February 25, 2020

A la Carte: Pepperoni Pasta is Easy to Prep, Delicious to Eat

The other Sunday, I drove to the Mystic Marriott to judge the chocolate gala to benefit Fairview in Groton, I used to call rest homes like Fairview old persons’ homes.  Now that I am actually an old person, there are other names that sound nicer, like independent or assisted living. Some years ago a friend told me that when she gets old, she wants to be at Fairview, with its gorgeous view of the Thames River. And when her time comes, she said, she wants someone to wheel her down the rolling green hills right into the river.

These days she might have a different take, since Fairview’s many-acred “campus” is gorgeous and has single houses which people buy long before they need any assisting at all. And among the hundreds of people who paid to get a sugar rush that Sunday, Fairview will fund activities for the very active residents there. 

The chocolate was pretty delicious, gorgeous and, for two of the competitors, mighty edgy. The biggest awards went to Franck Iglesias, executive pastry chef at Foxwoods, and Mark Vecchitto at Octagon, housed at the Mystic Marriott. By the way, we three judges (including The Day’s Rick Koster and Maurice Beebe, who was chef/owner of the late North End Deli) did not know whose chocolate we were eating; the establishments were numbered and only at the end did we know who was whom.

As with most dessert contests, by the end of the day I mostly wanted a hamburger. In truth, I got home and ate a tuna sandwich, because there were no leftovers in my refrigerator. With more weather events ahead, food to be make for a friend after surgery, and some dishes to take for a party coming up, it was time to cook.

This is one of my first ever pasta dishes. My nephew made it for me first, about 30 years ago, from Jeff Smith’s first cookbook. I have adapted it so much that I consider it my own. I will double the recipe for my friends and as leftovers for myself. 

Pepperoni Pasta

Yield: serves 4 to 6

2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium-sized sweet onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-ounce can of whole or diced tomatoes
1 or so jigger of vodka (optional)
one-half pound thinly sliced pepperoni (buy the pepperoni sliced at the supermarket’s deli counter)
salt and pepper to taste
one-quarter teaspoon cayenne pepper (more if you like it spicy)
one-quarter cup heavy cream
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
lots of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Romano cheese
1 pound pasta (I like rigatoni or penne, but any pasta will do)

Photo by sheri silver on Unsplash

Place a big stockpot full of water on the stove and bring to a boil.

In the meantime, in a large skillet, warm oil, then add onion and garlic. Cook over medium-low heat until translucent (try not to brown the herbs.) Add the entire can of tomatoes; while warming, mash tomatoes if you are using whole tomatoes rather than diced tomatoes. When hot, add vodka and cook for about four minutes, at which point most of the liquor will have evaporated. Toss in pepperoni and stir; cook for another few minutes. Add salt and pepper, to taste, and beginning adding cayenne pepper, tasting each for amount of spiciness. 

In the meantime, when water is boiling, add quite a bit of sat (a few tablespoons), then add pasta. Stir until water comes back to a boil, drop heat to medium and cook until al dente (a bit of chewiness).

While pasta is cooking, add heavy cream and stir until a pretty coral color. Turn heat to low and cover. When pasta is al dente, drain but keep half a cup of pasta water to add to sauce if necessary. Add pasta to sauce (or vice versa). Toss well, adding pasta water if you want to thin it a bit. Add fresh basil and cheese; serve immediately, with more cheese so people can add more to their 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 a cooking column called A La Carte for LymeLine.com and also for the Shore Publishing and Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. 

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A la Carte: A New Dish for a New Decade — Roasted Shrimp, Caulifower with Quinoa

Like many of you, I have made one or two or more resolutions. I, for one, am on that intermittent fasting. I don’t eat before 11 a.m., nor after 7 p.m. This is an easy diet for me: I like lunch more than breakfast and I often am in bed at 8:30, where I read for at least two hours. So dinner at 6-ish works for me. I have lost around seven pounds since mid-December, even with the holiday parties. 

My friend Judy promises to watch less television and learn how to use more of her computer’s abilities, especially Google maps, since she is an assessor. I am promising myself that I will buy fewer shoes and clothes. All summer long I wear my jelly sandals, of which I have around 15 pair, and in the winter I wear boots outside. I never wear shoes in my condo, even when the temperature hovers around 20 degrees. As for clothes, my Nordstrom, Nordstrom Rack and Macy’s have zero balances.

Almost everyone I know are getting into plant-based food meals. I eat chicken and fish a few times a week;  I have a hamburger or a lamb chop maybe once a week. I do like pasta and chili, whose main ingredients are the beans and the pasta rather than meat balls or pork. I also have stopped at Burger King a few times for that Impossible Burger. With the mayonnaise-based dressing, onion, lettuce and tomato, I don’t miss the burger at all. Truth to be told, I only order my burgers at Haywire in Westbrook.  Once Jack Flaws opens his new place in Centerbrook, I will be a true carnivore, if only for a few hours.

Today, though, I will be making this for dinner. This recipe comes from the free magazine from Stop & Shop. I had just read on Facebook that Ina Garten now only serves shrimp that she has oven-roasted. Evidently Stop & Shop’s test kitchen thinks the same way.

Roasted Shrimp and Cauliflower with Quinoa Tabbouleh

From Savory by Stop and Shop, January 2020

Yield: serves 4

One-half cup dry quinoa, rinsed
3 cups cauliflower florets
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
One-quarter teaspoon salt and pepper
1 cup fresh parsley
1 pound frozen, peeled deveined raw shrimp, thawed
One-quarter teaspoon salt and pepper
One-quarter teaspoon smoked paprika
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Cook the quinoa according to package directions.

In a medium bowl, toss the cauliflower with 2 tablespoons oil, salt and pepper; reserve bowl. Arrange on a large rimmed baking sheet in single layer. Roast 15 minutes.

Meanwhile. Very finely chop parsley and add to a large bowl. In the same bowl cauliflower was in, toss the shrimp with the smoked paprika, 2 tablespoons of oil, and salt and pepper.

Once cauliflower is roasted, push cauliflower to one side of baking sheet and arrange shrimp in a single layer on other side. Roast 5 minutes until shrimp are cooked through and cauliflower is tender.

Fluff the quinoa and add to bowl with parsley. Add lemon juice and remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve the shrimp and cauliflower over the quinoa .

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A la Carte: A Day for Dauphinois (aka Scalloped Potatoes)

If you are reading this column today, you know that yesterday was Christmas. If you have little ones, they probably woke you up at dawn, to let you know that Santa had arrived.

When our little ones were young, we spent Christmas with my husband’s sister in East Bloomfield, N.Y. We arrived on Christmas Eve, early enough to get to my in-laws’ church in Rochester. There my husband turned the pages of the lovely old pipe organ as my father-in-law played.

After that, we all drove to Roslyn’s house. Our children, our parents and we slept everywhere—kids in sleeping bags in the living room and family room, our parents in the bedrooms upstairs/ Doug and I slept in a Sofabed  two rooms away from the living room (that room, much later, became the bird room, but that’s another long story).

I’m not sure how Ros made this happen, but no presents were open until we had a full breakfast, waffles or pancakes or French toast, bacon and sausage and, for us, gallons of coffee. Then the fun began.

Wrapping paper and bows filled the living room and the kids squealed. We adults opened our gifts one at a time, exclaimed how thrilled we were with every present. We showed each of our treasures to the others. And every year we gave Roslyn a special one—always a gag gift, often naughty. She was supposed to show them to our parents.  Sometimes she didn’t.

Dinner, around 4 p.m., was easy: often prime rib, which came out of the oven as we turned the heat to 450 degrees. Then we placed the pan of Yorkshire pudding, which, of course, is not a pudding at all. Sometimes it was a ham, instead. If it was, there would be scalloped potatoes, which everyone loved. 

Today I am making a big ham for my neighbors, their son and his teenage daughter. If I could have gotten one, it would be a spiral sliced, Honey Baked Ham. It may not be local and it may be overly sweet, but I love that ham. There will be sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese (for my neighbors’ granddaughter), lots of vegetables and for dessert something special—perhaps crème brulee or chocolate pots de crème. The next day I will make a very French scalloped potatoes with slivered left-over ham nestled inside.

I love this recipe! (See below)

Gratin Dauphinois

From A Passion for Potatoes by Lydie Marshall (Harper Perennial, New York, 1992)

1 large garlic clove, peeled and minced
2 pounds Yukon Gold or russet potatoes, peeled and sliced one-eighth- to one-sixteenth-inch thick
1 and one-half teaspoons sat*
1 and one-third cups half-and-half cream
1 tablespoons cold butter
One-half cup heavy cream

Yield: serves 4 to 6 

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 2-quart rectangular or oval dish 14 by 8 by 2 inches.  Scatter the minced garlic in the dish.

Overlap 3 layers of potatoes in the pan, sprinkling salt between each layer. Dribble in the half and half, barely covering them. Dot the top with butter.

Bake in the middle of the oven for 45 minutes. Pour the heavy cream on top of the potatoes and tilt the pan to baste the top layer. Bake for 45 minutes more, or until golden brown.

*If you are adding ham to the gratin, leave out the salt in the recipe, but serve with a nice finishing salt at the table.

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

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A la Carte: A Cornucopia of Thanksgiving Recipes from Lee, Including How to Bake That Turkey!

Editor’s Note: We are running several of Lee White’s wonderful Thanksgiving recipes together today to give readers an opportunity to choose the ones they wish to use.  Enjoy!

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.

CRANBERRY, GRAPE AND APPLE 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
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.

TURKEY HASH SALAD

From Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins, The New Basics Cookbook (Workman, New York, 1989)

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

5 teaspoons Dijon mustard
one-half cup red wine vinegar
1 cup light olive oil (or other good vegetable oil)
12 small red potatoes
one-half teaspoon kosher or sea salt
2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
12 large cloves garlic
8 ounces bacon cut into one-half-inch pieces
one-half cup finely chopped red onion
one-quarter cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
3 cups coarsely shredded cook turkey
1 bunch arugula, rinsed, trimmed and patted dry
2 bunches watercress, rinsed, trimmed and patted dry

Whisk mustard and vinegar together in a small bowl. Slowly pour in three-quarters of the oil, whisking constantly. Set the vinaigrette aside.

Prick the potatoes all over with the tines of a fork. Combine remaining one-quarter oil, salt and 1 teaspoon of the pepper in a bowl. Add potatoes and toss until well coated with the mixture. Place the potatoes in a shallow roasting pan and bake, uncovered, for 1 hour, turning occasionally.

Remove potatoes from the oven and allow them to cool. Then cut them into one-half-inch slices and place in a large bowl.

Place the garlic cloves in a small saucepan. Cover with water, bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain, allow to cool. Then peel.

Saute bacon in a heavy skillet until crisp. Transfer bacon to paper towels to drain, reserving the fat.

Add garlic cloves to bacon fat in the skillet and cook over low heat for 2 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon. Discard the fat.

Add red onion, parsley, remaining teaspoon of black pepper and the vinaigrette to the potatoes. Toss gently.

Add turkey, bacon and garlic cloves. Gently fold all ingredients together.

Arrange the arugula and watercress on a large serving platter and place the salad on top. 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.

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A la Carte: Time for Turkey? Sure, But What to do With the Left-Overs — How About Making Turkey Hash Salad?

Oh, my, Thanksgiving is upon us, although it is late this year. As you read this, you actually have an extra week to buy your turkey and make the stuffing (I make the stuffing the day before, refrigerate it and stuff much of it into the cold turkey). I have made roasted turkey almost every way possible. I have brined it, roasted it upside down before turning it upside, baked it is plastic bags and wrapped the top in cheesecloth. I have bought Butterball and organic turkeys.

Here’s what I do now. I buy the least expensive turkey, usually about 12 to 16 pounds. I always buy my turkey frozen. My deal is this: the fresh turkey at the supermarket may have been in the cooler for many days. My turkey was probably frozen before it got to the supermarket.  I do thaw the turkey in the refrigerator for at least three days.

Usually, by the morning of Thanksgiving, I think it has thawed, but it hasn’t and my hands are frozen and sore by the time I get the bag of giblets out of the cavity. I stuff the turkey, baste it with butter and white wine. If the white meat is a little dry at the end, I figure that the gravy, the moist stuffing and the buttery mashed potatoes will turn that meat luscious. 

If you want my Turkey 101, its gravy and its stuffing, e-mail me at leeawhite@aol.com. As for my favorite leftover, it is a turkey sandwich and its sides, at least three to four inches tall. My second favorite, if you have enough of everything, is to make a casserole and eat it on Sunday. If you are sick of turkey, freeze the casserole.

Also, you can make so much mashed potatoes, then freeze the potatoes in 1 cup packets and make mashed potato bread. For that recipe, e-mail me.  And here is another recipe. It’s delish. 

Turkey Hash Salad

From Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins, The New Basics Cookbook (Workman, New York, 1989)

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

5 teaspoons Dijon mustard
one-half cup red wine vinegar
1 cup light olive oil (or other good vegetable oil)
12 small red potatoes
one-half teaspoon kosher or sea salt
2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
12 large cloves garlic
8 ounces bacon cut into one-half-inch pieces
one-half cup finely chopped red onion
one-quarter cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
3 cups coarsely shredded cook turkey
1 bunch arugula, rinsed, trimmed and patted dry
2 bunches watercress, rinsed, trimmed and patted dry

Whisk mustard and vinegar together in a small bowl. Slowly pour in three-quarters of the oil, whisking constantly. Set the vinaigrette aside.

Prick the potatoes all over with the tines of a fork. Combine remaining one-quarter oil, salt and 1 teaspoon of the pepper in a bowl. Add potatoes and toss until well coated with the mixture. Place the potatoes in a shallow roasting pan and bake, uncovered, for 1 hour, turning occasionally.

Remove potatoes from the oven and allow them to cool. Then cut them into one-half-inch slices and place in a large bowl. 

Place the garlic cloves in a small saucepan. Cover with water, bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain, allow to cool. Then peel.

Saute bacon in a heavy skillet until crisp. Transfer bacon to paper towels to drain, reserving the fat.

Add garlic cloves to bacon fat in the skillet and cook over low heat for 2 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon. Discard the fat.

Add red onion, parsley, remaining teaspoon of black pepper and the vinaigrette to the potatoes. Toss gently.

Add turkey, bacon and garlic cloves. Gently fold all ingredients together.

Arrange the arugula and watercress on a large serving platter and place the salad on top. Serve immediately.

About the Author: Lee White, a local resident, 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 the Times and Shore Publishing newspapers, and Elan, a quarterly magazine, all of which are now owned by The Day.

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A la Carte: Add Flavor to ‘Everything’ with Chile Crisp, Basil Pesto

I have written two recipes for today’s column. The recipe for chile crisp is from a writer, who always has a jar of it in his refrigerator. He puts it on everything from “eggs, guacamole [and] pizza.” It does seems spicy, so if you make it, try a little less than a quarter cup of red pepper flakes, although I like spicy, especially for breakfast.

The other recipe is the basil pesto I have made for decades. I use it in all my red sauce recipes, often in stews and love it by itself for pasta. I don’t have a garden this year, but friends are giving me big handfuls of basil and my pals on the board of education gave me a gift certificate for superb olive oil at Capizzano in Pawcatuck. I have a bag of pine nuts in the freezer. My food processor does all the rest.

Chile Crisp

From ‘Bon Appetit,’ August, 2019

4 small shallots, thinly sliced
cloves from 2 heads of garlic (yes, heads of garlic)
6 star anise pods
2 cinnamon sticks
1 and one-half cups vegetable oil
2 inch knob of ginger
one-quarter cup red pepper flakes
2 teaspoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons sugar

Yield: 2 cups

In a medium saucepan, toss shallots and garlic over medium heat along with star anise pods and cinnamon sticks and vegetable olil. Cook, reducing heat as needed to maintain a gentle simmer and swirling pan occasionally until shallot and garlic are browned and crisp, 20 to 25 minutes (it is important to go slow.)

Peel and very finely chop ginger. Mix in a medium bowl with red pepper flakes, soy sauce and sugar. Strain shallot mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into ginger mixture. Let shallots and garlic cool in sieve (they will crisp further.) Add to sauce.

Advance preparation: chili crisp can be made one month ahead. Cover and chill.

Making basil pesto. Photo by Artur Rutkowski on Unsplash

Pesto alla Genovese

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

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

Yield: 1 cup or enough for 1 pound of pasta

2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup pignoli (pine nuts)*
1 large garlic clove, chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup freshly grated armesan cheese**

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

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

*Pine nuts are very expensive but worth it. However, walnuts can be used. The flavor will be different but still tasty.

**Please do not use the grated cheese that comes in those containers that sit on the supermarket shelf. You cannot believe what a difference fresh, high-quality cheese makes. A good supermarket will grate Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for you (I have them grate Parmigiano-Reggiano and Romano together, which drives purists crazy) and you can store the cheese in an air-tight container in your refrigerator or freezer. Even better, buy a small chunk and grate it yourself as you need it.

About the Author: Lee White, a local resident, 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 the Times and Shore Publishing newspapers, and Elan, a quarterly magazine, all of which are now owned by The Day. 

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A la Carte: Baby Carrot Soup is Best Served Chilled

Okay, I am having more fun this summer than I have in, at least, two years.

Last year was fine, too, as was the summer before. But this year, I am pain-free, since I had my hip replacement on July 1. A couple of Sundays ago I went to our boules party and saw people I rarely see except during the summer and our Christmas party in early December. I am not on a team this year, but I was able to throw a couple of boules (the game itself is called pétanque, while the stainless steel balls are called boules, but we all call the game boules, too). If they need a fill-out a team for the next two games, I can actually play.

I am also having such a good time with my CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) produce. Unlike most farms, I can pick anything I want that is available at the farm stand. Last week I bought about eight pounds of tomatoes, some green frying peppers, a big loaf of bread (made by the chef of the Oyster Club in Mystic) and almost three bags of baby carrots.

Now, let us talk about baby carrots. The carrots I bought were about the length of my pinkie finger, but even thinner, and the carrot tops were still attached. They are nothing like the “baby carrots” you buy at the supermarket. Those carrots are pared and thrown into a machine to make them look as if they are all the same size.

Sure, they are really carrots, but the ones I bought are tiny, sweet and still taste like the soil they grew in. I ate a lot them, then made a carrot soup I chilled and served with a dollop of sour cream (or crème fraiche.) I found the recipe online, but added a few fillips.

Of course, feel free to use big or smaller supermarket carrots.

 

Chilled Baby Carrot Soup

3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 medium  sweet onion, chopped
3 tablespoons fresh ginger, sliced thin
3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 pound of carrots, pared and diced (if they are really baby carrots, just clean them of tops and soil)
1 carton of low-salt chicken stock or vegetable stock
One-half teaspoon each of salt and yellow curry (I was out of Indian curry so I added a little red chili paste)
One-quarter teaspoon red pepper flakes (use less if you don’t like things too spicy)
1 can unsweetened coconut milk
Salt and pepper to taste

In a heavy-bottomed stock pot, add oil over medium heat. Add onion, ginger and garlic. Cook until just translucent, about 5 minutes. Add diced carrots and cook for another 3 or 4 minutes. Add stock and cook until just boiling, then reduce heat and add salt and yellow curry (or a quarter teaspoon or less red or yellow chili paste and/or red pepper flakes). Cook on medium-low for about 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool for at least an hour.

Using an immersion stick (which I do not have, I used my big Ninja), purée the soup. Put it back on the heat and add a can of coconut milk. Cook until hot and taste for seasoning. You can serve the soup hot, but I chill it and serve it cold with a dollop of sour cream or crème fraiche.

About the Author: Lee White, a local resident, 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 the Times and Shore Publishing newspapers, and Elan, a quarterly magazine, all of which are now owned by The Day. 

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A la Carte: Corn Cacio e Pepe is a Perfect Summer Dish

Writing is a solitary pursuit, but, unless you write science fiction or fantasy stories, you become one with your protagonists, whether victims or predators. But if you write nonfiction, and I consider food writing nonfiction, you picture yourself with your readers and, in most cases, you have to go out to learn what you eat, what to shop for and what to cook.

I have been writing about food for decades. Much of that time, I have been writing in New England, some in Massachusetts and, during the best time, on the Connecticut shoreline. For the past three weeks, I have been just incommunicado, first for two days in the hospital getting a new hip, the rest of the two weeks at home.

I have a three-story condo. For three days, I slept on the couch. I made the stairs by the middle of the week, sleeping in my own bed on the second floor, but that trek was difficult. As I write this, I am up and down many times a day, have been driving for eight days, went to a movie with friends and ate a Norm’s for breakfast once and Olio twice (a lunch and a dinner). Yesterday I got my hair done and went to two meetings, a total of six hours.

As I sit on my desk working on my computer, writing two columns, I realize that I have missed you more than anything.

When my marvel of a daughter left for California, I was bereft. And scared.

My next-door neighbors spent lots of time with me, even helping me clean the cats’ litterbox and carted it, and other garbage, off to the dumpster. My appetite is just coming back, so I lived on eggplant parm my daughter made (what a dish, recipe coming in a few weeks), Chinese takeout my friends bought at Golden Lantern in Uncasville, and leftovers from Sneekers (chicken and penne) and meals from Olio (mini hamburger salad and veal piccata) 

I didn’t cook for two weeks, but I am cooking again now.

Whittle’s (and probably lots of local farms) has Silver Queen corn. This recipe, plus fresh local sliced tomatoes, means I am happy once again.

Corn Cacio e Pepe

From Bon Appetit, June/July 2019

Yield: 4 servings

16 ounces gemelli, orecchiette or other medium pasta
3 cups corn kernels (from 3 large ears)
8 ounces aged Pecorino Romano or Parmesan, finely grated (about 2 cups), plus more for serving
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper, plus more for serving

Fresh, sweet corn is a key ingredient of this delicious recipe. Photo by Virgil Cayasa on Unsplash

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente; add corn about 30 seconds before pasta is done cooking. Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid. Return pasta and corn to the pot.

While pasta is cooking, toss cheese and 2 teaspoon peppers in a medium bowl to combine. Add one-third cup cold water and use a fork to mash mixture into thick paste (try to get it as smooth as possible). Still mashing, add more water, a tablespoon at a time, until paste is about the consistency of cream cheese.

Add cheese mixture to pot with pasta and corn. Using a rubber spatula, toss pasta until cooked  (the cheese mixture will be too thick to form a sauce at this point). Tossing constantly, add reserved pasta cooking liquid a splash at a time, until a glossy sauce forms. (It should still be fairly thick.)

Transfer pasta to a large bowl and top with more cheese and a few additional grinds of pepper.

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A la Carte: Spice Up Summer With These Carb-Free Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Photo by Brenna Huff on Unsplash.

My first visit to Stone Acres for my CSA [Community-Supported Agriculture] on a warm, pretty afternoon and it would have been perfect had not my old hip hurt. Fortunately, the parking lot is just a hop, skip and jump to the farmstand.

As I walked to the stand, I saw Stonington First Selectman Rob Simmons and his wife take some visitors on a tour of the farm. Someday I would love to see the farm; instead, I patted a sweet black Labrador and talked to a young girl, who explained that that Lab wasn’t hers. “I have a yellow lab,” she explained. “Is your lab as nice as this one,” I asked. “Yes, she said, “but not as mellow.” 

As I showed my receipt, I was given a dark green fabric-zipped tote I could use for all of my CSA goodies over the summer. That week there were fat gorgeous strawberries on a counter and baggies of herbs. In the refrigerator I chose lots of different types of lettuces, some blue mushrooms (local, but not from the farm), some blue cheese from Mystic Cheese Company, and French radishes.  Each week there will be more and more choices. This is going to be a terrific summer of cooking and eating.

Over the weekend I did little walking and, for the first time, I finished the Sunday New York Times on Sunday. I also went through The Day, four weeks of the New Yorker and my latest edition of Bon Appetit. While that magazine, and most other June magazines, are called the grilling issue, I found some incredible salad ideas in Bon Appetit, including one with cantaloupe and snap peas.

Then I noticed this recipe that could be ready to eat in under 20 minutes and carb free, using my favorite lettuce, Bibb or butter lettuce.

Spicy Chicken Lettuce Wraps

From Bon Appetit, June/July, 2019

Yield: 4 servings

2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sambal oelek or Sriracha
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar (light brown sugar will do)
1 teaspoon fish sauce
3 scallions
2 garlic cloves
1 pound ground chicken
Salt to taste
Butter or Bibb lettuce leaves, thoroughly washed and dried
For serving: lime wedges and ramekin of Sriracha for a little more heat

Mix together the soy sauce, sambal oelek or Sriracha, sugar and fish sauce in a small bowl and set aside.

Trim the dark green parts of the scallions and slice thin. Set aside this part for serving. Thinly slice the white and pale green parts. Finely chop the garlic cloves.

In a skillet, heat the oil over medium Cook scallions and garlic, stirring occasionally, until softened (a little color is okay), about 3 minutes. Add ground chicken and lightly season with salt. Cook, breaking up with a wooden spoon and tasting occasionally, until chicken is cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes. Add reserve soy sauce mixture and cook, tossing occasionally, until liquid is almost completely reduced, about 2 minutes.

Serve in a platter with lettuce leaves topped with chopped dark green scallions.

About the author: Lee White (left), a former resident of Old Lyme, has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976.  She 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 the Shore Publishing newspapers, and Elan, a quarterly magazine, all of which are now owned by The Day.

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A la Carte: Thinking Delicious Dessert? How About Date Walnut Bread with Buttermilk Sorbet?

This is a difficult time of year for me when I bake. I want fresh rhubarb, strawberries and blueberries (although the last I usually buy frozen because I don’t care for fat, cultivated blurriest, preferring  Wyman’s frozen wild blueberries).

With no fresh fruit, I made two lemon loaf cakes from Ina Garten’s recipe. I took the cakes to meetings and they were eaten in no time.

Loaf pan cakes or breads are easy to make and, unlike most cakes, require no frostings. In addition, once you follow the recipe (flour, sugar, butter, egg and liquid), you can add dried fruit, nuts, coconut or chocolate or cinnamon chips.

I also noticed that I have too many cartons of buttermilk and too many plastic bags of walnuts. So I made the date nut bread along with this delicious buttermilk sorbet. Imagine it as dessert with the date nut cake or the nut bread sliced with cream cheese and pineapple as a tasty lunch.

The sorbet does, however, require an ice cream maker. Buy an inexpensive one, or borrow one from a friend.

Date Walnut Bread

I will double this recipe, make two loaves and use buttermilk instead of regular milk;

2 cups flour
1 tablespoons baking powder
one-half teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (you may use ground if you don’t have fresh)
5 tablespoons light brown sugar
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 cup finely chopped walnuts (I use a small wooden bowl and a mezzaluna)
1 cup chopped pitted dates (I chop them with a little flour so they are not sticky)
1 egg
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons melted butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease a 9-inch loaf pan (I use Pam in the blue can).

Sift together flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. Add brown sugar and mix. Add nuts and dates and stir together. Beat together egg and milk and add to dry ingredients, along with butter. Blend just enough to moisten the mixture. Pour into prepared loaf pan and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until top is cracked and a wooden skewer comes out dry. (I use these wooden skewers instead of toothpicks since the latter are too short to get to the bottom any bread or cake.) Cool slightly and invert onto a wire rack.

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

Yield: 1 and one-half  quarts

1 and one and three-quarter  cups sugar
2 cups water
2 cups buttermilk
1 and one-half 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 one hour. Sorbet will keep frozen for up to two weeks.

About the author: Lee White (left), a former resident of Old Lyme, has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976.  She 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 the Shore Publishing newspapers, and Elan, a quarterly magazine, all of which are now owned by The Day.

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A la Carte: So You Want to be Creative With Chicken? Add Chili and Citrus!

When I was maybe eight- or nine-years-old, if I ever felt a little “nauseous,” or a bit sick to my stomach, I would ask myself if I wanted a bacon, lettuce and tomato (BLT) sandwich. If I didn’t want one, I knew I was sick.

When I was much older, a BLT is still my favorite sandwich and I will make an entire pound of bacon, let it cool on paper towels, then put all of it in a plastic bag and place in the crisper of the refrigerator. That way, when I needed a BLT, I would use nuke three or four slices and keep myself happy.

I don’t make pounds of bacon any more. My preferences these days are tuna, turkey or chicken sandwiches. Tuna I could eat every day but there is that problem with mercury. Instead, I make a roast chicken just so I can have chicken sandwiches for days. So when I saw an entire feature on chicken in the new Bon Appetit, I tried the one below, since I had every single ingredient. It was great and the leftover chicken will be one amazing sandwich.

Chili-and-Citrus-Rubbed Chicken with Potatoes

From Bon Appetit. April 2109, page 81

3 and one-half pound to 4 pound chicken
Kosher or sea salt
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
Zest of 1 small orange and 1 small lemon
One-quarter cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon mild red pepper flakes (like Aleppo-style)
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
Three-quarter cup low-sodium chicken broth (I now use Better Than Bouillon)
One-half cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon tomato paste
4 garlic cloves, crushed
2 pounds medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season generously inside and out with salt. Place on rimmed baking sheet and let sit 1 hour on room temperature.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Coarsley grind coriander and fennel seeds in spice mill or with mortar and pestle. Transfer to small bowl and add zests, oil, pepper flakes and paprika; mix well. Pat chicken dry, then rub all over with spiced oil.

Whisk broth, wine and tomato paste in a cast-iron skillet or 3-quart enameled cast-iron baking dish to combine. Place chicken in center and scatter garlic cloves around. Roast chicken, turning halfway through and adding an additional one-quarter cup water, if pan seems dry, until chicken is golden brown and instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of breast registers 155 , 50 to 60 minutes (temperature will climb to 160 degrees as chicken rests). Transfer chicken to a cutting board and let rest 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, strain liquid left in pan through fine-mesh sieve into a heatproof measuring cup or bowl; discard anything in sieve. Taste, season sauce with salt, if needed. Set aside.

Place potatoes in a large pot and pour in cold water to cover by 1 inch. Add large handful of salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are fork-tender, 25 minutes. Drain and transfer potatoes back into pan.

Cut potatoes into large pieces. Pour reserved sauce over potatoes. Add parsley, season with salt and gently toss to combine. Place chicken on a platter and serve potatoes alongside.

About the author: Lee White (left), a former resident of Old Lyme, has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976.  She 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 the Shore Publishing newspapers, and Elan, a quarterly magazine, all of which are now owned by The Day.

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A la Carte: Whether It’s Easter or Passover in Your Home, Lamb is Always Lovely!

Boneless rolled leg of lamb always makes a perfect Easter meal — but, as Lee explains, it doesn’t have to be boneless! Photo by Mike Tinnion on Unsplash

It seems lately that Christian and Jewish holidays seems to happen within weeks, or days, of the year.

For those who think that Hanukkah is like a Jewish Christmas, it is not. And Passover is nothing like Christian Easter either. Rather, the Jewish calendar and the Christian calendar (the latter is actually the Gregorian calendar) are not the same. I was born in the Jewish year 5704. I have no intention of telling you how old I am, but if you ask a Jewish person, perhaps that person will tell you how old I am.

More important, both holidays mean that families usually sit down together for dinner. While many of those who make Easter dinner will chose ham as the entrée of choice. Jewish people will not. But both holidays might choose lamb.

In the early 70s, I bought a book about how to cook French dishes in an American kitchen, meaning that we mostly buy our food at American supermarkets. So when you see the recipe calls for Campbell’s beef consommé, that I what I used for decades. If you do, try to get a canned consommé that is low in sodium. I now use More Than Boullion. I have used many of the recipes in that book, but my favorite is the one below.

Sometimes I buy boneless lamb, but the recipe is pretty much the same. I do suggest that you use a meat thermometer and the internal temperature of the roast should be 120 to 125 degrees for medium-rare, or 130 to 135 for medium.

Gigot d/Agneau a l’Ail (Leg of Lamb with Garlic)

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

Yield: Serves 6 to 8

1 5- to 7-pound leg of lamb
8 cloves of garlic cut lengthwise into slivers
Salt and freshly ground coarse black pepper
Vegetable oil
3 cups brown sauce or canned beef consommé (I use Campbell’s)
2 cups cream sherry (does not have to be Harvey’s Bristol, but it should be cream sherry)
8 small new potatoes
4 tablespoons sweet butter

  1. Take leg of lamb out of refrigerator 3 to 5 hour before cooking time. Meat must always be at room temperature before roasting or broiling.
  2. Insert pieces of garlic all around the leg by making tiny incisions and pushing the garlic underneath. Season meat with salt and pepper. Pour on a little vegetable oil and let meat marinate until ready to roast.
  3. Meanwhile, simmer together stock or consommé and the cream sherry until liquid is reduced by half. This will be your basting sauce and gravy base.
  4. Place the lamb in a roasting pan and roast in a preheated 450 degree oven with the oven ajar. Turn frequently and baste with vegetable oil and fats accumulated during roasting. When the outside is brown and crisp, approximately 45 minutes later, take the meat out of the oven and place it in another roasting pan. Use the pan with the accumulated lamb fat to roast potatoes (separately from the lamb) for 1 to 1 and a half hours.
  5. Put butter on the meat and let it stand until 1 hour before you are ready to eat.
  6. Reduce oven temp to 300 degrees. The lamb should roast slowly now so that it will remain rare and juicy.
  7. Place lamb in oven and turn it every 10 minutes, basting with the stock-sherry sauce. Compute the approximately roasting time by figuring 20 minutes per pound, subscripting the 45 minutes for the first roasting.
  8. When cooked, take the meat out of the oven and let it stand for 10 minutes. This helps keep the meat juices inside. Then slice the meat and arrange on a hot platter.
  9. You should have approximately 2 cups of gravy left. Pour some of it, piping hot, on top of the roast. The rest should be served in a sauceboat. Surround the meat with vegetables (he suggests lima beans) and potatoes which have been roasted in the lamb fat from the first roasting. Serve immediately.

About the author: Lee White (left), a former resident of Old Lyme, has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976.  She 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 the Shore Publishing newspapers, and Elan, a quarterly magazine, all of which are now owned by The Day.

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A la Carte: Hard to Believe, But You Can Make Mac & Cheese Glamorous! Lee Shows us How …

The perennially popular mac & cheese. Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash.

I don’t remember tasting mac and cheese until I was 14- or 18-years-old. i.e., high school or college cafeterias. Nobody made it in my house. I remember asking for it when I was fairly little, but at my house it was made with cottage cheese, sour cream, maybe butter, cinnamon and egg noodles. Basically, it was unconstructed noodle kugel.

When I was married the first time, I cooked the boxed Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. When it was done, I put it into a Corning glass pot, sliced a tomato down the middle and ran some breadcrumbs around the tomatoes. For me, that was cooking and garnishing. Then my-then mother-in-law showed me how to make a white sauce and I made mac and cheese from scratch. (She also showed me how to make pork roast on top of sauerkraut, take it out of the oven, take them apart and add applesauce to the sauerkraut. I still make it the same way. It is delicious.)

Of course, almost everyone loves mac and cheese. As I get older, I take a lactase pill before I eat mac and cheese, as many do these days. And I will make sure I have the ingredients to make all the recipes in this month’s Food Network Magazine, of which the one below is the yummiest.

Glam Mac and Cheese

From Food Network Magazine, March 2019, page 48

Yield: serves 4

12 ounces fusilli
Kosher salt
One-third cup diced pancetta
1 small handful of fresh thyme
3 scallions, thinly sliced
3 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 tablespoon all-purpose flour
Pinch of ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon mustard powder\
Three-quarters whole milk (2 percent is fine)
1 and one-quarter cups heavy cream
7 ounces dulcelatte or gorgonzola cheese, crumbled (about 1 cup)
4 ounces parmesan cheese, grated (about 1 and one-half cups)
Freshly ground black pepper
One-quarter cup breadcrumbs
1 handful chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water. Cook just less than al dente, as the pasta will be cooked again in the oven. Reserve 1 cup cooking water, then drain pasta, return it to the pot and set aside.

Fry the pancetta in a medium skillet over medium heat until it just starts to brown and crisp up, then add thyme and scallions and cook for an additional 3 minutes. Add the skillet’s contents to the pasta.

For the sauce, put butter, flour, nutmeg and mustard powder in a small saucepan set over medium heat and cook, stirring, until butter has melted. Mix milk and cream together in a pitcher and add a little to the flour and butter in the saucepan, stirring well. Keep adding milk mixture bit by bit, stirring well each time (be sure to get into the “corners”of  the pan, as flour often lurks there). Once the sauce has fully come together, turn up the heat and boil for a minute or two. The sauce will thicken. Remove pan from the heat.

Add two-thirds of both the cheeses to the sauce while it is still hot and combine well. (It may be a bit lumpy, that is fine.) Season to taste with salt and pepper and add to the pasta mix. If the cheese sauce thickens too much, add some of the pasta water. Stir everything together and spoon into 4 large ramekins in a shallow 3-quart casserole.

Sprinkle the top with the rest of the cheese and the breadcrumbs and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until the cheese starts to bubble and the topping goes brown. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.

About the author: Lee White (left), a former resident of Old Lyme, has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976.  She 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 the Shore Publishing newspapers, and Elan, a quarterly magazine, all of which are now owned by The Day. 

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A la Carte: Best (Recipe) of 2018’s Best … Says Lee

Many, many years ago, I did a radio show with Johnny London on WICH out of Norwich, Connecticut. We began with an hour and, after the first year, it turned into two hours. 

I grew up with radio, although my parents did get a television in 1948. But we had radios everywhere in our house—we had clock radios, a radio in the kitchen and a “console” radio in our dining room. My mother liked to iron, and we had an ironing board that came out of the kitchen wall.

When I was little, I would sit on the linoleum and play with my toys. One was a little truck or engine that you could spin back and forth a dozen times, then let it go and it would flew into my parents’ master bedroom, usually hitting on a door, the bottom of their bed or into a closet. After a few years, the linoleum in the kitchen had to be replaced.

While my mom ironed and I played with toys, I listened to the radio. In the evening, it was Dr. Christian and Jack Benny and Red Skelton. On Sunday morning, I would lie on dining room rug and read the “funnies” as the mayor of Albany read the Times-Union the same way Mayor LaGuardia did in New York City.

But back to my own radio show: I had guests in the room with me, or I would talk on the phone to chefs, cookbook authors and restaurant owners. And readers would call with questions.

Often Johnny asked me if I would run out of recipes. But, like the music made from just seven notes, one never runs out of recipes. This was a great year for cookbooks, but choosing my favorite wasn’t difficult.

Sweet Chili Chicken Thighs

From “Everyday Dorie” by Dorie Greenspan (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston and New York, 2018)

2 tablespoons canola or neutral oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped and dried
1 and one-half to 3 peeled fresh ginger, minced
2 garlic cloves, germ removed and minced
Fine sea salt
One-quarter cup white wine
8 chicken thighs, with or without skin and/or bones, patted dry
Freshly ground pepper
One-half cup Thai sweet chili sauce*
One-third cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard 
1 to 1 and one-half teaspoon Sriracha*
Sliced scallions and crushed red pepper flakes, for serving (optional)

Warm 1 tablespoon of oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat Add onion, ginger and garlic, season with salt, and cook, stirring until they soften a bit and are translucent but not browned, about five minutes

Add wine, increase the heat and cook, stirring, until most of the wine evaporates, about three minutes. Again, don’t color the onion mixture. Transfer ingredients to a bowl.

Return pot to medium heat and add remaining oil. Place thighs in the pot and brown on all sides, adding more oil if necessary. (If the thighs will be crowded, do this in two batches.) Pour and discard oil. If you have burnt bits of the bottom of the pots, remove chicken and scrub the pot, then return chicken to it.

Return the onions mixture to the pot, along with any juices that accumulated, add the chili sauce*, soy sauce, mustard and Sriracha* and stir to blend. Season lightly with salt and pepper and clap the lid on.

Turn heat down top low and cook, basting occasionally, for 30 minutes, or until chicken is opaque in the center; an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh should register 165 degrees.

Transfer to a platter (or serve right on the pot) and spoon over some of the juice. Add scallions and pepper flakes (optional). Pass the rest of the sauce at the table.

*I always have both sweet chili sauce and Sriracha in my pantry.

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A la Carte: Got Leftovers? How About a Turkey Casserole?

Perhaps you are reading this column on the morning after Thanksgiving as you drink your cup of coffee or tea. It has been quite a few years since I sat with the newspaper and figured out which I should do first. I have been in my condo for almost five years and only created Thanksgiving dinner once, and only for around six or seven of us.

Many, many years ago, when my own daughter was still in elementary school, there would have been at least four little ones (two nieces, one nephew and Darcy) or up to 10 or more (more nephews, nieces, two step-sons, one step-daughter and all their parents). Even when the little ones became high schoolers, we still did Thanksgiving. Although there were extra bedrooms, there were sleeping bags filled with humans on floors everywhere.

The last Thanksgiving enormous dinner was in Old Lyme, just a few months before I sold the house and moved into my condo. That crowd included more than 20 friends and family. Many of the family members stayed over the weekend, and, except for a few sandwiches, there were no leftovers.

These days turkey day happens at my daughter-in-law’s condo in Newburyport. My stepson and Nancy have divorced, but it is amicable. My Massachusetts granddaughters will be there (one already graduated from college and living in Boston, the middle a senior at Clark in Worcester and the baby now a freshman at UMass in Amherst.) There will be leftovers, but I will leave them in Massachusetts, because I bought two Butterballs at BJs.

As you read this, one is thawing in my refrigerator, the stuffing is in the freezer, the gravy is made (with an Ina Garten recipe made with no turkey juice, which she calls a base. I will add that base to the basting as Mr. Tom comes out of the oven. With the mashed potatoes, vegetables, gravy, stuffing, turkey and cranberry (I love the canned kind for this casserole), I will make at least two or three casseroles.

Because I never grew up with casseroles, I actually like these better than the original meal. Here is my go-to recipe for this and any kind of meat leftover this winter.

Photo by Jonathan Pielmayer on Unsplash

Turkey Leftover Casserole

3 to 4 pounds of turkey, dark or white meat, slices or chunked, divided
2 pounds of vegetables (beans, turnips, Brussels sprouts, corn or squash), divided
2 to 3 pounds of mashed white potatoes and/or sweet potatoes, divided
1 to 2 pounds stuffing, divided
1 can of cranberry sauce (or made-scratch) cranberry sauce, divided
Leftover gravy from Thanksgiving, or packaged or carton gravy

In a large casserole dish (or a big gratin dish or a big Tupper-type holder), begin to layer the ingredients. I begin with a little mashed potato, then turkey, some gravy, vegetables, mashed potatoes, stuffing and a few slices of cranberry sauce. I end with mashed potatoes and drizzled with gravy, if you still have some. Each casserole will feed at least four to six people.

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

Editor’s Note: We are running three of Lee White’s wonderful columns together today to give readers a chance to savor a selection of her wonderful Thanksgiving recipes in one place.  Happy Thanksgiving to all!

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.

STUFFING AND SAUCE

Cranberry, grape and apple sauce.

This was a very busy but very pleasant week.

First was a lovely party for the retirement of Betty Anne Reiter at the Mystic Museum of Art. Betty Anne and I have worked together for quite a few years, she as librarian at the Groton Public Library, creating a couple of food series at the library. She and her staff made the series such fun that I hope we will do it every May.

Then there was cookbook time. Rose Levy Birnbaum, food writer extraordinaire, was on a book tour with her newest ???????? and we had a nice lunch at Olio before she and her assistant, Woody, went to their next signing and demo in Paramus, New Jersey. A few days later,, I went to RJ Julia in Madison to listen to Dorie Greenspan (who has a house on our shoreline), talk about her newest book, Everyday Dorie. I think this may be the best of her many best cookbooks and one of the best I have read by anyone in the last five years.

I had dinner that night with Madison friends at Elizabeth’s, a new one for me. The food was delicious, the service very professional and , service just  lovely.  If the chef will share a recipe with me, I will share the  house made gnocchi in a Gorgonzola cream sauce  topped with frizzled onions. Four of us shared that appetizers, and then we ordered another.

But I digress. I will have Thanksgiving with family in Newburyport and then drive back to Connecticut have another turkey dinner the next day in Durham. For the one with my family, I will make the turkey stuffing and a new side, so here is an old and a new; none is blue but one is borrowed.

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.)

SPICE CAKE

Old-fashioned spice cake

A couple of weeks ago, I flew to Pittsburgh to see my brother. Now, for those of you readers who are men, don’t send me letters and say I am not correct when I say that widows learn how to take care of themselves, but widowers are often reattached in weeks or months.

My sister-in-law died in March of 2018, the memorial service was in April and a few months ago my brother mentioned that he wanted me to meet Lois. As I walked down the Pittsburgh airline’s escalator, I saw them holding hands. And I am here to tell you that my brother has found, very simply, the nicest person I have ever met. In addition, she is around his age (he is 83) and they met playing duplicate bridge.

(There is that story, possibly apocryphal, about the fact that one of two duplicate bridge partners shot the other after a bad bid. My brother does take bridge that seriously, nor does Lois, but neither has a gun)

Anyway, I had a wonderful few days. One evening we had dinner at an inn where we shared oil-truffled French fries with a ramekin of srirachi. My entree was a small pork tenderloin with mashed potato side so delicious I had to ask what was in it: the sous chef said it was maple syrup and chipotle.

The second night, Lois’s three daughters and their husbands brought pot-luck to my brother’s house and called it a party. Lois’s daughters are as nice as she is, as are their husbands, although one of them showed me a picture of a 10-point buck he’d killed that afternoon.

Now I am home and the holidays have begun. For the past two columns, I gave you my recipes for turkey, gravy, stuffing and a new cranberry sauce. Although pies are de rigueur, why not make a lovely autumn cake and, if you have some extra, make a trifle? I will be driving to Newburyport, Mass., for the day, but feel free to e-mail me if you run into problems.

And my next column will include recipes for turkey leftovers.

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.

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A La Carte: ‘Tis the Season for Some Scrumptious Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread!

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread

Writing can seem like a lonely profession, but if you are a journalist, it never is. I always wanted to be a journalist and go to either Michigan State or Northwestern. Unfortunately for me, I got a New York State Regents Scholarship and my father, who wasn’t sure I wanted to be a student (I liked the social part but not so much the academics), told me to pick a college in the state college or university system since, at that time, it was free tuition and the scholarship would pay for my room, meals and fees.

He was sort of correct.

Eventually I finished my degree years later at the University of Rochester, where work got me free tuition. As an English major, I still wanted to be a journalist, but I liked my job and liked the fact that I made a bit more money than a journalist. I began writing, free-lance, and found that there was nothing lonely about being a food writer. I began as a restaurant reviewer; a decade or so later, I became more interested in what goes on in a home kitchen rather than a restaurant kitchen.

I love cooking and I love writing about food. Most of all, I love food writing for newspapers, because my readers e-mail me information about ingredients and recipes and tell me they like me (yes, there are Sally Field moments). Last week I heard from two farmers, the owners of 18th Century Purity Farm in Plainfield and Moosup and Scotts’ Family Farm in Essex. They both said they grow the Lodi apples I wanted, but its season is early and short, and the apples were gone by mid-September.

I put both of the farms on my calendar for the week after Labor Day, 2019. Also that week, my editor, Lee Howard at The Times in New London, said a reader was looking for a recipe for chocolate chip pumpkin bread. I played with a recipe. The recipe called for two nine-inch pans but, even at one hour, it was gushy in the middle. The next day I made it again and put the batter in three-loaf pans.

Perfection … and delicious … and dairy-free.

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread

Adapted from Food Network Kitchen

3 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs, lightly beaten
16 ounces canned pureed pumpkin (not the pumpkin pie filling)
3 and one-half cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
One-half teaspoon ground cloves
Two-third cup water
2 cups chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour three 9-inch loaf pans (I use Pam with flour, the blue can). Stir (I use my KitchenAid low) the sugar and oil. Stir in the eggs and pumpkin. In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon and cloves. Blend the dry ingredients and the water into wet mixture. Fold in the chocolate chips. Divide the batter into the loaf pans. Bake until cake tester comes out clean, about 1 hour. Let stand 10 minutes. Remove from the pans and cool.

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A la Carte: Looking for an Incredible Dessert? Look No Further Than ‘Banana Split Cake’

Sample a piece of delicious Banana Split Cake!

Almost every Friday evening, I share an early dinner with friends from Groton and Noank at Sneekers. As I have mentioned before, the food is really good and the prices are easy on the wallet. The two owners, Annie and Rhonda, have been friends for years and they opened Sneekers over 30 years ago. They and our favorite waitress, Kelsey, take good care of us and all of their customers.

Before we decide what we will have for dinner (from a regular menu, a specials menu and an Early Dinner menu), we peruse at the blackboard dessert menu,  often ordering at the same time with our entrees, since the three or four special sweets disappear pretty quickly.

The cakes and pies are made elsewhere, we think. It is said that the sweets are made by Rhonda’s sister or cousin. I have often asked. Rhonda and Annie who makes the cakes and pies. In response, they smile. I think they think I might put the information in my columns. They are probably right. In any case, the cakes are always three layers, often creamy, sometimes fruity. The fillings are heavenly and the frosting ethereal. The plate is decked with whipped cream and maraschino cherries.

Last week it was a cherry lemon cake. Kelsey gives us four forks and we share one slice. As we talked, one of our group mentioned a cake her mother made, with Cool-Whip, pineapple and cherries, similar to an ice box cake. I have a similar recipe, too, and it contains  bananas.

My mother used to make a pistachio pudding cake. It was a box cake and baked in a Bundt pan, so there was no filling and, since my mother baked rarely, no frosting, either.

When I got home, I found the Cool-Whip recipe in my files. It requires no baking and is incredibly easy and yummy. I rarely use Cool-Whip, but it works well with this dessert. Do feel free to use real whipped cream. (By the way, if you add a scant teaspoon of dry instant pudding to the whipped cream, it will stay whipped for a couple of days without weeping.)

Banana Split Cake

I think this recipe was given to me by Barb Boynewicz of Stonington. It is an incredible dessert.

Yield: 12 to 14 servings

3 sticks (each 8 tablespoons) butter, preferably unsalted, separated
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
2 eggs
1 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
1 20 ounce can crushed pineapple, drained and squeezed
4 bananas, sliced
1 large container Cool Whip
1 cup walnuts, chopped
10 maraschino cherries, halved

Melt 1 stick butter and add graham crumbs. Form a crust in 9- by 13-inch baking pan.

Put 2 sticks butter, confectioner’s sugar, eggs and pure vanilla extract in a bowl and beat at high speed with an electric mixer for 10 minutes. Spread mix over graham cracker crust.

Spread crushed pineapple over filling. Place sliced bananas over crushed pineapple. Cover with container Cool Whip, Sprinkle top with walnuts and placed cherries on top.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerator for 16 to 20 (or somewhat more) hours.

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 Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day.

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A la Carte: Bake the Best Big, Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies!

Big and chewy oatmeal raisin cookies

A few days after I made banana bread (about six overripe bananas I had, to which I added five overripe ones from Noank friends), I decided it was time to make cookies. (By the way, all four of the banana breads left my homes to friends’ kitchens, because I didn’t want to eat them.) Alter all, I had already thawed two pounds of unsalted butter and, while looking for the chocolate chips (wafers, actually), I saw an unopened package of cinnamon chips and an unopened package of candied ginger.

So I searched for my favorite oatmeal cookie recipe and could not find it under any headings—oatmeal, cookie, cinnamon, nothing. And it wasn’t in my paper file, either. Is it possible I never wrote about them? Anything is possible, I guess, so I found the same book I had used for the banana bread and didn’t even have to use the index; I just leafed through the nearly 600 pages and it opened to Big and Chewy Oatmeal Cookies. I have probably made that recipe so many times that it had three or four different stains on it and maybe some of the pages were damp too.

As with many recipes, I double this one. They freeze beautifully. I pay little attention to raisins (not crazy about raisins, anyway) and for this recipe I use those two ingredients I love: cinnamon chips and candied ginger. How much of each?  The recipe calls for one and a half cups of raisins, so I use 1 cup of cinnamon chips and half a cup of candied ginger; I chop the latter coarsely with a sharp knife. But you can use any combination for this recipe or none at all if you just want a delicious oatmeal cookie

Big and Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

From The Best Recipe by editors of Cook’s Illustrated (Boston Common Press, 1999)

Yield: about 18 large cookies

1 and one-half cup all-purpose flour
One-half teaspoon salt
One-half teaspoon baking powder
One-quarter teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
One-half pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar*
1 cup granulated sugar*
2 large eggs
3 cups rolled oatmeal
1 and one-half cups raisins (optional)

Adjust oven racks to low and middle positions and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line two large cookie sheets with parchment paper. (I use Silpat instead of parchment.)

Whisk flour, salt, baking powder and nutmeg in medium bowl.

Either by hand or with electric mixer, beat butter until creamy. Add sugars, beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time.

Stir dry ingredients into butter-sugar mixture with wooden spoon or large rubber spatula. Stir in oats and optional raisins (or chips or candied ginger or dried cranberries).

Working with generous 2 tablespoons of dough each time, roll dough into 2-inch balls. (I often make smaller cookies.) Place balls on parchment- lined cookie sheets, leaving at least 2 inches between each ball.

Bake until cookie edges turn golden brown, 22 to 25 minutes. (Halfway through baking, turn cookie sheet from front to back and also switch them from top to bottom.) Slide cookies, on parchment, to cooling rack. Let cool at least 30 minutes before peeling cookies from parchment.

*I have found that three-quarter cups of both sugars is plenty sweet enough

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A la Carte Goes Colorful with Crispy Cod with Chorizo, White Beans and Cherry Tomatoes

Crispy cod with chorizo, white beans and cherry tomatoes.

Back in January, I was invited to a dinner party. The food was incredible, beginning with an appetizer of a seared sea scallop, topped with shredded duck and enveloped with a sunny yellow hollandaise and an arugula in subtle vinaigrette. As an “intermission,” there was glorious white lasagna which melted in our mouths. The entrée was beef and carrots in Borolo, silken mashed potatoes and fresh green beans with pine nuts.

The chef had also sent to our tables of 12 a freshly made bread that had been low risen for two days before it was put in the oven. There were two desserts—one a cassata (a traditional Sicilian cake) and soufflé. All the savory dishes were created by Tom Cherry, who spent a lot of time and love on that dinner, although his real job is plastic surgery. The desserts were created by Bette Hu, who calls herself “just a home cook.” Actually, these two may be just “home cooks,” but, truth be told, I am a home cook. These two people are true artists.

I have said before that real chefs can make magic with a few pans, a few sharp knives and a working stove. While Tom and his wife Lynn have a Viking stove in emerald green with eight to 10 burners on his cooktop and a few ovens at his disposal, he could do that in my galley kitchen and electric stove. I, on the other hand, would need his Viking to be that proficient. As I left that evening, I tried to figure out how I could sneak that Viking into my car. I couldn’t/t!

People often ask me what I consider most important to have in a kitchen. In my last house in Old Lyme, I could hold 20 people in the kitchen as I cooked, had a 42-inch cooktop with six gas burners, two ovens and a warming drawer. The granite counter held 10 and part of the counter was four inches below the regular one, so I could make pastry without making my shoulders ache. My pantry took up another room.

Today I have a fair amount of counter space and a nice deep kitchen sink, but the cooktop has four electric burners, there are two ovens but one is very shallow and most of my pantry is in the hallway closet, along with coats. I have a lot of counter-top appliances, but I have learned how to use those electric burners so that they do not ruin the good pans I have collected over the years.

What I need most in my kitchen these days are my knives (on a magnetic bar so the knife block doesn’t take up counter top), those good pans and Silpat liners for my many, many nested sheet pans, the last of which I use often.

In a recent edition of Rachael Ray Everyday, I saw a recipe for a cod that can be made in a sheet pan that fits in my shallow oven. 

Crispy Cod with Chorizo, White Beans and Cherry Tomatoes

From Rachael Ray Everyday, February, 2018

Yield: serves 4

2 cans (15 to 15.5 ounces each) cannellini beans, rinsed
8 ounces cherry (or grape) tomatoes, halved
5 ounces cured chorizo, casing removed and meat chopped into small pieces
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
One-half teaspoon crushed red pepper
Salt and freshly ground pepper, divided
4 tablespoons olive oil
One-half cup panko
1 tabelspoon finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley plus one-quarter cup coarsely chopped
4 boneless, skinless cod fillets, 5 to 6 ounces each
3 tablespoons tartar sauce

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. On a large rimmed baking sheet, toss beans, tomatoes, chorizo, garlic and crushed red pepper with 2 tablespoon oil, 1 teaspoon salt and one-quarter teaspoon freshly ground pepper.

In a shallow bowl, toss panko and 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley and season with salt and pepper. Brush the tops and sides of the cod fillets with tartar sauce. Press the tops and sides of the fillets into the panko mixture until coated. Arrange the fish to the center of the baking sheet. Arrange the bean mixture in an even layer around the fish.

Bake until panko is golden and the fish flakes easily with a fork, 10 to 15 minutes. Sprinkle with the coarsely chopped parsley and drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons oil.

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