Betsy's summer lunch has everything — and a breeze, too
Maybe the beach is Betsy Pyne’s first love, but right after that, without any hesitation, she would rank cooking. (Of course, her husband, Charles, is right up there, too.) When asked, “Why cooking?,” Betsy says, “Because it’s just so darn much fun!”
Cooking has been fun for Betsy’s family for many years. Her mother, Evelyn Merrick, had seven children and she loved cooking for all of them. They lived in Enfield and later Swampscott, Mass., and Evelyn started them off with a big breakfast every morning and finished with a full dinner every night. Even more, Evelyn loved having friends and family over, and giving big parties. Betsy remembers the collections of cookbooks and clipped recipes, and the pleasure of preparing and serving food with her mom.
It was Ned and Mildred Allen who introduced the Merricks to Block Island in the 1950s. The Allens had a house just opposite the Rose Farm Inn and both families would fill the place up. One of Betsy’s first memories is of a huge ship’s wheel that hung on the front porch. Kids would sit on a stool and make the wheel go round and round. Evelyn made lots of good meals during those summers.
Betsy met Charles Pyne from Marblehead, Mass., the summer she was in the 8th grade. Later, when they were in college, Charles said, “I hear the weather reports, ‘Eastport to Block Island’. What is Block Island like?” A trip together out on the ferry followed, and they have been coming ever since. It’s Betsy’s dream come true — the beach and cooking all in one place!
The accompanying recipes for a summer lunch are good examples of foods from Betsy’s kitchen. Her style and family influence are well represented.
Charles’ mother, Betty Pyne, taught Betsy how to make the iced tea with lemon and mint. Betty would brew the tea and then pour it from one enamel pitcher to another to cool it off. “She made this tea all the time in the summer.” Good, fresh mint makes the difference.
The original recipe for the chicken salad came from a cookbook, but Betsy has made several changes over the years. Her version is the perfect dish for a hot summer day. It’s cool and refreshing with all sorts of textures, colors and tastes, all in a light salad dressing. Betsy served it on a large, colorful 16-inch platter that had been passed on to her from her grandfather.
The hazelnut shortbread cookies are rich and delicious. The twist is that they are frosted on the bottom. Clever — that’s the smoother surface.
The only other thing you need for this meal is a big loaf of crunchy bread and a little butter… and yes, a nice, cool breeze.
Mint Iced Tea
From Betsy Pyne
2 quarts water
4 regular-sized tea bags
¼ cup sugar
1 whole lemon, quartered
4 big stems fresh mint, plus more sprigs for garnish
Bring water to boil. Turn off heat, toss in tea bags and stir in sugar. Squeeze lemons into tea and drop them in. Immerse mint sprigs. Stir, and let it all steep 10 minutes. Remove and discard tea bags, lemon and mint. Don’t strain. Pour into a pitcher. Refrigerate when tea cools to room temperature. Serve over ice and garnish with more mint sprigs.
Makes about two quarts of iced tea.
Chicken Salad with Apples and Walnuts
From Betsy Pyne
½ cup chopped walnuts
1 ½ large apple, cored and thinly sliced
Juice of ½ lemon plus 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
¼ cup olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons more for sautéing chicken
Salt and pepper to taste
3 small or 2 large boneless chicken breast halves
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small bunch watercress plus enough salad greens to make a total of 6 cups
½ cup chopped celery (about 2 stalks)
½ cup dried cranberries
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Toast walnuts on a baking sheet (six to eight minutes). Remove and set aside. Place apple slices in a bowl. Squeeze lemon half over apples and gently toss to coat well. Set aside. In another bowl, whisk together the quarter-cup olive oil, the remaining one tablespoon lemon juice and eighth of a teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Set aside.
Remove fat from chicken breasts; rinse and pat dry with paper towels. Place breasts between two sheets of plastic wrap. Flatten with rolling pin to an even thickness. Season with more salt and pepper.
Heat butter and the 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet. Saute chicken pieces, three and a half to four minutes on each side until just done. Transfer to a plate and keep warm.
Place greens in a large bowl. Add celery, apple, and half of the walnuts and cranberries. Whisk dressing again, and drizzle over greens mixture. Toss. Place dressed greens on a large platter or shallow bowl. Slice warm chicken crosswise and arrange over greens. Sprinkle with remaining walnuts and the cranberries.
Serves five to six as a main dish.
Chocolate Frosted Hazelnut Shortbread Cookies
From Betsy Pyne
1 cup shelled, skinned hazelnuts
1 cup flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 ounces good semi-sweet chocolate (Godiva or Ghirardelli)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread hazelnuts on a baking sheet and bake until they are a shade darker and fragrant (10 to 15 minutes). When cooled, chop coarsely. Set aside. Lower oven temperature to 325 degrees.
Into a small mixing bowl, measure the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir to blend. Set aside. In a larger bowl, mix together the butter and sugar. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Gradually stir in the flour mixture. Stir in chopped hazelnuts.
Grease two baking sheets. Drop dough by ½ tablespoons onto prepared sheets. Bake about 15 minutes at 325 degrees. Cool on wire racks.
To frost cookies: Melt chocolate in a double boiler and spread a little on the bottom of each cookie. Return cookies to wire racks to let frosting harden.
Note: Immediately seal cookies in zip lock bags or they will get soggy in the Block Island humidity.
Makes about two dozen cookies.