Published DateBy Tom Eastman
GLEN — It's Mother's Day Weekend — a time when we all think of our moms, and all they do and did for us.
And their great cooking.
“Who had the most influence on me, in cooking? My mom,” said certified executive chef Gary Sheldon, corporate chef for Sysco, and president of the White Mountain Chapter of the American Culinary Federation, talking about his late mother, Alberta E. (Lahey) Sheldon.
The tall and culinarily-talented former Mount Washington Valley Hog wide receiver, former World Mud Bowl co-chair and World Mud Bowl Hall of Famer answered that question about who inspired him to become a chef while speaking with students at the end of a recent cooking class at the Bernerhof's ”A Taste of the Mountains Cooking School” in Glen.
The food was all excellent, and so was the conversation and banter throughout the cooking sessions, all done with complimentary glasses of wine or beer.
With Mother's Day now upon us, Sheldon was asked then, and again this week in a post-class interview, a bit more about his late mother's exceptionally good cooking and how she influenced Sheldon's culinary career.
In praise of Ma Sheldon
“My mom was not a chef,” said Sheldon, an inductee into the exclusive Honorable Order of the Golden Toque, one of only 700 members of the ACF Honor Society American Academy of Chefs, and a two-time New Hampshire Chef of the Year. “She was a housewife, and a great cook. I can't ever remember seeing her without having an apron on and cooking. All she loved to do was to bake for the kids, right up until the end when she passed in 2005 at age 82. She used to spend hours in the kitchen, cooking for a church supper or an Eastern Star event, and I'd say, 'Mom, I'll pay you the $10 for your time,' because they'd charge $3 for the dinners, you know? But she loved it.”
His mother was awarded the best sportswoman in basketball in the state in 1940-1941. During World War II, she served in the U.S. Navy with the WAVES from December 1943 to April 1946. She worked during the war in Washington, D.C., in a top secret job of decoding German U-Boat submarine codes. The tale has been told in the book, “The Secret of Buiding 26,” about where the decoding took place in Washington, D.C. After the war years, she marred George Sheldon in 1948, and worked for the state Department of Motor Vehcles in Keene and Tilton. She and George had two sons, Wayne and Gary. An avid sports fan, she loved the Red Sox and following the UConn women's basketball team. As a grandmother, she was one of the original multi-taskers, says Gary. “She could be sitting there, yelling and cheering [at her grandchildren's sports games], and knitting a pair of mittens at the same time!” said Gary.
“She grew up in Weare, one of seven kids,” added Sheldon. “I have all of her old cookbooks, including a signed first edition of the 'Betty Crocker Cookbook,' which one of her teachers gave her in the third grade.”
Both in this week's interview and at the April 27 class, Sheldon said his greatest hope is to someday create a book of his mother's recipes.
“One of the last few years,” said Sheldon, “she asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I told her I would really like is a collection of her recipes. She gave some to me that Christmas, and I got all of her file boxes when she passed away.”
His favorites growing up included his mother's Cherry Walnut Cake, which his mom made for his birthday every year, and Pecan Pie, made with Kraft caramels (“The kind you can't get anymore,” notes Sheldon).
Her main dishes included roast pork ham, and a lot of meat and potatoes variations, the norm for the day. Nothing fancy — just succulent and tasty.
Although he didn't appreciate it at the time, Sheldon now fondly appreciates what his mother did for the family of two boys and Sheldon's father, every night, cooking a great meal.
“Like everybody,” says Sheldon, “I took it for granted. I saw her put good food on the table every night, and we just expected it.”
It's a common refrain for all of us, isn't it?
And who can dine on comfort food these years later without nostalgically being reminded of the Shepherd's pie casseroles, Swedish steaks or pot roast that we grew up with?
On a personal basis, this aspiring and increasingly-eager cook wannabe experienced my own “mom's comfort food flashback” a few weeks ago when I tried my first-ever pot roast. After mixing in the chuck roast with celery, onion, carrots, potatoes, meat broth and Cabernet sauvignon, I left the condo, with my new pressure cooking going, and returned to my condo seven hours later.
It was unbelievable to re-enter my aromatic abode: the rich, comforting scent of the slow-cooking meat filled my nostrils as I walked through the door. And, I kid you not, I almost was tempted to call out to my late mom, wondering if she somehow had come back all these years later to cook one of my favorites.
An hour or two later, I tried the dish, and it ... was ... unbelievably delicious! I was not only satiated, but I was so proud I was inspired to enroll in the Bernerhof's “A Taste of the Mountains” with my old friend Gary Sheldon.
Trust me, if I can learn, there's hope for all culinary-challenged souls out there. I learned how to cook the salmon, and much more. You, too, can do the same.
• • •
Entitled, “Smitten for Seafood,” Sheldon's four-hour, hands-on “A Taste of the Mountains” cooking class at the Bernerhof April 27 was one in a series offered by the resurrected cooking school.
Local Realtor Dick Badger a few years ago bought the closed Bernerhof Inn and recently hired former valley resident Mike Luciano, originator of Peach's Restaurants, back from Florida as chef/innkeeper. American Culinary Federation White Mountain Chapter member and personal chef Steffani Adaska is the school's director.
The renovated inn offers romantic guest-room accommodations, as well as the cooking school.
Some attendees stay at the inn; others are daytrippers.
During the April 27 “Smitten for Seafood” class, Sheldon and Adaska led students in preparing crab cakes, maple walnut dressing, spicy and hot shrimp/wonton “firecrackers,” and salmon prepared with red quinoa on crisp, peeled asparagus with a lime cilantro sauce [see recipes].
In an entertaining and relaxed setting, we learned some of Chef Gary's cardinal rules of the kitchen, especially as applied to seafood. Those dictums from the mount shared with attendees included:
• Don't overcook fish: “People worry about the fish and they overcook it, because they're afraid of it being raw. Hey, fish comes from the ocean, and it's natural food. The best way to eat scallops is to eat them raw, after all.”
• Peel the asparagus before submerging it into boiling water, then “shock” it by placing the cooked vegetables into ice cold water: If you do, you won't believe how it brings out the zesty and crisp flavor.
• Make sure your pan is smoking before you put your salmon into it, so you can put a beautiful brown sear on the salmon.
• When cooking couscous, follow the directions and after you cook it, turn off the burner but let it sit. Then be sure to “fluff” it with a fork.
• Use fresh bread when you cube the pieces for your crab cakes. “I use old bread when I make my crab cakes,” said student Karl Lippman, a Franconia-based retiree and three-class attendee. “Really, Karl, old bread? And what does old bread taste like?!? Use fresh bread, only!” said Chef Gary.
• Always cut your vegetables into the same size when cooking so that it all cooks with the same consistency.
• Use a pinch of this and that: “A pinch is an easier way to add seasoning, because you get a better feel to what you are adding to a dish and have better control than using a salt and pepper shaker,” said Chef Gary.
• Taste as you go: “If you're not tasting, you're not cooking, is what Chef [Phil] Learned always taught us when I was at the Balsams apprentice program,” notes Sheldon.
• Take peppercorns and heat them in a dab of oil in a pan, shaking pan. After heating peppercorns, place them in a coffee grinder and grind them. “It really brings out the flavor,” said Chef Gary.
• • •
Chef Sheldon's Recipes for 'Smitten for Seafood Class'
Yield: approx. 20 crab cakes
• 1.5 lbs fresh crab meat
• 3/4 loaf white bread, cubed and crusted
• 4 eggs, beaten
• 2 cups Mayo (Hellmann's)
• 1 tsp fresh minced garlic
• 3/4 tsp salt
• 1/2 tsp pepper
• 1 Tblsp lemon juice
• 1 Tblsp Worcestshire sauce
• 11/2 Old Bay tsp
• 1/4 cup chopped parsley.
1. In large bowl, toss crab and bread crumbs 'til fairly homogenous.
2. Mix all other ingredients in a bowl and then fold into crab and bread mixture.
3. Mix well and refrigerate for about 2 hours.
4. Scoop into a pan of flour or Panko.
5. On pre-heated grill or fry pan, scoop mixture and press slightly.
6. Cook to golden brown.
Maple Walnut Dressing
Yield: 2 cups
• 1 cup Mayo
• 1 cup maple syrup
• 1/2 cup heavy cream
• 1/2 cup Dijon mustard
• 1/2 tsp. dry ground mustard
• 1/4 cup walnut oil.
1. In bowl, add all ingredients and mix with wire whip until smooth and creamy.
2. Chill 'til ready to use.
Yield: 16 each
• 6 large shrimp
• 1 tsp red curry paste
• 1 Tsp Thai fish sauce
• 16 wonton wrappers
• 16 fine egg noodles
1. Marinate shrimp in mixture of curry paste and fish sauce about 10 minutes.
2. Boil egg noodles for 2 to 3 minutes, chill in cool water.
3. Fold shrimp into wonton wrapper and tie with egg noodle
4. Deep fat fry for 5 to 8 minutes.
6. Serve with Thai chili sauce.
Salmon, Scallops and Red Quinoa on asparagus with Lime Cilantro Sauce
Yield: 4 servings
• 1/2 cup red Quinoa
• 1 cup water
• 1/2 cup sour cream
• 3 Tsp Mayo
• 1 tsp lime zest
• 2 Tbsp. lime juice
• 1 tsp ginger (grated)
• 1 Tbsp cilantro minced
• Pinch salt
• Four 4 oz. portions salmon, preferably wild (non-farm raised)
• 1 lb asparagus
• 1 Tbsp butter
• 24 each: 15-20 dry scallops.
1. Bring quinoa and water to boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 10 minutes. Turn off heat but keep the covered saucepan on the burner for 6 minutes more.
2. Remove ad fluff with fork.
3. Combine sour cream, Mayo, lime zest, lime juice, ginger and salt in small bowl. Mix well and set aside.
4. Peel asparagus and blanch in boiling water until tender. Remove from water and shock in ice water to stop cooking.
5. Heat cast iron skillet 'til smoking. Sear salmon, turn over. Reduce heat.
6. Grill asparagus and arrange on plate, add quinoa on top, then place salmon over quinoa, add a light drizzle of sauce on top.
7. Pan sear fresh scallops and use to garnish the final plate.
• • •
Upcoming 'A Taste of the Mountains' classes
Gift certificates are available for cooking classes at the “A Taste of the Mountains Cooking School.” Upcoming classes include:
• Mom and Me Cooking Class with Chef Kendra Stanley. Price $95
Thursday, May 23, 4-7 p.m. • Class Description: Join Chef Kendra Stanley and a mother/daugher or mother/son cooking class with delicious recipes that you help prepare. Come hungry. Leave with a full belly and great memories.
• The Perfect Pancake - How to make designs, shapes and variety of flavors one easy batter
• Fresh Fruit Bowl/Plate - Basic Knife Skills, peel slice chop with ease
• Tomato Sauce from the Garden and Ravioli - Use ingredients from your garden to make this recipe later. Handmade ravioli with cheese filling
• Ice Cream Sundae - Easy homemade ice cream Make Hot Fudge, Caramel and Strawberry sauce to take with you
• Easy, Light, and Delish with Chef Steffani Adaska. Price $95
Saturday, June 1, 1-4 p.m. • Class Description: Summer is right around the corner. Who wants heavy food to eat? Join Chef Steffani Adaska and expand your culinary repertoire with a menu full of fantastic flavors, low calories and easy preparation. We’ll share a variety of new ideas for quick and easy preparations of healthy food to share with your friends. Come hungry. Leave happy and healthy.
• Chicken with Olives and Roasted Lemons
• Wheat Berry Salad with Dried Cherries, Mint and Pistachios
• Kale and Apple Slaw
• Lemon Angel Food Cake with Blueberry-Lemon Sauce
• Father's Day BBQ Best with Chef Kendra Stanley. Price $95
Tuesday, June 11, 4-7 p.m. • Class Description: Get your Marinade on. Get ready to Rub. Get sauced and smoked with all of Dad’s favorites with a special BBQ fest with Chef Kendra. Be prepared to eat lots of Ribs, Chicken, steak Tips and all of the fixins you find at a great BBQ joint.
• Shake Rattle and Pour Ladies Weekend Fun with Chef Kendra Stanley Price $95
Saturday, June 22, 4-7 p.m. • Class Description: Join Chef Kendra Stanley and enjoy a festive evening with the girls over a few drinks and delicious food! Come hungry, leave happy!
• Italian Cheese and Sausage-Stuffed Pasta Shells
• Gorgonzola-Pear-Caramelized Onion Flat Bread Pizza
• Smoked Gouda Crostini with Prosciutto and Apples
• Mini Apple Cobblers with Caramel Sauce.
To register for only a class/classes with no lodging, call 383-4200 or book online at www.bernerhofinn.com.
• • •
Sharing Mom Alberta Sheldon's recipes
Certified Executive Chef Gary Sheldon of East Conway shared some of the favorite recipes of his late mother, Alberta Sheldon of Manchester, Keene and Franklin.
“I remember,” said Chef Gary, “when she passed away, three of my old friends from the neighborhood called me when they had read about it in the paper and all three of them mentioned that the one thing they remembered most about her was her whoopie pies.”
Alberta Sheldon's Whoopie Pies
• 2 cups flour
• ½ cup cocoa
• ½ tsp baking soda
• ½ tsp salt
Mix together. Cream together.
• ½ cup shortening
• 1 cup sugar
• 1 egg
•1 cup milk
• 1 tsp vanilla
Bake on ungreased cookie sheet for about 8 minutes
• ¼ cup margarine
• ¼ cup Crisco
• 1 cup confectioner sugar
• ½ cup marshmallow fluff
• 1 tsp vanilla
Mom's Beans and Franks
“I believe back in the 1950s,” notes Chef Gary, “President Ike declared that everyone has to eat Baked Beans on Saturday — I don’t remember ever eating anything but Beans and Franks on Saturday. Her's were the best and she made them right up until her passing.”
• 3 lbs beans. Soak beans overnight .
• 1 lb brown sugar
• 2 ½ tsp salt
• 4 Tblsp. molasses
• 1 tsp dry mustard
• Small onion
• Piece of salt pork
• Need to cook 4-6 hours
• parboil; add 2 heaping Tblsp baking soda
Bean skins will crack when done.