October 28, 2020

Dear friends,

I’m sure I told Tony we were having quiche for dinner. Maybe not. Otherwise why would he shrug when I asked how it liked it: “It’s not sweet enough,” he said. “Your apple pie is better.”

It’s was quiche, for heaven’s sake, not dessert!  And it was darn good. I rate it among my all-time favorite quiches, although that may be the pumpkin talking. Yes, I had to do something with all that pumpkin I lugged home last week. In fact, I bought two more — an orange Hubbard and another Cinderella — so I’ll be eating pumpkin all fall.

My favorite way of eating it now is to roast half-inch-thick slices until brown on the bottom and soft all through. I usually eat it as a side dish or straight from the fridge as a snack.

Last week as I pondered quiche for dinner, my eyes fell on the plate of roasted pumpkin and carton of mushrooms in the refrigerator. Why, yes, those would do nicely. I rolled out the pie dough and sauteed mushrooms with sherry while the shell baked. I lined the baked shell with a layer of roasted pumpkin slices, then mushrooms, then shredded Gruyere cheese. Eggs beaten with milk and a pinch of nutmeg were poured over all.

Let me tell you, the combination of pumpkin, mushrooms, sherry and nutmeg may be good enough to get me through the second — or is is third? — wave of Covid. The quiche was comforting, filling and everything I need right now. Maybe you, too.

I saved a few calories with nonfat milk, and it didn’t ruin the texture or flavor. I used the largest pie plate I have, a 10-inch deep-dish Fiesta.  If you don’t have one, use a deep-dish 9-incher, adjusting the around of pumpkin and mushrooms to fit. Keep an eye on it and remove it from the oven when the center no longer wiggles when gently shaken.

PUMPKIN-MUSHROOM QUICHE

1 to 1 1/2 lbs. raw pumpkin, seeds and strings removed
Olive oil spray
2 tbsp. olive oil
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cloves chopped garlic
3 tbsp. dry sherry
Salt, pepper
3 eggs
1 cup milk (skim, 2 percent or full-fat)
Pinch of fresh-grated nutmeg
1 9- or 10-inch deep-dish, blind-baked pie shell (see note)
1/4 cup shredded Gruyere or other Swiss cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove the tough skin of the pumpkin with a sharp vegetable peeler, and cut the meat into half-inch-thick slices. Place in a single layer on a baking sheet sprayed with olive oil spray (or lightly brushed with oil). Spray or brush the top of the squash pieces with olive oil. Roast at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes, until squash is tender and undersides are brown. Set aside.

Heat a wide, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Swirl in the 2 tablespoons olive oil. When hot, add mushrooms and sauté until softened (about halfway done). Add onion and cook until limp, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and cook a minute longer. Add sherry and stir and cook until liquid has evaporated. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

In medium bowl, whisk together eggs, milk and nutmeg; set aside.

Arrange a single layer of pumpkin slices in the bottom of the baked pie shell. Scatter mushrooms evenly over the squash. Sprinkle cheese over the mushrooms. Pour the egg, milk mixture over all.

Bake in the lower middle rack of the oven for about 20 minutes, until the center is set when the quiche is gently shaken. Serve warm or at room temperature, cut into wedges. Makes 6 servings.

Note: To pre-bake (blind bake) the pie shell, roll and fit the pastry into the pie dish as usual, crimping the edges. Prick all over with a fork. Line with foil (bottom and sides) and weight with 1 cup dry beans or pie weights. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove foil and weights. Bake 5 minutes longer. Cool.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
Fresh cream of tomato soup with thyme; roasted sliced pumpkin; pumpkin and mushroom quiche; Japanese pork curry with basmati rice (with Tony); bacon and tomato sandwiches with pesto; Cuban sour orange pork pot roast with olives, cubed potatoes and carrots; more roast pumpkin.

What I carried out:
Gyros and onion rings from Papa Gyros in the Wallhaven area of Akron (pretty good); a Coney dog and diet root beer from B&K Root Beer in Cuyahoga Falls; an egg roll, fried cheese wontons and pork chow fun (a stir fry with wide noodles) from China Star in Akron.

THE MAILBAG

Your pumpkin battle brought a smile to my face! I have been there before. But when it works, it is more than worth the travails. I’m told it has everything to do with the type of pumpkin.

When you are ready to experiment with Thai curries, I highly recommend two resources: (1) recipes and technique from fun cooking vids at www.HotThaiKitchen.com; and (2) spices, veggies, pastes, etc from Paing Family Asian Groceries at 986 Brown St in Akron.

Paing Family specializes in groceries for the large Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Thai communities in Akron. It is a complete source for specialty foods for that part of Southeast Asia. You will find those special Thai pumpkins there.

I’ve been having great fun lately grinding Thai curry pastes and cooking up classic Thai dishes. With these two resources, every dish (so far) tastes as good as it did in Bangkok!

Dear Jeff:
I want to come to dinner at your house! Thanks for telling me about Paing Family Asian Groceries. I will visit the next time I’m downtown.

From Noreen C.:
Your pumpkin disaster reminded me of mine. When my kids were young, my husband took the kids to my in-laws’ for an entire glorious day. Silly me, instead of putting my feet up and opening a book, I decided I’d try my hand at making an authentic gingerbread house. I had been inspired by the Akron Tree Festival.

Well, several hours later, with the kitchen in a total mess, I had several pieces of unusable gingerbread. They were odd-shaped and terribly warped. I could have cried over my loss of time and the great clean up that needed to be done. Never again.

Dear Noreen:
Hey, the kids are grown and we retirees have nothing but time on our hands during this pandemic. Maybe it’s time to try again. I’ve been thinking about it.

From Joy:
I wonder if your problem with the stuffed custard pumpkin was due to using a regular pumpkin instead of a kabocha-type pumpkin also commonly referred to as squash in many parts of the world.

Kabocha squash/pumpkins are available in our Asian markets this time of year as well as our grocery stores and our local farms although the grocery stores and farms  label them as squash.

I’m also able to buy pie pumpkins which are much smaller than normal pumpkins. They also have a sweeter-tasting flesh than regular pumpkins and usually cost around 2 for $5 or $3 each.  

I either steam or roast my pie pumpkins then mash roughly or puree, then freeze so I’ll have a nice supply of filling for pies and other baking/cooking projects that call for pumpkin, in my freezer.

Honestly. If I were you, and if you’re able to find a smaller-sized kabocha pumpkin/squash in one of your Asian markets which would most likely be the closest in taste to the smallish green pumpkin/squash Thai street vendors use, I’d say, give your pumpkin and coconut custard attempt another go.

Dear Joy:
Kabochas are the squash used in the photos I’ve seen of the dessert. I’m not crazy about the texture, though, and being naturally contrary, decided to use a different variety. Obviously, that was a mistake. 

October 21, 2020

Dear friends,

Yes, I have kitchen disasters. Last week was one big pumpkin fiasco until the end, when I made a lovely coconut pumpkin pie with fresh ginger. It was worth the journey.

My problems started with a couple of pumpkins I bought at Dunkler’s in Akron, with the intention of filling them with coconut custard and steaming them. This is a Thai dessert that is sliced in wedges and served in Bangkok as street food. Or so I’ve read.

I have never been to Thailand, but traveling by food isn’t a bad substitute. I’ve wanted to make steamed Thai pumpkin-coconut custard for years. Should be easy, I figured.

I chose the smallest pumpkin, a squashed little beauty that looked like Cinderella’s carriage. It was about 7 inches in diameter. I also carted home a slightly larger, round, gray number with faint blue undertones that I read is popular in Australia. The Dunkler ladies said they didn’t know whether the pumpkins I chose were edible. I said I’d report back.

I made a custard mix with five eggs and three-fourths cup of coconut milk and poured it into the cleaned-out pumpkin (no small task). The custard barely came halfway up the sides, so I blew another five eggs on a second batch. I set it in a “steamer” jerry-rigged from an extra-large stock pot and an upside-down smaller pan. Before the timer dinged, I heard a whoop from the kitchen and Tony’s frantic “Get out here.” The custard had risen like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, towering four inches above the pumpkin and spilling over the sides.

All was not lost. Not yet. Not until I tried to remove the custard-stuffed pumpkin from the stock pot.  The top half of the pumpkin neatly separated from the bottom half, spilling more custard into the drink and completely ruining the aesthetics. It could not be cut into wedges. I had to scoop it out of the pan with a spoon.

The steamed custard was rubbery but tasted good, and the Cinderella pumpkin itself was outstanding. I’ll be buying more. Later I roasted slices of the gray pumpkin and it was good, too, although not quite as sweet and full-flavored as the Cinderella.

I ate pumpkin for breakfast, lunch and dinner all week. I didn’t hate it. In fact, on Friday I started over with the pumpkin-coconut project. This time I used canned pumpkin, mixed it with coconut milk and eggs, and baked it in a pie shell. I added dry and fresh ginger because it goes so well with both coconut and pumpkin. The pie was a beaut, but I wasn’t done. I toasted some shredded coconut and sprinkled it around the edges. Now I was done.

I really love this pie. The pumpkin flavor dominates, with gentle background notes of coconut and ginger. The texture is so creamy it almost tastes whipped. I’ll be making one for Thanksgiving.

COCONUT-GINGER PUMPKIN PIE

1 unbaked pie shell
1 egg beaten with 1 tsp. water
1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. powdered ginger
1 tbsp. shredded and minced fresh ginger (use the large holes of a box grater, then mince with a knife)
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs plus remaining egg wash
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup full-fat coconut milk (not “lite”)
1/3 cup toasted coconut (optional)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Brush the bottom of the pie shell with some of the egg wash (egg-water mixture). Reserve remaining egg wash. Place pie shell in oven and bake for 7 minutes, just until the egg glaze is set. Remove from oven and set aside.

In a bowl, whisk together pumpkin, salt, cinnamon, both gingers and sugar. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs. Add remaining egg wash, then whisk in vanilla and coconut milk.

Pour filling into pie shell. Bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake about 50 minutes longer, or until filling is set (does not wiggle when pie is gently jiggled). Cool completely at room temperature. Decorate with toasted coconut if desired.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Pork loin chops simmered with sauerkraut, pickled beets, chopped salad; sheet-pan chicken thighs glazed with hot pepper sauce and carrots, peppers, potatoes and garlic cloves with miso sauce; stuffed pepper soup; coconut-ginger pumpkin pie; apple pie and an apple galette.

What I ate from restaurants, etc.:
A chocolate chip-caramel cookie from Mustard Seed Market (my post-mammogram treat); Coney dog and diet root beer from B&K Root Beer in Cuyahoga Falls;  salmon roe, shrimp sashimi, tamago and a California roll from Sushi Katsu in Akron.

TIDBITS
I had had enough. Tony watched in horror as I left Aldi’s checkout line and sauntered over to the produce department where a shopper was re-bagging the entire display of grapes. I’m not kidding. She had at least 10 bags of grapes open and was holding clusters in each hand, deciding which were perfect enough to place in the bag she would buy.

I have seen Aldi shoppers do this covertly in the past, but this woman was shameless. She deserved the best and by God she was going to get it even if it meant repackaging every grape in the store.  I watched for a few beats and then asked incredulously, “Are you sorting the grapes?”

With no remorse, she told me I must not be familiar with produce stands, that “People do this all the time.”

“That’s awful,” I told her. “Who would want to buy grapes you’ve had your hands all over?” I badgered her. Loudly. In retrospect, I was lucky she didn’t punch me. But as I said, she was the last straw.

I saw a sign recently at a farm stand telling customers not to handle the produce like they do at supermarket. I wish Aldi would post a sign. I don’t expect workers to reprimand customers — we know how that has gone with some anti-maskers — but a sign might discourage the practice. Until then, no grapes or cherries for me at Aldi.

THE MAILBAG

From Ann M.:
I only make two soups, generally not a fan of soup. But beef barley is my go-to nine  months out of the year. Generally made like your vegetable-beef soup, except I have stopped using potatoes and started using high-end barley (like Bob’s Red Mill) for more texture. Also not a fan of pieces of tomato so I use vegetable juice, which gives great depth to the soup. Sacramento vegetable juice is a great price and easy to find. It’s my secret flavor enhancer. Well, it used to be a secret, now you know!

Dear Ann:
And now a lot more people know. You have never steered me wrong, so on my next shopping trip I will buy Sacramento tomato juice. Thanks.

October 14, 2020

Dear friends,

About halfway through making a pot of soup from this and that, it hit me: I was making vegetable beef soup! Until then, my only sortie into the vegetable-beef genre had been with a red and white can. This was the same soup but 100 times better. It was a Ferrari to Campbell’s Ford Fiesta.

Elevating favorite dishes I grew up with such as meatloaf and mashed potatoes is how I got into cooking. I remember a night when I was about 14 and tried to duplicate the mashed potatoes described in “Spencer’s Mountain,” a novel I was reading. I mashed the potatoes with butter and milk as usual, then piled them into the shape of a volcano, and sent rivulets of melted butter streaming down the sides. “What in Sam Hill are you doing?” my father bellowed.

I think he would have eaten my vegetable beef soup without complaint. It has that soul-stirring depth of flavor that comes from building a soup from the ground up. I browned little cubes of beef until the bottom of the pan was sticky with the fond — the browned bits that give a soup or sauce its backbone. Then I sweated some onion and garlic, seasoned the whole thing with thyme and deglazed the pan with red wine.

All that was left to do was add cubed vegetables, beef stock, water and tomatoes — and later, wonder why I had ever thought vegetable beef soup was boring.

VEGETABLE-BEEF SOUP

Olive oil
1 1/2 lbs. trimmed bottom sirloin in 1-inch cubes
Salt, pepper
1 large onion, roughly chopped
5 large cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1 cup dry red wine (leftover is fine)
3 cups beef broth
2 cups water
1 can (32 oz.) whole plum tomatoes in sauce, chopped
1 bay leaf
4 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 large carrots, peeled, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
8 to 10 leaves kale, washed, tough ribs removed, leaves chopped

Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat in a soup kettle. Blot meat dry and season with generously with salt and pepper. In batches, brown meat cubes well and transfer to a bowl. Reduce heat to medium. In same pan, adding more oil if necessary, sauté onions until almost translucent. Stir in garlic and cook 5 minutes longer.

Return meat and collected juices to pan. Stir in thyme. Add red wine, increase heat to high and stir, scraping browned bits from bottom of pan. Continue to cook until wine is reduced by about half. Stir in broth, water, tomatoes with their saucec and the bay leaf. Add potatoes and carrots. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Stir in kale, cover and simmer 15 minutes longer, until meat and vegetables are very tender. Taste and add more salt if necessary.  Makes about 4 quarts.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
Pan-fried city chicken with yaki soba sauce, baked potatoes and lima beans; scrambled egg, tomato and pesto on rye toast; coq au vin with many cloves of garlic and roast delicata squash; baked spicy tofu with stir-fried peppers, eggplant and Swiss chard in miso vinaigrette with steamed rice; coconut custard steamed in a pumpkin; charcoal-grilled strip steaks, tossed salad with miso dressing, stir-fried zucchini and mushrooms; spaghetti with venison sauce.

What I carried out:
A Detox Smoothie from Tropical Smoothie Cafe in Cuyahoga Falls; a small vanilla cone from Dairy Queen; Korean barbecued steak tacos and chorizo street tacos from the Funky Truckeria in Norton.

THE MAILBAG

From Mary:
What brand of rice steamer do you have?  I’ve gone back and forth whether to buy the cheap model or the better one that specifies the type of rice.

Dear Mary:
We have an inexpensive Japanese brand (Tiger) my mother-in-law bought at an Asian store — probably either Tink Hol in Cleveland or Tensuke Market in Columbus. It has two settings — “cook” and “warm.”   It automatically toggles to “warm” when the rice is done. I’ve cooked several kinds of rice in it — medium-grain Japanese, basmati, jasmine, seasoned yellow rice — and all came out fine. I’ve had the cooker for at least a dozen years. Unless I’m missing something, a basic cooker is the way to go.

From Ann F.:
I, too, tried your roasted tomato sauce using paste tomatoes from Acme Farm Market on Greenwich Road near Wadsworth ($8 a peck and they are huge!). I used ground pork instead of beef (my mom’s sauce always started with pork) and this is the first time my son Will liked a meat sauce!  My father-in-law was also complimentary. 

I have about half the peck left and I am going to try grill-roasting the stuff and do it again.

Dear Ann:
Thanks for letting me know. Smoky tomato sauce sounds great.

October 7, 2020

Dear friends,

I’m trying not to bulk up like a bear preparing for hibernation, but it’s hard. In the fall I feel an almost primal urge to eat winey stews, comforting roasts and potatoes by the pound. You, too? Do you think our bodies, responding to some outdated survival instinct, want to put on weight to see us through our ancestors’ lean winters?

I do, and I won’t have it. I lost 20 pounds this summer and I’m keeping it off. I’m not giving up my favorite fall foods, I’m just eating them in reasonable portions. I had two rather than three pieces of pizza for dinner one night last week. Instead of snacking on chips another evening, I filled my hollow spot with roasted Brussels sprouts (yeah, that sounds sad). And instead of blowing my calorie budget on a sturdy steak and ale pie, I ate half for dinner one night and saved half for lunch the next day.

A British-style steak and ale pie is rich enough for most of us to spread over two meals and still satisfy a fall appetite. Tony, of course, ate his entire pie but he didn’t return to the kitchen later, as he usually does, for a bowl of ramen.

I used a dark ale in the thick stew, which I made with venison because our freezer is full of it. You may use whatever beef roast is on sale, as the British do. “Steak”  sounds good, but you wouldn’t want to waste it in a stew.

I like this recipe because the filling may be made up to a day ahead and the pies assembled with purchased puff pastry a half-hour before eating. Also, you can make the pies as big or as little as you want, depending on whether you plan to hit the gym or hibernate this winter.

I used 2-cup Fiesta oven-proof bowls for the pies, and ladled about 1 1/2 cups stew into each before capping with puff pastry. One sheet of puff pastry, with a re-roll, will cap three 6-inch-wide bowls. The British pub staple fills you up and looks gorgeous fresh from the oven with its flaky dome.

STEAK AND ALE PIES

3 tbsp. oil
2 lbs. beef chuck or other inexpensive cut, trimmed of fat and in 1-inch cubes|
Salt, pepper
2 cups roughly chopped onion
4 cloves garlic, slivered
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves or 1/2 tsp. dried
1 cup dark ale
2 cups beef broth
2 large carrots, trimmed, in 1/2-inch pieces
1 lb. potatoes, peeled and cubed
1/2 lb. mushrooms, large ones halved
1 tbsp. cornstarch
1 box (or more) frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 egg beaten with 1/4 tsp. salt

Heat oil in a soup pot over medium-high heat. Season beef cubes with salt and pepper. When oil begins to shimmer, brown meat on all sides in batches and transfer to a bowl with a slotted spoon. Add more oil if necessary and sauté onion until transparent. Scatter in garlic and sauté until garlic is cooked and onions begin to brown.

Return meat to pan with the onions. Reduce heat and stir in Worcestershire sauce and thyme. Add ale and beef broth. Add carrots, potatoes and mushrooms and mix well. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until meat is fork-tender, about 1 hour. Uncover and maintain a simmer. Sift cornstarch over stew while stirring, until liquid  thickens slightly. Keep warm.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roll one sheet of pastry on a lightly floured board to about half the beginning thickness. With a paring knife or a bowl 2 inches wider in diameter than your individual pie bowls, cut two circles from the pastry. Roll the scraps and cut a third circle. Cut a steam vent in the center of each pastry disk. I used the rigid plastic opening of my pastry bag as a vent cutter. Repeat with the remaining sheet of puff pastry if you want to make six pies, or cut circles for only as many pies as you need.

Ladle stew into individual oven-proof bowls or pie pans that hold at least 11/2 cups. Two cups is ideal. Place pastry over each bowl, sealing and crimping the edges. Place pies on baking sheets. Brush the tops with the egg-salt mixture. Bake at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes, until pastry is golden brown. Makes up to 6 pies. Refrigerate or freeze leftover stew.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
Peach frozen yogurt; roast delicata squash; steak salad with sauteed mushrooms, roast delicata squash, toasted walnuts and home-pickled beets; scrambled egg, ham, tomato and pesto on toast; Japanese pork curry with rice; pan-grilled Hungarian pinwheels (rolled pork and Hungarian sausage) from Al’s Quality Market in Barberton, red wine sauce, roasted Brussels sprouts, baked potatoes; scrambled egg and tomato on toast; vegetable beef soup.

What I carried out:
Ham and pineapple pizza from Rizzi’s Pizzeria in Copley.

THE MAILBAG

From Maureen D.:
Regarding your tomato sauce in a flash, my daughter made this today and said it was delicious. Her tomatoes did NOT collapse, though. I don’t have enough tomatoes to make it this year. 

Dear Maureen:
I should have explained that the time it takes to roast tomatoes until they slump depends on how firm the tomatoes are. But no matter how long they’re roasted, the sauce will be delicious.

From Pam M.:
Your tomato sauce recipe is genius!! I am embarrassed to admit I have never made my own tomato sauce before.

However, I can only eat so many of my Sweet 100s cherry tomatoes at a time, so when they pile up, I roast them with onion and garlic, and herbs from my garden, drizzled in quality olive oil.

I guess I could cook it down and purée it and have sauce, but honestly, I love it as it is over pasta of any kind. Or chicken. Or eggplant or zucchini. With some nice Parmesan or melted mozzarella, it is delish! I freeze the leftovers and use them when summer tomatoes are long gone.

But next batch, I’ll zing and cook down to make some sauce. And I just got an email offering me a bunch of regular tomatoes, so for sure, I will try it your way!

Dear Pam:
I don’t think cherry tomatoes would be a good choice for sauce, but your roasted little tomatoes sound great. I used to do that with Sungold tomatoes. This year I planted purple cherry tomatoes that have just started ripening. They are in an unheated greenhouse and are racing the weather, so I doubt I’ll have enough to roast.

From M.D.:
In your roasted tomato sauce, you say to remove blossom scar — but you don’t core?  Is that correct?

Dear M.D.:
Correct. It’s all juicy tomato in there.

From Molly C.:
Jane, which market still has tomatoes? I’m longing for a few more truly home grown ones if they’re surprisingly available. Thank you. 

Dear Molly:
Try farm markets connected to a farm. Some are still selling the last of the harvest. I like Dunkler’s at 1350 Collier Rd. in Copley, not far from where White Pond dumps into Copley Road. Most of the produce is grown there and the prices are low.

September 30, 2020

Dear friends,
Pyramids and pecks of tomatoes still hold sway over pumpkins and apples at my neighborhood farm market. The tomatoes will be gone soon, though, so you’d better make spaghetti sauce while you can.

You may already have glistening jars of homemade spaghetti sauce or tomato sauce in your pantry or basement. You may already have a recipe you’ve used for years, handed down by your Italian grandmother. In that case, pardon me. The recipe I use is from my head, not my Pennsylvania Dutch grandmother (a good thing), and its primary attractions are that it’s deeply flavored and ridiculously easy to make.

I roast whole tomatoes, skins and all, with cloves of garlic and wedges of onion tucked here and there. When the tomatoes slump and start to char on top, I puree them — skins, seeds and all — in a food processor with the roasted garlic and onions. Then I simmer it in a pan until thick.

You could add salt and stop there, but I turn this rich tomato sauce into the kind of spaghetti sauce my husband likes over pasta. I add a few fresh and dried herbs after pureeing the tomatoes, and then brown some ground meat and add it to the thickened sauce. Then I ladle it into containers and freeze because freezing is easier than canning. If you want to can the sauce, skip the meat.

This is the sauce that broke my husband’s Ragu addiction.

EASY ROAST TOMATO SAUCE

24 large tomatoes, washed and blossom scar removed
6 large cloves of garlic, peeled
1 large onion, peeled and cut into 8 wedges
Olive oil spray or drizzle
Salt
2-inch sprig of fresh rosemary
4 or 5 fresh basil leaves
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 lb. ground beef, crumbled and browned (optional)

Place tomatoes, blossom end up, in a single layer in one large (11-by-17-inch) roasting pan or two smaller roasting pans. Tuck cloves of garlic and onion wedges around the tomatoes. Spray or drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt. Roast at 375 degrees until tomatoes have slumped and the tops are beginning to char.

Remove pan from oven and cool for a few minutes at room temperature. In batches, puree the tomatoes, garlic and onion in a food processor until very smooth, and no traces of the skins or seeds remain.

Transfer puree to a saucepan. Add salt to taste and the rosemary, basil and oregano. Simmer until the puree is as thick as you prefer, about 30 to 45 minutes. Stir browned meat into sauce, if desired. Cool completely, then ladle into freezer containers, label and freeze. Makes 3 to 4 quarts.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Roasted tomato sauce; venison spaghetti sauce; fried crispy tofu with a stir fry of bok choy and Chinese sweet potato; sheet pan roasted chicken breasts, hot peppers and carrots with an Asian glaze; scrambled egg, tomato, prosciutto and pesto on toast; grilled hamburgers with onions, tomatoes and roasted Hatch chilies; steak and ale pies.

What I carried out:
Egg rolls, wonton soup, ginger beef and house egg foo yong from Chin’s Place in Akron (great!); steak tacos with grilled onions from Casa del Rio Express in Fairlawn.

THE MAILBAG

From Cindy W.:
My neighbor here in St. Augustine says she is reluctant to experiment with our local fish until she learns how to cook it. Do you have any thoughts or suggestions as to where she might begin? Perhaps a cookbook or two whose authors/editors are strong on technique? Or a blogger or YouTube guru who seems to know their stuff?

I’m little help because I’m a minimalist when it comes to the fish I prefer (various snappers and triggerfish) — a little seasoning and pan frying in butter lets the fish carry the meal for me. Any help you might provide will be most sincerely appreciated!

Dear Cindy:
After teaching several seafood cooking classes and marrying a sushi chef, I can distill the basics into a few bullet points:

— Buy fresh or fresh-frozen seafood (caught and frozen on the boat, if possible). You are lucky to live by the ocean. Here in Ohio we are far from the Atlantic and even farther from the Pacific. Often, frozen seafood is our best choice. Exceptions: live shellfish and local fresh-water fish such as lake perch and walleye.

How do you tell if seafood is fresh? Ask how it was harvested and when/if it was frozen. If you get a “duh,” choose another purveyor.

— Don’t overcook fish. Your neighbor might want to at first, in a desire to kill any alien thing lurking in the fish, which to her at this point is probably kind of alien, too. Resist. Overcooked fish is dry and tasteless. A rule of thumb is to cook fish about 10 minutes per inch of thickness. Not many fish fillets are an inch thick, so she will be cooking it less than 10 minutes.

To tell when fish is done, insert the tip of a knife into the flesh, look into the interior, and note whether it’s opaque or almost opaque instead of translucent. If it is not only opaque but it flakes, it is overcooked. A little translucent in the thickest part is OK; the fish will finish cooking off the heat.

— Do not buy tilapia or farm-raised salmon. Ick. Just don’t. Your friend may want to be a good steward of the planet and avoid overfished species, too. Access Greenpeace’s Red List Fish at http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/oceans/sustainable-seafood/red-list-fish/ or just Google Greenpeace Red List Fish.

I’ve never searched out seafood bloggers so I’m no help there. Can someone else suggest a recipe source?

September 23, 2020

Dear friends,
This will be the year I plant garlic. I say that every year, but this time I mean it. I cannot go back to supermarket garlic after tasting the hard-neck garlic my friend grew.

For a month Ric has been supplying me with garlic heads almost as big as my fist, with large, plump cloves that are fresh and pungent. I had half a bag of garlic from the store when this started. I tried to use it up but the cloves were just too puny and enervated in comparison. (Can I use “enervated” to describe garlic? The word fits perfectly.)

I have had fresh hard-neck garlic before, but not as fresh as this. Literally, Ric would dig it, hop in his truck, drive a mile down the road and deliver a couple of handfuls, stalks and all. He’s my garlic mule.

I use a lot of garlic normally, but last week I upped my game. With so much garlic on hand, I figured it was time to make that classic fricassee, chicken with 40 cloves of garlic. I had heard of James Beard’s version, which created a sensation when he introduced it, but I went with a French one from the Provencal region where the dish originated. There, it is called “Poulet Mistral,” says Patricia Wells, who got the recipe from a chef at a restaurant near Avignon.

The recipe couldn’t be easier. Chicken and garlic are browned in a deep skillet, then simmered with wine and chicken stock. The recipe has just six ingredients plus salt and pepper. Wells uses a whole cut-up chicken, but I found plump chicken legs on sale and used three pounds of those — skinning two of the legs for me.

If you happen to have plump cloves of garlic as big as your thumb, as I do, you can reduce the amount of garlic by half. Or not. When garlic is cooked in this manner, it mellows and becomes so sweet you can eat it like a vegetable, so don’t stint.

The dish is warming and makes the house smell divine — just what you want on a crisp fall evening.

POULET MISTRAL

(Chicken with Garlic)
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. butter
3 to 4 lbs. bone-in chicken parts
Salt, fresh-ground pepper
About 40 large cloves peeled garlic
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup chicken broth

In a heavy, deep 12-inch skillet, heat the oil and butter over high heat. Rinse the chicken and pat dry. Season the chicken liberally with salt and pepper. When the fats are hot but not smoking, add the chicken pieces and brown on one side, about 5 minutes. Adjust the heat to avoid scorching. Turn the chicken and brown on other side.

Reduce heat to medium. Bury the garlic cloves under the chicken to make sure they settle in one layer at the bottom of the skillet. Sauté, shaking pan frequently, until the garlic is lightly browned, about 10 minutes.

Slowly pour in the wine and broth. Shake the pan and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Cover and continue cooking until the juices run clear when a thigh is pricked, 10 to 12 more minutes.

Serve the chicken with the garlic, pan juices and with sauteed potatoes or rice. Makes 4 servings. From “Bistro Cooking” by Patricia Wells.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Avocado toast; egg, pesto and avocado on toast; tomato salad with vinaigrette; boiled and pickled home-grown beets; pumpkin custard; roast tomato sauce; roast diced butternut squash with olive oil and sea salt, Mistral chicken, and tomato, feta and tarragon salad; eggplant lasagne; scrambled egg, tomato and feta on toast.

What I carried out:
Cobb salad from Giant Eagle; hummus, baba ganoush, pita bread, keftedes, grilled chicken, grilled beef and basmati rice from Mediterranean Market & Grill in Cuyahoga Falls; sugar-free iced coffee frozen yogurt from Menchie’s.

THE MAILBAG
From Beth D.:
This idea was in a comment on the NEO Foodies group on Facebook recently, I believe. One of those head-smacking, game changer-moments in the “waste nothing” movement!

https://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2015/08/tomato-powder-from-tomato-skins.html

If you have a dehydrator, you can do them in there as well. Cheers!

Dear Beth:
How timely! Just as backyard tomatoes begin to overwhelm our kitchens, you give us a way to use the tomato skin. Instead of discarding it, we can dry it and turn it into tomato powder. I have just recently discovered the powder (sold in Latin American food stores), and so far all I’ve done is stir into rice to make Mexican rice. My husband loves it. Has anyone discovered other uses for it?

From Annie:
Hey Jane, the Spice House has tomato powder for $6.99 a 1/2-cup jar.

Dear Annie:
Great! I can buy some without leaving the house. The website is www.thespicehouse.com.

September 16, 2020

Dear friends,
I grilled a boneless leg of lamb for my birthday last week. It had a caramelized crust and a rosy-pink interior, and it perfectly complemented the inky pinot noir I uncorked.

Here’s what Tony wished I’d have cooked: Thin-sliced grilled lamb in a soy-molasses-ginger sauce. I know that because the next day, as I sliced the gorgeous leftover lamb for dinner, I noticed Tony scooping rice into bowl. “Genghis Khan!” he said, naming a favorite Japanese dish. He soaked a handful of slices in a sweet soy marinade, totally disguising the lamb flavor, then piled the lamb and a cuke salad onto the rice.

You can take the man out of Japan but you can’t take Japan out of the man, which why we eat so many rice bowls. I was just lucky he didn’t try that with the lamb fresh from the grill. He wanted to, but I’d have killed him.

Actually, I like rice bowls. They are a balanced meal of protein, vegetables and carbs in one easy-to-assemble pile. Usually they have an Asian bent, but recently I wanted to surprise Tony with a different twist. I flavored the rice with tomato and cilantro and piled mojo shrimp, garlicky wilted greens, avocado and bacon-corn salsa on top. Different flavors, same idea.

I made the tomato rice in a rice steamer with Japanese Nishiki rice and two tablespoons of tomato powder, a cool ingredient a friend got at a Latin market. Powdered tomato bouillon comes in a jar and is made by Knorr. It is available in some regular supermarkets if you want to track it down, or just skip it and flavor the rice with chopped cilantro.

The shrimp are stripped of their shells and flash-cooked in a skillet with a splash of mojo marinade. The greens are wilted in the same skillet with a film of olive oil and slivered garlic.

The corn salsa is the star of the show. It starts with a slice of bacon, rendered and crisped. Corn is sauteed briefly in the bacon fat, then tomato, onion, cilantro and Tajin seasoning are added off the heat.

Like the best rice bowls, this one is better than the sum of its parts — which is saying something, because the parts are pretty darn good.

MEXICAN RICE BOWL
2 cups uncooked medium-grain rice
2 tbsp. tomato bouillon powder or 1/3 cup minced cilantro or both
Corn and bacon salsa (recipe follows)
Olive oil
12 large raw shrimp, peeled
1/4 cup mojo criollo marinade
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and slivered
4 cups (packed) washed greens such as spinach or Swiss chard
Sea salt
1 ripe avocado

In the bowl of a rice steamer, rinse rice twice in cold water, discarding starchy water each time. Pour 2 cups clean water over rice and stir in tomato powder if using. Cook in a rice steamer and when done, let set on “warm” for at least 15 minutes or up to several hours. Fluff rice and fold in cilantro just before serving.

Meanwhile, make the corn and bacon salsa in a large, heavy skillet. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in same skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, stir fry shrimp for 1 minute. Add mojo marinade and continue to stir shrimp until they are barely cooked through, about 1 minute longer. Transfer to a bowl and wipe out skillet with a paper towel.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in same skillet over medium-high heat. Add slivered garlic. When edges start to brown, add greens and season with sea salt. Cover and steam for 30 seconds. Turn greens top to bottom, cover and steam 30 seconds longer or until greens are wilted. Remove lid and set aside.

Divide rice among three bowls. In wide strips, top with shrimp, the salsa and the greens. Remove avocado from shell and cut each half in six wedges. Decorate each portion with 4 wedges of avocado. Makes 3 servings.

CORN AND BACON SALSA
1 slice bacon
3/4 cup fresh corn kernels (from 2 ears)
3/4 cup seeded and diced ripe tomato
1/4 cup finely diced sweet onion
Salt
1 tsp. Tajin seasoning
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Fry bacon until crisp in a large skillet. Drain bacon on paper towel. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat in the skillet. Add corn and stir-fry over medium-high heat for 1 minute.

Transfer corn to a bowl. Add remaining ingredients, mixing well. Crumble bacon into salsa and stir. Cover and set aside until needed.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Cream of wheat cereal; bacon, tomato and pesto on toast; chocolate pudding; barbecued baby back ribs with gochujang barbecue sauce, Asian pear and cabbage slaw, corn on the cob; egg, tomato, pesto and chunky sea salt on toast; grilled hamburgers with hot peppers, onions, tomatoes and Dijon mustard; turkey sausage with sweet and sour cabbage, baked potato; Kumamoto oysters on the half shell with Champagne (no cooking, but we had to open three dozen oysters); roasted peach, delicata squash and feta with vinaigrette; peanut butter and bacon sandwich; grilled butterflied leg of lamb, grilled Asian eggplants with sweet soy sauce, baked potatoes, corn on the cob; cucumber and red pepper salad with sesame dressing.

What I carried out out:
Sugar-free iced coffee frozen yogurt from Menchie’s; a tiny white birthday cake from Acme.

THE MAILBAG
From Jan P.:
Oh Jane. The pears, my goodness, the pears are fantastic. Best ever. Juicy, crisp, just a touch of floral. Thanks so much for recommending Weymouth Orchards in Hinckley! My husband, who’s not a fruit lover, is enjoying them like I’ve never seen him enjoy any fruit.

I have to mention also that their COVID-19 safety measures are as good as we’ve seen anywhere. We prepaid, called when we arrived, she met us at the gate and set the bag down instead of handing it to us. We were both masked. Perfect!

Can’t wait to try the next type in a couple weeks, but how can they possibly be any better than the Hosui?

Dear Jan:
I love turning people onto Weymouth Farms. The pears are so good I want everyone to share the joy. You should taste their table grapes, which are not the usual varieties planted around here. Brenda and Paul O’Neill are wizards.

From Laraine D.:
Any chance you have the recipe for West Point Market’s chocolate crinkle cookies? (Still missing the old West Point.)

I’m so glad you’ve kept up See Jane Cook!

Dear Laraine:
I miss that store like mad, too. It was a golden age of food in our area, thanks in large part to Russ Vernon and West Point Market. The chocolate crinkles cookie recipe isn’t in the “West Point Market Cookbook,” and I could not find it in the Beacon Journal’s database. The recipe may never have been shared. We can only hope your request reaches one of the former bakers. If any of you have an “in,” could you forward this column?

From Nancy H.:
I just read your piece on rice, and I wanted to offer a clarification. I’ve been buying rice in the Asian grocery for years, and Nishiki is one of my preferred brands. Though the company is Japanese, the product they sell in the U.S. is grown in California, not Japan. I don’t have their white rice bag in my house to show you at the moment, but if you look online, you will find that:

“Nishiki is a brand of California-grown, medium grain rice sold by JFC International. The species of Nishiki Brand Rice is known as New Variety, which includes Kokuho Rose and M401. New Variety is a medium-grain rice, very similar to Calrose rice.”

Dear Nancy:
You are absolutely right. When I asked Tony whether he knew the Nishiki rice he buys is grown in California, he said, “Of course.” The variety is Japanese but the source is California. Thanks for setting me straight.

September 9, 2020

Dear friends,
I knew zip about cooking rice when I met Tony. Oh, I thought I could cook rice, and I did a decent job with arborio, Converted, basmati and jasmine. But regular white rice? Forget it.

I’m not the only one. I regularly get queries about how to cook rice so it comes out delicious instead of dry, shriveled and bland. Today I’ll tell you. Or rather, I’ll tell you how my husband the sushi chef cooks fabulous rice.

Buying high-quality rice is 90 percent of the battle. The long-grain rice I used to buy in supermarkets was — well, I got what I paid for. Since meeting Tony, the only rice I buy is Japanese. I like it best. The grains are medium-length and plump, and have a slightly al dente texture when cooked. They do not dissolve on the tongue. Sometimes this rice is labeled “sushi rice” in stores (with a markup in price), although there’s no such distinction in Japan. The rice used in sushi bars is also the rice used at home.


The brand Tony likes is Nishiki. The uncooked grains of good-quality Japanese rice are somewhat transparent. Lower-quality rice is chalky-white, Tony says.

Cook the rice in a rice steamer. I’ve never seen anyone in Japan use a saucepan. Rice steamers are inexpensive. You can pick one up at an Asian store. That’s where you can buy Nishiki rice, too.

Rice must be rinsed before it is cooked in order to eliminate some of the starch so it does not become glue-like. Tony rinses his twice. His father rinsed rice three times. Measure the rice into the removable insert of the rice cooker. At the sink, cover the rice with cold water and swish the rice for 30 seconds with your fingers. Carefully pour off the cloudy water. Repeat once or twice until the water runs clear. Then cover with the proper amount of water, return the insert to the rice cooker, plug it in and cook. I measured the amounts of rice and water Tony used. It was two cups water for two cups rice.

The rice cooker will automatically switch from “cook” to “warm” when the rice is done. Do not use the rice immediately. Let it remain in the rice cooker, without opening the lid, for at least 15 minutes to further steam the grains. It can remain in the rice cooker on “warm” overnight or up to two days.

When you’re ready to use the rice, don’t just scoop it out of the cooker. With a big, flat wooden spoon or similar utensil (you can buy a rice paddle at an Asian store), cut into the solid block of rice, lift some of the rice and fluff it up. Repeat several times. The idea is to separate the grains. If the rice is too sticky to fluff, it’s a clue you’ve used too much water.

At this point, Tony is just getting started on fluffing and seasoning rice for sushi, but for everyday use, the rice is done. Next week I’ll share my new recipe for a Southwestern rice bowl. For now, practice making delicious rice.

TIDBITS
*A Classic is Back: Five months after closing due to the pandemic, Chin’s Place in Akron reopened Monday for carryout orders only. Elaine Chin said she needed the break but is glad to see her customers again.

The popular Chinese restaurant has an abbreviated “pandemic” menu that still is ample. It includes lo mein, fried rice, egg foo young, chicken curry and about a dozen stir fries such as chicken and green beans in black bean sauce, Hunan pork and ginger beef. The full menu is posted on Chin’s Place Facebook page. The phone is 330-434-1998.

*On the Move:
Chowder House, the place to go when you want seafood, is moving from its colorful, quirky Cuyahoga Falls location to the former Maison Martel/Pucci’s space at 1224 Weathervane Lane in Liberty Commons in Akron’s Merriman Valley.

Chef Louis Prpich, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Kerry, said he’s making the move so he can expand his menu (the kitchen will be much bigger) and offer beer, wine and craft cocktails. His current location has no liquor license.

The restaurant remains open in the Falls until after the big annual clambake on Sept. 27. The new place opens its doors Oct. 1. For reservations at either location, phone 330-794-7102.

*Pear Pickin’ Time:
*The pandemic didn’t stop the Asian pears and apples from ripening or the gourmet grapes from turning purple and tawny-gold at Weymouth Farms in Hinckley.
Customers can still buy the juicy fruit this year, but the transactions are carried out at a safe distance.

Fruit is ordered and paid for on line, then picked up at the gates to the farm. Customers call on arrival and their hand-picked fruit is brought in a wagon to the gate for the socially-distanced transfer.

Owner Paul O’Neill kind of apologized for the high sugar content of the pears this year. I think they are the best yet — delicately floral, exceptionally juicy and sweet. To order, click on weymouthfarms.com.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Corned beef hash, steamed eggs, blistered cherry tomatoes and toast; grilled strip steaks, roast green beans with lemon and garlic, boiled new potatoes with sea salt; edamame protein salad; roasted eggplant, tomato and basil salad; eggplant lasagne; steak sandwich with tomato and pesto on toast; ham, potato and green bean soup with pesto; ghost sushi; scrambled eggs and toast; peanut butter, onion and tomato sandwich.

What I carried out:
Salad with apples, walnuts, chicken and blue cheese from Wal-mart.

THE MAILBAG
From O.R.:
When the New York Spaghetti House closed for a time, I remember hearing there were anchovies in their brown sauce, the secret ingredient! Made sense to me, because there was a unique taste I could not identify.

Dear O.R.:
Hmmm. I wouldn’t be surprised.

From Annie F.:
You asked what canning is happening so here is my list:

Ball’s Blueberry Citrus Conserve (great with pork or chicken)
Filet, yellow and green beans – frozen this year as there are still jars from last year
Curry pickles (a family favorite from an old Ortho pickling book of my mother’s)
Curry zucchini (same recipe, too much zucchini)
Pickled Biqunho peppers (tiny chilis from Brazil, only 1000 Scoville units, served with drinks and appetizers)
Mary’s hot sauce base ( my mom’s version of the Barberton favorite, just open a jar and add rice)
Cherry jam using Pomona’s pectin and xylitol for my diabetic siblings
Hot peppers and jalapeños with my friend Cheryl using a brine recipe from an old edition of Stocking Up (been doing this since 1995)

I used to do much more. I kept records of all the canning I have done since 1995. I do not know how I found the time and energy with a full-time job and two kids but I tried a bunch of different things from ketchups to chutneys to pickled anything.

Dear Annie:
That’s a lot of canning. I can just see the jars gleaming on your pantry shelves.

From Ellen:
My sister Lisa and I canned 55 pints of bread and butter pickles. She took home 36, the rest was mine. She’ll be visiting the end of the month and we’ll make and freeze applesauce — which I also make about 75 quarts and freeze with my son Eric and his wife, Kelly.

I’m freezing corn off cob for corn chowder this winter and freezer strawberry jam. I already had most of my canning supplies. When I was young and adventurous I would can over 300 quarts of fruits and veggies. Makes me weak thinking about it.

Dear Ellen:
I’m weak just reading about it.

September 2, 2020

Dear friends,
Earlier this summer I created an appetizer recipe, hoping that by September I could share it with friends on my deck. That’s a hard “No.” Because of my age (71 this month) I’m still social distancing and limiting my interaction with others to quick, masked trips to the pharmacy and grocery store followed by vigorous hand-washing.

Tony and I did hitch up our camper and got away to upstate New York and the mountains of New Hampshire last week, but we didn’t eat out and didn’t mingle. Campground check-ins were on-line. Fellow campers kept their distance.

In other words, no festive occasions to debut my spicy picadillo galette with avocado and sour cream. Tony and I enjoyed it privately, though. We made a dinner out of it, and you can, too.

A galette, as most of you know, is simply a rustic tart baked free-form, with an inch or two of the edges folded over the filling. It is the easiest kind of pie to make, and already this summer I’ve made two peach galettes. Making an appetizer galette is an unexpected twist, though. When cut into wedges like a pizza, it is a lovely substantial bite or, in my case, dinner.

The filling is a Cuban picadillo — deeply seasoned ground beef and tomatoes with sliced olives. You could sub sloppy joe filling or taco-spiced ground beef with less work, but the picadillo has a lot more flavor.

After the galette cooled a bit, I fanned avocado slices around the middle, one per wedge, and drizzled thinned sour cream over the top for a bit of dazzle. Share it with friends someday or make it now for a private pandemic dinner.

SPICY BEEF AND OLIVE GALETTE

1 disk pie dough (recipe below)
1 to 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 medium-large onion, diced (1/2-inch cubes)
1/2 bell pepper, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. lean ground beef
3 tsp. ground cumin
Salt, pepper to taste
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup sliced stuffed green olives
1 can (10 oz.) Rotel diced tomatoes and green chilies
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1/4 cup water
1/2 ripe avocado
3 tbsp sour cream thinned with 1 tbsp. milk or water

Make dough and refrigerate.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick or cast iron skillet. Sauté onion over medium heat until it starts to soften. Stir in garlic and sauté for a minute or two more. Scrape to one side.

Crumble beef into same skillet, adding more oil if needed. Increase heat to medium-high and brown the meat, breaking it apart with the side of a spoon. Stir meat and onion mixture together. Stir in cumin, salt and pepper and continue to cook for 30 seconds. Add wine, stirring until wine evaporates.

Stir in olives, Rotel tomatoes, tomato paste and water. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture is almost dry. Remove from heat.

Remove one disk of dough from refrigerator and place on a floured surface. Let stand at room temperature for a few minutes, until it softens slightly. Roll to a 12 to 13-inch circle. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Spoon beef mixture evenly over dough, leaving bare a 2-inch rim around edges. Fold edges of dough over beef mixture, pleating and pinching in a circle. Bake on middle oven rack at 325 degrees for about 50 minutes, until crust is golden. Remove from oven, slide the galette on the parchment off of the baking sheet and onto a counter. Let cool until just warm or room temperature.

When ready to serve, cut the galette into 6 to 8 wedges. Remove the avocado from its skin, remove the pit and cut the flesh into 6 to 8 wedges. Drizzle sour cream mixture over the galette in a back-and-forth pattern and decorate with the avocado slices. Makes 6 to 8 appetizer servings.

FOOD PROCESSOR PIE DOUGH
(From Ina Garten)
12 tbsp. cold butter
3 cups flour
1 tsp.. kosher salt
1/3 cup (5 tbsp.) cold vegetable shortening
6 to 8 tbsp. ice water

Dice butter and return to refrigerator. Measure flour and salt into food processor and pulse briefly to mix. Add cold butter and shortening. Pulse 8 to 12 times, until fat is the size of peas.

While processor is running, slowly pour ice water through feed tube, adding just enough to make mixture come together in a ball. Divide dough in half, shape each into a fat disk, wrap in plastic wrap and chill. Makes enough for two galettes, two single-crust pies or one double-crust pie. If not using both disks immediately, slip extra one into a quart freezer bag and freeze. Thaw in refrigerator before using.

TIDBIT
Thanks to the pandemic, preserving food at home is trending big-time. Social media is filled with posts from people trying to track down canning supplies. Many stores are sold out.

If you are getting into canning, freezing, drying, curing, smoking or pickling this season, you can check out safety tips and access hundreds of recipes on line at the National Center for Home Food Preservation at the University of Georgia, nchfp.uga.edu.

So, what are you preserving? I have frozen a few quarts of green beans, sliced peaches and blueberries. I’ll freeze whole tomatoes for soup and maybe make some sauce this year.

I’m not canning because I don’t have central air and the kitchen has been unbearable this summer. But I’m curious about what you are canning. Or freezing, pickling, smoking or curing. Please share so we all can get some ideas for saving this month’s bounty.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Fried egg, tomato and pesto on wheat toast; Japanese pork curry and steamed rice.

What I ate from restaurants, etc.:
A turkey pastrami sandwich and yogurt parfait from a gas station in Vermont; a cheeseburger and chocolate chip sandwich cookie from Whitefield Market and Deli in Whitefield, N.H.; chili mac (they called it “Chop Suey”) from the Whitefield Market; frizzled beef, tomato, lettuce and mayo on a toasted roll from Wayne’s Market & Deli in North Woodstock, N.H.; bacon and pineapple pizza from Catalano’s Pizzeria in Twin Mountain, N.H.;

THE MAILBAG
From Dick:
Regarding a recent recipe request: I have been to Cleveland’s New York Spaghetti House dozens, perhaps a hundred times before it closed. The following recipe has been in my book since 2002 or ’03.

I’m not certain if it is the original recipe but it (in my memory) duplicates the dish at the restaurant. I was told many times by the wait staff at the restaurant that the start of the sauce was a roux. Not a simple sauce recipe.

New York Spaghetti House Brown Sauce
3/4 cup olive oil
1 cup flour
1 medium onion, diced
2 celery ribs w/leaves, diced
1 cup grated carrots
6 cloves garlic, minced
28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
1 quart beef stock
2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 cup dry red wine
2 tbsp. Italian seasoning
2 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. crumbled thyme
1 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. salt
2 bay leaves
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
½ tsp. red pepper flakes
3/4 lb. 85/15 ground beef
3/4 lb. ground pork
1 15-oz can of cannellini or great northern beans (pureed)

Prepare a roux: Heat 1/2 cup of the olive oil in a large, heavy skillet. Add flour a little at a time, stirring constantly and cooking over low heat until the mixture is the color of peanut butter. This should take about 30 minutes or so. Do not turn up the heat to hurry along the process or the roux will burn. Set aside.

In a large pot over medium heat, add ¼ cup of the olive oil and when hot, sauté the onion, celery, carrots and garlic until garlic starts to brown, about 10 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, beef stock, Worcestershire sauce and wine. Stir well. Stir in Italian seasoning, basil, thyme, sugar, salt, bay leaves, parsley and red pepper flakes.

Add raw meat in chunks (don’t brown the meat). Puree the can of beans with the water from the can, and add to the sauce. Bring the sauce to a boil, and simmer for 45 minutes. Stir in the roux until smooth and incorporated and simmer for 15 additional minutes. Remove bay leaves. Using an immersion blender, blend the sauce (but don’t over blend – you still want to see meat granules).

Also, here’s a recipe from the Recipe Roundup in the Beacon Journal in 2004:

BROWN SAUCE OF NORTHERN ITALY
5 oz. prosciutto fat or larding pork, ground
14-by-5-inch piece (about 2 1/2 oz.) pork rind, boiled for 10 minutes and drained
2 lbs. rump or shank of beef, cut into chunks
1 lb. boneless veal shank, cut into chunks
4 to 5 lbs. cracked beef and veal bones, with marrow
1 ounce dry mushrooms, soaked in tepid water for 20 minutes, squeezed dry and chopped
2 large yellow onions, coarsely chopped
2 large carrots, coarsely chopped
2 celery ribs, coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 whole cloves
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 cup dry red wine
1 bouquet garni (1/4 tsp. dried thyme, 1 crushed bay leaf, sprigs of parsley and 1/4 tsp. dried marjoram tied into cheesecloth bundle)
1/3 cup flour
1 cup canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, drained, seeded and chopped
3 quarts boiling water
Additional salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line bottom of roasting pan that can be used on stovetop with prosciutto fat or larding pork. On top place pork rind, beef rump or shank, veal shank, beef and veal bones with marrow, mushrooms, onions, carrots, celery, garlic, cloves, 1/2 tsp. salt and the black pepper.

Cook on the range top over low heat, stirring occasionally. As soon as the meat starts to brown, add the wine and bouquet garni. Cook, stirring, until wine is almost evaporated. Remove from heat, sprinkle with flour, and stir well. Return to heat and cook, stirring constantly over very low heat for 1 minute.

Add tomatoes and mix well. Add boiling water to cover and remaining 1/2 tsp. salt. Simmer (do not boil) for 5 minutes. Scum will start to rise. Remove it with a spoon or ladle until it ceases to accumulate. Place in oven, partially covered, so that steam may escape, and cook for 4 hours, being very careful that it barely simmers (turn heat down if it boils).

Take out of oven; remove beef, veal, and pork rind, and reserve for other uses. Strain liquid, discarding vegetables, bones, and bouquet garni, into a saucepan. Simmer until liquid is reduced to 1 1/2 quarts (6 cups), removing fat from surface with spoon or ladle. Allow to cool.

Place liquid in refrigerator, uncovered, until remaining fat has hardened on top and can be scraped off. Taste for seasoning, and, if flavor is weak, boil to reduce water content further and remove any scum that rises to surface.

Sauce may be kept in refrigerator or freezer. If kept in the refrigerator, it must be removed and brought to a boil every 3 or 4 days before storing again.

Dear Dick:
Obviously you are an aficionado of the restaurant’s sauce and searched for the recipe. Thank you so much for sharing it. I remember tracking down what I hoped was a similar recipe for Recipe Roundup. Yours sounds much closer to the original. Maybe if ground meat were added to the Recipe Roundup sauce, it would approximate the restaurant’s more closely.

From Kim D.:
Just wondering if you have a recipe for the soup they serve with the meals at Hibachi Japan in Cuyahoga Falls. The soup seems to be a blend of chicken and beef stock, clear, has scallions, mushrooms and fried noodles added before serving.

I’ve tried a few recipes online, but they are not quite right. They call for caramelizing carrots, ginger, garlic and onions before adding stock and water to simmer for a couple hours. It is not quite right. Maybe too sweet?

Dear Kim:
Tony worked at Hibachi Japan before he opened his own restaurant. That’s how he got to Akron. It was long ago, though, and he was the sushi chef, not the soup maker. He seems to think the two soups served at the restaurant were miso soup and a clear soup that was plain dashi. I don’t think so.

I know the soup you’re talking about, because I’ve had it in a number of Japanese restaurants. It is brown and clear, like bouillon. Recipes I’ve seen call for a combination of beef and chicken broth with garlic, onions and ginger. Carrots add sweetness to stock, so I recommend leaving them out. If anyone has the recipe from Hibachi Japan, or hints on how to make it, could you share?

August 25, 2020

Dear friends,

I thought I had seen it all when it came to corn. I have steamed, grilled, boiled, baked and microwaved it. I have turned it into ice cream, “milked” it for custard and transformed it into chowder and soufflé. But it turns out I had one more trick to learn: basting grilled corn with miso paste and butter. Yeow.

Miso — fermented soybean paste — is the ingredient I’m learning to reach for when a blah dish needs an extra, inconspicuous bit off oomph. It is more of a supporting player than the main flavor, adding an undefinable richness to a range dishes. Even corn, I learned.

The recipe that turned me on to this trick is from “The Gaijin Cookbook,” which also gave us that sublime mushroom chili recipe for Tofu Coney Island last winter. Author Ivan Orkin devised the corn recipe for a festival in New York City, where he and his wife are based. People went nuts, he said, for their grilled ears of corn basted with a mixture of miso, butter, garlic, sake, mirin and rice vinegar.

For his cookbook, Orkin turned the mixture into a pan sauce for corn sliced off the cob. I turned it back into a baste for corn I grilled over coals on my deck. But first, I had to keep Tony from spooning it right out of the pan. It’s that good.

GRILLED CORN WITH MISO BUTTER

4 ears fresh corn, husked
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 tbsp. minced garlic
2 tbsp. sake
2 tbsp. mirin
2 tbsp. white miso
1 tbsp. rice vinegar
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
Build a fairly hot charcoal fire or pre-heat a gas grill to medium-high.

Meanwhile, insert long wooden skewers into the fat end of the husked corn, if desired. Keep refrigerated until needed.

Heat oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Sauté the garlic, stirring, until softened but not brown. Deglaze with the sake and mirin (bearing in mind that the alcohol can catch fire if the pan is very hot). Add the miso, rice vinegar and butter and whisk to dissolve the miso. Set aside.

When the coals have ashed over and are glowing, place corn on the grid directly over the coals. Brush the corn with some of the miso butter, turning the ears with tongs. Grill, turning occasionally and brushing with miso butter, until the corn is tender-crisp and beginning to char. Transfer to a plate and brush with remaining miso butter. Serves 4 or, more likely, 2. Possibly one.

Adapted from “The Gaijin Cookbook” by Ivan Orkin and Chris Ying.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Rotisserie chicken, baked potato, corn on the cob; pesto, chicken, onion and tomato on whole-wheat toast; egg salad; spaghetti squash baked with ricotta and venison meat sauce; avocado toast with salsa and an egg over hard; edamame protein salad; grilled turkey Italian sausage sandwiches with grilled yellow squash and Tony’s home-grown watermelon.

What I ordered out:
Menchie’s sugar-free strawberry frozen yogurt; ricotta, caramelized onion, spinach and sausage pizza from Good Fellas in Sackets Harbor, N.Y.; half of a ham and cheese sub from Subway.

THE MAILBAG
From Connie, Fairlawn:
Your peaches and elderberry? Sounds great. However, in summer heat I have skipped oven and stove for a quick dessert.  Try slicing whole, ripe peaches and fold in low-fat vanilla yogurt, just enough to coat.  It tastes great to me and seems to keep well in a tight container.

Dear Connie:
Mmmm. My sister-in-law uses low-fat lemon yogurt, which is good, too. Another of my no-stove favorites is fruit spooned over low-fat ricotta cheese with a drizzle of honey.

From Ron C.:
FYI, GetGo in Wadsworth has $3.99 lobster roll salad which is not too bad. Lobster mixed with some pollock or other white fish. Doesn’t compare with the little grocery store near Bass Harbor campground in Maine, but again, not too bad.

Dear Ron:
I wasn’t able to get there before I left on vacation, but it’s on my dance card for my return. I’m sure it won’t rival chef Louis Prpich’s lobster roll at The Chowder House in Cuyahoga Falls, but I’m eager to give it a try.

From Chris F.:
I thought I would ask you to mention in your next newsletter about the dangers of eating elderberries fresh (not cooked). Elderberries contain cyanide and should not be eaten unless completely cooked. My sister and her partner recently ate some with their Sunday dinner and both became quite ill a short time after. I remember an uncle explaining to us kids to never eat the beautiful elderberries growing all around his property in rural Ohio. I’m guessing my sister wasn’t paying attention….

Dear Kris:
I seemed to recall something along those lines and researched the fruit before I picked it. Thank goodness, because you are so right. Baking the berries in the clafouti did the trick, because neither Tony nor I were ill after eating them.

From Christine O.:
You have elderberries! That’s so exciting. Since I moved to Charlotte, N.C., I see elderberry syrup all the time at the farmers’ markets around town. A quart of it sells for at least $20. They swear by it as the cure-all for whatever ails you. So, I had to figure out how to make it. Got a recipe online and ordered dried elderberries (from Ohio!) on Amazon. I have been taking a tablespoon of it every day for over a year. Does it work? I don’t know, but I haven’t been sick. I’ve attached the recipe for you.

ELDERBERRY SYRUP
In a pan combine 1/2 cup dried elderberries with 3 cups water.  Bring to a boil then simmer for 30 to 45 minutes, uncovered. Allow to cool slightly, then pour the berries and water into a blender. Blend. Strain, then add 1 cup of honey. Blend well, then store in a sealed glass jar in the refrigerator. Dosage: For adults, 1 tablespoon up to 3 times a day for 5 days. Consult your doctor with concerns, or if your symptoms worsen or persist.

Dear Christine:
Elderberry syrup, an old-time remedy, remains popular. I don’t know how effective it is, but it is an antioxidant. The Internet has recipes for syrup made with fresh berries, too.