Cooking

Fireworks Cupcakes

By Barbara Beltrami

When it’s not dark enough yet for fireworks or when the fireworks are over and you’re hankering for a nice cup of coffee, it’s time to bring out the dessert. The following recipes are delicious finishes to a long day celebrating our independence They all are patriotically correct red, white and blue and sure to please.

Fireworks Cupcakes

YIELD: Makes about 2 dozen cupcakes

INGREDIENTS: 

For the cupcakes:

1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 2/3 cups sugar

3 egg whites, at room temperature

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 1/4 cups flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup milk

1 cup vanilla cookie crumbs

For the frosting:

3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

6 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 1/2 tablespoons milk

Red, white and blue sprinkles

Star sprinkles 

DIRECTIONS:

For the cupcake batter:

Preheat oven to 350F. Line 24 cupcake pans with cupcake papers. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add one egg white at a time beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. In another large bowl, thoroughly combine flour, baking powder and salt; add to creamed mixture alternately with milk, beating well after each addition. Fold in cookie crumbs. 

Fill prepared cupcake tins two-thirds full; bake about 22 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pans, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. 

For the frosting:

In a large bowl combine the butter, confectioners’ sugar and vanilla extract. Add the milk very gradually to form a stiff frosting; beat until smooth. Spread the frosting on cooled cupcakes; top with sprinkles. Serve with coffee, milk or fruit punch.

Fourth of July Pie

YIELD: Makes 8 servings

INGREDIENTS: 

One baked 9” pastry crust

1 pint raspberry sorbet, softened

2 cups sliced strawberries

1 pint strawberry ice cream, softened

2 cups blueberries

1 cup sweetened whipped cream

DIRECTIONS:

Spread baked pastry crust with raspberry sorbet; top with half the sliced strawberries; and freeze for one hour. Spread strawberry ice cream evenly over the strawberries; top with half the blueberries; freeze two hours. Top with whipped cream; arrange remaining berries in an attractive pattern on top. Let sit in refrigerator half an hour before serving or freeze, covered, for up to 48 hours. Serve with coffee, milk or fruit punch

Strawberry, Raspberry and Blueberry Cornmeal Cobbler

Strawberry, Raspberry and Blueberry Cornmeal Cobbler

YIELD: Makes 8 servings

INGREDIENTS: 

1 pint blueberries

1 pint raspberries

1 pint strawberries, hulled and halved

1/2 cup sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1/3 cup sugar

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

2/3 cup flour

1/3 cup yellow cornmeal

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon coarse salt

1/4 cup milk

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease an 8” x 8” square baking dish. In a large bowl toss together the berries, the half cup sugar and cornstarch.; transfer to baking dish. In a large bowl with mixer on medium speed, beat together the one-third cup sugar and butter until light and fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes; add egg and vanilla and beat until well blended.

In a small bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt. Add half the flour mixture to the butter mixture; beat on low speed just until combined; beat in the milk, then the remaining flour mixture. Drop the dough by spoonfuls onto the berries; bake until berries are bubbly and top is golden, about 45 minutes to one hour. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

 

Stock photo

By Barbara Beltrami

I think of scallions as the kinder, gentler member of the onion family. They have the flavor without the bitter aftertaste but offer the nuances of an onion-y taste. Suited more to delicate dishes than robust ones, they are especially nice in Asian-style cuisine. The other day I dug a lot of them out of my garden, brought them inside and vigorously washed the dirt off them. Then I trimmed them and laid them in a beautiful pyramid on my cutting board and realized I had more than I could use. Or did I? What about a creamy scallion soup? Or scallion pancakes? Or a scallion salad with radishes, cucumbers and herbs?

Creamy Scallion Soup

YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings

INGREDIENTS: 

6 to 7 bunches of scallions

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 large potato, peeled and diced

6 cups chicken broth

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup snipped chives for garnish

DIRECTIONS:

Wash, trim and thinly slice the scallions. In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat melt butter with the olive oil; add scallions and, stirring often, cook until wilted but not browned. Add potato and chicken broth and over medium-high heat, bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until potato is mushy; season with salt and pepper. Let soup sit until cooled slightly, about 15 minutes, then puree in food processor until smooth. Stir in cream; garnish with chives and serve hot, warm, at room temperature or cold with crusty bread and a tomato and cucumber salad.

Scallion and Kimchi Pancakes

Scallion and Kimchi Pancakes

YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings

INGREDIENTS: 

1 cup flour

1/2 cup rice flour

Coarse salt

1 egg, beaten

1 cup sparkling water, seltzer or club soda

6 scallions, washed, trimmed and thinly sliced

1 cup drained kimchi (Korean preserved cabbage)

1/4 cup liquid from kimchi 

1 tablespoon minced fresh red chile pepper

4 tablespoons vegetable oil

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 300 F. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, rice flour, salt, egg, sparkling water and kimchi liquid. Stir in scallions, kimchi and chile pepper. In an 8″ nonstick skillet heat 1 to 2 teaspoons oil. Ladle half a cup of batter to cover bottom of skillet and form an 8” pancake. Cook, turning once, until golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes each side; transfer to shallow baking pan or baking sheet and place in oven to keep warm. Repeat procedure with remaining batter. Cut each pancake into quarters and serve hot or warm with Korean dipping sauce. 

Scallion and Herb Salad with Radishes and Cucumbers

YIELD: Makes 6 to 8 servings

INGREDIENTS: 

8 scallions, washed and trimmed, whites and greens separated

3 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar

Coarse salt to taste

1 cup fresh cilantro leaves

1 cup fresh arugula

6 to 8 radishes, washed, trimmed and very thinly sliced

1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and minced,

1 red chile, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

1/2 cup toasted sesame seeds

DIRECTIONS:

Thinly slice scallion whites. In a large bowl, toss them with rice vinegar, sugar and salt; let sit about 10 minutes. Thinly slice scallion greens. Add them along with cilantro, arugula, radishes, cucumber, red chile, sesame oil and sesame seeds to scallion whites. Toss to combine all ingredients. Serve immediately with fish, poultry, pork or beef.

Pasta Salad Caprese

By Barbara Beltrami

These times are causing us to rethink how we feed ourselves. Even as the weather brings us outdoors and procuring provisions becomes easier, it is still a challenge to come up with ideas that break away from the same old, same old kitchen fare and backyard barbecue. 

But here’s what you can do: You can park outside your favorite restaurant, order takeout, have it delivered to your car (maintaining all distancing and COVID-19 protocol, of course), and have a tailgate picnic. It will give you a break from your routine and help to support local restaurants and their employees who are struggling to recuperate from their financial losses during the pandemic. 

And if you’re just not up to takeout, but still need a change of scenery for mealtime, here is one of my favorite do-it-yourself picnic menus, tailgate or otherwise, that requires little preparation and the addition only of some fresh summer fruit and a beverage or two. So find an unpopulated space with a nice view and breeze and enjoy a little change of venue. 

Pasta Salad Caprese

Pasta Salad Caprese

YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings. 

INGREDIENTS: 

1 pound fusilli, shells or other short pasta

2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup white wine vinegar

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 garlic clove, bruised

1 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, cubed

1 pint grape tomatoes, halved

1 1/2 cups fresh basil leaves, torn

DIRECTIONS:

Cook pasta according to package directions. While it’s cooking, in a small bowl whisk together the oil, vinegar, salt, pepper and garlic clove; set aside. When pasta is ready, drain but do not run cold water over it. Transfer to large bowl. Remove and discard garlic from oil and vinegar mixtures and while pasta is still hot, toss it with the dressing. Let sit at room temperature until ready to serve; add mozzarella, tomatoes, basil and more salt and pepper; toss again and serve immediately with frittata and wine or lemonade.

Artichoke, Asparagus and Spinach Frittata

YIELD: Makes 4 servings. 

INGREDIENTS: 

1 pound fresh baby artichokes, outer leaves trimmed

6 extra large eggs

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup snipped fresh chives

3 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano leaves

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 cups fresh spinach leaves

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 large shallot, minced

1/2 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into one-inch pieces

DIRECTIONS:

Sprinkle artichoke hearts generously with salt and steam until very tender, about 15 minutes. Immerse in cold water. In medium bowl beat eggs vigorously with salt, pepper, herbs and cheese; stir in spinach leaves. Preheat oven to 400 F. In a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat warm oil, add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until onion starts to wilt, a couple of minutes. Add artichokes and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until golden brown, 6 to 8 minutes

Pour in egg mixture and swirl pan to distribute evenly; distribute asparagus pieces evenly over top. Shake the skillet gently and tilt the pan while lifting the edges gently with a spatula so that liquid from center runs to outside edge of pan. Reduce heat to low, repeat tilting-lifting procedure every two minutes and cook till eggs are nearly set, about 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer frittata to upper third of oven and monitoring carefully, cook until top is light golden, about 3 minutes. Remove from oven, slide or invert onto plate, and when somewhat cooled, cover with aluminum foil. Cut into wedges and serve hot, warm or at room temperature with pasta salad and wine or lemonade.

Oatmeal and Dried Cherry Cookies

Oatmeal and Dried Cherry Cookies

YIELD: Makes 4 dozen

INGREDIENTS:

1/2 cup plus 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

3 cups old-fashioned uncooked oats

1 cup dried cherries, chopped

DIRECTIONS:

Heat oven to 350 F. In a large bowl with mixer on medium speed, beat butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar until fluffy and creamy; add eggs and vanilla and beat well. In another medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; add to butter mixture; mix well. Add oatmeal and dried cherries; mix well. Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheet; bake until golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Cool one minute on cookie sheet, then finish cooling on wire rack. Store in airtight covered container.

 

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

By Barbara Beltrami

There are certain magical combinations in the food world. Some are because their flavors or qualities complement each other, some are because they are what the earth and the barn and the sea provide, and some are because they grow and ripen simultaneously. And so it is with strawberries and rhubarb which are at their peak right now and abound at farm stands and in markets. The sweetness of the former and tartness of the latter form a perfect pair, particularly in desserts. 

While strawberry-rhubarb pie may be the most well known one, there are some others that are just as mouth-watering, maybe more so, than that old standby.  One is a strawberry-rhubarb custard pie where the creaminess of the custard is a perfect foil for the sweet-tartness of  the fruit. Another is a roll where cake and syrup create a perfect pair, especially when topped with whipped cream.  And finally, a strawberry-rhubarb crisp gives crunchiness to counter the soft fruit. They are all recipes that I remember from way back when.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

YIELD: Makes 8 servings. 

INGREDIENTS:

3/4 cup flour

2/3 cup plus 1/2 cup sugar

Generous pinch salt

3/4 stick chilled unsalted butter, diced

1/2 cup old-fashioned oats

1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts or almonds

Finely grated zest of one lemon

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 quart strawberries, washed, hulled and halved

3/4 pound rhubarb, washed, trimmed and cut into 1/2” slices

DIRECTIONS:

In medium bowl, thoroughly combine flour, 2/3 cup sugar and salt. With fingertips or pastry blender, work in butter until mixture resembles coarse oatmeal. Add oats and nuts and blend thoroughly. Preheat oven to 375 F. Grease or butter an 8 or 9” square nonreactive baking dish. In a medium bowl combine the one half cup sugar, lemon zest, vanilla extract, strawberries and rhubarb. Transfer to prepared baking dish; sprinkle oat mixture on top. Bake until filling is bubbly and top is golden and crisp, about 45 minutes. Serve hot or warm with vanilla ice cream or yogurt or whipped cream.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Roll

YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings. 

INGREDIENTS:

1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon sugar

1 cup water

2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/3 cup unsalted butter

1/2 cup milk

1 cup washed, hulled strawberries, halved

1 cup diced, trimmed washed rhubarb

1 /2 tablespoon cinnamon

 DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 400 F. In a medium saucepan combine one cup sugar with water. Boil 5 minutes,  until sugar is completely dissolved. Pour into an 8” x 8” baking dish. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, salt, one tablespoon of remaining sugar and baking powder. With fingertips or a pastry blender, work the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse oatmeal. Stir in milk just until mixture is thoroughly moistened. Turn onto lightly floured board and knead 30 seconds. Roll into a 8” x 15” rectangle; spread with fruit; combine remaining sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over fruit. Starting at the long end, roll like a jellyroll. Cut into 8 to 12 slices and place in syrup in baking dish. Bake until done, about 20 to 30 minutes. Serve hot or warm with whipped cream.  

Strawberry-Rhubarb Custard Pie

Strawberry-Rhubarb Custard Pie

YIELD: Makes 6 servings.

INGREDIENTS:

Pastry for a 9” two crust pie

2 cups fresh strawberries, washed, hulled and halved (or quartered) depending on size

2 cups washed and trimmed rhubarb, cut into 1 inch pieces

1 1/4 cups sugar

3 tablespoons flour

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1  tablespoon unsalted butter

2 eggs, lightly beaten

DIRECTIONS:

Line pie plate with two-thirds of the pastry. Preheat oven to 400 F. Combine strawberries and rhubarb and place in pastry-lined pie plate. In a medium bowl combine, sugar, flour and nutmeg. Cut butter into tiny pieces and add, along with eggs, to flour mixture. Mix well. Pour mixture over fruit in pie plate. Roll out remaining third of pastry dough, cut into half-inch strips and arrange in lattice design over pie filling. Place pie in oven; immediately reduce heat to 350 F. Bake until rhubarb is tender, about 30 to 40 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

 

By Barbara Beltrami

It’s spring! And that means getting out in the garden and planting things to please the palate as much as the eye. This year more than ever cultivating a garden has become a particularly popular pastime as we eagerly gravitate to the great outdoors after our long winter’s hibernation and isolation. There’s something so rewarding and satisfying about planting tiny seeds or sprouts and watching them grow into mature edibles. 

Early seasonals like spinach, peas and lettuce that don’t mind the cold weather are the first to gratify our efforts, and not far behind are herbs. Some are perennials and start peeking through the soil early on; a few are annuals and need to be replenished every year, but all are fragrant, flavorful and pretty edibles that keep on giving right into the fall and are welcome plants that can be used fresh or dried on their own or as additions and enhancements to other dishes.

Herbed Popcorn

Here’s something to happily crunch on while you’re binge-watching TV. You can even omit the butter and probably won’t even miss it.

YIELD: Makes about 4 quarts

INGREDIENTS:

2 tablespoons vegetable or corn oil

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon dried basil

1 tablespoon dried dill

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup popcorn kernels

Finely ground sea salt to taste

1/4 cup melted unsalted butter

DIRECTIONS:

In a small skillet, heat the oil over medium heat for 30 to 45 seconds, until it starts to shimmer. Turn off heat, add herbs and pepper, stir and let sit about 20 minutes so the oil can absorb their flavors. Pop the popcorn in the microwave, an air popper or by your favorite method. Immediately transfer to a very large pot or bowl and combine it with the herb mixture, salt and melted butter. Serve immediately with soda, beer or wine.

Herb Salad I

Chop up some of these flavorful leaves for your next salad. Dress with a simple vinaigrette to enhance but not mask their flavors.

YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings.

INGREDIENTS:

3 cups mixture of dill, mint, parsley, lovage, and basil

3 cups mixed baby salad greens

1 carrot, shredded

4 radishes, washed, trimmed and very thinly sliced

1 scallion, trimmed and very thinly sliced

1 cup thinly sliced grape tomatoes

 DIRECTIONS: 

In large bowl toss ingredients with your favorite vinaigrette. Serve at room temperature with seafood, pasta, fish, poultry or meat.

Herb Salad II

Herb Salad II

YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings.

INGREDIENTS:

3 cups torn butter or Bibb lettuce

3 cups fresh flat leaf parsley leaves

3 cups fresh basil leaves

1/2 cup fresh snipped chives

1/2 cup fresh snipped garlic chives

1/2 cup fresh tarragon leaves

1 cup fresh chervil, chopped

1 cup fresh nasturtium leaves

2 cups diced fennel bulb with leaves

Nasturtium and chive flowers for garnish

DIRECTIONS:

In large bowl toss ingredients with vinaigrette. Just before serving, garnish with flowers. Serve immediately with seafood, fish, pasta, poultry or meat.

Mixed Herb Pesto

Herbed Pesto

If you like the traditional basil pesto, you’ll also like pestos made from other herbs. 

YIELD: Makes 3/4 to 1 cup.

INGREDIENTS:

3 cups mixed tender herbs such as basil, cilantro, parsley, tarragon or mint

1 cup fresh baby spinach

1 garlic clove, chopped

1/4 cup shelled almonds or pistachios

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

In bowl of electric food processor, puree all ingredients together to form a smooth paste. Serve at room temperature with pasta, meat, poultry, fish or seafood. 

Herbed Salt

Herbed Salt

Make this up in large batches so you’ll have some to give as gifts.

YIELD: Makes about 2 cups

INGREDIENTS: 

10 sprigs of a mixture of sage, oregano, rosemary and thyme

2 cups kosher salt

DIRECTIONS:

Remove thick stems, then coarsely chop remaining leaves and small stems. Place in bowl of food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Transfer to medium bowl and thoroughly combine with salt. Transfer to airtight container. Store in a cool dry place. Serve with anything that requires salt.

Stock photo

By Barbara Beltrami

Most likely, it’s not going to be a traditional Memorial Day barbecue this year. No backyard crowded with family and friends and neighbors bearing salad bowls and foil covered platters. No cooler filled with beer and soda on the deck. No trays of hot dogs and hamburgers. Just you and your family or maybe even just you. So … since it’s going to be a different kind of day anyway, why not dispense with the usual menu and go for something different but very easy? How about steak with butter and garlic sauce? Chicken under a brick? A watermelon, feta, arugula and tomato salad? Grilled potatoes and Vidalia onions? And to remember the red, white and blue, how about a strawberry, blueberry and vanilla ice cream tart for dessert?

Watermelon, Avocado, Feta, Arugula and Tomato Salad

YIELD: Makes 4 servings.

INGREDIENTS: 

1 ripe avocado, peeled and cubed

Freshly squeezed juice of one lemon

4 cups diced watermelon

4 ounces diced feta cheese

4 cups arugula, washed, dried and coarsely chopped

2 large tomatoes, diced

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

In a small bowl, toss avocado with lemon juice; set aside. In a large salad bowl, toss together the watermelon, feta, arugula and tomato. Just before serving, add the avocado, oil, vinegar, salt and pepper to the watermelon mixture. Toss to thoroughly coat with oil and vinegar. Serve with steak, chicken or any grilled meat or poultry and grilled potatoes and onions.

Steak with Garlic Butter Sauce

YIELD: Makes 4 servings.

INGREDIENTS: 

One 2-3 pound boneless steak

Coarse salt and black pepper, to taste

4 ounces unsalted butter, softened

2 ounces unsalted butter melted

4 cloves garlic, chopped

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat grill to hot. Rub steak generously with salt and pepper. Smear one side with two ounces of the softened. Grill, buttered side down, until browned on that side, about 5 to 7 minutes; turn and smear top with remaining softened butter; sprinkle with half the garlic and grill until meat reaches desired doneness. For medium rare, a thermometer should read 135 F, for medium, 140 F, for medium well, 145 F (4 to 7 minutes per side). Reheat melted butter with remaining two minced cloves garlic. Slice steak and drizzle with melted butter mixture. Serve hot with salad and grilled potatoes and onions.

Chicken Under a Brick

YIELD: Makes 2 to 4 servings

INGREDIENTS: 

1 small chicken, split down the breastbone and pounded flat

Freshly squeezed juice of one lemon

1 garlic clove,  minced

1 to 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves

4 tablespoons olive oil

Coarse salt and ground pepper to taste

1 ordinary brick wrapped in foil

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat grill to medium-low. Rub all ingredients well into chicken’s skin. Place chicken on grill, weight down with brick and cook until crisp and golden, about 20 minutes each side, or until juices run clear. Serve with grilled potatoes and Vidalia onions and salad

Grilled Baby Potatoes and Vidalia Onions

YIELD: Makes 4 servings.

INGREDIENTS: 

2 – 3  pounds baby potatoes, scrubbed 

2 Vidalia onions, peeled and sliced thin

1/2 cup olive oil

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1/2 cup finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

DIRECTIONS:

Prick potato skins with a fork. In a large saucepan, parboil the potatoes in salted water until they’re still slightly hard in the center; drain. In a large bowl combine them with the onions, olive oil, salt and pepper. Let sit for 30 minutes until they have absorbed all the oil. Meanwhile, preheat grill to medium-high. Transfer potatoes and onions to grill basket and grill until potatoes are cooked through and onions start to brown. Sprinkle with parsley and serve hot or warm with steak, chicken or any grilled meat or poultry and salad.

Red, White and Blue Tart

YIELD: Makes 6 to 8 servings

INGREDIENTS: 

1 pie crust, pre-baked

1 quart vanilla ice cream, softened

1/2 pint strawberries, washed, hulled and sliced

1/2 pint blueberries, washed and drained

1/2 pint raspberries, washed and drained

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar

DIRECTIONS:

Spread ice cream evenly in pie crust.  Cover and freeze. Twenty minutes before serving, remove from freezer. In a  medium bowl, toss berries with granulated sugar, then sprinkle or arrange them over ice cream; dust with confectioners’ sugar. Serve immediately with iced coffee, iced tea or lemonade.

 

Lobster Roll. Photo from METRO

By Barbara Beltrami

When I think of visiting a place it’s as much about the food as the sights. It’s the sweet anticipation of squid ink pasta in Venice or a real barbecue in Wyoming or pastry in Vienna or gumbo in New Orleans. 

It’s walking in the alleyways of little towns and smelling dinner cooking, going to an open air market and picking out just caught fish, just picked veggies, just baked crusty bread. It’s dining in a waterfront restaurant and slurping oysters with a chilled Sancerre or having an espresso at an outdoor café and people watching or picnicking in a field of lavender in Provence. It’s hearing distant music and laughter and the clinking of glasses, watching native people carry dinner home on  bicycles, in baskets on their heads or in string bags along cobbled streets. It’s sipping cocktails high up in a sky-scraper and watching the city light up. And it’s passing sidewalks where people squat on their haunches, drink tea and eat bowls of rice. 

But not this year nor any time soon. Leafing through cookbooks, remembering and fantasizing must suffice. And so I become not quite an armchair traveler but a kitchen chair traveler as I sit at the table, poring through and longingly ogling the photos and reminiscing their provenance. Sooner or later I zero in on a recipe, then try to approximate it and time travel back to its memory and taste. Here are a few I was reasonably successful with.

Quiche from a Picnic in Provence

Quiche

YIELD: Makes 6 to 8 servings

INGREDIENTS: 

Nonstick cooking spray

Pie crust for 8-inch spring form tart pan

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 onions, diced

1 garlic clove, minced

2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

1 bunch asparagus, washed, trimmed and cut into one-inch pieces

2 tomatoes, diced

2 large eggs

1 cup cream

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Dash nutmeg

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375 F. Spray tart pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line with pastry crust and trim. Set on baking sheet. In a medium skillet warm oil over medium heat; add onions, garlic, parsley, thyme, asparagus, and tomatoes. Sauté, stirring frequently, until onions are opaque, asparagus is tender, and tomatoes are mushy, about 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to pie crust. In a small bowl, beat together the eggs, cream, salt and pepper and nutmeg. Pour over sautéed veggies. Bake until knife inserted in center of quiche comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature with a delicate green salad.

Lobster Roll from a Maine Lobster Shack

Lobster Roll. Photo from METRO

YIELD: Makes 2 to 4 servings

INGREDIENTS: 

1 pound fresh lobster meat, cut into bite-size pieces

1/2 cup good quality mayonnaise

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 inner celery stalks with leaves, finely chopped

1 tablespoon chopped flat leaf parsley

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

2 to 4 top-split hot dog rolls, lightly toasted

DIRECTIONS:

In medium bowl, thoroughly combine lobster, mayonnaise, lemon juice, celery, parsley and salt and pepper. Brush insides of rolls with melted butter; heap with lobster mixture. Serve immediately with iced tea and potato chips.

Apple Strudel from a Café in Budapest

Apple Strudel

YIELD: Makes 6 to 8 servings

INGREDIENTS: 

1 1/4 cups apple juice

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 1/2 pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced

1/2 cup raisins

3 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

4 sheets phyllo dough

1/3 cup melted unsalted butter plus 2 tablespoons

3 tablespoons bread crumbs

Confectioners’ sugar

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 450 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In small bowl, whisk together one-quarter cup of apple juice with cornstarch. In large saucepan over medium heat combine the remaining cup apple juice, apples, raisins, sugar, cinnamon and walnuts and cook, stirring frequently, until apples are tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add cornstarch mixture and stir constantly until smooth; simmer until apple mixture thickens, about one minute. 

Remove from heat; cover and cool. Meanwhile  lay out one sheet phyllo dough, brush with one-third of the butter( not counting the two tablespoons), then sprinkle with one-third bread crumbs; repeat procedure with 2 more sheets phyllo dough; top with fourth sheet phyllo dough, spread with cooled apple mixture, leaving half an inch border on all sides. Tucking in ends, roll into log and brush with remaining two tablespoons butter. 

Carefully transfer strudel, seam side down, to baking sheet; bake until light golden, about 15 minutes; remove from oven and let cool before slicing into two-inch pieces. Dust with confectioner’s sugar and serve with whipped cream and hot coffee.

 

Hollandaise Sauce. Stock photo

By Barbara Beltrami

The five classic sauces that are often called  the Mother Sauces of French cuisine are béchamel, velouté, espagnole, hollandaise and tomate. From them are derived many other sauces that we’ve all most likely tasted at one time or another. 

The béchamel is that creamy white sauce made from a roux of butter and flour with hot milk and with cheese added becomes a Mornay sauce. A velouté is another creamy white sauce made from meat or fish stock, cream and egg yolks. That brings us to hollandaise, a blend of egg yolks, butter and lemon juice or vinegar. A sauce espagnole rarely used on its own but often as a base for other sauces is a rich emulsion of a dark brown roux, browned bones and meat, vegetables, brown sugar and various seasonings. And finally is the one we’re probably most familiar with, sauce tomate, which consists of pork, a roux, herbs and seasonings and of course, tomatoes. 

Why am I telling you all this? Because there’s nothing like a savory classic sauce to jazz up an otherwise ordinary dish. And because for Mother’s Day and every day, Mom deserves something jazzy and elegant crowned by one of the Five Mother Sauces. Fancy names aside, these pillars of French cuisine aren’t famous and popular for nothing. Here are three of those five sauces for you to try.

Béchamel Sauce

Béchamel Sauce

YIELD: Makes about 2 to 2 1/4 cups

INGREDIENTS: 

2 cups milk

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 tablespoons flour

Pinch nutmeg

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, scald the milk, then put over very low heat to keep it hot. In another medium saucepan melt butter over low heat and when it is bubbling, whisk in flour, nutmeg and salt and pepper and cook 3 to 4 minutes until golden. Whisking constantly, pour in milk slowly but steadily and keep whisking and stirring until sauce is thickened, about 10 minutes. Use for creamed veggies, mac and cheese, lasagna, moussaka or anything that would taste better with a cream sauce.

For variation: Whisk in 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese to make a Mornay sauce.

Hollandaise Sauce

Hollandaise Sauce

YIELD: Makes about 2/3 cup

INGREDIENTS: 

8 ounces unsalted butter

2 egg yolks

1 tablespoon water

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice or to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Set a large saucepan with a few inches of water on low heat to simmer. Place butter in a glass measuring cup and set in simmering water until butter is melted, but don’t let water come to top or get inside cup. Carefully skim white residue off top, reserve clear yellow liquid and discard white on bottom of cup. In a small saucepan, using a wire whisk, vigorously beat egg yolks with a tablespoon of water. Place saucepan in a larger saucepan of simmering water, beating constantly, and, continuing to beat constantly, add clear yellow liquid from butter. Keep over simmering water and continue to beat until mixture thickens and has the consistency of a thick liquid. Stir in salt and pepper and lemon juice; combine thoroughly and serve immediately over poached eggs, steamed asparagus, cooked lobster pieces or crabmeat or poached salmon 

Sauce Velouté

Sauce Velouté

YIELD: Makes about 2 cups

INGREDIENTS: 

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons flour

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 cups hot chicken broth

DIRECTIONS:

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Stir in flour, salt and pepper and cook, stirring constantly, two minutes. Whisk in chicken broth, half a cup at a time, until smooth.  Bring mixture to a low boil, reduce heat to low and cook, stirring frequently, about 15 minutes, until thick and smooth. Serve over fish, shellfish, or poultry with a delicate green salad.

Sweet and Spicy Cocktail Nuts

By Barbara Beltrami

Virtual happy hours have become all the rage this season. And as we do for any social event we must ready ourselves. So we drape a scarf jauntily over our sweatshirt, finger comb our shaggy hair, put on a splash of bright lipstick for our imminent internet appearance and set a platter of hors d’oeuvres before us to share with absolutely no one but ourselves. 

There we are, swirling our wine or clinking the ice cubes in our glasses and raising them in a merry toast to whoever is on the screen of our tablet. But back to those hors d’oeuvres.

If we’re lucky enough to have procured a log of goat cheese and can spare an onion and a few slices of bread, we nonchalantly munch caramelized onion and goat cheese crostini. Or perhaps we’ve found a package of chop meat lodged in the freezer and have the makings for cocktail meatballs. Or maybe, just maybe, we’ve had the foresight to grab some mixed nuts while everyone else was in the paper goods aisle scrounging for you-know-what. 

So here are some recipes to not have to share at your virtual cocktail party. Many of the ingredients come right from your spice shelf or pantry and are eminently “substitutable.” Even if you don’t have the ingredients, well, the main thing is seeing the once familiar faces of friends and family and neighbors, so Here’s to You! 

Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Crostini

YIELD: Makes 2 servings.

INGREDIENTS: 

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion, peeled and sliced thin

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 heaping teaspoon brown sugar

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

6 thin slices French baguette, toasted

2 ounces softened goat cheese, gorgonzola, cream cheese or any soft cheese

DIRECTIONS:

In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, warm oil; add onions and stirring occasionally, cook until they start to brown, about 10 minutes. Stir in salt and pepper, brown sugar and vinegar and then, stirring frequently, cook over medium heat until onions are soft and a deep golden brown, about 25 to 30 minutes. Spread goat cheese on toasted bread slices, top with onions and serve immediately or at room temperature with a sparkling white wine such as prosecco.

Cocktail Meatballs 

YIELD: Makes 2 to 3 servings.

INGREDIENTS:

1/2 pound ground beef

1 egg

1/4 cup bread crumbs

4 fresh mushrooms, minced

1 shallot or 1/4 medium onion, minced

1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire or A-1 sauce

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1 1/2 teaspoons prepared mustard

2 tablespoons ketchup or tomato sauce

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 tablespoon chopped chives or scallions

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 425 F. In a medium bowl thoroughly combine the meat, egg, breadcrumbs, mushrooms, shallot, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper and cayenne. Roll into one and half-inch meatballs, place on a baking sheet. In a small bowl, mix together the mustard, ketchup and brown sugar; brush onto meatballs. Bake until lightly browned, about 15 minutes; sprinkle with chives. Serve with plain yogurt or sour cream. 

Sweet and Spicy Cocktail Nuts 

YIELD: Makes 2 to 3 servings.

INGREDIENTS:

Nonstick cooking spray

1 egg white

3 cups salted roasted cashews, walnuts, almonds or a mixture

1/3 cup sugar

1 tablespoon curry powder

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 1/4 teaspoon garlic salt

1 1/2 teaspoons chopped dried rosemary leaves

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 250 F. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. In a large bowl, whisk egg white until frothy; add nuts and stir to coat. In a small bowl, combine the sugar, curry powder, cumin, garlic salt, rosemary, cayenne pepper and cinnamon; sprinkle mixture over nuts and toss to thoroughly coat. Spread nuts on a baking sheet and place on center rack of oven. Bake about 35 to 45 minutes, until golden, crispy and aromatic. Remove from oven and cool completely. Break up any clumps and serve with ice cold cocktails or white wine.

Vegetarian Chili

By Barbara Beltrami

I feel like Old Mother Hubbard going to the cupboard and finding it bare or nearly so these days. As I sit and try to order groceries online and find “no delivery slot” or miraculously manage to order online but have to wait a week or so for delivery, I go to the fridge and find an expired container of yogurt, a bottle of ketchup and half a can of cat food. In the vegetable drawer I find a few slimy unrecognizable leaves, a lone scallion and a totally collapsed cucumber and the stark reminder that the fridge could use a long overdue cleaning. I go to the freezer to find nothing but an ancient package of phyllo dough and half a cake from my birthday a year ago. I turn in desperation to my pantry. 

I inherited from my mother the practice of stockpiling multiple cans and jars and packages of staple items so what I do have is lots of cans of beans, tomatoes and tuna, a couple of boxes of pasta, a box of rice and a whole shelf of pickles I put up last year. 

Now the challenge is: What can I concoct out of these few things? I could do a Pasta Puttanesca with the tomatoes and tuna. I could do a Tuna and Bean Salad or I could make a Vegetarian Chili. Here are the recipes I came up with. Things being what they are, all measurements are approximate, main ingredients are generic, and if you don’t have some of the secondary ingredients, no big deal. You’ve got more important things to worry about these days. Be safe, be well, be grateful.

Vegetarian Chili

Vegetarian Chili

YIELD: Makes 8 servings

INGREDIENTS: 

1/4 cup olive oil

1 onion, chopped

1 green pepper, chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

3 tablespoons chili powder

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon coriander

Two 14-ounce cans beans, rinsed and drained

One 14-ounce can tomatoes with juice

Salt and crushed hot red pepper flakes to taste

DIRECTIONS:

In large heavy saucepan or skillet, heat oil over medium heat, add  onion, pepper and chopped garlic and cook over medium heat until slightly softened, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add garlic chili powder, cumin and coriander and cook, stirring once or twice about one minute. Stir in beans, tomatoes, salt and pepper flakes. Serve hot with rice, tortilla chips and a salad or green vegetable.

Pasta Puttanesca

YIELD: Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS: 

1 pound pasta

1/4 cup olive oil

One 28-ounce can tomatoes with juice

1 garlic clove, minced

1 teaspoon each dried parsley, basil, oregano

1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained

1/3 cup black olives, pitted and chopped]

One 7-ounce can oil-packed tuna, drained

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Put pasta water on to boil. Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile in a large skillet heat oil over medium heat; add tomatoes, garlic and herbs. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened, about 10 to 15 minutes; add capers, olives, tuna, salt and pepper and cook another 5 minutes. Serve immediately with a dry white wine.

Tuna and Bean Salad

YIELD: Makes 3 to 4 servings

INGREDIENTS: 

One 7-ounce can tuna, drained

One14-ounce can beans, rinsed and drained

2 tablespoons minced pickles

2 tablespoons minced onion or scallion

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons vinegar

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

In a medium bowl mix all ingredients together. Let sit at room temperature 30 minutes. Serve with lettuce or arugula and rustic bread.