March 8, 2021

A la Carte: Apples for the Asking

Photo by Pierpaolo Riondato on Unsplash.

This was another fun food week.

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

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

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

So this week was nice.

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

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

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

Here they are.

Apple Sauce

From Sue O’Farrell

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

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

Baked Apples

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

Yield: 4 servings

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

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

Lee White

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

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

Lee White

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

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

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

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

I think you will love this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lee White

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

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

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

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

Sweet potato pie. Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lee White

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

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

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

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

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

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

Puerto Rican-Style Shepherd’s Pie

 

From Yankee magazine, January/February 2021

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lee White

The pandemic has certainly made my days and weeks disappear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roast Pork Dinner … and Leftovers (for another day)

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

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

Preheat oven at 350 degrees.

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

Lee White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Isabella on Unsplash.

Savory Muffins

Slightly adapted from Relish magazine
Yield: 12 muffins

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

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

Mix together egg, milk and canola oil. 

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

Add the egg mixture and fold into the dried ingredients. 

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

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

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

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

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

Lee White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A la Carte: Lee Shares a New, Fun, Easy and ‘Craggy’ Recipe for Scones

Lee White

It was a bit of a sad holiday season. I shared Thanksgiving with my neighbors. They are the only people who have been invited into my condo during the pandemic, other than my daughter, the physical therapist, visiting nurses or a few minutes from friends. I lit the candles on my menorah each of the holiday’s eight days and Sue and Bob and I decided not to spend Christmas dinner together. 

I didn’t do a lot of cookie baking either. In the early part of December, I did stews and pasta sauces (marinara, pink vodka and a marathon of Bolognese). I actually do the last in a cauldron the size of a pot cannibals might choose. But the Bolognese is now down to one 3-quart plastic container in the freezer (I share it) and I am planning to drive to see my daughter-in-law and three of my granddaughters tomorrow. (They get rapid results with their covid tests and I have been negative every week or so since April.)

So right now another batch of Bolognese is cooking downstairs: onions, garlic and carrots along with the pork and beef are in a bottle of pinot gris. In 30 minutes, it will have somewhat evaporated, the milk will be added, then about 200 ounces of tomatoes and the tomato paste will simmer for two or so hours.  

I have, however, been doing some baking. I found a new recipe for scones which was a bit more fun than the recipe I had been using for decades. With this new one, I use my hands to work the butter into the flour mixture, drill a well into the dough and add heavy cream. I mix this batter with my hands, too.

The author says she likes the “cragging” of the scones instead of rolling the dough and using a biscuit cutter to make them all look neat. I like that look. I have made this recipe three times: once with chopped pecans, once with marzipan and once with tiny cinnamon chips.  This is fun and easy, and scones can be frozen, too.

You can’t beat a warm scone with butter and/or jam at any time of the day! Photo by Craig Bradford on Unsplash.

 Any-Fruit or –Nut Scones

Adapted from The Fearless Baker by Erin Jeanne McDowell (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston New York, 2017)

Yield: makes about 18 scones

3 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoons fine sea salt
10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter cut into ½ inch cubes
2 to 2 ½ cups fruit and/or nuts
1 cup heavy cream
Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water and small pinch of salt
Sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 400 degree with racks in the upper and lower two thirds. Line two half-sheet pans with parchment or Silpat.

In a large bowl, whisk dry ingredients together. Add butter and toss to cubes with flour; cut butter into flour mixture by rubbing them between forefingers and thumbs until the size of peas or walnut halves. Add fruit and/or nuts and toss gently to combine.

Make a well in the middle and pour in cream. Toss mixture with fingers to combine; then knead gently to ensure everything is evenly moistened.

Scoop ¼-inches of dough onto prepared sheet pans. I used my hands to do this, leaving 1 1/2 –inches apart. Brush top with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake scones, switching the sheets from front to back and top to bottom at the halfway mark, for 20 to 22 minutes, until tops and edges are golden brown. Scones can be served warm or at room temperature. They may also be microwaved for 10 to 15 seconds.

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: Lee’s Last Recipe for 2020, Instant Pot Beef Bourguignon

Lee White

I have a good kitchen in my condo although not as nice as the one I had in Old Lyme, where my husband knocked down walls between two rooms, then got rid of a hallway. When he was done, and with help from a carpenter neighbor, that kitchen was 24 ft. by 17 ft., the center island could hold 10 people, my 42-inch gas stove had six burners and there was a separate pantry that held all my ingredients.

Today my stove is electric and I was sure I would ruin my pots and pans, but I have not. It is just a galley kitchen, and most of my foodstuff takes up two-thirds of the hall closet.

But I have lots of kitchen counter space, the kitchen sink is almost as big as the one I had in Old Lyme and I am able, on a shelf under the bay window, to have all my small appliances close by: a big KitchenAid mixer, a Ninja that purees in a fraction of a second, a big and a little Cuisinart, a Rival Crock-Pot, two little grinders (one for spices, one for coffee) and one that has become a favorite, a 6-quart Instant Pot. It sat in its own box for a year, until a friend in Groton came to my house and showed me how to use it. 

Last week, I found some stew meat in the freezer and decided to make my stew in the Instant Pot. Originally, it makes a big mess in the kitchen and takes hours of prep and, sautéeing in a large Le Creuset first on the stovetop and later in the oven. Then it takes more time afterward to reduce the sauce. This time it took less than an hour, and most of that time was allowing the IP to get to pressure. The cooking took 35 minutes. In one pot!

Here’s the recipe:

Beef Bourguignon in the Instant Pot

A delicious dish of Beef Bourguignon. Photo by Slayschips. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Yield: Serves 8 to 10 people 

2 pounds of beef (bought as stew beef or cut from a chuck roast into 2-inch chunks)
Olive oil for sautéeing in the Instant Pot
Flour with salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large onion, chopped
3 tablespoons fresh garlic, minced
16 ounces sliced mushrooms
2 cans low-sodium beef broth
1 broth can of fairly good red wine
1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed in one 2 tablespoons cold water

Open your Instant Pot and turn it to Sauté and add olive oil.  Place flour, salt and pepper in a large soup bowl. In batches, toss beef and sauté, adding more oil as needed. Place sautéed beef in a large bowl. Add onion, mushrooms and garlic, stirring, until translucent, about 5 to 8 minutes. Cancel Sauté. Pour in beef broth and red wine and stir. Add beef and stir. Turn lid on and turn on Pressure Cook to 35 minutes. Go watch television or read a book.

It will take maybe 30 minutes to start to Pressure Cook. When it is done, use a bottom of a wooden spoon to allow the steam to disappear.

When you open the lid ladle the vegetables and beef into a big bowl. Turn the Instant Pot to Sauté. When it gets hot, stir in the cornstarch and cold water and stir until thickened. Turn Cancel and add back the beef and vegetables. Season to taste.

Serve over mashed potatoes or egg 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.

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

Lee White

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

I really do believe this.

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Maša Žekš on Unsplash.

Jean Howard’s Apricot Pie

Adapted with love from me and Nick Malgieri

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A la Carte: Happy Hanukkah! Enjoy Latkes with Lee

Lee White

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

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

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

Now the rest of the holidays are almost here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Latkes

Yield: serves 8 to 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

A la Carte: Welcome December With a Wonderful Winter Entrée

Lee White

Many decades ago, we spent a New Jersey weekend with my husband’s friend, a radiologist. I call him my husband’s friend because, once my husband died, I exited that friendship because I basically detested him.

In any case, this man talked about his radiologic partner and noted that he couldn’t stand the partner’s wife. Always curious, I asked what his wife was like. “A bitch,” he said. “Did she work,” I asked. “Nah,” he snorted. “She baked muffins or cookies. Something like that,” I then realized that she was, indeed, Rose Levy Barenbaum, one of the finest pastry chefs in the world and author, at that time, of “The Cake Bible,” the first cookbook that garnered a million dollar advance

Rose and I became friends and are, to this day, very close. Her books line my bookshelves. If you have used any of her books, you can’t miss with her careful recipes, which not only include what to do but what not to do. For a few of her cookbooks, she has asked me to test recipes.

I hope someday she will meet my new friend, Richard Swanson. Richard works at The Day and, if he decided to write cookbooks, all his recipes would be as perfect as Rose’s. He writes every recipe and reworks with every ingredient multiple times. He has entered food contests and wins!

By the time he gives me something to taste, he has probably done the same three or four or 20 times. You will love his wonderful winter entrée. 

Pork Cider Stew with Rutabaga, Potatoes and Cabbage
From Richard Swanson, Waterford, CT

1 ½ pounds pork loin
Olive oil or canola oil
1 ½ cups Vidalia (or sweet) onions
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 cups diced rutabaga2 cups diced russet potatoes
1 small bag Dole shredded coleslaw mix with carrots (about 4 cups)
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
4 cups apple cider (unfermented)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon caraway seed
½ teaspoon white pepper

Place 1 tablespoon oil into a Dutch oven and brown pork loin over medium heat (or on the sauté function if you are using your Instant Pot).*

Toss onion and garlic around pork and continue to cook covered until translucent, then pour chicken broth and braise the pork loin for 20 minutes covered.

Remove pork loin and place aside. Pour water, apple cider and spices into the pot and add rutabaga, potatoes and cole slaw mix. (Rich does not add the dressing packet.) Simmer uncovered for 10 to 15 minutes until rutabaga and potatoes are almost fork tender.

In the meantime, dice the pork loin add it to the pot to reheat the meat. To thicken the broth: at the end of the cooking, pull about a cup of the veggies mix out of the mix and blend them with a little bit of broth in a blender or immersion stick blender to make a thick paste. (Lee: I might mix this with a tablespoon of cornstarch and add it to the stew at high heat.)

Add the paste back into the pot and stir. Salt to taste and serve.

*Instant Pot option: you can use the pressure cooker function on the Instant Pot to completely tenderize the pork and cook the vegetables until tender, but be careful you don’t turn the potatoes and rutabaga into mush.

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

A la Carte: From Lee With Love — Thanksgiving Recipes Galore!

Editor’s Note: We are running a selection of Lee White’s recipes today to give readers a chance to savor her favorite Thanksgiving recipes in one place!

For more years than I can remember, I have been writing about turkey at Thanksgiving. I get every food magazine every month and every single month, in October, a turkey is on the covers.

My mother never cooked a turkey. We had Thanksgiving at an aunt and uncle’s home in Kinderhook, New York. There was no gravy and no stuffing and the sweet potatoes were stuffed into oranges, which made the sweet potatoes taste like oranges.

The first Thanksgiving with my husband and daughter was in Houston, and I ordered turkey and sides from a restaurant. The gravy was white. In following years, I made turkey and sides by myself, sometimes for 20 or more friends and family. The first few times, I called the Butterball Hot Line for help.

Some years later I stopped using the throwaway aluminum pans and bought a $200 roasting pan, which I still use for every kind of roast I have ever made. It was one terrific buy.

Over the years I brined turkey in a huge cooler. I bought organic turkeys. Last year I went to a friend who made a heritage turkey. I made all kinds of stuffing and once placed slices of bacon on top of the fowl. A few times I put buttered cheesecloth on the turkey. But these days I buy the least expensive turkey I can get and buy it frozen.

I make my stuffing the night before and put it in the refrigerator in an enormous plastic bag. The next morning I stuff as much dressing as possible into the thawed (but cold) turkey’s cavity. I put the rest in a casserole and when the roasted turkey come out of the oven, I add some juice to the casserole and bake it.

Forget all those other “new” ways to make turkey for Thanksgiving. Here is my favorite recipe. 

Turkey

1 14- to 16-pound turkey
salt
1 stick butter
½ (one-half) cup good white wine

Gravy

¼ (one-quarter) cup all-purpose flour
cold water
Gravy Master (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Remove giblets from turkey (I don’t use them; instead, I boiled them for the kitties, less bones). Rinse and dry turkey inside and out. Rub salt inside cavity of bird. Fill cavity with cold stuffing made the night before or early morning. Place bird in a rack (or upside glass pie pan) atop a large, heavy-duty roasting pan. Place in a 350-degree oven.

Add butter and wine in a saucepan, bring to a boil, then simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes. Open oven, pour wine-butter over turkey and close oven. Every half hour baste liquid over turkey. Bake until turkey is done (when the thermometer plunged into the thickest part of the thigh registered 175 to 180 degrees, 10 to 12 minutes per pound if not stuffed or 12 to 15 minutes stuffed).

Turn off the oven, remove turkey from the oven, Place the turkey on a platter and spooned the Stuffing into a bowl; cover each with aluminum foil and return both to still-warm oven. (Extra stuffing can be heated in a casserole dish; it is not as tasty but if you spoon some juice on the dish before heating, it’s pretty good.)

Remove grease from roasting pan. and place the pan on the stove. Turn heat to medium. In a large jar, add all-purpose flour and about 2 cups of water. Screw jar cover and shake. When the brown bits are hot, add flour-water mixture and, over medium-high heat, whisk constantly. If you need more water, add some. Once the gravy is ready, add and stir in Gravy Master to taste (optional). Add salt and pepper to taste.

Roasted Grape, Apple and Cranberry Sauce

From Cooking Light, November 2018
Serves 12

Cooking spray
2 cups seedless black grapes (about 10 ounces)
1 and three-quarter cups chopped Honeycrisp apple (or Gala or ????)
2 tablespoons chopped scallop
1 cup fresh or frozen whole cranberries
1 and one half tablespoons unsalted butter
3 and one-half teaspoons pure maple syrup
One-eighth teaspoon kosher salt
One-quarter teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or sprigs (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly coat a rimmed baking sheet with spray. Place grapes, apple and shallot on prepared baking sheet and lightly coat with cooking spray. Bake until shallots begin to soften, about 5 minutes.

Add cranberries to baking sheet. Bake at 425 degrees until cranberries burst, apple is tender and grape skins are beginning to burst, about 20 more minutes. Remove from oven and transfer mixture to a medium bowl. Stir in butter, maple syrup and salt. Cool completely, about one hour. Sprinkle with thyme, if desired.

Stuffing

I make the stuffing at least the day ahead,, because it should be cold when you put it in the turkey, which is also cold. This is probably more stuffing you will use. You can put the rest in a casserole and bake for Thanksgiving, or freeze it for another turkey or chicken dinner.

I large Pepperidge Farms herb-seasoned stuffing mix
6 to 8 tablespoons butter
1 cup onions, minced
1 cup celery, minced
1 small can of diced mushrooms
1 cup walnuts, chopped (I chop it with my hands because I don’t want it chopped fine)
salt and pepper, to taste
Bell’s seasoning, to taste

Make Pepperidge Farms stuffing according to package instructions.

In a skillet, add butter and melt over medium heat. Add onions, celery, mushrooms and walnuts. Saute for about 10 minutes. Add salt, pepper and Bell’s seasoning to taste. Add to stuffing mix and stir. Refrigerate until cold (I often put the stuffing in a large plastic bag and put it in the porch, since I rarely have much space in my refrigerator.)

Old Fashioned Spice Cake


Adapted from Linnea Rufo of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Yield: serves 10 to 12 people
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 10-inch tube pan.

1 cup sugar
one-half cup (1 stick) butter
one-half cup currants or raisins or dried cherries (optional)
one-half cup candied ginger, chopped
2 eggs
2 tablespoons molasses
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
one-quarter teaspoon cloves
one-half teaspoon ginger
one-teaspoon salt
1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350º F. Grease a 10-inch tube pan.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, blending well after each addition.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and salt. Stir dry ingredients into egg mixture alternately with milk, beginning and ending with dry ingredients.

Pour batter into prepared tube pan. Set on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 1 hour and 5 minutes, or until cake pulls away from sides of pan and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool cake in the pan, set on a rack, for 10 minutes. Remove cake from pan and spread on icing at once, while cake is still warm.

Espresso Icing

1 and one-half cups of confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon of espresso (use a teaspoon or so of cold coffee)
1 tablespoon milk

Whisk icing ingredients together.

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

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

Lee White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So make this soup.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lee White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transfer pans to wire racks; cook for 10 minutes.

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

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

A la Carte: How to Bake an Election Cake!

Lee White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Decorate your Election Cake red or blue … or both!

Million Dollar Pound Cake
From Southern Living magazine

Yield: serves 10 to 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

A la Carte: 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.

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

Lee White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meatballs

Adapted from Emma Christensen, Kitchn, August 20, 2020

Yield: makes around 40 1-inch meatballs

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

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

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

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

Perfect Marinara Sauce

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

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

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

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

A la Carte: 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.

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.