October 19, 2021

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

Lee White

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

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

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

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

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

Curry Vegetables
Adapted from Bon Appetit, September 2021

Photo by Roam In Color on Unsplash.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lee White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Divide among plates and drizzle with more oil, if you like.

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

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

Lee White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Garlic Bread

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

1 large baguette, sliced through horizontally

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

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

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

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

Lee White

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

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

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

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

Creamy Corn and Clam Chowder with Crispy Chorizo

Photo by Kevin Lanceplaine on Unsplash.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A la Carte-2: Eggplant Parm Panini

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

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

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

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

Eggplant Parm Panini

Photo by Huzeyfe Turan on Unsplash.

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

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

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

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

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

*Nibbles:  Sea Well Seafood Mystic Scallops and Bacon Chowder

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

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

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

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

A la Carte: Too Many Tomatoes? Lee Has All Sorts of Solutions for You

Lee White

A couple of weeks ago I went to a small party at Washington Park in Groton. It was held outside in one of a half dozen “cabins,” each of which have concrete floors, a few dark-stained columns, good sturdy roofs and wooden picnic tables with attached  “chairs.”

It was a very casual party, with pizza, already-barbecued chicken wings and coolers of beer, wine, soft drinks and water. Good thing for all of those things, because the humidity was high and the temperature, at 4 p.m. on a Saturday, was spiking in the 90s. 

I had a lovely conversation with Joyce Hedrick, wife of the mayor of Groton City. Even though Groton has fewer than 45,000  inhabitants, unlike Gaul (which, as we learned in Latin II, is in three parts), Groton has five parts: City of Groton, Town of Groton, Noank, Groton Long Point and half of Mystic.

Anyway, Joyce and Keith have a vegetable garden. Keith just canned pouches of green beans that week, but Joyce was going to begin making marinara sauce.

She wondered if it could be frozen, avoiding the steamy job of canning. I said I roast, then freeze tomatoes in late summer, which I thaw for stews, braises and sauces.

As for worry about botulism, tomatoes are so acidic that they can be frozen raw or cooked, whether sliced, chopped or pureed. Of course, the tomatoes can be made into a marinara (chopped and cooked with garlic, onions and seasoning), although I would wait to add fresh basil before serving. 

I often buy half a bushel of Roma tomatoes. In a couple of large sheet pans covered with parchment paper, I cut the tomatoes end to end and place them cut side up on the pans, sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle them  with extra-virgin olive oil. If you roast them in a 250 degree oven for two or three hours, then you can pack them in plastic bags and freeze them.

But I found this recipe that might be even better. I might double or triple the recipe and freeze it.

Roasted Tomato Sauce

Photo by Kiriakos Verros on Unsplash.

From The Four Season of Pasta, by Nancy Harmon Jenkins and Sara Jenkins (Penguin, New York, 2015)

Yield: 2 to 3 cups sauce, enough for 4 to 6 servings

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium red onions, sliced not too thin
2 garlic cloves, crushed and coarsely chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon Greek or Sicilian oregano (optional)
About 2 pounds ripe-as-you-can-get tomatoes

Set oven at 400 degrees.

Spread 2 tablespoons oil over bottom of roasting dish into which tomatoes will fit.

Combine onion and garlic on the dish. Add salt and pepper to taste and oregano if using. Stir vigorously to mix everything together; spread ingredients out to make a layer across the bottom of the dish.

Cut tomatoes in half. Core the stem ends. Sat halves cut side down, on top of the onion garlic layer. Dribble remaining 6 tablespoons oil over the tops (you may not need all the oil).

Bake 45 minutes to an hour. At the end of that time, remove pan and let tomatoes cool down. Pull off the skins and discard. Combine all roasted ingredients and, if you wish, chop or puree with an immersion blender. Or leave as is—the rustic look can also be lovely.

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: Chicken Tikka Masala Makes a Perfect Meal With Friends

Lee White

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

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

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

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

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

Below is chicken tikka masala. It was beyond delicious.

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

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

Chicken Tikka Masala
Adapted slightly from a recipe from Marla Kosinski

Yield: enough for 4 to 6 people

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

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

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

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

A la Carte: Stone Fruit Caramel Delights the Palate in Both Summer, Winter

Lee White

I have in my Kindle at least four sample books waiting for me to read. No matter the weather, I probably read four to five hours a day.

But at night, in bed, I read recipes.

When I find ingredients that sound really good, I tear out the page and, within a day or two, buy the ingredients and make the food.  If I like the recipe, I want you to have that recipe, so I cobble up a few sentences, write the recipe and hope you like try it, too.

I love the recipe below.

I had made this with peaches. I peel them (a quick dunk in boiling water, peel and remove the pit). It is harder to pit the cherries, but a cheap cherry pitter makes it a lot easier.

I think the recipe would freeze well. Imagine having tapioca or rice pudding, some ice cream and/or a slice of toasted pound cake topped with fruit caramel months after that fruit was picked.

The very thought makes winter seem bearable.

Stone Fruit Caramel
From Bon Appetit, June/July 2021

12 ounces ripe stone fruit (plums, peaches, nectarines, sour or sweet cherries, apricots), pitted
2 to 3 tablespoons vinegar (unseasoned rice vinegar, apple cider, sherry, Champagne or red wine)
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
½ teaspoon pure vanilla paste or vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon pure almond extract (optional, but I love almond anything with fruit)
¼ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more (I always use fine sea salt)

Coarsely chop half the fruit and place in blender along with any juices that have accumulated on cutting board. Chop remaining into ½-1” pieces (no need to chop if using cherries); set aside.

Add 2 tablespoons vinegar to fruit in blender. Puree until mostly smooth. Taste and add up to 1 tablespoons vinegar to brighten, if needed. You should have ½ cup, depending on the juiciness of your fruit.

Pour sugar in an even layer in a medium heavy saucepan, set over medium heat and cook, undisturbed until most of the sugar is melted. Stir gently until all is melted.

Continue to cook, without serving, until caramel is amber in color, 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and immediately pour fruit puree, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula. Don’t be alarmed if the mixture seizes. Set back over medium heat, cook, stirring, until smooth, about 2 minutes.

Add reserved chopped fruit, increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring, until caramel is budding and thickened slightly and fruit is warmed through, 2 to 5 minutes, depending on the fruit.

Remove heat and stir in butter, vanilla bean paste or pure vanilla extract, almond extract (if using) and salt. Taste and season with more salt if needed.

Let cool slightly before serving. 

To do ahead: Fruit caramel can be made three weeks ahead. Let cool. Transfer to an airtight container; cover and chill.

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

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

Lee White

The recipe below is, I think, almost perfect.

Ruby chips.

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

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

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

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

A New Tea Cake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lee White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A la Carte: Pasta with Peaches … and Tomatoes? Try It, You’ll Love It!

Lee White

I don’t know about you, but I bought my CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) last December, 2021. 

Remember December, 2021?

Joe Biden had been elected in early November. We knew that two COVID vaccines were being tested, but no one had them yet.

I had not been inside a restaurant in almost a year and I was 1) tired of my own food, and yet 2) couldn’t really afford much good take-out. I also felt then, and still do, that restaurant food should be consumed in the restaurant where it had been cooked by chefs (or even just cooks) and served to us when it is meant to be tasted and savored. 

In any case, I had written a check for my CSA in December, for Stone Acres Farm in Stonington. I paid it early, since the concept is that the farmers can buy their seeds or plants with that money and then live frugally through the hard winter months in the knowledge that — once the seeds have turned into food we can buy — they can pay their own bills during the summers and falls.

My CSA began June 22 and each week I get to visit their farm stand and pick up $30 of beautiful, fresh vegetables and herbs and I will be one happy camper until late September.

I am itchy, however, for the produce I may not get — including my favorite, tomatoes — until late July.

But southern-grown peaches are available now in supermarkets, and so are cherry and grape tomatoes. I never thought about peaches and tomatoes together, but here is a recipe I can use right now. And feel free to add sliced chicken, steak or shrimp atop the salad.

Peach and Tomato Pasta

From Fine Cooking, June/July 2021, page 54

12 ounces spaghetti or linguine
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pint grape tomatoes
2 pounds peaches (about 6), pitted and sliced or coarsely chopped
½ cup pitted Kalamata olives, halved (I would use regular green olives)
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼  to  ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
Chopped toasted almonds (optional)

Cook the spaghetti according to package directions, reserving ¼ cup pasta water. Drain spaghetti, return to pot and keep warm.

Meanwhile, in a 12-inch skillet, cook the garlic in hot oil over medium-heat, 1 minute. Add tomatoes and cook, uncovered, 2 minutes.

Add peaches and cook until just soft, stirring occasionally, 4 to 5 minutes.

Stir in olives, basil, ¼ teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon black pepper and the red crushed pepper and heat through.

Add peach mixture to the cooked spaghetti along with the reserved pasta water and toss to combine.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Sprinkle with almonds, if using.

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: These Chicken Lettuce Wraps (After PF Chang’s) Make Perennially Popular Hors D’Oeuvres

Lee White

I can’t remember a more beautiful couple of weeks in May.

Years ago my husband and I would charter a sailboat in the Caribbean for a week in the winter. The mornings were cool in the morning, warm and cloudless in the afternoons and out of nowhere a cloudburst would appear for just 15 minutes. After that it was clear and sunny for a few hours and cooled down bedtime.

This past weekend’s weather was similar but even better since I was able to spend time with 30 friends I had not seen in almost two years, as we began our boules summer that didn’t happen in 2020.

(Boules, by the way, is sort of like bocce, but the balls are smaller-than-bocce balls, stainless steel and must be played on a gravel or dirt court, since the tiny wooden ball we tried to hit would be invisible on a grass lawn.) 

The first 2021 party was in Old Lyme, and the food was outrageously good—beginning with escargots in a ramekin lidded by a thin cracker that shattered, almost like the top of the burned sugar on top of crème brulée.

Dinner was lamb chops, two kinds of meatballs, couscous and ratatouille, then a cheese course and salad and a flan, or crème caramel, which made us moan.

Could most of us ever make a feast like this for 40 people? I sure could not.

But one of our hors d’oeuvre, which we ate as we played, we could.

Our host, Tim Boyd, said he got the recipe online from PF Chang’s restaurant. And the dessert was a flan made by Stacie Boyd — she says she will give me the recipe soon. I will send it to you next week.


PF Chang’s Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Yield: serves 4 (at least three for each; I might triple the recipe)

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound ground chicken
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, diced small
¼ cup hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
1 tablespoon Sriracha (optional, but it should be in everyone’s pantry)
1 8-ounce can whole water chestnuts, drained and diced
2 green onions, thinly sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 head of butter lettuce (romaine would be fine)

Heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add ground chicken and cook until browned, 3 to 5 minutes, making sure to crumble the chicken as it cooks; drain excess fat.

Stir in garlic, onions, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, ginger and Sriracha until onions have become translucent, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Stir in chestnuts and green onions until tender, 1 to 2 minutes; season with salt and pepper, to taste.

To serve, spoon large tablespoon of chicken mixture into center of lettuce leaf, taco-style.

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: Linguini with Rhubarb and Parmesan is a Perfect Combo, Who Knew?

Lee White

I am wild about rhubarb. 

I had wonderful friends who had an enormous rhubarb patch. When they were younger, they would bring arms full of the ruby and green fruit to me so I could make strawberry-rhubarb pies and puddings. (Yes, I know, rhubarb is a vegetable, just as tomatoes are a fruit, but we are free to call them whatever we like!)

They also showed me how to “stew” rhubarb and use it as a sauce with pork chops, chicken and fish. As they got older, and, although they continued to drive, had a problem getting up the driveway and into our somewhat steep steps into the house, I would come to their house and cut the rhubarb myself, then spend hours talking them in their cozy kitchen.

They are gone now. I no longer live in the same town and have no idea who bought their house. I could probably find out who did, and maybe drop over and ask if they might let me cut a few stalks.

No, this is New England; one doesn’t drop in on strangers.

A couple of years ago, because the season for rhubarb isn’t long, I started freezing rhubarb, fresh and stewed. I sweeten it a bit and serve it as a savory adjunct and with strawberries for dessert.

But in this new issue of Fine Cooking, there are some new ways to use rhubarb, including with pasta. I suggest you pick up a copy of this April/May issue, but this is one recipe I found absolutely delicious.

Linguini with Rhubarb and Parmesan
From Fine Cooking, April/May, 2021. “Spring Fling”

Yield: serves 6

12 ounces dried linguini
3 cups ¼-inch-thick slices fresh rhubarb
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/3 cup very good extra-virgin olive oil
6 ounces freshly grated parmesan cheese, about 1 ½ cups), more for garnish
1 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Photo by Heather Barnes on Unsplash.

Bring a large pot of well salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to package directions until al dente. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water before draining.

Place rhubarb in colander, and drain the pasta over it. Wipe the pot dry.

In the same pot, cook the garlic in hot oil over medium heat for 30 seconds or until lightly golden. Add pasta mixture. Remove from the heat.

Add the 6 ounces cheese and pasta water. Toss to coat. Return to medium heat.

Cook and stir until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add parsley and pepper. Toss to combine. Garnish with additional parmigiana and serve immediately.

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

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: Savor a Hint of Hungarian with Chicken Paprikash

Lee White

Last Saturday night, for the first time since March of 2020, I had dinner inside a  restaurant. My stepdaughter, who is bicoastal (spends two weeks in Boston and the other two at her home in San Francisco), drove down and we had dinner at the Water Street Café.

My friend Amy is chef-ing there while owner/chef Walter Houlihan rehabs from a broken leg, and Walter’s wife, Stephanie, is hostess-ing. Mike, one of my favorite waiters in the whole world, took care of the two of us. I teared up to see them again. 

I have lots of friends, who will not eat inside a restaurant yet, and maybe never will. But I myself feel safe enough and want so much to help my restaurant owners and waitstaff friends. I am not sure any organization has suffered as financially during the pandemic.

For the next few weeks, though, it is back to cooking in my own kitchen. I looked through my pantry and freezer and remembered that my husband used to make chicken paprikash. I looked for his recipe among my columns but, alas, I’d never written about it.

I went onto the internet and found a recipe that looked just like his. While this one is for the slow-cooker, he used to make it in a big Le Creuset lidded pot. If you make it in the InstantPot, use the “sauté” button to sauté the chicken, onions and spices; add the broth and pressure cook it for about 20 minutes. Reduce the liquid at the end on “sauté.” 

Slow-Cooker Creamy Chicken Paprikash

Adapted from Tablespoon.com
Yield: 4 to 6 servings

4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
4 chicken drumsticks
4 chicken breasts
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoon olive oil
2 medium onions, halved and cut into 1/4-inch slices
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons sweet paprika
¼ teaspoon ground red pepper (cayenne) or 1 habanero chile, seeded
1 ½ cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons water
1 cup sour cream

Spray large slow cooker with cooking spray.

Season chicken with ½ teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper; in 12-inch skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Place chicken skin-side down in skillet. Cook 8 to 10 minutes, turning once, until brown on both sides. Transfer chicken to slow cooker.

In the skillet on medium heat, add onions and cook about 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Add garlic, paprika, red pepper and rest of the salt and pepper; continue to cook and stir for about 1 minute. Transfer to slow cooker. Add chicken broth to skillet, scraping any brown bits on bottom of skillet. Transfer to slow cooker. Cover; cook on low 5 to 6 hours or until juice of chicken is clear when thickest part is cut to the bone (at least 165 degrees). Transfer chicken to serving platter and keep warm. Increase slow cooker to high.

In a small bowl, beat cornstarch and water with whisk until smooth. Beat into cooking liquid in slow cooker. Cover; cook about 15 minutes or until sauce is thickened. Beat sour cream into cooking liquid with whisk. Cover; cook about 5 minutes, until hot.

Serve chicken and sauce over buttered noodles.

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.