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Melissa Pasanen

Melissa Pasanen

Contact Melissa Pasanen at and follow her on Twitter at

Food & Drink: A Few Questions for Jessica Wright

Written by Melissa Pasanen on . Posted in Q&A, Taste of the Landscape

Chef-owner of Hender’s Bake Shop and Café, which opened in July in Waterbury.

Jessica Wright, chef-owner of Hender's Bake Shop and Cafe in Waterbury. Photograph by Jeb Wallace-Brodeur.

Jessica Wright, chef-owner of Hender’s Bake Shop and Cafe in Waterbury. Photograph by Jeb Wallace-Brodeur.

VL: Did you know you wanted to cook professionally from early on?
JW: In Cape Cod, where I grew up, my family owned a bed-and-breakfast and then a coffee shop, where I’d eat muffins every morning waiting for the school bus. After that, my parents catered and ran a restaurant at a golf course. I knew I wanted to go to culinary school, even though my parents tried to talk me out of it. They said, “You’ve seen our lives, how hard we work.” We basically lived at the restaurant; there was no food at home.

VL: How did you end up in Vermont?
JW: I was working in San Diego as an assistant pastry chef in a very busy place that did two concerts every night, serving a full high-end dinner each show. We’d do one dinner and then have 30 minutes to prep for the next one. It was like “Groundhog Day” every day. My sister and brother-in-law were opening a hostel in Warren and asked if I wanted to be their chef. I said yes immediately. It turned out they didn’t need a full-time chef, but I was so glad to be back near my family, and I just fell in love with Vermont: the local food movement, the healthy lifestyle.

VL: Your bake shop has a case full of sweet pastries as well as sandwiches, salads, granola and even house-baked dog treats inspired by your dog Henderson, after whom the shop is named. Any family connections to any of those recipes?
JW: Food has always been a family affair for us, cooking meals together, calling each other about new recipes.
I couldn’t have opened this place without the help of my family. My roasted turkey Thanksgiving sandwich is
in honor of one my mom always had on her golf course restaurant menu, made with from-scratch stuffing and my grandma’s recipe for cranberry sauce with apples and lemon zest. My mom’s blueberry muffin and crumb cake recipes are also really popular. My raspberry-chocolate-chip coffee cake is based on one of [my great-grandma’s] recipes. And my sister came up with the idea for my chocolate-mocha snack cakes.

VL: You make the pottery you serve on in your bake shop. How long have you been doing that?
JW: About three years ago, when I was working in Burlington, I had three days off a week and was baking too much at home. I love baking, but I was eating too much of it. A friend introduced me to a pottery studio, and I just got hooked. I love the creativity, that it’s hands on, the feel and the touch of it. It’s very similar to baking in some ways. I just got it. So many customers kept asking about the pottery, I’m selling some now.

VL: Anything you’ve learned since you’ve opened your own place?
JW: Yes, that how you name and label things is really important. I make these really awesome vegan peanut butter bars. They weren’t selling at all. I replaced the big “vegan” on the label with a tiny sticker and now they’re doing great.

Recipe: Leek and Fennel Cream

Written by Melissa Pasanen on . Posted in Recipes

Leek and Fennel Cream
This relatively simple combination simmers up to a sumptuous and versatile sauce that is far more than the sum of its parts. Michael Orfan presents it under seared scallops, halibut or salmon at his restaurant and also with roast chicken or stuffed into trout. We cooled it and spread some over meaty filets of cod before baking them. Warm, it also makes a stellar stand-in for hollandaise in smoked-salmon eggs Benedict and works beautifully as a pasta sauce to complement sautéed sweet, pink shrimp, as pictured.
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  1. 2 medium leeks (about ¾ pound total)
  2. 1 large (about ¾ pound) fennel bulb, ideally with fresh-looking fronds
  3. 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  4. ¼ cup very thinly sliced shallot
  5. 1½ tablespoons very thinly sliced garlic
  6. ½ cup dry white wine, such as pinot grigio
  7. ¼ teaspoon coarse kosher salt, 
plus more to taste
  8. ⅔ cup heavy cream
  9. ¼ teaspoon white pepper
  1. Trim root and tough dark green ends from leeks. Slice leeks in half lengthwise and then slice into fine julienne, like thick spaghetti, keeping the pieces as long as you can but don’t worry if some are shorter. Wash well in a colander, working out any sand trapped between layers. Shake dry. Trim stalks from fennel bulb. Finely chop about 2 tablespoons of the fronds and set aside. Slice fennel very thinly crosswise, discarding tough core pieces. You should have roughly the same volume of each vegetable.
  2. Melt butter in a large sauté pan set over medium-low heat. Add shallot and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened but not colored, about 5 minutes. Add wine and increase heat to medium. Cook, stirring, until most of liquid has simmered away, about 5 minutes. Add leeks and fennel to pan and toss to combine with shallot and garlic. Add the salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are softened but not colored, about 10 minutes. Stir in cream and reduce heat to low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very soft and cream has reduced, leaving only a little liquid, about 12–15 minutes. Fold in about 1 tablespoon of the reserved fennel fronds. Season with white pepper and more salt to taste. Yields about 2 cups of sauce, enough for 8–12 ounces of pasta, such as pappardelle, or to accompany four servings of fish or chicken. Use remaining fennel fronds as garnish.
  1. Photo by Ken Burris.
Adapted from Chef-owner Michael Orfan, Rustic Roots, Shelburne
Adapted from Chef-owner Michael Orfan, Rustic Roots, Shelburne
Vermont Life Magazine

Recipe: Helles Lager–Braised Leek Tarts

Written by Melissa Pasanen on . Posted in Recipes

Helles Lager–Braised Leek Tarts
At Idletyme Brewing Co. in Stowe, house-brewed beer is an ingredient, not just a beverage. Here, a blonde lager builds flavor in the filling for a rich and elegant appetizer, or lunch paired with lemon-dressed salad of peppery greens. For variations on this recipe, consider the original, which uses onions, or add crisp bacon before serving.
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  1. 7–8 ounces frozen puff pastry (one 
sheet or one-half sheet, depending on brand), thawed according to package directions
  2. 4 large leeks (about 2¼ pounds or 
5 cups when sliced)
  3. 1½ tablespoons unsalted butter
  4. ¼ teaspoon coarse salt
  5. Freshly ground pepper to taste
  6. ⅔ cup Helles lager from Idletyme Brewing Company or von Trapp Brewing, or any Munich-style blonde lager
  7. 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves
  8. 6 ounces Alpine-style cheese such as Spring Brook Farm Tarentaise or Gruyère, coarsely shredded
  9. ⅓ cup (generous) mayonnaise
  10. 1½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
  11. 1½ tablespoons minced mixed fresh herbs such as parsley, rosemary 
and thyme
  12. Egg wash made from 1 egg beaten with a splash of milk
  1. On a lightly floured surface, roll thawed puff pastry into a 12-inch square. Using a sharp knife, cut pastry into nine 4-inch squares. Place on a baking sheet and chill in refrigerator while preparing filling.
  2. Trim root and tough dark green ends from leeks. Slice leeks in half lengthwise and then across in ¼-inch half circles to yield about five generous cups. Wash well in a colander, working out any sand trapped between layers. Shake dry. Melt butter in a large sauté pan set over medium heat. Add leeks with salt plus generous grinds of black pepper, and sauté, stirring occasionally, until softened and reduced in volume, about 12 minutes. Add beer and thyme leaves and simmer until liquid has evaporated and leeks are completely soft, about 8–10 minutes. Scrape leek mixture onto a plate and set aside to cool. In a medium bowl, stir together shredded cheese, mayonnaise, mustard and mixed herbs. Season with freshly ground black pepper to taste.
  3. Preheat oven to 400 F. Divide the leek and cheese mixtures each into nine roughly even portions. Take four of the pastry squares from refrigerator and space them out on a second baking sheet, leaving the others in the refrigerator. Using a fork, mark off a ⅓-inch border around edge of each square and then prick the center all over with the fork inside the border to prevent it from puffing up. Spread one portion of leek mixture on each puff pastry square leaving the border uncovered. Top leek mixture with one portion of the cheese mixture, spreading to cover the leeks. (Can be prepared up to this point and refrigerated for several hours before baking.) Make sure filling is inside the border and brush border with egg wash. Bake 16–18 minutes until pastry border is puffed and deep golden brown. Repeat with remaining pastry squares. Cool to warm or room temperature before serving. Makes 9 small tarts. Tarts can also be cut diagonally, once cooled, for smaller appetizer portions. (Recipe can be doubled easily.)
  1. Photo by Ken Burris.
Adapted from Idletyme Brewing Co., Stowe
Adapted from Idletyme Brewing Co., Stowe
Vermont Life Magazine

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