A retired elementary and middle school teacher, Nina Bennett lives in Syosset with her husband, Holland, an engineer. They have two grown sons, Jonathan and Matthew, and two grandchildren.
Who inspired you to cook?
My mother. She was widowed at a very young age and believed the way to everyone's heart was through a meal. She could throw together an informal dinner party at the very last minute without giving it a thought. One of the first gifts she ever gave me was a cookbook called "Cook, My Darling Daughter." I don't remember the author, but the pages were frayed and there were notes in the margins. She had a heart full of love and her cooking was magical.
You're known for your use of leftovers. What are some of your best creations?
I make a fabulous chicken or turkey potpie. I use turkey or chicken I'd made the day before. I'm not a fancy cook; I just use a lot of good seasoning and vegetables and hold it all together with a can of cream of mushroom soup. I buy a frozen piecrust. If I don't have a piecrust, I'll throw everything in with noodles or pasta, sprinkle it with seasoned bread crumbs and bake it. My "casserole surprise" is great for a last-minute dinner party with salad.
What about from-scratch cooking?
One dish I love to make is fresh fish with a pecan-crust topping made with panko bread crumbs and a little garlic. I like to serve it with thinly sliced zucchini sauteed in a little olive oil, with a pinch of kosher salt and some toasted sesame seeds, a pressed garlic clove and a sprinkle of water. It cooks in a covered frying pan in about three minutes.
If you could invite anybody in the world for dinner, who would you ask and what would you make?
I'm a child of the '60s, so I would invite Bob Dylan and make him my casserole surprise. He's gotten older and may not be able to sing, but he can probably still eat.
Where do you like to go when you eat out?
We love Haiku in Woodbury for sushi, Ben's in Woodbury for my kosher pastrami sandwich and Joanina in Huntington for special celebrations. You leave there a pound heavier -- and carrying a rose.
½ cup panko bread crumbs
½ cup finely chopped pecans
1 to 2 teaspoons butter
1 to 2 cloves garlic, pressed
Pinch of kosher salt
1 pound salmon fillet, skinned and cut in half
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Mix together panko and chopped pecans in small bowl.
3. Over medium heat, melt butter in frying pan. Add garlic and panko-pecan mixture. Stir until mixture is lightly browned and moist. Add salt and mix in.
4. Place salmon fillet on parchment-lined baking sheet. Spoon panko mixture on top of fillets, pressing gently so it adheres to the fish.
5. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until lightly browned. Makes 2 servings.