May 22, 2019

Dear friends,

I don’t think I’m the only one who has faced the conundrum of how to sauce a grilled steak. An unadorned, charcoal-grilled strip or ribeye is fancy enough for Tony and me most of the time. But when company calls or when we are celebrating a birthday or anniversary, grilled steak could use a frill or two.

In the past I have minimally solved the problem with a sprinkling of crumbled blue cheese or, for grill-smoked prime rib or cowboy steak, a simple horseradish sauce made by stirring prepared horseradish into thinned mayonnaise. But now I can do better. Now I can lavish the steaks with a voluptuous blue cheese and port wine sauce.

I devised this pan-sauce-without-fond a few months ago but thought it was too simple to share. Now that grilling season is here, I have pulled out the recipe and used it myself, a clue that others probably need just such a sauce, also. So here goes.

A “fond,” by the way, is the meat drippings that stick to the bottom of a pan after cooking. It is the basis of a good sauce. When you grill, you have no pan and therefore no fond. No fond, no sauce.

In its absence, I built layers of flavor by sautéing garlic and onion — just a bit of each — in plenty of butter, then adding beef broth and reducing it to a couple of spoonfuls. I then added port wine and reduced that. Then I added a cup of crumbled blue cheese and stirred until it melted into the wine reduction, producing a deeply flavored, satin-textured sauce. I used port because it goes well with beef and is a fortified wine that can be kept for months, opened, in your cupboard.

The techniques I used to make this delicious blue cheese-port wine sauce are known to any good cook, so anyone could have figured this out. But I didn’t until recently, so I figured maybe you didn’t, either.

A big selling point of the sauce, for me, is that it can be made in the time you rest the steaks before serving. That should be about ten minutes. If you have all your sauce ingredients measured and ready to go, you can beat that time by half, giving you breathing room to finish your pre-dinner cocktail.


2 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. minced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup beef broth
3/4 cup port wine
1 cup crumbled blue cheese plus more for garnish if desired

Heat a medium skillet (7- to 8-inch diameter) over medium heat. Melt butter in skillet. Sauté onion and garlic until softened. The garlic should not taste raw, but do not brown.

Pour beef broth into pan, increase heat to high and boil until reduced by half. Pour in wine, stir well and boil over high heat until reduced to about 1/2 cup. Reduce heat to medium, add cheese and stir until melted.

Immediately spoon sauce over steaks and top with a sprinkling of crumbled blue cheese if desired. Makes enough sauce for 4 steaks, about 2 tablespoons per steak. The recipe may be doubled if you like a lot of sauce, but the sauce is rich and you really don’t need much.

What I cooked last week:
Pineapple mousse pie for my brother; Japanese pork curry over rice; pan-grilled boneless pork chop with a sweet soy sauce glaze, steamed asparagus with balsamic vinegar and coarse sea salt; grilled steaks (filet and strip) with blue cheese-port wine sauce, fava beans with chopped fresh tarragon and olive oil, pan-grilled bell pepper strips.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Marinated, grilled chicken, beef and kefta, baba ghanouj, pita bread, tabbouli, hummus and kibbee from Mediterranean Bakery & Grill on Graham Road in Cuyahoga Falls; tossed salad topped with grilled chicken and raspberry dressing, iced tea at Hot Shots Bar & Grill in East Liverpool; chicken kabobs, green papaya salad and a hot chili wonton at the Cleveland Asian Festival; a quarter of a ham and provolone sub from Subway; a chicken burrito bowl sans rice from Chipotle.

I was blown away last week during an odyssey in search of my favorite Ahmad Ceylon tea. I found it at two Middle Eastern stores off Graham Road in Cuyahoga Falls — one that I’ve been to before but that has expanded, and another that is new to me but that I’ll return to often.

The big news: I finally found fresh fava beans. They are sold in Middle Eastern stores. Who knew?

I also found what may be the best $40 meal around. It is gigantic, delicious and it feeds four. It’s the combination dinner (actually, $39.99) at Falls Mediterranean Bakery & Grill at 526 Graham Road in the plaza where Kifli’s used to be.

Call ahead (330-923-7777) or be prepared to wait for 30 minutes. Either way, it’s worth it. You can shop the wide selection of Middle Eastern foods or watch the friendly guys behind the counter prepare food in a brick oven and wait on a steady stream of hijab-clad customers.

Food is carryout only, so we didn’t know what we had until we unpacked the two bags at home. It was a feast. In one bag was a foil pan heaped with jasmine rice and topped with grilled, marinated boneless chicken, beef and the gorgeously seasoned ground lamb and beef fingers called “kefta.” The chicken was tender. The beef, not so much.

In the other bag were plastic one-pound tubs of hummus, tabbouleh and some of the best baba ghanouj I’ve had, with big, soft pitas to scoop it up. Two small, tapered, meat-filled kibbee were inhaled on the way to the table.

I didn’t try the store’s meat pies because I already had a bag of the terrific fatayer I bought at Fuad Khayyat’s Vine Valley in Akron’s Merriman Valley ( I skipped the Ahmad tea and fresh and frozen (!) fava beans, too, because I had just loaded up on them at East Market, 3464 Hudson Drive in Cuyahoga Falls. That store, by the way, has moved to a plaza across Hudson Drive from its previous location behind Starbuck’s.

Are there other local Middle Eastern stores or restaurants that I haven’t heard of? Let me know. Meanwhile, try some Ahmad Ceylon tea. It’s great, and just finding it can be an adventure.


From Rob S.:
Regarding various types/brands of salt, Cooks Illustrated published the following set of equivalencies some time back: 1 teaspoon table salt = 1 1/2 teaspoons Morton’s kosher salt = 2 teaspoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt.

Diamond Crystal, with its light, flaky crystals, is less salty by volume than Morton’s, and both are less salty by volume than table salt. The finer the crystals, the tighter the salt packs into a given volume (e.g., a teaspoon) and the saltier it will make your dish. Of course, all are equally salty when measuring by weight instead of volume.

Best is when a recipe clearly states what type of salt they are referring to and, if kosher salt, which brand (Cooks Illustrated, for example, always uses Diamond Crystal in its recipes). You can easily convert with the formula above if you don’t have the type specified. If the recipe gives the amount of salt by weight (and you have a kitchen scale) that works equally well.

Dear Rob:
Thank you for the last word on the salt question. I might add that even salts with the same flakiness and weight can vary in flavor because of the mineral content. I once tasted every brand of sea salt sold at West Point Market, from Maldon to some chunky stuff from Maine — almost a dozen in all — and the saltiness and
flavor varied widely.

From Pat S.:
Hi, Jane. This may seem a minor concern in the world of foodies but I have wondered nonetheless. When watching expert TV cooks in food prep I notice most do not fully scrape out the container of liquid ingredients with a silicone spatula when incorporating beaten eggs and oil into cakes mixes, etc. Doesn’t scraping out the residue of liquid ingredients matter in the outcome of a recipe, especially in baking? I always do it.

Dear Pat:
Yes, it matters! TV cooks are more interested in the camera and their script than in the details of cooking because the ingredients they stir up in front of the camera almost never actually get cooked/baked/grilled. There isn’t time. The mixtures made on camera are usually thrown away and a finished version made earlier (often by someone else) is pulled from the oven/stove/grill. Been there, done that.

Also, not much camera time is allotted to the assembly part we see, so TV cooks often just quickly dump premeasured ingredients into the pan or bowl. But you should keep scraping.


May 15, 2019

Dear friends,

Between Marie Kondo and my college roommate, I finally cleaned the house. I mean really cleaned, as in waxing the shower and donating all of the clothes that no longer fit. Well, most of them. I’m still hanging onto the high school majorette uniform my mom made and an expensive purple velveteen pantsuit I bought at Macy’s in 2005 and wore twice.

My drawers now are so beautiful I want to haul people in off the street for viewings. Crew socks are neatly rolled and lined up in a long, slim box. Ankle socks nestle in another box, separated by color.

My sweaters are put away for the season, all the floors are vacuumed, shampooed or scrubbed, the windows sparkle and wood furniture glistens. Most of this frenzy was sparked by a visit from a college roommate I hadn’t seen in 50 years. Once I began cleaning, I couldn’t stop. I even dragged poor Tony into the project.

The week involved a lot of cooking, too. The fanciest meal was cioppino over polenta, which Manda had requested after she saw the photo I took for this newsletter a few months ago. We invited her friend from Cleveland and the four of us had a long, leisurely meal. I had intended to serve a puffy strawberry pavlova for dessert, but by that point I was cooked out. Whew.

The day after I put Manda on her plane home, I eyed the extra eggs and strawberries in the refrigerator. I would make that Pavlova just for Tony and me. A Pavlova, for the uninitiated, is a meringue baked in the shape of a cake and topped with fruit. The meringue is crisp outside but soft and marshmallow-like inside. I had no guests to please, so I would make the normally sugar-intensive Pavlova without sugar. Could it be done?

Yes, it can. When you sub Splenda for sugar in a Pavlova recipe and add a bit of cornstarch for stiffening, you end up with a healthful dessert of basically baked egg whites and sliced strawberries. The Splenda must be liquefied over heat with water and lemon juice before adding it to the egg whites, but the process is easy. I am smitten, and intend to make this beauty all summer.

If you have no need to limit sugar or avoid Splenda for some reason, find another recipe. This is for those of us who hunger for something sweet but must avoid sugar. The splash of balsamic vinegar on the strawberries intensifies their flavor.

The recipe serves four, but I’m kind of glad Tony and I had this dessert all to ourselves.


For the Pavlova:
6 egg whites
1/2 cup Splenda granular
4 tbsp. water
1 tsp. lemon juice
4 tsp. cornstarch

For the topping:
3 cups halved medium-sized strawberries (about 1 lb.)
2 tbsp Splenda granular or to taste
1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
Sugar-free whipped topping, optional

Heat oven to 225 degrees. Begin to whip egg whites on low speed. Meanwhile, combine Splenda, water and lemon juice in a very small stainless steel saucepan. Heat to 175 on an instant-read thermometer or until the liquid has almost reduced and begins to look sticky.

The egg whites should be at the soft peak stage at this point. If not, increase the speed of the mixer and whip until foamy. Slowly add Splenda mixture while whipping. Stop mixer and sift in the cornstarch. Increase speed to high and beat to the stiff peak stage. Do not over beat.

Fit a piece of parchment paper to a baking sheet. With a pencil, trace a 10-inch circle on the parchment (use a plate). Turn the pencil side down. You should still be able to see the circle through the parchment. Using the circle as a guide, dollop egg whites onto the parchment in a circle to make cake-like structure. Slightly indent top with the back of a spoon, so it can serve as a bowl for the berries.

Bake at 250 degrees for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until it just begins to color. Turn off oven, open door and let meringue sit until it is cool.

While meringue cools, combine strawberries, Splenda and balsamic vinegar in a bowl. Let stand at room temperature or chill until ready to serve. Just before serving, spoon some whipped topping, if using, into the indentation of the meringue and top with strawberries and their juices. Cut like a cake to serve. Makes 4 large or 6 medium servings.

Now I know what all the fuss is about. I finally visited Cafe Arnone in Fairlawn and I am a believer. It is as close as you’ll come to an Italian espresso bar outside Italy.

About eight jewel-like colors of house-made gelato beckon from a glass-fronted case when you walk through the rest of the space and a terrace outdoors. We sat at the counter where I could watch coffee being brewed by a number of methods. There are drip pots, French presses, an impressive bank of sleek espresso machines, and baristas hand-pouring steaming water over coffee by the cup and the pot. Take your pick. I had just a regular cup of dark-roast coffee (drip coffee, $1.75) and it was superb.

The sandwiches on crisp flatbread taste fresh, not pre-assembled. I had the chicken piadina — chicken breast chunks with mixed greens and a film of melted Cheddar and Jack cheeses lacquering the inside of the flatbread. A couple of soups and salads also are available. In another life I will return and chow down on the breakfasts toasts. For now, I’ll just dream of craggy toast topped with bananas, strawberries, Nutella and powdered sugar. Or fresh bananas, almond butter, cinnamon and honey. Sigh.

Cafe Arnone is at 2840 W. Market St. in Fairlawn. The website is


What I cooked last week:
Avocado and feta salad with fresh tarragon and vinaigrette dressing; sugar-free Pavlova with balsamic strawberries; coconut-ginger chickpea soup, steamed asparagus with balsamic vinegar; pan-roasted steelhead trout with roasted carrots, bell pepper, grape tomatoes and Kalamata olives, and steamed asparagus with balsamic vinegar; avocado toast, morels fried in butter; steamed asparagus with lemon juice and coarse sea salt; tuna couscous salad; baked spaghetti squash with ricotta cheese and meat sauce; steamed asparagus topped with a poached egg, lemon juice and sea salt. (My two asparagus patches are going crazy).

What I ate out:
A cup of vegetable soup and half of a spicy Thai salad with chicken at Panera; orichette with tomato-meat sauce, arugula and avocado salad, garlic bread, fresh fruit at a friend’s house; pad Thai at the Giant Eagle in Green; Cobb salad with two warm pita triangles and coffee at Alexandri’s in Wadsworth; small popcorn, no butter at Regal Cinema; chicken piadina (flatbread sandwich) and coffee at Cafe Arnone in Fairlawn; sugar-free vanilla frozen yogurt at Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt in Fairlawn.


From Joy, Vancouver, Canada:
Sorry to hear about Geoff Hewitt’s passing. I thought you might be interested in the fresh tomato soup recipe served at Vikram Vij’s Indian cuisine restaurants in Vancouver. I have his cookbooks, one of which has the tomato soup, but have not tried the recipe myself as yet. Vij mentions in his cookbook that they serve the soup (as a light lunch) over pakoras (cauliflower and potato fritters) at Vij’s and Rangli in Vancouver.

The soup consists of 5 or 6 pakoras in a bowl, then the tomato soup is poured over the fritters and garnished with cilantro. You’ll notice in the recipe instructions they either use ginger or garlic but never both at the same time. Here’s the link to the recipe:

From Jenny K:
In terms of baking and/or savory cooking, what kind of kosher salt should be used when a recipe specifically calls for that type? Morton’s is a much coarser salt than Diamond Crystal Kosher. I assume they must not measure the same. Thanks!

Dear Jenny:
You ask the tough questions. I have always assumed recipes that called for kosher salt meant the coarse kind. That may be because that’s what I always mean when I write recipes. Or it may be because Morton’s is the only kind of kosher salt I remember seeing in grocery stores.

I tried to find out whether, as I suspect, Morton’s is the top dog in the kosher salt market. Failing that, I’m just going to go with my gut and guess that recipes that call for kosher salt mean the coarse kind. If the recipe specifies “flaked,” add a few extra grains of coarse salt to make up for it.

In any case, unless your recipe calls for gobs of salt, the difference will not be so great that you can’t adjust the seasoning after tasting. If using Diamond Crystal, go light on the salt before tasting.

May 8, 2019

Dear friends,
And I use that salutation sincerely. I have corresponded with so many of you for so long that I do feel you are my friends. Losing one of you is painful, as it was when long-time reader Geoff Hewitt died on April 26.

Geoff had been in failing health, said Sherrie W., a close friend of Geoff’s who let me know.

I had no idea. Geoff and I traded emails about his favorite Cleveland Asian restaurants just two weeks before he died. His picks: Siam Cafe, Won Ton Gourmet, Szechuan Cafe and for dim sum, Bo Loong.

Over the years we discussed many food issues, from the price of produce at farmers’ markets (he was in favor of paying top dollar to support local farmers) to the best restaurants in Florida.

I met Geoff just twice. The first time was years ago when I interviewed him for an In the Kitchen column for the Beacon Journal. I learned he was a professional photographer who specialized in auto racing. He loved to cook almost as much as he loved to dine out. He shared his recipe for bread pudding with coconut and pecans, which is in my cookbook and which I reprinted in this newsletter a month or so ago.

The second time was at my yard sale last summer. Geoff dropped by just to visit. We sat in lawn chairs under an awning and talked for at least an hour. He told me he learned to make the bread pudding in a cooking class in New Orleans. He traveled the country for his job, and often made time for culinary detours. His knowledge of restaurants was extensive. He could have written a restaurant guidebook for all 50 states.

Before Geoff died, he wanted to know if any of my newsletter readers could figure out the ingredients in the tomato soup at Bombay Grill in Fairlawn. I printed his request, but got no answers.

Generous to the end, Geoff sent me his version of the soup. It isn’t quite the same as the restaurant’s but it’s pretty good, said. I know he would be pleased that I’m sharing it with you.

So long, Geoff. You made my life a bit more delicious.

2 tbsp. butter or ghee
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1 1/2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2 cans (28 oz. each) crushed tomatoes
1 small can tomato paste
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground black mustard seeds (preferred) or yellow mustard seeds or mustard powder
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. paprika
2 tsp. curry powder
2 tbsp. sugar
4 cloves chopped garlic
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

In a large saucepan or saucier, melt the butter over medium heat and sauté
the onion for about 10 minutes until lightly browned. Add the ginger and cook two more minutes. Add the tomatoes and all the ingredients down to and including the sugar. Cover and cook for about two hours at a low simmer.

Stir in garlic and salt. Use an immersion blender to make a finely chopped puree. Alternately, puree in batches in a blender or food processor. As a last resort you could get by with a potato masher but this wouldn’t make the soup thin enough.

Add the cream, stir and add the cilantro. Taste and adjust any seasonings as necessary.

What I cooked last week:
Meat sauce baked in spaghetti squash halves; chicken and rice salad with pineapple and dates; steak salad with roast butternut squash and sizzled asparagus; microwave-scrambled egg and ricotta with hot sauce and toast; pineapple mousse pie; cioppino (Italian shellfish stew) over polenta.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Chocolate chunk croissant from the Blue Door in Cuyahoga Falls; steamed edamame, octopus carpaccio, salmon nigiri, tamago nigiri at Sushi Katsu in Akron; fried pickle burger, french fries and coffee at Wally Waffle in Bath (Montrose) (majorly delicious); Korean barbecued beef taco, a Thai chicken with peanut sauce taco and a Modelo beer at Funky Truckeria in Norton.

My favorite food festival of the year, the Cleveland Asian Festival, is coming up. Clear some time on Saturday, May 18 or Sunday, May 19 to eat your way through a United Nations of Asian cuisine and watch some quality entertainment (singing, dancing) by various Northeast Ohio Asian groups.

The festival sprawls along Payne Avenue around 27th Street, with a World Marketplace, social and service club exhibits, and two entertainment tents in addition to the Asian food court area, which is filled with edibles from local Filipino, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, Indian and Nepali restaurants. Did I miss any?

Festival hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Don’t bring your dog (we tried last year). Check out the website at

From Mary D.:
I found an unfiltered extra virgin olive oil at Marc’s — Carapelli.

Dear Mary:
I rushed right out and bought a bottle. The olive flavor is pronounced and, as you mentioned in a follow-up email, grassy. It is delicious. I will save it for salad dressings and other uncooked applications in which the flavor can shine. I am glad to see that Carapelli is on the list of certified extra-virgin oils. Thanks for the tip.

From Michele Sandridge:
Clamato is sold everywhere — Marc’s, Acme, etc. Look in the fruit juice aisle.

Dear Michele:
I’m embarrassed. Thanks for setting me straight. As Ken Stewart’s bartender (and my frequent partner in crime), you should know.

May 1, 2019

Dear friends,

I have never celebrated Cinco de Maya, a cheesy made-for-America holiday, but I may this year. The reason is a Mexican party-in-a-glass (or mug or pitcher) called “michelada” that I just learned to make.

On Saturday I watched Tony’s young Mexican friend, Antonio, assemble this beer cocktail in a terra-cotta “glass” that looked like a vase and probably held a quart. I wrote down the names of the spices and elixirs lined up on his kitchen counter. I watched him garnish the rim of the gargantuan drink with alternating cucumber slices and shrimp. It was spectacular.

Michelada is now my house drink. How it is it I haven’t heard of it before? I have been to Mexico twice and many American Mexican restaurants from haute to humble, but never stumbled across the drink. It is the country’s most popular cocktail, according to the Internet.

The drink is made with equal parts lager beer (Antonio used Modelo) and Clamato juice spiced with Maggi seasoning, Worcestershire sauce, lime juice and Tajin (chile-lime powder), with Chamoy sauce (a fruity hot sauce), Tajin and salt on the rim. And, of course, those cucumbers and shrimp.

I hadn’t seen Clamato — clam-flavored tomato juice — since I was a kid. You may have to visit a Mexican grocery store to find it, which you’ll have to do anyway to buy Maggi seasoning (a dark-brown liquid that looks like soy sauce and is made from vegetable protein). Pick up a big jar of Tajin chile-lime seasoning while you’re there, because after you taste it, you’ll want to sprinkle it on everything.


Chamoy sauce (fruity, chile-spiced syrup, optional)
Coarse sea salt
Tajin (chile-lime powder)

1 1/2 cup Clamato juice
1/4 cup lime juice (juice of 2 limes)
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. Maggi seasoning
1/2 tsp Tajin seasoning
1 to 2 tsp. hot pepper sauce
12 oz. Mexican lager beer

6 large shrimp
6 cucumber slices

Pour some Chamoy onto a saucer. Dip the rims of two large glasses in the fruity hot sauce. (Or wet the rims with a wedge of lime) Place sea salt on one half of a clean saucer and some Tajin on the other half. Dip the rims of the glasses in the salt and spice, so that half of each rim is coated with salt and half with spice. Fill glasses with ice cubes.

In a pitcher, combine Clamato, lime juice, Worcestershire sauce, Maggi seasoning, Tajin seasoning and hot pepper sauce. Stir well. Fill each glass half full with the Clamato mixture. Top with beer and stir gently. Garnish rims with shrimp and cucumber slices. Makes 2 large drinks.

What I cooked last week:
Baked potato with sour cream, lox and capers; microwave ricotta-egg scramble.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Chicken burrito bowl from Chipotle; T-bone steak, baked potato, tossed salad and a roll at Brown Derby in Medina Township (a terrific special for about $16 on Mondays and Tuesdays); coleslaw, lamb and beef gyro with cucumber-yogurt sauce at On Tap in Medina Township; steak and blue cheese salad from Giant Eagle; spicy shrimp ceviche and chips with guacamole at Tony’s friend’s house; blue cheese burger and coleslaw at Fisher’s Cafe & Pub in Peninsula.

From S.H.:
I am so glad you came to the same conclusion as I on the Crack an Egg product. I purchased one carton and told myself that the manufacturer grossly overcharged for a spoonful of tired veggies, etc., and started to make my own.

Dear S.H.:
I wonder how many of us across the country have started microwaving eggs for breakfast because of that product. As I wrote last week, the secret to decent microwave scrambled eggs in to avoid overcooking them. But the very best eggs, I’ve come to believe, are those scrambled with ricotta cheese — 1/4 cup per egg. The eggs turn out creamy every time, with little visible trace of the cheese. It just looks like a fluffy pile of scrambled eggs.

From Linda C.:
Thanks for the idea of chopping vegetables and freezing them in small packets. So many recipes call for several veggies in small amounts that I usually just pick a couple because I don’t know what to do with all the extras. This is a game changer. Thanks. What veggies freeze best? Any to avoid freezing?

Dear Linda:
Frozen will never taste as good as fresh, but they can be convenient. Cooked bulb and green onions and bell peppers freeze well. So do firm root vegetables such as carrots and parsnips. Green beans — blanched — are good freezers. Stay away from vegetables with a high water content, such as zucchini. I imagine you are most interested in the aromatics that are called for in many recipes. Onions, yes. Garlic, no because the flavor mellows in the freezer.

April 24, 2019

Dear friends,
There are breakfast people and those who gag at the thought of eating before noon. I am among the former. I wake up every morning ravenous for breakfast.

What I would like to eat and what I do eat are polar opposites. I long for pancakes topped with over-easy eggs and real maple syrup. I dream of fried mush dabbed with butter and drizzled with maple syrup. I yearn for brown sugar-sweetened oatmeal showered with fruit and nuts.

What I do eat: Yogurt. Cottage cheese and blueberries. Scrambled eggs and a few grapes, hold the toast. Low-carb eating can be the pits.

Low-carb breakfasts can also be boring, which is why I was intrigued by an inane new product, Crack an Egg. It consists of a little cardboard bowl of various chopped vegetables (onions, green peppers) and shredded cheese. You crack an egg into the stuff, stir and microwave for about a minute, stirring midway through.

Why inane? Because you can do this so much better yourself — fresher, cheaper and without the excessive packaging.

I bought a couple of the packages, tasted and then started making my own. I made delicious versions such as scrambled egg with kalamata olives, cherry tomatoes and feta cheese hit with some oregano, and egg with lox, capers and a squeeze of lemon. My favorite was probably the creamy mugful of leftover Easter ham, ricotta cheese and an egg seasoned with a grind of nutmeg. In the summer when my herb garden gets going, I’ll add mix up even more varieties. Yum.

If you are pressed for time or just stupid-sleepy in the morning (as I am), you can chop a bunch of ingredients and freeze them in little portions just right for microwaving with one egg. The only caveat is that you must be careful not to overcook the egg. Too much microwaving yields Styrofoam-like eggs. At high power in my 1100-watt oven, an egg with two or three tablespoons of add-ins is set and creamy at 50 seconds; at a minute, it tastes like packing peanuts. A recipe with 1/2 cup add-ins, such as my ricotta-ham egg cup, cooks up creamy and tender in 70 seconds, stirring after the first 20 seconds.

These simple scrambles are low-carb, lightening-fast solutions to breakfast boredom.

1 tbsp. sliced Kalamata olives
1 tbsp. diced tomato
2 tbsp. crumbled feta cheese
Salt, pepper
Pinch of oregano
1 egg

Combine all ingredients in a pottery mug and beat with a fork. Microwave on high power for 20 seconds. Stir. Microwave 20 seconds longer or until eggs are mostly set. Stir. Let stand 1 to 2 minutes before eating. Serves 1.


1 tsp. drained capers
1 tbsp. (heaped) chopped cold-smoked salmon (lox)
1 egg
1 fingernail-sized piece of butter
Salt, pepper
1 tbsp. sour cream

Combine capers, lox, egg, butter, salt and pepper in a pottery mug. Beat with a fork. Microwave for 20 seconds on high power. Stir well. Microwave 20 seconds longer or until eggs are mostly set. Stir. Let stand 1 to 2 minutes. Top with sour cream. Serves 1.

1/4 cup diced ham (1/4-inch pieces)
1/4 cup ricotta cheese
Dash of salt
Pinch of fresh-ground nutmeg
1 egg

Combine all ingredients in a pottery mug. Beat very well with a fork. Microwave on high power for 30 seconds. Stir. Microwave for 40 seconds longer or until eggs are almost set. Stir and let stand for 2 minutes. Serves 1.

This month in his often-hilarious monthly column in Mimi Magazine, my friend Mitch Allen details his annual diet in order to fit into his summer shorts. The diet consists mostly of vegetables and fish. Midway through, Mitch asks a question we all have been pondering: “…why was there no tilapia when I was a kid? It can’t be a new species. It’s not like God said, ‘Oh, wait, I forgot the tilapia…’ and went back and created it.”

Exactly right, Mitch. The answer is that tilapia has been here all along but on another continent — Africa. It reproduces like crazy, which is why someone (I couldn’t find out who) got the idea to farm it and sell it to Americans.

Tilapia is actually an umbrella name for a bunch of fish called “cichlid.” A lot of them look like goldfish or koi. I do not eat tilapia because most of our supply comes from China, where U.S. safety standards do not apply. The tilapia farmed there are raised in freshwater lakes in such concentrations that they live in their own waste. They are kept “healthy” with chemicals. They are an invasive species, so when they escape to unfarmed waterways, they decimate the native fish population.

Add to this the fact that tilapia are low in omega 3 fatty acids — the reason we’re told to eat more fish — and you have plenty of reason to ditch tilapia in favor of wild salmon and trout.

Bottom line: If you can find tilapia farm-raised in the U.S., go for it. The next-best choice is tilapia from South American fish farms. Otherwise, skip it.

At least tilapia is in no danger of being overfished like our past piscine obsessions. Remember the orange roughy craze? Swordfish mania? White sea bass (actually, Patagonian triggerfish) on every restaurant menu? Unlike those fish, tilapia is in plentiful supply. I just don’t know if you’d want to eat it.

What I cooked last week:
Enchilada casserole; egg salad; roasted steelhead trout with cubed potatoes, brussels sprouts, Greek olives and cherry tomatoes with oregano and olive oil; pan-grilled top sirloin steak with wine sauce, pan-grilled asparagus with sesame oil, cherry tomato and feta salad; lentil soup; baked honey-glazed ham and cornbread.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Mu shu pork with Chinese pancakes and a shrimp and green bean stir fry from Chin’s Place in Akron (both dishes were excellent); rice cakes with shrimp and hot jasmine tea at Han Chinese Kabob in Cleveland; eggs over easy, grits, bacon and a biscuit at Cracker Barrel.

From Geoff:
I’m pleased to see you finally got to try Bombay Grill’s tomato soup. It’s one of the best soups I’ve eaten and certainly the best tomato soup. Perhaps you and your readers could make an attempt at duplicating the recipe. I’ve had little luck getting the ingredients from the owners. I’d love to make a big batch, portion freeze it and have it whenever I’d like.

Your readers should know about a favorite Asian restaurant of mine in North Canton called Mint and Lime. I’ve been going there for a couple of years and it’s better than most local Asian places and comes close to being as good as those in Cleveland. Everything I’ve had there has been exceptional. Here’s the website:

The flavors of that soup are too complex for me to figure out. Does anyone else want to take a crack at it? I found many versions of Indian tomato soup on the Internet, but none that sounds like the soup I had at Bombay Grill.

I see that the owners of Mint and Lime are related to the owners of my favorite Asian place, Basil Asian Bistro in Canton, so I’m not surprised it’s good. Thanks for the recommendation.

April 17, 2019

Dear friends,
I finished a big writing project on Saturday and celebrated with a fun dinner. I made an intensely coconut-y quinoa and topped it with skewers of shrimp and mango chunks lacquered with sweet soy sauce and seared in a skillet. It was a party on a plate.

I got the idea from “Flavor Matrix” by James Briscione, which I borrowed from the library. The book is based on pairings of foods, determined by a computer based on their molecular similarities. Sound complicated? The book does nothing to simplify matters. And when you do drill down to a nugget of information, many of the pairings seem obvious — citrus with ginger and cilantro, cucumber with yogurt, and winter squash with butter and cheese.

Still, I gleaned enough inspiration to come up with this shrimp, coconut and quinoa dish. The author used oatmeal instead of quinoa and the idea does seem novel. Quinoa was another choice, and that’s what I had in the cupboard. If you want to try the oatmeal version, have at it.

The proportions of most of the ingredients in the recipe are mine, as are the kabobs. the tropical vibe was just what I needed on a stormy night when I was in the mood to celebrate.


1 cup quinoa (the kind that takes 15 minutes to cook)
2 tbsp. butter
4 green onions, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. salt
1 can (13.5 oz.) coconut milk
1/2 cup shredded coconut (not sweetened)
Rinse quinoa well under cold running water. Heat butter in a 2-quart saucepan. Sauté onions and garlic until they release their aromas and the onions begin to wilt. Stir in salt. Stir in quinoa. Stir in coconut milk and coconut.

Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. If any liquid remains, uncover and boil until it has evaporated. Remove from heat and fluff with a fork. Mound on two dinner plates and top with kabobs.

Note: Frozen, shredded unsweetened coconut can be found in Asian and health-food stores).

4 to 6 wood skewers, cut to fit into a large skillet or cast-iron grill pan
12 to 18 large raw shrimp, depending on appetite
1 firm, slightly underripe mango
3 scallions, green part only
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1/4 cup sweet soy sauce

Note: This makes two to three kabobs per person, depending on appetite. I was fine with two. Tony wanted three. Each kabob has three shrimp. Use your judgement.

Soak the skewers in warm water to prevent them from splintering when you skewer the food; even a few minutes helps).

Peel the shrimp and pat dry with paper towels. Cut the cheeks off the mango and score the flesh into 1-inch chunks. Cut the chunks away from the skin. Fold the green part of the scallions accordion-style into 1-inch lengths, two bends per piece.

In order, thread on a skewer: shrimp, mango, onion, shrimp, mango, shrimp. Repeat with remaining skewers.

Heat a large cast-iron grill pan or heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add oil and swirl to coat pan. In batches, place skewers in pan and sear on one side. Turn and brush seared side with soy sauce. After a minute, turn and brush other side with soy sauce. Turn once more.

Shrimp should be done at this point. If not, cook a few seconds longer. Remove from pan and place two or three skewers on top of each mound of coconut quinoa. Serves two.

What I cooked last week:
Chicken stir-fry with shredded brussels sprouts over rice; spice-rubbed, wood-smoked spare ribs; tomato meat sauce baked in a spaghetti squash half with Parmesan; coconut quinoa with shrimp and mango kabobs.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Spicy fried chicken and green beans with potatoes from Louisiana Famous Fried Chicken in Akron; half of a Subway roast beef sandwich; barbecued pork chops, green beans, salad and hot tea at Alexandri’s in Wadsworth; a cup of vegetable soup and half of a spicy Asian salad with chicken at Panera; a salmon salad from Acme; scrambled eggs with ham and feta cheese, hash browns, wheat toast and coffee at Michael’s A.M. in Akron.

From A.K.:
I have a question about olive oil. I do understand that olive oil and extra-virgin olive oil have different cooking profiles —extra-virgin (evoo) has a much lower smoking temperature because of higher particulate content, etc. The thing is, 97 percent of recipes call for simply “olive oil,” which to me tastes like vegetable oil with more health benefits. Often I will see a recipe that seems to cry out for evoo, the taste of which I love. I say use evoo when the recipe calls for low-heat cooking and simply olive oil for heavier sautéing.

So, my question: Do most recipes calling for olive oil actually mean evoo? Or should it be open to the intended use? Or do we simply use regular olive oil unless a recipe calls for evoo? Those recipes are few and far between.

Dear A.K.:
Two issues are germane here. First, many so-called extra-virgin olive oils have been found to not be the first pressing. The olive oil scam erupted in 2015, when testing showed that many Italian olive oils (some say up to two-thirds) were not extra-virgin as the labels claimed. More than 30 producers were arrested after the fraud came to light. To make sure your oil is extra-virgin, consult the list compiled by the North American Olive Oil Association at Click on “Certified Quality Seal” in the menu across the top.

The second issue is that, in my opinion, many recipe writers use “olive oil” when they often mean “extra-virgin” because that’s the only kind of olive oil most Americans buy. I think you should trust your tastebuds. If you think a recipe would taste better with extra-virgin, use it. The exception, of course, is when the oil is to be heated at a high temperature. That would kill the flavor and produce smoke, so you’re better off using vegetable oil or regular olive oil.

I used to buy a very fruity, unfiltered (and expensive) extra-virgin olive oil that I used unheated in things like dressings or to drizzle on a dish as a finishing touch. I got it at West Point Market, and haven’t seen it anywhere else. I think Russ Vernon imported it directly from the producer. For sautéing, I used (and still use) a less-expense jug-type extra-virgin. For frying, I use canola. So basically, I think your instincts are correct.

April 10, 2019

Dear friends,
I am not shopping and I’m barely cooking. My life is on hold while I try to meet a writing deadline that’s bearing down on me. I retired to get away from these horrid deadlines. So why am I doing this? To paraphrase Dorothy Parker, I don’t enjoy writing, but I like having written.

I am among a group of former Beacon Journal reporters and editors who are writing a history of the Beacon Journal. Former columnist and editor Stuart Warner (now editor in chief of the Phoenix New Times) is editing the book, which will be published by the University of Akron Press. Coming soon (but not too soon) to a book store near you.

My chapter is about the newspaper’s food coverage from the 1800s until now. The historical research was interesting, and it has been fun talking to former editors, food writers and restaurant critics. But now I have a mountain of information to organize and whittle down to size.

All of this is one big excuse for not creating an original recipe this week. Probably not next week, either. I did cook something new and yummy two weeks ago, though, with this deadline in mind. The dish is a crisp roast chicken that is cut up and doused with a simple but luscious garlic-ginger sauce before serving.

The sauce is from Momofuku chef David Chang. He uses it on chicken wings and octopus and calls it “octo vinaigrette.” I suggest making a big jar of it and using it as a dipping sauce for Asian snacks such as egg rolls, skewers and lettuce wraps. It will keep for weeks in the refrigerator.


1 whole broiler-fryer chicken, about 3 lbs.
Salt, pepper
2 tbsp. chopped garlic
2 tbsp. chopped fresh ginger
1/4 tsp. hot pepper flakes (Chang uses 1 fresh bird’s eye or serrano chile, chopped)
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup light soy sauce
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1/4 tsp. sesame oil
1 1/2 tbsp. sugar
Fresh-ground black pepper

Trim excess fat from chicken and wash it inside and out. Pat dry. Rub the skin with oil and season it with salt and pepper. Place on a rack over a roasting pan and roast at 400 degrees for about 60 to 75 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh not touching the bone reads 170 degrees. Remove from oven and let stand for 15 to 20 minutes before carving.

While the chicken roasts, combine remaining ingredients in a jar and shake well. The sauce may be made even earlier — the day before is ideal — as its flavor improves as it sits.

After the chicken has rested, cut it into serving pieces, arrange on a platter and splash with about half of the sauce. Pass remaining sauce at the table. Serves 3 to 4.

Note: I served the chicken on a bed on stir-fried kale. The sauce dribbled down and flavored the greens. They were delicious.

What I cooked last week:
Pumpkin pie; mushroom and potato soup with sherry and wilted spinach; cornbread; sugar-free yellow cake with chocolate-peanut butter icing for Tony’s birthday.

What I ate in/from restaurants last week:
Thai chicken skewers, spring vegetable salad from Earth Fare; Indian tomato soup, vegetable pakora, chicken curry, rice, naan at Bombay Grill in Fairlawn; hot tea, tom yum soup with seafood and pan-fried pork dumplings with garlicky dipping sauce (yeow!) at House of Hunan in Fairlawn; fennel-crusted skirt steak over fingerling potatoes, wilted spinach, banana peppers, onions and tomatoes with a glass of red wine at Wise Guys in Akron; a hot dog with Stadium Mustard and onions, peanuts and a beer at Canal Park in Akron at a Rubber Ducks game; two egg rolls from China Star in Akron.

From R. C.:
Loved your column on Akron-area Chinese restaurants. I have struggled to find tasty Chinese food in our area, also. We were great fans of China Gourmet on West Market Street in Akron before it became a Starbucks.

Two questions: Do you have favorite dishes at Chin’s? Can you tell us about your favorite Chinese restaurants in Cleveland? Thanks.

Dear R.C.:
OK, those are tough questions because I have a hard time remembering from trip to trip. I know that Elaine Chin’s father, chef-owner until he retired and passed the business to Elaine, was a Cantonese-style dim sum chef in China. So I usually stick with the Cantonese dishes, although I have had good Mongolian beef there. I often order the moo shu pork.

In Cleveland, I usually go to Vietnamese restaurants with Tony because he loves pho. I like the dim sum at Li Wah. I wasn’t impressed with ballyhooed Noodlecat (not Chinese but Asian). A restaurant on my radar that I haven’t tried yet is Han Chinese Kabob in Payne Commons. Next trip.

You didn’t ask, but I have to put in a plug for Basil Asian Bistro in Canton, which has modern pan-Asian dishes that are delicious. I’d go once a week if it were closer.

From Christine R.:
I have heard people rave about Ming Hing in Orrville.

Thanks. Any visitors have an opinion?

From Nancy H.:
I just read your latest newsletter and wanted to share a black bean sauce tip from the late, great Barbara Tropp. In her “China Moon” cookbook she suggests soaking the black beans in some xiao xing wine (or dry sherry) for about 20 minutes before adding to the dish. Strain the liquid and save it to add to your sauce ingredients. It really amps up the good flavors and textures of the dish.

Dear Nancy:
I would trust anything Barbara Tropp says. I actually got to dine at her China Moon restaurant in San Francisco years ago, and I had her cookbook. She was sweet and talented, and I lamented her death in 2001. I remember being blown away by a terrific dessert she made, ginger ice cream with hot fudge sauce. I made it several times. It is time-consuming but so worth it.

April 3, 2019

Dear friends,
I am so hungry for Chinese food. And I am so sick of anemic-tasting stir frys a 10-year-old could make with a couple of cans of La Choy and a wok. I need to find a good Chinese restaurant. Chin’s in Highland Square and House of Hunan in Fairlawn are the only places I have found that satisfy, depending on where you land on their menus.

Tip: If you see “Bourbon Chicken” on a Chinese menu, it could be a clue the stir frys come frozen from a warehouse in Timbuktu. Bourbon chicken is a staple of Chinese buffet restaurants that buy their stir frys wholesale. Bourbon is American, folks, not Chinese.

In an effort to winkle out the decent homemade dishes on a multi-page Chinese restaurant menu, I ask the waitress which dish is the cook’s specialty. I don’t know why I do this because the answer invariably is “everything is good” or a finger pointed to a list headlined “Chef’s Specialties” that cover every region of China and are the most expensive items on the menu.

Is there a real chef in the kitchen at any of these restaurants? Maybe he or she makes something good for their families and friends, while saving the trite moo goo gai pans for their American customers.

In my reporter years, I once tried to find out if this was true. I interviewed Chinese restaurant chefs all over the area to determine their provinces of origin and get recipes for dishes they make at home. Only a couple (at Chin’s and House of Hunan, in fact) were chefs before they emigrated. The rest decided to open a restaurant and wing it after they got here.

This reminds me of the guy who phoned me at the newspaper once for advice. He was thinking of opening a Mexican restaurant and wondered whether I thought it was a good idea. “Do you know a lot about Mexican food?” I asked. “No,” he said. “I just thought it might be popular.”

Anyway, if I want to eat Chinese I must travel from Copley to Highland Square or dress up (i.e, change out of pajamas or a track suit) and go to House of Hunan or drive to Cleveland. A fourth alternative is to make some Chinese food myself, which I did last week after I tossed out a pitiful version of chicken in black bean sauce from a Norton Chinese restaurant.

“How hard can it be to make this?” I wondered. Not hard, it turns out. The most difficult part is finding the fermented black beans. Unless you have an unruly pantry like mine, it will require a trip to an Asian store.

In Irene Kuo’s excellent book, “The Key to Chinese Cooking,” the recipe for the sauce is ridiculously simple: soy sauce, sherry, sugar and water. The black beans are stir fried with the chicken, ginger, garlic and vegetables. The sauce is thickened with a cornstarch slurry and finished with a swirl of sesame oil. The result is a tawny, glazed stir fry with tons of flavor.

Kuo starts with a whole chicken that she hacks, bones and all, into 1-inch pieces. I used bone-in thighs instead but next time will opt for boneless because we didn’t like eating around all the slivers of bone. Your choice.


1 frying chicken, about 2/12 lbs., or 8 bone-in or boneless thighs
1 large onion cut into 1-inch squares
2 medium bell peppers, cut into 1-inch squares
2 quarter-size slices peeled ginger, minced
2 tbsp. fermented black beans, rinsed and coarsely chopped
2 large cloves garlic, chopped

2 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsp. dry sherry
1 tsp. sugar
1 cup water

1 1/2 tbsp. cornstarch dissolved in 3 tbsp. water (I ultimately used double the amount)
4 tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. sesame oil

Cut the chicken or bone-in thighs through the bones into 1-inch pieces. Or cut the boneless thighs into similar-size pieces. Place in a bowl and line up near the stove with the onions, peppers, ginger, black beans and garlic, all in separate piles. Mix the seasonings. Dissolve the cornstarch in a small bowl; have the sesame oil nearby. All this may be done hours ahead of time. Cover and refrigerate the chicken and vegetables, then bring to room temperature before stir frying.

Heat a large, heavy skillet over high heat until hot. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil, swirl and heat for 30 seconds. Scatter in the onions and peppers and stir fry vigorously with the salt until they are just beginning to lose their raw edge. Remove to a dish.

Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil to the pan, heat a few seconds, and sear the ginger, black beans and garlic for a few seconds, stirring all the time. Add the chicken and toss and stir until all the pieces are yellow-whitish. Add the seasonings mixture, stir and when it bubbles, turn heat to medium, cover and let the chicken steam-cook vigorously for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Uncover, turn the heat to high, add the onions and bell pepper and stir in sweeping, tossing motions for 1 minute. Give the cornstarch mixture a big stir and pour into the pan, stirring until the chicken and vegetables are smoothly glazed. If the sauce is too thin, quickly make and add more cornstarch slurry. Add the sesame oil, give the contents a few sweeping folds and pour into a hot serving dish. Makes 4 servings.

From “The Key to Chinese Cooking” by Irene Kuo.

Note from Jane: If you don’t cook the stir fry at a high enough heat, which can be a problem with home stoves and fear of spatters, the chicken will release so much moisture that the sauce will require at least double the thickening.

What I cooked last week:
A detox green smoothie; chicken in black bean sauce, steamed rice; hamburgers; roast chicken with ginger-garlic sauce; DiGiorno’s frozen pizza.

What I ate in /from restaurants:
Half a meatball sub from Subway; bacon-wrapped meat loaf, roasted carrots, mashed potatoes and a glass of Malbec wine at Wolf Creek Tavern in Norton; a hot Italian sub at Primo’s Deli.

From Sandy D.:
In response to your question about foods we once disliked….I will be 60 years old in June. About three months ago I started eating cottage cheese for the first time in my life. I could never stand the texture before, I guess. Now I eat it almost daily, especially since I’ve discovered Hood’s brand.

Next up I will be attempting to make my own as I do ricotta — can’t beat homemade!

From Diana H.:
When I was pregnant with my first child we had feta cheese in a salad at a Greek festival and it was AWFUL! So I never ate it for years. One day I had a Greek salad and just knew I did not like feta cheese but took a bite anyway. Then I realized how much I LOVED it! Probably pregnancy gave me funky tastebuds for feta. It tastes so good and I enjoy it every time I have a Greek salad.

Dear Sandy and Diana:
How interesting that you both once disliked a particular cheese. I can’t think of a cheese I dislike, although there’s probably one somewhere that I’d turn up my nose at. I eat cottage cheese several times a week because it’s a good source of lean protein and I like it. Feta may be my favorite everyday cheese. It is relatively low in fat and has a mild but distinct salty flavor. I use it in tacos, all kinds of salads, omelets and even on pizza.

Very few foods are on my hate list. Among them are natto — slimy Japanese fermented soybeans — and tripe, which I’ve tried to like but whose texture puts me off.

March 27, 2019

Dear friends,
I’m not trying to pick a fight with the food police of Bologna, Italy. It’s just that both Marcella Hazan and my husband disagree with them.

In 1982, a food society in Bologna published a recipe its members, after much study, declared was the last word on ragu alla Bolognese — meat sauce for pasta, which is thought to have originated in the city (hence, “spaghetti Bolognese” ).

I have made Bolognese sauce but not the official one until last week. It contained just two tablespoons of tomato paste and no tomatoes. When the sauce was an hour into its two-hour simmer, I caved and added a cup of crushed tomatoes. I knew Tony wouldn’t like a spaghetti sauce with no tomatoes.

Before I added the tomatoes, the sauce tasted good but not as good as Hazan’s, which I use for lasagna with homemade noodles (it’s like eating heaven). Even Hazan, a cookbook author and the premier northern Italian food expert, adds tomatoes to Bolognese sauce. The finished sauce tastes more of meat and cream, but the tomato notes are there.

Bolognese sauce, both the official and unofficial versions, is almost all meat, no liquid. The wine, seasonings, milk and cream are absorbed into the ground meat, giving it an unctuousness and depth of flavor regular spaghetti meat sauces lack.

A meaty, almost sauceless sauce is just what I needed for baked spaghetti squash alla Bolognese. The stringy squash is halved and filled with meat sauce, then topped with Parmesan cheese and baked. As you eat, your fork rakes up the strands of squash and drags them through the sauce. It is a memorable way to eat both squash and sauce.

I have wanted to make this dish since Julie Maier-Miller of Claire’s Garden in Norton posted a photo of her creation on Facebook. The idea is hers. The recipe I’m sharing is my version. If you want Julie’s version, you should sign up for one of her cooking classes. Information follows.

I am sharing two recipes for the sauce: my modified sauce from the food fathers of Bologna, and Marcella Hazan’s sauce. Take your pick. I baked the sauce in single serving-size spaghetti squash I found at Aldi’s. The more typical, larger spaghetti squash would probably serve three or four.

The recipe makes enough to fill two or three squash. I filled two halves and Tony used the rest on angel hair pasta. The sauce freezes beautifully if you prefer to save the leftovers for more baked spaghetti squash.

This is the best way to eat spaghetti squash I’ve come across. Filling the cavity with sauce and baking it is a brilliant idea. Thanks, Julie.


3 small or 2 medium spaghetti squash (or just 1 small if you’re serving 2 people, 2 small for 4 people, etc.)
Olive oil or melted butter
1 recipe Bolognese sauce (see below)
1/2 to 1 cup or so shredded Parmesan cheese

Cut squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out and discard the seeds and their membranes. Working with two halves at a time, place cut-sides down on a microwave-safe plate and microwave on high power for 8 to 15 minutes, depending on the size of the squash. When done, the squash will be tender enough to pierce with a fork but the shell will still be firm. Set aside.

Make Bolognese sauce. Almost all of the liquid should evaporate, leaving just the creamy meat.

Place the squash halves, cut sides up, in shallow oven-proof bowls and place on a baking sheet. Or place the squash directly on a baking sheet. Brush the rims of the squash with oil or melted butter. Mound the sauce in the cavity of each squash half. Sprinkle each with 2 or 3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, until the cheese has melted and the squash is completely tender. Serve in individual bowls or on dinner plates. Makes about 6 servings.


Olive oil
5 oz. finely chopped pancetta (Italian non-smoked bacon)
2 1/2 ribs celery finely diced
1 large carrot, finely diced
1/2 large yellow onion, finely diced
1 lb. lean ground beef (I used venison; the Bolognese use ground skirt steak)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. tomato paste
2 cups whole milk
Salt, pepper
1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
2 tbsp. heavy cream
Pinch of fresh-ground nutmeg

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a heavy-bottomed medium pot, preferably terra cotta or ceramic-clad cast iron. The pot should be deep so the sauce doesn’t reduce too rapidly. Add pancetta and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the pancetta’s fat has rendered, about 10 minutes.

Add another 1 tablespoon olive oil and the celery, carrot and onion. Cook, stirring frequently, until soft and lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high. Add the ground meat and cook, stirring occasionally, until broken up and lightly browned and beginning to sizzle. Add the wine and cook until evaporated, about 4 minutes.

In a small bowl, stir together the tomato paste and 3 tablespoons water. Add to the pot and stir well to combine. Reduce the heat to low and simmer the sauce, stirring occasionally, and add the milk little by little until all the milk is added, about 1 hour. Season with salt and pepper. Add the crushed tomatoes and simmer 1 hour longer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is very thick. Stir in the cream and nutmeg.

Mound in the squash per above instructions or toss with freshly made tagliatelle — never dry pasta.


2 tbsp. chopped yellow onion
3 tbsp. olive oil
3 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. chopped celery
2 tbsp. chopped carrot
3/4 lb. lean ground beef, preferably chuck or meat from the neck
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup milk
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
2 cups canned Italian tomatoes, roughly chopped, with their juice

Use an earthenware pot if possible; if not, a heavy, enameled cast-iron casserole, the deepest one you have (to keep the ragu from reducing too quickly). Put in the chopped onion, with all the oil and butter, and sauté briefly over medium heat until just translucent. Add the celery and carrot and cook gently for 2 minutes.

Add the ground beef, crumbling it in the pot with a fork. Add 1 teaspoon salt, stir and cook only until the meat has lost its raw red color. Add the wine, turn the heat up to medium-high, and cook, stirring occasionally, until all the wine has evaporated.

Turn the heat down to medium, add the milk and the nutmeg, and cook until the milk has evaporated. Stir frequently.

When the milk has evaporated, add the tomatoes and stir well. When the tomatoes have started to bubble, turn the heat down until the sauce cooks at the laziest simmer, just an occasional bubble. Cook uncovered for a minimum of 3 1/2 to 4 hours, stirring occasionally. Taste and correct for salt.

Ragu can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, or frozen. Reheat until it simmers for about 15 minutes before using.

Jullie-Maier Miller, whose Facebook post was the inspiration for my stuffed spaghetti squash recipe, will soon begin offering cooking classes in response to requests from her friends. Miller’s style of cooking is low-carb with a Paleo bent, but she is not a purist. She uses dairy products and whatever her nutrition research tells her will make a body feel good.

“It’s a healthier diet you can adapt to you,” Miller says. The small classes (BYO wine) will be held in her Barberton Air B&B.

Miller, a former banquet chef, is a florist at Claire’s Garden in Norton. She says that all day, while working at her shop, she thinks about what she is going to cook that night. She plans to teach recipes and techniques for all skill levels.

For more information or to sign up for a class, phone Miller at the florist shop at 330-835-6922 or email

What I cooked last week:
Detox green smoothie; pan-grilled salmon with capers and lime beurre blanc over wilted spinach with toasted garlic and slivered almonds; over-hard eggs on toast with ketchup; sirloin steak salad with pan-seared brussels sprouts, sautéed mushrooms, red bell pepper, toasted slivered almonds and shaved Parmesan; Bolognese meat sauce baked in spaghetti squash; chocolate pudding; sugar-free strawberry Jell-O.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Hamburger, potato chips and cabbage soup at Alexandri’s in Wadsworth; pepperoni pizza from Rizzi’s in Copley; wonton soup, egg roll and stir fried chicken in black bean sauce at Ming Garden in Norton (another intolerable “Chinese” meal; is it that hard to make a decent stir fry sauce?); tacos al pastore and a taco with Korean barbecued pork belly (fabulous!) at Funky Truckeria in Norton; refried beans, a green chili beef burrito (meh) and freshly made tortilla chips (great) and salsa at Casa del Rio in Wadsworth.

From Martha K.:
Regarding your smoothies, Robek’s has extensive healthy green smoothie options, many with calorie counts the same or less than your Detox Island Green smoothie, and one that has nearly identical ingredients. Check the Low Calorie, Superfood and Wellness selections. I like the cool cucumber fresh juice. I ask them to put it over ice, or blend it with ice to make a smoothie. Anyway, Robek’s has changed its menu quite a bit since it first opened.

Dear Martha:
Well, yes and no. The menu does have more healthful options than the (essentially) milkshakes it started with. But I’m disappointed that most of the smoothies still are made with sherbet or frozen yogurt, and even the low-cal, wellness and superfood selections are high in sugar. The green smoothie you mentioned sounds good until you get to the apple juice. The one I tried was so sweet I couldn’t finish it.

The spoiler for me is that the calories are much higher than Tropical Smoothie’s Detox, which has just 180 in a 24-ounce portion. Robek’s Queen of All Greens, made with banana, pineapple, spinach, kale and apple juice, has 180 calories for a small, which is 12 ounces. Double that for a 24-ounce smoothie and you have a meal-sized 360 calories. Sigh.

From Ron C.:
I am sure there are lots of ways to fix grits, but this is what we do. Add some crumbled bacon or bacon bits and a slice of cheese. The heat of the grits melts the cheese. Then a pat of butter on top, salt and pepper — fit for a king (or at least a prince).

Dear Ron:
Oh, yeah. Sign me up.

March 20, 2019

Dear friends,
You probably saw this coming. If you read Gut Check while I was in Florida, you know I became increasingly obsessed with a gingery green smoothie sold at the juice bar chain, Tropical Smoothie Cafe. You probably figured I couldn’t let it go when I returned to Ohio.

Today I have two happy announcements: I found a Tropical Smoothie Cafe in Cleveland ( and one in the works for Canton. And we can now make Detox Island Green Smoothies at home.

At the restaurants, the 24-ounce green smoothie has just 180 calories and is a blend of mango, banana, pineapple, kale and spinach with a hit of fresh ginger. Tony saw a worker scoop a portion of frozen green stuff into a blender when making my smoothie one day. That led me to believe the spinach and kale were not tossed fresh into the blender. They were pureed together in advance and frozen.

At home I pureed fresh spinach and kale leaves with a bit of water in a food processor and froze it in an ice cube tray, making sure each cube held 2 tablespoons. Then I cut the mango and pineapple into one-inch cubes and froze one-cup portions in Baggies. I also froze an entire sliced banana. See? The ingredients themselves would serve as the ice in the smoothie.

The smoothies I had in Florida were creamy but not milky, with a smooth, milkshake-like consistency. I knew that meant the frozen ingredients were very finely pureed. I probably needed a Vitamix to do the job properly, but I would have to make do with my ordinary blender.

I consulted USDA calorie tables to help figure out the proportions of the recipe. If the calories in the original were just 180, I knew I couldn’t use a cup of mango and a cup of pineapple, which alone would push it over the calorie limit. I settled on one-half cup mango, one-half cup pineapple and one medium-size frozen banana. I buzzed the fruit in my food processor with three quarter-size slices of ginger and one-half cup water until fairly smooth. Then I transferred the lumpy-smooth mixture to the blender, added two frozen cubes of the greens and another one-half cup water, and blended until smooth.

I arrived at this processor-blender technique after much trial and error, finally realizing my cheap Hamilton Beach blender couldn’t handle the entire operation itself. If you own a heavy-duty blender, you can skip the processor and just dump everything in the blender.

The second smoothie I made went together much more easily, although I still had a medium-size mess on my hands — a processor bowl, blender, ice cube tray and rubber spatula to wash. To me, it was worth it.

I recommend preparing and freezing ingredients for multiple smoothies so you won’t have to start from square one when a craving hits. In my case, that will be daily.


1/2 cup (lightly packed) mango chunks (1-inch square), frozen
1/2 cup (lightly packed) pineapple chunks (1-inch square), frozen
1 peeled banana, sliced and frozen
2 quarter-sized pieces fresh ginger, minced
1 cup water
2 frozen cubes spinach and kale (see note)

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the frozen mango, pineapple, banana and ginger. Pulse while pouring one-half cup of the water through the feed tube. Continue to process until the fruit begins to break down is about half chunky, half smooth.

Transfer fruit mixture to a blender. Add spinach-kale cubes and remaining one-half cup water. Pulse and then blend until very smooth. Makes 1 smoothie.

Note: To make spinach-kale cubes, combine 1 cup firmly packed fresh spinach leaves and 1 cup firmly packed fresh kale leaves (minus tough stems and ribs) in a food processor with 2 tablespoons water. Process until leaves are chopped very fine, adding more water if needed to produce a dense pesto-like mixture. Measure 2-tablespoon portions into an ice cube tray and freeze. This will make about 4 cubes. Repeat with more kale and spinach for a larger batch.

In my rant on food expiration dates a couple of weeks ago, I left out two categories of food that stump many people. First, have you ever wondered how to tell when pickled and brined foods should be tossed? I have, and several years ago I tried to find out. After many calls, I finally located a food scientist who had the answer. Pickled and brined foods last a long time but not forever, he said. Cloudiness in the pickling or brining liquid is an indication that it’s time to dump the stuff in the garbage and buy a new jar.

In my food editor days, I probably got more questions about use-by dates on canned goods than any other food item. From a 2006 Ask Jane column, here’s my answer to one reader’s query:

“Whether your canned goods are over the hill or not depends in part on how they were treated. Canned foods that have been frozen or exposed to temperatures over 100 degrees deteriorate more rapidly than those stored at room temperature.

“Also, high-acid foods can react with the metal can and affect the taste, texture and nutritional value of the foods, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

“Generally, if the cans have been stored properly, low-acid foods — such as canned meat and poultry, stews, potatoes, corn, carrots, spinach, beans, beets, peas, pumpkin, pasta and vegetable soups except tomato — will keep for two to five years. High-acid foods — such as tomato and citrus juice, apple products, mixed fruit, peaches, pears, plums, pickles and sauerkraut — should be discarded after 12 to 18 months.

“And, of course, don’t eat food from cans that are bulging, leaking, with rusted seams, or with milky liquid that should be clear.”

What I cooked last week:
Steamed stone crab claws; chicken salad with grapes, almonds and dried apricots; corned beef and cabbage.

What I ate in/from restaurants, etc.
Cuban sandwich, iced Cuban coffee at Mervis’ in Fort Pierce, Fla.; lentil soup and salad at the Orange Box Cafe in Frostproof, Fla.; pot roast, fried apples and a corn muffin at Cracker Barrel in Valdosta, Ga. (it was walking distance from our motel, a consideration when pulling a camper); a rubbery cheese omelet, ham lunch meat, yogurt and coffee at the Quality Inn in Valdosta; an egg and cheese bagel and three plain doughnut holes at a Dunkin’ Donuts in southern Kentucky; yogurt, a hard-cooked egg and coffee at a Red Roof Inn in London, Ky.; half of a meatball sub from Subway; miso soup, sunomono and a Fujiyama Roll (tempura shrimp, eel, cream cheese and salmon) and a glass of pinot Grigio at Sushi Katsu in Akron; fried fish, coleslaw and green beans at the Friday fish fry at St. Thomas Eastern Orthodox Church in Fairlawn; a spicy Thai salad with chicken and an apple at Panera Bread.


From Mitch:
Polenta is grits and aren’t you the same person who said to me several years ago, “Y’all can keep y’all’s grits?” ….I treat grits as pasta. Anything you would put on pasta, I would put on grits, especially roast beef and gravy (instead of potatoes).

Dear Mitch:
I ate a lot of polenta AND grits in Florida, as you read in my newsletter. I have always loved polenta, which is an entirely different animal than grits… yellow, creamier, with a backbone of chicken broth. Inexplicably, I began liking polenta’s anemic cousin, grits, about a year ago. I sprinkle them with Splenda.

Dear readers:
Mitch’s letter got me thinking about all the foods I once disdained but now enjoy. Do tastes change that much as we age? I am curious — are there foods you disliked most of your life but enjoy now? I have a raft of them, from grits to okra to licorice. What are yours?