July 8, 2020

Dear friends,

Do you really want to cook in this weather? I don’t, which is why I made a microwave peach crisp on Saturday. The kitchen remained cool and I had a nice dessert to go with the spicy lacquered Chinese-y pork ribs I smoked on the Weber.

I wish I could share the ribs recipe because the sauce was spectacular. I didn’t write down amounts, though. But I did keep track of how I made the peach crisp, and especially the streusel topping. Finding the right ingredients and amounts for a crumbly topping isn’t easy when you’re dealing with a microwave. Almost everything you put on fruit in a microwave softens and sinks. The usual flour-oats-butter-sugar mixture not only sinks, it becomes unpleasantly doughy.

I solved the problem by STARTING with crunchy stuff — chopped almonds and crushed vanilla wafers. I added uncooked oats and bound it all with melted butter. Then I waited until the peach mixture was half cooked to add the topping. Voila — a fruit crisp with a topping that stays on top and that actually is crisp.

You can make this with The Peach Truck peaches everyone is rushing to buy (thanks to saturation ads, trucked-in peaches are the pumpkin spice latte of 2020), or wait for juicy Ohio peaches that will be ready later this month. I’m waiting, although I bought a few supermarket peaches for a trial run of this recipe. It’s so easy to make you could do both. Now tell me, what are you doing with all those peach-truck peaches?

MICROWAVE PEACH CRISP

Topping:
5 tbsp. butter
1/4 cup quick or old-fashioned (not instant) oats
1/4 cup coarsely crushed almonds
1/2 cup crushed (not pulverized) vanilla wafer cookies
Pinch of salt

Filling:
5 cups peeled and sliced peaches
1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar to taste
3 tbsp. flour

Place butter in a microwave-safe bowl. Melt on high power in a microwave. Place about 1/3 cup whole almonds in a quart-size plastic bag. Close and crush (I used a smooth meat pounder) until almonds are in coarse pieces. Measure out 1/4 cup. Place oats and almonds in bowl with melted butter and stir. Place a big handful of cookies in the same bag and crush. Measure out 1/2 cup and stir into topping mixture with salt and set aside.

Peel peaches with a sharp vegetable peeler and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Place in a medium-size bowl with sugar and flour and stir well, using less sugar for very sweet peaches. Pour into a shallow, buttered 1-quart microwave-safe dish or a buttered deep glass pie pan.

Microwave on high power for 6 minutes. Remove from oven and scatter topping over peaches. Return to oven and microwave 4 to 6 minutes longer, until peaches are bubbly and soft. Let stand at least 2 minutes before serving. May be served warm or cold. Top with whipped cream if desired.

TIDBITS
This may be old news to you, but I just found out West Point Market’s Killer Brownies are available at Pandora’s Cupcakes on Brookwall Drive near Regal Theater in the Montrose area of Copley Township.

Th legendary Akron treats have been renamed “West Point Market’s Original Triple Layer Brownie,” according to Rick Vernon, who owned West Point and supplies the brownies. They are available in a rotating array of flavors including original (caramel), raspberry, no nut, peanut butter, blondie, Bourbon pecan and cherry amaretto.

The brownies are a steep $5 each, but they’re huge. They aren’t available at the Pandora’s location in Tallmadge, so Eastsiders will have to drive across town to get their fix.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Roasted bell peppers with lemon-herb ricotta; steamed asparagus; Sonoran shrimp ceviche; open-face sandwich with ham, melted feta, pesto and arugula; baked tofu with peanut sauce over arugula and coconut-lime rice; jalapeno popper chicken, sautéed green beans and corn; sautéed chicken breasts with herbs over arugula; microwave peach crisp; smoked ribs with a Sichuan barbecue sauce, chopped salad; avocado toast and scrambled eggs with ketchup on toast.

What I ate from restaurants:
Pepperoni pizza from DiCarlo’s Pizza on Portage Trail in Akron. The small chain originated in the Ohio Valley and its pizza tastes like the pizza of my childhood in East Liverpool — ultra-creamy mozzarella and salty, high-quality pepperoni on crisp-crusted squares with a kick-butt tomato sauce. It isn’t Orlando’s, my hometown fave, but it’s close.

THE MAILBAG
From Kathy:
In response to your request for websites, have your readers try myfridgefood.com. I love reading what you eat and cook every week.

Dear Kathy:
This is what Mary D. was searching for, although the pop-up ads on the site are beyond annoying and the selection of recipes I was shown (after I punched in ingredients) was kind of calorie-intensive.

From Sandy H.:
After reading your latest newsletter, in response to Mary D.’s question about findIng recipes by way of the ingredients you have, Weight Watchers offers this feature in its app. You may need to be a member to use it.

Dear Sandy:
The basic Weight Watchers app is $3.99 a month. Add-ons can push the cost to $10. That’s less expensive than the traditional program but still may not be worth for those interested only in the recipe-finder function.

From Susan R.:
When it comes to looking for recipes with specific ingredients, I use EatYourBooks.com.
I do have a membership and have entered most of my cookbook collection, and find I’m using my cookbooks a lot more. They also index magazines, blogs, and newspaper columnists such as Diana Henry and Nigel Slater.

Dear Susan:
Thanks for steering us to this interesting site. Users type in a list of the cookbooks they own and an index of recipes is automatically created. Recipes may then be searched by ingredient, ethnicity, etc. The site also allows you to search food magazines and blogs to which you subscribe. A limited free membership allows you to search five of your cookbooks and magazines. A premium membership with unlimited searches is $3 a month or $30 a year.

From Sandy D.:
In response to Mary D. asking about websites to search by ingredients, I’ve long been a fan of allrecipes.com and they have a recipe by ingredient feature on the website.

Dear Sandy:
Alas, there are no recipes that include pickles, chicken and garlic, the ingredients I typed into the search engine. I didn’t leave disappointed, though, because the site kindly showed me recipes for stuffed chicken breast, Mexican quinoa and zucchini noodle shrimp scampi. What the latter two have to do with my ingredients is a mystery. The search function is easy to use, though, and has a handy feature that allows you specify ingredients you DON’T want. For example, yes to beef, red wine and onions, hold the squirrel.

July 1, 2020

Dear friends,
Thanks to a tip from my friend, Joan, I now have a bushy French tarragon plant from Cochran’s Plants on State Road in Cuyahoga Falls. That’s one more herb to add to my unruly collection of chives, marjoram, fennel, dill, basil, rosemary, thyme, mint, lavender and sage.

I love all of them and I want to use them all, immediately. What a coincidence that I found a recipe that allows me to do just that: Herbed ricotta with lemon to dollop on grilled vegetables for the Fourth of July.

The herbed ricotta is the kind of recipe I obsess about. The flavor is lemon-herb-y, like a lemon meringue pie without the sugar but with an herbal kick. I probably would have skipped right over it had I not been looking specifically for ways to use my herbs. That would have been a shame.

The deceptively simple recipe is from Dorrie Greenspan’s “Everyday Dorrie: The Way I Cook.” She calls it “Ricotta Spoonable” and writes,”I prepare this year-round, changing the herbs according to what I have at hand, but I make it most often in summer, when I’m apt to fill the table with small plates of good stuff, things that don’t need to be eaten in any order and that lend themselves to mixing and matching.” It goes especially well with beet salad, frittata, onion galette and charred peppers, she writes.

This is a refreshing go-with when eaten with fork or spoon between bites of something else, as you would an Indian raita. It would make a great appetizer when dolloped on a cracker or slice of baguette, and a great sauce when stirred into pasta.

The recipe calls for one-third cup minced mixed herbs, which is a lot. Pick more than you think you’ll need. Then bundle them together and snip them all at the same time with scissors. I used thyme, basil, marjoram, chives and tarragon, and didn’t worry about the tender stems. Use whatever herbs are handy.

Like Dorrie, I’m going to keep a tub of this stuff in the refrigerator because the uses are infinite. This morning I ate it on toast for breakfast. Mmmm, summer.

RICOTTA SPOONABLE

2 cups whole-milk ricotta, drained if there’s liquid
1 large lemon
3 tbsp. minced shallots, rinsed and patted dry (I used sweet onion instead)
2 scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. or more fleur de sel (coarse sea salt) or 1/4 tsp. fine sea salt
Fresh-ground pepper
1/3 cup minced mixed fresh herbs such as dill, parsley, tarragon, thyme, cilantro and basil

Put ricotta in a medium bowl. Finely grate the zest of the lemon over it, then halve and squeeze the lemon and blend in the juice. Stir in the shallots, onions, olive oil, salt and a healthy pinch of pepper. Taste for salt and pepper, then stir in the herbs. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour before adjusting for salt, pepper and lemon juice and serving.

From “Everyday Dorrie: The Way I Cook,” by Dorrie Greenspan.

TIDBIT
I was lured by the idea of a salsa Popsicle. Now I’m hooked on the food.

La Fresa Ice Cream on Darrow Road in the Ellet area of Akron is an incredibly cool place to cool off. On one side of the shop are ice cream cases filled with tropical ice creams and paletas (Mexican frozen fruit bars) in dozens of flavors from mango to, yes, pico de gallo.

The other side has a window for ordering tacos, tortas, burritos and other Mexican meals and snacks, along with tables that are mostly blocked off. My soft-corn tacos were street style and pretty good. Tony’s giant torta Cubano was strange but delicious. It featured shredded hot dogs, beans, lots of cheese, ground beef and god knows what else, and was almost as big as my head.

Tony was not a fan of my pico de gallo ice pop but I was smitten. It tasted kind of like bananas, strawberries and lime with bits of cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes in it, and was slightly sweet and a lot salty. I suspect it was made with a good dose of tajin, a Mexican seasoning blend of chili pepper, salt and dehydrated lime. If I had calories to burn I’d work my way through the ice pops and then start on the fruit parfaits, which looked awesome — a combination of cubed fruit, frozen fruit purees and whipped cream.

La Fresa is in a small shopping strip, with a few well-spaced tables in the covered walkway it fronts. Check out the menu at lafresaicecream.com.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Steak salad with pickled beets, sweet onions and feta; avocado toast with a fluffy scrambled egg and watermelon chunks; venison chili; Japanese chicken curry and rice; French toast; egg and fried tomato sandwich with pesto; grill-smoked chicken leg quarters with gochujang barbecue sauce, chopped salad.

What I ate at/from restaurants:
Steamed edamame, shrimp sunomono and tamago (Japanese omelet) from Sushi Katsu in Akron; a baby cone from Dairy Queen; A chicken taco, pork taco and a pico de gallo ice pop (paleta) at La Fresa Ice Cream on Darrow Road in Akron.

THE MAILBAG
From Amy:
I’m going to be moving into an apartment with a kitchenette. I’ll have a countertop burner, a microwave, and a toaster oven. This will be a new way of cooking for me, so tips are appreciated!

Dear Amy:
That sounds like camping, and not in a good way. I’m sure your creativity will kick in after dealing with the limitations for a few weeks, though. Meanwhile, I recommend a slow cooker for soups, stews and roasts. Your microwave will get more of a workout than usual, so get a copy of a good microwave cookbook such as “Not Your Mother’s Microwave Cookbook” by Beth Hensperger. You’ll be amazed at how versatile nuking can be. And with the countertop burner, you’ll probably be making a lot of one-pot meals such as this clever one-pan putanesca pasta, created by one of Martha Stewart’s cooks:

Combine 12 ounces linguine, 12 ounces halved cherry tomatoes, 1/2 cup pitted and halved Castelvetrano olives, 1/4 cup capers, 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, and 4 1/2 cups water in a large straight-sided skillet. Bring to a boil over high heat. Boil mixture, stirring and turning the pasta with tongs to prevent sticking, until pasta is al dente and almost all the liquid has evaporated, 8 to 9 minutes. Top with more fresh parsley.

From Mary D.:
Do you have a preferred website to search recipes by ingredients you have on hand?

Dear Mary:
I don’t, because I’m usually trying to dream up recipes myself. But that’s an interesting question. Can anyone else recommend a good ingredient-search website?

From Molly C.:
In response to your comment/question about what to do with marjoram and chives, off the top of my head I thought of chive butter. You could then freeze the chive butter in ice cube trays or in a log to cut when needed, right? I wondered the same thing about freezing marjoram butter. Could be useful for that Thanksgiving turkey. Just a thought.

Dear Molly,
Good thought! And as you can see from this week’s herbed ricotta recipe, I’ve been thinking of ways to use those herbs, too. Keep those ideas coming.

June 24, 2020

Dear friends,

I almost succumbed to the ease of gas grilling last week, but not quite. My barbecue integrity remains intact.

A few times recently I’ve groaned inwardly at the thought of building a charcoal fire in the Weber — stacking the briquets, soaking them, waiting five minutes, spraying them again with lighter fluid and igniting them, only to wait 15 to 20 minutes before I can cook (I’ve already given up on those fragile electric wand starters and the time suck of charcoal chimneys).

But for now I soldier on because the reward is worth the inconvenience. The chicken I barbecued last week may have been good enough to keep me going until Labor Day. It was smoky, juicy and sticky with a kick-butt barbecue sauce using my new favorite ingredient, earthy Korean gochujang hot pepper paste. I will use this delicious sauce all summer long.

I slathered the sauce at the end of cooking time (to prevent burning) on outsized chicken legs Tony had brought home from Aldi. There were more than a dozen in the package, and those chickens had to have been barnyard bullies. You may sub any bone-in chicken cut. Thighs would be good.

The chicken is cooked by indirect heat in a covered grill (the coals on one side, the meat on the other) for 45 minutes to an hour, then tossed with the sauce and cooked directly over the coals until the sauce turns sticky and begins to singe, five to 10 minutes.

The sauce, a Mark Bittman recipe, has a kick but isn’t hot enough to burn. That’s just my personal judgement, of course; you may rate it higher or lower on the Scoville scale.

OK, time light your charcoal. Or if you’ve already gone to the dark side, turn on the gas.

GRILLED CHICKEN LEGS WITH GOCHUJANG BARBECUE SAUCE

1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup Korean gochujang chili paste (available in Asian stores)
2 tbsp. minced garlic
1 tbsp. minced ginger
1 tbsp. sesame oil
2 tbsp. honey
Bone-in chicken pieces, as many as you can eat or will fit on half of your grill, skinned or skin left on

Combine everything except chicken in a jar and beat well with a fork to smooth out the chili paste. Set aside, but shake before using.

Build a a large charcoal fire against the wall of the grill on one side, about 30 to 40 stacked briquettes. When the coals have ashed over and the interior of the pile is red hot, place an oiled grid over the coals. When the grid is hot, arrange the chicken on the side of the grill opposite the coals. Cover with a vented lid and cook for 25 minutes without lifting lid. Uncover and rearrange chicken, turning pieces over and swapping places near the coals. Cover and continue cooking until cooked through, about 20 minutes longer.

Place the chicken in a large bowl and drizzle some of the sauce over the chicken. Toss well. If needed, add more sauce and toss again. You should have at least half of the sauce to refrigerate for another use.

Spread the coals and place chicken on the grid directly over the coals. Grill, turning once or twice, until the sauce is sticky and begins to singe. Transfer to a platter to serve.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Scrambled eggs, sautéed peppers and fried ripe tomato slices with melted feta; roast bell peppers, carrot batons and cubed potatoes with pan-grilled pork chops glazed with gochujang barbecue sauce; avocado toast with prosciutto; shrimp cocktail, ricotta cheese topped with sliced local strawberries; strips of marinated pan-grilled skirt steak over cauliflower rice and stir-fried vegetables; cauliflower-coconut soup with Thai curry paste, pan-grilled chicken breast; egg, ham, tomato and feta sandwich with pesto; pan-grilled pork loin chop with sugar-snap peas; grilled strip steak, baked potatoes, fava bean and feta salad with lemon, olive oil and mint.

What I carried out:
Edamame salad, couscous salad, bean salad and cold peanut noodles from Whole Foods; a raspberry chunk cone from Strickland’s.

THE MAILBAG
From Ann F.:
It was good to see your Indian recipe a couple of weeks ago. Check out “Indian-ish ” by Priya Krishna. The onion dahl recipe is out of sight and the jammy lotus root something really different. It is easier than the usual Indian cooking and the book is a wonderful read, especially the part about her father becoming the family yogurt maker.

Dear Ann:
I have heard good things about that book and have enjoyed Krishna’s articles in the New York Times Food pages. Thanks for the reminder. I’m now on the waiting list for a library copy.

From Marilyn B.:
The best place for herbs including French thyme and the tarragon you mentioned is Quailcrest Farm. It is located north of Wooster. It’s not that far. Check the website (quailcrest.com) for info. Last year it closed In June or July for the season.

Dear Marilyn;
Quailcrest is open but the French tarragon is sold out, according to the employee I reached Monday. I’ll call earlier next year. Thanks for the referral.

From Mary B.:
Here’s another version of the garlic slicer with a press built in, from Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Garlic-Crushing-Easy-Squeeze-Ergonomic-Dishwasher/dp/B0838STJ3P.

Dear Mary:
I’m hard on garlic presses like this one. Maybe I press too hard or load it too full, but they always break. Thanks, though. I’ve never seen a dual press/slicer.

From Kelly M.:
Great column last week! I’m making herbed lemonade right now and plan to make the turkey/chicken salad tomorrow. Maybe an herbed omelet for Father’s Day? My husband planted every herb imaginable, and now I’m prepared not to waste anything. Thank you!

Dear Kelly:
You’re welcome, and good luck with that. I seldom get around to using every herb in my garden. I’d like to hear how you do it. In the fall I lop off big hunks of several herb bushes — thyme, sage, oregano, rosemary — to hang by thread and thumbtacks from a beam in my kitchen to dry. The leftover basil is turned into pesto to freeze. The rest of the herbs languish over winter. Any ideas for what to do with marjoram and chives? I use them in a couple of recipes each but not nearly enough.

June 17, 2020

Dear friends,
Tony dug a turkey from the depths of our giant chest freezer, practically crowing with delight. His find would be the perfect crash-test dummy for his latest project, a garage-sale homemade outdoor oven/smoker he had hooked up to a propane tank from our camper. The steel-plate oven/smoker, rusty with age, has been in our backyard for a couple of years and it works fine with charcoal and wood as fuel. Now Tony wanted to test its mettle with propane. “What’s wrong with wood and charcoal,” I whined?

After thawing the turkey for a couple of days and dry-brining with salt, it went into the smoker with a pan of water. Tony could not keep the temperature under 300 degrees. After an hour, the front end of the turkey looked like a cigar had exploded in its face. “What’s wrong with wood and charcoal,” I whined?

Tony was stoic. He would see the experiment through to the end. The result was a turkey that, in fact, resembled charcoal but tasted nothing like the glorious charcoal-smoked turkeys I produce at Thanksgiving. Still, it was turkey and the interior was moist and edible. It’s hard to ruin a turkey.

We had enough turkey for dinners and lunches for four days. I was in heaven. My favorite was a chopped salad I made with the turkey, onion, avocado and romaine, glossed with an Asian dressing and topped with crunchy rice noodles. Just as Tony started to rebel at another meal of turkey, I whipped up this beauty for lunch.

The recipe makes a lot. I heaped two-thirds on it on a platter, crowned it with a cloud of puffed rice noodles and photographed it. I was starving, so I scooped half of the leftovers in the bowl onto a plate for myself and yelled out the back door that lunch was ready. Five minutes later Tony sailed into the dining room with a fork and the platter. He thought I had portioned it up for him.

I didn’t say a word about Tony’s giant lunch other than to whine, “Next time, charcoal and wood.”

If you don’t have a turkey on hand, leftover rotisserie chicken will do nicely in this recipe.You also may swap out the vegetables for whatever you have on hand.

CHOPPED CHICKEN SALAD WITH CRISPY NOODLES

Dressing:
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. sesame oil

Salad:
Canola oil
2 to 21/2 oz. rice noodles
Salt
1 cup peeled, seeded cucumber in 1/2-inch diced
1 cup red or sweet onion in 1/2-inch dice
3/4 cup diced red bell pepper
3 cups chopped romaine or iceberg lettuce
2 cups cooked chicken or turkey in 1/2-inch dice
2 avocados in 1/2-inch dice

Combine dressing ingredients in a custard cup and set aside.

Heat about 1 inch of oil in a wide, heavy skillet. While oil heats, pull apart the rice noodles over a bowl. Toss a noodle into the oil to test the temperature. If it puffs immediately, it’s ready. Fry noodles by the handful in a single layer, turning with tongs to puff on both sides. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt.

Combine the remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Add dressing and salt to taste and toss gently but thoroughly to coat. Heap salad on four plates. Top with fried noodles. Makes 4 servings.

TIDBIT
A bounty of herbs
The chives are in full bloom, the mint is creeping toward the garage and the sage is overrunning the thyme and marjoram. I love this time of year when the air is perfumed with herbs running riot.

I used to pore through books and websites for new ways to use each herb. Now I use them all together, all the time. I will pick a few sprigs of each and, bundled together, snip them into a cherry-tomato salad. Last week I snipped thyme, marjoram, chives and sage into a bowl of cooked and shelled edamame (you can buy them shelled), sprinkled them with crumbled feta, olive oil and lemon juice, and added a big pinch of coarse salt. It was so fresh-tasting.

I’m also crazy about mint-basil lemonade. I squeeze a lemon half over ice in a glass, add Splenda or sugar to taste and a few crushed basil and mint leaves. Fill with water and stir. Sometimes I omit the lemon and sugar and let the herbs flavor the water overnight.

How do you make use of your herb patch? Also, does anybody know where I can buy some French thyme? Culinary tarragon plants have become elusive the last few years, and the ones I do find and plant don’t make it to spring.

Where Dining is life
“…the belief, shared by everyone here, that what happens at the table is among the most important activities in civilization. It is about intimacy, convivium, creativity, appetites, desire, euphoria, culture, and the joys of being alive.”
— Bill Buford, writing about the French culinary capital, Lyon, in his new book, “Dirt: Adventures in Lyon as a Chef in Training, Father and Sleuth Looking for the Secret of French Cooking.”

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Herb and feta omelet, steamed asparagus; grilled chicken legs with gochujang barbecue sauce, tomato salad with garlic, basil and mint, and baked Japanese sweet potatoes; venison spaghetti sauce; spaghetti squash baked with ricotta, spaghetti sauce and Asiago cheese; edamame salad with fresh herbs, crumbled feta and lemon juice.

What I ordered out:
Marinated grilled chicken, beef and kefteh, basmati rice, kibbee, baba ganoush, hummus, tabouli and pita bread from Mediterranean Market & Grill in Cuyahoga Falls.

THE MAILBAG
From Marlene H.:
You asked about our quarantine eating experience. Mine was such a derailment, although a somewhat needed comforting derailment. I normally would buy a one-pound bag of flour and a one-pound bag of sugar, which would last me a year or more as I’d only use it during the holidays for a few traditional recipes. Pre-quarantine I used non-traditional ingredients like almond flour, cassava flour, coconut sugar, stevia, almond milk, and the like. I even was to the point of really liking the shiritaki noodles.

Since the stay-safe-at-home order began mid-March, I have gone through at least 15 pounds of flour,10 pounds of sugar, six pounds of butter, and over a gallon of cream making bread, pizzas, pretzels, 30-layer crepe cakes, pies, pasta and lasagna, just to name a few. I’d really appreciate your recipes for salad meals, especially some that utilize the grill.

Thanks so much! Always enjoy your newsletter, but it’s been especially comforting during this time.

Dear Marlene:
Dang, pretzels? A 30-layer crepe cake? I wish I’d thought of them. But my wanton butter-and-cream days are over and it sounds like yours are, too. I hope you will try my chopped turkey/chicken salad because it is so filling. Grilled steak salads are favorites, too. I like to heap dressed lettuce, onions and cherry tomatoes on a platter and top it with sliced grilled steak, grilled pepper strips, grilled asparagus and, in the middle, a mound of sautéed sliced mushrooms or cubes of roasted butternut squash.

From Linda C.:
I have definitely gone plant based. Eating more oil-free hummus has helped, along with more fruits and vegetables. I found a Southwest dip to add to veggies, tacos or on baked potatoes. I’m sharing it and another recipe.

I’m just starting to use tofu. I’ll try your recipe.

SOUTHWEST DRESSING/DIP
1/4 cup raw cashews
1/2 cup salsa
1 tbsp. cider vinegar
1 tbsp. lime juice
If you don’t have a strong high-speed blender, soak the cashews in water at least 1 hour and drain. Puree all ingredients in a blender, thinning with a little water if desired. Refrigerate.

CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER HUMMUS
1 can chickpeas, drained
1/4 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup cocoa powder
Pinch of salt
2 tbsp. water
Pulse chickpeas in a food processor until almost smooth. Add remaining ingredients and pulse/blend to desired consistency. Refrigerate in an airtight container. Optional: Top with mini chocolate chips to serve. Serve with apple slices, graham crackers or other fruits for dipping.

Dear Linda:
Thanks for the interesting recipes. They both sound like a painless way to go meat-free.

From Beth N.:
This tofu press seemed extravagant when I purchased it, but we have put it to good use and saved a couple trees’ worth of paper towels in the process. Plus — so easy! Press in morning for use at night. Refrigerate leftover pressed tofu for another day if needed (only one vegetarian in house). I know this one is out of stock, but worth looking into!

Tofu Press to transform your tofu by Tofuture. For more information: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01698J0RU/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_U_sqs4EbQQ9CK14

Dear Beth:
How cool! This is just the type of gadget I would rush out and buy. Or these days, click and buy. I had no idea it existed. I see that several manufacturers make tofu presses if the Tofuture model is unavailable.

From Joy:
Reading your recent newsletter about the problem with grating ginger, I thought you might be interested in this garlic slicer I bought way back in 2012 that I also use for ginger, although the ginger has to be cut into smaller pieces akin to the size of a garlic clove to fit the slicer: http://www.janesbakerandchef.com/mobile/Zyliss-Garlic-Slicer-P808.aspx

It was quite cheap at the time I bought it, only five bucks, but I see that now the price has doubled. It’s an unnecessary gadget no cook really needs, of course, and like all gadgets it doesn’t work perfectly every time, but it does come in handy for this old gal when I’m prepping ingredients for stir fries, etc. as my cutting skills at age 76 are not as “sharp” as they used to be!

Dear Joy:
But is there ever really an unnecessary kitchen gadget? I say this as someone once awarded the title of “queen of kitchen gadgets” by a moving crew. Thanks for the recommendation.

June 10, 2020

Dear friends,
After pruning my cookbooks, I missed those hundreds of books’ worth of inspiration. I finally found the motherload without paying a penny. I just downloaded the app “Libby.” Now I can borrow hundreds of cookbooks from my library with my iPad.

Yes, I know I’m late to the party. I had the Overdrive library app years ago, but it was so complicated I had to attend classes to learn how to use it. And then so few ebooks were available that I deleted it. I bought some cookbooks, discovered the discount ebook site BookBub and bought a few more. But I wanted to borrow books, not buy them.

A friend finally clued me into Libby, Overdrive’s replacement. It is easy to use and has many cookbooks that can be downloaded directly to Kindle. I’m thrilled. It can be found in your online app store.

I was so excited I rashly downloaded a batch of books but had time to cook from just one of them. It’s a pretty good one, though. “5 Spices, 50 Dishes” by Ruta Kahate is filled with recipes for simplified Indian-style dishes including the one I made last week, Sweet Potatoes With Ginger and Lemon.

I didn’t have sweet potatoes (#coronashopping) so I used butternut squash. I didn’t have fresh hot peppers so I used pickled jalapeños. In these semi-quarantine times, we make do.

The dish is full of flavor and tastes even better cold or room temperature than hot. It makes a lot more than the four servings the author says so I had plenty of leftovers to eat with sandwiches and to sizzle in a skillet with spinach for a kind of Indian-style hash that I served with eggs.

Note: Use the big holes of a box grater to grate the ginger in the recipe. If you try to “finely grate” it, as called for in many recipes, you will end up with ginger juice and a pile of hay-like fiber. Trust the voice of experience.

Now, this is off the beaten food path but I wan’t to mention two other library apps technophobes like me may have missed. Acorn, the great site for British TV shows, can be accessed from the RBDigital app, free with your library card (at least in Akron; probably many other libraries, too). Ditto for Kanopy, an app for borrowing documentaries and independent films.

Now, back to cooking:

SWEET POTATOES WITH GINGER AND LEMON

2 lbs. sweet potatoes and/or butternut squash
2 tbsp. canola oil
½ tsp. whole mustard seeds
2 small green serrano chiles (or 1 jalapeno), cut horizontally in half
1 medium red onion, finely chopped (about 1½ cups)
1 tsp. grated fresh ginger (about 2-inch piece; see note above)
½ tsp. ground turmeric
½ to ¾ teaspoon salt
2 tbsp. lemon juice, or to taste

Boil the sweet potatoes in water to cover until just tender. Cool, peel, and cut into 1-inch pieces. If you use butternut squash, peel and cube the squash before boiling until tender.

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over high heat. When the oil begins to smoke, add the mustard seeds, covering the pan with a lid or spatter screen. When the seeds stop sputtering, add the chiles. When the chiles are toasted, add the onion and ginger. Sauté until the onion is lightly browned, then add the turmeric and stir.

Add the sweet potatoes or squash and salt and toss gently to mix. Cover and steam over low heat until the flavors meld, about 4 minutes. Sprinkle the lemon juice over and serve hot or at room temperature. Makes 6 servings.

From “5 Spices, 50 Dishes” Ruta Kahate.

TIDBITS
When I asked what kind of recipes you want these days, Kathryn G. wrote to say she is tired of cooking. She cooked liked crazy during lockdown, and now just wants to be outside. Sounds familiar. With the beautiful weather calling, we all need ideas for quick meals and snacks. I have a few and hope others do, too.

* Buy some really good crusty bread. Cut into thick slices, arrange on a platter and sprinkle with olive oil and some chopped tomato. Grind some pepper and sprinkle with chunky salt. Drape folded prosciutto slices over the bread. Imagine you are in Italy.
* Buy some good salami, a hunk of Asiago cheese, grapes, cherry tomatoes and crackers or a baguette. Slice the salami and cheese and arrange everything on a bread board. This could be dinner or a snack.
* Dress up a rotisserie chicken dinner with the snappy cherry tomato salad I made last week. Place the tomatoes in a single layer on a cutting board. Press lightly with one hand while cutting horizontally with a serrated knife. You can cut a bunch at a time this way. Toss in a bowl with sea salt and a chopped clove of garlic. Go outside and pick sprigs of mint and basil or whatever herbs you find. Bundle them together and mince them with scissors right into the tomato bowl. Stir.
* Make sheet pan suppers. Place pork chops or chicken thighs or boneless breasts on a foil-lined baking sheet. Add cherry tomatoes, asparagus, onion chunks or whatever fresh vegetables you have on hand. Spray lightly with olive oil spray. Season with salt and pepper. You could slather some kind of bottled sauce — even mayo — on the meat. Roast at 400 degrees until done. Check every 20 minutes or so and remove items as they finish cooking.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Fried rice with shrimp, asparagus and peppers; smoked mojo-marinated chicken leg quarters and Japanese sweet potatoes; butternut squash and spinach hash with steamed egg and toast; dry-brined smoked turkey, roast sweet potatoes; broiled open-face turkey sandwiches with pesto and feta cheese, sautéed cherry tomatoes and bell pepper with balsamic vinegar; steamed asparagus; chopped turkey salad with soy-sesame dressing and crispy rice sticks; grilled filet mignon, baked potatoes, tomato salad with garlic, basil and mint; mint and basil lemonade.

What I ordered out:
Greek gyro and salad from Continental Cuisine in Fairlawn; a ham and pineapple pizza from Rizzi’s Pizzeria in Copley.

THE MAILBAG
From Martha K.:
I drain tofu so it will brown better in stir fries and roasting. I make crispy baked tofu by tearing it for more craggy edges. Toss with spices of choice and roast at 450 degrees. It’s crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. When I roast tofu I’ll add vegetables to the pan such as whole trimmed scallions, halves of baby bok choy, or red onion quarters, broccoli, whatever’s on hand. Here’s a basic recipe: https://www.epicurious.com/ingredients/oven-roasted-tofu-is-the-main-vegetarian-we-need-article. Here’s a recipe for a shawarma-spiced tofu pita sandwich but the method is perfect for a main dish: http://www.epicurious.com/recipe/food/views/shawarma-spiced-tofu-pita-wraps.

Dear Martha:
I’m going to try your technique minus the oil (but with a sheen of olive oil spray) and see if that works (I’m cutting calories). I really like the idea of tearing the tofu into jagged pieces to create more surface for crisping. Thanks for the info.

From Joy, Vancouver, B.C.:
In your latest newsletter I noticed your question about baking crispy tofu and thought you might be interested in how a blogger I follow makes her crispy baked tofu. I kept her recipe on file as my oldest granddaughter is vegan. I’m actually game to try any type of food within reason but if I tried to feed it to my husband he’d leave the table and head out for McD’s. The recipe is at: https://cookieandkate.com/how-to-make-crispy-baked-tofu/.

Dear Joy:
This recipe has a couple of twists. The tofu is weighted and squeezed after cutting into cubes, and just one tablespoon of oil suffices for the entire 12-ounce package. It doesn’t say whether to use regular or silken tofu, so I’m guessing regular. Thanks for sending this.

From Carol W.:
Where do you find silken tofu? I would like to give it a try. Sounds good!

Dear Carol:
I have bought it in regular supermarkets and also Asian food stores. The package will say “Silken Tofu.” Remember to buy firm.

From Carol B.:
Do you use toasted sesame oil only or does it matter? Thanks.

Dear Carol:
Yes, I use only toasted sesame oil. It’s the one with the big flavor, and it is used in small quantities. I have never actually seen untoasted sesame oil, although I’m sure it is available. My go-to unflavored oils for cooking are canola and corn or whatever is on sale.

June 3, 2020

Dear friends,
Eating less meat? Join the club. Whether because of soaring prices or ecological concerns, going meatless (at least occasionally) has gone mainstream. Meatless Mondays are almost as popular as taco Tuesdays. Well, maybe not but the trend is picking up steam.

Although I’m there in spirit, my usual high-protein, low-carb diet posed a problem. And then I fell for tofu.

In all my years of writing about food, I never really warmed up to tofu until I married Tony. He does not eat a lot of tofu, but he did take me to his hometown in Japan where I had a memorable restaurant meal of atsu age — a block of deep-fried tofu drenched in a spicy sauce.

Suddenly I saw what the fuss was about. In a word, texture. The tofu was crisp outside and almost custardy inside. It had little flavor of its own but soaked up all the lovely flavors of the sauce. I’ve been trying to duplicate that dish ever since. In the process, I’ve learned a lot about tofu.

Tony taught me to buy silken tofu, the style used in Japan. Eventually I figured out that firm silken tofu (it will say that on the carton) holds up to cutting and frying, and yields a soft interior with a crispy crust.

Others may prefer cottony regular tofu and most experts insist on draining the tofu by pressing it with weights before cutting and frying. But I’ve tried regular tofu and I’ve tried weighting and draining tofu, and I prefer silken tofu undrained. The reason for draining tofu is to prevent it from crumbling, but I didn’t find that to be a problem.

By the way, I also have spent a lot of time trying to devise a good recipe for crispy baked tofu, so far without success. The recipes and techniques I’ve tried produced a cardboard-y texture and dried-out interior. If any of you have solved that problem, let me know.

The spicy sauce I had in Japan remains elusive, but I have come up with a great spring tofu dish that made me forget about that quest. I had to do something with the asparagus popping up like whack-a-mole in my patch, so I stir-fried a bunch in a gingery sesame sauce that I spooned over crisp cubes of tofu. It was delicious. We didn’t miss the meat a bit.

CRISPY TOFU WITH STIR-FRIED ASPARAGUS

1 block (12 oz.) firm silken tofu
1/4 cup cornstarch
Vegetable oil

For the asparagus:
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
3 tbsp. rice wine or sherry
2 tsp. sesame oil
2 tsp. minced ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 green onions, sliced (white and green parts)
1 lb. asparagus, trimmed and angle-cut in 1-inch pieces
1 tsp. toasted sesame seeds

Remove tofu from carton and pat dry with paper towels. Cut in half horizontally, then cut into 1- to 1 1/2-inch cubes. Place cornstarch in a shallow bowl. Roll tofu cubes in cornstarch, lightly coating all sides.

Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a large, heavy skillet over high heat. When oil shimmers, add tofu cubes and cook until brown on all sides, turning with tongs. Drain on paper towels.

For the asparagus, combine hoisin, rice wine and sesame oil in a custard cup and mix well. Set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Stir fry ginger, garlic and onion until edges begin to color. Add asparagus and stir fry until tender-crisp. Add hoisin mixture and stir fry until asparagus is glazed and tender.

Arrange tofu on two dinner plates. Spoon asparagus and sauce over tofu. Garnish with sesame seeds. Makes 2 servings.

TIDBITS
Did you, too, pack on a few pounds during quarantine? Have you started eating more healthfully now? I’d like to hear what your quarantine eating experience was like and how — or if — it is different now.

I feel like I’m coming out of hibernation. I am back on my online Zoom eating plan and am down 8 pounds. This week I’m working on taking off those Peruvian caramel sandwich cookies I scarfed in March. Then I’ll start on the Florida fried shrimp and buffet restaurant pounds.

My non-diet diet is bearable because I’m not starving myself (I eat 1,200 calories daily) and I love vegetables, which I’m preparing in a variety of ways.

How are you eating differently now, either because the season has changed or you are shaking off the hibernation pounds, too? What kind of recipes would you like me to create this month? Let me know.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Chicken salad with grapes and walnuts; French toast; Sonoran shrimp ceviche; butternut squash with ginger and lemon, pan-grilled pork chops; butternut squash and spinach hash with a fried egg; stir-fried ginger chicken with bell peppers and spicy hoisin sauce.

What I ordered out:
Miso soup, shrimp sunomono and a California roll from Sushi Katsu in Akron; a Korean barbecued beef taco and a Buffalo chicken taco from Funky Truckeria in Norton.

THE MAILBAG
From M.A.:
My husband, John, just LOVES bean salad! But he can never find any to compare with what was served at Gus’ Chalet on Tallmadge Avenue in Akron.

Do you know if it was ever published anywhere? Or do you have a recipe that might be similar? I’m sure the main difference is whatever was used as the dressing. Not being a bean salad fan, I just don’t remember if it was creamy or vinegar/oil based or something else entirely.

Hope you or one of your readers might be able to help.

Dear M.A.:
The classic restaurant, now closed, used to serve a complimentary dish of good old Akron-style kidney bean salad to dinner guests. The dressing was indeed creamy. I don’t have Gus’ exact recipe but this one from Nick Anthe’s may suffice:

KIDNEY BEAN SALAD
5 cups cooked red kidney beans
3/4 cup celery, finely diced
3/4 cup finely diced Spanish olives
1 cup finely diced sweet pickles
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. white pepper
1/2 cup mayonnaise (or to taste)
2 tbsp. sweet pickle juice

Rinse and drain beans (canned is fine). Combine with remaining ingredients and chill until flavors have blended. Makes 12 servings. Recipe may be halved.

May 27, 2020

Dear friends,
Tony was supportive when I joined a weight-loss program last May. He cheered me on for eight months, though vacations and holidays, as I lost 30 pounds. By January he’d had enough. Would I please abandon my sensible eating plan for our two-month stay in Florida? Could we just live a little?

Good lord, it was like firing a starting gun.

I ate sweet rolls and pasta. I had deep-fried shrimp and ice cream cones. I snacked on chips in the evenings with Tony. By the time I stepped on the scale at home in March, I had gained ten pounds. And I was HAPPY! I thought I had gained more.

No problem, I thought. Then the pandemic hit and in lockdown, all bets were off for many of us. We baked. We ate. We did not exercise. From March to May I gained another ten.

This time I was NOT happy. My health is on the line, so once more I am watching what I eat. Is this the month you, too, rang down the curtain on corona-eating? I see fewer photos of breads and cakes on social media. Hardly anyone is sharing recipes for cinnamon rolls these days. It was fun, but now we must face the flab.

My game plan, as it was last year, is simply eating sensibly — lean proteins, lots of vegetables, fewer carbs and smaller portions. Boring but effective.

I’ m trying to eliminate the boring part by dreaming up recipes for filling, flavor-packed meals that fit into my lower-carb, lower-cal plan. That’s how I came up with this latest full-meal salad. It features two poached eggs (lean protein) over a pile of foraged dandelion greens, showered with a chopped tomato salad in a Vietnamese-inspired dressing. Fresh basil and mint punch up the flavor.

The night I made the salad Tony prepared his own dinner (ramen, I think) and complained later about the absence of snacks in the house. He’ll get over it. I just hope never again will he tell me to “live a little.”

POACHED EGGS ON GREENS WITH HERBED TOMATO SALAD

Tomato salad:
2 tomatoes, seeded and diced (2 cups)
2 tbsp. chopped fresh basil
2 tbsp. chopped fresh mint
1 tbsp. fish sauce
1 tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. lime juice
2 tsp. white vinegar
1 tsp. water
1/2 tsp hot pepper flakes
1 clove garlic, minced

Also:
4 large eggs
4 to 6 cups torn dandelion greens, arugula or leaf lettuce, washed and dried
Coarse sea salt, fresh-ground pepper

Place tomatoes and chopped herbs in a medium bowl. In a custard cup, combine remaining tomato salad ingredients and stir well. Pour over tomatoes and toss to coat. Set aside.

Break eggs one at a time, spacing evenly, into a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Gently nudge the eggs with a slotted spoon to prevent them from sticking to the bottom. Cook to desired degree of doneness (I like set but moist yolks, which take about 7 minutes). While the eggs cook, pile greens on two dinner plates. Remove eggs with a slotted spoon and nestle atop the greens. Spoon tomato salad over all. Season with coarse salt and pepper. Makes 2 servings.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Tomato, pesto and melted Cheddar on toast; poached eggs on dandelion greens with basil-mint tomato salad; cauliflower-coconut soup with Thai curry; chicken, tomato and pesto on toast; pesto, tomato, hard-fried egg and melted feta on toast; hamburgers and bagged chopped salad; roast steelhead trout glazed with sweet soy sauce, with roast cauliflower, cherry tomatoes, red peppers and potatoes; grilled filet mignons, steamed asparagus and a 2010 Black Ridge Merlot.

What I ordered out:
Thai chicken and pibil conchinita tacos from Funky Truckeria in Norton.

THE MAILBAG
From Lauren F.:
Forget the Instant Pot for hard-boiled eggs and don’t worry about buying them early. Here’s the fail-proof method for easy-to-peel eggs that I learned from Cooks Illustrated Magazine:

Put steamer basket in saucepan and add water to level just below bottom of steamer. Remove basket. Set pan on heat and bring to boil. Set eggs in basket and set basket in saucepan. Cover and lower heat to a high simmer. Simmer for 14 minutes. Remove pan from heat. Remove eggs with tongs or slotted spoon into bowl of ice water. Let sit until cold.

I am not scientifically inclined, but the steaming method vs. the boiling method has something to do with causing that membrane between the shell and the white to release, making the eggs a breeze to peel.

Dear Lauren:
Thanks for that great tip. I will try it the next time I have fresh eggs and a batch of deviled eggs to make.

From Ann F.:
You are absolutely correct about Béarnaise sauce – it is the best, especially over a nice medium rare piece of beef. Like you I only make it on rare occasions, but when I do I have used the red wine Béarnaise recipe from Madeline Kamen. It is always a hit and I have broken it a couple of times but my friend Cheryl learned how to rescue it so that you don’t throw away a whole cup of butter. I find the real problem is locating fresh chervil as I like the fresh herb version. Still miss the old West Point; they always had it. I have managed to find it when needed, but right now it is not a good idea to have to go to multiple stores to find it.

Dear Ann:
You probably noticed I left out the chervil. I would plant some but I use it so seldom it doesn’t seem worth the trouble. Does anyone else use chervil on a semi-regular basis? What do you use it for besides Béarnaise?

For those who are wondering, a broken Béarnaise can be rescued by whisking the sauce, drop by drop, into an egg yolk in another bowl.

May 21, 2020

Dear friends,
Half of Northeast Ohio was a step ahead of us in placing orders for Cinco de Mayo tacos at Funky Truckeria in Norton. Geez, it was like dialing in for tickets to an Eagles concert. The restaurant sold a night’s worth of carryout in the blink of an eye and had to stop taking orders.

If you haven’t had the upscale tacos (aka fancy-pants tacos, fusion tacos) from Funky Truckeria, correct your mistake at the earliest opportunity. The food is awesome.

On the other hand, if it’s another Mexican holiday of some sort and you get closed out, you might want to make my back-up tacos, as I did. They’re pretty good, too.

My favorite tacos feature the unlikely combination of chicken, butternut squash and feta cheese. I know that sounds odd but it’s seriously good. I add various items depending on what’s in the fridge and you should, too. Post-Cinco de Mayo it was avocado, cilantro and hot sauce. Sautéed mushrooms would be good. So would Mexican crema or salsa fresca.

The key to a good taco is a good corn tortilla, so if you have an Hispanic grocery nearby hit it for fresh tortillas. Or fresh-ish. I just had supermarket tortillas and they were OK after I warmed them in a skillet, a critical step. To avoid adding tons of fat, spray a hot cast-iron or nonstick pan with oil spray and warm the tortilla for 10 to 15 seconds on each side. Remove it with tongs and immediately fold it in half.

My “recipe” is more a list of ingredients with notes. I prep the ingredients throughout the day or even start the day before and reheat the fillings in the microwave. My strange combination makes me think there may be another delicious combo I haven’t thought of. What do you stuff in your tacos? If you get a minute, let me know.

BUTTERNUT TACOS

* Chicken breasts, sautéed or oven-baked, then cut across the grain into 1/2-inch-wide strips. One breast will feed two or three people.
* A butternut squash, peeled, halved, de-seeded, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and roasted on a greased baking sheet at 400 degrees until tender and starting to caramelize at the edges. You’ll have way too much for tacos, which is a good thing if you love butternut squash.
* Crumbled feta cheese. About 1 tablespoon per taco is all you’ll need. I’m stuffed after two tacos but Tony can eat four, so plan according to your appetites.
* 1 avocado for 6 tacos. At the last minute, halve and cut the flesh into slivers. Tony’s sushi-chef tip is to leave the avocado halves in the shell and cut away slivers with a dull dinner knife.
* Corn tortillas, warmed per the directions above. Tony likes two stacked tortillas for each taco. I save calories with just one.
* Cilantro, washed and rolled in a clean dish towel to dry. Use the stems if they’re tender. If not, just the leaves.
* Hot pepper sauce to taste.

Prepare all of the ingredients, leaving the tortillas and avocado for the last. Warm the tortillas to order and fill with the remaining ingredients. Happy post-Cinco de Mayo.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Hummus; Genghis Khan (griddled thin-sliced lamb in a ginger-soy sauce), steamed rice, stir-fried carrots, green onions and bean sprouts; Sonoran shrimp ceviche with baked corn tortilla chips; crustless quiche; poached egg, chopped jicama and celery with chile oil in a pita (strange but good); ramen with soy-glazed pork loin, bean sprouts, wilted spinach, sliced sweet potato and 7-minute egg; stir fried sesame-hoisin asparagus over oven-crisped tofu chunks; broiled feta, tomato and pesto toast; spaghetti squash baked with meat sauce, ricotta and Parmesan.

What I ordered out:
Kefteh and falafel sandwiches from Sanibel Middle East Bakery in Akron.

THE MAILBAG

From Marlene:
Just wanted to thank you and Anna S. for the Jenny Can Cook 2-hour no-knead bread recipe. I made it and it was delicious — crunchy crust and soft interior with a nice chew, which I liked. I shared the recipe and pictures with family across the country and OMG, so many made it too! Some of them had yeast from 2019 and some didn’t have Dutch ovens, but they made it work! The 2019 yeast was still good (like you said it might be) and metal roasting pans with lids work too.

Thanks again! You brought a lot of joy!

Dear Marlene:
I, too, tried the recipe after Anna S. recommended it and I just loved it. I won’t go back to regular no-knead bread as long as I have plenty of yeast (it takes 2 teaspoons rather than the 1/4 teaspoon of the original recipe). I actually like the 2-hour version better. The flavor isn’t quite as developed but the crust is a bit more tender while still delivering the crunch.

For those who missed it, the recipe can be found at https://www.jennycancook.com/recipes/2-hour-fastest-no-knead-bread/.

From S.S.:
I know it is totally unclassy of me, but I always do the blender prep versions of Hollandaise and Béarnaise and they are perfect every time. I fully understand that I am an embarrassment to French culinary standards, and frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.

Dear S.S.:
Good for you. I have had some excellent blender versions. With nothing but time on my hands, I go the classic route.

From Carol B.:
I know that you don’t use your Instant Pot. However, if you want hard-cooked eggs that peel VERY easily, I suggest that you use it for that. I was amazed.

Dear Carol:
So I’ve heard. I just can’t see reading an instruction book that I won’t understand anyway (I’m mechanically uninclined) to perform a task I can do without thinking on the stove. And possibly (not a sure thing by any means) I will buy the eggs far enough in advance for the shells to peel easily.

May 13, 2020

Dear friends,
I dyed my hair teal with food coloring last week. This is Day 60 of self-isolation for me and I am losing touch with reality, like Tom Hanks when he befriended a soccer ball in “Castaway.”

I think that explains the Béarnaise sauce. I haven’t eaten the butter-rich sauce in decades, even though it is just about the most delicious stuff on the planet. In real life, I couldn’t justify the calories. Now: Bring it on.

If I’m going to go off the deep end I can’t think of a lovelier place to land than a puddle of Béarnaise, the classic egg-butter emulsion that can turn a steak into a night on the town without leaving your kitchen.

Béarnaise is more than just Hollandaise without the lemon. It has the same voluptuous, silky texture but is flavored with a vinegar-shallot reduction and my favorite herb, tarragon. I didn’t have a shallot nor fresh tarragon, so I substituted chopped onion and dried tarragon. It was fine.

You shouldn’t get cocky with Béarnaise sauce, though. Unless you’re a chef who makes it day after day, you really should haul out a recipe and read it. Follow the steps until a thick, glossy yellow ribbon drops in folds from your whisk.

I have made Béarnaise sauce maybe a dozen times in my life. I have failed when I rushed or merely glanced at the directions and thought, “I can take it from here.” Uh, no. Mostly I have succeeded, though, thanks to Julia or whomever I tapped that day to help.

Don’t make this sauce too far in advance. If it stands too long it will separate, although you may hold it for up to a half hour on the back of the stove atop a pan filled with an inch or so of hot water.

Ready to cosset yourself?

CLASSIC BÉARNAISE SAUCE

¼ cup white-wine vinegar
1 small shallot, peeled and minced, or 1 tbsp. minced onion
1 tsp. dried tarragon or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
2 egg yolks
12 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
Salt to taste

Place the vinegar, shallots and tarragon in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Simmer until just a few tablespoons are left. Transfer to a metal bowl to cool. When tepid, whisk in the egg yolks and 1 tablespoon of water.

Fill a small saucepan with 1 inch of water and bring almost to a simmer. The pan should be large enough to hold the metal bowl without the bottom of the bowl touching the water. Reduce heat to low and place the bowl over the saucepan. Whisk the yolk mixture until the yolks thicken and almost double in volume, about 5 to 7 minutes. This is tedious but keep at it. The reward is great.

Slowly drizzle in the melted butter by tablespoons while whisking, making sure each tablespoon is incorporated before adding more. Continue until all the the butter has been absorbed by the eggs. You may remove the bowl from the water from time to time if necessary to prevent the yolks from cooking. When the sauce is thick and glossy, season to taste with salt. Drape over steaks and serve.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
No-knead bread; Indian butter chicken with steamed rice; coconut meringues; chocolate mug cake; chicken and butternut squash tacos with grilled onions, feta, avocado, cilantro and Crystal Hot Sauce; lemon pudding; sausage and onion sandwiches; 2-hour no-knead bread; sausage and potato soup; sausage, tomato and potato scrambled eggs with toast; stewed rhubarb; pan-grilled asparagus and pan-fried tofu chunks with spicy gochuchang sauce; pork roast and fresh pineapple in mojo sauce with a baked potato.

What I ate from restaurants:
Wonton soup, steamed rice and homestyle tofu from House of Hunan in Fairlawn; chicken sandwich from KFC; hamburger with onions, pickles and Bob’s Sauce from Bob’s Hamburg in Akron; barbecued pork bun and ginger cookies from Park to Shop in Cleveland.

THE MAILBAG
From Noreen:
Wow, Jane. You really need to finish that mug cake cookbook. Like you, I have not baked at all, knowing I would end up eating 75% of what I baked. This little mug cake with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream was heavenly. Thank you for the great recipe.

Dear Noreen:
Thanks for the encouragement. The book is actually about all kinds of microwave mug desserts — cakes, puddings, pies, crisps, bread puddings and cheesecakes. Here’s a pudding recipe. Note that the hot mixture is stirred gently. If you beat a cornstarch pudding after it has thickened, it will turn watery after it cools.

QUICK BUTTERSCOTCH MUG PUDDING
1 1/2 tbsp. packed brown sugar
1/2 tbsp. (1 1/2 tsp.) cornstarch
1/2 tsp. flour
Dash of salt
1/2 cup milk
1 large egg yolk
1/2 tbsp. butter
1/8 tsp. vanilla
1 tbsp. butterscotch chips (optional but recommended)

Combine brown sugar, cornstarch, flour and salt in a 12-ounce microwave-safe mug. Beat in milk with a fork until smooth. Microwave on high power for 1 minute, or until pudding comes to a hard boil and rises to the top of the mug. Stir gently.

Drizzle about 4 tablespoons of hot pudding over the egg yolk a little at a time in a custard cup, beating rapidly with a fork to prevent the egg from cooking. With a small rubber spatula, scrape egg mixture back into the pudding in the mug and combine gently but thoroughly. Microwave on high power for 10 to 15 seconds, until pudding just comes to a boil. Stir gently. If necessary, microwave 5 seconds longer to thicken.

Cut the butter in two pieces and add with the vanilla and butterscotch chips to the hot pudding. Let stand 1 minute. Stir slowly until the butter melts completely and the butterscotch chips mostly melt. Chill in freezer for 10 minutes. The pudding will be soft-set and may be eaten at this point. For a firmer texture, chill in refrigerator until set.

May 6, 2020

Dear friends,

Thank goodness for Michele’s electronic calendar. She called on April 28 after a nudge from her phone to wish me a happy anniversary. I was deep into the New York Times and Tony was cleaning the garage. We had completely forgotten.

I swung into action. I wanted to have a cake and a card to shame him with when he returned from sorting his tool. Heh heh. That could be anywhere from 10 minutes to a half hour. I made it with time to spare, thanks to some Crayons and my annoyingly unfinished cookbook. I knew that sucker would come in handy someday.

In about the time it takes to make a cup of tea, I made two moist chocolate mug cakes in my microwave. They were honestly as good as a homemade cake from the oven. Once again I was struck by how dumb I was not to make a buck on my microwave cake technique, which is different from any I’ve seen.The secret is use an egg yolk instead of a whole egg, which is too large for a mug-sized cake, and to bake the cake at 50 percent power to slow down the activation of the baking powder. The result is a moist, tender texture identical to oven-baked.

This is the second or third mug cake I’ve made in quarantine. I’ve been dipping into my stash of orphan recipes for a sweet little something rather than bake an entire cake and deal with the weight gain later. Mug cakes are ideal for corona snacking. I’ve seen photos of friends’ trays of cinnamon buns and counters paved with banana bread and wonder how (or if) they resist the temptation to polish off the batch. With a mug cake, I don’t worry.

My miniature chocolate cake is excellent in part because I use good ingredients — butter, milk, vanilla, flour, etc. — instead of a mix. You’ll have to separate an egg and drag out the baking powder and measuring spoons but the batter goes together quickly and bakes in just two minutes in an 1100- to 1200-watt microwave.

Because I’m not wasting a scrap of food these days, I beat the leftover egg whites with sugar, added a half-cup of coconut, dolloped the meringue in puffy disks on a baking sheet and baked them slowly until they crisped up. They were delicious.

The meringues came later, though. After nuking the two chocolate mug cakes, I fetched our box of wedding keepsakes to look through and made an anniversary card with copy paper and Crayons.

Tony was surprised and happy when he returned from the garage. He was even happier when I admitted I had forgotten about our 13th anniversary, too. We ate the cake and reminisced about our corny ceremony at Cupid’s Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas. The minister was confused afterwards when he told Tony to tell what my name was.

“Jane Snow,’’ Tony said. No, her NEW name, the minister insisted.

At that point I jumped in to tell him Tony would be taking my last name. The guy’s mouth fell open. “Well, that’s a first,” he said.

CHOCOLATE MUG CAKE

3 tbsp. butter
3 tbsp. sugar, preferably superfine
2 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tbsp. flour
1/8 tsp. baking powder
Dash of salt
1/8 tsp. vanilla extract
1 egg yolk
3 tbsp. milk

Cut butter into pieces and melt on high power in a 12-ounce microwave-safe mug, about 30 to 45 seconds. Stir in sugar with a fork. Stir in cocoa powder, flour, baking powder and salt, mixing well. Add vanilla, egg yolk and milk and beat until very smooth. Scrape any bits off the bottom and beat again.

Microwave at 50 percent power for 2 minutes for 1000-to 1200-watt microwave ovens, or until the top is shiny but firm when pressed with a finger. If desired, immediately remove the cake from the mug by running a knife around the edge and inverting onto a plate. The texture will be slightly gooey while hot, and more typically cake-like when allowed to cool. Serve with ice cream or whipped topping if desired.

Note: If making more than one cake, microwave each one separately.

COCONUT MERINGUES

2 egg whites
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup (or so) sweetened shredded coconut

Beat egg whites until frothy. Continue to beat on high speed while slowly adding the sugar. Beat until stiff and glossy. Scatter in the coconut and beat briefly. Dollop onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, shaping into two circles about 1 inch thick. Bake at 300 degrees for 1 hour, or until golden brown and fairly dry. Eat out of hand like a cookie.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Szechuan spicy noodles with ground venison; no-knead bread; chocolate mug cakes; pan-grilled boneless pork chop with port wine sauce and blue cheese-almond topping, honey-glazed roast carrots; Japanese pork curry; shepherd’s pie with ground venison and mushrooms; sautéed chard and dandelion greens with garlic and burst tomatoes, olive oil-fried eggs, craggy toast with butter; cottage cheese pancakes; charcoal-grilled ribeye steaks with horseradish sauce, broccoli rabe with garlic and olive oil, baked potatoes with sour cream.

What I ate from restaurants:
Salad, filet mignon and baked potato from the Brown Derby in Medina.

CORRECTION:
The recipe for khatchapuri bread in last week’s newsletter was a victim of bad editing (my own). The amount of shredded cheese should be 1 1/2 cups. Sorry for the confusion.

THE MAILBAG
From Nancy H.:
Have you noticed any difference in the ground beef lately… say since the first of the year?

The reason I ask is because in years past, I never kept ground beef more than a few days because it would turn brown and sort of seep. Not very appetizing color and the fat portion seemed pale grey and really not fresh.

But now, selling at about 6.99 a pound, the ground meat is totally pink, very firm consistency and attractive in the same packaging even after a week. What could have been added or removed from the meat to keep it fresh even after days in the package?

Dear Nancy:
I don’t buy ground beef often because I have a supply of ground venison in the freezer. Check the package to make sure it is entirely ground beef, with no soy additives. If a preservative was added, that, too, must be revealed on the label. In any case, I would advise you not to keep ground beef in the refrigerator for a week. If you must store it longer than three or four days, freeze it.

From Marlene H.:
I made the khachapuri this morning, and of course, shared pictures with the family. Thanks for making me the hit of the day! I have out-of-town family wanting me to teleport it to them. Haha!

Dear Marlene:
Thanks for letting me know. I am crazy about that recipe, too.

From Anna S.:
I used to use the Mark Bittman’s no-knead bread recipe, too, until I found Jenny Can Cook and her 2-hour recipe. I’ve made it two times now in quarantine and love that I don’t have to plan ahead! Check out her other recipes and she has a YouTube channel. Jenny Jones, the old talk show host — who knew she could cook and is so fun to watch cook? https://www.jennycancook.com/recipes/2-hour-fastest-no-knead-bread/

Dear Anna:
I must try that 2-hour no-knead bread recipe. I checked it out and it uses lots more yeast than Bittman’s, which may be a problem for those like me who keep running out. Thanks for the tip, though. Speaking of yeast….

From Patty:
I wanted to let you know that The Ashery in Amish country has a good supply of yeast. My daughter and family drove down to get out of the house. They brought me back a good supply. Seemed reasonable, too.

From Jane in Loraine:
I’m in my mid 70s and most younger new bakers do not know about fresh yeast — found in the dairy case. One cube equals a 3-pack of dried yeast. Happy baking.

From Sharon C.:
There’s a little Mennonite farm market on the outskirts of Wadsworth that has yeast and a variety of flour in bulk. Homemade breads and pies, produce, eggs, Pearl Valley cheese, etc. also are sold. It’s also the place to go for garden and herb plants. Drive west out of Wadsworth on Greenwich Road (College Street when you are in Wadsworth) maybe 3 miles. It’s on left side on top of the hill across from Sky Park Airport and Filia Winery. Great little place…Elvin, Marvin and Anita are very accommodating. They have a sign out front announcing specials. Last week it said “We have yeast!”

Acme Farm Market
3054 Greenwich Road
330-335-6904

Dear Patty, Jane, Sharon and others:
Thank you to everyone who offered to give me yeast or pointed me to stores that have it in stock. As soon as I got Sharon’s email I drove to Acme Farm Market (a favorite place to buy vegetables in the summer) and bought a 1-pound package of yeast, enough to last me a year.

From Pat S.:
You mentioned missing fresh ginger. Perhaps you aren’t aware that it stores well in the freezer. That’s where I always keep several knobs, ready to grate or chop as needed for recipes. What I miss most during this pandemic is fresh lettuce! I’ll remedy that by planting my garden soon.

Dear Pat:
I used to keep ginger in the freezer but got out of the habit because it doesn’t taste quite as good as fresh. I finally braved a supermarket last week and bought a lot of ginger. I’m going to plant a knob of it in a pot and grow my own with instructions I found at https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=how+to+grow+ginger+in+containers+epic+gardening&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8.