March 8, 2021

A la Carte: Apples for the Asking

Photo by Pierpaolo Riondato on Unsplash.

This was another fun food week.

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

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

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

So this week was nice.

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

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

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

Here they are.

Apple Sauce

From Sue O’Farrell

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

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

Baked Apples

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

Yield: 4 servings

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

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

Lee White

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

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

Lee White

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

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

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

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

I think you will love this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lee White

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

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

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

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

Sweet potato pie. Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lee White

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

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

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

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

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

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

Puerto Rican-Style Shepherd’s Pie

 

From Yankee magazine, January/February 2021

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lee White

The pandemic has certainly made my days and weeks disappear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roast Pork Dinner … and Leftovers (for another day)

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

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

Preheat oven at 350 degrees.

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

Lee White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Isabella on Unsplash.

Savory Muffins

Slightly adapted from Relish magazine
Yield: 12 muffins

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

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

Mix together egg, milk and canola oil. 

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

Add the egg mixture and fold into the dried ingredients. 

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

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

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

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

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

Lee White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lee White

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

I really do believe this.

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Maša Žekš on Unsplash.

Jean Howard’s Apricot Pie

Adapted with love from me and Nick Malgieri

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

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

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

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

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

*Seems like everyone is using a prepared dough these days, but if you would like my recipe, which my late friend, Deb Jensen, gave me, write me at leeawhite@aol.com.

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

A la Carte: Happy Hanukkah! Enjoy Latkes with Lee

Lee White

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

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

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

Now the rest of the holidays are almost here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Latkes

Yield: serves 8 to 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lee White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So make this soup.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lee White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transfer pans to wire racks; cook for 10 minutes.

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

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

A la Carte: How to Bake an Election Cake!

Lee White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Decorate your Election Cake red or blue … or both!

Million Dollar Pound Cake
From Southern Living magazine

Yield: serves 10 to 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 

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. 

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.