January 17, 2018

Dear friends,

Temperatures dipped here to the low 60s last weekend, so hearty cooking was on my mind. I know I won’t get much sympathy from friends back in Ohio, where half-inch-thick ice encased cars, porch steps and anyone foolish enough to stand still for long.

In Okeechobee, Fla., where Tony and I are camping, the cold snap meant wearing my Fiona the hippo sweatshirt in the mornings and foregoing the swimming pool for a couple of days. Tough life.

I warmed up our camper one day with a seasoned roast bubbling in the slow cooker. Later I shredded the meat and layered it in a casserole with cheese, black olives, green onions and salsa. I baked the casserole — actually, I had enough for two — and scooped the gooey, meaty mixture into warm flour tortillas.

Making the filling this way and having diners scoop and roll their own tortillas is an easy way to make burritos for a crowd. I baked one pan of filling and froze one for later, but you could assemble the casserole in an oblong cake pan for one big batch of burritos if you are feeding a crowd.

Sorry to write and run, but I gotta go — the pool is calling. Don’t hate.

 

FRESH BAKED
SHREDDED BEEF BURRITOS:
• 2 lbs. boneless chuck roast, trimmed of fat

• 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
• 1 tsp. ground cumin
• Salt, pepper

CASSEROLE:
• 1 can (15 oz.) fat-free refried beans
• 2/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
• 1 cup chopped green onion
• 1 can (5.5 oz.) sliced black olives, drained
• 2 cups (or to taste) chunky salsa
• 2 cups shredded Monterey Jack and Colby mixed cheese

For the beef, up to two days in advance: Place roast in a baking pan and rub all over with the cayenne, cumin, salt and pepper. Add enough water to come halfway up sides of roast. Cover tightly with foil. Bake in a preheated, 350-degree oven for about 3 hours, or until very tender.

 Remove foil and cool slightly, then shred meat with two forks. Season well with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

For the casserole: Spread 1/2 can of refried beans in the bottoms of two 9-inch-square baking pans. Top evenly with the feta cheese. Spread a half-cup chopped onion in each pan, then the black olives. Divide meat between the two pans. Top each with 1 cup of the salsa and 1 cup of the shredded cheese. Cover tightly with a double layer of foil.

Casseroles may be cooked immediately, refrigerated for up to two days, or frozen. If not frozen, bake uncovered at 400 degrees for 40 minutes or until heated through.

Or freeze one or both for up to 6 months. Bake frozen casserole at 400 degrees for 45 minutes, then uncover and bake 30 minutes longer or until hot all the way through.

To serve, scoop spoonfuls of the casserole into warm flour tortillas. Pass hot sauce at the table if desired. Each casserole makes 6 burritos.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Yellow rice with Cuban black beans, sausages and fried local peppers.

What I ate in restaurants last week:
Marinated, roasted and shredded Cuban pork, yellow rice and black beans, fried ripe plantains and yuca fries with garlic dipping sauce at El Cubanito in Port St. Lucie, Fla.; two hamburger Happy Meals with fries on two trips to McDonald’s; a great chicken and sautéed onion taco with cilantro at a food truck in Indiantown, Fla.; a breaded pork cutlet sandwich at Pogey’s Family Restaurant in Okeechobee, Fla.; liver and onions, mashed potatoes and gravy at Lakeside Family Restaurant in Okeechobee; a sausage-egg burrito and coffee at McDonald’s.

Note: McDonald’s is the only place near my campground where I can access wifi. Hence the breakfasts and Happy Meals. I did get a really cool pair of cartoon cat glasses with one Happy Meal, which made it all worthwhile.

THE MAILBAG

From Chris O., Charlotte, N.C.:
Regarding your search for Cuban food, I’ve always heard people rave about red beans and rice, but I’ve never had any. It sounds simple to make, but what makes Cuban red beans and rice so good? Are they different from New Orleans’ recipe?

 

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Dear Chris:
The seasonings are entirely different. In addition, New Orleans red beans and rice is spicy hot; the Cuban version is not. I like them both. My real fave, though, is Cuban black beans. They are long-cooked, deeply flavored, and dumped over white rice at the table.

BLACK BEANS AND RICE
• 1/2 lb. dried black beans
• 1 1/2 quarts water
• 2 large onions, chopped
• 1 green pepper, chopped
• 4 cloves garlic, chopped
• 1/2 cup olive oil
• 1 tbsp. salt
• 1 oz. bacon
• 1/4 lb. ham bone
• 2 tbsp. oregano
• 3 bay leaves
• 1/2 cup vinegar
• Cooked white or yellow rice
• Chopped onion for garnish (optional)

Wash and sort beans. Cover with water by 2 inches and soak overnight. Or bring to a boil, remove from heat and let stand 2 hours.

Drain beans. In a skillet, fry onion, green pepper and garlic in olive oil until tender. Add to beans along with the 1 1/2 quarts water, salt, bacon, ham bone, oregano and bay leaves. Cook over low heat until beans are tender and of a thick consistency, about 2 to 3 hours. Add vinegar a few minutes before serving. Serve over rice, topped with raw chopped onion.

From Pat S., Hudson:
Regarding popovers, when I lived in Great Britain I think I saw them add meat drippings to the muffin tin (at least a half inch), then heated the tin and then added the dough Maybe that’s why they didn’t stick. I’ve also seen Yorkshire pudding made in a large cast iron skillet; it looks like a Dutch baby when it’s done. Just some thoughts. Thanks for all your good info and recipes.

Dear Pat:
I’m getting the idea that the more fat, the better. My popovers released from the pan after I let them cool for about 5 minutes, but they still required a bit of prying. Maybe Anne K., below, has the answer.

From Anne K.:
I really have to disagree with most of what you wrote about popovers. I have been making them for 50 years. I would suggest watching the Barefoot Contessa’s popover video. She has it exactly right. Popovers fall out of the pans if properly greased.

Dear Anne:
I am far from an expert popover maker, and am glad for any help I can get. I watched the video you mentioned (others should Google “barefoot contessa popovers youtube”), and Ina Garten’s recipe and method are similar to the one I tried — and failed with — the first time. There are some differences. She says to heat the muffin or popover tin for exactly two minutes, and to bake the popovers at 425 degrees for exactly 30 minutes. She stirs the batter until smooth, unlike the stir-to-moisten technique I followed on my second,  more successful attempt. Her popovers turned out high and fluffy. I will try Garten’s recipe the next time.

Interesting fact I picked up while researching Garten’s method: Before switching careers and becoming the Barefoot Contessa, she was a nuclear policy analyst in the Nixon administration.

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January 10, 2018

Dear friends,

What the heck?! I have made gorgeous, puffy soufflés, cream puffs that rise like clouds and gougere that are crisp and hollow. I thought I knew a thing or two about pastries and air when I settled on soup and popovers for lunch with friends.

What a letdown when my popovers stubbornly refused to rise. We ate them anyway, although they were dense and eggy, and we had to pry them from the pan with knives and spoons. Ugh.

I couldn’t let popovers defeat me. In the coming days I read everything I could about the pastries, which are supposed to rise high above the pan until they’re crunchy outside and mostly hollow inside.

I had thought beating the batter well was the key. In fact, my recipe said to beat the batter until smooth. Not true. Popover batter should be treated like muffin or scone batter, and stirred gently just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Otherwise, it will not rise.

I picked up many other tips, too, such as warming the milk and heating the pan to encourage the rise. I also learned that popovers are not just muffin-shaped cream puffs, which was kind of what I imagined. They are the American cousins of British Yorkshire pudding, and are eggy and denser than cream puffs, and only partially hollow.

Here’s the gist of what I learned to make my popovers pop:

•  Warm the milk and have eggs at room temperature.
•  Heat the muffin tin before adding the batter.
•  Do not beat in flour until smooth. Stir it gently, just enough to moisten the flour but leaving some lumps.
• The popovers will stick to the pan no matter how well you grease it. Have patience. After they cool about five minutes, they are easier to remove from the pan.

Popovers are good warm or at room temperatures, plain or with butter or jam. Tony and I ate them with soup for supper and the next morning with marmalade and tea.

POPOVERS

Popovers

 

• 3 eggs, at room temperature
• 1 1/4 cups milk
• 1 1/4 cups flour
• 1/2 tsp. salt
• Neutral oil such as Canola

Place a 12-cup muffin tin in the oven while preheating to 450 degrees.

Beat eggs in a medium-size bowl, preferably one with a handle and spout. Warm milk in a microwave to about 100 degrees, not to a boil. Slowly whisk milk into eggs, beating well.

Combine flour and salt and add to egg mixture. With a spoon, stir just enough to moisten flour. Do not over mix. A few lumps are OK.

Remove muffin tin from oven and brush liberally with oil. Fill cups two-thirds full of batter. Bake at 450 degrees for 12 minutes. Without opening oven door, reduce heat to 350 and continue baking for 15 to 20 minutes, or until batter is puffed and beginning to brown.

Cool five minutes in pan before releasing the edges with a sharp knife and removing popovers. Eat plain, with butter or with jam. Makes 12.

HELP U COOK
Room-temperature or warm eggs are called for in many recipes  — often because egg whites whip to a greater volume when warmed. If you forget to remove eggs from the refrigerator in time to warm them to room temperature, just submerge the whole eggs in warm tap water until the shells feel warm. This will probably sound stupidly self-evident to some people, but others may have struggled for years until they learned this. Count me among the latter.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked at home last week:
Pan-grilled strip steaks, baked sweet potatoes.

What I ate out last week:
Hamburger station hamburger with onions, mustard and pickle, a few fries; half of a roast beef, baby Swiss and onion on ciabatta bread, cup of clam chowder from Shisler’s Cheese House in Copley;  wedding soup, salad and garlic bread at Marie’s in Wadsworth; chicken pot pie, a couple of bites of fried green tomato, bacon and Jack cheese sandwich at Tamarack: The Best of West Virginia near  Beckley, W.Va.; pulled pork sandwich and coleslaw at Sonny’s Barbecue in Brunswick, Ga.; Egg McMuffin and coffee at McDonald’s in Ft. Pierce, Fla.; conch chowder, a conch fritter and shrimp tostones — plantains smashed and fried, topped with Jack cheese, shrimp, chopped red onion, tomato, cilantro, avocado and a spicy white sauce — at Conchy Joe’s Seafood in Jensen Beach, Fla.

THE MAILBAG

No mail this week. Hey, I’m sending YOU mail from Florida. Poke your heads out of the blankets and snowsuits and drop me a line. I’m off in search of Cuban food today. I’ll report back next week.

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January 3, 2018

Dear friends,

When my husband gets homesick for Japan he has a nice, long conversation with his family in Hokkaido and then he starts cooking. With the temperature in the teens last weekend and a holiday in the offing, he made one of Japan’s iconic cold-weather celebration meals, shabu-shabu.

Tony tells me about eating the communal hot-pot meal around a kotatsu — a table with heavy blankets to cover laps, with a heater under the table. Diners are served platters of thin sliced meats and chunks of vegetables, which they cook at the table in seasoned dashi — dried bonito flake broth spiked with soy sauce. The food is removed from the bubbling broth with chopsticks and dunked in sauce. Tony likes sesame and ginger sauces, although ponzu sauce is also used.

The meal is healthful and delicious, and designed for entertaining. Although hot pot/shabu-shabu restaurants are popping up in the United States now, it is so easy and economical to make at home that there’s no reason to spend big bucks dining out.

Tony and I cooked our meals in a shabu-shabu nabe — a Japanese hot pot pan — that he bought in Japan. The stainless steel, lidded pan is about 9 inches in diameter with a center chimney for heating over an electric or gas hot plate. You can buy a nabe on Amazon for about $45, but there’s no need. Google the item, then choose one of your lidded pans that is close to that shape. The center chimney helps the broth heat faster, but it is not essential.

You will have to visit an Asian store to buy some of the items, such as dashi granules, for shabu-shabu. While you’re there, check out the produce, which often costs less than at supermarkets. Although the vegetables in shabu-shabu may be varied according to taste, do try to find a daikon radish to cube and add to the pot. It becomes sweet, soft and almost translucent when cooked.

 

SHABU-SHABU

 

Shabu Shabu

• 4 cup dashi (bonito soup stock made from instant granules (Tony uses Honashi brand)
• 2 tbsp. soy sauce
• Sesame dipping sauce (recipe follows)
• Ginger dipping sauce (recipe follows)
• 9 oz. thinly sliced pork, beef or chicken
• 4 oz. enoki mushrooms
• 4 oz. tofu, cut into cubes
• 2 handfuls bean sprouts
• 2 handfuls spinach leaves
• 1 cup napa cabbage leaves
• 2 cups 1-inch chunks of  daikon radish
• Sugar-snap  peas, green onions or other vegetables as desired

Make dashi according to package directions and stir in soy sauce. Make dipping sauces. Clean and cut vegetables and arrange on platters.

Pour enough of the hot dashi into a a hot pot pan or other shallow, lidded pan to come halfway up sides. Place on a heat source in the middle of the table and add a few pieces of the meat and each vegetable. Replace lid and simmer until food is cooked. Diners remove food with chopsticks and dip in sauces to eat, replenishing meat and vegetables in the broth as they are consumed. The daikon will take the longest to cook. It should be very tender when done.

SESAME SAUCE
• 2/3 cup soy sauce
• 1/3 cup mirin (Japanese sweet cooking wine)
• 3 tbsp. sugar
• 1/4 cup sesame oil
• 2 tbsp. sesame seeds

Combine ingredients in a small pan and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

GINGER SAUCE
• 1/2 cup soy sauce
• 1/4 cup mirin
• 2 tbsp. grated ginger
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• 2 tbsp. chopped green onion

Combine ingredients in a small pan and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
Lentil soup with ham; Parmesan popovers; pork chops, mashed potatoes and sauerkraut.

What I ate in restaurants last week:
Turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, roast cubed sweet potatoes and dried cranberries at Earth Fare; Hot Nashville Chicken with coleslaw at KFC in Wadsworth (way too sweet; won’t try it again); single hamburger with grilled onions, pickle and mustard at Five Guys.

THE MAILBAG
From Nancy S.:

I think since Brad P. and his wife are retired (see last week’s Mailbag), he and his wife should start a foodie group through you.

Dear Nancy:
Did you forget I’m retired, too? This newsletter is enough work for me, thanks. But Meetup is a good place to start a group, as several writers pointed out.

From Jan C.:
When you dry-brine, which I plan to try soon, can seasonings be added to the salt?

Dear Jan:
Yes, feel free to add any dry flavoring ingredients, from herbs and spices to grated citrus peel, to the salt rub.

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December 27, 2017

Dear friends,

“That’s a do over,” my niece said on Christmas Day, nodding at my platter of Wild Rice and Citrus Salad. It looked gorgeous. The glistening swath of shiny black grains was topped with colorful peeled orange and grapefruit sections and dotted with dried cranberries and bits of pecan. I thought it tasted great. It was a do over?

“That’s what we call a new recipe that’s good enough to make again,” Heidi explained.

Oh, yes, I would make this again. Banished were my memories of the chewy, bland black grains I boiled in the 1970s to accompany duckling ala orange. This wild rice was tender and infused with flavor, thanks to fellow food writer Heather McPherson.

Heather, retired from the Orlando Sentinel, wrote about the salad last year in a blog she produces for hypeorlando.com. The recipe in Heather’s Florida Kitchen contains celery and a bed of greens, which I eliminated. I also expanded the directions to explain things some of us Northerners might not know.

For example, Heather called for cooking the wild rice for 20 to 25 minutes. Maybe that’s fine for recently harvested wild rice (I was surprised to learn it grows in Florida swamps), but my bulk-purchased wild rice took a full 60 minutes to tenderize. You’ll know it’s done when most of the black grains have split. If you find the cooked rice is still too chewy after you drain it, just transfer all of it to a bowl, cover and microwave it in one-minute increments until tender.

Although it’s an oxymoron, cultivated wild rice is becoming increasingly available, as the land conducive to growing true wild rice shrinks. Hopefully, the distinctive wild grain (it’s not actually rice) will remain available in the future.

 

WILD RICE AND CITRUS SALAD

 

Wild Rice And Citrus Salad

• 4 tbsp. olive oil, divided
• 1/2 cup diced yellow onion
• 2 cups wild rice, uncooked
• 2 cups orange juice
• 2 cups water
• 1 bay leaf
• Fine sea salt to taste
• 2 tbsp. sherry vinegar
• Coarse-ground pepper to taste
• 1/2 cup dried cranberries
• 2 oranges, peeled and cut into segments (see note)
• 1 grapefruit, peeled and cut into segments (see note)
• 1/2 cup toasted, chopped pecans

Place 2 tablespoons olive oil and onions in a medium saucepan; sauté 3 to 4 minutes, until softened. Add wild rice, orange juice, water and bay leaf; season with salt. Cover and cook 20 to 60 minutes, or until rice is tender but not overcooked (most of the rice grains will split open when done). Remove from heat; let stand 5 minutes.

Remove bay leaf from rice and fluff with fork. Transfer to a bowl. Sprinkle with vinegar and remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Toss. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add cranberries and toss again. Cover and refrigerate until chilled. The salad may be made a day ahead to this point. Adding the dressing and cranberries before refrigerating infuses the wild rice with flavor and softens the cranberries.

Just before serving, toss rice well. Mound on a platter. Scatter citrus sections over rice. Scatter chopped pecans over all. Makes 8 or more servings.

Note: To peel citrus segments, first cut off the top and bottom of the orange or grapefruit with a sharp knife. Place the piece of fruit on a cutting board, one flat end down. With the sharp knife, pare the thick peel and pith from the fruit in downward swaths, following the natural shape of the fruit. You will end up with a completely skinned but intact piece of fruit.

With the sharp paring knife, cut the segments from the membranes by slicing downward close beside a membrane and flicking the segment out. Repeat until all of the segments have been freed. Do this over a bowl to catch the juices. Discard the peel and membranes.


GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
Wild rice-citrus salad, potato salad, pickled eggs, Swiss cheese fondue, baked ham with apricot-honey glaze, chocolate-peppermint miniature trifles.

What I ate out last week:
Chicken pad Thai at the Asian restaurant in Giant Eagle Market Place in Cuyahoga Falls; an incredible Forbidden Stir Fry with a gingery-spicy sauce over black rice at the Courthouse Inn and Restaurant in Lisbon; steak burrito bowl at Chipotle; edamame, tuna nigiri and a Jane roll at Sushi Katsu in Akron’s Merriman Valley; mu shu pork from China Express in Wadsworth.


THE MAILBAG
From O.R.:
Hold the phone. Scrambled eggs with horseradish? You may be the smartest person I’ve ever encountered. Please let us in on your method! Do you add the horseradish before cooking, after? What kind exactly? I must experience this as soon as possible.

Dear O.R.:

I would like to take credit, but I learned the eggs-and-horseradish thing from my mother. Her method was even stranger than mine. After plating, she would gently prick the yolk of her fried egg and slip in a half-teaspoon or so of prepared horseradish. She gently daubed the yolk mixture with her toast and ate it until gone. Then she would cut up and dispatch the white.

Unlike my gentle mother, I cut up fried eggs, yolks and all, and shovel them into my mouth. But sometimes I remember her fondness for horseradish and slather the stuff (prepared, from a jar) on my plated scrambled eggs. Your email got me thinking, though. The next time I make soft-scrambled eggs, I will stir in a tablespoon of horseradish when they are almost set, dragging my spoon to distribute the horseradish in a thin ribbon through the eggs.

From Sandy D.
For Brad who is looking for foodie culture in the Akron area, I suggest he go to meetup.com.  After filling in the parameters, he will find at least two meet ups that I am aware of. I am not part of these groups so I can’t speak to their passion or quality, but Akron Area Dining Out Group and Akron Area Beer Lovers are two that I found after a quick search.

From Francie L.:
For your reader asking about foodie culture how about the Canton Food Tours (http://cantonfoodtours.com/)? We did a cousins’ night out in September and had a great time. They’ve also expanded the tours to Wooster as well.

Dear Sandy and Francie:
Thank you both for excellent ideas. I also found an Akron/Canton Foodies Group on meetup.


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Please note: If your email address changes, you must re-subscribe to my newsletter in order to continue receiving it. We are unable to change the address for you in our email list. The procedure is easy. Just click on the “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of a newsletter. Then click here to sign up under your new address. Thank you.

December 20, 2017

Dear Friends,

What was I THINKING? I invited my family to celebrate Christmas at my house Saturday while I’m trying to avoid carbs, especially sugar. I can’t punish them for my overindulgence. But if I bake cookies or make candy my willpower will snap like an old rubber band.

Here’s the plan: I bought enough wrapped chocolates to fill a candy dish; I’ll send any excess home with my niece. I will buy a plateful of lovely handmade cookies (I saw some beauties at Earth Fare) but no ginger cookies, my favorites. And I will make decadent chocolate-peppermint trifles.

The trifles will not wreck my diet because I’m making just one miniature trifle for each person. Three of them — mine and my diabetic husband’s and brother’s — will be made with sugar-free pudding, cake and whipped topping to reduce the carb count.

I’m serving the individual trifles in squat, footed Italian prosecco glasses. In my test batch, I drizzled 1/2-inch-thick rounds of pound cake (cut to snugly fit the glasses) with peppermint schnapps, added a layer of chocolate fudge sauce, then a layer of vanilla pudding sprinkled with crushed candy cane. The layers were repeated, crowned with a puff of whipped cream and decorated with a miniature candy cane. If the glass is tall, you may want to add whipped cream between each set of layers. Lined up on the buffet table, the trifles should be real show-stoppers.

The trifles can be made with a rich homemade custard or boxed vanilla pudding. If you use boxed, add a splash of vanilla to bump up the flavor. I bought the pound cake, but if you have gobs of time to spare (ha!) you could make a sponge cake or pound cake from scratch. Roughly crushed amaretti cookies (from an Italian or specialty-foods store) would be delicious, too. I recommend buying premium fudge sauce from a fancy-foods store. The trifle recipe is so simple that inferior ingredients could sink the flavor.

My blueprint can be expanded or shrunk to accommodate two to dozens of diners. You could even make one big trifle instead of individual ones, although you’d lose the impact of all those adorable little trifles.

f you need an easy but gorgeous finale for your Christmas buffet, here you go. You’re welcome.

 

CHOCOLATE-PEPPERMINT MINATURE TRIFLES

 

PEPPERMINT TRIFLE

 

• Pound cake, thawed if frozen
• Peppermint schnaps
• Fudge sauce, warmed
• Vanilla pudding, homemade or from a mix Crushed candy canes
• Whipped cream or topping
• Miniature candy canes

Line up the other ingredients in the order above. For each trifle you will need about 1/4 cup fudge sauce, 1/4 cup pudding and 2 tbsp. crushed candy canes. The exact amounts will depend on the size of your glasses.

If the glasses come to a point, fill the point with pudding or whipped topping. Then begin layering with a cake round, a tablespoon or more of fudge sauce, the same amount of pudding, some crushed candy cane and, if the glass is deep, a layer of whipped topping. Continue layering until the glass is almost full. Top with more crushed candy, a dollop of whipped cream or topping and a whole miniature candy cane. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

NOTE: Making beautiful layers of ingredients without smearing the glass can drive you nuts. My tip is to drop the ingredients from tiny spoons (espresso or iced tea spoons) into the very center, then use a long straw or other slim implement to spread it evenly to the edges.


GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
Pan-seared, oven-finished thick pork chops with Italian herbs and a wine reduction, French green beans, baked sweet potatoes; pickled eggs; chocolate pudding; scrambled eggs with horseradish; chocolate-peppermint mini trifles.

What I ate in restaurants last week:
Steak salad in a tortilla bowl crowned with french fries (which I virtuously skipped) at Brimfield Family Restaurant; barbecued ribs from Dickey’s Barbecue Pit in Medina; a thin-crust veggie pizza from Earth Fare; grilled chicken breast with feta, roasted red pepper and escarole at Village Garden in Cuyahoga Falls..


THE MAILBAG

From Bob P.:
I grew up in Akron but have lived in North Carolina for more than 30 years. I am on a quest that has led me to you. No, not the Holy Grail, but the holy grail of Akron appetizers, the sauerkraut ball. Of course, they are unheard of down here.

I have searched the net and get a variety of recipes, but which one is truly what I grew up with? The cream cheese recipes confuse me — I don’t remember them being creamy. I thought with your storied career you may be able to help.

Dear Bob:
The sauerkraut balls against which all others are measured are the ones that were served at the old Bavarian Haus on East Market Street. They were the size of a golf ball with a crispy-crunchy coating and creamy, tart filling of sauerkraut, ground ham and chopped onion. The creaminess is slight, and doesn’t come from cream cheese.

The restaurant is long gone, but Chef Dick Mansfield gave me the recipe in 1995, before all traces of the building were plowed under. He mixed batches in a big plastic bucket, so you can figure the recipe makes plenty — Mansfield says eight dozen. Feel free to cut the recipe in half.

Don’t, however, be tempted to add enough flour to firm up the sauerkraut mixture. The raw mixture should be so soft it would spread and flatten if the balls were fried without freezing. They must be frozen, and deep fried straight from the freezer, to produce that crisp exterior and soft center.

This recipe won’t disappoint you, Bob. Maybe you can fry up a ginormous batch and teach those barbecue boys a thing or two about good Midwestern eats.

SAUERKRAUT BALLS
• 1 1/4 lbs. ground ham
• 6 eggs
• 2 1/4 tsp. granulated garlic or 1 tsp. garlic powder • 1 tsp. black pepper
• 3/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
• 1 medium onion, minced fine
• 5 lbs. sauerkraut, drained and chopped
• 4-6 cups flour
• 1 egg beaten with 1 cup milk
• Flour for coating
• Dry, unseasoned bread crumbs
• Oil for deep-frying

In a very large bowl, combine ham, eggs, garlic, peppers and onion. Add sauerkraut and mix well with your hands. Add flour a little at a time, kneading until the mixture is smooth and can be shaped into soft balls. Use only enough flour to achieve the proper consistency. The mixture will be soft and sticky.

Pull off chunks of the mixture and roll between your palms to make balls the size of a golf ball. Place on cookie sheets and freeze until firm, about two hours. While frozen, roll in the flour, then in the egg-milk mixture, then in the bread crumbs. Freeze again and transfer to plastic freezer bags until ready for use, or fry immediately without thawing.

To fry, heat oil to 375 degrees. Fry a few at a time until the coating is golden brown and a fork easily pierces to the center. If the oil is too hot, the outsides will burn before the insides thaw and cook. Makes about 96.

From Brad P.:
My wife and I are retired. We have a passion for food. It seems like the Akron area lacks the “foodie’’ culture that is so rich in other parts of Ohio. We have taken the culinary walking tour in Asheville, N.C. — outstanding. We go to the Traverse City, Mich., area yearly. It is amazing for food, wine, craft beer and so much more.

Can you make us aware of a culinary group in our area that shares our passion? Is there such a thing? We are looking for a way to be around others in this area who share our passion, to talk and share and experience.

Dear Brad:
The foodie culture in Ohio was INVENTED here in Akron at West Point Market. No one else in the state had the ingredients that were available to Akronites, nor a mentor as enthusiastic and knowledgeable as retired owner Russ Vernon.

Although the store has downsized, it still holds regular wine tastings that many passionate local food lovers attend. You will also find such people congregating at the Countryside Farmers Markets and events sponsored by the Countryside Conservancy (cvcountryside.org). And finally, you could try a couples dinner class at the Western Reserve Cooking School in Hudson. Does anyone else have a suggestion?

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December 13, 2017

Dear friends,

I know you are busy so I’ll get right to it. This week’s recipe is a party snack you can assemble in 15 minutes while fighting a sinus headache, making soup and cleaning the house. I know because I did it Saturday when my sister phoned to say she was dropping by with her husband for a visit.

Dee and her family live in Burton so I don’t get to see them every day. In fact I hadn’t seen them since August, so I was excited. Luckily, I didn’t have to clean and cook too much. On a company-cleaning scale of “deal with it” to “you could eat off the floors,” my sister’s visits are a comfortable three — “vacuum and remove major chunks of debris.”

I did want to treat Rob and Dee to a yummy snack, though, so I thawed a sheet of puff pastry and began chopping olives I had bought earlier that week. I put the olives in a dish on the counter along with finely crumbled feta, grated lemon zest and a tiny bit of minced rosemary from the potted bush I’m trying to keep alive in the mud room.

After rolling the puff pastry sheet into a larger rectangle, I evenly sprinkled each ingredient over it, folded it as for a palmier, and cut the resulting log into slices. The slices baked up golden brown, and deliciously fragrant with the pungent ingredients.

A palmier is a French sweet pastry that is said to resemble pigs’ ears or elephant ears. I simply switched the sugar filling for savory ingredients that would make it party-worthy. Or sister-worthy, in my case. Frozen puff pastry, sold in most supermarkets, makes the palmiers an elegant last-minute treat.

 

OLIVE AND FETA PALMIER
Olive and Feta Palmiers

• 1 sheet frozen puff pastry
• Flour
• 3/4 cup chopped kalamata olives
• 4 oz. (about 3/4 cup) finely crumbled feta cheese
• 1/2 tsp. finely minced fresh rosemary
• Grated zest of 1 lemon
• 1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp. water

Thaw pastry according to package directions. Sprinkle some flour on a work surface and unfold pastry onto the flour. Roll to a 11-by-14-inch rectangle. Sprinkle evenly with the olives, then the feta, rosemary and lemon zest.

Fold one long edge toward the middle. Fold the other long edge toward the middle. Then fold each toward the middle again, pressing down. Fold one long log on top of other and press with hands to form a cylinder. Basically, each side is folded in on itself twice, then the two sides are folded together to form a log.

With a sharp knife, cut pastry log into 1/2-inch slices. Place the slices flat on the floured work surface and with your palm, flatten each to about 1/4-inch thick. Arrange on parchment-lined baking sheets. Brush tops with egg mixture. Bake at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes, or until pastries are crisp and golden. Cool. Store loosely covered at room temperature. Makes about 20.

 

TIDBIT

With a bit more sauce, KFC’s new Nashville Hot Chicken might be worthy of the name. Might. It’s hard to tell from the skimpy dribbles of red sauce Tony and I got with our order last week.

What I tasted I liked. My chicken wasn’t pressed, as it is in Tennessee, but it did come with a dill pickle chip. Coleslaw and a biscuit rather than the typical white bread was served alongside. The heat was just a mild sting that built in my mouth but not Tony’s. He couldn’t detect the heat. Real Nashville chicken, even the milder choices, is so hot I have to eat a meal in two or three sittings, pausing to let my mouth recover.

While no one is likely to mistake the Colonel’s Hot Chicken for the real thing, it may help you endure until your next authentic Nashville Chicken fix. The chicken comes as extra-crispy legs and thighs, extra-crispy tenders or as a patty in a sandwich

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:

Skillet meat loaf, roasted Brussels sprouts and potatoes; scrambled eggs with ham, bell pepper and onions; roast chicken, quinoa and farro salad with roasted butternut squash, pomegranate arils and Moroccan-spiced vinaigrette; palmiers with feta, kalamata olives, lemon and rosemary; ham and lentil soup.

What I ate in restaurants last week:
Grilled chicken Caesar salad at Rockne’s; Nashville hot chicken, a biscuit and slaw at KFC in Wadsworth; chicken breast with mushroom sauce, green beans, roast potato chunks at Tangier; pepperoni, sausage and onion pizza (the Cleveland) at Pizza Fire in Montrose; a dry, rubbery mozzarella and basil omelet with about a tablespoon of filling, and chopped fruit, fried potatoes and tea at Burntwood Tavern in Montrose.

 

THE MAILBAG

From Jenny K.:
In response to your discussion of dry-brining a turkey, for the last few years I have dry brined. About three to four days ahead, I have the butcher prepare a turkey for spatchcocking (take out the backbone and break the breast bone to flatten the bird).  I then rub it with the dry brine, cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate. For the last eight to twelve hours I uncover it and leave it in the fridge for the skin to dry out so that it will have crispy skin once it is cooked.

I have tried every which way to cook a turkey and this is by far the best. Spatchcocking assures me that the turkey cooks more evenly, without the breast getting done before the rest of the bird. Dry brining is so much easier than wet brining! The result is just as moist if not more so. The texture of the meat is much better, also.

Dear Jenny:
I haven’t tried it but I am already a convert. Thanks.

From Carol B.:
Jane, I thought you might enjoy this:
Haute Dots of Sauce

Dear Carol:
The debate over minimalist restaurant plating techniques continues to rage, and this NPR essay makes an excellent argument. Writer Nina Martyris calls the dots and smears of sauce decorating tiny portions of food “Pollock on a plate,” and to me, sums up the objections succinctly: “The precision blobs and artful smears look exquisite on Pinterest and Instagram, but they certainly don’t allow you to satisfyingly dunk your crust of bread in them.”

Exactly.

I, too, have struggled to drag a bite through enough dots to impart a hint of what the sauce tastes like.  Even when the sauce is pungent, there’s often too little of it to tell. Is that grapefruit I taste? Mint and thyme? I want more sauce, dammit.

 

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December 6, 2017

I screwed up. I was going to bring you a recipe for a delicious country pate that could be made in a hurry in the microwave, but things went horribly wrong. Bottom line: The pate didn’t cook properly and didn’t taste very good, either.

So instead of a new, party-ready recipe, I will repeat two of the grandest pate recipes I have ever tasted — a much-tested and loved rustic country pate recipe from “The New York Times Cookbook” by Craig Claiborne, and an equally loved recipe for chicken liver pate with bacon and walnuts from a small calendar put together in the 1980s by the Silver Palate folks.

In my opinion, unless there’s raw goose or duck foie gras on hand, these are the only two pate recipes you will ever need. Both are unctuously rich and scented with Cognac.

The country pate is the kind that is sliced and served on a plate with cornichons and baguette. It takes a while to make. The chicken liver pate is the kind that is served in a crock or a bowl and spread on crackers or slices of baguette. It requires less time to make.

Both pates remind me of Christmases past and gatherings with old friends and Champagne. Proust has his madeleines. I have my pate. Try one of these incredible recipes and make some memories of your own.

MOUSSE PATE WITH BACON AND WALNUTS

• 6 slices bacon, diced
• 1lb. chicken livers (often sold frozen in supermarkets)
• 1/2 cup brandy
• 3/4 cup whipping cream
• 1 medium onion, chopped
• 1/4 cup mayonnaise
• 1 tsp. dried thyme
• Pinch of fresh-grated nutmeg
• Salt, fresh-ground pepper
• 1/2 cup coarse-chopped walnuts
• 3 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley (optional)

In a large skillet, fry bacon until crisp; remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

In the bacon fat, fry chicken livers over medium-high heat until brown outside but still slightly pink inside, about 5 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to the bowl of a food processor.

Add brandy to skillet and scrape up browned bits. Add cream and boil until reduced to about 1 cup. Pour cream mixture into food processor bowl. Add onions and puree until smooth.

Add mayonnaise, thyme, nutmeg, salt and lots of pepper. Process until mixed well. Add bacon, walnuts and parsley; process just until incorporated. Transfer to crocks or decorative bowls. Cover and chill several hours or overnight. Makes about 3 cups.

For the following pate recipe, you will need to  contact a good butcher and ask to have the veal and pork shoulder ground with one-fourth of the fat, and the ham ground with one-fourth of the fat. Half of the pork fat should be sliced thin.  Call up to a week in advance if possible so the butcher can save the necessary pork fat for you.

COUNTRY PATE

• 1 1/2 lbs. fresh pork fat
• 1 lb. boneless veal
• 1 lb. boneless pork shoulder
• 1 lb. ham
• 1/2 lb. chicken or pork livers
• 8 cloves garlic
• 1/4 cup heavy cream
• 3 eggs
• 1/2 cup cognac
• 4 tsp. salt
• 2 tsp. white pepper
• 1/2 tsp. allspice
• 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
• 1/2 cup flour

Have the butcher slice one-half pound of the pork fat thinly and finely grind half of the remaining  pork fat with all the veal and pork shoulder (or do it yourself.) Grind the ham with a coarse blade with the remaining pork fat.

Line a 3-quart mold or two 1 1/2 quart loaf pans with the thin slices of pork fat, letting the long ends hang outside the pan. (Jane’s note: If the butcher doesn’t have enough pork fat, use raw bacon for this step.)

In a blender, puree the chicken livers with the garlic, cream, eggs and cognac. Gradually blend in about one-third of the pork-veal mixture.

In a mixing bowl, combine all the ground and pureed meats. Add the seasonings and flour and mix thoroughly. Fill the prepared pan(s) with the mixture. Fold the ends of the fat strips over the top. Cover tightly with a double thickness of foil. Place in a larger pan and pour in enough hot water to come halfway up sides of pate pan(s).

Bake at 400 degrees for 3 hours.  Remove foil and continue baking until top of the pate is brown, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven,  pour water from larger pan, and again place pate in larger pan. Set on counter. Cover pate with foil. Place a pan slightly smaller than pate pan directly on foil-covered pate and fill with weights (coins, canned goods, etc.)  Do not remove weights until pate is completely cool. When cool, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Pate will keep several weeks if surrounding fat is not removed.

From “The New York Times Cook Book” by Craig Claiborne.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked at home last week:
Baked cod in a Szechuan sauce, roasted Brussels sprouts; pan-grilled T-bone steak, roast butternut squash; turkey broth with wilted greens and a hard-cooked egg; hot dogs and beans; wilted greens with garlic (and thawed-out previously roasted pork); wilted greens and eggs scrambled in olive oil; sugar-free chocolate pudding; country pate with Cognac.

What I ate away from home last week:
Vegan gumbo at a Christmas open house. Tony was away for a week hunting and I mostly stayed home and cleaned house.

THE MAILBAG

From Dorothy G.:
There is a library book, don’t know the name right off, that lists how much money old cookbooks and pamphlets are going for on the sale market. We all probably have a fortune in our collections! Don’t let anyone in your family get rid of them when you are gone — they can be sold.

Dear Dorothy:
We’re rich! Actually, I plan to get rid of dozens of cookbooks for $1 to $2 each next spring at a yard sale, so come on over.

From Mike:
I know from past posts that you are a proponent of brining your turkey. I agree. As a matter of fact, several years ago I sent you an email regarding my idea of putting my turkey and brine in trash bags in my cooler surrounded by ice overnight. Oops. Some of your other readers weren’t happy with the idea of possible toxins leaching from trash bags. Shhh! I continued to do that practice until last year. That is when I heard of dry brining.

Last year was good just with overnight dry brining because I didn’t know the procedure called for a longer time. So this year I applied the dry brine on Tuesday night and my 22-pound turkey sat uncovered per instructions in my fridge until Thursday (some Internet sites suggest even longer, up to 3 days ahead of cooking.)

I have to tell you we were very happy with the results and the procedure is so much easier than wet brining. It uses a lot less salt — one-half cup kosher salt mixed with two tablespoons baking powder. I added a couple tablespoons of brown sugar. Some recipes suggest adding herbs, too. Then just evenly sprinkle the mixture all over the turkey and a little in the cavity. I didn’t even use all of the mix.

Just curious, have you tried this method?

Dear Dave:
No, but I will the next time I roast a turkey. Thanks for the tutorial. I have dry-brined chicken breasts and pork chops but I didn’t know you could dry-brine a whole turkey. That sure would beat hauling a cooler to the kitchen and scouring it before and after brining — not to mention measuring out all that salt and liquid and replacing the ice each morning. Thanks again, Dave.

Has anyone else tried dry-brining a turkey? Is the meat as juicy as with wet brining?

From Joanne:
(Regarding last week’s cookie recipes), My husband made jam poppits for years; that was his special Christmas cookie. I didn’t have the patience.

From Nancy S.:
(Regarding the Viennese Shortbread recipe), These cookies are the BOMB! I’ve been making them ever since I cut the recipe out of the Beacon over 20 years ago. They are my son’s favorite and mine, too. Thanks, Jane.

From Dawn C.:
The pecan-apricot cranberry sauce you mentioned in the newsletter sounds divine! Was that at Heidi’s? Would she share the recipe?

Sorry you won’t be making cookies for the holiday. I’m about to delve into my baking frenzy. (I have all the decorating, shopping and cards done, so it’s on to the really fun stuff!) I spend about three days baking from sunup to sundown. And I love it. The cookie recipes you shared sound wonderful! I may have to try at least one of them this year. Merry Christmas!

Dear Dawn:
Whoa, whoa, whoa. You have all the decorating, shopping and cards done? Who are you, Wonder Woman?

Your Christmas baking spree sounds wonderful. Kudos to you. I did something similar when I was young. Then I realized that of the 10 dozen cookies I made each December, I ate about 9 dozen of them. I do miss baking cookies.

The pecan-apricot cranberry sauce Heidi made is from “Cold Weather Cooking” by Sarah Leah Chase. It is fabulous. I have printed the recipe several times, and am happy to do so once more.

WHOLE CRANBERRY SAUCE
• 1 lb. fresh cranberries
• 1/2 cup inexpensive port wine, such as Gallo
• 1/2 cup orange juice
• 1 cup diced, dried apricots
• 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
• 3/4 cup granulated sugar
• 3/4 cup pecan halves

Place cranberries, port, orange juice, apricots and sugars in a saucepan.

Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thick, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from heat and refrigerate.

Meanwhile, spread pecan halves on a cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for five minutes. Set aside. Immediately before serving, stir pecans into cranberry sauce. Makes about four cups, enough for 10 to 12 servings.

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November 29, 2017

Dear friends,

Bah, no cookies for me. I had plenty of cookies in the last few months, from Japanese ginger and peanut cookies at Tink Hol market in Cleveland to giant West Point Market chocolate chip and ginger cookies at my monthly writer’s group meetings thanks to the thin and sadistic Ann. So in a case of extremely bad timing, I am following a high-protein, low-carb eating plan during the holidays.

I can eat caviar, prime rib and shrimp out the kazoo, so I don’t feel too bad. But I cannot make even one batch of cookies for a photo for this newsletter because I would gobble them all up. I can dream, though.

This week I’m dreaming of the dozens of cookies I plowed through in my career, in our frequent holiday cookie contests.  If I could bake a few batches of holiday cookies, I would make the delicate Almond Cremes sandwich cookies that won the Beacon Journal’s 2002 contest; the sophisticated, chocolate-tipped Mocha Viennese Shortbread cookies from the 1998 contest, and my long-time favorite, Jam Poppits from the 1980 contest, before I was food editor. What a cookie tray that would be.

The cookies are not quick and easy to make. They are fancy cookies, meant for a special occasion. They are cookies you may make just one time a year, and that time is now.

Enjoy.

ALMOND CREMES

• 1 cup flour
• 6 tbsp. chilled butter
• 3 1/2 tbsp. half-and-half, divided
• 3/4 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar, plus extra for dipping
• 1 tbsp. softened butter
• 1/8 tsp. almond extract

Place flour in a medium bowl. Cut chilled butter into small pieces. Cut into flour with a pastry blender until crumbs are the size of small peas.

Reserve 1 tablespoon half-and-half for use in the filling. Sprinkle one of the remaining tablespoons over part of the flour mixture and toss with a fork to moisten. Sprinkle another tablespoon over more of the flour mixture and toss with a fork. Sprinkle the last half-tablespoon over the flour mixture and toss to moisten.

Gather dough into a ball. Do not knead or handle the dough more than necessary. Divide dough in half. On a lightly floured surface, roll out to slightly less than 1/8-inch thick. Cut into 1 1/2-inch squares.

Dip one side of each dough square in confectioners’ sugar. Place a half-inch apart, sugared sides up, on ungreased cookie sheets. With a fork, prick each cookie in parallel rows. Bake at 375 degrees for 8 minutes, or until golden and puffy. Cool on wire racks.

While pastry cools, make the almond filling by combining the 3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, softened butter, almond extract and reserved 1 tablespoon half-and-half. Beat until smooth, adding liquid or sugar if necessary to achieve a thick spreading consistency.

When the cookies are completely cool, sandwich in pairs with almond filling. Store at room temperature, loosely covered. Makes 2 1/2 dozen.

MOCHA VIENNESE SHORTBREAD

• 1 cup plus 2 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
• 1/2 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
• 1/2 tsp. vanilla
• 2 cups all-purpose flour (unsifted)
• 1/4 tsp. baking powder
• 2/3 cup unsifted confectioners’ sugar
• 1 tsp. instant coffee dissolved in 1 tsp. water
• 6 oz. coating chocolate (available in cake-supply shops) or semisweet chocolate chips

In a medium bowl, cream 1 cup of the butter with the 1/2 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar and the vanilla until fluffy. In another bowl, stir together the flour and baking powder with a whisk until thoroughly mixed. Stir the flour mixture into the creamed mixture.

Using a cookie press and a medium star No. 32 tip (or a pastry bag with a star tip, or a plastic bag with one tiny bit of a corner snipped off), make dough strips 3 inches long on an ungreased baking sheet. Place strips 1 inch apart. Bake about 7 minutes, or until very lightly browned around the edges. Cool.

Meanwhile, mix remaining 2 tablespoons butter with the 2/3 cup unsifted confectioners’ sugar and the instant coffee mixture. Beat until creamy. When cookies are cool, spread a small amount on the flat side of one cookie and cover with the flat side of another cookie, making a sandwich. Repeat until all cookies are used. Melt coating chocolate or chocolate chips. Dip about one-half inch of both ends of each cookie in the chocolate, and place on a tray lined with waxed paper. Chill until chocolate is firm. Store in a tightly sealed container. Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

JAM POPPITS

• 1 cup (2 sticks) cold butter
• 1 1/2 cups sifted flour
• 1/2 cup sour cream
• 3 tbsp. sugar
• 1 tbsp. water
• Assorted jams and jellies

Cut butter into flour with pastry blender until completely mixed. With a fork, stir in sour cream until thoroughly blended. Divide dough into 2 equal parts. Wrap each and refrigerate eight hours or overnight.

Roll each piece of pastry to 1/16-inch thickness on a well-floured cloth. Cut into 2-inch rounds. Refrigerate scraps before re-rolling.

Cut a small hole in the center of half the rounds (the top of an old-fashioned salt shaker works well). Place rounds without holes on ungreased baking sheets. Combine sugar and water and stir well. Dip out some of the sugar water with a fingertip, and moisten the edges of each pastry round.

Top plain rounds with cut-out rounds. Moisten top with sugar water. Fill hole in center with about a half-teaspoon of jam. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes. Makes about 40 cookies.

MICROWAVE DESSERT

Today I’m sharing a recipe for a festive peppermint-chocolate cheesecake I developed for my almost-book. I learned that when making cheesecake in the microwave, you must not cook it until it looks done. If you do, it will be rock-hard when it sets up. Instead, cook it until the edges are set but the center is still very liquid. You’ll have to be patient while the cheesecake cools, but the reward is a creamy cheesecake that tastes oven-made.

Red-striped peppermint lozenges or candy canes tint this batter a fun pink. The combination of cool mint and dark chocolate rocks.

PEPPERMINT-CHOCOLATE MUG CHEESECAKE

• 4 oz. cream cheese (half of an 8-oz. package)
• 1 tbsp. (1/2 oz.) finely crushed peppermint hard candy
• 1 egg white
• 2 tbsp. sugar
• 1/8 tsp. vanilla extract
• 1 drop peppermint extract
• 1 tsp. all-purpose flour
• Pinch of salt
• 2 tbsp. miniature bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate chips

Place cold cream cheese in a 12-ounce pottery mug and microwave on high power for 10 to 20 seconds or until cheese is warm on the edges but still cool in the center. Beat with a fork until smooth. Stir in candy and distribute evenly. Add egg white, sugar, vanilla and peppermint extract. Beat until the egg white is thoroughly incorporated, about 50 strokes. Use a spoon or small rubber spatula to scrape any unmixed ingredients from bottom of mug, and stir them in. Add flour and salt and beat until smooth. Stir in chocolate chips.

Microwave at 50 percent power for 2 minutes, 45 seconds in a 1000-watt oven or 2 minutes in an 1100- or 1200-watt oven.

The cheesecake is done when the edges are set and the top is covered with tiny bubbles but the center is still very wet. It will firm up as it cools. Place in freezer for 15 minutes for soft-set or in refrigerator until cool and firm.

Dress it up: Drizzle one tablespoon of warm fudge sauce over the top of the cheesecake.

Even better: Scatter a half-teaspoon of coarsely crushed peppermint hard candy over the warm fudge sauce or, at holiday time, a whole miniature candy cane.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked at home last week:
Grill-smoked turkey, pureed cauliflower, baked Japanese sweet potato; 1 turkey and cranberry sauce sandwich; pan-grilled strip steaks with wine sauce; chopped lettuce and turkey salad; turkey soup.

What I ate away from home last week:
Wendy’s chili; fried fish and watery steamed carrots at Alexandri’s in Wadsworth; brined and bacon-wrapped roast turkey, pecan-apricot cranberry sauce, creamy green beans, whipped sweet potatoes with candied pecan topping, 3 kinds of stuffing, mashed potatoes with incredible gravy, pumpkin and pecan pies and a Coppola claret at my niece Heidi’s in Columbus. She takes after me.

THE MAILBAG

From J.D. Switzer:

(In response to the item about off-price cookbooks) The Library Shop at Main (in downtown Akron) always has a couple shelves of used cookbooks for about $2 each.

Dear J.D.:

I thought the old cookbooks got snapped up as soon as they were shelved. Thanks for letting us know there are plenty to browse. Second-hand shops are also good sources of used cookbooks. I’ve bought a few myself.

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November 20, 2017

Dear friends,

Although panna cotta is on the menu of many fancy restaurants, in truth it’s easier to make than instant pudding. Seriously.

That’s why I made pumpkin panna cotta Sunday when Tony and I craved something sweet. I knew I would be cooking pumpkin pie, turkey and other feast foods in the coming days, and I didn’t want to mess around.

The simple Italian dessert has been described as “creamy gelatin,” but I think panna cotta tastes more like a firm custard. The gelatin in the recipe almost inconspicuously holds the milk, cream and flavorings together in a gentle embrace.

I have seen panna cottas chilled in molds that are then dipped in warm water and tipped onto dessert plates. That’s not a good idea with a generously spiced version such as pumpkin. I found that some of the spices invariably sink to the bottom, which then becomes the speckled top when the panna cotta is unmolded.  I recommend chilling and serving it simply in custard cups or dessert coupes (little footed dishes).

To make the dessert super fast, I used pumpkin pie filling that is pre-sweetened and pre-spiced. I’m not ashamed. Consider the work involved in this recipe: a packet of gelatin is sprinkled on some milk in a saucepan and let stand for five minutes. More milk along with cream and pumpkin pie filling are stirred in and brought almost to a simmer. The mixture is poured into custard cups and chilled. That’s it.

When Tony raved about my pumpkin panna cotta and I smiled and accepted his accolades as if I’d spent the afternoon in the kitchen — now, THAT I’m ashamed of.

Pumpkin Panna Cotta

 

PUMPKIN PANNA COTTA

• 1 1/2 cups whole milk
• 1 envelope gelatin
• 1 cup whipping cream
• 1 cup pumpkin pie filling (sweetened, spiced)
• Whipped cream, fresh-grated nutmeg

Pour 1/2 cup of the milk into a medium saucepan and sprinkle gelatin over the milk. Let stand for 5 minutes to soften.

Meanwhile, whisk remaining milk with the cream and pie filling until very smooth. Pour into pan with gelatin, whisking well. Heat to just below a simmer, stirring until the gelatin dissolves.

Whisk again and pour into 6 to 8 custard cups or coupes. Chill at least 4 hours. Top each with a spoonful of whipped cream and a dusting of grated nutmeg. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

HELP U COOK

On Tuesday I cooked my annual pre-Thanksgiving back-up turkey my favorite way, on a covered Weber grill. Grill-smoked turkey is hands-down the best way to cook the beast. The meat always turns out juicy, smoky and delicious. One year I roasted a turkey in the oven and one on the grill and compared. The winner by a mile was the grilled turkey.

I have to look up the directions every year because my brain does not hold onto every little detail. I assume you are the same way, so I am providing detailed directions I wrote years ago for the Beacon Journal. It is as good a guide as I’ve seen. You may want to print and save it.

You’ll need a covered grill large enough to contain the turkey. If you’ve already put away your grill for the winter, don’t forget to open the vents or the fire will go out during the first half-hour of cooking. You’ll have to start over, beginning with moving the hot, slippery turkey to a platter.

Use plenty of charcoal. The colder and windier the day, the more you’ll need. Pile about 50 or so briquettes in the grill for starters, and allow them to become about 80 percent ashed over.

When the fire is ready, push the briquettes to each side of the grill and place a drip pan in the center of the grill. A throw-away foil pan works fine. The turkey will be placed directly on the oiled grill (breast-side up) above the drip pan, so that the juices for gravy flow into the pan, and so that no coals are directly under the turkey.

This is called cooking with indirect heat and it’s what all true barbecuers do, whether the meat is turkey, pork or beef. If you place coals directly under a large piece of meat such as a turkey, the outside will burn before the inside cooks.

Add two or three hickory chunks that you’ve soaked in water to the fire before putting on the turkey. This will give the meat a pleasant, woodsy flavor.

Four or five briquettes must be added to each side of the fire about every 45 minutes, so that a steady heat is maintained. About halfway through the cooking, add a couple more chunks of hickory, too. Try to keep the two fires evenly hot, or one side of the turkey will cook faster than the other. Open the grill lid as little as possible, to keep the heat in.

Other than rubbing the turkey all over with butter or margarine before putting it on the grill (to keep the skin from splitting), no basting is required.

Either place a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh (not touching the bone) before you begin grilling, or use an instant meat thermometer to determine doneness. The turkey is done when the thigh meat is 180 degrees and the breast meat about 170 degrees.

The unstuffed 12 1/2-pounder I tested took about 3 1/2 hours to cook. A bone-in, 5-pound breast took about 2 1/2 hours. Cooking time will depend on how cold it is outside, the bone configuration of the turkey, and the temperature of the meat when it was put on the grill. When I grilled, it was sunny and about 65 degrees. But generally, figure on about 11 to 15 minutes of cooking time per pound — longer if it’s cold and windy.

Rely on a thermometer, not looks, to determine doneness. The meat will be pink just beneath the skin because of the smoke, but this is not an indication of rawness.

When the bird is done, transfer it to a platter, cover with foil and let rest about 20 minutes to allow the juices to return to the surface. Remove the drip pan and make gravy from the juices.

That’s it. Just don’t expect any leftovers. Grilled turkey has a way of getting gobbled up.

Turkeys may be cooked on gas grills, too. Just follow the manufacturer’s instructions for preparing the fire. Set the temperature control for 300 to 350 degrees, or low heat, and preheat 15 to 20 minutes, recommends the National Turkey Federation. Place the whole turkey on the grill and close the cover.

TIDBITS

Tony and I both are crushing on Xinji Noodle Bar in Ohio City, which we visited after thoroughly enjoying the Jazz Age exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Finally, ramen that tastes like the rich soup we enjoy in Japan.

The restaurant, which opened in July, is hipster chic on a budget. It is sparsely furnished, with blond wood floors, high ceilings and the requisite exposed duct work. It is a large space — maybe carved from two former shops — partially separated by a wall of exposed brick.

The menu is limited to ramen in several styles, bao sandwiches, a couple of rice bowls and a few appetizers. The latter includes two spicy, very crisp Korean chicken thighs that Tony and I shared. They aren’t as addictive as Nashville hot chicken, but close.

The ramen portions are about half the size of the behemoth bowls served in Sapporo noodle shops, but my bowl of miso ramen was more than enough for me. The rich broth bespoke long-simmered pork bones. The curly ramen noodles had that mysterious crispness of real Japanese ramen (the unusual texture comes from the way the noodles are processed). To cap it all off, nothing on Xinji’s menu is more than $12.

For hours and more information, go toxinjinoodle.com.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked at home last week:
Thick, pan-grilled lamb chops with herbs de Provence and wine sauce, roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon; pumpkin panna cotta; chicken and cabbage soup.

What I ate away from home last week:
Pad Thai at the cafe at State Road Giant Eagle in Cuyahoga Falls; Japan-worthy miso ramen noodles with corn kernels, kale, sliced pork and a few bean sprouts at Xinji Noodle Bar in Cleveland; pineapple and ham pizza from Rizzi’s in Copley; eggs over easy, grits, ham and a piece of toast at Wally Waffle in Akron; a cup of turkey chili and a Greek salad at Panera.

THE MAILBAG

From Kim M.:
I saw that you had food at the Eye Opener and had French dressing (which I love). How does it compare to Papa Joe’s White French? The reason for this email is I tried to make white French and it separated. I guess I didn’t drizzle the oil. Do you have a recipe for white French dressing?

Dear Kim:
White French dressing is best when the acid threatens to but doesn’t quite overtake the sweet. This recipe is from my book, “Jane Snow Cooks.”

ALMOST KEN STEWART’S WHITE FRENCH DRESSING
• 1 cup Hellman’s mayonnaise
• 1/4 cup grated yellow onion
• 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
• 1 tbsp. plus 2 tsp. distilled white vinegar
• 1 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. sugar

Place mayonnaise in a bowl. Grate the onion on the grater disk of a food processor or the large holes of a box grater, then mince finely by hand. Measure onion, packing down. Add to mayonnaise.

Add remaining ingredients and stir well. Cover and refrigerate overnight before using. Makes about 1 cup.

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