November 14, 2018

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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A la Carte: St. Paddy’s Day Recipes for Any Day

Irish soda bread

Remembering St. Patrick’s Day is easy since my second oldest grandchild was born in Massachusetts on the day before St. Patrick’s Day.

When we heard that Sydney had peeked into this world early that morning of March 16, we drove as quickly as we could, legally, and were at the hospital, without breakfast, in less than two hours. I had grabbed a few clementines and I peeled them and we ate them on the way up. Our daughter-in-law, Nancy, was holding this gorgeous baby girl, as proud father, Peter, sat next to her bed.

While Doug and I stared in wonder at all three of them, Nancy waited until I sat, then handled swaddled Sydney into my arms. As I touched her face, wondering how such a beautiful baby might be in my arms, she turned her little mouth and sucked on my finger. It must have been the clementines, but she has loved oranges ever since.

That little baby graduated from the University of Rochester with a degree in biomedical engineering and now lives in Boston, working on software for a computer start-up. I thought it might be fun to drive to Boston and meet Syd and her parents for dinner, until I realized that the last place I wanted be the day before St. Patrick’s Day might be Boston.

So, I will make a corned beef with vegetables (I’m not wild about the corned beef, but I love cabbage and carrots) and serve it with Irish soda bread and a grape nut pudding, the last must have been created in Boston, as corned beef was, too.

Irish Soda Bread

From Breads, Rolls and Pastries (Yankee Books, a division of Yankee Publishing Inc., Dublin, NH, 1981)
Yield: Makes 1 loaf
4 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 to 2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons caraway seed (optional)
1 cup raisins, currants or Craisins (optional)
2 cups buttermilk (or 2 cups milk soured with 1 tablespoon white vinegar for 10 minutes)
Melted butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease a baking sheet or loaf pan with melted butter.

Sift together flour, soda, sugar and salt. If used, blend in seeds and raisins and mix well. Stir in buttermilk to form soft dough (like biscuit dough). Turn out onto floured surface and knead gently for 1 minute. Roll into a ball and flatten top to form a loaf about 9 inches in diameter. With a floured butter knife or spatula, cut top of dough about one-inch deep into equal sections (one cut north and south through the center, the other east and west through the center. Place in baking sheet, brush with melted butter and bake 30 to 40 minutes.

Grape Nuts Custard

2 eggs
One-eighth teaspoon salt
one-third cup sugar
One-half teaspoon vanilla
2 cups light cream (you can use heavy cream)
2 tablespoons butter
One-quarter cup Grape Nuts cereal

Butter an 8-inch square pan and put aside. (You can double the recipe and butter a 9-inch by 13-inch pan.)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Whisk eggs, salt, sugar and vanilla, and set aside.
Scald cream with butter.
Add about one-quarter cup of scalded milk to egg mixture, whisking quickly. Add another quarter cup of cream, again whisking. (This “tempers” the eggs so they don’t become scrambled eggs.) Add the rest of the cream, whisking.
Pour entire mixture into buttered pan. Sprinkle Grape Nuts evenly on top. Do not mix in.
Place the pan into a larger pan to which you have pour warm water half way up the smaller pan (this larger pan with water is called a “bain Marie,” or water bath). Place the bain Marie in oven until custard is set in the middle, about 25 to 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and bring to room temperature; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, or overnight.

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A la Carte: Dive Into Dips on New Year’s Eve

If New Year’s Eve plays out as planned, I will either be at home alone or with friends, or with other friends at their houses.

I will have spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with my family in Massachusetts. Often I fly off to California the that day or the day after, but because my LA daughter and her husband will be in Arizona for two or three days, and because I have to be back for meetings on Jan. 2, I will have the week between the holidays at home.

And I will be cooking. I do love to bake, but, very honestly, if I don’t have to make anything sweet for the next month or so, I will be so happy. For New Year’s Eve, I have decided to make a couple of dips. I loved the one I tasted that Gretchen Newsome, who is on board of education with me, took to a party three weeks ago. There was a lot of really good food at that get-together, but most of us decided that this artichoke dip was so delicious that we would rather eat it by the tablespoon than daintily dip pieces of bread into it. The second dip I have made a few times. I love the flavor of anchovy but don’t like to touch them. With this recipe, though, I will touch the little devils.

Gretchen Newsome’s Artichoke Dip

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Butter a Pyrex pan or gratin dish.

2 medium onions, chopped
12 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1 can non-marinated artichokes, chopped (if packed in oil, drain)
1 16-ounce package of cream cheese, at room temperature
1 16-ounce package of shredded sharp cheddar
1 16-ounce jar of sour cream
1 2-pound round loaf of bread, preferably pumpernickel, or 2 1-pound loaves

Sauté the onions and garlic in butter on medium low until translucent. Do now brown. Add chopped artichokes and continue to cook until warmed through.

Pour cooked mixture into a large bowl. Add cream cheese, cheddar cheese and sour cream. Mix well. (I use my food processor and pulsed around five times.) Place mixture into gratin pan or heat-proof glass pan and bake until bubbling.

In the meantime, hollow out the bread and, if you like, toast the pieces of bread. When the dip is hot, you may it pour it into the hollowed bread and serve with pieces of bread for dipping (or use all the bread for dipping into the gratin dish/

Anchoiade Dip with Crudites

From Hors d’Oeuvres: Simple, Stylish, Seasonal by Gillian Duffy (William Morrow, New York 1998)

Yield: About 2 and one-half cups

2 ounces (2 tins) anchovy fillets, drained
2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 and one-half tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 and one-half tablespoons chopped fresh basil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine all the ingredient into a blender or the bowl of a food processor and puree until smooth. Pour into a bowl and serve with fresh vegetables and small chunks of good bread.

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A la Carte: Mushrooms by the Million? Sounds Like Soup!

I am such a spoiled princess, even if I don’t have anyone around to spoil me.

Because the temperature is dipping into the 40s at night, I opened two windows in the living room and one in the bedroom. Since I had turned on the central air in late May and hadn’t yet turned it off on the first of October, I thought I would go into this slowly. (Actually, I am not a spoiled princess in the winter—I like cold weather and keep my thermostat at around 60 degrees until late March or early April.)

Once I feel if a snap of coolness, I begin to think about what to cook for the next two seasons. In the late spring, summer and early fall, I buy a lot of fresh produce at farm markets let those ingredients speak for themselves, eating them raw, like tomatoes, sweet peppers and salads with a whisper of dressing, or simply grilled with a little olive oil and fresh herbs.

Last week I began dream of squashes and roasted vegetables and soups. I was at BJs, loading up on bags of flour and sugar (pies, cookies, cakes) and saw big containers of mushrooms. Soup, I thought. Lots of soups on the cooktop and in my slow cookers (I am also thinking about an Instant Pot. Let me know what you think about yet another counter appliance since my old blender is gone and the pressure cooker is in the garage.)’

Anyway, I made two batches of mushroom soup. I had a couple of recipes in my head, but decided that it is time to play around with soup. So this recipe is all mine. And I must say, it is better than any other mushroom soup I’d ever made. Once again, a few steps are important—saute the mushrooms and onions, add cream sherry twice (I have Harvey’s Bristol Cream Sherry, but I also have a bottle of Sheffield Cream Sherry of California at a fraction of Harvey’s)  If you want to add more onions or more mushrooms, be my guest. Maybe 1 percent milk would work.

Lee’s Mushroom Soup

1 stick of unsalted butter
20 ounces or more fresh, sliced white mushrooms
1 large onion, peeled and diced fairly fine
4 tablespoons cream sherry, divided (never use supermarket cooking sherry)
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk (I use 2 percent)
1 32-ounce carton low-sodium, low-fat chicken or vegetable stock

In a large heavy-bottomed pot (I use a Le Creuset Dutch oven), melt butter on medium heat and add mushrooms. Stir periodically until mushrooms take up all the butter, then add onions. Continue stirring until onions are light blonde in color. Pour 2 tablespoons sherry into the pan and cook until almost dry. Toss flour over mushrooms and onions and stir until veggies are coated. Add milk, stir, then turn heat to medium low. Add the rest of the sherry. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring periodically. Add all the chicken or vegetable stock, stirring, and add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for another 10 minutes or so and taste again for salt and pepper.

I wait until the soup is cool, then puree it just a little in my big Ninja of use an immersion blender. Or do neither. Soup can be served immediately or refrigerate and reheat over gentle heat. If soup is too thick, add more stock or water.

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A La Carte: Perfect Pork Chops with a Mustard Twist

Last week I bought a new grill cover for my Weber. I was a bit unhappy, since I have only had the grill for just over two years and the cover I bought with the expensive grill, is falling apart. I’m not sure I should he surprised, but I am getting to that age where I expect quality should last a while. At least I don’t start sentences by saying “When I was younger,”

This, however, doesn’t mean the grill won’t be used all winter. My patio is just a few steps from my living room/dining room and, unless this coming winter is like the one wo years ago, during which I could barely find my grill, you will still see me throwing some chicken or burgers and hot dogs onto the Weber (without a coat on, no matter how cold it is).

I took a tour into my garage freezer and found four three-packs of pork chops I’d bought on sale at the supermarket, so I took one of the packages out last night. I can eat one or maybe two; the other one or one and a half I will cut up and toss into a large salad tomorrow. (I do the same the same thing with strip steaks I buy in three-steak packages at BJ’s—I wrap aluminum foil on each and freeze them—I can’t eat an entire steak, but it is lovely on a salad or for a stir-fry the next day.)

I found this recipe in my computer and hadn’t made it in almost a decade. I love mustard and this is a great way to cook pork chops.

Pork Chops with Mustard Sauce

Adapted from Fine Cooking, November, 2008, page 94a

Yield: serves 4

Preheat oven to low (150 to 160 degrees)

8 one-half-inch-thick boneless pork chops (about 3 ounces each) or 4 thicker pork chops
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 or more tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsalted butter (regular butter will do since you use so little)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil; more as needed
one-half cup dry white wine
three-quarter cup heavy cream
one-half cup lower-salted chicken broth
one-quarter cup stoneground or country-style mustard

Put salt, pepper and flour in a plastic bag and dredge chops in bag, shaking off the excess.

Put butter and oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. When hot, add 4 of the pork chops and cook, turning once, until golden on both sides and just cooked through, 4 to 6 minutes total. Transfer pork to a serving platter, tent with foil and place in low-degree oven. If necessary, repeat with remaining chops adding another tablespoon of oil to the pan, if necessary.

Our off any fat in the pan, add wine and scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Increase the heat to medium-high and boil until wine is reduced to about 2 tablespoons, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in cream, chicken broth and mustard and boil until reduced to a saucy consistency, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Return pork and any juices to the pan, turn to coat with the sauce and then transfer back to the serving platter. Drizzle any sauce remaining in the skillet over the chops and serve.

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A La Carte: Apricots and Almonds Make Great Galette!

Apricot and Almond Galette

My mother always wanted to live in San Diego, but as far as she got was Troy, NY.

She was born in the beginning of the 20th century, died in the beginning of the 21st century and was buried in an ecumenical cemetery not more than 20 blocks or so from where she lived her whole life.  San Diego, she said, correctly, had the perfect climate: fairly sunny, warm in the daytime and cooler at night. No snow ever.

For me, almost any season is okay. I like the autumn smell of wood smoke in the air and in winter, curling up with two cats as I read long, meandering novels. Spring never seems to linger too long and, now, we bid adieu to summer.

No matter the season, I love to cook. I am still having such fun with all the summer vegetables. I eat two or three tomatoes a day. I am grilling zucchini and summer squash outside or sautéing them with a little butter and garlic and salt on the cooktop in the kitchen. Last night I roasted a spaghetti squash, then tossed the innards with chopped tomatoes, basil and a little butter. Today I will make a frittata with sweet peppers for a 9:30 am meeting at my house.

Next weekend I will make a little dessert with fresh peaches and almonds. The recipe below, from calls for apricots, but any stone fruit will do.

Apricot and Almond Galette

From Bon Appetit, June, 2017

Yield: 4 servings

One-half cup blanched almonds
One-third cup sugar, for more for sprinkling
1 large egg
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
One-half teaspoon almond extract (optional, but I do love almond extract)
One-half teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour (plus more for surface)
1 package frozen puff pastry, preferably all-butter, thawed
12 apricots (about 1 and one-quarter pound), halved and pitted (or other stone fruit, quartered if large)

Place a rack in middle of oven and preheat to 425 degrees. Pulse almonds and one-third of sugar in a food processor until very finely ground. Add egg and pulse to combine. Add butter, almond extract (if using), vanilla extract, salt and 1 tablespoon flour; pulse until almond cream is smooth.

Roll out pastry on a lightly floured surface just enough to smooth out any creases.

If you are using a package of pastry than as 2 sheets, stack and roll out to a one-quarter- to one-third rectangle.

If your package contains a single 16-inch to 10-inch sheet of puff pastry, halve it crosswise and roll out one half on a lightly floured surface until rectangle is one-quarter to one-third inch thick, saving remaining half for another use. Transfer to a parchment-lined (or Silpat-lined) baking sheet. Fold over edges of pastry to make a one-half inch border around sides. Prick surface all over with a fork (this keeps the pastry from rising too much when baked and helps it cook through. (Spread almond cream over pastry, staying inside borders. (Chill dough in the freezer for a few minutes if it becomes too soft to work with.) Set apricots, cut sides up, on top of the cream. Sprinkle lightly with sugar.

Bake until pastry is golden brown and puffed, 15 to 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees and continue to bake until pastry is deep golden brown and cooked through and apricots are softened and browned in spots, 15 to 20 minutes longer.

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A la Carte: When it’s Humid and Hot, Salmorejo Hits the Spot

Salmorejo

Yes, it has been humid and hot, hot, hot.

Usually at this point in late summer, I am sort of done with the beach. Last Saturday I went out to dinner with friends and to see a movie (“Wind River” is terrific. Don’t miss it.). Because we  had decided to go to see the movie in Mystic, although it is not our favorite destination cinema hall (don’t like the recliners that don’t “recline” our legs), we had wine at my condo before the movie.

Nancy mentioned that I was pretty tan and had I been at the beach that afternoon. “No,” I explained, “this was pretty much left over from my four days at the New Jersey shore. Anyway, it was too hot to go to the beach,.”

As September begins to beckon, I think about cooking. Sure, I cook during the summer, but I grill meats, vegetables and desserts on my Weber, prepping salad and eating inside. Of course, produce is gorgeous this time of year and, finally, there are tomatoes.

Last week I stopped at Becky’s in Waterford and bought tomatoes, beets and a pint of those yellow cherry tomatoes. Maybe they are called Sun Gold. In any case, I ate the full pint by the time I got off I-95.

Last night I looked over my new issue of Food & Wine, the issue about Spain. I looked up the recipes and found one for a tomato soup. It sounded divine. I had enough tomatoes to double the recipe. It should be served cold. I love cold soup, especially when the weather is still sticky and hot, so I would happily eat it for a couple of days. And the recipe uses no heat, just a blender.

Salmorejo

From Food & Wine, September, 2017

Yield: serves 4

2 and one-half pounds vine-ripened tomatoes, cored and chopped
One-half pound rustic white bread, crust removed, cubed (2 and one-half cups)
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
One-quarter cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving, if you like
Kosher salt
2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
One-half cup chopped serrano ham (prosciutto will do nicely)

In a blender, puree the chopped tomatoes with the bread, garlic, vinegar and one-half cup of water at high speed until very smooth. about 1 minute. With the blender on, drizzle in the one-quarter cup of oil until incorporated. Season with salt, Cover and refrigerate until the soup is cold, at least 30 minutes.

Divide the soup among 4 bowls. Garnish with chopped eggs and ham, then drizzle with olive oil and serve.

Make ahead: The soup can be refrigerated for up; to 2 days.

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A La Carte: You Can’t Beat Beets!

Borscht

Not everyone likes beets. This is hard for me to understand. What’s not to like with beets. My mother didn’t like vegetables. I found this later in life, when I asked my mother why we I didn’t have vegetables, canned or fresh, except for sweet corn and tomatoes in the summer and canned green beans and canned peas in the fall, winter and spring. Simple, she explained. She didn’t like vegetables.

She did, however, like borscht. It was one of five or six dishes she actually made. Even later in my life I found out that she did like borscht but that she never made it from fresh beets. Rather, she used canned beets.

I love beets and I especially love borscht. I make it often and, in my everlasting quest for fresh tomatoes (maybe by the time you read this, there will be local and fresh tomatoes), I am finding beets. Last week I went to White Gate Farm in East Lyme, a place I visit rarely because I find the prices exorbitant, figuring that if any place had tomatoes, they would. They didn’t, but I did see beautiful beets. I bought two bunches (beets are always inexpensive), and that evening I made borscht.

This is my mother’s recipe and requires three ingredients: beets, onions and lemons. To this, you add water, salt and pepper. If you want a bit of sophistication, top perhaps with fresh dill fronds. My family ate in icy cold, with a warm boiled potato and a big dollop of sour cream. I dispense with the potato and just spoon a tablespoon or two of the sour cream into the soup. It turns it a gorgeous dark pink.

Borscht

Yield: serves 6

6 good sized beets, peeled and cut into 2-inch cubes*
1 large onion, peeled and quartered
Juice of one lemon
Salt and pepper, to taste
Fronds of dill (optional)
Sour cream for serving

Place beets and onion into a good-sized soup pot, with cold water to cover.

Bring to a boil, then bring to a simmer for about 45 minutes, or until beets are soft. Add lemon to soup and allow it to cool. Using the grating or slicing tool of a food processor, process the beets and onions. Add vegetables back into the dark, red broth and warm the soup. Add salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate. To serve, pour cold soup into bowls (I love to use white bowls), stir in sour cream, add dill fronts and serve.

*I would love a few recipes for beet greens. I throw them into the disposal, but I know many think that is sacrilegious.

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A La Carte: Corn Chowder with Lobster Makes Perfect Ending to Beach Day

Corn chowder

There are beach days and there are beach days.

I am not sure there has ever been a summer that didn’t include a salt-water vacation.

As a baby, toddler and teenager, there was Belmar, N.J. I had Angrist and Kasdan cousins who lived there full-time, although the two Angrist brothers worked in New York City, one as a librarian at CCNY and the other a pathologist at Albert Einstein medical school.

Charlie’s wife, Claire Kasdan Angrist, was a teacher of French as Asbury High School. Her twin brother had a son, who became a well known movie director. Claire and her sister, Sylvia Angrist, had married brothers. Claire and Sylvia used to play Scrabble in French.

And every day the sun shone, there was the beach.

Today is July 4, 2017. And today was a beach day as glorious as any I can remember.

Today, too, were two beach stories in The Day. On the front page was a story about the Miami Beach Association fencing in Old Lyme to stop a “significant increase in the inappropriate behavior of persons using the beach.” The second story, first page of the second section, was a feature saying Groton’s Eastern Point Beach “concession stand still serving up favorites”

My beach used to be Old Lyme. You needed a beach pass and there were very few parking places, but it wasn’t fenced.

Today, my beach is the one in Groton. As a City of Groton citizen, and an old woman, too, it costs $11 for the season. The beach is gorgeous and huge. And on this gorgeous, sunny Fourth of July, as I left the beach to go home to write this column, there are dozens more parking places available and the $1.75 foot-long hot dog is as good as it ever was, as long as a gull doesn’t get to it first.

Summer doesn’t get much better than this. And just imagine, fresh tomatoes and sweet corn are still to come. I still have packets of the latter in the freezer and I bought some lobster to go with it.

Corn Chowder

Adapted a lot from an 1964 edition of Joy of Cooking

One of the best things about this recipe is there is neither butter nor heavy cream in this recipe. Sure, some salt pork for flavoring, but this is pretty healthy.

Yield: serves 6 to 8 as a main dish with a salad and maybe some good bread

2 tablespoons olive oil
6 to 8 ounces salt pork, diced
One-half cup chopped onions
One-half cup chopped celery
1 green pepper, seeded and chopped
1 and one-half cups peeled diced raw potatoes (with Yukon Gold, you needn’t peel)
2 cups water
One-half teaspoon salt
One-half teaspoon paprika
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk*
6 to 8 ears of fresh corn, blanched for 2 minutes in boiling water, then drained in iced water
Meat from claws and tail of one and one-half to two-pound cooked lobster, cut into small chunks
3 cups hot milk*
Chopped fresh tarragon, and more for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste

Pour oil into a heated, heavy-bottomed stock pot, add salt pork and sauté until browned.

Add onions, celery and green pepper and sauté until translucent.

Add potatoes, water, salt, paprika and bay leaf and simmer until potatoes are soft, around 15 minutes.

Add flour and 1 cup of milk and stir until mixture is thick.

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A la Carte: Craving a Crunch? Enjoy These Cashew Butterscotch Bars

Cashew Butterscotch Bars

It has been a while since we had a one-two-almost-three punch snowstorm. On the Wednesday before the storm, I had a meeting at 6 p.m. and then another at 6:30 (I was about 15 minutes late for the second one). In the first, my condo board meeting, we talked about the fact that snow was on its way.

We tried to figure out whether it was really going to be a tough one, or not. I felt it might be a real one, and I was prepared. Plenty of food for the cats (because, after all, they could not care less as long as they had a few warm velour throws, a clean litter box and cans of Fancy Feast to go with their dry food).

I do have a freezer full of people food, but that freezer is in the garage, a good walk easy when the weather is good but possibly not so if it really does snow for hours and hours. As it turned out, it snowed for around 10 hours and I couldn‘t get out of my condo for another half a day (except to shovel a path from my back door to the bird feeders).

But I had decided I wanted to cook.

It is actually my therapy, whether the weather is too hot or too cold, or too snowy. I had gotten chicken thighs from the freezer the day before and bought a big chunk of beef chuck and some ground meat for chili. For two of the recipes I used my slow cooker. I bought my first just  after my first marriage dissolved; my new one I have had for about eight years; I love my slow cooker although I usually sear the meat that will go into the crock pot these days.

The chicken thigh recipe was more work than it was worth  The pot roast was amazing (I added almost everything except the kitchen sink including half a can of Campbell’s tomato bisque from the fridge.) The chili, for which I used a package of Wick Fowler’s 2-Alarm Fire Chili, was yummy.

But a few days later, I wanted something sweet. Not chocolate, though. I found this recipe I had saved from the New York Times years ago. Boy, are these addictive.

Cashew Butterscotch Bars

From the food section of The New York Times, sometime within the past ten or so years

Yield: 36 bars*

Ingredients:

Two sticks plus 5 and one-half tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus butter for greasing pan
Three-quarter cup plus 2 tablespoons (packed) light-brown sugar
1 and three-quarters teaspoons kosher salt
2 and one-half cups all-purpose flour
10 ounces butterscotch chips
One-half cup plus 2 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 tablespoon and 2 and one-half teaspoons water
2 one-half cups salted cashew pieces

1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 13-by-18-inch jelly roll pan, including sides.

2. To make the crust: in a mixer with a paddle or in a bowl with a rubber spatula, best ½ (one-half) plus 2 tablespoons butter and all the brown sugar together until smooth. Stir salt into flour, then add flour to butter and sugar mixture. Mix until dough is well combined but still crumbly; if dough is mixed until a ball forms, crust will be tough.

3. Pat the dough evenly along bottom of buttered pan, taking care not to pack the dough down. Place pan in oven and bake 5 minutes. With a fork, prick dough deeply all over. Return pan to oven and bake until sough is lightly browned, dry and no longer soft to the touch, about 7 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack; do not turn off the oven.

4. To make butterscotch topping: In a large saucepan, combine remaining 3 ½ (three and one-half) tablespoons, butterscotch chips, corn syrup and 1 tablespoon plus 2 ½ (two and one-half) teaspoons water. Place over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until butter and butterscotch chips are melted, about 5 minutes. Pour topping over crust, using a spatula to spread, evenly all the way to the corners. Sprinkle cashew pieces on top, pressing down light.

5. Bake until topping is bubbly and cashews are lightly browned, 11 to 13 minutes. Transfer to a rack and cool completely before cutting into two-by-three-inch bars.

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A la Carte: Welcome the New Year with Oyster Stew

Oyster stew

Just once were we far away from home on New Year’s Eve. It was at Key West and it was wild. We ate dinner at a restaurant. I don’t remember much of the dinner (it wasn’t the champagne, honestly, it wasn’t.) But it was the first time I’d tried creamy crème brulée. Remember, it was the early 70s, iceberg lettuce was the only lettuce in a supermarket and I’d never tasted oysters.

In the next few years, I added New York City to my geographical resumé and tasted lobster, Mexican food, Szechuan dishes and escargots. I began to write about restaurants, although still pretty green, but not that many people were “criticizing” food.

More important, I started to cook. I was the daughter of a woman who didn’t cook and I had married a man whose mother did cook but hated it. I had seen a way to nurture my husband. I loved to cook and I was fearless in the kitchen. My husband loved my food. We had to go out to eat. I was paid to go out to eat, but my real laboratory was my kitchen.

After that New Year’s Eve, and one at the “21” in Manhattan, our New Year’s Eve was at home or at friends’ home. The following day, my husband always made oyster stew for dinner. Now that I am husbandless, I still make oyster stew, but I no longer have to shuck them. Instead I go to one of the many fish markets in our area and get the shucked oysters and a pint or more of their “liquor.”

Oysters Rockefeller Stew

From “Chowder land” by Brook Dojny (Storey Publishing, N. Adams, MA, 2015)

Yield: 4 servings

4 ounces bacon, cut into one-inch pieces (about 1 cup)

2 tablespoons butter, plus more if needed

1 large leek, cleansed, thinly sliced (white and pale green parts only)

1 celery stalk, finely chopped

One-eighth teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 cups bottled clam juice of seafood broth

1 cup water

2 pints shucked oysters with its liquor, cut in half if large

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce (I would use way less)

2 cups heavy cream

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

4 ounces baby spinach, thinly sliced (about 3 cups)

1 tablespoon medium-dry sherry (never use cooking sherry)

Cook bacon in large heavy soup pot or Dutch oven over medium-low heat until crispy and fat is rendered, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove cooked bits with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towels and reserve. You should have 2 tablespoons of fat in the pot; if there is too much, pour some off; if too little, make up the difference with additional butter.

Add butter to pot and cook leek and celery over medium heat until softened but not browned, about 8 minutes. Stir in cayenne. Add clam juice and water and bring to a simmer.

Add oysters and Worcestershire and cook over low heat until edges of the oysters begin to shrink and curl at the edges, about 2 minutes. Stir in cream and season with salt and pepper to taste. If  there is not enough liquid, add a bit more water. Let sit at room temperature for at least an hour, or refrigerate overnight.

Reheat over very low heat so the stew does not curdle and stir in spinach; cook for 2 minutes, or until spinach wilts. Stir in sherry, ladle into soup bowls and sprinkle with reserved bacon.

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A la Carte: Pot Roast is Perfect Between the Holidays

A delicious pot roast simmers gently on the stove.

A delicious pot roast simmers gently on the stove.

It has been a busy holiday season, beginning at Thanksgiving. I will light my candles on my menorah beginning Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, the first time I can remember Hanukkah beginning on Christmas Eve. (In the Jewish calendar, which sometimes has an extra month, Hanukkah can arrive from November through most of December and is an eight-day holiday. I do not remember my parents giving me eight presents, one on each day, but I am not complaining in any way I was deprived. Just sayin’.)

I am not also saying that I married a Protestant just so I could have Hanukkah and Christmas, but it is fun to do both. For Christmas this year, I will spend the day with my daughter-in-law’s family in Somers, Conn. And in no way did I convince my stepson to marry a Greek girl so I could also have Easter dinner and Greek Easter dinner, too, but that is sort of fun, too.

The holidays made for a lot of leftovers, but at some point you want something that masks the kitchen smell like simple comfort. I love the idea of making a  pot roast between  Christmas and New Year’s Day. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that pot roast is terrific the day you make it and maybe even better a day or two days later. This is a really good recipe given to me from a friend some years ago.

Pot Roast

Adapted from Ralph Turri

4 to 5 pound beef roast, most fat removed (chuck roast has little fat)

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

1 packet of Knorr reduced beef stock

3 to 4 cups water

5 carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks

1 medium onion, peeled and cut into large slices

2 stalks of celery, cut into big chunks (optional)

fresh herbs wrapped in cheesecloth (optional)

salt and pepper to taste

For the gravy:

4 tablespoons flour mixed into 1 to 2 cups of water

1 teaspoon Kitchen Bouquet (optional)

one-half cup milk

8 ounces of sliced mushrooms

salt and pepper to taste

Dry roast with paper towels. Into the large, heavy-bottomed pot with a cover, heat oil and butter. On medium-to-high heat, sear the roast on all sides. Add packet of stock and water and bring to a boil. Add vegetables and bring back to a boil again. Reduce heat to simmer and cook, covered, for about 3 hours. Remove roast to a platter and keep warm..

Strain all vegetables from the pot and herbs (I dump the veggies). Place the pot with the broth on the cooktop on medium-high until it reduces by two-thirds. Whisk the flour-water mixture into the broth stir constantly until the broth becomes gravy. Add Kitchen Bouquet (if using), milk and mushrooms and cook on simmer for a few minutes. Add salt and pepper taste. Slice the roast onto the platter, add some gravy to the slices and serve gravy in a gravy bowl.

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Nibbles: Turn Turkey Leftovers Into Turkey Chilli

turkey_chilliYou may be reading this column the day before Thanksgiving. If you are serving a feast for four or eight or maybe up to 20, just peruse this column. You have enough to do without reading this, but the recipe below may help you with turkey leftovers. (There is no clear segue here, but if you are hosting and see yourself in the weeds, e-mail me (leeawhite@aol.com) and we will work you through it.)

Many people make soup with the turkey carcass, although I have never loved turkey soup. To me, the flavor is gone after the gobbler has spent hours in the oven. My stepdaughter, Molly, makes a good turkey soup by roasting the bones at a high temperature in the oven and using the bones for the broth.  But I often use the leftover turkey for casseroles, enchiladas or even pad Thai.

Or chili.

This recipe calls for a pound of raw, lean ground turkey. Using it, it is the beginning of the recipe below. On the other hand, begin this recipe with the lightly sautéed vegetables After you add the broth, beans and tomatoes, add about a pound or more shredded turkey, and simmer, as the recipe explains. This recipe belongs to a friend’s daughter who adapted the recipe from Cooking Light. I doubled the recipe so it would feed more. I also changed the beans from garbanzo beans to kidney beans primarily because, if you’re on Weight Watchers, kidney beans have half the points as garbanzo beans.

Turkey Chili

Yield: Serves 8

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 (or more) pounds of lean ground turkey

3 cups chopped sweet onion, divided

2 cups chopped green bell pepper (or other sweet peppers)

4 (or more) cloves garlic, minced

2  (or more) tablespoons chili powder

4 tablespoons tomato paste

2 teaspoons cumin

2 teaspoons dried oregano

one-half teaspoon ground cinnamon

one-quarter teaspoon ground allspice

1 cup low-sodium chicken broth

2 15-ounce cans kidney beans

28-ounce can diced tomato, undrained

5 tablespoons chopped semisweet chocolate

one-half teaspoon salt

one and one-half cups (3 ounces) shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Heat a Dutch oven (like a Le Creuset pot) over medium-high heat. Add olive oil. When moderately hot, add turkey and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring to crumble. Add 2 cups onion, bell pepper and garlic; saute about 3 minutes. Stir in chili powder and next 5 ingredients (through allspice); cook 1 minute. Add broth, beans and tomatoes; bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove chili from heat and stir in chocolate and salt. Top with remaining 1 cup of onions and cheese. Stir immediately.

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Nibbles: Savor Seasonal Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

These delicious Pumpkin Whoopie Pies won't last long!

These delicious Pumpkin Whoopie Pies won’t last long!

I am not sure when chocolate began to disappear as my drug of choice or, in truth, never was. Even as a child, when given a dime for penny candy (yes, I am that old!), I chose those Mary Janes and “watermelon” slices and those wax bottles filled with juice. On the other hand, my go-to birthday cake was chocolate layer cake, filled between layers with strawberry jam, topped with crusty white chocolate icing and drizzled with dark chocolate.

Over the years, I considered chocolate an add-on. It might want one candy from a Whitman sampler but not a whole Hershey bar. I still like sweets, but favor butterscotch pudding, blondies, carrot cake and rice pudding, the last served warm with cinnamon.

Until I went to college, I had never tasted pumpkin pie, candied sweet potatoes, vanilla-scented cookies or bread pudding. Now, when I crave dessert, it is more likely to be a slice of pineapple upside down cake or Key lime pie.

As a result, I love autumn. I have in my pantry cans of pure pumpkin and the October issues of food magazines are filled with recipes for pumpkin. Here is one I have been making for years. (If you try to buy cans of pumpkin in the spring or summer, you may be out of luck, so buy a few extra this fall if you love this recipe as much as I do.)

Pennsylvania Dutch Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

Yield: 12 to 18 “pies”

4 and one-half cups flour
1 tablespoon cream of tartar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
one-quarter teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 and one-half teaspoon ground ginger
1 and one-half teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup flavorless vegetable oil
2 and one-third cups brown sugar
1 can real pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
one-half teaspoon fresh grated lemon zest
1 and one-third cups oats (quick- or regular-cooking)
milk or buttermilk, if needed, so the batter isn’t too thick to drop onto cookie sheet

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray several cookie sheets with Pam (or use butter).

Thoroughly stir together flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger and allspice in a large bowl.

In second bowl, with a mixer, beat butter, oil and brown sugar until smooth and fluffy. Beat in pumpkin, egg, yolks, vanilla and lemon juice. Gradually beat in flour mixture, then add oats. If too thick, add some milk or buttermilk until it looks more like cookie batter.

Drop 2 and one-half tablespoons batter at a time onto the baking sheets, about 3 inches apart.* Using your index finger (dipped in water), turn cookies into circles about the same size. Place cooking sheets on the bottom third and top third of racks. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, reversing them at about half-time. Remove from oven and cool for around 3 minutes before put cookies on wire cooling racks.

For the filling: Cream 12 ounces cream cheese, 2 large egg whites, one-quarter pure vanilla extract, one-quarter teaspoon grated lemon zest. Gradually add confectioners’ sugar. Chill for about 15 minutes. To assemble, place one cookie, flat side down, on a platter, spread about 2 tablespoons of filling and top with flat-top of another cookie.

*If you would like smaller pies, use 1 tablespoon each of the batter

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A la Carte: Weeknight Red Curry

Red Thai curry

Red Thai curry

It was a nice quiet birthday, beginning with my daughter-in-law and three of my granddaughters and ending with pineapple rice with chicken at Spice Club in Niantic and a terrific movie at the Niantic Theater.

With some trepidation, I drove from home to Newbury, Massachusetts, Friday of Memorial Day weekend. The traffic began on I-95 in East Lyme to 290 in Worcester, continued on 495, then, finally, back to 95. I watched young Casey play tennis at her school. We all went to their house while Casey changed. Nancy and I had a nice glass of red wine and then drove to Flatbread in Amesbury for salad and pizza (one of the pizzas was topped with fiddleheads and golden beets). (My middle granddaughter, Laurel, drove; even one glass of wine makes me a bit tipsy.)

With no traffic on the way home, I was home in just over two hours. I watched a little television I’d DVRed and went to bed early. On my birthday, friend Sarah and I had met at the Spice Club for Thai food and then we walked to see Love and Friendship, a new film from one of Austen’s smaller books. Don’t miss it!

Today I decided to make another. I always have cans of unsweetened coconut milk in the pantry and red curry paste in the refrigerator. (I am not sure red curry paste ever has an expiration date; in any case, I have had little opened cans, covered, in the fridge for half a decade.) I went through some recipes I’d clipped once from Cooking Light. I found a package of cod in the freezer and, as always, a finger of ginger there, too. Dinner was ready in less than an hour.

Weeknight Red Curry*

Yield: 4 servings

1 large shallot (half a small onion will do)

6 garlic cloves

1 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and cut into pieces

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons red curry paste

2 teaspoons ground turmeric

1 (14.5 oz.) can canned tomatoes (I always use diced Muir Glen)

1 (13.5 oz.) can unsweetened coconut milk

1 pound mixed vegetables, cut into 1-inch pieces (frozen veggies are fine)

1 pound firm white fish, skin removed

Cooked rice noodles, cilantro leaves with stems and lime wedges (for serving)

Pulse shallot, garlic and ginger in a food processor to finely chop. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add shallot mixture and cook, stirring often, until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Add curry paste and turmeric and cook, stirring, until paste is darkening in color and mixture starts to stick to pan, about 3 minutes. Add tomatoes. Cook, stirring often and scraping up brown bits, until tomatoes start to break down and stick to pot, about 5 minutes.

Stir in coconut milk and season with salt. Simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until mixture is slightly thickened and flavor meld, 8 to 10 minutes. Add vegetables and pour in enough water to cover. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are crisp tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Season fish all over with salt and nestle into curry (add a little more water if it is very thick). Return to a simmer and cook just until fish is cooked through, about 5 minutes.

Spoon curry over rice noodles and top with cilantro and a squeeze of lime.

*I use vegetable or chicken stock instead of, or with, water for more flavor.


Nibbles: Pittsfield Rye Bread

A few weeks ago I watched a movie in New London called “Deli Man,” part of the International Film Series. I grew up with a terrific Jewish deli in Troy, New York. It, and thousands, is gone now, primarily because Jewish immigrants insisted that their children go to college and “make something of themselves.” As a result, there are few now, even in New York City, where there are more Jews than in Israel. Gone, also, is H&H and Ess-a-Bagel.

On a drive home from Massachusetts, I stopped in Worcester to get some rye bread, bulkies (hard rolls) and bagels at Widoff on Water Street. It, too, is gone. Instead, hoping against hope, I drove to the Big Y in Norwich. Happily, it (and many other Big Ys) still carry superb Pittsfield rye bread—marbled, seeded, unseeded, and dark rye (pumpernickel). I had a toasted slice with butter and placed the rest into the freezer for another day.

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A la Carte: Asparagus Soup Two Ways

AsparagusThis is the time of year I always yearn for. I think about what is available in the supermarkets (rhubarb is in!) and I will buy asparagus.

I have a few tips for you about asparagus. Buy your asparagus with tips tightly wound. It can be thin or thick (I prefer the thick ones). I cut about half an inch or an inch from the bottom with a sharp knife (I do this five or six stalks at a time). Then I peel around the stalk 2 or so inches from the top. This way, every stalk is incredibly tender.

I love roasting the asparagus in a little oil and salt. But I also love to blanch the stalks in boiling water for maybe 3-4 minutes. I serve it with a little butter and salt. Sometimes I make a hollandaise sauce, which I adore, but it may be gilding the lily (or gilding the asparagus).

I am also crazy about risotto. I would add asparagus stalks, cut on the diagonal, each about 1 inch, and add them about halfway to the point when the risotto is ready, about 10 minutes.

Here is a lovely recipe for asparagus soup from Julia Child. If you need a recipe for risotto, e-mail me at leeawhite@aol.com and I will send it to you.

Cream of Asparagus Soup
Adapted from The Way to Cook by Julia Child (Alfred Knopf, New York, 1994)

Yield: about 2 quarts

1 cup sliced onions
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 pounds fresh asparagus, washed and trimmed about 2 inches from bottom
2 quarts lightly salted boiling water
2 tablespoons flour
Salt and freshly ground white pepper (use black if you don’t have white)
1/2 cup heavy cream, crème fraiche or sour cream, optional

Cook onions and butter until tender and translucent. In the meantime, cut the tender green tips from the asparagus stalks. Drop the tips into boiling water and boil 2 minutes, or barely tender. Dip out with a skimmer, reserving water, and refresh tips in bowl of iced water to set the color; drain and reserve. Chop the remaining stalks into one-inch lengths and add to the onions with a sprinkling of salt. Cover and cook slowly 5 minutes. Stir in flour and cook, stirring, 3 minutes more. Remove from heat, and, when bubbling stops, blend in the hot asparagus cooking water (I strain the water into the mixture). Simmer, uncovered, 25 or 30 minutes, or until tender enough to puree.

When the mixture is a bit cooler (maybe 15 minutes), pour into blender (or use a soup blender). If you like the soup clearer, you can use a sieve or Foley food mill. The soup will be a lovely pale green color; to keep it that way, reheat it only just before serving. Carefully correct seasonings.

You can serve this soup hot or cold. If you are using cream, crème fraiche or sour cream and serving it hot, gently reheat the soup and add the cream just before serving. If you are serving the soup cold, refrigerate the soup and swirl in the cream before serving. To decorate each bowl of soup, garnish with the asparagus tips.

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: Lamb Stew

Braised Lamb with Spinach - Gourmet magazine

Braised Lamb with Spinach – Gourmet magazine

Last Saturday, I took a bunch of hamburgers along with some hamburger rolls out of the freezer. It had been a nice week, and I thought I might fire up the grill and pretend it was almost summer. After all, not only were my crocuses up and gorgeous, but so were my little daffodils. I hadn’t seen my lilies of the valley, but it is my birthday flower and, I thought, they would be popping up soon.

Then Sunday happened. By the time I woke up, there had been a little snow but the temp was in the high thirties. I made a chicken soup with carrots and celery and onions, since I was going to drive to Cromwell to see a middle school show directed by Tom Sullivan. His wife, Barbara, and I have become good friends and she mentioned that Tom had a horrible respiratory upset but had been working all week to get the show on the stage. What could I do but make chicken soup for him?

I left the house at 11:30. There had been snow, odd snow, gigantic flakes, maybe hail? I made it to Cromwell, adored the play and, then drove to Norwich to watch the women’s game. No problem driving home and I watched the second game and went to sleep. The cats let me sleep until 9:30. I opened one eye. No, it couldn’t be. Snow! Not one to let a little bad weather stop me, I had to make a decision—would I drive to Connecticut College to hear Bryan Stevenson talk about his book, Just Mercy? Sure, why not? Got there okay but scared myself to death driving home. Once into the kitchen, I tossed the hamburgers and rolls back into the freezer and took out some lamb. Tomorrow I will make lamb stew instead.

Braised Lamb with Spinach
From Gourmet, March 1991

Serves 4-6

8 garlic cloves
1 ½-inch cube peeled fresh gingerroot
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, trimmed and cut into 1 ½-inch pieces
1 3-inch cinnamon stick
7 whole cloves
1 bay leaf
3 onions, chopped fine
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 cup chopped drained canned tomatoes
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon salt
1 and one-quarter pound fresh baby spinach
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, or to taste
1 tablespoon pine nuts, toasted lightly

In a blender, purée the garlic and the gingerroot with 1/3 cup water; set aside. In a heavy kettle, heat 3 tablespoons of the oil over moderately high heat until it is hot but not smoking, then brown the lamb, patted dry, in batches. With tongs, transfer lamb as it is browned to a bowl. To the skillet add the remaining 3 tablespoons oil, heat until hot but not smoking, and fry the cinnamon stick, cloves and bay leaf, stirring, for 30 seconds, or until the cloves are puffed slightly. Add the onions and cook the mixture over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are golden. Add the garlic purée and cook the mixture, stirring, for 2 minutes, or until the liquid is evaporated. Add the cumin, coriander and cayenne, and cook the mixture, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and yogurt, simmer the mixture, stirring, for 1 minute, then add the lamb, salt and 1 cup water.

Bring the mixture to a boil and braise it, covered, in a preheated 350°F oven for 1 to 1 1/4 hours, or until the lamb is tender. The lamb mixture may be prepared up to this point 2 days in advance. Let the lamb cool, uncovered, then chill it, covered.

At serving time, reheat the lamb mixture. In a large saucepan, bring 1 inch water to a boil, add the spinach, and steam, covered, for 2 minutes, or until wilted. Drain the spinach in a colander.
Add the lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Distribute the spinach over the stew and stir it in gently. Transfer the stew to a heated serving dish and sprinkle with the pine nuts.


Nibbles: Coney Island Hard Root Beer

One of the perks of writing about cooking, instead of writing restaurant reviews, is that I can go to restaurant press dinners, since being anonymous isn’t necessary anymore.

Last Friday I went with friend Elise Maclay to Tale of the Whale in Stamford. The food was almost all seafood, from tuna tartare (one of my very favorite dishes) to fish tacos and an edgy bouillabaisse with at least five or six different fishes. Did I need dessert? Not really, but along came a Celebration Sundae (with at least a quart of ice cream and toppings), chocolate cookie ice cream sandwiches and an adult root beer float. I decided against the first two but fell in love with the float. The next day I stopped at a local liquor store and asked if there was such a thing as adult root beer. I bought a six-pack of Coney Island Hard Root Beer. A 12-ounce bottle is 5.8 percent alcohol. I don’t drink hard liquor (or beer) but, in a tall glass with good ice cream and whipped cream, I could be converted.

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