September 28, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

So do you.

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

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

Lee White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuna Panzanella

From Fine Cooking, August/September 2020

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

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

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

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

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

Toss the basil and tuna into the salad, drizzled with a little of the reserve tuna oil (if desired) and sprinkle with more pepper.

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

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

Lee White

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

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

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

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

Today I love eggplant in every way imaginable.

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

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

Summer Vegetable Stew

Photo by Monika Grabkowska on Unsplash.

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

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

Yield: serves 6

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

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

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

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

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

Lee White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Triple-Ginger Pound Cake

Makes 2 loaves

Photo by Sheri Silver on Unsplash.

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

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

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

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

Lee White

Remember Willard Scott from the Today show?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chipotle Pasta Salad with Mozzarella

Adapted from Food Magazine, September 2020

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

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

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

Drizzle the dressing over the pasta, throw in the tomatoes and cucumber, then add the cheese. Stir pasta around, then add the basil and stir until it is all combined. Taste and adjust the seasonings as needed. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least two hours. Taste and season again before serving.

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

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

Lee White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lee White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poached Cod in Tomato Curry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lee White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pasta e Fagiole

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

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

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

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

Lee White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Artur Rutkowski on Unsplash.

Pesto alla Genovese

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

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

Yield: 1 cup or enough for 1 pound of pasta

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

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

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

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

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A la Carte: Luscious Lamb Never Disappoints

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

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

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

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

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

Rack of Lamb on the Grill

Yield: 2 servings

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

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

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

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

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

Lee White

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

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

Photo by Herson Rodriguez on Unsplash.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roasted Pepper Skordalia

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

Beet Cashew Butter Dip

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

Tomatillo Guacamole

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

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

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

Lee White

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

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

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

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

I am still cooking mostly at home.

I have Zoom meetings and tele-physician appointments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Set them aside to cool. 

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

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

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

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

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

Lee White

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

June 17

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

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

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

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

Pad Thai Sauce

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

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

Photo by Timothy Dykes on Unsplash.

Pad Thai Noodles

Yield: 2 servings

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

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

June 24

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scampi

Yield: 4 servings

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

Bring stockpot of water over high heat.

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

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

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

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

Lee White

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is beyond delicious and is vegetarian and almost vegan.

Filthy Sexy Mush, aka Zucchini Pasta Sauce

Yield: at least 4 servings

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

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

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

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

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A la Carte: Going to Grill, But No Idea What? How About Bourbon- & Mustard-Glazed Pork Chops

Lee White

I grew up in a house where, if something needed fixed, my mother called someone. My brother also grew up in the same house and, generally speaking, he didn’t learn how to fix things, either. I went to college and majored in English. My brother went to MIT undergraduate and then got himself a masters and Ph.D. in metallurgy at RPI. 

I married a man, who also majored in English (with a minor in philosophy), but he could fix anything. He could do plumbing, electrical wiring and built a three-car garage attached to our 17th-century house whose second floor he turned into an apartment for my parents. 

When my husband died, I was lost. I never learned how to fix things because Doug did everything. I remember asking him one night what to do if I lost power and didn’t know what to do with the electrical box in the basement. He said I should call Andy, our neighbor.

The only smart thing I ever did was to sell the house and buy a condo. Unfortunately, it isn’t like living in New York City where you just call the super.

So a few weeks ago I fired up my Weber to grill a steak, It wouldn’t work. I looked at the propane tank and it looked like it was out of gas. I figured out how to drag it out of the grill, but it was so heavy I knew it still had fuel.

So I went onto Groton Forum, asking for help. Within minutes, friends I knew and didn’t know said they could call and stop after work.

I went back to the patio and noticed out there was another electric cord. I picked up my handheld mixer and tried the socket. It didn’t work. I looked at the socket and saw two plugs and two little buttons. I think I knew what a reset button was, so I pushed it and the mixer turned on.

I dragged the tank back, turned everything on, and it works (even though the gauge still says it is empty.)

The next day I threw a New York strip onto the grill and had a nice dinner with peas and a big roasted sweet potato. Tonight I will make pork chops with a glaze of bourbon and mustard.

Photo by Vincent Keiman on Unsplash

Bourbon- and Mustard-Glazed Pork Chops
From Country Home Stay for Dinner (Meredith Books, Des Moines, Iowa, 1993)
Yield: serves 4

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard (regular mustard will do, but not the yellow stuff)
2 tablespoons bourbon (or frozen orange juice concentrate)
2 tablespoons of molasses
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon cooking oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
¼ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
4 pork loin chops, but 1 ¼ inches thick

For the glaze, in small mixing bowl stir together all the ingredients except the chops. Set aside.

In a covered grill, arrange coals around drip pan.* To test for hotness, carefully hold hand over pan at the height food will be cooked. The coals are ready when you need to remove your hand after 5 minutes. Place chops on rack over pan but not over coals. Lower hood. Grill 40 to 45 minutes or until no pink remains, turning once. Brush chops with glaze during final 10 minutes of cooking. Crush wit glaze before serving.

*If you are using a propane grill, that has two or three heat knobs, turn the middle one to a lower heat. Also, this recipe came out 30 years ago. I don’t think we need to worry about getting rid of the “pink.”

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

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A la Carte: Pineapple Upside-Down Cake is Perfect for Parties!

Lee White

I remember the first time I went to the Fancy Food Show at the Javits Center in New York City. I had taken the train into the city, grabbed a cab and arrived at 10 in the morning. It is the biggest food convention in America and I thought I could see everything in one day. By early afternoon I was bushed and my feet hurt. It was lunch time and I  picked up a sandwich 

On my way back to the vendors, I saw cookbook authors autographing their books, including a stunning black woman laughing and signing her book. I picked up B. Smith’s Entertaining and Cooking for Friends and stood in line. As she signed my book, she asked what I did and where. “I’m a restaurant reviewer in New London, Connecticut.” With a smile as bright as the cavernous light-filled lobby, she suggested I have dinner with her and her husband at their restaurant that evening. Oh, I wish I could, I said, but I have to get a train to get home. “Oh, stay at our place in the city and go home tomorrow,” she suggested. 

I didn’t, but I have always wished I had. She was a lovely hostess and presided over at least three restaurants (New York, Union Station in Washington and the Hamptons). She had a television show for many years. She wrote cookbooks and her first, and my first of hers, is stained with ingredients of recipes I have cooked. Barbara Smith died, at 70, February 23, 2020, in her home in Sag Harbor, NY, with her husband, Dan, by her side. She had suffered with dementia for many years. People called her “the black Martha Stewart.” Martha could only wish.

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

From B. Smith’s Entertaining and Cooking for Friends by Barbara Smith (Artisan, New York, 1995)

Topping

¼  cup unsalted butter, melted
½  cup firmly packed light-brown sugar
7 slices canned pineapple (reserve one-half cup juice for cake)
13 candied cherries (I like maraschino cherries)

Cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½  teaspoon baking soda
½  teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
¼  teaspoon ground cloves
½  cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
½  cup heavy cream
½  cup reserved pineapple juice
whipped cream, for garnish if you like

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease the sides of a 9- by 13-inch round baking pan with nonstick cooking spray or melted butter.

For the topping: beat the melted butter and brown sugar together in a small bowl. Spread this over the bottom of the prepared baking pan. Arrange 6 pineapple slices around the edge of the pan and one slice in the middle. Place a cherry in the middle of each pineapple slice and the rest between the slices around the edge.

To make the cake: Stir together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger and cloves in a large bowl. In another larger bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (I use my big KitchenAid for this for about 4 minutes). Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Using a spatula, alternatively fold in the flour mixture and the heavy cream and pineapple into the butter and sugar mixture until well blended. Spread the batter over the pineapple slices and bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let the cake cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Then run a sharp knife around the edge to loosen the cake, invert a serving plate over the cake pan and turn the cake and plate over together. Remove the cake pan. Serve warm with whipped cream.

(If you have a little time, visit Coffee’s on Route 1 in Old Lyme and pick up a pint of Reed’s ginger ice cream. It is amazing with this cake.)

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

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A la Carte: May Means Meatballs … and Sausages and Gravy!

Lee White

It is May and May usually means lots of sunshine and warm evenings.  It is my favorite season of all, because trees are budding out, tulips are bright and gorgeous, lilies and irises are two weeks away as are lilies of the valley, mu birth flower. I am grateful that the people who sold me my condo, whom I knew from the yacht club, were gardeners. The best I can do is add a few annuals, but they planted the perennials, including a healthy and lush bright red azalea. 

I am also seeing much more wildlife than I’d ever seen in the six years I have lived in Groton. Driving down Rte. 1 and turning a right on my way to Eastern Point Beach, I watched a male fox ambling across the road, heading toward a small apartment complex. I turned another right to watch him and noticed a man on a walker in the fox’s way. I honked my horn so the man would not collide with him.

This morning, before I walked into my office, I looked at the parking lot and spied a turkey, the first I had seen in our complex. It was a young tom, in no hurry at all. I waited another 10 minutes and didn’t see another. I am feeding birds a bit longer than I usually do. (I take away the feeders and suet and add hummingbird feeders, although I haven’t seen one ever.) I am especially thrilled with catbirds and neon yellow finches. It is warm enough to open the outside faucets so I can add water to the bird bath, which they like. 

On the other hand, I still turn on my electric blanket. There is a reason we are told never to plant basil until Memorial Day. This past weekend, I wanted a make a good red sauce with meatballs and sausage. And I have everything for the dish, including pork chops, chopped beef and Italian sausage. If you have just one or two of the meats, the dish will be still fabulous.

Photo by Fidel Fernando on Unsplash.

Sunday Gravy with Sausages and Meatballs

Adapted from Johanne Killeen and George Germon, “On Top of Spaghetti,” (Morrow, New York, 2007)

Yield: Serves 4 to 6 as a main dish

One-quarter cup extra virgin olive oil3 pork chops (total weight 1 to 1 and one-half pounds)
1 and one-quarter pounds Italian sweet sausage, halved horizontally
1 cup chopped onions2 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced
½ teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes (or crushed) tomatoes
6-ounce can tomato paste
Cheese finds from Parmigiano-Reggiano or bits of Pecorino Romano (optional)
Mary’s meatballs
1 pound dried spaghetti or rigatoni, cooked
freshly grated Pecorino Romano

Heat oil in large heavy-bottomed stockpot. Add pork chops and sausages and brown on all sides. Transfer chops to a plate. Toss onions into pot with garlic, fennel seeds and salt. Saute over moderate heat, stirring frequently and scraping up any bits, until onions are soft and golden.

Put chops back in the pot with any juices. Add tomatoes, 2 cups water and tomato paste. Drop in rinds if you have any. Cover pot, bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Gently drop meatballs, a few at a time, shaking the pot to make room for the meatballs. Cover all the meatballs, cover pot and simmer for an hour or more. 

To finish sauce, take out chops, remove bones and chop of the meat and add to sauce. Check for seasoning. Ladle sauce over hot pasta and dust with cheese.

Mary’s Meatballs

Yield: makes 26 to 28 meatballs

12 ounces ground beef
4 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed, cut into tiny cubes (I used challah)
three-quarters cup milk
three-quarters to 1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
8 fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 egg, lightly beaten
fine sea salt and pepper to taste

In a large mixing bowl, combine beef, bread and milk. Add cheese, basil, parsley, egg and salt. Mix gently but thoroughly. Form into small meatballs, no larger than one and one-half inches in diameter.

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

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A la Carte: Peek in the Pantry, You Likely Have all the Ingredients for Tasty Trail Mix Cookies!

Okay, as I write this, I am home for the sixth week. 

Each day seems a little easier. I like my condo. I love my cat (although I miss my Elderlee, who died in December). I eat when I want to, which seems to be more likely twice a day. I wake up and feed the cat around 7:30, watch MSNBC for an hour (why is it that I seem to like Mika and Joe more than I used to?)

Then I go upstairs, shower, get dressed, make the bed and think about whether my meal will be breakfast-y and lunch-y. Often it is eggs and sweet peppers, onions and garlic and rye bread. Sometimes it is cereal with bananas. I think about dinner around 3 p.m. and decide whether it will be something that I should prepare or leftovers in the fridge. Sometimes it is two kosher hot dogs.

I have not been very interested in dessert, but three nights ago I read the new Bon Appetit in bed and saw a recipe for trail mix cookies. It looked really delicious and I had every single ingredient in my pantry. The cookies required little sugar and almost no flour. But I read the recipe again: you make the batter, then refrigerate it for a few hours or overnight before you make the cookies.

So it isn’t a case of make the cookies and eat them hot in 20 minutes, but they are amazing. So check out your pantry; I bet you have most of the ingredients in yours, too.

Trail Mix Cookies

From Bon Appetit, May 2020

Yield: makes 12 every large cookies

1½ cups assorted nuts and seeds
½ cup old-fashioned oats
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted,
1 large egg
¼ cup dark brown sugar (although light will do fine)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
¾ cup assorted dried fruit (cut into ½ inch pieces if large)
¾ cup chopped bittersweet chocolate chips, discs or chopped bars
½ cup all-purpose flour
Flaky sea salt

Place racks in upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat to 350 degrees. Toast nuts and seeds on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing once until golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl; let cool.

Meanwhile, mix egg, butter, brown and granulated sugars, vanilla, salt and baking soda in a large bowl. Let sit until nuts and seeds are cool (this will make for a chewier cookie).

Add dried fruits and chocolate to nut mixture; toss to combine. Give egg mixture a good stir, then stir in the flour. Mix in nut mixture, smashing it against the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, until combined and mix-ins evenly coated in dough. (It will look like too many mix-ins but dough will come together as it chills.) Cover and chill at least two hours and up to three days.

Reheat oven to 350 degrees. Using a 1/3 cup measure or a #16 cookie scoop, portion out dough, packing firmly, to make 12 cookies. Divide between two parchment-lined baking sheets as you go (I use my Silpat sheets.) Using a cup or your hand, press cookies into 2½” diameter disks about ¾” thick and sprinkle with sea salt. Bake cookies, rotating sheets top to bottom and from front to back, until golden brown and no longer wet looking, 11 to 13 minutes. Let cool on baking sheets.

Cookies can be made one week ahead. Store in airtight container at room temperature.

Lee White

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

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A la Carte: Asparagus & Tomato Frittata Tempts the (Locked-Down) Tastebuds

Since this shelter-in-place began in March, I have been frantic about getting tested. I knew it might not do much good, but without being tested, there was no yardstick to find out how many people might be sick. Our illustrious president, at the beginning of his press briefings, said anyone who wanted to be tested would be. Of course, he was lying.

But a couple of weeks ago, Groton paired with PhysiciansOne Urgent Care to test 200 people who would, online, answer questions and give their insurance numbers, a credit card and their social security number. I did it, even though I was nervous about it. After I was accepted. I called our mayor, Patrice Granatosky, and asked if I’d done the right thing. She called me back a few minutes later and said the company was a good one and was sure everything was fine. 

I did get tested in my car at Fitch High School at 9 a.m. on Sunday. It was just the nasal swab, not the finger stick that would tell me if I had had the virus, but something is better than nothing. There were no lines, it took no more than 30 seconds, and I will get the results in a few days.

But here is the great thing about living in this city. I told Patrice I had gloves (whenever I have a doctor’s visit, I nab a few to take home; when I cut hot peppers I use disposable gloves), but I had ordered masks two weeks before and my California daughter was sending me one, but I didn’t have a single one to use.

Half an hour later, Patrice called me from my condo’s parking lot; she had found a mask her neighbor made. Who has a mayor who would go out of her way to do that, I ask? I gave her a banana cake with candied ginger, hazelnuts and chocolate chips. 

Let’s face it, that’s all I can really do: bake and cook. I found this recipe in an advertisement for Kohl’s. I am looking for lots of food that contain vegetables and protein. I had lots of eggs, grape tomatoes (love ‘em), potatoes and asparagus. I think it will feed four, but I ate it in two days.

Roasted Asparagus and Tomato Frittata

1 pound cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound asparagus spears, cooked
2 shallots, finely chopped (I used Vidalia onion)
1 pound potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch cut, cooked*
10 eggs
4 ounces shredded Parmesan, Romano or Gruyere

Preheat oven to 425. Toss tomatoes with oil and salt. Spread onto a sheet pan and roast until blistered, about ten minutes. Reduce heat to 350.

Reserve 1 spear of asparagus. Chop remaining into ½ inch pieces. Heat a 12-inch non-stick skillet over medium-high with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add shallots and a little salt. Cook until golden, 5 to 6 minutes. Add chopped asparagus and potatoes. 

In a medium bowl, beat eggs with a little salt and pepper. Pour into skillet. Stir until eggs thicken. Top with tomatoes and reserved tomatoes and reserved asparagus spear. Bake in oven 14 to 16 minutes. Top with cheese and cut into wedges.

*I might use frozen hash browns, instead, and cook them with the shallots.

Lee White

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

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A la Carte: Something Special for Easter? How About Sweet Honey Chicken with a Hint of Curry?

Well, it has been an interesting two weeks. 

I spend quite a time on Facebook with friends and family. My family seems fine. My brother and I do not talk often. This has little to do with the fact that we are not close. I like him and he likes me, but eight years is a big number. He went to college when I was nine and, except for vacations, he never really came back to Troy. After college, I moved away and just went back to see my parents.

In any case, he did call last week. He is sheltering in place with his lady friend and they are content. So am I. His children and mine are far away but all are fine. 

I feel closer to my friends on Facebook. Mike DiMauro, The Day’s sports editor, talked about making marinara vodka sauce two nights ago and shared a picture. He thought it might be as good as the one he gets at Filomena’s in Waterford. When I go to Filomena’s, one of my favorite restaurants, I usually get the chicken piccata.

Funny, too, is the fact that I had made marinara vodka sauce the same evening Mike did. I made it with penne and shared it with my neighbors. (I put the pasta on the red bench outside my porch; my neighbors walk out, pick up the dinner and take it home.)

After I ate hot dogs and peanut butter and jelly sandwich for three days, I began to cook with abandon. I made pounds and pounds of vegetables I had in the freezer. I made from-scratch baked beans with bacon, three different pasta sauces and some risotto 

I also made the first chicken dish I’d ever made without a recipe. I had everything I needed except real chicken breasts. I did have some boneless skinless chicken, but it fell flat. This is an easy dish, but it needs the bones and skin from thighs and/or breasts. I think you will like this recipe.

Chicken with Honey and Curry

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Butter a large baking pan (I use Pyrex 8” by 11” or bigger) with butter and set aside. 

Preheat oven at 350 degrees.

10 to 12 thighs
3 large chicken breasts, skin and bone on, cut in half
salt and pepper to taste
4 ounces (1 stick) butter
4 tablespoons good curry powder
one-quarter to one-half cup honey, to taste

Wash and dry chicken pieces. Place skin side up in buttered pan and add salt and pepper. Place in oven.

In the meanwhile, in a saucepan melt butter with curry and honey. Keep warm.

After 10 minutes, pour sauce on top of the chicken pieces. Begin to baste the chicken pieces with the sauce every 10 minutes or so. Bake chicken for a total of 50 to 60 minutes, when the chicken pieces have a dark, golden color.

Place cooked rice in a large, attractive bowl. Place chicken pieces over the rice, then pour the sauce all over the chicken and the rice. Serve immediately.

Lee White

About the author: Lee White has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976 and has been extensively published in the Worcester (Mass.) Magazine, The Day, Norwich Bulletin, and Hartford Courant.  She currently writes 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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