By Carol Mighton Haddix
If you are like me, you’ve been cooking up a storm during this pandemic. I’m finding I’m cooking batches of things such as chili and stews, and freezing leftovers for later. And I’m getting good about using up the cans of food in the back of the cupboard or the almost-too-old carrots hiding in the crisper drawer. In doing so, I’m stretching out the time between trips to the supermarket as much as possible!
What are other Les Dames members cooking? I decided to find out. Here are six responses filled with useful ideas for all of us.
JeanMarie Brownson, JMB Culinary Consulting:
It’s a rare day when I don’t cook. I enjoy the entire activity, from shopping to dishwashing. I especially relish cooking for others. During the pandemic, this passion involves covered containers and sturdy tote bags, rather than table settings and napkin folding.
Last spring, I made tray bakes such as brownies, blondies, lemon bars, and spice cake. I delivered packages of these goodies to my mother’s assisted-living home to share with caregivers. In June, she passed due to Covid. For comfort, I turned to the foods she lovingly cooked for our family: Oven-fried chicken, split pea soup, spaghetti and meatballs.
In the fall, my husband‘s foraging brought a bounty of maitake mushrooms. We turned the huge, meaty mushrooms into burgers, risotto, and stovetop mushroom lasagna (find it in Food & Wine magazine, October 2020).
More recently, I find pleasure in simmering large kettles of soup. I drop off containers of bean and smoked turkey soup, creamy squash bisque, and chunky vegetable chowders on the porches of family members. My 16-year-old nephew (a good cook in the making) sent me Yotam Ottolenghi’s gorgeous new book, Flavor. As a thank you, I text him photos while I’m cooking. Ottolenghi’s recipe for sweet corn polenta ranks as my favorite polenta ever.
Friends and family tell me they’ve turned their former commuting hours into cooking time. My wish is that they embrace the good value, nutrition and satisfaction that comes with a lifetime of cooking. If not, I’ll welcome them to my table. Soon, I hope, soon.
Madelaine Bullwinkel, owner Chez Madelaine:
In celebration of my son Benton’s 50th birthday recently, I abandoned all health considerations and prepared rakott kumpl (see recipe). He is so much like his Hungarian grandfather, who loved rich, peasant dishes like this. My grandmother did not cook once she immigrated to the States, and my mother’s English heritage made her ill-equipped and not really interested in learning Hungarian cuisine.
Rakott kumpl proved to be a great culinary compromise. It was a sausage casserole my mother could easily master to please my father. I confess to adding a few French touches of my own. I turned the layer of sour cream into a sauce and added bacon lardons and breadcrumbs. To balance the richness and add color to the plate, I also prepared a sorrel puree and a side dish of savoy cabbage cooked in duck fat.
Suzanne Florek, President, Suzanne Florek, Inc.
Covid cooking? More than ever! Our kids moved in for various periods during the last year, including girlfriends and wives. Meals on the weekends became a fun craft for the family. Kombucha has been a weekly event, leftover summer berries made into a simple syrup laced with fresh ginger and lemon – the favorite.
Recipes were dug up from little black books I used to carry in my pocket when I worked at at Spiaggia, downtown. We drank lots of wine and made ravioli, pappardelle and a fabulous grilled chicken salad with pesto and golden raisins, all from those little black books.
Rose Levy Beranbaum’s rosemary focaccia has been perfected as well as Chad Robertson’s basic country bread. My sourdough starter found itself a permanent location on the kitchen counter.
But the true test of Covid cooking was … the pandemic wedding. My Nick was married to his lovely wife Noa during the pandemic! We were never certain the wedding could actually happen but it did, complete with both a shower and a Friday party night before the wedding in a tented back yard.
Food for dozens of people each night, all in individual, Covid-friendly, cellophane bags tied with bright pink and gold twist ties. The shower had a Lollapalooza theme, and the coup de grâce was an 8-layer tie-dyed cake. A cylinder of money came rolling out of the cake when the topper was removed by the bride. She was surprised, to say the least!
The night before the wedding, the party ate empanadas with romesco sauce, watermelon salad, individual charcuterie plates, rosemary-marinated pork tenderloin sandwiches with cumin mayo, gougères filled with pimiento cheese, whoopie pies, pound cake with blueberry sauce, and cookies. Emotions filled our kitchen with love, energy and chaos. So yes! There has been much more cooking in our home during the pandemic.
Rita Gutekanst, former owner, Limelight Catering:
I’ve been cooking more than anything else in the last year. Mostly vegetarian recipes from the NYT Cooking website. I typically have basic veggies in the fridge, canned beans and tomatoes in the pantry, and lots of spices. The recipes are adaptable to what’s on hand, I can usually find short cuts and the “notes” are helpful. If I have fish or chicken available, I’ll add that for more protein.
A few easy favorites: Indian butter chickpeas by Melissa Clark (see recipe); sweet and spicy tofu with soba noodles by Sarah Copeland; and curried carrot and coconut soup by Mark Bittman.
Eleanor Hansen, retired (but has been known to refer to herself as “consultant emeritus”):
I tend to be a pantry cook, relying on what I have in the cupboard, freezer and fridge. There are a number of must-have ingredients I always have on hand including:
- Sun-dried tomatoesin seasoned oil (I like the ones in a little jar from Trader Joe’s). Toss them with greens, shards of Parmesan cheese and a drizzle of balsamic for a quick salad. Or I toss sun dried tomatoes with long pasta, defrosted frozen peas and Parm for a quick supper.
- I’ve also discovered pistachios for cooking, since you now can buy the shelled. Add them, coarsely chopped, to pasta with sun dried tomatoes and Parm. And for an easy side dish for chicken, pork or fish, add pistachios to basmati rice with dried cranberries and orange rind. (I always keep some leftover orange peel in the freezer; it grates easily frozen).
- We seldom eat bacon, but I consider it an essential indulgence for dishes like shrimp and grits, quiche Lorraine, and this Brussels sprouts recipe:
- Cut about a pound of Brussels sprouts in half and toss with 1/4 cup olive oil and 3 tablespoons maple syrup. Spread them on a shallow baking sheet, preferably non-stick and top with 3 or 4 slices of bacon cut in small pieces. Roast at 400 degrees about 30 minutes or until the Brussels sprouts are tender and caramelized. You might want to turn them half-way through.
Judith Dunbar Hines, culinary instructor:
I have been cooking three times a day since March. I’m trying to cook from the basket filled with those clippings and notes I’ve saved to “try this someday.” It has kept me in new recipes and kept it interesting.
As some of you know, I worked for Martin Yan for several years in the early ‘90s. He did a recent Zoom class for Chinese New Year and it was great fun to “be in the kitchen with him” again, and to remember all of those many, many demos I arranged for him. He made a pan-seared fish with a miso sauce, which I tried to duplicate that night. It was delicious!
Margaret Laport, Client Insights Consultant (for Conagra), IRI Worldwide:
I have perfected mashed potatoes. It’s a simple recipe, but because of the neuropathy in my hands, it was difficult to peel all the potatoes, so I found an electric peeler, and now I am in business! The recipe is just yellow potatoes, Kerrygold butter, and Maldon salt!
Indian Butter Chickpeas
Yield: 4 to 6 servings; Cooking time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Rita Gutekanst has been cooking this vegetarian riff on Indian butter chicken, spiced with cinnamon, garam masala and fresh ginger. Featured in The New York Times, it’s from The Meat Lover’s Guide To Eating Less Meat.
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, minced
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
4 garlic cloves, finely grated or minced
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2 teaspoons each: ground cumin, sweet paprika, garam masala
1 small cinnamon stick
1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled plum tomatoes
1 (15-ounce) can coconut milk
2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, drained
Ground cayenne (optional)
Cooked white rice, for serving
½ cup cilantro leaves and tender stems
- Melt butter in a large heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Stir in onion and 1/2 teaspoon salt; cook until golden and browned around the edges, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. (Don’t be tempted to turn the heat up to medium-high; keeping the heat on medium ensures even browning without burning the butter. Stir in garlic and ginger, and cook another 1 minute. Stir in cumin, paprika, garam masala and cinnamon stick, and cook another 30 seconds.
- Add tomatoes with their juices. Using a large spoon or flat spatula, break up and smash the tomatoes in the pot (or you can use a pair of kitchen shears to cut the tomatoes while they are still in the can). Stir in coconut milk and the remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer, and continue to cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, and continuing to mash up the tomatoes if necessary to help them break down.
- Stir in chickpeas and a pinch of cayenne if you like. Bring the pot back up to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for another 10 minutes. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Serve spooned over white rice, and topped with cilantro.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings; Cooking time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Madelaine Bullwinkel served this rustic Hungarian sausage casserole for her son’s recent birthday.
8 ounces thick-sliced, applewood-smoked bacon
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk, hot
2 cups sour cream
Sea salt and ground white pepper, to taste
6 yellow potatoes, boiled, peeled, thinly sliced
8 large eggs, boiled, peeled, sliced
1-pound Hungarian smoked sausage (Bende) or Polish kielbasa, sliced
1/2 cup Italian parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons Canola oil or bacon fat
1 clove garlic, peeled, crushed
1⁄2 cup fine breadcrumbs
- Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Oil a deep 4-quart casserole. Slice the bacon strips into 1⁄4″ wide lardons; cook over medium heat in a skillet. Remove pieces just before they brown; drain and reserve. Pour off and reserve all but two tablespoons of the fat.
- Add flour to the two tablespoons of fat in the skillet to make a roux. Cook over medium heat, stirring, about 1 minute. Remove from heat; stir in the hot milk,. Return to the heat and whisk until the mixture thickens, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in enough sour cream to make an easily spreadable sauce. Season to taste. Reserve.
- Alternate layers of sliced potato, egg, and sausage in the prepared dish. Lightly salt the potato layer. Spread a coating of the sour cream over the sausage layer along with a sprinkling of parsley and 1⁄4 of the bacon pieces.
- Brown the crushed garlic in a skillet with two tablespoons of reserved bacon fat or vegetable oil. Stir in the breadcrumbs to coat them in the fat; cook until they lightly brown. Sprinkle the crumbs over the top layer of the casserole along with any remaining bacon pieces and parsley. Bake 1 hour. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.