Sandra Vorpahl worked for 32 years at East Hampton High School before retiring. She now works part-time at the YMCA East Hampton Rec Center. She lives in East Hampton with her daughter and two grandchildren.
How did you get interested in cooking?
I come from a large family of cooks. My mother, my father, my aunts all cooked and cooked well. I liked to eat, so I learned how to cook at a very young age. My mother worked, so I would often cook dinner for the family.
How would you describe your style?
I would say, good comfort food. Every now and then I’ll throw in something fancy, but pretty much comfort food. I always take a recipe and tweak it the way I like it. Simpler is better. My grandchildren pretty much control what I cook. They’re better than my children; they’re willing to try anything. They love soups. I make lentil, chicken, minestrone, potato leek. They love seafood. I make wonderful mussels: I sauté shallots and garlic and olive oil, salt and pepper, put the mussels in, toss them around, add some white wine and put the top on and simmer it until the mussels just open. Then I put a stick of butter in the pot, bring it back to a boil, and add lots of parsley. I serve it with some crusty bread. My family always asks for this; the neighborhood asks me to cook it.
I make great macaroni and cheese and great potato salad. Ina Garten came to our ambulance corps dinner and we made potato salad together. My secret is just a little bit of sugar, to cut the tartness of the spicy brown mustard. The segment was recently repeated on her TV show.
Where does this recipe come from?
I really just started experimenting, cooking a whole chicken in a pot and deciding what to do with it. We like white and dark meat, so we have both with the whole chicken. My dumplings are a combination of two other recipes, so I could get the consistency I like. I made it for my family and they just loved it.
Any tips for success?
With any recipe, taste in stages. A lot of people just follow a recipe, but it’s important to always taste and season at every point and make sure the dish is developing the way you like it. If I want a little more broth, I’ll add some. I like a lot of onions and celery so I add more after the chicken has cooked. Some people don’t like the crunchiness, so they should leave out the extra vegetables.