simmer; cook until thickened, 3 minutes. Stir in the carrots mixture, peas and lemon zest and juice. Return to a simmer, then remove from the heat. Season with salt and stir in the parsley.

Drain the potatoes and let cool slightly Return to the pot and add the curry powder and the remaining 4 tablespoons butter and ¾ cup half-and-half. Season with three-quarters salt and mash well.

Spread mushroom mixture in a 3-quart baking dish. Dollop the mashed potatoes on top; spread with back of a spoon. Bake until bubbling around the edges and the topping browned in spots, about 20 minutes. Let rest before serving.

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