Pour hard cider, in a glass and into stew pot


Nowadays, hard cider, an alcoholic beverage, shows up on menus everywhere. Made from the fermented juice of tart apples (and/or other fruit), this pleasingly acidic, slightly bubbly beverage pairs beautifully with food and proves easy sipping. This fall, I’m incorporating hard cider into my cocktail hour and my cooking.

Reportedly cider sales have grown by 60 percent in the past five years, but I’m not trying to be trendy. I drank my first glass of hard cider decades ago in a pub while backpacking though the UK. A charming bartender talked me into a glass. Served barely chilled, it was dry, delicious and less filling than beer. I’ve enjoyed cider ever since when traveling in England, France and parts of Spain where it’s been a popular beverage for centuries.

As it once was on this side of the Atlantic. Cider, historians tell us, was the drink of choice for Pilgrims because it was safer than bacteria-laden water. After Prohibition, finding hard cider in this country proved tricky; it seems we preferred beer.

Slowly, cider has been regaining recognition in this country. In 1981, cookbook author and television host Jacques Pepin, shared his method for making cider in a November issue of the Chicago Tribune’s food section. I was happy to learn the method but never made my own. When I wanted apple flavor in a dish, I splashed in a bit of Calvados or applejack.

Today, the choice of ciders at my local store impresses. I can select various sweetness levels and flavor variations. I seek out imported ciders or small-batch artisanal ciders, made from local apples, such as Virtue Cider, for drinking. For cooking, a moderately priced, dry cider, such as Stella Artois Cidre, Strongbow Gold Apple Hard Cider or Crispin Hard Cider, infuse food with acidity and a pleasant apple flavor and aroma.

Braising browned lamb or pork shoulder in cider renders the meat tender with just a touch of sweetness. I add crisp apples, such as Honeycrisp, Granny Smith and Braeburns here, sweet red peppers and aromatic rosemary plus white beans for a creamy texture. After a couple of hours in the oven, the combination yields a creamy, golden-hued fall stew.

Lamb stew, cut from the leg or shoulder yields a fuller-flavored, less rich stew than pork. If using lamb, you’ll likely need to order it in advance from most supermarkets. Pork shoulder proves a less pricey option that pairs beautifully with the cider and apples.

For braising stews, I prefer the gentle cooking and pan juice concentration that happens with a tightly covered heavy pan or Dutch oven in a moderately hot oven. For convenience, you can make the recipe in a slow-cooker set to low. Because there is little to no evaporation in the slow-cooker, the stew may be quite liquidy; simply spoon the stew liquid into a pan set over high heat and boil hard to reduce it into a thicker consistency.

Serve the stew in warmed shallow bowls with a side of mashed potatoes seasoned with sour cream, apples and garlic. Pass bottles of cold, crisp cider, and make a toast: Everything old is new again.


Makes: 8 to 10 servings

Stews always taste even better the next day, so I routinely make a large batch. If desired, this recipe can be cut in half; be sure to use a smaller Dutch oven so the liquid covers the meat during the cooking.

3 pounds boneless pork shoulder or lamb stew (from shoulder or leg), cut into 1 inch pieces

⅓ cup flour

Salt, freshly ground pepper

3 to 5 tablespoons safflower or expeller-pressed canola oil

1 large sweet onion, cut into ½-inch dice (about 2 cups)

1 large red bell pepper, cored, cut into 1-inch dice (about 1 ½ cups)

2 ribs celery, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)

2 large crisp-tart apples (total 12 ounces), peeled, cored, cut into 1-inch chunks (about 2 ½ cups

4 cloves garlic, crushed

1 bottle (12 ounces) dry sparkling cider

3 to 4 sprigs each: fresh thyme, rosemary and oregano (or ½ teaspoon each dried)

½ cup chicken broth

2 cans (14.5 ounces each) white cannellini beans, drained

Chopped fresh parsley and chives for garnish

Sour cream and apple mashed potatoes, see recipe

1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Pat pork or lamb pieces dry. Mix flour, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper in a zip-close food bag. Add a few pieces of the meat at a time; shake to coat well. Transfer to a plate while you coat the rest of the pieces.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy-bottomed 6-quart Dutch oven set over medium heat. Add about one third of the flour-coated meat to the pan in a single, uncrowded layer. Cook, turning occasionally, until nicely browned on all sides, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a baking sheet. Repeat to brown all the meat, adding oil as needed.

3. Stir onion, red bell pepper and celery into pan drippings. Cook and stir, 3 minutes. Stir in apples, garlic and cider, scraping up all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Boil gently to reduce the liquid slightly, about 5 minutes.

4. Return the browned meat to the pot. Stir in the herbs and chicken broth. Heat to a boil. Cover the pan tightly, and place it in the oven. Bake, stirring once or twice, until the meat is fork-tender, about 1½ hours.

5. Remove herb sprigs. Stir in beans. Heat to a simmer over medium heat. Taste for salt, adding more as needed (usually ½ teaspoon).

6. Serve sprinkled with fresh herbs and accompanied by the potatoes.

Per serving (for 10): 393 calories, 19 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 83 mg cholesterol, 27 g carbohydrates, 9 g sugar, 27 g protein, 638 mg sodium, 5 g fiber

Slow-cooker variation: Prepare the recipe through step 3. Put apple mixture, browned meat, herbs and chicken broth into a slow-cooker. Set the slow-cooker to low and cook covered until meat is nearly tender, 4 to 6 hours. If pan juices are too thin, pour them off into a saucepan and boil hard to reduce them to the consistency of cream soup. Then finish the recipe as directed in step 5.


Makes: 8 servings

If working in advance, cover the finished, hot mashed potatoes with plastic wrap set directly on the surface and then top with the lid of the pan. The potatoes will hold like this, off the heat, for about 30 minutes until serving time.

2½ pounds golden yellow potatoes, scrubbed clean, cut into eighths

2 medium tart green apples (total 9 ounces), peeled, cored, chopped

4 cloves garlic, sliced


½ cup milk

4 to 6 tablespoons sour cream or mascarpone

4 tablespoons butter

Freshly ground black pepper

1. Put potatoes, apple and garlic into a large pot. Add cold water to cover by 1 inch. Add 1 teaspoon salt. Heat to a boil, then simmer gently with lid slightly askew. Cook, checking potatoes occasionally with a knife, until tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain well.

2. Return the drained potato mixture to the pot. Make a well in the center of the potatoes and pour the milk into the center. Set the heat to medium under the pot. When the milk starts to boil, reduce the heat to low, and start mashing vigorously using a potato masher. Mash in the sour cream and butter until the mixture is fairly smooth. Season to taste, usually about ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Remove from heat. Serve.

Per serving: 193 calories, 8 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 18 mg cholesterol, 29 g carbohydrates, 5 g sugar, 3 g protein, 164 mg sodium, 3 g fiber

Try pumpkin pancakes to get into the fall spirit

If you’re going to eat pumpkin pancakes, this is your window to do it. Of course, you could eat these flapjacks spiced with cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg anytime, but there’s no better time than these few weeks before Halloween when we start to gear up our palates for a whole season of festive eating.

Malika Ameen, whose new book “Sweet Sugar, Sultry Spice: Exotic Flavors to Wake Up Your Baking” (Roost Books, $30) was recently released, offers dozens of dishes that will entertain your tongue year-round. Her holiday offerings, like these pancakes, are particularly good.

As always, don’t overmix the pancake batter. Leave those small lumps — they’ll cook out of the pancakes on the hot griddle. Vietnamese cinnamon has a particular warmth that Ameen likes for these pancakes, but any cinnamon will do.

Perfect Pumpkin Pancakes pumpkin6

1 cup all-purpose flour

¼ cup whole wheat flour

2 Tbsp. granulated sugar

1½ tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. ground Vietnamese cinnamon

¾ tsp. ground ginger

¼ tsp. ground cloves

¼ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

¼ tsp. kosher salt

1¼ cups buttermilk, at room temperature, divided

2 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten

4 Tbsp. (2 oz.) unsalted butter, melted

2 tsp. vanilla extract

¾ cup pure canned pumpkin

Heat oven to 250 degrees.

In a large bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together 1 cup of the buttermilk and the eggs, butter and vanilla. Add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture and whisk until barely combined.

In another medium bowl, whisk together the pumpkin and the remaining ¼ cup of buttermilk. Gently fold the pumpkin mixture into the batter.

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Lightly grease the skillet and cook the pancakes in batches. Spoon about ¼ cup of the batter onto the pan per pancake. Cook until golden brown on the bottom and slightly dry looking and bubbly on the top.

Use a spatula to flip each pancake and cook on the second side until cooked through. Transfer from the skillet to a baking tray, cover with aluminum foil, and keep warm in the oven while you cook more. Serves 4.

Spring 2016: Food

Plan grad party menus wisely

Boo Wells

Boo Wells

Grab-and-go foods best for fast-moving revelers

Despite the apparent confusion at Mother Nature’s Weather Headquarters, spring has begun and summer is reputed to be right around the corner. If you have children in grade school you have been repeatedly updated on how many days there are left until summer vacation. Those people in the back seat of the Mom-mobile have their iPhones counting down the days until they can begin parental torture with loud proclamations of boredom.

If you have a high school senior you definitely know the number of days until the end of the semester and the start of the graduation festivities. The clock is ticking down on the school year, the memories have been made, friendships have been forged, term papers and finals completed, college acceptance letters received, plans made for the future. Yet, despite all the joy and celebration there will also be loss and heartache. Most of us can look back at our school years and remember hearing about a tragedy that struck another community. If you were not impacted directly, chances are you were not really affected.

Flash forward to today and social media has made the world a much smaller place as it has brought us all closer together. One community’s misfortune is no longer contained and, as a result, we are all touched and we all grieve.

Social media has brought us closer together during times of tragedy, but it also teaches us how we can, and do, impact one another, for better or for worse. Learning the consequences of our actions may help us to be more compassionate and open minded. From the outside looking in, the youth of today seem to be a kinder and more tolerant group than when I was a child. As I eavesdrop on the conversations in the backseat I learn about kids who are different from their peers and in my heart I feel for them. But, as the back-seater’s dialogue continues, I hear more accepting comments that would not have been spoken in my school years. I cannot resist interjecting, my curiosity is too much to contain. I play the devil’s advocate, I try to bait the back seaters in hopes of comprehending their way of thinking.

Me: “That kid is (pick your adjective)?”

“Gross, why did he do that to his hair?”

“What’s up with that fashion statement?”

”I bet they are just trying to get attention”

“Do other kids tease him or her?”

The back-seaters always respond with a vengeance. They cannot believe my ignorance. How could I be so closed minded, so judgemental and so wrong.

The back-seaters: “Mom! What is wrong with you?”

“Who cares that they are (same adjective as above)!”

“So? What is the big deal?”

“Nobody cares about that! “

“Gosh, Mom!”

So I go back to being the silent chauffeur, stung by the back-seater’s reprimand and awestruck by their willingness to accept, even embrace those who are different. Their lack of tolerance for intolerance hangs heavy in the air. I am so proud of their empathy both locally and globally.

They are so much more aware of what is going on in the world around them than I was at their age, or maybe even now. They embrace diversity, they are kind to each other, they support and nurture even the most unlikely members of their community and they include everyone.

What, you wonder, does this have to do with food? As graduation draws near and the celebratory party plans come together, remember that their eyes are wide open, their arms outstretched ready to embrace and their hearts a large. They welcome everyone to the table. Be ready; the guests will be numerous, joyful and hungry.

Graduation parties will be well attended, even if the attendees are hoping from one party to another. Plan your menu wisely. I suggest focusing on foods that kids can eat while they are chatting or heading to the next shindig. Food that they can grab and go are especially helpful to “drive-by” revelers with lots of parties to attend. Fruit on skewers or grilled vegetables on kabobs, a taco station with loads of toppings or a barbecue pulled pork sandwich station with different types of cole slaw, barbecue sauces and rolls.


Pulled pork & homemmade BBQ sauce

(Yield: 8 cups sauce; 12 to 15 8-ounce servings of pork)


1 stick unsalted butter
2 cup finely diced onion
6 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 cup cider vinegar
2 cup Worcester sauce
4 cups ketchup
4 Tablespoons dry mustard
8 Tablespoons brown sugar
4 Tablespoons paprika
4 teaspoons Kosher salt
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper (add more if you dare)
10 pound pork shoulder
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper


Melt the butter in a large stainless steel pot. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until translucent. Keep the heat low and avoid caramelizing the onion and garlic mixture. Stir in the vinegar, Worcester sauce, ketchup, mustard, brown sugar, paprika, Kosher salt and cayenne pepper. Bring to a boil, decrease the heat, and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and cool to room temperature. If you are not going to use the sauce right away, refrigerate it until you are ready to use it. The sauce will be even better the next day when the flavors have had a chance to mellow. This recipe will make enough sauce for 45 pounds of meat. If you like to have more sauce for serving, double this recipe and you will have some leftover sauce for another time. Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Line a large roasting pan with aluminum foil. Liberally salt and pepper the pork shoulder. Place the meat in the roasting pan fat side up. Roast in a 250 degrees oven for 10 to 12 hours. The meat will be tender and falling off of the bone. Let the meat cool slightly and shred with two forks or roughly chop with a sharp chef knife. Discard the bone. Combine the meat and barbecue sauce and serve with crusty rolls and coleslaw.

Boo Wells is chef and owner of the Farm House Kitchen, a catering company and cooking school in Sackets Harbor. Contact her at sacketsfarm housekitchen@gmail.com or visit www.thefarmhousekitchen.com.

Winter 2016: Food

Meal prep made fast and easy


Boo Wells

Columnist Boo Wells

Keep a few staple ingredients on hand to impress

Life moves so quickly. When my boys were babies, random
strangers would constantly approach us while we were out for a walk or at the grocery store, “Thing One” and “Thing Two” in a stroller or shopping cart, “Thing Three” in a snuggle cryovaced to my chest, and they would ooh and ahh, complimenting me on how darling the boys were (really, I’m not biased). What I remember most was the number of times they would warn “time moves quickly, enjoy every moment,” and “Your boys will grow up in a blink of an eye,” or “Enjoy them now, because before you know it, they will be grown and gone.” It was one of those things that I heard so often it began to sound like the adult voices on a Peanut’s cartoon “Wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa.” [Read more…]

Winter 2015: Food

A taste of Jamaica comes home with vegetable curry

By Boo Wells

Columnist Boo Wells

Hearty family tradition continues in the north country

When I was younger, my parents and I would spend several weeks a year visiting my grandmother in the West Indies. My grandmother and step-grandfather became enamored with the English-ruled island of Jamaica after they honeymooned in the tropical paradise. [Read more…]

Time to open the lid on your grill and move the kitchen outdoors

Spice up your backyard barbecue with simple seasonings [Read more…]

Move over, June Cleaver, Ward has found his place in the kitchen

English muffin bread with Earl Grey tea jelly. Amanda Morrison / NNY Living

English muffin bread with Earl Grey tea jelly. Amanda Morrison / NNY Living

English muffin bread an easy-to-follow recipe for anyone [Read more…]

Roast chicken with Boo Wells (VIDEO)

A simple roast chicken. Justin Sorensen/ NNY Living

A simple roast chicken. Justin Sorensen/ NNY Living

Stuffed with fresh vegetables, roast chicken is a versatile fall meal [Read more…]

Master the art of blanching vegetables

Blanching vegetables is a technique that involves briefly boiling and then plunging vegetables into an ice bath to make them tender-crisp and flavorful. Photo by Justin Sorensen/ NNY Living

Blanched green beans perfect addition to summer quinoa salad [Read more…]

A frozen following: For sweet seekers, north country soft serve a must have

Morghan A. White, 10 and sister Emmah L., 5, eat ice cream last month at Morgan’s Ice House, Canton. Ice cream stands like Morgan’s are ever-popular summer food destinations in the north country. Melanie Kimbler-Lago/ NNY Living

With more than a half-dozen ice cream stands in Watertown alone, it’s clear that ice cream from small mom-and-pop stands has a special place in the stomachs of north country residents. But the question looms: does soft serve or hard ice cream take the metaphorical cherry for popularity?

At The Midway on Coffeen Street, homemade hard ice cream, of which the shop has 15 varying flavors, outsells soft serve, sold only in the traditional vanilla and chocolate or swirl.

“I didn’t expect hard flavors to take off as they are,” said owner Michael P. Amell, who has operated the stand since 2010. “It was a surprise.” [Read more…]