January 13, 2021

Dear friends,

I started anxiety-eating again last week, and I probably won’t stop until the guy with the buffalo hat is put away for a few years. Jeez. Drama, terror and comfort cooking.

The good news is that the cooking yielded a recipe for braised short ribs with garlic and oranges. It made us forget about all the shenanigans for awhile. In fact, Tony says it’s his new favorite meal, knocking spaghetti with meat sauce from the top spot. I was stunned.

But short ribs can do that. They come from the low-rent area of the steer’s rib cage, down where the front belly meets the plate. They are fatty, which is a big reason they taste so good. Unfortunately, high-class chefs have embraced them, so the once-cheap cut now can cost as much as top sirloin steak. I paid about $8 a pound last week at a club store.

If that’s too much, you could substitute boneless short ribs, which by the way are from a different part of the animal, or 2 1/2-inch square chunks of trimmed chuck roast. Feel free. The dish will still knock your socks off.

A braise — slow cooking of a tough cut of meat in liquid — is hard to screw up. You could toss just about anything in there with the liquid and meat and it would come out tender and delicious. I tossed in garlic, orange juice and orange halves, rind and all. The oranges softened and the bitterness of the peel disappeared, adding a wonderful flavor to the rich broth.

Serve these over a pile of mashed potatoes. A red wine couldn’t hurt, either, and may help you forget the world for a bit. That’s something many of us need right now.

BRAISED SHORT RIBS WITH GARLIC AND ORANGE

2 tbsp. olive oil
3 lbs. beef short ribs
Salt, pepper
2 cups sliced onions (cut the peeled onion in half lengthwise, then crosswise in thick slices)
2 medium carrots, diced (1/2-inch)
4 cloves garlic, sliced
A 3-inch sprig fresh rosemary or 1 tsp. dried oregano
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup orange juice
2 cups water
2 medium oranges, cut in fat wedges

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Heat olive oil in a heavy, deep casserole or oven-proof pan. Pat short ribs dry and season liberally with salt and pepper. Brown on all sides in the hot oil. Remove with tongs and set aside.

In the same pan, sauté onion and carrots over medium heat until the onions are translucent. Add garlic and sauté a minute longer. Add rosemary or oregano and bay leaf. Return meat to pan. Add orange juice, water and orange wedges.

Cover pan with lid or foil and bake at 325 degrees for 3 1/2 to 4 hours, until meat is very tender and broth is rich. Taste, then add additional salt if necessary. Makes 4 servings.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Tuna sashimi with miso-sesame sauce (Tony), pickled vegetables and steamed rice; braised short ribs with garlic and oranges; tuna couscous salad; potato and greens soup; spareribs and sauerkraut, mashed potatoes. (The sauerkraut tasted homemade and is worth seeking out. I bought it in an unmarked plastic bag from a cooler at Frontier Fruit & Nut in Norton, cookiefrontier.com).

What I ordered out:
Pulled pork barbecue bowl and a corn muffin from Old Carolina Barbecue in Fairlawn; Nashville hot chicken sandwich (humongous) and fries from Pizza BOGO in Barberton. (The chicken was seasoned and crisp but not nearly spicy enough); terrific handmade chicken tamales steamed in banana leaves and kept warm in a big roaster at Los Primos Market (aka La Michoacana) on Copley Road in Akron. (The tamales are available on Saturdays, I was told).

THE MAILBAG
From Janice E.:
Made your baked oatmeal dish — marvelous. Used walnuts instead of almonds but otherwise the same. Put it together the night before, and it understandably took a little longer to bake. You are right — this will definitely be in my rotation, and I like the other options you offered to change it seasonally.  Thank you, Jane!

Dear Janice:
You’re welcome! I fear it is calorie-intensive but so good. 

From Virginia B.:
Have you been peeking in my window watching me slicing off slivers of pie, quiche, brownies, etc.? And now probably oatmeal custard. Of course, I do it only to insure each treat is cut perfectly.

Dear Virginia:
Well, of course. My mother used to make a small pumpkin “tester pie” that she allowed us to cut slivers of on Thanksgiving morning while we cooked and set the table. One year, no tester pie. She finally admitted she had already slivered off the whole thing.

From Fran S.:
You have mentioned Aldi frozen pizza several times now. I have looked at them in our local (Hartville) store and there are many different varieties. Which do you buy and how do they compare with other frozen pizzas?

Thanks for the great blog. Stay safe.

Dear Fran:
Well, shame on me. When I pawed through the chest freezer to find the exact name of the pizza, I discovered it was Member’s Mark from Sam’s Club, not Aldi. The ones Tony bought are thin and crispy pepperoni. They are OK. The reason we eat them so often is that Tony bought a ton of them. We do not hoard paper goods, just pizza.

January 6, 2021

Dear friends,

They had me at “custardy baked oatmeal,” but I didn’t dive in until the recipe popped up three times in one week. Three of my food-editor friends in different parts of the country raved about the dish, which was more than enough impetus for me to haul out the box of Quaker.

I like anything with “custard” in it — baked custard, creme brûlée, bread pudding, Thai coconut pudding baked in a little squash. I have made savory sage-scented custard  and corn custard. I’d probably try toothpaste custard if given a chance. Well, maybe not.

At any rate, oatmeal custard is right up my alley and I bet you’ll love it, too. Oats are combined with fruit, spices, eggs and milk and baked until warm and creamy. It tastes rich and comforting, and occupies that sweet spot midway between cereal and dessert. It is an easy breakfast to make for a group, and tastes just as good the next day while standing in front of the refrigerator, carving off thin slices.

My version is made with blueberries, slivered almonds and diced dried apricots. You could also make it with apples and cinnamon, or next summer with peaches and chopped pecans. It’s a recipe you’ll probably want to keep in the rotation.

BAKED OATMEAL WITH BLUEBERRIES, ALMONDS AND APRICOTS

2 cups old-fashioned or quick oats (not instant)
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
1/2 cup blanched, slivered almonds
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups milk
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen thawed blueberries
4 tbsp. butter, melted

Butter a 9-inch-square baking pan. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine oats, sugar, apricots, almonds, nutmeg, ginger, baking powder and salt. Mix well. In another bowl whisk together milk, eggs and vanilla. Stir milk mixture into oat mixture until smooth.

Spread half of the batter in the prepared pan. Scatter blueberries over the batter. Add  remaining batter and smooth top. Drizzle with melted butter. Bake at 325 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes, until the edges are golden and the oats are set. Cut into squares to serve. Makes 6 servings.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Pork miso soup; tofu fried rice; tuna nigiri (Tony); baked oatmeal with blueberries and apricots; chopped salad with rotisserie chicken; spaghetti with venison sauce; frozen Aldi pizza; braised short ribs with garlic and oranges, mashed potatoes and roast Delicata squash; hamburgers with mustard and onion.

What I ordered out:
Nothing.

THE MAILBAG
From Marty K.:
Thanks for your black bean soup recipe, sounds delicious and it’s similar to the one I make. The biggest difference is that mine, like many other recipes, mashes about half of the beans and adds them back to thicken the soup.

Dear Marty:
Good idea. Those who like a creamier, thicker soup are welcome to do that with my black bean soup, too.

From Cindy W.:
Is there really such a word in Japanese as “kuchisabishii”? I am seeing it everywhere. Supposedly it means “When you’re not hungry, but you eat because your mouth is lonely.”

Dear Cindy:
I am so glad you sent this kooky question. Tony says it IS a real word in Japanese, and it describes how so many of us have been eating these last few months — just throwing food down the hatch because it’s there and we’re bored. Why isn’t there an English word for this?? Tony says the literal meaning is “sad mouth” — kuchi = mouth and sabishii = sad.

My mother used to tell a story about me crying at the dinner table when I was a tot. When she asked why, I said, “My mouth is hungry but my stomach is full.” That has been story of my life. Kuchisabishii

December 30, 2020

Dear friends,

Before Santa arrived, even before I broke out my advent chocolate calendar, I made the best black bean soup ever. I saved the recipe until now, when I thought many of you would have leftover Christmas ham bones to simmer. Back in early November, it didn’t occur to me that Covid would spike so high after Thanksgiving that  many of us would stay home, cooking Christmas dinner for two or a few.

No matter. Even if you did not have a Christmas ham, I’m sure enough hams were sold this month that ham stores are practically giving away ham bones. Now is the time to make that black bean soup.

The framework of the recipe is from Sarah Leah Chase’s “Cold-Weather Cooking.” But where Chase uses chicken broth, I use a meaty ham bone. I also leave out a few frills such as lime juice and chopped cilantro to limit trips to the store. The soup is no worse for the omissions. On the contrary, it could win a soup contest even in its stripped down and beefed up (hammed up?) state.

BLACK BEAN AND HAM SOUP

For the broth:
1 meaty ham bone, about 2 cups of the ham cubed and set aside
1/4 to 1/2 cup of ham fat scraps, set aside
1 small onion, halved (no need to peel)

Soup:
2 tbsp. olive oil plus scraps of ham fat
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
4 carrots, peeled and cut in small cubes
1/4 cup ground cumin
1/4 cup dried oregano
1 pound dried black beans, soaked in water to cover overnight
Salt, pepper
1/4 cup sherry
The reserved 2 cups of diced ham

For the broth, place ham bone in a soup kettle and cover with  5 quarts of water. Cut onion in half lengthwise and add. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for at least 3 hours, adding more water when necessary, until broth tastes rich. Remove bone and when cool, pick off remaining ham and add to the cubed ham. Set aside. Strain broth through a sieve. You should have 3 1/2 to 4 quarts.

For the soup, heat olive oil and ham scraps in a soup pot until the fat is rendered and crisp. Remove crisp pieces with a slotted spoon and discard. Add onion and sauté over medium heat until softened. Add garlic and carrots and sauté until garlic is golden but not browned.

Stir in cumin and oregano. Drain the beans and add to the pot. Season with salt and pepper. Add ham broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer uncovered until beans are tender and beginning to fall apart, about 2 hours.

Taste the soup and add more salt if needed. Stir in the reserved ham and the sherry. Return to a simmer and cook until ham is heated through. Ladle into bowls to serve. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Baked tofu with peanut sauce, stir-fried bok choy with ginger and garlic, steamed rice; orange-cranberry cookies; pan-grilled filet mignons with port wine-blue cheese sauce, baked potatoes, chopped broccoli rabe with onions, garlic and hot pepper flakes; Japanese Christmas cake; no-knead bread; roast duck with cranberry glaze, mashed potatoes, roasted Brussels sprouts, deviled eggs; sous vide porterhouse steak, baked potatoes, roast butternut squash; miso ramen noodle soup; scrambled cheesy eggs and toast; Japanese pork curry.

What I ordered out:
Tacos from Taco Bell (I’m ashamed; I was too lazy to drive to Funky Truckeria in Norton).

THE MAILBAG
From Kelly M.:
Losing a pet is so much harder than one would think it should be.  My heart goes out to you. And thank you for all the wonderful shopping, cooking, and writing you do for your readers.  Seeing an email from you always makes me happy.

From Tracey C.:
Thank you so much for your newsletter and the wonderful gift it is in my week-to-week world. I am so sorry to hear about your adorable little guy. At the same time, I’m glad he has you to care for him in his time of need.

I share your feelings about the ridiculous juxtaposition of the devastating effects of the pandemic with the seemingly ordinariness of our behavior. And the way the virus has amplified the income inequality around us is heartbreaking, too. Here in the Raleigh area the housing market is going through the roof, but my daughter lost her restaurant job in March and her $140 unemployment benefits are due to run out unless lawmakers come through. 

Yet I totally agree that cooking is therapeutic. It’s been so helpful to me, and I’m grateful to have your newsletter as a part of my culinary escape in this crazy time. 

Hope you had a nice holiday, in spite of all the forces to the contrary.

From Annie:
I am so sorry to hear that Oscar is not doing well.  I pray he comes through as I know he is your best buddy.  Thank you for your thoughtful words on the season.  We, too, are doing those holiday things despite what is going on around us, and we will celebrate with much fewer family around us this year.  My best to you and Tony for the holidays and thank you every week for you column. 

From Peggy P.:
Thanks for today’s newsletter. You make my week!

Agreed, not the same Christmas traditions this year. In a salute to the different kind of year, we decided to forgo ham and /or turkey. We thought we would enjoy simple spaghetti, which soon evolved to homemade sauce from San Marzano tomatoes with refrigerated angel hair from DeViti’s.  The meal was bookended with a leafy salad and peanut fudge pie. Different but special. Different year. Special foods for people who avoid carbs, especially white sugar.  

So may you and Tony have a special, different day this year. And maybe we are creating new traditions for the future. Best regards for your little one. Sad news.

Dear Kelly, Tracey, Annie, Peggy and everyone else who wrote:

Thank you for the kind words about both our rotten year and my ailing dog. Oscar is still with us and is now eating on his own. Not much, but enough to balance the insulin shots.

Tony and I had a lovely Christmas. We were happy Oscar finally wagged his tail, and we dined heartily on roast duck with Champaign Christmas eve and a three-inch-thick porterhouse Christmas day. I Facetimed my brother and my sister, as I imagine many of you did with your families.

Stay home. Take care. Let’s make it a happy new year.

December 23, 2020

Dear friends,

Although we’re doing the best we can this year, it may not be a merry Christmas. Is there anyone whose life hasn’t be touched by Covid-19? The nation should be in mourning for the unthinkable number of lives the virus has taken since March. Instead, we’re shopping and baking. Maybe we’re numb. Or we haven’t been brought together yet in our grief.

A dozen or more of my friends have been affected, with varying outcomes ranging from slight inconvenience to knock-down sickness to death. And still, I’m baking orange- cranberry cookies.

I’m lucky because I don’t have unemployment or food worries. I can’t imagine how those victims cope. Nor do I have a business to lose or an essential job that demands I mingle with many people each day. I’m sorry if you’re among those who do. That would be  frightening.

I do have friends I haven’t seen in almost a year and family I have seen once, and that was outdoors at a distance. We won’t get together this week. I miss them terribly. And still, I’m thawing a duck for Christmas dinner.

To add to my insignificant little list of woes, my dog is very ill and may be dying. We feed him with a syringe and give him insulin shots twice daily. And yet between pats and tears, I am roasting squash and gathering ingredients to make Tony’s Japanese Christmas cake.

Because cooking does help. There’s distraction and maybe even healing in the soothing rhythm of beating batter until it drops in a thick ribbon from my grandmother’s wooden spoon. There’s comfort in an orange-cranberry shortbread cookie and a crackling-crisp roast duck.

And for me there’s comfort in keeping in touch, as I do with this newsletter. Thanks for being my friend and please, please stay safe. We have a lot of cooking to do next year.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Scrambled tofu with turmeric, soy and cumin; frozen pizzas; grilled ham and cheese with pickles; oven-baked Korean barbecued spareribs, sweet and sour coleslaw with poppyseeds, roasted Delicata squash; Japanese pork curry (Tony); venison shepherd’s pie with horseradish mashed potatoes.

What I ordered out:
A giant pancake, eggs over easy, bacon and coffee from the Circle Restaurant in Deerfield (we brought silverware and ate in the car for a pandemic date); liver and onions, mashed potatoes and gravy, and green beans from the Circle Restaurant (later at home); grilled three-cheese sandwich and tomato soup from St. Demetrios Social Hall in Copley.

THE MAILBAG
From Dan C., Rock Hill, N.C.:
I’m passing along a pizza sauce recipe I use for our homemade pizzas I make every weekend. When I was working I would order two pizzas every Friday night, but when I retired last year I decided to start making them myself. I use a sourdough bread recipe for the crusts and top them with this sauce. I always make this sauce in bulk (at least doubled) and freeze it in quart-size bags so it’s ready when I am. Sure makes the house smell good!

PIZZA SAUCE

1 tbsp. olive oil
1 small onion, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
6 oz. can tomato paste 
15 oz. can tomato sauce 
1 tbsp. Italian seasoning
Salt, pepper to taste
1 ½ tsp. granulated sugar (add more for a sweeter sauce)

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until the onion just begins to brown.

Add the garlic and cook until aromatic. Stir in the tomato paste and let it cook for a minute before adding the tomato sauce, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper and sugar. Stir well to combine.

Let the sauce begin to bubble, then reduce the heat to low. Simmer, and stir occasionally,  until thickened to your preference.

Dear Dan:
Your sauce sounds delicious and easy to make.  And Kathy C., who wanted a recipe for a sweet pizza sauce ala Luigi’s, can add more sugar to taste.

It’s good to hear from you. I’m glad you’re enjoying retirement.

December 16, 2020

Dear friends,

Like a 2-year-old turned loose in a candy store, I am out of control and leaning into it.  December is usually the only month I purposely break my no-sweets rule and this year, at the tail-end of this god-awful pandemic, I’m all in.

The grimmer the news, the more I bake. You, too? At least we have the holidays as an excuse, not that we need one. Cooking, baking and sharing what we make can be balm for the soul. 

I’ve already made my friend’s butter cookies and now it’s time for gingerbread. I am obsessed with it and can’t let the month pass without making and eating some. To keep things interesting, I try to come up with a different take on gingerbread every year. Last year I made a German gingerbread beer cake. I’ve made soft cookies, crisp cookies and gingerbread bears. I’ve made gingerbread biscotti and lemon-iced gingerbread stars. This year is maybe my best effort yet: Molten caramel gingerbread cakes.

I had the idea of making moist little gingerbread cakes in custard cups and putting caramel inside to spill out when the cake is eaten. I wanted the cake to be fairly dense and moist. I wanted to make just a few, not a dozen.

What I ended up with was exactly what I had envisioned: Dark, spicy little single-serving cakes baked in custard cups and unmolded while warm so the caramel inside spills onto the plates when you cut into them.

I experimented with different ways to produce a liquid caramel center. The best way is to freeze dollops caramel ice cream topping, then drop them on top of the batter just before baking. The caramel sinks into the cake as it bakes.

The cakes take just 20 to 25 minutes to bake and should be served warm. If you want to serve them for Christmas dinner, I think you could slightly under-bake them a day in advance and reheat for 10 minutes at 350 degrees before serving. I’m guessing, but that seems reasonable.

 A better way would be to measure and combine all the dry ingredients the day before, freeze the caramel and beat the melted butter with the sugar and molasses. Prep the custard cups, too. Then, after Christmas dinner, re-melt the butter mixture and continue with the recipe. Dessert will be ready in less than half an hour, hot from the oven. Don’t forget to crown the cakes with whipped cream, which will melt a bit and mingle with the caramel.

My recipe makes five little cakes, which I trust is enough for a scaled-down pandemic Christmas. You may even have an extra to give to a lonely neighbor, which should  make both of you feel better.

MOLTEN CARAMEL GINGERBREAD CAKES

7 1/2 tbsp. frozen caramel ice cream topping
8 tbsp. (1 stick) butter
3 tbsp. packed brown sugar
6 tbsp. molasses
1 egg
6 tbsp. water
3/4 cup flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. powdered ginger
1/4 plus 1/8 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. salt
Whipped cream or topping

The day before baking, freeze the caramel topping either in a buttered shallow dish or, better yet, portioned into five 1 1/2-tablespoon dollops and frozen on separate buttered little dishes (I used sushi soy sauce dishes but any will do).

The next day, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour 5 custard cups and place on a small baking sheet.

Melt the 8 tablespoons butter in a medium bowl in a microwave. Add sugar and molasses and whisk until thoroughly combined. Whisk in egg and water, beating until mixture lightens and thickens. Set aside.

In another bowl, combine flour, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, allspice and salt. Stir the dry ingredients into the molasses mixture, beating vigorously for about 50 strokes.

Divide batter among the five custard cups (each should take about 1/3 heaping cup of batter). Portion out 1 1/2 tablespoons frozen caramel for each cake and quickly shape roughly into a ball with buttered fingers or two spoons. Gently drop a ball of caramel on top of each cup of batter. Do not push it into the batter — the caramel will sink during baking.

Bake in the lower center of the oven at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, until the tops are puffed and firm around the edges. Let stand at room temperature for a few minutes. Loosen the edges with a knife, invert each cake onto a dessert plate and tap the tops to loosen the cakes. Lift off the custard cups. Top each cake with a big dollop of whipped cream or topping. Serve immediately. Makes 5 cakes.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
A frozen Aldi’s thin-crust pizza; a baked spaghetti squash with venison tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese; two more frozen pizzas and a tossed salad; a sheet pan supper of gochujang barbecue chicken legs, cherry tomatoes, green pepper slices and cubed potatoes; tuna melts; fried egg over hard on toast; pan-grilled strip steaks, roast carrots, potatoes and onions with olive oil and thyme; molten caramel gingerbread cakes; and more frozen Aldi pizzas (Tony bought a lot).

What I ordered out:
A katsudon rice bowl (breaded and fried pork cutlet and cooked egg in a sweet soy-based sauce over Japanese rice) from Jasmine Home Cooking in the Northside Marketplace, downtown Akron (very good Japanese home cooking); a croissant and coffee from the Blue Door in Cuyahoga Falls; shrimp po’ boy, red beans and rice and an addictive vinegar-based coleslaw from TLC Catering at St. George Antiochian Social Hall in Copley (outstanding).

THE MAILBAG
From Michele B.:
Thanks for the gift ideas.  Have you been to The Olive Scene in Chagrin Falls?  It has oils, tapenades, even some jams and will make a basket for you.  

Have a wonderful holiday,

Dear Michele:
Thank you and the same to you. I have not been to the Olive Scene, although I see online that it is open Tuesday through Sunday at 100 N. Main St., Unit 145. Although a Strongsville location closed in August, the Chagrin Falls location and two others — in Vermillion and Rocky River endure. For information about gift boxes and baskets, visit theolivescene.com.

From Kathy C.:
I love to make homemade pizza and was going to try and make my own pizza sauce. I really love sweet sauce like Luigi’s in Akron. Do you have a copycat recipe or any recipe for sweet pizza sauce? What makes the sauce so sweet? Thanks for your help.

Dear Kathy:
I’m afraid I can’t help. I don’t have a recipe for a sauce like Luigi’s, or any favorite pizza sauce recipe for that matter. I know that tomato sauces often are sweetened with sugar to balance the acid. And I know that roasting tomatoes before making sauce brings out the sweetness. You could try one of those ideas. Or maybe someone reading this has a pizza sauce recipe they’re willing to share. If so, please get in touch.

December 9, 2020

Dear friends,

Thanks to all of you, I finished my Christmas shopping yesterday. I got some great ideas for food gifts from small suppliers — most of them local — after requesting your input last week.

Sure, pressing the “Purchase now” button on Amazon is easy, and if you’re a member the shipping is free. But Amazon is in no danger of going out of business, while locally owned food businesses are. In this time of giving, why not give a boost to someone who needs it?

In the following list, the food businesses deserving your help range from a tiny Cleveland spice company to a Cincinnati jam company that makes truly remarkable jams, confits and preserves. Products range from cheese-and-sausage baskets to a suave wine made from grapes grown in Hinckley.

This list is just the tip of the iceberg as far as independently produced food gifts go. One obvious choice not on the list is a gift certificate to a local restaurant. Another is a cookbook bought at an independent book store. This year more than ever, search out local and small-time purveyors when buying gifts for friends and family. Everyone is hurting, and your dollars may be just the balm they need.

Company: Frontier Fruit & Nut Co. in Norton.

Product: A wide selection of gift baskets and boxes filled with cheeses, smoked sausage, dried fruits, teas, coffees, nuts, chocolates, mugs, knickknacks and other foods and giftables.

Price: From $11.99 for a 1-pound gift box of dried fruit to $99.99 for a large holiday gift basket of fresh-baked cookies, snack mix, coffee, cocoa, smoked sausage, cheese spread, Harry London Buckeyes, Jelly Bellys, truffles, deluxe nut mix and chocolate-drizzled pretzels. Many gift baskets are available for less than $50. Shipping by UPS usually costs $14 to $18 depending on the size of the package and distance.

  “My local store for gift baskets is Frontier Fruit and Nut. They have baskets made up or will make to order.” — From Joan B.

Company: Cafe Arnone in Fairlawn.

Product: It’s a surprise! Cafe Arnone, the cool Italian espresso shop in Fairlawn, will unveil a different sale item daily beginning Sunday. Items will range from simple consumables to gift baskets and each will be discounted for one day only.

Price: Varies.

To order: Sign up for the daily emails at cafearnone.com or check Cafe Arnone’s Facebook or Instagram site. While you’re at the cafe, try one of the winter drink specials — peppermint mocha, pistachio biscotti latte, gingerbread latte, eggnog latter or winter cold brew.

 “Starting December 13th we will unveil Cafe Arnone’s 12 Days of Christmas. Every morning until Christmas Eve we will reveal a different Arnone item for sale, for that day only, at a major discount. These deals will start small and end BIG on Christmas Eve.”  The shop also sells a variety of custom-made gift baskets of Italian products such as pasta and olive oil from $25 to $200. —Submitted by Marie C.


Company: Susansnaps in Atlanta, Ga.

Product: Pretty tins and bags of gingersnap cookies, some topped with crushed candy canes.

Price: $11.95 to $47.95 plus shipping of $9.95.

To order: Visit www.susansnaps.com.

 “Several years ago my daughter and son-in-law sent me the most delicious ginger snap cookies in our Christmas box.  Susansnaps.com started as a small Georgia  family business by a mom whose daughter was going through chemo for cancer. They’ve grown but it’s still a nice food gift  for not much money. As I’ve aged cookie making is quite the chore now for me. My cookie plates this year will be supplemented with some store-bought goodies but I know they will still be appreciated by my friends who don’t cook.”  — From Sue M., Hilton Head, S.C.

Company: Weymouth Farms & Winery in Hinckley.

Product: Red Wine Entertainment Gift Box, a party spread of Gouda cheese, Carr’s Water Crackers, Italian speck, two mini chocolates and a bottle of Weymouth Winery’s Black Shadow award-winning Noiret wine complete with corkscrew and plastic stemmed wine glasses.  A white wine entertainment box also is available.

Price: $60 for the red-wine package, $55 for the white.

To order: Visit www.weymouthfarms.com. Order and purchase online and pick up by appointment at Weymouth Farms & Winery in Hinckley. Strict social distancing protocols are observed.

Paul and Brenda O’Neill grow those luscious Asian pears, gourmet table grapes and apples I rave about every fall. A few years ago Paul branched out to the wine business, taking online classes from top winemakers and consulting with Cornell University experts on what wine grapes thrive here. His meticulous approach has paid off with an array of wines that have won national acclaim and many local fans. — Jane

Company: Prospect Jam Co. in Cincinnati

Product: Small-batch jams in unusual flavors such as Blueberry Jam with Lavender and Lemon Balm, and Blood Orange Marmalade with Rye Whiskey and Vanilla Bean, and gift baskets containing the jams.

Price: From $16 for theSweet Heat gift pack of 2 jams (Ohio Nectarine Jam with toasted coriander and habanero, and Plum Preserves with smoked chilies and cayenne) to $89 for a 7-piece Copper Cocktail Kit of copper bar ware, recipes and two liquor-spiked jams. Shipping is extra.

To order: Visit the Cincinnati company’s website at shopprospectjamco.square.site.

  “I discovered Prospect Jam Co. from one of its partners and placed an order with them. They make some unusual jams.” — From Marlene H.

Company: Terranean Herbs & Spices in Cleveland.

Product: Store-branded Middle Eastern herb and spice mixes and spreads in attractive jars. The line is not extensive but the owner says she is expanding.

Price: The Za’atar Spread — really an herbed oil dip — is the backbone of the business. A 10-ounce jar is $11.99 and a combo of one regular and one spicy (both 10 ounces) is $22.99. Shipping is extra.    

  “A friend passed along this website and I have ordered from them a couple of times. I love their za’atar herb and extra-virgin olive oil spread (my son likes the spicy version). This is the same sauce you are served with warm pitas if you eat at Tazo on Chagrin Boulevard in Cleveland. I recently ordered a few things for gifts and to restock items for myself. The shipping charge is very small and they deliver quickly.” — From Cindy E.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Tuna sashimi (Tony); turkey and wild rice soup; seared tuna steaks with soy-lemon-sesame sauce over blistered cherry tomatoes and cooked carrot batons; spicy tuna hand rolls (Tony; he got a honkin’ big piece of fresh tuna from his former seafood purveyor); beef and pepper stir fry over rice; fried egg and avocado on toast; venison steak and eggs, fried potatoes (Tony); tunafish salad; Cheddar-cornmeal biscuits; pan-grilled filet mignons, baked potato, roasted Delicata squash; Italian turkey sausage, fried green peppers, roasted cherry tomatoes; potato and greens soup.

What I ordered out:
Meat loaf, mashed potatoes, glazed carrots and cherry cobbler from TLC Catering at St. George Fellowship Center in Copley (really good, homemade food on Fridays in a safe drive-through setting; check them out at www.tlccateringinc.com).

THE MAILBAG
From Virginia B.:
Your “one cookie three ways” idea  is wonderful. I decided not to bake any cookies this year but now I can. No matter how you’ll celebrate I’m wishing you a healthy, happy holiday. And here’s to a healthier and all-around better 2021.

Dear Virginia:
Next year has GOT to be an improvement.

December 3, 2020

Dear friends,

What we couldn’t imagine even a few weeks ago now seems certain. Christmas will be celebrated without the full complement of family and friends. Or it should be, as the Coronavirus rages. Last week five of my friends were infected. Tony, Oscar and I are stocked up and locked in.

I hope you are fortunate enough to be able to isolate, too. If not, please be careful. Shop for a month instead of a week.  Order parking-lot pickup. Call in dinner orders to go. Buy gifts from local stores but pay remotely and pick up at the curb.

Without a host of friends to treat, many cookie platters will be sparse this year. The cookies can still be special, though. A food-writer friend gave me a versatile recipe that can be turned into a half-dozen different cookies — all made from the same batch.  And I cut her recipe in half so you and your pod mates won’t balloon up like Santa. The recipe makes roughly two plates of cookies, which should be enough for a pared-down Christmas.

My friend, Jan Norris, former food editor of the Palm Beach Post, says the dough may be divided after it’s made and portions flavored with grated citrus peel or almond extract. Finely chopped nuts may be kneaded in. The cookies may be turned into thumbprints or the edges dipped in chocolate and rolled in chopped nuts or coconut.

The basic recipe is for a brown sugar shortbread that melts on the tongue. It has just three ingredients in Jan’s version, although I added a fourth, vanilla extract. The ingredients are common pantry items that won’t require a trip to the store.

From the one dough I made thumbprints with plum jam, rolled-out bars dusted with powdered sugar, and cut-outs topped with chocolate jimmies and red sprinkles.

Tony and I ate them all in one day, I’m embarrassed to say. So maybe you WILL want to make the full recipe. If so, just double the ingredients.

SHORTBREAD COOKIES THREE WAYS

1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, softened
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 3/4 cups flour

Confectioner’s sugar, jam, colored sprinkles, and a lightly beaten egg white (if using sprinkles)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees with a rack in the lower middle position. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. If the butter is cold and solid, drop the wrapped sticks into a bowl of tepid water for 15 minutes or so.

Beat softened butter and sugar in a stand mixer or with a wooden spoon until light and fluffy. Add vanilla, then gradually add flour while beating on medium-low speed until combined. If necessary, add more flour by the tablespoon to make a soft dough. Do not use more flour than absolutely necessary. Gather dough into a ball and flatten to a disk. Wrap and chill for 15 minutes.

Cookie No. 1: Break off about 8 walnut-sized pieces of dough and roll into balls. Place 1 inch apart on the parchment-lined cookie sheet. With a wet index finger, make a deep indentation in the center of each ball of dough. Reshape edges if the dough splits or crumbles. Fill the centers with jam.

Cookie No. 2: Roll out remaining dough to 1/4-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. With a floured cookie cutter, punch out about 8 cookies, or as many as desired. Arrange them on the parchment-lined sheet 1 inch apart. Brush tops with beaten egg white and immediately top with sprinkles.

Cookie No. 3: Cut remaining rolled-out dough into bars about 1 inch wide and 2 1/2 inches long. Place on parchment-lined sheet 1 inch apart. Pierce each cookie three times with the tines of a fork.

Refrigerate one sheet of cookies and bake other sheet at 325 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, until the cookies are set but not brown. When done, slide the sheet of parchment with the cookies onto a counter to cool. Repeat with the refrigerated sheet. Dust the shortbread bars with confectioners’ sugar (or you could dip the ends in melted chocolate). Makes 2 to 2 1/2 dozen.

GUT CHECK
What we cooked last week:
Pork miso soup (Tony); apple tart; oatmeal with blueberries; spaghetti squash baked with ricotta, tomato sauce, sausage and peppers; cornbread; pumpkin pie; mojo-brined and grill-smoked 19-pound turkey; cranberry sauce with port wine and dried apricots; dried cranberry, walnut and mushroom cornbread dressing, lima beans, mashed potatoes with gravy and mashed sweet potatoes with rum; Thanksgiving in a bowl (leftovers); shortbread cookies three ways; tuna sashimi over vinegared rice with wasabi, soy sauce and pickled ginger (Tony).

TIDBITS
This month I will send gifts to my brother’s family, my sister’s family and to my grown-up nephew and niece and her family. Usually we gather to feast and give gifts in person, but not this year. So I’m looking for ideas. Food-gift ideas.

I bet a lot of other people are sending food gifts this year, too. But instead of clicking on Harry & David or Omaha Steaks, I’d like to support small, independent food purveyors.They need our business in a big way.

So here’s the challenge: Find a small store or producer that can put together a lush box of goodies and mail it without breaking the bank in postage fees. I’m looking at $50 to $150 total. If that describes you or a purveyor you know, please drop me a line so I can share. Maybe together we can help independent food folks while we whittle down our gift lists.

My first find is the Best of the Season box from The Chef’s Garden in Huron. During the pandemic, when ritzy restaurants nationwide have cut their orders for farmer Lee Jones’ gorgeous produce, Jones has been selling to regular cooks instead. With NO delivery charge.

The Best of the Season box, one of several available, is $89. It is filled with whatever looks good when your order is shipped. And at Jones’ farm, everything looks and tastes good, from micro greens to delicious varieties of baby potatoes. Check out the offerings at chefs-garden.com.

THE MAILBAG
From Judy R.:
I made the Amish Potato Rolls recipe and could not believe how fluffy and delicious they were. Three other guests loved them and I forwarded the recipe. I used leftover mashed potatoes. I know from my food tech class that the eggs ensure the rolls will keep longer but I froze them anyway. I will make them again tomorrow as they were devoured fast and I miss them already.

Dear Judy:
You’re not the only one who made the rolls for Thanksgiving and another batch after. The photos and comments have been rolling in. The rolls are so pillowy and delicious and comforting that I’d like to eat them all year. My waistline disagrees.

Another recipe that got a lot of Thanksgiving use was for the Turkey Wellington from my Nov. 11 newsletter. My Facebook feed was dotted with photos of gorgeous, pastry-wrapped turkey breasts. Some of them looked better than mine. I’m glad you enjoyed.

From Jean H.:
Your memories of the Beacon Journal reminded me of a quick story: My brother, Tom Wood, delivered the Beacon to John Knight’s home on North Portage Path when he was a student at St. Vincent. This was in the 1940s and 50s. Now, you have an idea how much Mr. Knight needed to have a paper delivered to his home! But he did it for the paperboy’s sake. And there was a hefty bonus at the holidays, of course.  Also, my uncle was a lithographer at the Beacon for many years. And I remember my pride and joy when I was old enough to read the funny pages. I’m 81 now. So I was probably 7 or 8 when I started the funnies.

Dear Jean:
Thank you for those memories. Those of us who worked on the book about the newspaper (“The Daily Miracle: Reporting the News in the Rubber City,” out Dec. 8 from  University of Akron Press) felt it was important to preserve the history of such an Akron institution. Over the years it touched many lives and made our world here in Northeast Ohio a better place.

November 25, 2020

Dear friends,

I know you’re busy preparing food for your Thanksgiving dinner, small though it may be this year. The last thing you need today is a recipe for black bean soup or Cheddar-corn biscuits (two recipes I’m working on) while your mind is on turkey or chicken or Cornish hens. So I’ll spare you and write about something else you may want to dig into.

“Akron’s Daily Miracle” is book about the crack newspaper journalism, including food journalism, that was committed in Akron during the glory days of newspaper reporting. I was lucky to be writing during that period, and for almost three decades was in awe of the talent that surrounded me.

About thirty of us got together last year to tell the tale. The resulting book — the full title is “Akron’s Daily Miracle: Reporting the News in the Rubber City” — will be published Dec. 8, in time for holiday gift-giving.

The book would never have been written had we all gone our separate ways after leaving/retiring from/being laid off from the Beacon Journal. Oh, we separated all right, spreading across the country from the Pacific Northwest to the Florida Keys. But the bonds we forged in the white-hot intensity of daily deadlines and high expectations have endured. We have a Facebook group, one mass reunion so far, and smaller get-togethers on a regular basis.

Stuart Warner and Deb Van Tassel Warner spearheaded the book idea, collecting and editing the chapters and arranging publication with the University of Akron Press.  In Chapter 2, former columnist Regina Brett sums up the golden era the book covers: “For a time, the Beacon Journal was our Brigadoon. It was a mystical, mythical, idyllic place that opened, and for a time, was magical. Pure magic…Many of us spent the best years in journalism there, those magical years between Watergate and Twitter….Together we committed journalism. We saw it as our sacred duty, not just our bread and butter.”

Each chapter is authored by a different journalist, and most are names you know: Steve Love, Thrity Umrigar, Mary Ethridge, Bill O’Connor, Bob Dyer. Each writer covers a different newspaper topic or story or historical event in the life of the newspaper.  I was enthralled by Ethridge’s opening chapter on her family’s friendship with publisher John S. Knight and how, as a teen-ager, she comforted Knight the day his son died. I ripped through Kathy Fraze’s fun chapter on life on the quirky copy desk, where “snow” drifted into the aisles on holidays and new hires were initiated with the “Rookie Cookie Rule.” It was a joy to read O’Connor’s prose again in his chapter, “… And We Were All Pirates.”

I wrote a sweeping tale of the newspaper’s food coverage from the 1870s to the present before editor Deb Van Tassel reigned me in. “We’re more interested in the heyday of the food section when you were food editor,” she gently instructed. I rewrote the chapter, chronicling the fun, fearsome, exhaustive process of covering everything from food poisoning to the local corn harvest for more than two decades. Here’s a sample of the backstage workings of the Food section:

“Without a kitchen at work, I had to make the food for the photos at home and transport it to the newspaper, where I styled it for the photograph. I ferried everything from Thanksgiving dinner to a six-layer wedding cake in a succession of Ford vans.

“Ed Suba Jr. and Paul Tople were among the photographers assigned most often to take the tricky food photos. We worked together in the photo studio to make the food look good. I attended food-styling classes and learned to paint steaks with Kitchen Bouquet to enhance grill marks, and spray vegetables with glycerin to make them look dewy-fresh.

“One trick brought the fire department. I partially roasted a turkey for a Thanksgiving photo one year (fully roasted birds look wrinkled in photos) and started to bronze it in the photo studio with a blowtorch.  The smoke alarm wailed, maintenance workers arrived with a ladder, and we were told the fire department was on its way. From then on, we disarmed the smoke detector before heating anything.”

People ask me if I miss those days. Yes, sometimes. But all the time I miss my extraordinary coworkers.

The book, with a cover by legendary Beacon Journal and Crankshaft artist Chuck Ayers,  may be ordered at https://blogs.uakron.edu/uapress/product/akrons-daily-miracle/?fbclid=IwAR17cntR1o4DFolaSv4HL-_MeEP7BuOFnm8vvCJgYhTv-ZSZBXVXMD6mSCY.

Happy Thanksgiving.

TIDBITS

One of the few good things to come from this pandemic is Akron Bagel Babes, Abby Cymerman’s passion project for bringing fresh, gluten-free bagels (that actually taste good) to the masses.

On her website, akronbagelbabes.com, Abby writes, “Some people have learned a new language during the Pandemic of 2020. Others have taken up ukulele, tackled DIY projects or binge-watched the entire second season of “Umbrella Academy” in one sitting. What have I done? I have become a gluten-free bagel baker.”

If you are among the one-third of Americans who shun gluten, you’re probably dancing in your chair right now. Yes, fresh, warm bagels that you can eat, made to order and delivered to your door.

Currently Abby bakes two days a week. Orders placed by noon Tuesday are delivered after 9:30 a.m. Wednesday. Orders placed by noon Thursday are delivered after 9:30 a.m. Friday. A 4-pack of bagels is $10 and delivery is free to Summit, Medina and Portage Counties. Those who live farther away should discuss options with Abby.

At present Abby offers three flavors each week (the flavors rotate), with clever names such as It’s Greek to Me (chopped Kalamata olives, feta, herbs, Cheddar), Everything is Possible (bagel with everything topping) and Takes the Cannoli (with mini chocolate chips).  Some flavors are savory and some are sweet, and while the texture isn’t 100 percent bagel, Abby has produced a delicious product with rice flour.

Abby makes the bagels in small batches in a shared commercial kitchen in Akron. For a list of the week’s flavors and to order, check the website or email akronbagelbabes@gmail.com.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
A fried egg on a yeast roll; tuna salad; ham and black bean soup; roasted pumpkin slices; chocolate pudding; tofu, green bean and pumpkin stir fry; green peppers fried in olive oil; pan-grilled filet mignons with wine sauce, mashed potatoes, carrot and daikon salad and chopped salad.

What I ate from restaurants, etc.:
An Egg McMuffin from McDonald’s.

THE MAILBAG
From Jane Smith:

I’m going through old recipes and culling files. Just found this one to go along with your Amish roll recipe published last week:

POTATO DOUGHNUTS
1 cup hot mashed potatoes
1 1/2 tbsp. melted butter or lard
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
4 cups flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. nutmeg
Oil for deep frying

In a large bowl, combine potatoes, butter, sugar and milk. Mix well. Beat in eggs one at a time.

In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. Gradually add to potato mixture, beating to make a soft dough. Transfer dough to a floured surface. Roll out about 1/4-inch thick. Punch out doughnuts with a floured doughnut cutter.

Heat at least 1 1/2 inches of vegetable oil in a deep skillet. Fry doughnuts, turning to brown both sides. The wide skillet allows more doughnuts to be fried at one time. Drain on paper towels.

Dear Jane:
I had forgotten about this recipe. It came from “The Glenna Snow Cookbook” and was used (and probably is still being used) by generations of Akronites. My request for the recipe in the Recipe Roundup column drew more than 50 letters.

I used to have a doughnut cutter — a gizmo that looks like a cookie cutter with a hole in the center. When I was growing up, we made do with a round cookie cutter and a thimble to punch out the hole in the middle. Now I don’t need either because doughnuts are no longer on my dance card. I just stay away from them.

November 18, 2020

Dear friends,

Even if your Thanksgiving will be dinner for one, you must make these Amish yeast rolls. They are more than just food. They are comfort and happiness in a pan.

I learned to love the rolls at Maxie’s Lunch Box in East Liverpool, Ohio. The little hole-in-the-wall was a favorite place to eat when I drove back home to visit my mother. The homespun food was OK, but what wowed us were the big, fluffy pull-apart rolls that came gratis with dinner. Deep baking pans of them lined the counter separating the dining room from the kitchen. Sometimes we bought a half-dozen to take home. They were better than dessert.

Last week, with a corona’s worth of baking under my belt, I decided to finally learn how to make them. I Googled “big soft yeast rolls” and looked in my dozen or so bread-baking books. Every search lead to Amish rolls made with mashed potatoes. Huh. I didn’t expect that. But the more photos I saw, the more I realized that Amish potato rolls were the Maxie’s rolls of my dreams.

The potatoes, I learned, help keep the rolls soft for days. I was out of potatoes so I picked up a packet of instant mashed potatoes at the drugstore. (It’s a pandemic. I made do.) They worked well and, incidentally, showed me the product has improved dramatically since I last tasted them at restaurant reviews.

The recipe I used, from King Arthur Flour, produces a 9-by-13-inch pan of pull-apart rolls that are delicately crisp on the tops and bottoms and soft, rich and slightly sweet inside. They are reminiscent of brioche. Besides potatoes and flour, etc., ingredients include eggs, butter and a bit of sugar.

The dough may be made one day, risen overnight in the refrigerator and shaped and risen again the next day. If you time it right, you can bake them while the turkey rests before carving, and serve the rolls hot from the oven. They may be just the comfort you need this holiday.

FLUFFY AMISH DINNER ROLLS

2 large eggs
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp. salt
6 tbsp. softened butter (place the wrapped stick in a bowl of lukewarm water to soften)
1 cup unseasoned mashed potatoes, lightly packed (I used instant)
2 1/2 tsp. instant or active dry yeast (1 packet)
3/4 cup lukewarm (90 to 110 degrees) water
4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
Melted butter for brushing

With a stand mixer and the paddle beater, beat eggs, sugar and salt briefly. Beat in butter and mashed potatoes until smooth. Add yeast and trickle in water while beating. Beat in flour a little at a time. Beat at medium speed for four minutes. Dough will be soft and sticky but will hold together and spring back slightly when poked. The dough may be mixed by hand but is too sticky to knead; instead, continue to beat it with a wooden spoon for about 10 minutes. I recommend the mixer.

Transfer dough to a greased bowl, cover and let stand at room temperature (I use my barely warmed oven, turned off) for about 1 1/2 hours, until dough has risen and is puffy but not necessarily doubled in size. Or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Gently pat dough to deflate. It will be sticky but do not add flour or the rolls will not be tender and tall. Divide dough into 15 pieces either by weight or by cutting in half, each piece in half again, etc. You’ll end up with one extra roll this way. I baked my extra in a separate little dish.

Roll each piece of dough into a ball (very lightly oil your hands and the counter). The gluten will cause the dough to rise better if you stretch the dough and fold it to form the ball. Then roll it on the very lightly oiled counter to shape it.

Place balls of dough in an oiled 9-by-13-inch baking pan, three across and five rows down. If you have one left over, place in a small oiled pan. Cover lightly with an oiled piece of plastic wrap and let rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. If the dough is cold, the rolls may take longer to rise. They should be quite puffy.

Uncover and bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, until the rolls are puffed and golden brown. Loosen the edges with a sharp knife, then slip the whole sheet of rolls from the pan onto a rack. Brush tops with melted butter. Eat warm or at room temperature. Store in zipper-lock plastic bags or a tightly closed container.

Recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour.

TIDBITS:
To brine or dry brine? That is the question. Brining a turkey is submerging it in a salty liquid for up to 4 days (any time in the drink will help keep the meat moist; I usually go for 1 to 2 days). Dry brining is rubbing the turkey with salt and refrigerating it overnight or a day longer — again, to lock in moisture.

Both methods have fans. For years I wet-brined in a cooler filled with brine and ice (I used water, orange juice and white wine with sprigs of thyme). The proportions are 1 cup kosher salt per 2 gallons of liquid. The brine should be heated and the salt dissolved before cooling it and pouring it over the turkey. You could heat one gallon of the liquid to dissolve the salt, and cool it down with 1 gallon of iced liquid.

The allure of dry brining is you can store the turkey in the refrigerator without taking up a lot of room. The proportions are 1 teaspoon of kosher salt per pound of turkey. The salt should be rubbed into the cavities, under the breast skin and under the leg/thigh skin. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate.

For both methods, rinse the bird and pat dry before oiling or buttering and roasting.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Pasta with sausage, peppers and onions; sausage, peppers and onions in tomato sauce over steamed spaghetti squash; tofu, green bean and pumpkin stir fry; stewed chicken over biscuits; slumgullion; Japanese pork curry (Tony cooked); Amish yeast rolls.

What I ordered out:
A ranch chicken and bacon pizza, fried chicken and Southwestern fries from Upper Crust Pizza in the Highland Square area of Akron.

THE MAILBAG
From Susan R.:

Concerning pumpkin/squash recipes, I made this Thai green chicken curry for friends recently and it was wonderful:

https://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2014/04/pressure-cooker-thai-green-chicken-curry.html

It was particularly great to load up the Instant Pot and sit down before dinner while the pot worked its magic. Yes, magic. I would note that I used a Thai chili paste and no other chilies, and it was perfectly hot with the accompanying rice.

Please reconsider your opinion of electric pressure cookers. At the very least, on your Florida trips, it would be an extra burner.

Dear Susan:
The recipe sounds absolutely delicious and may tempt me to get my Instant Pot out of storage. I am sure it is a great little appliance. I am just mechanically challenged and haven’t had the patience to study the instruction book. Plus, I’m in no hurry to do anything these days. One day, I may ask an Instant Pot-savvy friend to stand at my side and give instructions as I use the dang thing. Thanks for your encouragement.

November 11, 2020

Dear friends,

No fair. We have to forgo extended family at Thanksgiving when we’ve already forgone socializing for most of this damnable year? Apparently so. With Covid-19 cases surging to record-breaking levels, small gatherings with your bubble mates are the recommended way to go.

At my house, that means dinner for three, if you count the dog (and of course we do). This in no way discourages me from roasting a 15-pound turkey, but I realize others may want to trim the turkey and trimmings this year.

I have the answer: Turkey Wellington. Picture a turkey breast rolled into a log, swathed in prosciutto, coated with an herbed mushroom-cranberry dressing and encased in  golden puff pastry.  It’s Thanksgiving in each slice.

I saw one of these beauties in a Harry & David ad, where it cost $60 plus shipping and fed four. My version has three pounds of turkey breast and will feed six easily. And my trial run to nail down ingredients and amounts resulted in an absolutely stunning roast. Until I cut into it. Then the pastry crumbled a bit. But I solved that, so you can make this Instagram-worthy dish with no fear.`

What I like best about it, even more than the looks, is the flavor. My turkey breast was moist and the dressing was crunchy, soft, sweet and savory all at once. I think I will duplicate the dressing for my big bird on Thanksgiving.

The Wellington is made in steps, which means you won’t spend long stretches in the kitchen. The day before serving, you roll, tie and roast the naked turkey breast. It is chilled quickly in the refrigerator and left there overnight. While the turkey roasts, you also make the stuffing and refrigerate it.

The next day the turkey roast is draped with prosciutto, coated with stuffing and wrapped in puff pastry before roasting for about 1 1/2 hours. You could skip the prosciutto if you want, although it adds a salty little something to the whole. You may also brine or dry-brine the turkey or not, your choice. I didn’t, and the turkey breast (I bought it frozen at Aldi) was juicy.

I tried to skimp on puff pastry by using just the one sheet I had on hand. It was a mistake. I had to roll it so thin to wrap around the roast and stuffing that it became brittle in the oven. Cutting it neatly was impossible.  I recommend you use two sheets to prevent this from happening.

JANE’S TURKEY WELLINGTON

1 boneless turkey breast, about 3  lbs.
Olive oil spray
Salt, pepper
4 oz. prosciutto (optional)
Mushroom-Cranberry Dressing (recipe follows)
2 sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 egg

Remove skin from turkey and trim away any fat. With skinned side down, cut horizontally halfway through the thickest part of the lobe and fold out to lay flat. Pound if necessary to produce a rectangular piece of meat of fairly even thickness.  Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Beginning at a short edge, roll the meat snugly, tucking in the ends as you roll. Secure with toothpicks and kitchen twine, or a double thickness of cotton sewing thread.

Place seam side down on a baking sheet. Coat lightly with olive oil spray. Tent with foil. Roast at 350 degrees for about 1 1/4 hours, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the roast registers 165 degrees. Remove to a plate, cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.

Remove turkey from refrigerator and pat dry with a paper towel. Drape prosciutto over the roast, overlapping slices. Turn upside down and cover that side with prosciutto. Set aside. Microwave stuffing until it reaches room temperature. Set aside.

On a lightly floured surface, roll each sheet of pastry to a slightly larger rectangle, smoothing and sealing the creases. Place one piece of pastry on a counter with the short edges at 3 and 9 o’clock. Place one long side of the roast, seam side down, on the sheet of pastry, 2 inches from a short edge of the pastry. Cut the pastry sheet two inches from the other side of the roast.

Mound half of the dressing on the pastry underneath the roast. Pat remaining dressing evenly on top of roast. Drape the second sheet of pastry over the roast, trimming if necessary to overlap the bottom sheet slightly. Beat the egg with 1 tablespoon of water. Brush the egg wash around the edges of the pastry. Fold and the crimp edges of the pastries together to snugly seal the meat inside.

If desired, cut designs from the pastry scraps and glue to the top of the loaf with egg wash. Generously brush top and sides of loaf with egg wash. Place on a baking sheet and roast uncovered at 350 degrees for about 75 to 90 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of the roast registers 165 degrees.

Remove from the oven and let stand 15 minutes. Cut  into thick slices with a serrated knife. Makes 6 servings.

MUSHROOM-CRANBERRY DRESSING          
6 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. olive oil
8 oz. mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup chopped onions
Salt, pepper
2 cups soft, coarsely chopped bread crumbs
1/4 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1/4 tsp. dry crumbled sage
2 tbsp. dried cranberries
1/4 cup toasted, broken walnut pieces

Note: The mushrooms and bread crumbs may be chopped in the food processor if just a few mushrooms or a quarter of the bread is chopped at a time. Pulse to produce coarse pieces.

Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter with the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat (the oil prevents the butter from burning). Add mushrooms and onions and sauté until mushrooms are cooked and onion is very limp. Season with salt and pepper.

Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter with the mushrooms and onions. Remove from heat and stir in the bread crumbs, thyme and sage. When crumbs are coated well with fat, stir in the cranberries and walnut pieces. Transfer to a bowl, cover and refrigerate until needed.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
Egg salad; barbecued spareribs and chopped salad; tofu, eggplant and pepper stir fry over steamed rice; turkey Wellington, roast Cinderella pumpkin slices, chopped salad; bacon, eggs and toast.

What I carried out:
Kibbee, pita bread, baba ganoush, hummus, basmati rice and marinated, grilled beef, chicken and kefteh from Mediterranean Market & Grill in Cuyahoga Falls; a spicy fried chicken sandwich and mashed potatoes from Popeye’s.

TIDBITS:
Did you read about the guy who was arrested for cooking two chickens in a thermal hot spring at Yellowstone National Park? I’m kind of glad he did it, because it’s exactly the kind of thing I would do and now I know better. The cook was banned from the park for life.

I am attracted to alternate cooking methods. I once cooked a roast on the manifold of a car, and baked many cakes with the heat from a lightbulb in my Easy-Bake Oven. It’s only a matter of time before I fry bacon on a sidewalk in the summer, or steam a fish in the dishwasher.

I was much more likely to cook in a thermal spring, though, until learning it’s a no-no. That’s because in Japan, hot springs cooking is very much a thing. In some areas where springs bubble up in back yards, people encircle them with brick walls and cook meals in them. All the time. Why the heck not? It’s immersion cooking without the $150 appliance.

In other news, Hasbro’s Easy-Bake Oven will be retired soon because the new light bulbs do not get hot, and the manufacture of the old household incandescent bulbs has been banned. No more light-bulb cooking. Bummer.

THE MAILBAG
From Carol C.:
I must be late to the game on caramelizing onions, but I always hated that job when I made French onion soup. I found on another blog information about putting the onions in the slow cooker overnight.  Dump the sliced onions in your Crock-Pot overnight….next morning, beautifully caramelized onions. Then I just add my beef stock and sherry at the end.

I served it the traditional way to us, in crocks with rounds of French bread and Gruyere cheese melted under the broiler. I have to

say it was even better than when I caramelized the onions on the stove top.

I love your little blurbs about Tony. My hubby does the same thing yours did with the pie crusts. I’ll be putting things away from the grocery store and I’ll wonder how such and such got in the cart. He quips, “I was hungry for it so please make it.”

Dear Carol:
It’s so good to hear from you. Yes, when you’re a good cook you will get requests. I’m usually flattered. Tony’s a chef, but he cooked his entire adult life and is happy to have me take over. Not that I’ve haven’t been creating dishes MY entire adult life, too.