August 2, 2021

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

Lee White

The recipe below is, I think, almost perfect.

Ruby chips.

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

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

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

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

A New Tea Cake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lee White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lee White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yield: serves 4

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

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

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

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

A la Carte: A New Twist on an Old Favorite with an Unexpected History

Lee White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A la Carte: Cowboy Beans … a Sure-Fire Favorite

Lee White

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

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

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

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

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

The kitchen was redolent with all the right smells.

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

The bread pudding was wonderful.

There had been plenty of beer and wine. 

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

Cowboy Beans

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

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

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

Add garlic; cook 2 minutes, stirring.

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

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

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

Stir in mustard. Season with salt and pepper.

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

A la Carte: A Special Soup for Summer … Asparagus, of Course!

Lee White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cream of Asparagus Soup

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

Yield: about 2 quarts

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

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

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

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

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

You can serve this soup hot or cold.

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

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

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

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

Lee White

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

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

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

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

Creamy Cauliflower Rice with Shrimp

From Real Simple, May, 2021, page 125

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A la Carte: Pasta, Pesto … and Chicken!

Lee White

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sautéed, Boneless, Skinless Chicken Cutlets with Pan Sauce

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

Yield: Serves 4

Photo by MadMax Chef on Unsplash.

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

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

Pan Sauce Possibilities

How to Make a Pan Sauce

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

Red Wine-Dijon Pan Sauce

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

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

Marsala Wine Pan Sauce

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

Follow instruction for making a pan sauce above

Balsamic Vinegar Pan Sauce

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

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

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

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

Lee White

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

But to me it is spring.

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

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

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

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

Spring Green Spaghetti Carbonara


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lee White

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

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

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

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

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

Here is this new recipe:

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

Yield: Serves 8 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lee White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smart Spice Veggie Soup

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

Yield: serves 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

A la Carte: Crepes Cake is Beyond Delicious

Lee White

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

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

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

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

But am I that bored? Yup.

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

The boats are, too. 

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

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

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

Grand Marnier Crepe Cake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lee White

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

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

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

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

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

Hope we do this more often.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe I will take her a bottle of Grand Marnier!

Red Velvet Cake*

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red Velvet Cake Icing

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

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

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

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

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

Lee White

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

A la Carte: Apples for the Asking

Photo by Pierpaolo Riondato on Unsplash.

This was another fun food week.

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

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

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

So this week was nice.

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

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

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

Here they are.

Apple Sauce

From Sue O’Farrell

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

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

Baked Apples

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

Yield: 4 servings

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

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

Lee White

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

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.