Local Cider for the Holiday

MIDDLETOWN — The beauty of the tasting room at Spoke + Spy Ciderworks in Middletown is that customers can try a variety of ciders to see what they like, said owner Ron Sansone. “I think a lot of people have preconceived notions of what dry is, and it’s maybe the experience they’ve had with wine, but it’s different with apple,” Sansone said. “I do think the dry wines are generally favored by older people or people with more developed palates, and the sweeter ones are more younger people just getting into cider.” All the ciders are made with local fruit

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A 3 – 2 – 1 Pie Pastry

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So you want to make a pie for Thanksgiving… Here’s an exceptionally easy recipe that reaches back to French pastry technique, using just a fraction more butter than a typical American pie to achieve a more forgiving pastry and a classic tender-flaky result. The recipe itself is a simple proportion: 3 parts flour, 2 parts cold butter, 1 part cold water (by weight). And the idea is to sidestep a few basic problems of pastry that begin when you add water to flour by first ‘waterproofing’ the dough with a little bit of extra butter. A basic two crust 9-inch

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Thanksgiving Turkey Buyer’s Guide

For many, this Thanksgiving will be quieter and smaller than previous years because of COVID-19, but for most, roasting a turkey is still an essential part of the tradition and the holiday. Turkey farms around the area are seeing brisk sales, with the smaller birds selling out quickly. There is still time to pre-order a bird, but time is running short. Below are a few choices in the area, including one non-turkey alternative.  Gozzi’s Turkey Farms, 2443 Boston Post Rd, Guilford  (203) 453 2771 www.facebook.com/Gozzis-Turkey-Farms (this link doesn’t work well!) Order ASAP by phone Price: $3.09/pound Pick up: the week

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Indian Pudding Revisited

A pie or two for Thanksgiving is expected, so why not this year try something a little different, an Indian Pudding — a dessert with a whiff of old school New England, but still a novelty for most guests. In its most basic form, Indian Pudding is a type of English hasty pudding, a sweetened porridge, adapted to American staples, cornmeal and molasses. If that sounds strange, don’t be put off. Most recipes are a near dead-ringer for pumpkin pie, without the crust, and others are closer to a rich porridge custard, but our choice — adapted from Nick Maglieri

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Thanksgiving Wine Suggestions

Bright red fruits and lighter-bodied reds – Gamay from Burgundy and the Loire — an herbaceous cool-climate Cabernet Franc from Canada, a Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley in Oregon, and two wines from the Italian Piedmont, a slightly frizzante Pelaverga and a modest red blend from a maker better known for Barolo, headline our wine picks for Thanksgiving. For whites, the suggestions were exceedingly diverse – lesser known white varietals including a Verdicchio from the boot of Italy and an Arneis from Italy’s Piedmont, both known to finish with a flavor of almonds, an Albariño from Galicia in Spain,

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Deviant Donuts Sponsors Fundraiser for Garde Arts

MYSTIC — Today through Sunday, Deviant Donuts will donate $1 of every donut purchase to support the Garde Arts Center in New London.  “If people want to come out, I always say the earlier the better,” said Kourtney Stoy, one of the shop’s three bakers. “Usually by 10 or 11 we start to run out of some of the options available on the menu.”  Stoy said the bakery sells about 4,000 donuts on the weekends and smaller quantities during the week.  The bakery, located in Olde Mistick Village, has created specialty donuts for the fundraiser featuring designs based on famous

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Start Your Christmas Cake Now!

Last week we unwrapped and cut open a Christmas cake, dark like mahogany, tall as a hat block, one we had tucked away on an upper shelf in a tin since last November, unsure whether a summer of neglect had made a hash of it. For the first six or eight months, each week, we had dutifully peeled back parchment paper, flipped and moistened the cake with a tablespoon or two of brandy – a recipe we adapted from Jane Grigson’s English Food – a chore we abandoned around mid-July. It was perfect. With three months until the end of

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Cato Corner Adds Mozzarella to its Range of Well-Regarded Aged Cheese

COLCHESTER — Clad in white rubber boots and a white hairnet and mask, cheesemaker Mark Gillman picked up a scrub brush from a bucket of sudsy water and scoured the front of his white apron.  “Cheesemaking has been called a glorified cleaning job. You spend a lot of time cleaning equipment and also cleaning yourself,” he laughed as he scanned rectangles of milk curds stacked on a nearby stainless steel table, ready to be transformed into mozzarella via a process of heating and stretching called “pasta filata,” sometimes called “spun paste” or stretched curd.  Gillman, who runs Cato Corner Farm

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Take-out from Bar Bouchée in Madison

When you think take-out, you typically think pizza or Chinese. It’s a simple meal, or at least quick. But for the last six months, many other sorts of restaurants have been trying to change that. Fine dining restaurants like Bar Bouchée in Madison adapted their menus and meals for taking home. I have to admit, I was skeptical about gourmet to-go, but in mid-August I decided to give it a try. Instead of calling close to the dinner hour, as you might with pizza, at Bar Bouchée you select your pick-up time hours – or even days – ahead to

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Fragrant, Crackling Ribs a Standout at Taíno in Middletown

Ribs were the standout when we stopped into Taíno Smokehouse in Middletown, CT, regarded among the better places for barbecue in Connecticut, for takeout. If we had known earlier just how inviting the vine-draped patio would be, we probably would have stayed for lunch. We ordered their top-tier beef brisket, American Wagyu sourced from the suddenly faddish Snake River Farms, and house-made sausage, but the St. Louis pork ribs had ‘it’ — a backyard quality of the pit, fragrant, crackling, lost in many larger and commercial operations. My companions were especially taken by the cheesy corn — a creamed-corn-like side dish

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Shoreline Menus Finds Success Providing a Local Alternative For Food Deliveries

“During the height of the pandemic, I did 75 percent of my sales through delivery,” said Alex Foulkes, the co-owner of Penny Lane Pub in Old Saybrook. “Going into this fall, I think restaurants that have a good delivery presence will make it and those that don’t, won’t. You’re going to see a lot of die off, unfortunately.” As dining moves indoors with the cooler weather, Foulkes says he hopes that his other venture, Shoreline Menus, can help local restaurants and main streets survive. Launched less than two years ago as an alternative to GrubHub and DoorDash, Shoreline Menus offers

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An ‘Elevated Lobster Shack’ Opens on Essex Island

“We fell in love with the island, just the feeling that you get. We felt like when you cross the ferry, you’re actually on vacation as soon as you arrive on the little island,” said Christina Pahis. “You feel almost like you left Connecticut.” For eight years, Essex residents Avni Krasniqi and Pahis have owned and operated Haywire Burger Bar in Westbrook, CT, and on June 8, the couple opened Siren Kitchen & Bar on Essex Island at Safe Harbor Marina. “We saw that the space has become available, and we said, ‘Let’s just kind of satisfy our curiosity and

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Niantic Farm-to-Table La Belle Aurore Emails Plea to Customers

Dawn Bruckner said that even when the pandemic first hit, she never considered closing. “With the food supply getting super hinky, I knew our farmers would always be there, and we would be able to get the best ingredients to [our customers].” And her customers responded graciously to her remaining open. “There was just a huge outpouring. People I hadn’t seen in years were coming in, asking ‘Are you guys okay? What do you need?’” Bruckner said. “They were buying things and were grateful we were open because they could get better produce, better food, better meat. It was amazing,

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When Life Gives You Red Currants

Good white bread, tart red fruit, a few tablespoons of sugar, a splash of water — in less than a half hour, with no particular skill and a little patience, you can make a splendid English summer pudding. I guarantee you, no sweet better conveys the pure fresh flavors of raspberries or red currants, is more refreshing after a light evening meal or luncheon. All the things you think you want — the butteriness of shortbread, the creaminess of ice cream, the rich, thickened fruitiness of cobbler and pie — summer pudding proves the addition of subtraction. Tempted to improve

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The Holy Grail of Backyard Pizza

On my fourth go – with supermarket dough no less – I had achieved (or at least glimpsed) the Holy Grail of backyard pizza, a Neapolitan-style pizza in just under 90 seconds, telltale leopard-spotting on the cornicione, a bit of char on the undercarriage. As a personal expression, I was turning out in these first attempts pizza competitive with the best in the state. After twenty years of pizza making and all sorts of stoves and stones and grills – none actually better than a cheap grad school Magic Chef that melted the kitchen linoleum each time it came up

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High Hurdles as Restaurants are Forced to Adapt to an Uncertain Future

As the restaurants struggle to stay open and adapt to an uncharted future social landscape and uncertain timeline, the state-mandated closure of full-service dining rooms has decimated much of the food service industry.   Since March 16, when Gov. Lamont’s ordered a halt to eat-in service at restaurants across the state, restaurants without a substantial preexisting takeout business have seen a drop in sales of between 70 and 90 percent, said Scott Dolch, executive director of the Connecticut Restaurant Association by phone Monday. Dolch said that in Connecticut 8,500 restaurants employing about 160,000 workers make up 10 percent of the

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Easter Orders… Flowers, Roasts, Sweets, and Hot Cross Buns

OLD LYME — “It’s a way for them to connect and say hello and happy Easter and still feel like the holiday is still coming,” said Barbara Crowley, owner of the Chocolate Shell, who is providing a customized, shippable “Easter basket in a box” as well as regular Easter baskets this coming week.  “I fill the boxes as if it were an Easter basket. I put the grass in there and everything. I try to give the person what they’re asking for and they give me a price range to work within and I fill it depending on roughly the

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‘Tis the Season: The Original Sazerac

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The earliest American cocktails, or most of them, cobblers, old-fashioneds, juleps, sazeracs — all dating to some time prior to the Civil War — combine a base spirit, often brandy or whiskey, a bit of sweetener in the form of simple syrup or a sugar cube, herbal bitters, and more or less garnish. 3 oz rye whiskey, a sugar cube soaked with angostura bitters, muddled with a bit of fruit, built with enough additional ice so that it no longer floats, and you have an classic old-fashioned. With a copious fruit garnish, you have a cobbler. Drop the fruit garnish,

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After a Decade of Explosive Growth, Small Breweries in Connecticut Take Stock

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“Breweries are destinations, they are really experiences. But of even more pressing significance is to support local and drinking local. It’s easy to go to your grocery store and pick up a macro-brand beer but that’s not going to help anybody in Connecticut,” said Phil Pappas, executive director of the Connecticut Brewers Guild by phone on Wednesday.  In less than 10 years, the craft brewing industry has grown exponentially to over 100 breweries and about 6,000 jobs across Connecticut. Prior to 2012, there were only about 12 to 15 breweries in the state, Pappas said.  “These are all relatively new

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A Better Corned Beef for St. Patrick’s Day

About a dozen days ago I stood across the counter from owner Paul Kozey at Walt’s Food Market in Old Saybrook and asked for a whole flat-cut brisket — the relatively lean portion with the familiar boxy shape separated from the odd-shaped point. Walt’s is a mid-century throwback, a familiar sort of small grocery on the Main Street with the meat counter in the back and groceries up front. A steady traffic of locals buys sandwiches, maybe the best in the area, roasts and prepared food. Kozey stepped into the back and brought out a few choices — none of

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Local Farms Are Planning Crops, Signing up CSA Shareholders for Summer Season

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The New England landscape may appear cold and desolate, but small farmers across the region are growing seedlings in hoop houses and planning summer harvests.  As a means of obtaining “seed” money, many of these farms set up CSA –Community Supported Agriculture — programs that allow customers to invest in a share of the business in advance of the growing season. Farmers then use the invested money in the winter and early spring months to buy seeds, supplies and equipment. In exchange for sharing the upfront costs, shareholders later receive produce during the summer and fall months.  Now is the

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Irish Soda Bread… the Quickest of Quick Breads (and One of the Best)

Irish soda bread, like most recipes attributed by Americans to Ireland, has lean bones — in this case just flour, baking soda, salt, and buttermilk. It’s a quick bread of the sort that became popular in the mid-19th century in America with the commercial availability baking soda and when half of all immigrants to the United States came from Ireland, many fleeing the potato famines that cost the lives of perhaps a million people. And like most things American, this austerity is supplemented with modest luxury, here dried fruit and caraway. The dough comes together in a less than 10

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With Stores Opening in Darien and South Windsor, Pasta Vita Feeds Families, Fosters Community

OLD SAYBROOK — In 1992, Rich Cersosimo, a new IBM retiree, and Lou Castanho , a chef just four years out of culinary school decided to work together to make and sell wholesale ravioli. They named their venture Pasta Vita. Four years later, they began catering to the retail market and Cersosimo and Castanho haven’t looked back. “We were producing all this pasta in Old Saybrook and yet loading it on trucks, shipping it away and we couldn’t feed any of the people here,” Castanho said. “We had people coming to the back door and asking for dishes to take

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Karaoke and “Superior” Fried Chicken at Rustic Cafe in East Lyme

EAST LYME — “Myth number one — you have to have the ability to sing,” explained Eric Foster of Old Lyme. “No, you have to make it appear you know how to sing.” The wood-paneled room of East Lyme’s roadside Rustic Cafe was loud with conversation — regulars at the bar, high-tops and cafe tables filled with people eating and drinking. Foster and four friends, joined by two CT Examiner staff, had arrived early for the karaoke, which on Friday begins sometime after 9 p.m. “The room needs to be loud and you need to be with friends, at least

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Seven Cups of Hot Cocoa and Hot Chocolate

Seven stops, seven cups of hot cocoa and hot chocolate later, I sat in my car surrounded by takeaway cups thinking that a large amount of thick, whipped cream made all the difference, and if that’s what you’re into Savour Café & Bakery in Essex should be your first stop this season. It was my third cup and the first words out of my mouth were, “this is by far the best.” And at the end of the day, I hadn’t changed my mind. Savour’s cup was smooth and rich with just the right amount of sweetness. The cream made

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Chef Everett Reid Returns with Hot Fried Chicken in Chester

CHESTER — Dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt, taking a moment to speak with us after hauling an ice machine upstairs, chef Everett Reid, lately of L&E and Good Elephant, chatted easily in the cozy front dining room of his new venture in Chester on Thursday morning, just hours before the restaurant would first open for dinner. Before taking a break from the restaurant business and closing L&E in 2017, Reid was widely regarded among the best chefs in the region, and his return tonight has already sparked gossip in kitchens and social media. Prior to opening restaurants in Chester,

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An Ambitious Menu Brings New York to Essex

Chef-owner Colt Taylor said that more than 60 percent of diners at The Essex are from New York City. “It’s a destination restaurant,” Taylor said. “It brings that edgy dining experience you find in New York City. You’re not going to know what the menu will be, but you know it’s going to be great.” Last week, the tasting menu offered an expression of Connecticut in seven courses — starting with a dish of scallop, oyster, clam, native corn and local seaweed, followed by a venison tartare; rohan duck with persimmon and juniper; 9-year-old Holstein; a pawpaw custard. The Essex

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Dagmar’s Stollen and German-style Sweets a Favorite for the Holidays

OLD SAYBROOK — “Of course Christmas is the time of the stollen but it’s such a good pastry, why not offer it throughout the year,” said owner Dagmar Ratensperger at her shop on Saturday morning where a stream of pastry lovers bustled in and out. “My customers know it and they buy it all year long but if you’re someone coming from Germany, they say it’s a little funny.”  The traditional fruit bread is eaten during the Christmas season in Germany, but at Dagmar’s Desserts it became so popular now it’s available all year round. This time of year, the

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Vincitori Apizza Serves up “Neo-Neopolitan” Pies, Chowder by Niantic Boardwalk

EAST LYME — The region’s newest pizzeria brings New Haven-inspired pies to Niantic’s Main Street, with house-made sausage, and a savory potato pie. Their signature dish, the Vincitori, starts with a naturally-leavened dough, “covered with shredded mozz and with dollops of fresh mozzarella and then we put the sauce on top with fresh basil, which is the best of all the worlds,” said chef Dave Reeves. Reeves opened Vincitori Apizza with Eileen and Norman Birk, his aunt and uncle, in mid-November. It’s located at 294 Main Street, Niantic, the site of the former Eleni’s Pizzeria. Reeves brings 16 years of

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Cool Weather and Comfort Food in Chester, CT

We stopped into River Tavern in Chester early the other night for dinner, taking a corner table for two in the back dining room by the window. Staff was still sitting at the bar. Across the room, chef-owner Jonathan Rapp was maneuvering pans alone in the tiny open kitchen. After almost twenty years as one of the reliably best places to eat in southeast Connecticut, we didn’t really arrive expecting, or even wanting, surprises. And I have to admit that increasingly when I eat there – five times in the last year — I find myself picking from quiet and

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