November 24, 2020

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

Lee White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So make this soup.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lee White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transfer pans to wire racks; cook for 10 minutes.

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

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

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A la Carte: How to Bake an Election Cake!

Lee White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Decorate your Election Cake red or blue … or both!

Million Dollar Pound Cake
From Southern Living magazine

Yield: serves 10 to 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A la Carte: Mushrooms by the Million? Soup is the Solution!

Lee White

This weekend, friends from Lyme offered a pound of freshly picked shiitake mushrooms for eight dollars a pound. I asked if I could get two.

So this is a very short paragraph … I am going to give you two mushroom soup recipes, both of which are incredible. You can use shiitake mushrooms (whose woody stems should be discarded), cremini, or other varieties.

One is easy; one takes a little longer. With the easy one, once cool. puree it, if you like. You may double both recipes and they freezes beautifully.

Mushroom soup is always delicious. Photo by Dose Juice on Unsplash

Easy Mushroom Soup

Yield: 6 Servings

2 tablespoons butter
½ pound sliced mushrooms
¼ chopped onions
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ freshly ground black pepper
2 cans low-salt chicken broth
1 cup half-and-half cream

Cook on medium-heat mushrooms and onions until tender, about 10 minutes.

In a small bowl, mix flour, salt, pepper and 1 can broth; stir until smooth and add to the mushroom mixture. Stir into until smooth. Add the other can of broth and bring to a boil. Cook until thick, 2 minutes. Reduce heat, add cream and stir until flavors are blended, 15 minutes.

Potage Crème de Champignons

From Charles Virion’s French Country Cookbook (Hawthorn Books Inc., New York, 1972)

Yield: serves 8

5 cups canned chicken consommé or stock
1 small bay leaf
4 sprigs fresh parsley
1 sprig thyme
1 ½ cup fresh mushrooms
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 small onions, chopped fine
3 tablespoons flour
3 egg yolks*
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon Madeira wine (optional)
1 tablespoon chopped parsley (for garnish)

Simmer stock with bay leaf, parsley and thyme for 10 minutes. Remove herbs. Set aside.

Slice mushrooms (I buy them sliced and they are already cleaned). Saute mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of butter until mushroom liquid evaporate. Do not scorch the mushrooms or the taste will be bitter. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Clean skillet with a paper towel; over medium high heat, saute the onions in the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter.

When onions are tender and transparent, add flour and stir constantly s that the butter is well blender with the flour.

Cook mixture slowly for 3 or 4 minutes, then start adding the stock, a little at a time, until you have a smooth white sauce. Add mushrooms and cool (I keep a few mushrooms aside to garnish the soup.) If you think the mixture is too thick, add a little bit more of the stock.

After the mixture is cooled enough, put the entire mixture through the blender until smooth. (Only pour enough of the mixture into the blender until is it one-half full; if necessary, do this in batches.)

Beat together the cream and the egg yolks. When soup is ready to be served, reheat it gently. When very hot, but not boiling, add the egg yolk-cream mixture, stirring until well blended. Season with salt and pepper. 

You can now add the optional Madeira, if you wish. Pour soup into bowls and garnish with parsley and reserved mushrooms.

*I mixed the cream with the whole eggs, forgetting to use only the egg yolks. It didn’t seem to make a difference.

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

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

Lee White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meatballs

Adapted from Emma Christensen, Kitchn, August 20, 2020

Yield: makes around 40 1-inch meatballs

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

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

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

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

Perfect Marinara Sauce

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

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

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

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

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A la Carte: Hold on to Summer, Make Your Own Luscious Ice Cream, Sorbets

Lee White

Last week I missed getting the last peaches available at Whittle’s. This made me sad because, even though it is late September, I guess I am not ready for fall.

In any case, I did find delicious peaches at Big Y and made two crisps (like cobblers but made with nuts, oat, butter, flour and sugar). Of course, I gave the desserts away because, once I have a portion at home, the rest of it disappears … into my tummy.

Instead of making a dessert for myself, I ate two Lindy’s ices, which I keep in my kitchen freezer. The ones I have now are orange and taste like a popsicle, At 110 calories, they keep my cravings at bay.

But I realized I can make my own ices, sorbet and ice cream and used to do so. My late husband loved to have an ice cream sundae after dinner—any flavor, chocolate syrup, whipped cream and a shower of salted peanuts.

I am not likely to make ice cream too often, but if you want to make ice cream, I have included a wicked recipe from Al Forno, too.

I will, however, make sorbet and ices soon. I just ordered an inexpensive ice cream maker from Amazon and it may be here this week. Both these recipes are splendid.

Berry Sorbet

(From Jack Bishop: Secrets of Creamy Fruit Sorbets, “Cook’s Illustrated,” August, 1995, pp. 24-25)

If you do not want to add the vodka, the sorbet will be a bit icy, like a granita,

2 cups fruit puree or juice
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice (for blueberry sorbet, use two tablespoons of lemon juice)
1 tablespoon vodka 

Combine all ingredients in large bowl. Stir on and off for several minutes until sugar has dissolved. If mixture is not cold, pour into small container, seal and refrigerate until mixture is no more than 40 degrees. Pour chilled mixture into container of ice cream machine (following manufacturer’s directions) and churn until frozen. Scoop frozen sorbet into a container, seal, and freeze for at least several hours. (Sorbet can be kept frozen for up to three days.)

Buttermilk Sorbet

(From Martha Stewart Living, February 2000, page 193)

Yield: 1 1/2 quarts

This is one of the most luscious sorbets I have ever tasted.

1 3/4 cups sugar
2 cups water
2 cups buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Combine sugar in a medium saucepan with 2 cups water. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves completely, about 10 minutes. Increase heat, and bring just to a boil. Remove from heat and let cool.

In a large bowl, combine sugar syrup with buttermilk and vanilla. Transfer mixture to an ice cream maker and follow manufacturer’s instructions to freeze. When freezing is complete, transfer sorbet to an airtight container and place in freezer for at least 1 hour. Sorbet will keep, frozen, for up to 2 weeks.

Photo by Malicki M. Beser on Unsplash.

Al Forno’s Cinnamon Ice Cream

from Cucina Simpatica by George Germon and Johanne Killeen (HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 1991)

2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
2/3 cup sugar
4 cinnamon sticks
8 espresso or French-roast coffee beans

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Scald over medium-high heat, stirring often, until sugar dissolves. Set aside, uncovered, for 1 hour to steep.

Strain, chill, and freeze in an ice-cream maker according to the manufacturers’ instructions.

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

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Nibbles: Gotta Love ‘The Apple Lover’s Cookbook’!

As I drive around our beautiful shoreline, I think about what is inland rather than the seashore. Apples will be everywhere, along with cider and cider donuts.

I opened Yankee magazine last week and saw that Amy Traverso, Yankee’s senior food editor, has written a new edition of The Apple Lover’s Cookbook, replete with more sweet and savory recipes, more festival venues and new kinds of apples.

In Yankee, there are recipes for cardamom-apple soufflé pancakes, apple-cranberry slab pie with cranberry drizzle, apple-plum cobbler and sausage, apple and squash sheet-pan supper with fragrant herb oil.

I may not get the new one, published early this month, but my daughter’s birthday is in late September and she deserves this cookbook.

So do you.

Editor’s Note: ‘The Apple Lover’s Cookbook’ by Amy Traverso was published Sept. 1, 2020 by W.W. Norton and Company.

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A la Carte: Need a Quick, No-Cook, Hearty Salad? Tuna Panzanella is the Answer!

Lee White

My eating patterns have changed over the past six months. It began with the shelter-in-place pandemic, during which I looked at my freezers and pantry (the latter is half my hall closet in the condo), and began using many of the shelf-stable groceries of which I had double and triple amounts.)

But once the summer harvest became available, I began allowing my meals to be vegetable- and fruit-centric. I often had a late breakfast, with eggs in the mix along with lots and lots of greens, sweet corn, tomatoes (of course) and sweet peppers.

I would skip lunch, but around three or four in the afternoon, my thoughts went to dinner. If I had something thawed, perhaps a pork or lamb chop, a steak, a burger, I would add a carb (or two or three) and more vegetables. Sometimes my dinner was at 5, because I was pretty darned hungry.

I am usually in bed by 9:30 and read until 11 or later. By that time I am hungry again, but not enough get out of bed and forage downstairs in the kitchen.

We all know not to grocery shop hungry, but it was never a problem for me to read my food magazines at night in bed. But, again, my eating patterns have changed.

A couple of nights ago, I read my new Fine Cooking magazine, one of my favorites. By the time I was done reading that, and turning to a new novel my friend, Mary van Dorster, gave me, I realized I’d dog-eared 17 pages of recipes, not including the entire articles on making ice cream that do not require an ice cream maker or all the fantastic cocktails.

What one would I give you first? Obviously, it should be something that I had not made once this summer and for which I had all the ingredients.

No, I didn’t go to the kitchen at 11 pm, but I made it the next day for dinner.

Tuna Panzanella

From Fine Cooking, August/September 2020

½ cup thinly sliced red onion
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Kosher or sea salt
2 pounds mixed tomatoes, cut into ½ inch wedges, or cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
3 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
4 half-inch-thick slices rustic sourdough or country bread, toasted or grilled and cooled
1 large clove garlic, cut in half lengthwise, peeled
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 English or 2 to 3 Persian cucumbers, thinly sliced
Freshly ground black pepper
1 ¼ cups loosely packed basil, large leaves torn
2 (two) 7- to 8-ounce jars or cans good-quality tuna in olive oil, drained, oil reserved

In a small bowl, toss together onions, vinegar and ¼ teaspoon salt. In a large bowl, toss together tomatoes, capers and ¼ teaspoon salt. Set aside.

Meanwhile, rub the toast slices on both sides with cut sides of garlic. Tear toast into small pieces. Discard the garlic.

Stir oil into bowl with the tomatoes mixture. Add cucumbers, toast pieces and onions mixture (including all liquids.) Toss well to combine. Set aside for 10 minutes.

Season the salad to taste with salt and pepper. (The salad can be made up to 20 minutes ahead of this step. Keep covered at room temperature.)

Toss the basil and tuna into the salad, drizzled with a little of the reserve tuna oil (if desired) and sprinkle with more 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 also for the Shore Publishing and Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day.

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A la Carte: It’s Almost Labor Day, But There’s Still Time for ‘Summer Vegetable Stew’

Lee White

Last weekend, between cooking (more basil pesto and Coca Cola chocolate cake), reading (finally finished Scott Turow’s The Last Trial) or watching television (not much left now except MSNBC and the third season of The Good Fight.)

I also spent some time on Facebook. My south-of-the-Baldwin-Bridge editor, Pem McNerney, who is no slouch when it comes to cooking, made something with tomatoes and eggplant. 

I love eggplant. Needless to say, I did not grow up with fresh vegetables. I doubt that my mom even knew what an eggplant was. I think the first time I tasted it may have been in the early 80s, and it was, of course, eggplant parmigiana.

When we moved to Old Lyme, my next door neighbor told me she had the original recipe from Fatone’s restaurant, where she once worked. I mentioned that Sam Gejdenson used to make it, and she said he learned it from the Fatones. She made it and it is still the best eggplant parm ever. She showed me how to make it, too. 

Today I love eggplant in every way imaginable.

I have made ratatouille, even before that adorable animated movie. I once cooked it whole, unpeeled on a charcoal grill, when its insides have the texture of a Three Musketeer candy bar and the skin has the snap of a warm-from-the-garden tomato.

I forgot to ask Pem for her recipe but I found one in an old cookbook by Michele Scicolone. For me, the star of the show is not just the eggplant, but because the recipe is so simple. It will be my favorite eggplant go-to until its summer bounty is a memory.

Summer Vegetable Stew

Photo by Monika Grabkowska on Unsplash.

From Italian Holiday Cooking by Michele Scicolone (William Morrow, New York, 2002

The author says you can add any vegetable to the mix, including zucchini, summer squash, celery and green beans. Sometimes she leaves out the cheese and adds basil or parsley. Best of all, she mentions it makes a wonderful sandwich stuffed into a fresh grinder roll.

Yield: serves 6

1 medium eggplant, trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces
2 medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into bite-sized pieces
1 large onion, diced
2 large ripe tomatoes, diced
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into bit-sized pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼  cup freshly grated pecorino Romano

In a large pot, combine all the ingredients except the cheese Add ¼ cup water, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are very tender. 

Just before serving, stir in the cheese. Serve hot or at room temperature.

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

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A la Carte: You Deserve Something Special! Triple-Ginger Pound Cake Beckons

Lee White

Last week I made the most delicious dinner I’d ever made. And the easiest. And so satisfying that no dessert—ice cream, cookies, cheesecake or crème brulee—was necessary.

Here’s what it was: a T-bone steak I’d bought and frozen when they were on sale, three sliced tomatoes. mashed potatoes from 20 tiny ones I’d purchased from Stone Acres in Stonington and two ears of sweet corn from Whittle’s in Mystic.

The steak was grilled almost black but the middle was blood red, just the way I like it. My next-door neighbor was also grilling at his patio and was concerned, I think, because my grill was smoking.

I took it off the grill and placed it on a plate and let it sit on the dining room table as I sliced and salted the tomatoes, mashed the potatoes with a little milk and butter, and then set everything down.

Those 10 minutes made all the difference, as they always do, allowing the juices to recede back into the meat.

I hope you are all having amazing, healthy and fresh food this summer. Healthy, you say? A steak?

Truth is it is probably the first time I have grilled a steak in six months, so a steak is just an extravagance after lots of chicken, vegetables, seafood and salad. I hope you are all getting food as fresh and local as I am and cooking it yourself, knowing exactly what the ingredients are and where they come from.

I bet you are playing with ingredients, too.  I received an incredible e-mail from Carol Sepowitz from New London, who used a recipe I’d found for poached cod. She’d bought the cod from Stonington Farm Market and used small yellow tomatoes, but didn’t have one of my ingredients.

“I made the cod for dinner,” she wrote, “but  had no coconut cream. I [did] have the Nature’s Promise organic frozen coconut fruit bars on the stick from Stop & Shop. When it came time to add the coconut milk, I let the fruit bar melt into the tomatoes and it made a wonderful poaching sauce adding to the spices. The fish was so good!” Isn’t that amazing?

I have always said home  cooks may be better than chefs. I like recipes from cook authors and restaurant chefs, but kitchen innovators are often people like Carol. 

Just because we are eating healthy, below is a not-too-sweet cake for dessert (or toasted for breakfast) when you want something you deserve.

Triple-Ginger Pound Cake

Makes 2 loaves

Photo by Sheri Silver on Unsplash.

3 and ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 and ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 and ¼ cups milk (do not use low-fat or nonfat; 2 % is okay)
½ cup minced crystallized ginger
3 and ½ tablespoons grated peeled fresh ginger

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease (or use Pam) two 9 by 5 by 3-inch loaf pans.
Sift flour, ground ginger, baking powder and salt into medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat sugar and butter in large bowl until fluffy (at least two minutes).
Add eggs and yolk one at a time, beating after each addition.
Beat in vanilla.
Mix dry ingredients and milk alternately into batter.
Fold in crystallized ginger and grated ginger.
Divide batter between prepared loaf pans.
Bake cakes until tester inserted into the middle of the cakes come out clean.
Cool in pans 10 minutes or a little more. Cut around sides of pan to loosen.
Turn cakes onto rack and cool completely.
Can be prepared up to 1 month. Double wrap cakes in plastic and freeze.

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

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A la Carte: Savor a Taste of Summer in Chipotle Pasta Salad with Mozzarella

Lee White

Remember Willard Scott from the Today show?

I saw him a few years ago at a Sunday brunch at the Saybrook Point Inn. I always liked his birthday wishes to anyone over 100 years, sponsored by Smucker’s.

I also laughed at his “best ever,” wherever he was broadcasting. The “best pancake” he ever had, the “best meatloaf” in all of Indiana, the most “beautiful sunshine” in the Sunshine State. I think about him whenever I tell you about the best restaurant, the best entrée, the best ice cream, the best summer I can remember. 

And this was a nice summer and, with little rain, has been excellent for growing and cooking food. I have used every single vegetable I chose from my CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture). In addition to my CSA, I have spent many Tuesdays at the community farm stand at Washington Park in Groton, and I have also bought sweet corn, big tomatoes, and gorgeous peaches at Whittle’s.

Friends have given me beautiful heads of garlic and eggplant and a Facebook friend wrote I can get all his basil, or he would bring it to me. I have an entire pound of pine nuts, olive oil and lots of Parmesan to grate for all the pasta I will cook in the winter.

Yesterday I made a very interesting pasta salad. The recipe includes chipotle adobo sauce for the dressing and fresh, chopped basil.

I  had a few packets of merguez (lamb) sausage in the freezer, which I sautéed and cut into little pieces for the salad. I liked the meat addition but the lamb sausage is very spicy and I had read the recipe incorrectly, adding two tablespoons instead of two teaspoons of the adobo.

If you like, add some sausage (sweet Italian or kielbasa); otherwise, it is a lovely vegetarian entrée.

Chipotle Pasta Salad with Mozzarella

Adapted from Food Magazine, September 2020

1 pound rotini or fusilli
½ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup whole milk (I used 2 percent Parmalat lactose-free)
2 to 3 tablespoons white vinegar
2 to 3 teaspoons adobo sauce (from canned chipotle peppers)
Kosher salt or sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 cups red and/or grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
1 English cucumber, quartered lengthwise and chopped
12 ounces mozzarella (fresh or smoked, I used fresh), cut into small cubes
24 or so fresh basil leaves, chopped

Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain, rinse under cool water and set aside in a large bowl.

Combine mayonnaise and milk in a medium bowl, then add 2 tablespoons of vinegar and stir until smooth. Add 2 teaspoons of adobo sauce, ½ teaspoons salt and pepper to taste. Sir the dressing until combined. Give it a taste and add more vinegar if you like it a little bite, or add adobo sauce if you’d like it to have a little more heat.

Drizzle the dressing over the pasta, throw in the tomatoes and cucumber, then add the cheese. Stir pasta around, then add the basil and stir until it is all combined. Taste and adjust the seasonings as needed. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least two hours. Taste and season again before 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 also for the Shore Publishing and Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day.

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

Lee White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lee White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poached Cod in Tomato Curry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A la Carte: Last Week, Pesto, This Week, Pasta … But ‘e Fagiole!’

Lee White

It was a nice week: a little rain, a lot of sunshine, my first trip to the beach and low humidity. One evening, friends and I had dinner at Filomena’s, outside under a big tent, and listened to the New London Big Band, minus about six members, play mellow jazz. The decibels of the speakers were just right, it threatened to rain but didn’t and the food, as usual, was yummy.

I cooked quite a bit at home, on the grill and even in the kitchen, since my condo is air-conditioned. I also spent some time at two different farm markets. At my CSA, I got carrots, blue green beans, some lettuces, flowers and some cheese.

At the Groton Farm Market in Washington Park, I bought some cranberry beans, basil and tomatoes. I asked whether the tomatoes at Whittles were local, and she said they were their own. “We don’t have many yet, but these are our own,” she explained. I was very surprised; this is the first time I can remember when local tomatoes arrived before sweet corn.

When I got home I tasted one of the tomatoes and there was no doubt it was local. As I made myself my first summer BLT, I thought what I might make with some of my harvest and I found pasta e fagiole (pasta and beans) that I had written about in 2005.

I looked up cranberry beans and saw that it took under half an hour until they softened. I found pepperoni links, some canned cannellini beans, ground beef and pepperoni in the freezer and a big can of fire-roasted Muir Glen diced tomatoes. I had frozen my own basil pesto and decided I would use that instead of parsley. 

On Sunday afternoon, I made the pasta and beans. It was really good, maybe even better than before, since so many of the ingredients were so fresh.

If you have air-conditioner, make it now. If not, save that recipe for fall or winter. 

Pasta e Fagiole

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, diced
A handful of baby carrots, diced into small pieces
3 stalks celery, diced small
1 pound ground beef (optional)
½ pound pepperoni, thinly sliced (optional)
1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
About half of pound of cranberry beans, cooked
About half of pound of blue green beans, cut into 1 inch slices
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes (preferably Muir Glen but another will do)
1 small can tomato paste
2 tablespoons basil pesto (optional, but delicious)
2 cups water
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
½ pound pasta (ditalini, tubetini or small elbow macaroni), cooked
freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or romano cheese

In a large heavy-bottomed pot, brown onion. garlic and carrots in olive oil until light golden. Stir in celery and continue cooking until celery is tender. If using ground beef, add and cook until no longer pink. If using pepperoni, add now. Stir in beans, tomatoes, tomato paste and water.   Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer, cover and cook about half an hour, stirring occasionally. Add salt and pepper, to taste, and parsley. Add pasta to soup and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan or Romano.

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

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

Lee White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Artur Rutkowski on Unsplash.

Pesto alla Genovese

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

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

Yield: 1 cup or enough for 1 pound of pasta

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

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

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

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

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A la Carte: Luscious Lamb Never Disappoints

This was a rather lovely week — I actually spent an hour on a beach chair on the patio, reading and watching the birds on my feeders. I thought I had seen a Baltimore oriole, so I went to Johnson’s Hardware and bought a curlicue feeder that I could thread oranges, since I knew orioles like oranges.

At the same time, I filled the hummingbird feeder. Mostly I saw a lot of catbirds (whom I adore) and downy woodpeckers and finches, but no orioles that day or any other day. And, for the sixth year, no hummingbirds. Oh, well, my cat loves watching the birds from the window. She doesn’t care what they are.

Also last week my friend Tom Cherry made a lamb ragout with spring vegetables and, mask on, drove to my condo with a big portion for dinner. It was beyond delicious and, he says, is a recipe, from a 1971 Gourmet magazine. He also says it is not hard to make but is tedious. He will send me the recipe. His wife, Lynne, said this is why she married him.

So last weekend, still thinking about that lamb ragout, I went to Shop Rite for lamb chops for the grill. They didn’t have any, but someone found me a rack of lamb. It was $21, but it was almost eight ribs, so I cut it in half, froze one and grilled the other.

While I marinated it, I boiled some tiny potatoes. When they were done, I poured out the water allowed the potatoes to dry a bit and added some butter and salt. With a small salad, it was a delicious dinner And easy. Here is the recipe.

Rack of Lamb on the Grill

Yield: 2 servings

1 rack of lamb (around a pound)
Marinade of olive oil, lemon zest, stone ground mustard, minced garlic, a few shards of rosemary, salt and freshly cracked black pepper)
Mint jelly, optional

Mix the marinade in a small bowl. Rub the lamb, cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 8 hours or so.  Take it out of the fridge an hour before you are ready to grill it.

In a propane grill, turn the heat to high and place the rack fat side down, to sear the meat, about 5 minutes/* Do not leave the grill, because there may be flare-ups. Then turn the grill to about 425 degrees. meat side up, and cook for 13 to 15 minutes for medium rare (longer if you want medium to well-done).

With a temperature gauge, meat should be 120 degrees. (There is some carry-on cooking while you let it rest, so perhaps you should take it off a little earlier, if you want it rare.) Let it rest on a cutting board for up to 10 minutes. Then cut the rack into ribs and serve, with or without mint jelly.

* If using a charcoal grill, once the charcoal is almost gray, push some of it to one side and sear the rack on the hot side. Then move the lamb, meat side up, on the cooler side of the charcoal grill. 

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

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

Photo by Herson Rodriguez on Unsplash.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roasted Pepper Skordalia

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

Beet Cashew Butter Dip

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

Tomatillo Guacamole

Cut 3 avocados, remove the pit and scoop out of the fruit. Smash the avocado and a pinch of salt in a medium bowl. Stir in 3 diced tomatillo (husked and rinsed). ½  cup diced cucumber, 2 chopped scallions, 3 tablespoons each chopped cilantro and pickled jalapeños and the juice of 1 lime; season with salt and to with more cilantro.

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

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

Lee White

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

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

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

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

I am still cooking mostly at home.

I have Zoom meetings and tele-physician appointments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Set them aside to cool. 

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

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

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

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

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

Lee White

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

June 17

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

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

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

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

Pad Thai Sauce

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

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

Photo by Timothy Dykes on Unsplash.

Pad Thai Noodles

Yield: 2 servings

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

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

June 24

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scampi

Yield: 4 servings

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

Bring stockpot of water over high heat.

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

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

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

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

Lee White

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is beyond delicious and is vegetarian and almost vegan.

Filthy Sexy Mush, aka Zucchini Pasta Sauce

Yield: at least 4 servings

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

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

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

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

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