July 7, 2022

A la Carte: Two Columns Bursting with Strawberry Treats

Lee White

Column 1

Oh my, no matter the season, last week was a perfect summer day. Was it always sunny? Not really, but for Friday night, Saturday and Sunday, the clouds didn’t explode with raindrops and the humidity stayed around 70 percent and in Groton and Madison, there was always a soft breeze.

Friday I learned how to make a watermelon “sorbet (well, it required some sweetened condensed milk),” and I will try it with other fruits.

Next week I will give you that recipe (and the new friend who created it) and another recipe for fresh fruit and a two or three cream that tops a grainy bread. I just met a new friend that was a lovely appetizer that requires only if you make your own bread (which she did!).

For today, now that strawberries are local and delicious. Then again, strawberry’s  two- or three-week season may be my favorite time of the year. (At least until it’s corn time, or tomato time, or basil time).

Toasted-almond Cake with Strawberries in Whipped Cream

Adapted from Gourmet, June, 2007, page 143

Yield: about 8 to 10 servings

Three-quarters cup whole almonds with skins (one-quarter pound), toasted and cooled
1 ¼  cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½  teaspoon salt
4 large eggs at room temperature about 30 minutes
1 ¼  cup superfine granulated sugar (I put sugar into processor to get it fine)
1 ½  sticks (three-quarter cup) unsalted butter, melted and cool
1/3  cup milk (2 percent is fine)
¼  teaspoon almond extract
½  cup sliced almonds
2 pints frozen strawberries with sugar, thawed, or 2 pints fresh strawberries, sugared to taste
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (or one-half teaspoon rose water)
1 and one-half heavy cream, whipped

Put oven rack on middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour 8- or 9-inch square or round cake pan. 

With blender on high, add half toasted almonds through top hole and finely grind (be careful not to grind to a paste). Transfer to bowl and grind remaining almonds in same manner, transferring to bowl. Add flour, baking powder and salt to ground almonds and whisk until combined well.

Beat eggs in a large bowl with an electric mixer at high speed until foamy, about 15 seconds, then add sugar a little at a time, beating. Continue beating until mixture is thick, pale and forms a ribbon when beater is lifted, 7 to 8 minutes in a stand mixer or 10 to 14 minutes with a handheld.

Add butter in a slow stream, then add milk and almond extract and beat until just combined. Reduce speed to low, then add flour mixture, mixing until just combined.

Spread batter in pan, smoothing top, and then sprinkle with sliced almonds. Bake until  top is golden, cake begins to pull away from side of pan and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes in clean, around 25 to 35 minutes, depending on size of cake pan.

Cool on a rack around 30 minutes, then run knife around edge to loosen and invert onto rack. Take cake right side up on rack and cool completely.

To serve, slice cake onto individual plates, cover with strawberries and top with lots of whipped cream. 

Column 2

Oh, the two recipes I’d promised to give you today will have to wait. My friend, Jennifer is leaving today for London for a few weeks, so her recipe will come later in the summer. When she gets home, fruits will be even riper and she will show me how to make them.

I will, however, give you two other fruity recipes.

The first is easy and it comes from Karen Valente.

Cut watermelon from its rind (get rid of all the green and yellow). Cut the watermelon into approximately 1-inch chunks. Place the melon chunks into a fresh gallon-sized plastic bag, carefully push the bag somewhat flat and seal it well.

Freeze the melon overnight or even a few days later.

Open the bag of melon and pour into a Cuisinart bowl. As you puree the fruit, add sweetened condensed milk into the melon. Stop the food processor and taste the melon. When it is sweet enough for you, add a whisk of salt and puree another second or two.

Spoon the mixture into a plastic container, seal it and freeze, What you have here is not a sorbet, actually; sorbet is usually dairy-free. But there is so little dairy in the dessert, yet it has the mouth-feel and texture that is heavenly. 

For my second dessert, I was going to give you a Bon Appetit recipe for a strawberry hand pie, but it requires making a pie dough, making a strawberry filling, then creating frosting and assembling the dessert. And, with that, the hand pie might gush out on your white pants or sneakers. Instead, why not make enough crisp recipes for the whole summer, freezing it (right out of the freezer you can crumble it over the fruit and serve it after dinner). This is a dish you can serve in no time. So here is the recipe for crisp that top almost any dessert all summer long.

Strawberry Filling 

From Bon Appetit, Summer, 2022

12 ounces strawberries, hulled, finely chopped
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon kosher salter

Toss all ingredients in a medium bowl to combine. Let sit for 30 minutes. Place the strawberries in a gratin or Pyrex pan. Top with one package of crisp over the fruit and place in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes, or until the filling bubbles.

Crisp Topping
Created by Deb Jensen, a dear friend who died just a few years ago
I quadruple this recipe and freeze it in little plastic bags.

Yield: makes around 5 cups 

1 cup flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup oatmeal (rolled oats)
1 cup walnuts or pecans
1 cup almonds or pine nuts
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, melted

Add all ingredients into a bowl and mix together with nice, clean 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 the Shore Publishing and the Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years but now lives in Groton, Conn. Contact Lee at leeawhite@aol.com.

A la Carte: Creamy Coconutty Shrimp Makes a Super Summer Salad

Lee White

After the quick turnover to the Dallas wedding (flew there at 6 a.m. Saturday and was home by Monday, mid-afternoon), I unpacked, played with the cats, watched a DVR’d Connecticut Sun game) and finished a book, then slept until 7:30 Tuesday.

Then I drove to Madison and took friends to pick up their new car in Westchester County, NY. 

Eric drove the new car home (the next morning he drove to Montreal to pick up their son from college), Lisa and I stopped at Trader Joe’s in Milford to do some quick food shopping, but realized we could not both go because Lucy the dog was with us.

Since I really needed nothing (I’d gotten my Trader Joe’s fix the week before), I read in the air- conditioned car and played with Lucy. About 20 minutes later, Lisa arrived with a cart filled with goodies, giving me some frozen shrimp and her favorite goat cheese.

I assumed the pink shrimp was cooked. Instead, it was the raw pink shrimp we used to get in Stonington, CT. I had just gotten my new Bon Appetit and saw the recipe below. The next morning, I bought a lime, some cilantro and a little green jalapeno; that night I made the recipe below.

It was as good the night I made it as it was twice more as leftovers.

Creamy Coconutty Shrimp Salad

From Bon Appetit, Summer Issue, June/July 2022
Yield: 4-6 servings 

1 large lime
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 13.5-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1 pound large shrimp, peeled, deveined, patted dry
Kosher salt; freshly ground black pepper
½ small red onion, thinly sliced
1 small jalapeno, thinly sliced on a diagonal, seeds remove if desired
½ cup cherry tomatoes, preferably heirloom, halved, quartered if large
1 cup packed coarsely chopped cilantro
High-quality extra-virgin olive oil (for serving)
1 cup tortilla chips, lightly crushed
Flaky sea salt

Remove zest from lime in wide strips with a vegetable peeler, cut lime in half and set aside. Bring zest, garlic, coconut milk and fish sauce to a simmer in a large skillet over medium heat. Arrange shrimp in a single layer and cook, maintaining a bare simmer, until opaque, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer shrimp t a large shallow bowl and let cool.

Increase heat to high; cook coconut until thick and pourable (similar to the consistency of runny honey), about 5 minutes; remove from heat. Remove and discard lime zest and any shrimpy bits. Season coconut sauce with kosher salt and pepper and let cool in pan.

Squeeze juice from reserved lime half over shrimp and spoon coconut sauce over. Top with onion, jalapeno, tomatoes and cilantro. Squeeze remaining lime over. Drizzle with oil, then top with tortilla chips and sprinkle with sea salt.

Do ahead: Shrimp can be cooked and coconut sauce can be made 1 day ahead. Transfer to separate airtight container; cover and chill.

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

A la Carte: Chicken Tetrazzini is Lovely for Left-Overs

Lee White

Having a daughter who has taken over my work as a mother can be pretty nifty. When she wants me to go something with her (or even when we are not going together but I mention that I am thinking of doing something alone), she offers to make all the arrangements. 

This time there is a wedding for my late brother’s granddaughter. For me, traveling via plane is hellish: I hate having to get to the airport early and finding a place to park my car (or, worse, staying overnight in a cheap motel or leaving my house at 3 a.m. for a 6 a.m. plane.)

Then there is changing planes and doing the same thing in a few days.

But this time, she really wanted me to go with her, so she got me non-stops to and from Dallas and called to confirm my flight. She even got me priority boarding (maybe because I am old).

Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash.

But a week before, I had to think about what I would eat on the plane and during the seven hours until her plane arrived from LA. So, Wednesday I bought a big, fat rotisserie chicken. I used some of it for two dinner salads, and this evening I will make chicken salad on rye (and grapes for grazing) for tomorrow’s flights.

But that leaves me with lots of chicken. What to do?

How about turkey (or, in my case, chicken) tetrazzini. This I made and will save in the freezer for four different “what-to-make” dinners. 

Left-over Chicken Tetrazzini

From Saveur Cooks Authentic American by the editors of Saveur Magazine (Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 1998)
Yield: Serves 6

½ pound wide egg noodles
8 tablespoons butter, divided (1 stick)
½ pound white mushrooms, sliced
5 tablespoons flour
salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 cups turkey or chicken stock (low-sodium, if using canned)
1 ½ cups heavy cream (I use less than that)
1/3 cup dry sherry
3 cups coarsely chopped cooked chicken
¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Fresh parsley (optional)

  1. Bring large pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add noodles and cook until tender, about 8 minutes. Drain, then transfer to a medium baking dish and toss with 1 tablespoons butter. 
  2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and cook until lightly browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Scatter mushrooms over noodles.
  3. Reduce heat to medium-low and melt remaining 5 tablespoons butter in same skillet. Sprinkle in flour, season to taste with salt and pepper and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Increase heat to medium, gradually whisk in stock and simmer until sauce thickens, about 7 minutes. Add cream, sherry and chicken, then adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
  4. Spoon turkey and sauce over noodles, then sprinkle with Parmigiano Reggiano. Bake until sauce is bubbling, about 20 minutes. Heat broiler and brown for 3 to 5 minutes. Garnish with parsley, if you like.

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

A la Carte: It’s Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee, so Think British With (Sheet Pan) Fish & Chips!

Lee White

My friend, Lian Obrey, asked me if I would teach her a couple of dishes she could make if she invited friends for dinner.

Of course, I said I would.

“One of those days” might happen within a few days, but I am off to Dallas for the wedding of my grandniece. So, as I am writing this column this morning, I will give her the draft of this column, along with a half-sheet pan and a piece of Silpat. Even a person who cooks little will find this recipe very easy.

By the way, for those of us who don’t have Silpat (a non-disposable piece of plastic that fits into an oven pan), I have had mine for decades. I wash and dry them after I use them, and roll them in a circular blueprint holder.

As for inexpensive half-sheet pans, buy a couple but buy good ones; the cheap ones will wobble in the oven. You will use them forever, in every season, for everything from baking brownies or cookies, roasting vegetables or just using them under the rack to keep those apple or peach pies from gushing into the oven.

As for the Silpat, sure, use parchment instead and you will never have to clean up the sheet pan residue.

Sheet Pan Fish and Chips

Adapted from Real Simple, May, 2022
Yield: Serves 4

1 ½ pounds russet potatoes, cut into ½ inch wedges (I use the tiny potatoes, not cut up)
¼ cup olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons josher salt, divided
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1/3 cup panko
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1 ½ teaspoons lemon zest (from 1 lemon) divided, plus more for serving
4 6-ounce skinless cod fillets
2 cups frozen sweet peas
Malt vinegar for serving (optional)
Finely chopped parsley for serving

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss potatoes with 1 tablespoon oil, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Spread in an even layer and roast for 25 minutes.

Combine panko, butter, 1 teaspoon lemon zest and 1 tablespoon oil in a small bowl. Season cod with ¾ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper.

Push potatoes to side of baking sheet; add cod. Drizzle cod with 1 tablespoon oil and top with panko mixture. Roast until potatoes and fish are golden and cooked through, about 10 minutes. 

Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet over medium-heat. Add peas; cook for 4 to 5 minutes. Add remaining lemon zest and ¼ teaspoon salt and pepper. Serve with cod, potatoes, lemon wedges and male vinegar, if using. Top with parsley.

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

A la Carte: Got to Grill? Try Chicken with Peach BBQ Sauce for a Tasty Change

Lee White

I spent a lot of time in the past couple of weeks driving. I wasn’t going long distances; rather I had errands so I did a couple, got home for lunch, and finished the rest a hour or two later. 

While my husband and I frequently went out for breakfast (always on weekends), now that I am husband-less (and have been for more than a decade), I do most of my reading, writing and thinking in the morning. Sometimes I look at the mantel clock and notice it is 11 a.m. Well, I wonder, is it going to be late breakfast or an early lunch? 

It is usually an early lunch. I often have enough leftovers from dinner the night before.

Today I have some leftover chicken salad (made from a roast chicken a couple of days ago), so I plate the chicken salad with some lettuce, sliced grape tomatoes and, to drink, an enormous glass of V-8.

And I muse about dinner. 

It will be chicken again, mostly because I love chicken and I’d thawed some skinless, boneless breasts this morning. (I really do not like boneless, skinless chicken, but this is what I found first in the freezer.)

Over the weekend, I took the cover of my Weber, cleaned the grills, found the tongs I left last fall and looked to make sure there were no squirrel nests in the lava rocks. I have plenty of propane.

I love this recipe. 

Photo by photo_ reflect on Unsplash.

Grilled Chicken with Peach BBQ Sauce
Adapted from Gwyneth Paltrow’s “My Father’s Daughter” (Hachette Book Group, New York, 2011)
Yield: serves 4

1 cup chopped peeled fresh peaches (I used canned, without added sugars), chopped
½ cup ketchup
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 ½ teaspoons adobo sauce from canned chipotle chiles in adobo or 1 teaspoon soy sauce*
Kosher (or sea salt) and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
Vegetable oil

Combine first 5 ingredients in a small saucepan. Season lightly with salt and pepper and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low, simmer until peaches are very soft and flavors meld, about 10 minutes. Remove pan from heat; let cool.

Pour peach mixture into a blender and puree until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Place half the sauce in a medium bowl; add chicken and turn to coat.

Let marinate at room temperature for 20 minutes, or cover and chill for up to 8 hours, turning occasionally. Cover and refrigerate remaining sauce.

Prepare a grill to medium-high heat. Brush grill rack with oil. Grill chicken until browned and almost cooked through, 4 to 5 minutes per side. Slice crosswise.

Serve with remaining sauce alongside.

* I have at least four cans of chipotle in adobe in my pantry. I sometimes make omelet or scrambled eggs with cheese cream and a mashed chipotle. It is a bit on the spicy side, but it’s delicious.

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

A la Carte: Summer Means Picnics; Picnics Mean Cole Slaw & Potato Salad! Lee Shares Favorite Recipes for Both

Lee White

I have a friend who lives in Noank and she asked me some time ago why she should keep her large Cuisinart. I literally blanched. 

There are two reasons to keep your kitchen counter appliances. One, of course, is because you use them fairly often enough that you want them close to you. The second is perhaps you adore them, as I love mine, and consider them — if not as pets — but as best friends in the kitchen. 

On the other hand, if you have a terrific yet very small kitchen, sometime things have to go.

I have just a galley kitchen, but it has a bay window a shelf below it. That shelf was utilitarian but incredibly ugly, covered with the same humble tiles on the floor.

I asked woodworker Josh Friedman in New London to make maple board the exact size as the shelf. Now the shelf holds large and small Cuisinarts, a 6-quart KitchenAid mixer, an Instant Pot, a Slow Cooker, a Ninja Pro blender and two tiny grinder (one for spices, one for coffee).

I use all of them the gadgets constantly. I keep them shinier than my desk. They are my own pieces of art.

This weekend I was asked to make cole slaw and potato salad for an indeterminate number of friends. Using my big Cuisinart thin slicing disk for the cabbage and the grater disk for the carrots. I used my Instant Pot for the potato salad. Both dishes were ready for the refrigerator within half an hour.

With summer coming, my counter appliances will keep my kitchen cool. 

Zimny’s Cole Slaw
Yield: serves 10 to 15. 

Photo by Jacques Bopp on Unsplash.

1 cup good store-bought mayonnaise
5 ½ (one-half) tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon Chinese five-spice (or celery spice, if you don’t have five-spice)
One-half teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly white pepper to taste
About 6 to 8 cups green and red (Savoy) cabbage, shredded in a food processor
2 carrots, shredded in food a processor*

Using whisk, blend mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, five-spice, salt and pepper.

Combine cabbage and carrots. Pour dressing over vegetables and stir well. Cover and refrigerate for at least a few hours. It is even better on the second or third day. 

Lee’s Favorite Potato Salad
Yield: Serves 6 to 8

2 pounds of potatoes (I love The Little Potato Company’s tiny potatoes; no need to peel them)
1 small onion, thinly diced
2 stalks of celery, finely diced
About 3 to 4 tablespoons bottled Italian salad dressing (I love Wish Bone brand, full fat)
Salt and pepper to taste
About 4 tablespoons Hellman’s mayonnaise (full fat) 

In a large pot of water, bring potatoes to a boil and simmer until tender, about 10 minutes.

Drain water and, in the same pot, toss potatoes with onions and celery and stir. Wait a few minutes before you add the Italian dressing and mayonnaise and toss. Add salt and pepper to taste. Allow to cool on the counter at room temperature before covering and refrigerating.

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

A la Carte: Can’t Imagine Grilling a Salad? Then Try This, But Don’t Forget Blue Cheese & Basil!

Lee White

When I was little, my mother used to call me Sarah Bernhardt. I had no idea who Sarah Bernhardt and she told me Bernhardt was a famous actress in the early 1900s. 

I think today my mom would call me a drama queen. She also suggested I not wish my life away, that someday I would wish I could get those years back.

I thought about this again as I was reading my newest food magazines, wishing it were summer again so I could write about late June strawberries, July’s sweet corn, August’s tomatoes, and earthy fall squashes.

Look, I’m doing it again, and it is only mid-May.

On the other hand, it is time to fire up the grill. I saw a recipe for grilled kebabs of cake and fresh pineapple on skewers tossed with brown sugar, vanilla and little salt. I have a fresh pineapple on the counter and a few slices of pound cake. 

I also have romaine in the crisper and some blue cheese, too.

I can wing the dessert, but here is a recipe for the entrée.

Photo by Petr Magera on Unsplash.

Grilled Romaine Salad with Blue Cheese and Basil
From Food magazine, May/June, 2022
Yield: serves 4 to 6

Dressing:
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon capers
Kosher salt
6 cloves garlic
1 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoons hot sauce
6 oil-packed anchovy fillets (or a teaspoon or two anchovy paste)
½ to ¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil

For the salad:3 romaine lettuce hearts, halved lengthwise
Extra-virgin olive oil for tossing
Kosher salt
1 lemon, halved
20 fresh basil leaves
1 cup crumbled blue cheese
Sliced rotisserie chicken (optional)

Preheat grill to medium. Make dressing: in a blender combine lemon juice, vinegar, capers, 1 teaspoon salt and the garlic. Blend until smooth. Add Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, anchovies and ½ cup oil until smooth. Taste for seasoning. Blend in up to ¼ cup more oil if needed. Set dressing aside.

Make the salad: In a large bowl, toss 4 of romaine halves with a little olive oil and season with salt, put them in a single layer on the grill and cook 3 minutes per side (the romaine should feel slightly warm and tender). Spoon a little dressing on each of 4 to 6 plates.

Finely chop rest of the romaine and add to a medium bowl. Add remaining dressing, a touch of lemon juice and the basil leaves. Toss to coat.

Top the grilled romaine with the remaining dressing. Garnish with blue cheese and serve immediately, topped with diced chicken, if desired.

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

A la Carte: How Do I Love Lemons? Let me Count the Ways …

Lee White

Over the past few weeks there have been so many holidays– Easter Sunday, Passover and Ramadan– and all had something to do with food.

For Lent, we gave up something we wanted (often sweet stuff) for 40 days and had to have fish on Fridays; for Passover nothing leavening (desserts made with matzoh and matzoh for breakfast, lunch and dinner for eight days) and, at Ramadan, which lasts for a month, each day the first meal must begin before dawn, while the second meal begins after sunset.

This week it’s Mother’s Day.

For most mothers, me included, we are fasting — but dieting (except for those, who are doing the intermittent fasting, so never mind about that!).

I will try to get a reservation for Mother’s Day Brunch.

If you mothers are cooking (and many, like me, actually love cooking), make something delicious that is sweet but tart and pretend it isn’t caloric.

I love lemon anything and this may be my favorite of all. 

Lemon Shortbread
From Felicia Gotta, one of my favorite pastry chefs ever

Photo by Adam Bartoszewic on Unsplash.

1 pound unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
¼ teaspoon lemon oil (if you have it)
½ teaspoon lemon zest
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups cake flour
1 cup cornstarch

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

Cream together the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Add lemon oil and lemon zest and mix.

Sift together both flours and the cornstarch. Mix the flour mixture into the butter mixture. Do not overmix.

Spread and press into a greased 13”x 9” pan or use your favorite shortbread molds. Prick entire surface with a fork at one-inch intervals.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until slightly golden. Remove from oven and cool for 15 minutes.

Slice with a sharp knife into the size you’d like (1” by 1” squares is nice).

Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar (optional). Enjoy warm or at room temp. Store in an airtight container

Lemon Cream

Classic Home Desserts by Richard Sax (Chapters, Shelburne, VT, 1994)

There is almost nothing better with a little lemon cream (or curd) on top. It’s incredible with the lemon shortbread or lovely in a little tartlet, topped with berries or even with a berry pie. This will keep in the refrigerator, tightly closed, for at least a week.

Makes about 3 cups

Grated zest of 1 lemon
½ cup fresh lemon juice
½ cup sugar
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 teaspoons water
3 large eggs
4 large egg yolks
1 cup heavy cream, well chilled

  1. Place lemon zest and juice, sugar, butter and water in a heavy nonreactive saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring, until butter melts.
  2. In a bowl, beat eggs and egg yolks with a whisk, just until blended. Whisk in about 1/3 of the hot lemon-butter mixture to warm the eggs; return the mixture to the saucepan. Cook over low heat, whisking constantly, just until the mixture thickens, usually about 3 minutes.
  3. Remove from the heat and strain into a large heatproof container. Press a sheet of wax paper or plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd to prevent a “skin” from forming. Refrigerate until cold. (The curd can be prepared up to 2 days ahead. Chill until needed.)
  4. Up to 20 minutes before serving, beat cream until it forms soft peaks. Fool cream into the lemon mixture. Cover and chill until needed.

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

A la Carte: Gingerbread Cake is Super for Sharing

Lee White

What a weekend!

The weather was gorgeous so I thought I would go to Lowe’s and get some flowers to plant in my tiny front yard and some flowering plants to place where my bird feeders help my feathered friends during the fall, winters and early spring.

But Monday morning at 4:30 a.m., as I drove my daughter to catch her plane back to sunny California, I had to use the windshield wipers get rid of the thin ice that had formed overnight. Those flowering plants will wait for a few more weeks. 

But her long weekend with me was positively glorious.

We had a Passover seder at Lisa and Eric’s house Friday night (only three of our seven were Jewish, but that’s more than most Jewish quorum). I’d ordered six-pound flat brisket at Scott’s in East Lyme. I put into the slow cooker, slathered it with seasoned caramelized onions, mushrooms and garlic and cooked it for 8 hours, then reduced the juice into a fragrant gravy.

I also made a very chocolate flourless cake. Jacques made superb latkes (yes, I know, latkes are for Hanukkah, but everyday can be Hanukkah with those yummy latkes), while Lisa made matzo ball soup and sweet carrots, and Paula and Reza made salad and roasted vegetables.

And there was wine.

On Easter Sunday, Darcy and I had a late brunch at the Oyster Club in Mystic. We ate more than a dozen oysters (raw and Rockefeller, the latter perhaps the best I’d ever had, even better than those at Antoine’s in New Orleans where the recipe was born) and shared my Bolognese and her sautéed scallops, plus a caramelized orange sorbet.

Needless to say, I have many kitty bags in the fridge, but I hungered for more something sweet (but not too sweet), so I made this gingerbread cake that I will probably share with friends over the next week. 

Classic Gingerbread Cake
From Cook’s Illustrated (January/February 2011, page 24)

Photo by Caroline Hernandez on Unsplash.

Three-quarters cup stout (they prefer Guinness)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2/3 cup mild molasses
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
2 tablespoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon finely ground black pepper
2 large eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 8-inch-square baking pan (a round one works well, too). I use Pam all the time now when baking.

Bring stout to boil in medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in baking soda (mixture will foam vigorously). When foaming subsides, stir in molasses, brown sugar and granulated sugar until dissolved; set mixture aside. Whisk flour, ground ginger, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and pepper together in large bowl; set aside.

Transfer stout mixture to large bowl. Whisk in eggs, oil and grated ginger until combined. Whisk stout mixture into flour mixture in thirds, stirring vigorously until completely smooth after each addition.

Transfer batter to prepared pan and gently tap pan against counter 3 or 4 times to dislodge any large air bubbles.

Bake until top of cake is just firm to touch and toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, 35 to 45 minutes.

Cool cake in pan on wire rack, about 1 ½  hours. Cut into squares and 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. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years but now lives in Groton, Conn. Contact Lee at leeawhite@aol.com.

A la Carte: Ricotta Cheese Pie Makes a Luscious Dessert for any Easter … or Passover!

Editor’s Note: This is a column that our dear friend Lee White wrote for us in April 2016, that somehow we failed to publish (our apologies) — but the recipe is as good today as it was then!

Lee White

This will be an odd Easter weekend for me. On Good Friday, I will pick up my Newbury, Mass., daughter-in-law. Nancy and second-youngest granddaughter, then drive up to Kennebunkport Inn. 

It all began with an e-mail from the beautiful hotel in Maine. It is less expensive to spend a day or two there in the late fall, winter and early spring, but the advertisement said it would be even less so for March and April, with a special discount of 29 percent. Hmmm, it was time to visit my cousins from Portland (she breeder of corgis, he a retired AP reporter). Perhaps a Friday night dinner at Fore Street (one of the many in Portland) and a visit with cousins Adrienne and Jerry. So I called Nancy, and asked if it was time for a road trip. (Our last had been last year in Boston to see a Bette Midler concert and an overnight stay in a boutique hotel walking distance from the concert.) She was game and said, since it was a school holiday for Casey, could she come, too? What a treat I said. She is a high-school sophomore and great company.

I called the Kennebunkport Inn, doubting there would rooms available, but we got one big room with two double beds and a twin for Friday and Saturday. Not only that, I got a reservation for us at Fore Street on Friday night. (By the way, Nancy and daughter Casey are Greek; my cousins are Jewish, as am I, so Greek Easter is the next Sunday and Passover (which isn’t a Jewish Easter but is a spring kind-of festival) isn’t until the end of April.

In any case, I won’t be making Easter dinner for anyone and, hopefully, I will be invited to Greek Easter the following Sunday. Here is what I will make. It is a luscious dessert that everyone loves.

Ricotta Cheese Pie

Photo by Taisiia Shestopal on Unsplash.

For the filling:
2 cups ricotta cheese or cottage cheese
1 cup cream
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon

For the crust:
1 cup melted butter
1 tablespoon sugar (no sugar if using cookie crumbs)
1 cup graham cracker crumbs (or chocolate wafer cookie or vanilla wafer crumbs)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter, or spray with nonstick cooking spray, a 9-inch spring form pan. Wrap the outside of the pan with two layers of heavy aluminum foil

To make the crust, in a bowl combine crumbs, sugar and melted butter (this can be done in the food processor). Press crumbs evenly over bottom of pan. Refrigerate while you make the filling.

To make the cheesecake filling, in your food processor or electric mixer, mix ricotta, cream and sugar until well blended and smooth. Beat in flour and salt; then add eggs, one at a time, processing or beating until incorporated. Finally, add vanilla extract and cinnamon on and process until incorporated. Pour into prepared crust and dust top with crumbs. Take care not to over-mix.

Bake about 50 to 60 minutes, or until cheesecake is set, yet moves slightly when the pan is gently shaken (the edges of the cheesecake will have some browning). Remove from water bath and cool in a wire rack. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, or preferably overnight.

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

A la Carte: Spring is Here … Celebrate with Spring Minestrone

Lee White

I have spent the past few weeks with friends, first with the Oscars (yes, we all saw the slap and, with all the brilliant actors and crew from the amazing movie, CODA, they knew what Will Smith was saying. I myself don’t read lips, but I knew what he was saying.)

The following Friday, we watched UConn ladies in the Final Four.

On Sunday, I watched them alone.  Sigh.

I had also made two cakes, the one called Emergency Chocolate Cake because it is dairy-free and can usually be made easily with pantry and refrigerator staples. During the Friday game, we all made make-your-own ice cream sundaes with slices of the cake.

During half-times, we talked politics and food. Libby is cleaning up her gorgeous flower and vegetable gardens, while the rest of us talked about how lucky we are to get incredibly superb frozen vegetables.

And now that I don’t have a garden, I do have a big freezer and buy pounds of Whole Food and Trader Joe’s frozen sweet peas, corn, beans and broccoli (I am also buying the broccoli, plus cauliflower, from the produce aisles). 

Ingredients for the following recipe can all be found without driving almost an hour. And feel free to add other vegetables and change the ones you can’t find. I have been using fresh asparagus for some weeks. Is it fresh and local? Probably not, but they are lovely, the tips tight and the green stalks wonderful upright.

Spring is here and summer is right around the corner.

Spring Minestrone
From Real Simple, April, 2022

6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 large leeks, white and light green parts only sliced into thin rounds
3 stalks celery, sliced (about 1 ½ cups)
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
1 ¾ teaspoons kosher salt, divided
6 cups lower-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
1 cup ditalini pasta
4 ounces fresh green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces (1 cup)
4 ounces cups green Swish chard
1 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil plus small leaves for serving
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese (optional)

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large saucepan over medium. Add leeks, celery, crushed red pepper (9if using), and ½ teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until leeks soften, about 4 minutes. Add broth and bring to a boil.

Add pasta to pan. Return to a boil. Cook over medium high, stirring occasionally, until pasta is tender, about 12 minutes. Stir in beans during final 3 minutes of cook time. Remove from heat.

Stir in chard, basil, lemon juice and remaining 1 ¼ teaspoon salt. Ladle into bowls and drizzle with remaining 4 tablespoons oil. Top with parmesan (if using) and small basil leaves.

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 along with the Shore Publishing and Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years but now lives in Groton, Conn. Contact Lee at leeawhite@aol.com.

A la Carte: Thinking Lent (or Passover or Easter)? Then Think Fish

Lee White

Oh my, it may be April 1, as you are reading this. But this column is not about April Fool’s Day but rather two important holidays, which follow in just a couple of weeks—Easter and Passover.

Because the two holidays follow different calendars, rarely do Easter weekend (including Good Friday, Easter Sunday or, that new holiday, Easter Monday) and Passover coincide.

As with most Jewish holidays, Passover with its wonderful dinner, or seder — which can include brisket or turkey, sweet potatoes, matzoh topped with horseradish (which I love) and sometimes macaroons for dessert — begins on the evening before the holiday.

This year the seder begins on April 15 at sundown. The seder is sad in the beginning, but ends with happiness and songs.

Easter begins sadly with Good Friday, the day Jesus died and was entombed, and ends with Easter Sunday, when Jesus rose. After church on Sunday, Christians may choose a festive dinner, often with turkey or ham, rolls and butter, fresh peas (because sometimes, although rarely, the peas sown in mild-March might be ready to pick), rich scalloped potatoes and, if you are lucky, a ricotta cake and fresh berries. 

My daughter has Good Friday and Easter Monday off and is taking the red-eye from California; she will arrive very early Friday. By Friday evening, her eight-day Passover fast means no flour, meaning no bread. Also, over the past few years, she had a few bouts with crab legs and an allergist said it might be best if she stays away from shellfish.

I am not the least bit religious, so I do not avoid bread at Passover or seafood ever.

My daughter, on the other hand, has decided that lobster is okay. So, we may go to Ford’s before sundown, where I will have lobster risotto. She decided that rice is okay at Passover (others disagree) and will enjoy just a taste of lobster and order shrimp. 

The next night we will eat at home with this recipe. This is pretty and delicious for Lent or anytime.

Sear-Roasted Halibut with Tomato and Capers
Adapted from Fine Cooking, volume 93, June-July, 2008

Yield: serves 4

1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and chopped
1 ½ tablespoons fresh oregano (if dried, use only a teaspoon)
1 ½ teaspoons balsamic vinegar
sea salt or kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds thick, skinless halibut fillet (or mild white fish, like cod) cut into 4 even pieces
½ cup all-purpose flour (or gluten-free flour)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (I used canola because I was out of EVOO)
2 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced

Position rack in center of oven and heat oven to 450 degrees. 

In a medium bowl, mix tomatoes, capers, oregano, vinegar, ½ teaspoons salt and ¼ teaspoons pepper.

In a plate, place flour and the rest of salt and pepper. Dredge fish in flour and shake excess flour.

Heat oil in a 12-inch (preferably non-stick) ovenproof skillet over medium high-heat until shimmering hot.

Add fish, evenly spaced and cook without touching until it browns and released easily from the pan (check by gently lifting one of the corners), about 3 minutes.

Flip fish, sprinkle garlic around it, and cook until garlic just starts to brown on some edges, about 30 minutes. Pour the tomato mixture around the fish and transfer skillet to the oven.

Roast until the fish is just firm to the touch and opaque when you pry open a thicker piece with a paring knife, 3 to 6 minutes.

Let fish rest for a couple of minutes and then serve with the tomato mixture spooned over it.

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 along with the Shore Publishing and Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years but now lives in Groton, Conn. Contact Lee at leeawhite@aol.com.

A la Carte: Thinking of Those Southern Warmer Climes? Creole Daube Will Take You There

Lee White

Finally, inflation has really got to me at the supermarket.

I so wanted to make a pot roast and saw a lovely fat chuck roast. Before I put it into my cart, I saw the price: $31. I looked again. Yup, $31 for a piece of meat that requires 3 to 4 hours of cooking before it has the perfect chew.

I left that market with chicken. The next day I tried another market. That piece was $23, still expensive, but bought it and made the recipe below.

I shared enough with my next-door neighbors and the next morning Sue told me she saw the circular at McQuade’s said $3.99 a pound. Quick like a bunny, I went to McQuade’s and bought three and put them in my freezer.

Instead of my regular recipe, shared with friend Ralph Turri some years ago, I found this recipe in a new Southern Living. My friend Meredith, a Texan transplant from Connecticut, shares the magazines with me. In return, I give her my New York Times Sunday Magazine. 

This recipe has exact amounts. The bacon doesn’t have to be hickory-smoke, the chuck can be smaller or larger, the veggies can vary. But I am in love with Better than Bouillon stock and they are now available on the shelves of most big supermarkets.

Creole Daube
From Southern Living, January, 2022, page 96
Yield: serves 6 to 8

3 thick-cut hickory-smoke bacon slices, coarsely chopped
1 3 ½ pound boneless chuck roast, trimmed
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 small yellow onions, chopped (about 2 ¼ cups)
1 small green bell pepper, chopped (about 1 cup)
1 large celery stalk, chopped (about ½ cup)
3 tablespoons tomato paste (from 1 6-oumce can)
2 ½ tablespoons chopped garlic from 8 garlic cloves)
1 cup dry red wine
2 cups beef stock (I use Better than Bouillon—1 teaspoon for each cup water)
5 fresh thyme sprigs
3 bay leaves
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
5 small carrots, sliced on an angle into 2-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
2 medium turnips, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces (about 3 cups)
4 tablespoons of flour stirred into 2 to 3 cups cold water

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cook bacon in a large Dutch oven over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until brown and fat rendered, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate and reserve dripping to a skilled.

Sprinkle roast with salt and pepper. Increase heat to medium-heat. Add roast to Dutch oven and sear. Until browned on 2 sides, about 12 minutes. Carefully flip halfway through. Transfer to a plate.

Reduce heat to medium. Add onions, bell pepper and celery to Dutch oven; cook, stirring often and scraping browned bits from bottom of Dutch oven, until onions soften, about 6 minutes. Add tomato paste and garlic; cook, stirring constantly, until paste turns a share darker, about 2 minutes. Add wine and bring to a simmer oven medium.

Simmer stirring occasionally, until it is slightly thickened and some of alcohol burns off, about 3 minutes. Stir in stock, thyme sprigs, bay leaves and clove. Nestle in roast and bacon along with any juices that have accumulated; bring to a simmer over medium, then remove from heat.

Cover and transfer to oven, and braise about 2 hours.

Remove from oven, uncover and stir in carrots and turnips. Cover and return to oven; braise until meat and vegetables are tender, about another hour. Remove and let rest 15 minutes. Remove roast and shred into large pieces. I reduce liquid to 1/3, then add flour/cold water mixture and whisk into a gravy.

Serve with fresh vegetables and roasted potatoes.

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 along with the Shore Publishing and Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years but now lives in Groton, Conn. Contact Lee at leeawhite@aol.com.

A la Carte: It’s St. Patrick’s Day, So It Must Be Time For Corned Beef & Cabbage!

Lee White

I had such a fun weekend watching the UConn women play basketball at Mohegan Sun. And as I write this column, the final game (UConn vs Villanova) is tonight. We had only one loss in the Big East, and that was to Villanova. I have my fingers crossed.

Friends Sue and Karen had extra tickets for me to see all the games. Frosting on the cake was the ability to see most of our women watching the game when they weren’t playing. In addition, five rows in front of me were R.J. Cole and Tyrese Martin, members of the UConn men’ basketball team watching the women play. This is the first time I have seen them watch each other’s games. By the way, the men are seeded three in the Big East games.

For two of the days, we ate at Tom’s Urban at the casino. I had a burger on brioche both meals. The better of the two? A burger with mushrooms, Swiss cheese and white truffle oil (or truffle butter). I also had tater tots, something I’d never tasted before. Meh.

What to make at home this week?

Of course, it is almost St. Patrick’s Day. While I love deli corned beef, regular corned brisket isn’t my favorite. What I do love, however, are the veggies: cabbage, potatoes and carrots. With just a whisper of salt and a pat of butter, I’m happy. And in less than 45 minutes in the Instant Pot, it’s dinner time.

Maybe enjoy a green beer with your corned beef this year?! Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash.

Instant Pot Corned Beef and Cabbage

From Real Simple, March, 2022, page 114

Yield: Serves 8

1 3 ½ -pound package uncooked corned beef brisket with spice packet
1 cup unsalted beef broth (or 2 tablespoons More than Bouillon stirred in 1 cup water)
1 ½ pounds yellow baby potatoes (I love the Little Potato Company brand)
4 carrots, sliced into 2-inch pieces (about 2 ½ cups)
1 head green cabbage, cut into 8 wedges, core intact
2/3 cup cups sour cream
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
1 teaspoon lemon zest plus 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (from one lemon)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, divided
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided

Select sauté setting on a multicooker (such as an Instant Pot). Remove brisket from package, reserving spice packet, rinse brisket in cold water and pat dry. Sprinkle both sides of brisket with contents of spice packet. 

Place brisket, fat side down, in cooker; cook for 2 minutes. Flip and add broth, using a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits. Lock lid and turn steam-release handle to sealing position. Cook at high pressure for 30 minutes.

Quick-release the pressure. Remove lid and add potatoes, carrots and cabbage in layers on top of brisket. Lock lid and turn steam-release handle to sealing position. Cook at high pressure for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, stir together sour cream, horseradish, lemon zest and juice, 1 tablespoon parsley and ½ teaspoon pepper in a small bowl.

Quick-release the pressure. Remove brisket from pot and thinly slice against the grain.

Serve with vegetables, topped with remaining 1 tablespoon parsley and ½ teaspoon pepper. Serve with sour cream.

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 along with the Shore Publishing and Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years but now lives in Groton, Conn. Contact Lee at leeawhite@aol.com.

A la Carte: Twice the Usual Feast Today:- First Maple Gooey Butter Cake, Then Whole Coconut Curry Chicken

Lee White

Column #1

All winter, friends have been wailing about winter. When will it be over? Will summer ever come? Others complain about the cold. Some have slipped on ice. 

For me, winter on the Connecticut shoreline isn’t bad.

I grew up in Troy, N.Y. Went to college in Ithaca and Rochester, and lived and worked in Worcester, Mass.

Even the isolation during the pandemic wasn’t bad for me. I read a lot, I write a lot, I cook a lot, I learned about HGTV. My daughter installed Roku on my television.

And I get all my food magazines. 

Last week, my new Bon Appetit arrived and the cover showed a pale green cake topped with chocolate glaze showered with pale green powder. But the recipe called for mochiko (or sweet rice flour) and matcha. So I called Christine, who owns Fromage in Old Saybrook. “Oh, Lee,” she said, “I just sold the last package,” and said she’d have more by the end of the week.

Obviously, I wasn’t the only shoreline denizen who saw the magazine’s cover photo.

The next day I got my copy of Yankee magazine and saw a recipe requiring all the ingredients in my pantry and refrigerator. Wait until you try this one.

Maple Gooey Butter Cake
From Amy Traverso, Yankee magazine, March/April 2022, page 60
Yield: 12 servings

For the cake:
1 cup salted butter, melted, plus more for greasing pan*
2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting pan*
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup  maple syrup, at room temperature
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the topping:
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
¾ cup confectioners’ sugar, plus more for sprinkling
2 large eggs, at room temperature
½ cup maple syrup, at room temperature
¼ teaspoon maple extract (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and set a rack in the middle position. Grease a 9 x 13-inch baking dish with a thin layer of butter, then sprinkle with some flour, tilting the dish to coat evenly. Discard excess. 

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

In a medium ball, whisk together I cup melted butter, maple syrup, egg and vanilla. Add butter mixture to the dry ingredients and stir with a spatula until evenly combined. Use your hands to press this mixture into an even layer in the bottom of the prepared pan.

Now, prepare the topping: Using a stand or handheld mixture, beat the cream cheese with the confectioners’ sugar and eggs in a large bowl until smooth. Add maple syrup and maple extract (if using). Beat until smooth.

Pour topping over the cake base. Bake until edges are golden brown and center is puffed but still jiggles slightly when you shake it, 45 to 55 minutes. Cool to room temperature.

Sprinkle with additional confectioners’ sugar just before serving.

*I use PAM in the blue can for baking instead of buttering and flouring a baking pan.

Column #2

Almost eight years ago, I sold my big old 1690 cape and moved to a condo. And while I miss the house, without my husband, who died in 2009, I couldn’t keep up with the what an old house requires to stay gorgeous. 

Generally speaking, a condo is just fine for me, especially during the fall (raking all those leaves) and winter (shoveling all that snow). But this winter, with too much snow, the company hired for the complex couldn’t begin to do a good job.

Good thing I always have a refrigerator full of leftovers.

Last week I ate chili three different meals and made my new favorite: pasta with summer-frozen basil pesto, lots of little  tomatoes, tiny frozen sweet peas from Trader Joe’s and flurries of grated good parmesan.

But what I was hunkering for was chicken with red curry and coconut milk, and during those snowy days I couldn’t get into my garage to buy a chicken.

In the meantime, I found a recipe on the internet I had not made before. A few days later, I tried this recipe, adding carrots and fresh cauliflower: Using one pot, a can opener and a good knife, I had four more yummy dinners.

Whole Coconut Curry Chicken

Adapted from Modern Proper
Yield: serves 6

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 whole chicken (about 3 ½ pounds)
2 tablespoons salt
2 cans unsweetened coconut milk, divided
2 tablespoons red curry paste
1 small onion, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2 red bell peppers, sliced
1 cup cauliflower florets (optional)
1 cup carrots, cut into ½ inch dice (optional)
1 lime, zest and juice
Cooked rice for serving

Rinse and pat chicken dry inside and out with paper towels. Discard anything inside the cavity. Salt inside and out.

Heat olive oil in large Dutch oven over medium heat. Brown chicken until skin is golden and crispy on both sides. Remove chicken from the pot.

Add 1 can coconut milk, curry paste, onions, garlic and ginger. Bring to a simmer. Add chicken, cover and cook for 30-45 minutes over medium heat.

Uncover and add peppers (or any other vegetables you might like), lime zest and juice, the second can of coconut milk and continue to cook, covered, for another 10 minutes, or until internal temperature of the chicken reaches 165 degrees. 

When you are ready to serve, either shred the chicken or quarter the chicken from the carcass and serve in a bowl along with the broth and rice.

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 along with the Shore Publishing and Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years but now lives in Groton, Conn. Contact Lee at leeawhite@aol.com.

A la Carte: This Five-Way Chili is All The Way From Cincinnati!

Lee White

I get excited when I see old recipes in my computer and haven’t made in decades. 

Friends asked if I could make dessert for 12. I wanted it to be yummy and attractive and decided on a flan, or custard. I’d made it often as a dish but not in years. When you take it out of the oven and turn it onto a slightly oval plate, the caramel waves over and stays that way for hours.

I had all the ingredients but didn’t read the instructions carefully, so there were problems.

I came close to over-toasting the coconut, although I caught it in time and tossed it onto a cool granite counter so it continued to the right golden color.

Then I cooked the cup of sugar into a skillet. Then I sat down to read.

Uh-oh, it burned.

Used another skillet and another cup of sugar. I paid attention and it worked.

As I turned the caramel into the cake pan, I realized I’d misread the recipe: it needed 1 ½ cups of sugar and I should have used an 8-inch pan, not the 9-inch. The recipe worked, but I had not remembered my maxim: like a carpenter reads twice and cuts once, I had not read twice and cooked once. (With elbow grease, I saved the first skillet!)

This weekend I wanted something easier, something that require little precision.

I made a big pot of marinara with sweet and hot sausage. Then I made Cincinnati 5-Way Chili. I love this dish and a note by Kathy Gunst on Facebook reminded me that I have it in my own computer files. Recipes like this one gives me absolution: if you don’t have all the spices and don’t want to add spaghetti and prefer to deep-six the beans, it’s still delicious!

Cincinnati 5-Way Chili
Adapted from USA Cookbook by Sheila Lukins (Workman, New York, 1997)

Photo by American Heritage Chocolate on Unsplash.

Yield: serves 6 

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 pounds ground beef (or 1 pound ground beef and 1 pound ground lamb)
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons cumin
¼ teaspoon each of ground cinnamon, ground allspice, coriander and ground cardamom
1 28-ounce can plum or crushed tomatoes (Muir Glen if you have it)
2 tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 pound spaghetti or linguine
2 cans (15 ½ ounces each) dark red kidney beans, rinsed and drained, for garnish
4 to 6 scallions (3 inches green left one), thinly sliced on the diagonal, for garnish
½ (one-half) pound grated Monterey Jack cheese, for garnish

Place oil and onions in a heavy pot over low heat, and cook, stirring, until wilted, 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 2 minutes, stirring often. Crumble in the beef (or beef and lamb, if you are using) and raise the heat to medium. Brown well, stirring often to break up the clumps, 10 minutes. Remove any excess fat from the pot.

Add cocoa and all the spices to the meat and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add tomatoes and their juice, tomato paste, vinegar and honey. Bring to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until the flavors are well blended, 20 to 30 minutes.

Adjust the seasoning, then season generously with salt and pepper, to taste. (You can now turn off the heat and cover the chili until ready to serve, up to 3 or 4 hours. If not ready to use until tomorrow, refrigerate. Bring to a simmer before serving.)

Shortly before serving, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the spaghetti or linguine until just tender, about 10 minutes. Heat the beans in a covered saucepan over low heat.

Drain pasta thoroughly. Divide the pasta among six shallow pasta bowls. Top with the chili, then the kidney beans, scallions and grated cheese.

Serve immediately.

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

A la Carte: Caramelized Coconut Budino Makes a Luscious Dessert

Lee White

I am going to a dinner party next Saturday evening in Madison. There may be 12 people. I may have met half of them. Most are flying in to see their daughter and son-in-law in their new house into which they moved just three weeks ago.

The last time I moved, it took me months to unpack boxes, never mind ready to host a dinner party in less than a month. And many of the invitees are flying in from Florida and Pennsylvania and will be staying for a few extra days in their house. I probably wouldn’t have been able to find the boxes of sheets and towels. 

In any case, as I am one of the locals who will be at the dinner party, I told Lisa I would make the dessert. Although the age range of the visitors run from 20 to 80, and assuming no one is lactose-intolerant or on a diet, this gorgeous and luscious dessert will feed 12 and still looks pretty a day or two. It is, in a way, a flan, but the chewy coconut does more than just feel like snowdrops on one’s tongue.

I will also make some little cookies, maybe shortbread, to those who don’t much care for flan.  

Caramelized Coconut Budino
Adapted from More Cooking in the Wine Country by Joanne Weir (Simon and Schuster, New York, 2001)

Yield: Serves 8

2 ½ cups very finely grated sweetened coconut
2 cups sugar, divided
8 eggs
3 cups whole milk
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 325 degrees

Have ready an 8-inch round cake pan and a larger one in which to place the 8-inch cake pan. 

Place coconut on a baking sheet and bake in the oven until light golden, tossing occasionally, 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool slightly. Place in food processor and pulse until finely ground. Reserve. Increase oven temperature to 375 degrees.

In a large, heavy stainless-steel frying pan, melt 1 cup of the sugar over medium heat. Do not stir with a spoon; instead, swirl the pan to melt the sugar uniformly. Cook until sugar starts to turn golden brown. Immediate remove the pan from the heat and pour mixture into the 8-inch round cake pan, turning the pan so the caramel coats the bottom and sides. Set it aside.

Whisk eggs together in a bowl. Add the remaining 1 cup of sugar, the milk, coconut and flour and stir together until well mixed.

Pour coconut mixture into the caramel-lined, pan, and place in a larger pan. Pour boiling water into the larger pan to a depth of 1 inch. Bake in the oven until set and a skewer goes into the center and comes out clean, 55 to 65 minutes.

Remove can pan from the larger pan and let it sit for 10 minutes. Then invert the coconut budino onto a serving plate and serve.

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

A la Carte: A Soup for Snow? Try This Intriguing Sweet Potato-Coconut Soup

Lee White

What do you do on a Sunday when there is nearly three feet of snow on your front door? Obviously, the meteorologists were right this time …

Is there enough food in my house to keep me a day or two from starvation?

Sure, there is.

But what would I be in the mood for?

Yes, my friends, I had stocked up on produce with what I wanted to cook: three different soups. I also made tiramisu on Sunday, just because I happened to have mascarpone in the refrigerator and, while milk chocolate was not in any supermarket, I have some Ghirardelli cocoa mix in the pantry, too.

Amid all the produce, I bought a sweet potato bigger than my shoe size, a seven. Tonight, I am making a soup to finish up the coconut milk I used yesterday. You may, as I did, forget the parsley relish, since I am out of fresh parsley.

Sweet Potato-Coconut Soup with Spice Relish

Adapted from a recipe by Bobby Flay in September 12, 2010 issue of Parade magazine
Yield: 4 to 6 portions

Spicy Relish
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
pinch of red-pepper flakes
½ small sweet potato, peeled and cut into a small dice
salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Sweet Potato-Coconut Soup
1 ½ tablespoons canola oil
1 small red onion, chopped
2-inch piece of fresh ginger, grated (ginger gums up your Microplane; cut in tiny dice instead)
pinch of red-pepper flakes
3 cups homemade chicken stock (out of my own, I used the store-bought, low-sodium broth)
½ cup water
1 ½ pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into large dice
1 ½ cups unsweetened coconut milk
1 tablespoon honey
large pinch of ground cinnamon

For relish, heat oil and butter over medium heat. Add red-pepper flakes; heat for 10 seconds. Add diced sweet potato, salt and pepper to taste. Cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until softened, 15 minutes. Uncover, increase heat to high and cook until diced potatoes are golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and stir in parsley.

For soup, heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and ginger; cook until soft, 5 minutes. Add red-pepper flakes and cook for 30 seconds. Add stock and water, bring to a boil. Add sweet potatoes, bring to a simmer. Cook until potatoes are soft, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool for 20 to 25 minutes.

Transfer mixture to a blender and process until smooth. Return to saucepan; simmer over low heat. Whisk in coconut milk, honey and cinnamon. Cook until thickened and warmed through. Season with salt and pepper.

Ladle into bowls, top with a spoonful of a spicy relish.

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

A la Carte: Lemony Shrimp and Risotto Makes a Luscious Entrée

Lee White

I used to wonder about people who won’t go out if the weather is crappy, especially if it is snowing. I grew up where there is snow most days from mid-November until the end of March. I don’t remember having any snow days, but maybe we did.

In any case, I never saw a school bus and, to this day, I have never been on one. From kindergarten until junior high school (now called middle school), I walked to school, came back for lunch, then back to the school until it was time to go home. Walking.

My parents decided, after junior high school, that I would go to a different (but still public) high school. It was about seven miles from our house, so my father drove to school every morning. After school, I walked through RPI, down gazillion steps (called The Approach) into the city, then often took a town bus home.

And this was before 4-wheel, or all-wheel-drive, cars. I can still hear the sound of chains on the tires of cars and buses. Today I can’t imagine not having an all-wheel-drive car.

I also can’t imagine not going out if I want to make something for which I don’t have in my freezer, refrigerator or pantry. But when I went to bed last night, I thought I’d wake to snow or ice or heavy rain; I knew I had the shrimp, the rice and most everything except a bulb of fennel and the arugula.

Had I decided I wouldn’t go out in the crappy weather (I am one of those people, these days), I would use some fresh parsley and leave out the fennel. As it turned out, it was 47 degrees, had not snowed and there was not a chance of freezing rain.

A quick trip to the market and I had all the ingredients for this luscious entrée. And, by the way, it will be almost as good in the microwave the next day.  

Lemony Shrimp and Risotto
Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (divided)
2 teaspoon kosher salt (I use sea salt), divided
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1 pound extra-large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 small fennel bulb, chopped (about 1 cup)
1 small onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
1 large clove garlic, smashed and peeled and chopped
1 cup arborio rice (about 6 ½ ounces)
¼ cup dry white wine
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth, plus more if needed
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (from 1 large lemon)
Zest of 1 large lemon
3 cups arugula

Yield: 4 servings

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add shrimp and sprinkle with ½ teaspoons salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Cook until shrimp is just opaque in the center, about 3 minutes. Remove pan from the heat. Transfer shrimp and juices to a bowl to cool.

Add remaining 3 tablespoons oil to the pan. Add fennel and onions. Cook until tender, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook until aromatic, 30 seconds. Add wine.

Cook until wine is absorbed, stirring often, about 2 minutes. Add broth, lemon juice, zest and remaining salt and pepper. Increase heat and bring to a boil, stirring often.

Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until rice is just tender, but still has some chew and the risotto is creamy, stirring often, 13 to 14 minutes.

Mix in arugula. Stir until arugula wilts, about 30 seconds. Add shrimp. Mix in additional broth, if needed, ¼ cup at a time, until risotto is creamy.

Spoon risotto into 4 shallow soup bowls.

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

A la Carte: Winter Vegetable Soup for a Wintry Day

Lee White

Over the years, I learned a lot about buying cookbooks. Never mind the first one I ever had: it was a cookbook that was part of the first (and only) encyclopedia we order for our daughter. I bet no one under fifty years old has ever bought one.

My second was Craig Claiborne’s New York Times Cookbook. It was one hell of a cookbook and still is. I learned to cook from that one. I began to buy chefs’ cookbooks. Like a kid, I loved the pictures. One, the French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller, was gorgeous, but I never cooked a single recipe from it.  The recipes looked easy, just eight or seven ingredients, but embedded were words like “see page this or see page that.” To finish the entrée or dessert I would have had to make two or three different recipes first.

Today I buy cookbooks written by the brilliant Jacques Pepin and television star Ina Garten; I own books from the Moosewood Collective along with Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso. These people are cooks, teachers and recipe writers, rarely restaurant chefs.

Jacques buys most of his ingredients from farmers’ markets or Stop and Shop. Ina Garten shops in the Hamptons. They both have their own gardens. Sheila Lukins cooked for her own little shop called The Silver Palate. New Haven’s own Claire Criscuolo’s Claire’s Corner Copia books are treasures.

So here’s the deal: in the recipe below, there are 18 ingredients, but nine are veggies, a bunch, literally, are herbs and there is some liquid. Most of them are probably in your own kitchen. The soup will feed eight to 10 people and cost you maybe $15. And I found that recipe  from Yankee magazine, which couldn’t be more New England-ish.

This soup is delicious.

Roasted Winter Vegetable and White Bean Chowder
From In the Thick of It by Nadine Nelson (Yankee, January-February, 2022)

2 ½ cups diced butternut squash
2 ½ cups sliced carrots
2 cups diced russet potatoes
1 cup diced parsnips
1 fennel bulb, diced
2 tablespoons plus 3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
3 cups diced onion
1 cup diced celery
5 fresh thyme sprigs
1 fresh rosemary sprig
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons flour (all-purpose or gluten-free)
8 cups vegetable stock (chicken stock if you are not a vegetarian)
2 14-ounce cans cooked white beans, drained
2 cups sliced mushrooms, any kind
2 cups milk of your choice (2 percent is fine)
Fresh thyme sprigs and ground paprika or smoked for garnish

Heat oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl, toss five veggies in 2 tablespoons olive and and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Divide vegetables between two large rimmed baking sheets and roast until tender and browned, about 40 minutes, turning them a few times while roasting.

While vegetables are roasting, prepare the soup base: heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat, then add onions, celery, thyme, rosemary, bay leaf, black remaining and 1 teaspoon salt, then cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 6 minutes.

Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Add stock and beans.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Add mushrooms and milk, bring to a simmer, and stir in roasted vegetables.

Taste and add additional salt and pepper, if desired.

Serve hot, garnished with fresh thyme and a sprinkle or paprika. 

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