Marie's Kitchen -- Good food is all in the family


In the more than four-and-a-half years that I’ve been writing “Marie’s Kitchen,” I’ve highlighted knitting, quilting, gardening and women’s civic groups, couples, individual men and women (including clergy), local cookbooks, friends and neighbors and a fine collection of area chefs. Today’s column is a first: A family.

Special to the Coastal Point • Marie Cook: The Whittacker-Potts family, from left are: Jonathan Potts, Susan Whittaker-Potts, Pat and Ray Whittaker and in front is Benny, the rescue dogSpecial to the Coastal Point • Marie Cook
The Whittacker-Potts family, from left are: Jonathan Potts, Susan Whittaker-Potts, Pat and Ray Whittaker and in front is Benny, the rescue dog

In mid-July, I received an email from Susan Whittaker-Potts. She wrote: “I would love your recipe for Buffalo Chicken Wings. My father read your article in August and he wrote down your email address so I could get other recipes from you, but my mother threw the article out by accident. I would really like to surprise my dad by making the chicken wings.”

I stepped back to ponder. It was July, and she was telling me that this recipe was in August, which was not yet here. You see, I just turned 67, and some days I feel my age more than others.

When I typed “Buffalo Chicken Wings” into the Marie’s Kitchen search box, up came my friend Ione Phillips’s column from August 2010. Whew! Safe! I wasn’t losing it yet.

I forwarded the entire column to Susan, and we quickly became email buddies. She said that she and her dad, Ray, often have Bobby Flay-type throwdowns when she visits her folks in Fenwick Island. For those unfamiliar with throwdowns, that translates to cooking competition.

The first time that she and her dad make a recipe, they stick to it, ingredient by ingredient. Then they each prepare the recipe again, adding and subtracting ingredients to improve the dish. The family tries both dishes and not only votes for the winner, but also offers their own suggestions for improving the recipe even further.

I may be 67 years old, but it took only an instant to realize that this was a column in the making.

Because Susan and her husband, Jonathan Potts, live in South Philadelphia, setting up an interview took a bit of time, but definitely time well spent. For three years, Susan has collected family recipes – both from her side and her husband’s – and has compiled classy cookbooks to present as Christmas gifts. She’s now working on cookbook No. 4. The recipes in today’s column were chosen from her cookbooks.

When Susan called me for the final interview set-up, we chatted for 45 minutes. We laughed and gabbed like sisters and at the end of our conversation, we agreed that we felt like we’d known each other for years. We said that our meeting was serendipitous. (Is there a dry eye in the house?)

Susan teaches 3- and 4-year-old children in a Head Start program in Philadelphia. Jonathan teaches high school plant and animal science in Bucks County, Pa. His family is from Long Beach Island, N.Y., and when they visit LBI, it’s not uncommon for large groups of family and friends to gather and break bread together. Everyone brings copies of their recipes, knowing that if they don’t, Susan will hound them for her annual cookbook.

Ray Whittaker, Susan’s dad, retired 11 years ago from Sunoco. His wife, Pat, retired nine years ago from St. Agnes Hospital in Philadelphia. Ray and Pat have owned a home in Fenwick Island for 19 years and now live there full-time.

Susan invited me to her parents’ home, where I had a rollicking good time with the whole family – including Benny the rescue dog. Benny is from Puerto Rico, and his name means “Patron Saint of the Homeless.” Benny himself was homeless and was rescued on Dead Dog’s Beach in Puerto Rico by a friend of Jon’s. She brought him back to the U.S., but couldn’t keep him. Jon and Susan took Benny home.

They laughed, telling me about Benny’s arrival in the U.S. “Written in big letters on his crate, it said: ‘Animal does not speak English.’” He’s been the family pet for over three years, and I’m told that he now understands, as well as barks, in English.

In the more than two hours, I spent with the Whittaker-Potts family, I was treated to three of the recipes in today’s column, and when I left, substantial portions of two of the recipes came home with me, along with fresh-picked tomatoes from Ray’s garden. You know what I’m going to say, don’t you? I love my job!

Although the instructions for this dish tell you to “heat up the grill,” Susan prepared Uncle Richie’s Shrimp in 5 Minutes on top of the stove – which is how I plan to prepare it, too. We haven’t even met, but Uncle Richie is my new best friend. I keep a file of go-to recipes; this one now tops the list. Honestly, you will not believe the flavor in this dish made with only three ingredients.

And, get this, folks. You know how we all use the cliché, “It’s a small world, isn’t it?” Well, Uncle Richie Sim lives in Prospect Park, Pa., just a few blocks from my brother and his wife. My brother, Don Cook, was mayor of Prospect Park for 20 years and says he knows the Sim family. So, the next time I’m visiting my family, maybe I’ll meet and greet Uncle Richie, too.

Uncle Richie’s Shrimp in 5 Minutes

Ingredients:

1 to 2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined (or more depending on how many people you’re serving and the size of the shrimp)

1 whole bottle (11.5 ounces) Bangkok Padang Peanut Sauce

2 to 3 dashes of Hot Chili Sesame Oil (spicy hot) or Toasted Sesame oil (mild flavor)

Method for Uncle Richie’s Shrimp:

Heat the grill to 400-425 degrees F. Place uncooked shrimp in a chaffing pan. Pour the entire bottle of peanut sauce over the shrimp. Sprinkle a couple of dashes of either oil over the shrimp. (Susan used three shakes of the hot sauce for our dish and it was nice and spicy – too spicy for her mom, but perfect for the rest of us.) Stir. Place the pan on the grill, close the lid, and wait for 3 to 4 minutes. Open the lid and stir again. Wait for 2 to 3 minutes or until the shrimp tails begin to curl. Serve hot with the sauce.

Jon’s dad, Albie Potts, passed away in 2004. “I never thought I’d ever call anyone else Dad,” Jon said, “but I often call Ray ‘Dad,’ because we have really bonded.”

They are both fishermen, and Jon worked in a seafood market for 14 years. These guys really know their seafood!

This recipe for Albie’s “Shortcut” Clams Casino is a knockout. Although I heard stories and saw the tome-like recipe for the family’s “real” Clams Casino, I was wolfing down my portion of the shorter version and loving every bite. I’m typing the recipe just as it appears in the family cookbook so that you can feel the love of cooking and sharing recipes that they enjoy. At the base of the printed recipe it said, “This recipe is courtesy and collaboration of Jonathan, Kristin and Chris Potts.” I would add: “In loving memory of Albie.”

Albie’s ‘Shortcut’ Clams Casino

Ingredients:

50 to 100 littleneck clams

Italian bread crumbs

Onion powder

Garlic powder

Uncooked bacon

A pair of good scissors (a must!)

Method for Albie’s “Shortcut” Clams Casino:

Ask Jonathan to “Ice the Clams.” Shuck each clam – saving the juices from the shucking process – making sure that the entire clam is on one side of the shell. Place clams on cookie sheet. Top each clam with some of the shucking juices. Spoon some bread crumbs around the clam inside the shell. Sprinkle on desired amount of seasoning on each shell. Use a scissors to cut 1-inch strips of raw bacon; place a bacon strip on top of each shell. Broil clams until bacon is crisp – approximately 8 to 10 minutes.

We all had a good laugh over the third recipe that Susan prepared for taste-testing. Jonathan, who is originally from New Jersey but has come to love the South Philly style, said that he couldn’t believe that I (Marie), who grew up on Philly cheesesteaks had never heard of Cheese Steak Egg Rolls.

Susan burst his bubble by telling him that this recipe is not a 9th Street South Philly tradition. She found it on the Lawry’s Web site; the recipe uses Lawry’s Steak & Chop Marinade with Garlic & Cracked Black Pepper. She even gave me the half-empty bottle of Lawry’s to bring home so that I can locate it when I shop.

This family loves sauces! They make extra sauce to go with everything. You can bake the egg rolls or fry them. I know, I know – fried food is not good for you, but Susan has tried them both baked and fried, and this family goes for fried every time. I must admit, they reeled me in!

But beware: Do not purchase a package of Kraft or any other brand of American cheese slices; use only slices from the deli. Word has it that one of the family members used the packaged stuff and the egg rolls exploded in the oven. (Visualize that!)

Cheese Steak Egg Rolls

If you’re baking the egg rolls, preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Spray two cookie sheets with nonstick cooking spray. Prepare egg rolls as follows: On cookie sheets, arrange egg rolls seam-side down; then spray egg rolls with nonstick cooking spray. Bake at 425 degrees, turning once. Bake for a total time of 16 minutes, or until golden brown.

Ingredients:

1 pound boneless sirloin, flank, or skirt steak, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced

1/2 cup diced white mushrooms

1/2 cup diced yellow onion

1/2 red or green bell pepper, diced

1/4 cup, plus 3 tablespoons, Lawry’s Steak & Chop Marinade with Garlic & Cracked Black Pepper, divided

1 cup Hellman’s or Best Foods Real Mayonnaise

1/4 cup sour cream

1 package (16 ounces) egg roll wrappers (21 sheets)

21 slices white American cheese from the deli (about 1/2 pound)

Vegetable oil, if frying

Method for Fried Cheese Steak Egg Rolls:

In a deep, 12-inch nonstick skillet, brown the steak over medium-high heat; drain. Add vegetables and cook, stirring occasionally for about 3 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Reduce heat to low. Stir in 1/4-cup Lawry’s Steak & Chop Marinade with Garlic & Cracked Black Pepper and cook, stirring frequently for about 1 minute or until thickened. Remove steak mixture from skillet; set aside. With paper towels, wipe skillet.

Meanwhile, in a medium-size bowl, combine mayonnaise, sour cream and remaining 3 tablespoons marinade; reserve.

For each egg roll, arrange egg roll wrapper with corner facing you; top with 1 slice cheese, then 2 tablespoons steak mixture. Brush edges of wrapper with water. Fold bottom corner up over filling and then fold in sides. Roll tightly and set aside. Repeat with remaining egg rolls.

In the same skillet, heat 1-inch oil over medium-high heat to 375 degrees. Fry the egg rolls in 4 batches, turning once (1-1/2 minutes or until golden brown); drain on paper towels. Serve with reserved sauce.

No one remembers where Café Palermo is or how they got this recipe, but all family members agree that this sauce is sooooo good that you might want to double the ingredients to have extra sauce for dipping. (I told you that this is one saucy family!) A quick trip to Google told me that there’s a Café Palermo in Wilmington, Del., as well as one in New York City.

“This recipe is perfect for romantic dinners for two,” said Susan.

Her father winked at me and definitely agreed. If you’re not into romance and family dinners are your thing, you can easily double this recipe.

Chicken Monte Rosa – Courtesy of Café Palermo

Ingredients:

2 chicken breasts, pounded thin

All-purpose flour

Oil for sautéing

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small shallot, finely chopped

1/4 cup sherry

3 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes

1/2 cup fresh spinach

1/2 cup sliced shitake mushrooms

1/2 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons red sauce

2 slices fresh mozzarella

Method for Chicken Monte Rosa:

Coat the chicken breasts in flour and sauté in a little bit of oil until they are cooked through. While the chicken is cooking, heat the olive oil in another pan and add shallots. Cook the shallots until they are soft; add sherry to deglaze the pan and bring to a boil.

Once it comes to a boil, turn down the heat to medium and add the sun-dried tomatoes, spinach and mushrooms. Cook until spinach is wilted and mushrooms are soft and heated through.

Add heavy cream and cook until the cream thickens and coats the back of the spoon. Add red sauce and season with salt and pepper to taste. Put the chicken into the sauce and place mozzarella slices on top; allow cheese time to melt. Yield: 2 romantic dinner servings.

Pat Whittaker doesn’t cook as often as she used to, but her Jewish Apple Cake is always requested for family gatherings. At the bottom of the printed recipe it said: “Butter Crumb Topping: Top Secret! Only the Whittaker Family Knows It.” Pat said, “But I’ll give it to you, Marie.” (I fell in love with this family!)

Except for the amount of butter in the Crumb Topping, Pat didn’t have specific amounts for the flour, sugar and cinnamon. “I just add them and make the crumbs by rubbing the ingredients together until they feel right,” she said.

I understand that “feel right philosophy,” but it doesn’t work for a food column. My own mother’s Crumb Cake recipe uses a similar topping, so I asked for and received Pat’s permission to add my suggested measurements.

Mom-Mom’s Famous Jewish Apple Cake

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Ingredients:

5 or 6 Red Delicious apples, peeled and sliced

2 teaspoons cinnamon

5 tablespoons sugar

4 eggs

2 cups granulated sugar

1 cup Wesson oil

1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

2-1/2 teaspoons vanilla

3 cups all-purpose flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

Method for Jewish Apple Cake:

Mix apple slices, 2 teaspoons cinnamon and 5 tablespoons sugar; set aside.

Beat eggs, sugar, oil, orange juice, vanilla, flour, and baking powder.

Butter a tube pan; sprinkle flour into the pan and bang the pan around until all the butter is floured. Make sure that the flour and butter extend to the rim of the pan; if you don’t, the apples may stick to the rim as they bake. Pour off any excess flour. You will be layering ingredients in the pan. Pour some of the batter into the tube pan; top with some of the apple mixture; layer more batter and top with the rest of the apple mixture. Top with the Whittaker Crumb Topping Mixture (recipe follows). Bake at 350 degrees for an hour or more. Let cool at least 2 hours in the pan; if you try to remove too soon, the cake may fall apart.

Crumb Topping

Ingredients:

1/4 pound butter, softened

1/2 to 3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Method for Crumb Topping:

With a pastry blender or two forks, or use your hands like Pat does, blend all ingredients until crumbly.

The final recipe from Susan’s cookbooks is Uncle Tony Lawrence’s Baked Stuffed Portobello Caps, which he prepared for a family gathering on Father’s Day 2006. He even provides “presentation” instructions to impress your guests.

Tony Lawrence’s Baked Stuffed Portobello Caps

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.

Ingredients:

8 medium-size Portobello mushrooms, stems removed

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

2 (8-ounce) jars marinated artichoke hearts, drained

1/2 pound French or domestic brie cheese, frozen until firm enough to dice

1 pound lump crabmeat, picked and clean

1/4 pound sun-dried cherries (1/4 to 1/2 cup)

1/2 pound spring mix (tender salad greens)

1/2 of a lemon

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

Method for Uncle Tony’s Portobello Caps:

Wipe caps clean with a cloth or paper towel. Toss the caps in a mixture of olive oil, salt and pepper. Heat a large, non-stick skillet and sauté caps for two minutes on each side. Remove mushrooms from heat and drain on paper towels, gill side down. Set aside.

Chop artichokes into bite-sized pieces. Dice cheese. Lightly break up crabmeat. Place artichokes, brie, crabmeat and sun-dried cherries into a bowl and toss to combine. Stuff the mixture into the mushroom caps, packing firmly.

At this point, the mushrooms may be refrigerated up to 24 hours before finishing.

When ready to serve, place the stuffed caps on a baking sheet and bake in a preheated 250-degree oven for 12 minutes (Susan’s caps took 15 to 18 minutes). Remove from oven and set aside. Preheat broiler until hot; then broil caps for 30 to 40 seconds, or until browned and bubbling on top.

Divide spring mix among eight dinner plates. Center a stuffed mushroom cap on each plate; squeeze a little fresh lemon juice over each. Drizzle balsamic vinegar around each plate. Serve immediately. Enjoy! Yield: 8 servings.

A sticker on the bumper of my car reads: “Love people. Cook them tasty food.” The Whittaker-Potts family embraces this philosophy, and I am privileged to know them.

P.S. The family loved Ione’s Buffalo Chicken Wings, but, of course, they’re planning a throwdown for the next go-round!

(Editor’s note: If you have recipes to share, or recipes you want, contact Marie Cook, Coastal Point, P.O. Box 1324, Ocean View, DE 19970; or by email at ChefMarieCook@gmail.com. Please include your phone number. Recipes in this column are not tested by the Coastal Point.)