Taste and traditions: SCCC culinary instructors offer recipes

A taste of the season
Pumpkin Pie by Vanessa Traver November 15, 2019.
Pumpkin Pie by Vanessa Traver November 15, 2019.

For Jay Larkin, the holidays arrive with splashes of apple cider, lemon juice and bourbon.

Kim Otis knows Christmas is coming when Aunt Janette’s vodka sauce is ready for pasta.

And Vanessa Traver believes the oranges and reds of fall are subtle signals for pumpkin pies on oven tops. 

All three food lovers are culinary instructors at Schenectady County Community College’s well-regarded School of Hotel, Culinary Arts and Tourism. The professors, with four colleagues, were asked to share recipes and stories behind the formulas with The Daily Gazette.

The specialties include side dishes, salads, drinks and desserts. In addition to the Larkin, Otis and Traver recipes, professors contributed recipes for these dishes:

* Brandy Balls, from Ingrid and John O’Connell

* Winter Salad, from Sue Hatalsky

* Madeline’s Stuffed Artichokes, from Courtney Withey

Jay Larkin is happy to promote his Winter Snap, a sip-by-the-fireplace drink for autumn and winter evenings. He designed the libation with SCCC culinary student Ryan Trestick.

“It really brings about all the components of sweet, sour and with the bourbon, you get a little bit of that spiciness and warmth,” Larkin said. “Anything with bourbon is going to be fantastic for the holidays. Something like this, it has that refreshing component.”

The garnish includes cranberries — and gives the Winter Snap a distinctive look.

Pena Ala Vodka by Kim Mazzone Otis November 15, 2019.

For Kim Otis, fine foods are a family tradition: Her father, Angelo Mazzone, is one of the Capital Region’s most famous restaurateurs and caterers. Aunt Janette likely won the family prize for best vodka sauce for pasta.

Otis said the Christmas holidays mean 100 relatives and family friends at Angelo’s place for a festive gathering. Food, gifts, kids in pajamas and Santa Claus are all parts of the party.

“After Santa leaves and the adults do their gift exchange, Aunt Janette (Selino) makes her penne a la vodka,” Otis said. “Everybody says, ‘No, we’re not hungry’ but she makes it and we always polish it off completely. We can’t resist it.”

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Otis said she and other family members helped Aunt Janette make the dish as youngsters.

“We all have the instructions,” she said, adding dish is rich and full of flavor.

“Lots of garlic, lots of butter, lots of cream,” she said.

Vanessa Traver’s favored recipe also salutes a relative. Mammie’s Pumpkin Pie came from her late grandmother, Helen Traver.

“We make it every Thanksgiving,” Traver said. “Unlike most pumpkin pies, it does not have clove in it. I like clove, but I think sometimes people can be a little heavy-handed with clove in their pumpkin pies.

“I don’t think it misses it, I think it still has the wonderful pumpkin taste to it,” Traver added. “It’s not overly sweet, so you get a lot of that pumpkin flavor.”

The crust, with egg, vanilla and sugar as key elements, is also richer than other pumpkin pies.

Traver tops “Mammie’s” pie with maple-flavored whipped cream. She understands why pumpkin pies are must-bakes during fall and into winter.

“It’s just part of fall,” she said. “You see all the pumpkins around, you go pumpkin picking. It’s just a part of our culture, especially in the north. We love that fall time, we love the change of colors, all the oranges, reds and greens. The minute I think of fall I think of pumpkins.”

For Ingrid and John O’Connell, sugar shakes when snow falls. The couple’s recipe for brandy balls comes from Ingrid’s Aunt Hilde Knaup.

“It’s a German recipe,” Ingrid said. “She’s been making them since I’ve been alive, they were always wrapped in little pieces of foil. For every Christmas, that was the treat.”

Cooking is a family tradition. Ingrid’s father Arnold Skogstrand was executive chef of the Van Curler Hotel — the building now occupied by SCCC — during the early 1950s.

The sugar-sprinkled, chocolate balls contain brandy, and people will taste the liquor. They don’t have to be flavored with brandy. “Rum is certainly a good substitute,” John said.

They are also a unique dessert for the holiday season.

“I’ve never seen them anywhere else,” Ingrid said.

Sue Hatalsky’s salad may convince people to leave the romaine lettuce, chick peas and tomatoes off the table this December. Her winter salad contains fennel, pomegranate seeds, spinach and pistachios. Sections of red grapefruit add taste and color.

“There’s not a lot of prep work,” Hatalsky said. “Slice and wash and toast and peel and you’re good to go.

“It’s nice for the holidays, it’s got pretty color and the grapefruit in it is kind of nice,” Hatalsky added. “It’s definitely festive.”

Hatalsky serves the salad with a vinaigrette, so there is no need to store Italian, blue cheese, Thousand Island and other dressings in the refrigerator.

Courtney Withey loves artichokes, and she especially loves Madeline’s Whole Stuffed Artichokes. 

“It’s definitely one of the most nostalgic dishes in my family,” Withey said. “It’s something that was eaten almost always on Christmas Eve. It’s something my grandmother made from the time I was very young, it was definitely one of my earlier food memories, watching her go through the process of putting the bread crumbs in between the leaves. It was always something I was always very intrigued by, even as a little girl.”

The recipe includes Italian-style bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, garlic and fresh parsley.

Madeline’s Stuffed Artichokes

This is a recipe my paternal grandmother Madeline used to make every Christmas Eve as an appetizer. The best part was always the heart at the base of the artichoke. This dish is great hot, room temperature or cold, and seems to somehow taste even better the next day.
— Courtney Withey 


2 long-stemmed globe
artichokes, leaves trimmed
10 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 quart Italian-style bread crumbs
2 cups Parmesan cheese
1 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 each lemon
high-quality extra virgin olive oil (as needed)

Trim the ends off the artichoke. If they are very woody, peel them as well. Finely mince the stalks. In a small saute pan, add 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and the minced artichoke stems, and cook over medium heat until softened. Add another tablespoon of olive oil and then add the minced garlic.

Cook in olive oil over medium heat for 1 minute. Add garlic and artichoke stems to a bowl with the bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley. Stir to combine. Drizzle with 3 or 4 more tablespoons of olive oil. Mixture should stick together just slightly. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Meanwhile, place a colander over a pot of boiling water making a steamer. Place trimmed artichokes in the colander, trimmed stem side down. Cover them and steam for 15 to 20 minutes or until the leaves begin to spread open (time may differ depending on the size and age of the artichoke). 

When the artichokes are par-cooked, pull them from the steamer and place them on a sheet tray. Pull each individual leaf away from the artichoke and stuff with a spoonful of the bread-crumb mixture. Pack each leaf this way. Repeat with second artichoke until all leaves are stuffed with all the seasoned bread crumb mixture. Place the artichokes back in the steamer and drizzle generously with olive oil. Steam, covered, for another half an hour or so, until the leaves are soft and the “meat” is tender. 

Drizzle with more extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice before serving. 

Brandy Balls


2 1/2 cups finely crushed vanilla wafers
1 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
2 tbsp. cocoa powder
1/4 cup brandy or rum
1/2 cup finely chopped
1/4 cup light corn syrup


Combine wafer crumbs, confectioners’ sugar, cocoa powder and nuts. Stir in brandy and corn syrup. Add a little water if necessary to form mixture into 3/4 balls. Roll in granulated sugar. Store in tightly covered container.

Makes about 4 dozen.

Aunt Janette’s Famous Vodka Sauce

Served over al dente pasta, preferably cavatelli.


1 lb. butter
15 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced 
16 ounces vodka
1 No. 10 can crushed
1 quart heavy cream, room


In a heavy-bottom pan, melt butter over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute until until softened and fragrant. Season with a tablespoon of salt, a half tablespoon of pepper and a heavy pinch or two of crushed red pepper flakes. Stir for one minute.

Add vodka to the pan and bring to a simmer for two minutes. Add crushed tomatoes and stir to combine. Return to simmer. After 15 minutes, add the heavy cream, mixing thoroughly to incorporate.

Serve with freshly cooked al dente cavatelli, topped with grated Locatelli cheese, and invite the neighbors over to share in your holiday cheer.

Mammie’s Pumpkin Pie

Yields two 9-inch pies


crust (Pate Brisee)
2 cups flour (AP or pastry)
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
4 tbsp. unsalted butter
3 eggs
2 tbsp. cold water
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract


Sift flour, salt, and sugar into a bowl.

Cut in the butter using a pastry blender until mixture looks like fine bread crumbs. Make a well in the center.

Mix eggs, water, vanilla and lemon zest. Pour mixture into the well in the flour mixture. Mix to form a soft dough.

Turn dough out onto worktop and knead dough gently until well mixed and smooth.

Divide dough in half and form into discs. Wrap discs in plastic and rest in refrigerator for 30 minutes.

For pumpkin pie filling

4 cups of pumpkin puree
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. salt
1 cup brown sugar
4 eggs 
3 cups evaporated milk


Place pumpkin in a mixer bowl fitted with a whip attachment.

Sift the spices and salt.

Add spices, salt and brown sugar to the pumpkin and mix on a low speed until well blended.

Add the eggs, then scrape down sides of the bowl.

With mixer on low speed, gradually add the evaporated milk.

Allow filling to stand for 30 minutes before filling pie crust.

Preheat oven to 425. Roll out crusts and place in pie pans. Fill crusts with filling and place in oven. Bake pies at 425 for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 and bake an additional 30 minutes, or until pies are set.

Winter Salad — Grapefruit and Fennel

Makes 4 to 6 servings


1 head fennel, sliced thin
(reserve fronds for garnish)
1 pink grapefruit; cut into supremes
5 ounces spinach, washed, stemmed, cut into strips
and dried
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds (reserve 1 tbsp. for garnish)
1 tbsp. toasted pistachios, coarsely chopped

For vinaigrette

2 tbsp. pomegranate vinegar or white balsamic
2 tbsp. grapefruit juice,
reserved from cutting the segments
1/3 cup best-quality olive oil
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp. honey
3 large basil or mint leaves; cut into very thin strips
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

For garnish

reduced pomegranate
vinegar, as needed 
fennel fronds
pomegranate seeds 


Prepare fennel, grapefruit and spinach as stated above and place in a large bowl. Add the pomegranate seeds.

Whisk all the vinaigrette ingredients together and set aside.

Toss the desired amount of dressing over the salad ingredients to moisten but not soak.

Season with salt and pepper, taste, and adjust seasoning and the amount of dressing.

Finish the salad by turning it out onto a platter, garnish with remaining pomegranate seeds, pistachios and fennel fronds.

Spoon the reduced vinegar in a thin stream around the salad.

Winter Snap


1 1/2 oz. 36 Locks
(Schenectady Distilling) Black Rock Bourbon
2 oz. apple cider
3/4 oz. cranberry thyme
simple syrup
1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice
ginger beer


Simple syrup is equal parts sugar and water brought to a rolling boil for 3 minutes. Turn off heat and add a sprig or two of thyme and a handful or two of fresh cranberries.

Allow this to steep until cool or until the cranberries have cracked. Remove the cranberries at this point and keep them for garnish.

Remove the thyme and discard it.

Drink can be served up (in a chilled martini glass) or on the rocks.

Add ice to mixing tin or glass. Measure the bourbon, cider, simple syrup and lemon juice into the glass or tin.

If served on the rocks, simply stir or mix gently and top with ginger beer. If served up (in chilled martini glass), shake in the tin with a pint glass and then top with ginger beer and strain into the martini glass.

Garnish with the cranberries from the simple using a toothpick or small metal pick.

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