- Cape May NJ Travel Guide and Vacation Planner Blog

Category: Recipes

Time to Get Sauced


Sauce making is not an art form. Art relies on inspiration to come to fruition. If diners waited for chefs to be inspired to create sauces, there would be a lot of dry food and hungry patrons. Sauce making is craftsmanship. A craftsman learns to utilize his tools, materials and skills to create a superior product. Art is admired from a distance. The product of a craftsman is utilized and enjoyed by the consumer. Craftsmanship can be learned. So can building great sauces.

The function of a sauce is to elevate and enhance the focal point of a meal. Some sauces are painstakingly built over hours and even days. These sauces are the pinnacle of the saucier craft. They require time and patience, two ingredients often in short supply for the home cook with a hungry family that wants to eat ten minutes ago. Good, even great sauces are within reach of the home cook. The place to begin to learn the craft of sauce making is at the bottom of the pan. The humble pan sauce is quick, easy and delicious.

The key qualities of a sauce are flavor, appearance and texture. The building blocks to achieve these goals are a flavorful liquid, aromatics and a thickening agent. Pan sauces provide the cook with an added flavor tool, deglazing. Searing and roasting proteins creates a caramelized exterior to the product yielding the yum factor which provides the bulk of flavor to the dish. This flavor is also left behind in the pan this can be incorporated into your sauce by deglazing with a liquid. This liquid is often wine or booze but can also be stock or even water. This is then reduced to fortify the flavors and thicken the sauce.

Enough of the theoretical jargon, we will walk through the basic pan sauce. Follow these steps and you can create a multitude of dishes by simply varying the ingredients.

  1. To make Scallops with a Mushroom-thyme Cream Sauce, dry the protein. Moisture is the enemy of browning.
  2. Get your pan hot and have all your ingredients close by. This is going to happen fast.
  3. Add oil to hot pan.
  4. Sear protein until brown on both sides and remove. Don’t worry about cooking the item thoroughly. It can be finished in the oven or returned to the sauce to finish.
  5. Add mushrooms, shallots and garlic.
  6. Move pan or stir to cook items quickly and avoid burning.
  7. Add sherry or white wine and reduce until most of the liquid is gone.
  8. Add cream and simmer until the sauce coats the back of a spoon.
  9. Finish with fresh herbs like thyme or tarragon.
  10. Add the scallops back in to warm.
  11. Taste the sauce. Adjust seasonings and serve.

Don’t like scallops? Use shrimp, chicken or veal. Don’t want a heavy cream sauce during swimsuit season? Use stock or even carrot juice. The ingredients can be varied to suit your own tastes, the technique for building the sauce never varies. That is the mark of a good craftsman.

Enjoy this month’s video and recipe for creating a pan sauce. Look forward to hearing about the dishes you create utilizing this template. end

Scallops with Sherry-Mushroom Cream Sauce

(Serves 2)

  • 10 large scallops
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 3 Tbsp chopped tarragon
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup cream
  • ¼ cup sherry
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Heat large sauté pan over medium high heat.
  2. Add oil. Let come to temperature.
  3. Brown scallops 4-5 minutes per side remove.
  4. Add mushrooms, shallots and garlic. Cook until softened.
  5. Deglaze with sherry. Reduce liquid by two thirds.
  6. Add cream. Reduce by half.
  7. Add tarragon, salt and pepper.
  8. Add scallops back into sauce. Warm and serve.


Grill of my dreams


The voices have started again. It happens annually. Starting as whisper then progressing to a deafening crescendo that awakens me from my winter food slumber. The steady diet of braises, stews and starches, that carried me through the chilly and damp off-season at the shore, have weighed heavily on my body, soul and palate. From the depths of a beef and burgundy burdened Dutch oven the simmering sauce whispers, “If you grill it they will come.” A Man needs his grill to be complete. Men love to grill. It is deeply encrypted in our DNA right alongside the belching and scratching genes. Give a man an open fire and a pair of tongs and he thinks he is an Iron Chef. It is a shame so many get it wrong. Grilling should never involve lighter fluid or the fire department. If a coroner’s inquest is required to identify your supper you are cremating not grilling.

Grilling is not all about high heat, red meat and syrupy sweet barbecue sauce. Down at the shore we know that seafood and the grill are a perfect union. Most fish and shellfish can be grilled successfully without long preparation or cooking times. Marinades for grilled fish serve a different purpose than for meat. There is no need to tenderize most fish. Overexposure of fish proteins to acidic marinades will actually toughen the product. Shellfish like shrimp and scallops are particularly vulnerable. The main function is to add flavor and fat so the product doesn’t stick to the grill.

The flavor of grilled foods is unique. Charcoal and wood add to that sensation. The aromas stimulate our senses with that mix of fire, smoke and caramelizing proteins. Most anything can be grilled with the right technique – even flaky fish like flounder or tilapia. The French have been cooking food in paper pouches for centuries providing moist flavorful food that steams and creates its own sauce. This technique doesn’t translate well to open grills but American grillers are an innovative bunch and have pragmatically adapted the technique with that icon of industrialization aluminum foil. The foil packet allows us to grill our food and create sauces at the same time.

The versatility of the grill is part of its charm. You can cook low and slow or fast and furious. Most of the flavor is provided by the fire itself. Before convection ovens and microwaves took over our kitchens and lives humanity grilled. As grilling season commences expand your grilling repertoire with seafood. You don’t need to buy special grill pans or baskets don’t turn to Williams and Sonoma. Turn to Reynolds. Listen to the voices. It is time to grill. Enjoy these recipes for Mojo Shrimp and Sweet Chili Fish in Foil. cape may dog friendly beaches

Mojo Shrimp

  • 2 lbs shrimp
  • 3 heads garlic, peeled
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 1/2 cups sour orange juice
  • (In a pinch, use two parts orange to one part lime juice)
  • 1 cup minced onion
  • 1 tablespoon fresh oregano
  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • 1 bunch scallions chopped
  • 1 cup Spanish olive oil
  1. Mix all ingredients in blender until smooth. (This is garlicky. If you are having a romantic evening or if you are a vampire, it is ok to back off on the garlic. Many Cubans have told me that my version needs more garlic.)
  2. Toss 2 lbs of peeled and deveined shrimp with just enough marinade to coat.
  3. Marinate 20 minutes then grill over medium heat.
  4. Serve with black beans and rice.
  5. Use reserved marinade as a dipping sauce.
  6. This marinade also works well with chicken wings.

Sweet Chili Fish in Foil

(Serves 4)

  • 4 7×9 pieces aluminum foil
  • 4 fish fillets one-half inch thick (salmon, sword fish, even tilapia* will work)
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 8 lime slices
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • ½ cup thai sweet chili sauce
  • 2 tsps minced ginger
  • 8 mint leaves
  • Oil
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Lightly oil the shiny side of the foil.
  2. Place fillets skin side down.
  3. Arrange 2 lime slices and 2 mint leaves on top of each fillet.
  4. Whisk together remaining ingredients.
  5. Fold up sides and ends of foil then pour coconut milk mixture over shrimp. Foil to form tight seal.
  6. Place on grill over medium heat. Shut lid of grill.
  7. Drink beer/wine/cocktail check in 12-15 minutes. (With thinner fish, adjust the cooking time.)
  8. Serve with steamed jasmine rice or cous-cous.

The Crab Cake Doctrine


The Pacific Northwest has their salmon. New England has their lobster. In the Mid-Atlantic States we tend to be a little crabby. For the truly crabby, only Blue Claw Crabs will do. Don’t waste your breath talking Dungeness, King or Stone. In these parts we know what we want and it is Blue Claw Crabs. Steamed and tossed on a picnic table garnished with cases of beer and sweet corn, swimming in cream and vegetables in a soup or methodically manipulated into a patty, we enjoy our Blue Crabs. The last variation may be the most popular. Making a great crab cake is a badge of honor that chefs and cooks wear proudly. Sadly, many crab cakes miss the boat on achieving greatness. What makes a superior crab cake?

In my, not so humble, opinion, the key to success is honoring the main ingredient. Too many chefs contaminate their cakes with ingredients that mask the delicate flavor of crabmeat rather than enhance. Green and red peppers are an abomination. Green peppers add a bitterness that disrupts the palate. Red peppers can be used in a sauce or relish with the crab cake, but need to be put in their place. They are a supporting player not the star. Scallions and chopped parsley are okay adding contrast without overpowering. Mince or chop secondary ingredients finely, the only large chunks you want in a crab cake are the sweet nuggets of jumbo lump crabmeat. That leads to the next key to success, mixing.

When buying crabmeat – the bigger the lumps of crab, the bigger the flavor and the bigger the hit to your wallet. The most common and unforgivable crustacean crime is turning jumbo lumps into crab sawdust. Fold your binding ingredients GENTLY into the crabmeat. Use your hands carefully turning the crab into the liquid mixture as you pour. The binding ingredient should be added next. This ingredient has only one function: to hold the jewels of crab in place. Many chefs over think this step and try to add a kitschy item like pretzels or potato chips as a binder. Keep it simple. I prefer panko bread crumbs for their neutral flavor. Crustless bread cubes will also do the job and blend into the background leaving the crab flavor at center stage. Mix your binder into the liquid ingredients and let sit for a few minutes for the best results. When adding seasonings, remember less is more. Some crab cakes have sent me into an old bay induced coma. This spice mixture should be used sparingly.

I prefer to griddle or pan fry my crab cakes since they aren’t cloaked in breadcrumbs as opposed to deep frying.

Good chefs know when to let the ingredients speak for themselves. Creativity in crab cakes is best saved for sauces and accompaniments. With crabmeat costing close to $25 a pound, I want my crab cakes to taste like sweet east coast Blue Claw Crab.

Enjoy my award-winning crab cake recipe and video (not award winning, but helpful and informative all the same) Until next month, Bon Appétitcape may dog friendly beaches

Persnickety Chef’s Award-winning Crab Cake Recipe

  • 1 pound jumbo lump crab
  • 1 bunch scallions, minced
  • 2 Tbsp minced parsley
  • 1 tsp Old Bay Seasoning
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup mayo
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • Salt, pepper
  • 2 Tbsp whole grain mustard
  1. Mix all ingredients gently.
  2. Let mixture rest 30 minutes.
  3. Pan fry by heating sauté pan. Add oil to lightly coat pan. Cook 4-5 minutes per side.


How Martha Stewart Ruined Christmas for Everyone

It isn’t her fault. Martha Stewart is not part of a secret anti-Christmas cabal with evil plans to suck the joy out of the Holiday season. She was really trying to help by exporting her provincial Connecticut perfectionism to the rest of the country, and she made it look so easy. Her books and television shows reveal a Christmas tableau that makes a Norman Rockwell painting look like a neurotic mess in comparison. I have personally seen the damage inflicted by those who dared to replicate her repasts. The scene usually involves a suburban housewife hunched over her brand new Kitchenaid mixer filled with limp egg whites that never achieved a stiff peak, a crumpled copy of Martha Stewart Living in one hand, and an empty bottle of single malt clutched in the other. Don’t despair: you don’t need millions stashed away from insider trading to have a fabulous Christmas meal.

Keep it simple. The holiday meal is more about the people around the table than the food on the table. Your family and friends are probably content with the standard dishes and wouldn’t appreciate the Martha-inspired Moroccan-spiced-rubbed truffle-infused Turkey Wellington anyway.

There are ways to elevate your meal without going broke and forcing your family to sneak out to WaWa for a gobbler hoagie. Adding new side dishes and desserts to the meal are a way for the aspiring cook to spread their culinary wings without additional stress. Variations on cranberry sauce are endless and easy to produce. Try adding dried fruit like cherries or figs to your base recipe. Play with a few different flavor profiles by adding balsamic vinegar or hot peppers. The Persnickety Playbook says, “When in doubt, add booze.” Grand Marnier, port, or robust red wine can add flavor and spirit to the basic cranberry sauce.

Mashed potatoes are another side dish that can easily be enhanced. When making your mashed potatoes, add a few more spuds to the pot and divide the batch. Make one traditional and flavor the other half. If you are serving beef, horseradish, cheddar cheese and scallions will enhance the meal. Bacon really does make everything better, including mashed potatoes. Roasted garlic and Locattelli cheese will add a Tuscan accent. Adding mashed parsnips carrots and fresh sage lends farmhouse flair to roasted fowl.

Desserts are not my forte, but I have mastered a few that can be lightly tweaked that many people think I can actually bake. It is amazing how people react when you add a few chunks of quality chocolate to your basic pecan pie recipe. A splash of bourbon or a handful of cranberries and people may call you Julia or Martha by mistake. Bread pudding is another dessert that starts with a good base recipe and lends itself to improvisation. A can of cherries and a handful of chocolate turns the plain into Black Forest bread pudding. Whip some pumpkin into your custard base and some extra spice and cinnamon whip cream and you have suddenly become a culinary genius to your family.

Enjoy your time with family and friends this Christmas. Take inspiration from Martha and the Food Network crowd, but don’t try and compete with their air-brushed images.  Instead, add some twists to practiced dishes with these recipes for Mashed Root Vegetables with Sage, Cranberry Cherry Chutney, and Pumpkin Bread Pudding. Bon Appétit, Merry Christmas and a safe happy New Year to all. 

Mashed Root Vegetables with Sage

  • 6 Yukon gold potatoes peeled and quartered
  • 4 parsnips, peeled and cut
  • 1 rutabaga, peeled and chunked
  • 5 carrots, peeled and chunked
  • Kosher salt
  • Black pepper
  • 2 sticks butter
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 12 sage leaves coarsely chopped
  1. Put rutabagas and potatoes in pot cover with cold water. Add a pinch of salt. Bring to boil. Reduce to simmer. Cook until fork tender, approximately 25 minutes.
  2. At same time cook carrots and parsnips in same manner as above.
  3. Drain all vegetables.
  4. Mash or whip in butter sage and season with salt and pepper.
  5. Fold in sour cream.
  6. Serve hot.

Cranberry Cherry Chutney

  • 4 cups cranberries
  • 3 shallots, diced
  • 1 cup dried cherries, soaked in rum
  • 1 orange juice and zest
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 Tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp oil
  • Pinch salt
  • Pinch pepper
  • Pinch allspice
  1. In a stainless steel saucepan, heat oil and sweat shallots until soft.
  2. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to boil.
  3. Reduce to simmer.
  4. Cook until almost dry, about 30 minutes.
  5. Serve at room temperature with turkey.

Pumpkin Bread Pudding

  • 6 cups cubed bread
  • 1 cup pumpkin
  • 6 eggs, plus 1 yolk
  • 2 cups cream
  • 1½ cups milk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • Pinch cloves
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  1. Heat milk and cream (do not boil).
  2. Beat sugar and eggs.
  3. Temper in cream.
  4. Add pumpkin and spices.
  5. Toss with bread cubes.
  6. Let stand 10 minutes.
  7. Pour into buttered casserole dish.
  8. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour in 350-degree.
  9. Oven cool slightly.
  10. Serve warm with ice cream

Cape May summer cocktails you can make at home

summer cocktail recipes, summer drink ideas

If you can’t be in Cape May during the summer, why not mix up something that will make you feel like you’re on vacation right in your own kitchen? We asked a few of our favorite watering holes for summer drink recipes to help you beat the heat. Since we’re not mixologists ourselves, we rounded up simple shake & strain recipes that don’t require too much effort (I don’t even own a muddler), and ingredients you should be able to find at any liquor store. Don’t own a shaker? Just use a travel mug to shake, and “strain” through the spout. Enjoy!

Cape May Mariner / Aleathea’s Bar at the Inn of Cape May

  • 4 oz Stoli Orange
  • 3 oz Grand Marnier
  • 2 oz Pomegranate Liquor
  • Splash of Lime Juice
  • Splash Cranberry Juice

Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice. Strain and serve.

Taste of Paris Martini / The Mad Batter

  • 2.5 oz Absolut Pear Vodka
  • 2 oz St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
  • 1 oz champagne poured into martini glass as a floater

Pour vodka and St. Germain over ice. Shake and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a slice of pear. Yum yum!

Bango Mango / Pilot House

  • 1 part Cruzan Mango Rum
  • 1 part pineapple juice
  • 1 part cranberry juice

Shake over ice and strain. Serve with an orange slice in a martini glass or on the rocks. Make as little or as much as needed!

Gin & Sin / Martini Beach

Gin & Sin 2012: our updated version of the classic Gin and Sin cocktail. It’s refreshing and potent, with a bit of a grapefruit taste.

  • 2 parts gin
  • 1 part Cointreau
  • 3/4 parts oj
  • 3/4 parts cranberry juice

Shake on the rocks with an orange slice.

Summer Cherry Limeade / e.m. Hemingway’s at the Grand

  • 3 oz Pinnacle cherry vodka
  • 3 slices fresh lime
  • 2 oz fresh lemonade
  • 2 oz water
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1oz Roses lime juice
  • Splash of Grenadine

Mix all ingredients in shaker, shake vigorously, pour into a tall pilsner glass, and garnish with a lime and cherry.

Prawn Stars

Everybody loves shrimp. Put shrimp out at a party and see a Pavlovian reaction from your guests as they swarm en masse to the sweet pink crustaceans. Private Benjamin Buford “Bubba” Blue summed up our feelings about shrimp when he poetically called it the fruit of the sea and listed hundreds of ways to prepare them. Unlike chicken where the sauce enhances the meat, shrimp is the star in any preparation. Shrimp’s versatility extends beyond flavor combinations. It can also be prepared with a multitude of cooking methods. Whether Grilling, sautéing, deep frying and even boiling, the shrimp’s character, texture and flavor is maintained.

bubba blue shrimp quote from Forrest GumpI am often asked what the difference between shrimp and prawns is. From a culinary viewpoint the only real difference is what part of the world your kitchen is located. Europeans and Australians prefer prawn and American’s find more comfort in the term shrimp. In aquaculture shrimp refers to the marine variety and prawn to the freshwater type. Ask a biologist and another definition is forthcoming. Since I am an American chef and my loyal readers are looking for recipes, I will stick to the term shrimp and get to how to cook them rather than discuss what we should call them.

There are several varieties of shrimp you may find at your local fishmonger. Brown, white and tiger are the most common. Stay away from tiger shrimp as they are easily overcooked and can be rubbery. White shrimp are my personal favorites for color, taste, and texture. Shrimp are best purchased shell-on. Shrimp are sold by the pound and sizes are classified by count per pound. The smaller the number per pound the larger the shrimp are. After peeling the shrimp, save the shells for use in making stock. Shells can be wrapped and frozen until you accumulate enough for a decent size batch of stock. After peeling, shrimp need to be deveined. Make a small slit and remove the intestinal tract. Don’t slice too deep unless you are stuffing or frying the shrimp.
Shrimp are found in waters all around the world and feature prominently in many global cuisines. My favorite culinary match is shrimp and garlic whether in scampi or roasted in an aioli for fried or grilled shrimp. Shrimp also prove my culinary doctrine that all foods are enhanced by bacon. The contrast between the sweet pink meat of shrimp and the smoky, salty, fatty strips of bacon meld into a flavor explosion in your mouth. These simple to prepare morsels can be served as an appetizer or entrée. Roasted garlic or horseradish sauces complete the flavor explosion. That is the joy of creating shrimp dishes, they can stand on their own and they can stand up to robust and spicy preparations as well. Curried or Kung pao, gumbo, jambalaya or étouffée – there is a shrimp dish to satisfy every palate.

Whether you call them shrimp or prawns, this month’s recipes for Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp with Horseradish Aioli, Garlicky Cajun Bar-B-Que Shrimp and Shrimp in Tarragon Tomato Cream Sauce will tantalize your taste buds, Until next month, Bon Appétit.

Cajun Bar-B-Que Shrimp

(Serves 4)

  • 2 lbs. 16-20 count shrimp in shells
  • 2 sticks butter
  • 3 Tbsp. minced garlic
  • 1 Tbsp minced rosemary
  • 2 lemons, sliced
  • 1 oz., or to taste, crystal hot sauce
  • 2 oz. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. black pepper
  • 2 tsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. In cast iron skillet, melt butter.
  3. Add remaining ingredients.
  4. Bring to simmer. Cook 5 minutes.
  5. Toss in shrimp.
  6. Put in oven.
  7. Cook 15 minutes,
  8. Serve with dirty rice and corn on the cob.

Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp

Persnickety Tip: Can also be baked in 400 degree oven for 12-15 minutes.

  • 5 16-20 ct shrimp per person, peeled and deveined
  • ½ slice bacon, per shrimp
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 Tbsp garlic oil for basting
  1. Season shrimp.
  2. Wrap each shrimp in ½ slice bacon.
  3. Grill over medium heat 5 minutes per side, basting occasionally with garlic oil

Horseradish Sauce

  • 3 Tbsp horseradish
  • 3 egg yolks
  • Salt to taste
  • ¼ cup parsley
  • 1 bunch scallions
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1 pint vegetable oil
  1. In food processor, blend yolks, salt, lemon juice, parsley, horseradish and scallions until smooth.
  2. Drizzle in oil slowly until emulsion is formed.
  3. Chill 2 hours. Serve with shrimp.

Tarragon Shrimp

(Serves 4)

  • 20 peeled and deveined shrimp
  • 2 tomatoes, diced
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 3 shallots minced
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 3 Tbsps. chopped fresh tarragon
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 pint cream
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Season shrimp.
  2. Heat oil in large sauté pan over high heat.
  3. Brown shrimp on both sides in batches. Reserve on side, in same pan.
  4. Add shallots and deglaze with wine. Reduce by half.
  5. Add tomatoes. Simmer 3 minutes.
  6. Add cream. Reduce until sauce coats back of spoon.
  7. Add tarragon and juice and zest of lemon.
  8. Add shrimp back into sauce.
  9. Cook 3-4 more minutes. Serve with rice or pasta.

Strawberries – The Fragrant Fruit

“I just would like people to know that we love growing strawberries just as much as they love eating them but we [all NJ farmers] need the support of the consumers to keep us in business.  They need to buy local produce when it is available.  If their local supermarket is promoting California berries in late May or early June, tell the produce manager that they want Jersey berries.  Open space in California is not doing us any good here in New Jersey.  Farmland preservation is a wonderful thing and I support is 100% but only consumers can preserve the New Jersey Farmer who will farm that preserved land.”

– This quote is from a south Jersey farmer

Traditionally luscious, mouthwatering ripe red strawberries are in by Memorial Day and go well into June. This year, the crop is early. Let’s hope it goes late. There is something about the fragrance of a field of strawberries with the warm June sun, the blue skies and butterflies floating lazily over the berries that stays in one’s memory.

Juicy, ripe berries are delicious sliced and eaten with other fruit, cereal, ice cream or cake!  Combined with white wine in a bowl and garnished with pansies they are fit for a gala. Southern New Jersey cooks have come up with generations of recipes for delicious short cake, homemade berry ice cream, pies, cobblers and beverages. Just be sure that ripe berries are used for best results.

Strawberries have been grown for thousands of years and used not only for the delicious berries, but also for the fragrant leaves, which were used in tea, as a medicine and to strew on floors because of their fragrance. Wild strawberries are found all over the world, and the delicious fruit we enjoy today was an accidental cross of two plants taken from North and South America and grown in France in the 1700s.

Some southern New Jersey residents are happy to pick berries at local farms. Most grow many varieties of berries to stretch out the availability of berries to harvest. Berries need a rich soil and good irrigation in the years there is scanty rainfall. The short season, Memorial Day to about June 20 for commercial berries, can be longer for home owners if they plant ever-bearing berries in their gardens.  A lot of people love to go to a farm for this back-to-earth chance to do a family outing together and gather delicious berries. People begin to show up a bit before 8 a.m. when the fields open and pick the best of the ripe berries.

When asked what problems they have with the berry crop, the farmers agreed that the birds could be a problem. They become quite brazen and eat their share or the berries. Hawks deter them, but there are more birds than hawks.  Then they hope for success with the bird guard. This is an electronic device that has a microchip inside with the sounds of distress calls and predatory calls of birds on it. It can be programmed to alert different species of birds that something is wrong. Sometimes a real hawk does the trick, but there are many feathered thieves competing for the ripe berries.

Usually there are about 5,500 plants per acre. The hungry berries are fertilized in spring when the fertilizer is plowed under to get the plants started. In late May or early June when the plants start to put out runners, the plants are fed again.

Although it is labor intensive, one farmer says, “We clip the bloom off the first year to promote plant growth. We get our first berries off of the field in May of the following year.” Soil pH is adjusted before the field is planted and requires a soil test to all fields every year. Wheat straw or salt hay is spread over the bed in early December to protect the crowns (the “heart” of the plant) from very cold temps over the winter. This straw is kicked off in March to allow the plants to come out of dormancy.  It also helps to keep the strawberries off the ground, which makes the berries cleaner.  Some farms use a floating row cover of woven fabric that is put over the plants in the spring to help them mature sooner.

Homeowners who might want to grow berries need to remember strawberries need to be grown where there is plenty of sun and where the soil has good drainage. Plants are often placed 12 -18 inches apart in the row.  At planting time, the soil should be weed free. After planting, weekly cultivation is recommended to remove weeds so they do not get established with these perennial plants.

There is noting like fresh-from-the-field ripe strawberries for all your favorite dishes.  Eat them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and bedtime snack.  They can be added to pancakes, muffins, breads, wine, milk shakes and salads. A really easy way to enjoy strawberries is to dip washed and dry berries in melted chocolate. Just remember that the chocolate must be melted at a low temp (30-40 seconds in microwave) or over a double boiler. Even a drop of water will make the chocolate grainy.  Don’t over cook; it is often ready to dip before it completely melts. The heat of the chocolate will continue to melt. Stir and dip dry berries. Allow cooling before serving. Remember that fresh strawberries liven up any salad and make any dessert more appetizing and beautiful.

Strawberry-Orange Smoothies

  • 1 pint strawberries, washed and stemmed
  • 1¼ cups milk of your choice, low fat or soy can be used
  • 2/3 cup unflavored low fat yogurt or ice cream
  • 2½ tablespoons *frozen orange juice concentrate
  • 2 tablespoons honey or sweetener (optional)
  • 4 ice cubes

Combine ingredients in container of electric blender. Blend until smooth. Pour into four 8-ounce glasses. Garnish with orange slices.

Old Fashion Shortcake


  • 2 pints strawberries
  • Sugar or sweetener to taste

Rinse strawberries, slice and put in bowl with sugar to sweeten.


(or substitute the biscuit mix of your choice)

  • 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 4 Tbsps. granulated sugar
  • 4 tsps. baking powder
  • 1 dash salt
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  • Dash of nutmeg or mace

For Filling and Topping

  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1 Tbsp granulated sugar

Sift flour and combine dry ingredients. Cut in butter until coarse crumbs form. Lightly mix in sour cream to make a nice dough. Spoon dough into 6 equal portions or 3-inch circle on greased baking sheet.  Sprinkle with additional sugar if desired. Bake in 415-degree oven for 15 minutes or until golden. Remove from pan.

Slice each shortcake in half horizontally with a shape knife. Fill and garnish with strawberries and whipped cream, ice cream or milk. Serve warm! Makes 6 servings. 

Sharon’s Favorite Cobbler


  • 3 cups rhubarb, washed and chopped
  • 3 cups strawberries, washed and chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • ½ cup sugar


  • 1½ cup flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • Work in 1 stick of butter
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Combine fruit, cornstarch, and sugar. Put into a 8 or 9 inch baking pan or pie dish. In a separate bowl, combine all batter ingredients. Dollop batter over fruit. Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes or until bubbly and golden tan.

Strawberry Chicken Salad

  • 2 cups diced cooked chicken
  • 1-cup pineapple chunks
  • ¼ cup parsley
  • 1 cup broken or chopped walnuts
  • ½ cup sliced celery
  • ½ cup water chestnut
  • 2 cups washed and halved berries


  • 1 cup, mayonnaise
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp. Sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Mix dressing and toss with other ingredients, save some berries to garnish. Serve on a bed of crisp spring greens.

lorraine-kieferLorraine Kiefer has gardened all of her life. She is a garden writer, floral designer and professional horticulturist. Lorraine teaches many classes at Triple Oaks nursery and Herb Garden in Franklinville, NJ. Email for garden help or leave your questions below!

Fried Chicken & Soul at the Chalfonte Hotel

This article originally ran in the July 2009 issue of Cape May Magazine.

Fried chicken and soul at the Chalfonte Hotel

There are few historic hostelries in this world where the eras of architecture and food embrace each other. At the Chalfonte, Cape May’s oldest continuous operating hotel, the Magnolia Room’s southern menu has been a tradition for 101 years. That is remarkable in itself. But more remarkable, the dishes: the fried chicken, split pea soup, herbed roast leg of lamb, baked ham, black-eyed peas, crab croquettes, fried eggplant, collards and ham hocks, fried green tomatoes, spoon bread, corn pudding, buttermilk biscuits, sweet potato pie, blueberry cobbler, have been lovingly produced by four generations of women from one Virginia family. In all, they have given 300 years of themselves at the Chalfonte.

Lucille cooking

In summer, the long, lacey scalloped verandas provide the same cool shade for rocking as they did the year Civil War hero Colonel Henry Sawyer built the Chalfonte, in 1876.

The dining room is elegant in its unspoiled plainness. Ocean breezes float from tall windows, refreshing as they were the evening Mr. Sawyer sat down for his first dinner. The heart of the hotel is, and always has been, the kitchen. The big black coal-burning stoves are gone and the giant iceboxes are no more. But the family of cooks that has made this kitchen nationally famous still reigns. They describe their distinctive style as “soul food with its Sunday clothes on.”

Their fried chicken is the Chalfonte special that has attracted the most attention from food writers and national TV shows over the years. And it is beyond a doubt, the most popular among guests. The chicken is deep golden crispy crunchy on the outside, moist on the inside, with a pungent scent and flavor all its own.

The Chalfonte food is essentially southern home cooking, using locally grown ingredients with recipes capable of serving 150 to 200. It is the home cookin’ that helps make the old hotel feel like home for the guests who return year after year, from one generation to the next, to rooms that have had no air conditioning, televisions, internet, and only shared baths. It is one of the only hotel kitchens anywhere where guests burst in for hellos, hugs, kisses and gifts of flowers and scotch for the cooks who are considered family.

Left to right: Lucille, Dot, mother Helen, grandmother Clementine, and Dot’s daughter Tina

Imagine a splendid day in early October of 2009, late in the afternoon. Shafts of strong sunlight beam across the cavernous kitchen, throwing prisms off shiny pots. “The Ladies,” Dot Burton and Lucille Thompson, sisters, then 81 and 79, move about in a slow sashay, preparing for the last meal of the season. They claim this will be their very “last supper.” They have worked the Chalfonte their entire lives. They are weary, looking forward to winter, retirement, their own rocking chairs and watching soap operas without interruption.

The nostalgia in the kitchen this “last supper” is palpable, but there are no tears. There is joy in the routine of what the sisters do so well, putting their hearts and souls into their food preparations. Lucille is rolling crab croquettes to the size of little loaves of bread and dipping them in egg and spiced bread crumbs. There is the rhythm of experience in her hands.

Dot reaches up to the rack holding utensils, pots and pans and grabs one of the heavy black cast iron skillets. It is two feet wide with a three-foot handle that easily holds a dozen or so chicken quarters. “This big old thing is about 100 years old and that is older than me,” says Dot with a chuckle. “How many pieces of chicken has this pan fried? Only the Lord knows.”

Dot was nine years old when she started here. Lucille was seven. Their first job was to rinse sand from guests’ bathing suits. Once finished, they hung the suits on the door knobs of the rooms. There was the time when the sisters got in a fight and engaged in a tug-of-war with a suit. It spit in half, and they had to forfeit their wages to buy a new one. “That’s the way life lessons were taught back then,” says Dot.

Dot’s husband Fraizel Burton, Dot, and Helen Dickerson

Lucille bends beneath a long stainless steel table and hoists to the top yeast rolls that have been rising under snow white towels. “This is our mother Helen Dickerson’s famous hot rolls recipe,” says Lucille. “I make 12 dozen most days, and have added my own touches. In a hurry one day to cool the yeast mix, I added some ice cream. The vanilla flavor was special, and ever since I add ice cream to every batch.”

Ice cream. The very mention of ice cream reminds Lucille—Ceilly—of a favorite memory. “Come with me,” she says, leading the way out the kitchen, across the alley, to a white box of a small building. “The Coal Bin,” she announces. “When we were girls, our grandmother Clementine, my sister Dot and I slept on iron beds in the same room as the coal. Later on, they added this bedroom with windows. At night, we’d wait until Clementine was snoring loud as thunder. We’d sneak out the bed, crawl out the window, and run down town to see what was goin’ on. Clementine loved ice cream. It was our ticket back to bed! We bribed her with ice cream, and Grandma, don’t you dare tell Mama we were AWOL. Mama was a disciplinarian.”

Helen Dickerson ruled the Chalfonte kitchen for 45 years with a tough hand, lusty humor and a warm heart. “Mother was in her starched kitchen whites, ready to go to work, at 6:30 every morning. She’d be waiting at the back door to welcome the help,” says Dot. “She expected a ‘good mornin’’ from every one. If anyone had the head down, a hang-over, an attitude, Mama said real loud, ‘Well, good mornin’. Did I sleep with you last night?’ That broke it up, whatever it was.”

Once when a cook chain-smoked, against Chalfonte rules, Helen waited for the propitious moment, threw a piece of wadded up dough and hit him smack in the forehead. “He never ever smoked in the kitchen again,” says Dot.

There was the calamity when a disgruntled cook threw a big pot at a dishwasher. The pot sideswiped the dishwasher and hit the wall hard suffering a big dent. Miss Helen strode over, picked up the pot, handed it to the cook to wash, and put it back in service. She eyed all the help eyeing her, and never saying a word, went back to work. So did everyone else. “There’s the pot,” says Lucille, “It’s still in use and it always reminds us of Mama.”

Helen Dickerson was a fixture at the Chalfonte for 77 years. She came to the hotel as a child with her great-aunt, Kate Smith, who worked winters for the owners, the Satterfield family, in Richmond, Virginia, and summers, at the Chalfonte. Helen was five when she first set foot in the kitchen, sitting in a little chair at the back door waiting to join Miss Susie Satterfield picking flowers for the dining room tables. Helen’s mother, Clementine, was hard at work on the second floor making beds and cleaning rooms. Clementine began chambermaid duties at age 12, and worked those same rooms pleasing guests for 60 years. “She was a portrait in service and loyalty,” says granddaughter Lucille. “Our mother Helen showed the same devotion to duty in the kitchen.”

The Tin House

When times get hot in the kitchen on sultry summer days, with competing egos, dinner deadlines and yet more chicken to fry, a cooling off spot is the Tin House, especially in June and July when the pink roses entwine the fence and the lattice, perfuming the air. The Tin House is an overgrown dollhouse about 12 by 22 feet, hidden from the street by a tall hedge. If you don’t know the white and green structure is there, you could pass it by for years.

The Tin House was born of desperation. “There was a Philadelphia man who could not pay Calvin Satterfield his hotel bill,” says Anne LeDuc, who with Judy Bartella, owned, restored and operated the Chalfonte for 25 years until late summer, 2008. The delinquent guest shipped tin cutouts to Mr. Satterfield for payment, and the result is the charming little building. “It was where they hid the bourbon and whiskey in Prohibition,” says Anne, who has summered at the Chalfonte since age two. She remembers the pomp of the place when the wait staff shined their tables’ silver to gleaming perfection. They carried little cotton towels to polish goblets before meals. The white-gloved maitre’d, William, seated the guests in their dinner attire. The wait staff stood against the wall, hands behind their backs until ready to spring into polite action serving the plates.

Like the Satterfields, Anne is a Virginia native. “The Virginians and West Virginians loved their bourbon,” says Anne, “and that included the women. I was astonished at their capacity. I looked in the window of the Tin House one day, and there was Mother at a party, hanging from her knees from the bar. The Tin House parties are legendary. Guests gave their own cocktail parties at the Tin House before we had the King Edward Bar. They ordered their favorite hors d’oeuvres. Helen and the kitchen provided them. Most popular were the miniature warm biscuits sandwiching Virginia ham spread.

“To this day, the Tin House and the Wedding Tree, the big lovely willow, are favorite spots for parties and nuptials,” says Anne. “And the shenanigans continue. One morning I went out to smell the roses, and a couple was having a Magnolia Room breakfast on the roof. They had hoisted the little patio table and two chairs to the roof – to get a view of the ocean, perhaps.

Dot, left, and Lucille on the Chalfonte porch

“Various of our staff have preferred living in the Tin House with its bed, bureau and chair,” says Anne. “We have had some characters.” Anne recalls handyman extraordinaire, Theodore, whose car was the love of his life. “Theodore could not drive,” says Anne. “But he required the benefit of a garage for his beloved sedan. Once or twice a summer, his friend would come up from Richmond, and with great ceremony, drive the two of them around town. Theodore could do anything. Fix leaky pipes with gauze. Stoke the coal fires. Carve the meat. I still miss Theodore.” Anne mists over remembering. “They say I should write a book.”

In the early days of the LeDuc-Bartella regime at the Chalfonte, one of the staff did write a book, a precious tome chronicling the recipes the Virginia ladies cooked by instinct: their touch, taste and feel. The cookbook is called I Just Quit Stirrin’ When the Tastin’s Good, quoting Helen Dickerson as she struggled to explain her recipes and methods. She was prodded on by Cissy Finley Grant, who dutifully wrote down the measurements, not for the usual 150 to 200 meals Helen was accustomed to turning out, but for servings from six to 12. Cissy’s brother-in-law, Bill Grant, told her it was a project, “like putting folklore in your stomach.” The project consumed the cooks, Helen, Dot and Lucille, through the summer of 1985, testing, retesting and testing again the recipes.

The result is a 94- page cookbook, still available in the lobby, that has gone home with thousands of Cape May visitors. The recipes represent combined cultures. There are the flavors of the European cuisine that graced the tables of the Virginia aristocracy on plantations robust with game, garden vegetables and orchard fruits. Through the years, African-American cooks added the tastes and textures from their slave cabin kitchens to the main house menus. From one generation to the next, the foods melded into the good ol’ southern cooking still served today at the Chalfonte’s Magnolia Room.

Back in the kitchen, Dot is standing over the two big old cast-iron skillets, bubbling with oil, and mounds of sliced onions. She swirls around the onions, allowing them to crisp before adding the chicken quarters that have been soaking in a salt brine. “The onions are our secret” says Dot. “The onions and the paprika in the flour that helps turn the chicken golden brown.” The smell of the onions frying sends the olfactory and saliva glands into mouth-watering anticipation.

Dot dredges the chicken pieces in the flour, salt, pepper and paprika mixture, coating each piece, and drops them in the bubbling oil. She never leaves her station during the 20 minutes to half hour it takes for each pan full to cook and crisp. Then she lays the pieces on a rack over a baking pan to drip off any oil, and place it in a warming oven until time to plate and serve Chalfonte’s Southern Fried Chicken in the Magnolia Room.

Late in the summer of 2008, Anne LeDuc and Judy Bartella sold their National Historic Landmark to Bob and Linda Mullock. Anne winces at the emotional pain, but the Mullocks are determined to maintain the historical ambiance of the place. “And, they’ll keep the Tin House,” says Anne. “That was always a barometer to me– of trust to keep it the way it is, with some updated amenities, like bathrooms and air conditioning.”

And “The Ladies?” They are back! No rocking chairs on cool verandas for them this season. New owner Bob Mullock says, “The Ladies cannot not come back. They are the heart and soul of the place. I cannot imagine life here without them. How would I survive without their fried chicken?”

Bob Mullock has been in love with the Chalfonte {cool fountain in French} for a long time. He was married at the hotel in 1980 when he and his wife, Linda, were in the first year of running a B and B they restored called the Victorian Rose, on Columbia Avenue just a few steps from the Chalfonte. One of Mullock’s favorite photos is a picture of him and his bride in their wedding regalia in the kitchen with “The Ladies.” And that evening, Bob remembers fetching Helen from the kitchen and dancing with her and thanking her for a lovely day.

The Chalfonte is that way. She gets into your soul and then you are beholden to her. 

The Chalfonte Hotel’s Southern Fried Chicken Recipe

  • 1 3-pound frying chicken, quartered
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 2 cups shortening or coin oil (or a 2-inch depth for frying)
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  1. Soak the chicken in salted water for 1 hour. Add 1 tablespoon salt to each quart of water. Drain chicken and pat dry.
  2. Meanwhile, in a bag or bowl, mix flour, paprika, salt and pepper to taste. Add the chicken and shake to coat thoroughly.
  3. In a large skillet or deep fryer, heat the shortening or oil to 365 to 375 degrees. Place the onion in the hot oil. Adjust the heat as needed to keep the oil sizzling moderately, but don’t let it burn.
  4. Add the chicken to hot oil, again adjusting the heat. Fry for 10 minutes. Turn chicken and fry until tender, crisp and browned, about 10 minutes more. Test for doneness with a fork, or watch for the breast meat to split along the muscle.

Note: As long as the oil is sizzling, moisture is being forced out of the chicken as steam, preventing the meat from absorbing excess oil. Dot places the fried chicken on a rack over a baking pan and keeps the chicken warm in the oven until served.

Taking the chaos out of the kitchen

The mere thought of cooking for a crowd sends some people into full-blown panic attacks. Cooking for a dozen or more people in a home kitchen does present some challenges, but there is no need to reach for the Valium or martinis to ease the stress. Most professional chefs do have the advantage over the home cook with regard to space and equipment. The greatest tool a chef uses however, is not a knife or a fancy oven, but their ability to logistically organize the event. The real challenge to the party host is how to put out an excellent meal and not be chained to the kitchen. The industry phrase for this is Mise En Place, meaning everything in its place. Good mise en place is not only having the food prepared, but your tools sharp and organized plus a detailed prep list, time line and a good menu.

Menu planning is often the key to a successful holiday meal. If you have too many dishes that need last minute preparation, kitchen chaos will consume you. To avoid this, there are a few friends you can turn to. No, not Jack Daniels and Jim Beam. The crockpot. In the professional kitchen, chefs use a steam table to hold side dishes and sauces. The crockpot, which most people have hidden away in a corner cabinet, can act as a home steam table. Mashed potatoes can be made several hours in before the turkey finishes and held on low in the crockpot. This frees up valuable stovetop space for dishes that need last minute preparation. Pre-preparation can also save valuable last minute time.

Blanching vegetables will allow you to serve green beans deserving of that moniker. Canned-green-bean casserole often occupies a space on the holiday table more for its ease of preparation than for its culinary desirability. Blanching is the partial cooking of an item that will be finished at a later time. For green vegetables, boiling salted water is needed as well as ice water to shock the vegetables and stop the cooking process. To properly blanch vegetables, cook until the desired color and texture is reached, slightly less if you are persnickety about your vegetables. Immediately drain the vegetables and run cold water over them in a colander a couple handfuls of ice will also help to quickly stop the cooking process. Drain the vegetables well and store the cooled vegetables in the refrigerator in covered containers. They can now be sautéed at the last minute retaining their freshness and nutrients. Sweet potatoes can also be partially cooked ahead of time. then baked in your favorite casserole recipe. With sweet potatoes and other root vegetables. slightly undercook and let cool naturally placing these types of foods in cold water just makes them soggy.

Knowing what foods can be prepared ahead of time and safely held can be an invaluable tool for the home cook. Roasts, such as turkey and prime rib, are also time savers for the holiday host. If you are feeding a large quantity of people, think about two medium turkeys or rib roasts instead of trying to cook Birdzilla or Babe the blue ox in your home oven. Two 12-15 lb. turkeys can be fit in the same oven, side by side, and will take much less time than cooking a 20-plus pound behemoth bird.

Another chef tip is browning flour in the oven for darker gravies and sauces. This step can be done days ahead of time and kept in a tightly covered container. Use browned flour instead of kitchen bouquet or gravy master, both of which are nothing more than overpriced food coloring.

A technique that separates the professional from the home cook is letting the meat rest. Often at home, all the food is waiting on the table for the dang pop-up thermometer to let you know it is safe to eat the bird. As soon as the thermometer appears Dad or Grandpa are hacking at the turkey, like a five year old at a birthday piñata. Instead, remove the meat from the roasting pan. Place it on a platter, loosely cover with foil. While its resting for fifteen minutes or more, you can transform the pan drippings into gravy. This will also allow you to finish sautéing your blanched vegetables or other last minute dishes without being rushed. Your calm demeanor and delicious food will make your guest’s think that you kidnapped Martha Stewart and you have her chained to a stove in a secret basement kitchen.

Careful planning and pre-preparation can allow you extra time for what is really important around the holidays, more cocktails or, if necessary, it allows you to spend more time with friends and family and less time slaving over the stove. Try these side dishes that can be prepared ahead and finished at the last minute. Until next month, Bon Appétit.

Brussel Sprouts

(Serves 10)

  • 2 lbs Brussel sprouts (Stem trimmed, x cut in the bottom, then blanched for 6 minutes, cooled, then quartered. Can be done up to 2 days in advance.)
  • 4 oz slab bacon, diced
  • 1 onion medium, diced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut into squares ⅛-inch thick
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp garlic, minced
  • Salt and pepper
  • ¼ cup chicken stock

Have all items prepped ahead of time. Heat sauté pan over medium heat. Add bacon render. Add onions. Sauté 4 minutes until golden. Add carrots and garlic. Add Brussel sprouts. Toss well. Season with salt and pepper. Add stock. Simmer until stock is reduced by half. Swirl in butter.Toss with parsley. Serve immediately.

Browned Flour

In roasting pan, add 6 cups flour. Cook at 300 degrees for 1½ hours. Stir every 29 minutes until evenly browned. Cool. Store in air tight container in cool place for 6-8 weeks.

Hazelnut Sweet Potatoes with Sage

Persnickety Note: Not a single baby marshmallow was harmed in this recipe

  • 1 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts (Toast ahead of time. Store in fridge until ready to use.)
  • 5 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1-2-inch cubes
  • 1 bunch sage, cut chiffonade
  • Flavored Butter
  • 1 lb. butter
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 3 minced shallots

Whip butter with brown sugar, cinnamon and minced shallots. Can be done 3 days ahead. allow to soften day of event.

Lightly grease casserole dish with a little cinnamon sugar butter mixture. Toss sweet potatoes with salt, pepper and hazelnuts. Layer with butter. Roast at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, or at turkey cooking temperature. Remove. Toss with sage and more butter mixture if desired.

Lily of the Kitchen

Goat Cheese, Leek & Tomato Tart


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“Shallots are for babies; onions are for men; garlic is for heroes”

The same botanical family that gives us the Lily-of-the-field also provides us with onions, leeks, chives, garlic, shallots, ramps and scallions. Onions are one of the most ancient of cultivated vegetables. Prized for their durability after harvesting, the onion became a staple in most every culture. In Pharaoh’s Egypt many vegetables were venerated with artwork, only the onion was cast in gold. The Bible tells of the Israelites longing for the onions, leeks and garlic of Egypt while wandering the Sinai desert. I would lament too, if these pungent lilies were forced in exodus from my kitchen. The Romans disliked the pungency of garlic, but fed it to their legions because they believed its power would make the soldiers courageous or maybe the odor would cause the enemy to flee. The medicinal properties of the onion family were also prized in ancient times. Modern medicine has validated that notion touting onions for their valuable antioxidants. Chefs of yesterday and today esteem the fragrant bulbs for the diversity and complexity they add to dishes.

The onion rarely stands alone on the plate. Rather, its flavor and texture enhances the food it accompanies. The different types of onions have their own unique flavor profiles, from pungent Spanish onions to sweet Vidalias. The onion brings joy to my palate. However, it often brings my students to tears. The culprit is a gas released when the onion membrane is ruptured. This gas wafts up to the eyes and combines with the water in our tear ducts to form sulfuric acid causing burning and tearing. Over the years, I have heard numerous remedies to minimize the caustic effect of onions. From chewing bread, refrigerating the onions before slicing, or running water over the onions while slicing, none of these methods work effectively. The best weapons against a noxious onion are a sharp knife and fast slicing. This reduces tearing of the membrane, limiting the amount of gas released and the amount of time your tear ducts are exposed to the fumes. Cooking dissipates the fumes, so put them on the stove as quickly as possible.

Caramelizing onions brings out their best flavor. To julienne the onion, slice it with a sharp knife, lengthwise from root to stem. This step is important to make melt-in-your-mouth caramelized onions. Place onions in a thick-bottomed sauté pan with a little bit of olive oil. Turn the heat on very low and cook very slowly. Do not stir. Do not salt until the end. Both of these actions inhibit the browning process. Once the browning process begins, stir gently with a wooden spoon so the onions caramelize evenly. This laborious process is worth the time and effort. The sugar-rich onion is transformed from its pungent raw state to a sweet, golden brown richness that enhances everything from liver, steaks, soups and tarts. Onion soup achieves its full-flavored glory from slowly caramelized onions.

Leeks are another member of the Lily family that has been valued by epicureans for centuries. The leek even emblazoned the crest of the Bourbon family, rulers of food-centric France. When working with leeks, usually only the light-colored bulb portion is used. This bulb grows below ground so wash carefully to remove all the dirt. Leeks, unlike onions, are always cooked, sweated to be exact. Slowly cooked in butter, leeks are never browned, until they melt apart. Leeks add a complexity to soups, stews and braises. Potato and onion soup does not match the intensity of potato-leek soup. Leeks, tomatoes and goat cheese form a triumvirate of flavors that, when served in a savory tart, can stand as a light entrée or tantalizing first course.

Two other members of the Lily family that are esteemed among chefs, but fairly unknown to non-foodies, are shallots and ramps. While shallots have a definite French accent, ramps are definitively American. Ramps are a wild onion that looks like a cross-between a scallion and a leek. The Native American tribe the Illini, called the variety that grew wild along the shores of Lake Michigan Chicagou, giving the settlement there its name. Ramps grow wild from the Appalachians to Canada from late winter to early spring. Served whole and lightly braised, the humble mountain-folk food is prized among chefs and gourmands. Shallots have gained popularity in recent years in American cooking. Having a distinct flavor that is more subtle and less pungent than garlic makes shallots versatile. They can be used raw in vinaigrettes, cooked in butter sauces or with subtly flavored proteins like chicken, fish or veal. Use shallots where the flavor of garlic will overpower the food or your dining companions.

I will leave the heroic garlic for another column. This month, bring the lilies from the field and into your kitchen with these recipes. Apple-Onion Soup with Fontina Crostini, Tomato Leek and Goat Cheese Tart and Spinach Salad with Sherry Shallot Vinaigrette. These Three dishes can combine to make one delightful dinner. Until next month, Bon Appétit.

Apple-Onion Soup

  • 5 large white onions, julienned
  • 3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and medium diced
  • 3 Gala apples, peeled, cored and medium diced
  • 4 ounces butter
  • 3 tablespoons fresh thyme
  • 1 cup Madeira
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 2 quarts beef broth
  • 2 quarts chicken broth
  • 1 baguette, sliced and toasted
  • 8 ounces fontina cheese, shredded

In Dutch oven, melt butter and caramelize onions. When medium brown, add apples and half of thyme. Cook for 10 minutes until apples are soft. Deglaze with Madeira. Add stock, seasoning and simmer for 45 minutes. To finish, add remaining thyme. Pour soup into crocks. Top with toasted baguette and liberally top with cheese. Brown cheese under broiler. Serve immediately.

Shallot-Sherry Vinaigrette

  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 4 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • ⅓ cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon fresh tarragon
  • 2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

In stainless steel bowl, add shallots ,vinegar, honey, mustard and tarragon. Whisk well. Add oil slowly. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with spinach salad.

Goat Cheese Leek and Tomato Tarts


  • 1 ounce drunken goat cheese shredded
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3 tablespoons lard
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • Pinch salt
  • Ice cubes

Place flour in food processor. Pulse in cheese. Add cold lard and butter. Pulse quickly on and off. Add salt. Add ice, a few cubes at a time until dough comes together. Wrap in plastic.Chill 30 minutes.


  • 2 pounds leeks. Use the white part only. Slice in half lengthwise. Clean well, then cut into half moons
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 6 ounces Chevre goat cheese
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 4 eggs
  • 3 tomatoes, sliced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme

In sauté pan melt butter. Add leaks. Sweat on low heat until soft. Do not brown. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat cool. In mixing bowl, add eggs, goat cheese and cream. Whip until smooth. Season. Add herbs.

persnicketychefJon Davies is a graduate of Johnson and Wales University of Culinary Arts. His work as a chef has taken him to Aspen, Colorado; Cape May, NJ; and the odd private jet for culinary gigs for the rich and famous.

Roll out dough until ¼-inch thick and line in fluted tart pan. Prick shell lightly with fork. Bake for 25 minutes in 350° oven. Cool slightly then spread leeks evenly over crust. Top artfully with tomato slices and pour cheese mixture over top. Bake at 350°. Bake for 30 minutes. Let rest 10 minutes before slicing.