Jan Dean Makes a Historic House a Home
Home Cooking with Mary Ann Esposito
Jan and Jim Dean breezed into Durham, New Hampshire, from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, for the start of the 2018 academic year. Jim assumed his duties as president of the University of New Hampshire, and Jan hers as first lady. They took up housekeeping at the UNH president’s residence on Main Street, affectionately known as the PresRes. In the five years since then, the Deans have embraced all things New Hampshire and made it their mission not only to get to know the UNH community and Durham but also to discover all that the Granite State has to offer.
Jan arrived at her new home with boundless curiosity, and it did not take long for her to discover the best places in the Seacoast for breakfast, find antiques or enjoy a lobster roll. Even those of us who have lived here for years quickly relied on Jan and her wealth of information about the state. Whenever one of us needed information, the others said, “Just ask Jan.”
While her husband’s duties as president are all encompassing, Jan, an avid gardener, went straight to the UNH grounds department for help beautifying the gardens around the house. She joined the Oyster River Womenade, a volunteer organization that helps neighbors in need with financial assistance. Additionally, as first lady of UNH, she’s called upon to do a fair amount of hosting and entertaining at home and on campus.
I recently caught up with Jan to ask her some questions about life at UNH.
Mary Ann Esposito [MAE]: You are a Pittsburgh native and raised a family in North Carolina, then moved around in the academic world. How did you adjust to these new surroundings?
Jan Dean [JD]: When I arrived in mid-July 2018, the campus was quiet, with most students gone for the summer. A gentle, cool breeze was in the air — so different from the steamy North Carolina heat I had just left behind. I was immediately struck by the beauty of the campus, the stately New England architecture on Main Street and the quiet village-like feel of the town. A warm welcome ensued in the following weeks as I settled into the PresRes, which is located in the heart of campus.
MAE: How did you see your role as First Lady of UNH?
JD: I wanted to support Jim in his role as president and be the face of the university among our students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors and community locals as well. Visibility, active campus and community involvement, and respect for the university’s history and traditions were my goals. The role of first lady is sort of ill defined here at UNH, and so I was given an open playbook to work with. My goal was to open the presidential residence — the university’s home — to all.
MAE: Tell us about your special projects.
JD: In addition to hosting an array of dinners and receptions, I’m a charter member of the UNH Student Basic Needs Initiative Committee, which is designed to address emergency funding and food scarcity issues. I also serve as president of the Oyster River Womenade, a local nonprofit with a very similar mission, helping neighbors in need. Additionally, I’m compiling a history of this historic residence as well as the first families who’ve called it home since 1905. I’m trying to tell their stories, interesting anecdotes about their lives against the backdrop of their days, and chronicle the many adaptations that have been made to the house and grounds over the past 118 years.
MAE: What do you like most about living in the Seacoast?
JD: New Hampshire is a gorgeous state, and living in such close proximity to the coast is a real plus. It often means less snow in the forecast! I’ve made a point to take advantage of the fantastic local farm products that are readily available throughout the year and great seafood as well. Life on a college campus is never dull — theater, music, sports and interesting lectures abound.
MAE: Your roots are in Pittsburgh, but you came to UNH from North Carolina. Can you share some favorite recipes?
JD: From Pittsburgh, I took with me memories of family traditions and holiday gatherings, and Thumbprint Cookies and Strawberry Pretzel Pie are great examples; simple and so satisfying — a taste of home for sure. Shrimp and Grits is an iconic, homey Southern staple and you might find it served for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner. It’s well loved in North Carolina and throughout the South, really.
Now, as a New England cook, I’m having fun collecting new recipes from wonderful cooks who have graciously shared them with me, like this quick and easy 1970s Cheese Puffs appetizer. Jackie Eastwood, a good friend and member of the UNH Board of Trustees, shared her Lobster Casserole, which is now a must-have when family comes to visit.
Jackie’s Lobster Casserole
Soon after our arrival in New Hampshire, we were entertained by some delightful hosts, and this lobster casserole was the highlight of the evening. I learned that lobster casserole (or pie) is one of the most cherished seafood dishes in New England. Jackie Eastwood’s version is succulent lobster meat combined with a rich, savory filling and baked under a buttery crust of cracker crumbs. Our North Carolina family insists this dish be on the menu when they visit us.
2 cups lobster broth (preferably homemade)
1 cup button mushrooms, sliced and sautéed. Do ahead and set aside.
2 leeks, sliced and sautéed. Do ahead and set aside.
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons butter
¼ cup tomato paste
1 cup heavy cream
4 cups steamed lobster meat (from 4 one-pound lobsters}
1 cup crushed Ritz crackers
¼ cup chopped parsley
¼ cup butter
- Brown the garlic in 2 tablespoons melted butter. Add broth and tomato paste and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half.
- Add the heavy cream, lobster meat, mushrooms and leeks. Cook until warmed through.
- Spoon the mixture into four individual serving dishes.
- Melt ¼ cup butter and mix into crackers and parsley.
- Spoon cracker mixture on top of each dish.
(Can be made up to this point and refrigerated.)
- Bake at 350°F for 30-45 minutes.
Shrimp and Grits
Shrimp and Grits is that iconic, classic dish beloved by Southerners and rooted in cultural food traditions dating back more than 100 years. Famous New York Times food critic Craig Claiborne visited Chapel Hill in the late 1980s, sampled this humble creation at a local establishment and published the recipe in his column. In no time, there was a revived interest in the dish.
2 cups milk
2 cups chicken broth
¾ teaspoon salt
1 cup yellow corn grits (I use Bob’s Red Mill)
¾ cup cheddar cheese, grated
¼ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 tablespoons butter
½ teaspoon cracked pepper
3 slices bacon
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
Salt & pepper to taste
¼ cup flour
1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
½ cup sliced green onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Tabasco sauce to taste
Parsley for garnish
Bring milk, chicken broth and salt to a boil in medium saucepan; gradually whisk in the grits. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes or until thickened, stirring occasionally. Add cheddar and Parmesan cheese, butter, pepper and additional salt if desired.
- Cook the bacon in a large skillet until crisp; remove from pan and drain on paper towels, reserving 1 tablespoon of the drippings in skillet. Crumble the bacon and set aside.
- Sprinkle the shrimp with salt and pepper, dredge in flour.
- Sauté the mushrooms in the hot drippings in the skillet for 5 minutes or until tender; add green onions and sauté 2 minutes. Add the shrimp and garlic and sauté 2 minutes, or until shrimp are light brown. Stir in the chicken broth, lemon juice and Tabasco sauce to taste and cook 2 more minutes, stirring to loosen browned bits from the skillet.
- Divide the grits into four large bowls; divide shrimp into four servings and place on top of grits, garnish with crumbled bacon and minced parsley.
Strawberry Pretzel Pie
Serves 6 to 8
Pittsburgh is a city with long-held food traditions. A treasured one is this Strawberry Pretzel Pie, featuring a salty pretzel crust to balance the sweet cheesecake filling and fresh strawberry topping. You’ll find it at any holiday gathering in the “Burgh.”
3 cups small pretzels
3 tablespoons brown sugar
½ cup unsalted butter, melted
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
¼ cup sugar
½ cup heavy cream
4 cups fresh strawberries, washed and sliced
¼ cup sugar
½ cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons strawberry gelatin powder
2 tablespoons cornstarch
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Place all pie crust ingredients in a food processor and pulse until the mixture is the texture of wet sand. Press into bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie pan. Bake for 10 minutes and cool completely.
- In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese, lemon juice, zest and sugar until light and fluffy.
- In a medium bowl, beat the heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Fold into cream cheese mixture just until combined, then spread into the prepared crust.
- Chill for 2 hours.
- Arrange the whole strawberries on top of the cream cheese mixture, filling in the top and return the pie to the refrigerator.
- In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, water, lemon juice, strawberry gelatin powder and cornstarch. Bring to a boil over medium heat and let mixture bubble for 1 minute. Remove from heat and cool slightly. With a pastry brush, evenly coat the strawberries with the glaze.
- Chill the pie for several hours before cutting into wedges. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream on top, if desired.