February 22, 2017

Dear friends,

Pimento cheese is having a moment. The classic Southern sandwich spread has begun showing up on menus of upscale Southern restaurants, and even made a recent episode of the Bravo TV series Top Chef (although the judges hated John Tesar’s version with crab).

I thought my moment with pimento cheese had come and gone in the 1950s, until recently the last time I ate a sandwich filled with the stuff. My mother, an Ohioan all her life, bought the spread in little glass jars and doled it out sparingly. I thought Kraft had invented it. I had no idea it could be made at home by amateurs.

Southerners have known better all along. In decades past, many a cook’s reputation was made or broken by his or her skill with — and secret recipe for — pimento cheese. Although arguments abound about ingredients and technique (grate versus puree?), the version I like consists of sharp and extra-sharp Cheddar stirred together with mayonnaise, grated onion, Worcestershire sauce, horseradish and cayenne pepper. The chopped pimentoes are added at the end. My basic recipe, minus the horseradish, is from Southern Living magazine.

I began looking into pimento cheese after the Top Chef appearance, and am amazed at the flavor variations and the ways the spread is being used. So far I’ve used it as a dip with crackers and for grilled cheese sandwiches (delish). I’ve also seen it melted over fries, dolloped on burgers, stirred into grits, in mac and cheese, and shaped into balls, breaded and deep fried.

Chefs are treating the basic cheese spread as a blank canvas and pumping up the flavor with a multitude of add-ins such as crumbled bacon and chili paste and tamari (think Asian). Personally, I’m thinking of using it as a base for cloning some of West Point Market’s late, great cheese spreads such as my favorite, Coyote.

But first I’ll spoon some of it into a crock and surround it with crackers to snack on Sunday while I watch the Oscars. Lowbrow meets highbrow. You tell me which is which.

CLASSIC PIMENTO CHEESE

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1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. finely grated onion
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. hot pepper sauce
8 oz. block sharp Cheddar, grated
8 oz. block extra-sharp Cheddar, grated
1 tbsp. prepared horseradish
1 jar (4 oz.) chopped pimento, drained

Combine mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, onion, cayenne and hot pepper sauce in a bowl and mix well. Stir in cheese, horseradish and pimento. Cover and chill several hours before using. Makes about 4 cups.
THE MAILBAG
From Marcia:
I’m hoping you have a reasonable version of lobster bisque in your archives, something akin to the soup at Beau’s on the River in Cuyahoga Falls. That is the best lobster bisque in town, I swear. Chunks of lobster, thick slices of mushrooms, sliced green onions and an extremely flavorful broth loaded with cream.

I cannot find a good recipe in the half-dozen cookbooks I use for research, nor can I find Beau’s version on the Internet and I’m afraid to adapt, say, a mushroom bisque recipe because I don’t know what the umami is. I would appreciate your help.

Dear Marcia: I think the umami — meaty depth of flavor — of all seafood soups is rich seafood stock. Without hesitation, I reached for a copy of the New York Times Cookbook by Craig Claiborne for his classic version of the soup. It doesn’t call for mushrooms, but you can add them when you sauté the carrots and onions.

Claiborne suggests you ask the fishmonger to kill and split the live lobster for you. Good luck finding someone to do that for you today. I take the coward’s way out and gently steam a live lobster just until it expires before splitting and continuing with a recipe. Depth of flavor is added by simmering the lobster shell in the unthickened soup for an hour, then draining and thickening. This isn’t Beau’s recipe, but I bet you’’ll like it.

LOBSTER BISQUE

1 1/2 lb. live lobster
5 tbsp. butter
1/4 cup finely diced carrot
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 bay leaf
Pinch of thyme
2 sprigs parsley
3 tbsp. cognac
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup seafood stock
1 tbsp. sherry or Madeira
1/4 cup flour
3 cups boiling milk
3 tbsp. heavy cream (about)

Split and clean the lobster (after gently steaming just until dead, if desired). Crack the claws and cut the body and tail into four or five pieces.

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a sauté pan. Sauté the carrot and onion until the onion is transparent. Add the bay leaf, thyme, parsley and lobster. Sauté until the lobster turns red, or about 5 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally. Add 2 tablespoons of the cognac and ignite. When the flames die down, add the wine and seafood stock and simmer 20 minutes.

Remove the lobster, cool and remove the meat from the shell. Finely dice the meat, sprinkle with sherry and set aside. Reserve the shell and broth.

Melt the remaining butter in a saucepan, add the flour and blend with a whisk. Cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes. Meanwhile, bring the milk to a boil and add all at once to the butter-flour mixture, stirring vigorously with the whisk. Grind or crush the lobster shell and add to the sauce. Add the reserved broth with the vegetables and simmer, covered, about 1 hour. Strain through a fine sieve.

Bring the soup to a boil and add enough cream to achieve the desired consistency. Stir in the reserved lobster meat. Correct the seasonings and add the remaining cognac. Makes about 5 servings.

From Anne M.:
For linguini carbonara, try Geraci’s Restaurant in Cleveland heights. It’s not Akron, but at least it’s on the south side of the metro Cleveland area.

The family restaurant is cash only. We stop by a couple of times a year. It has been featured on the Food Channel’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. The website is http://www.geracisrestaurant.com.

Dear Anne: Thanks for the recommendation.

From M.A.:
Fran asked if carbonara is served in our area. Yes, dba at Northside has it on the menu as one of its four regular pasta offerings. Fran can have a full serving ($21), a taste ($7) or as one of three tastes including green spaghetti and Bolognese for $21. Now I’ve got my mouth watering…..

Dear M.A. Me, too.

From Sura:
In our younger days, my husband and I ate spaghetti carbonara at least once a week. I made it with bacon and used the rendered fat, a really good Parmesan and heavy cream for the sauce. Salt and pepper to taste and whatever herbs or chopped scallions added after. I used no eggs at all, and always used linguine for the pasta.

Dear Sura: Oh, for our younger days when we could eat foods like spaghetti carbonara with abandon.

From Amber, Florida (formerly Bath):
Regarding carbonara my late husband taught me to reserve a bit of the water the pasta was cooked in to add creaminess to the sauce. We always use bacon and bacon grease.

Dear Amber: Yep, good ideas all.

February 16, 2017

Dear friends,

You didn’t think I was going to go cold turkey on Cuban food, did you? After a month of mojo roast pork, spicy empanadas, fried plantains and Cuban sandwiches in Florida, I returned to Ohio with a gorgeously tanned husband (he won’t heed my warnings about skin cancer) and a serious craving for Cuban food.

My Cuban cookbooks don’t address the kind of slow-cooked mojo-marinated pork roasts made at my favorite Florida Cuban restaurant, Pipo’s, so I looked on line and found the ultimate recipe at — of course — Serious Eats. I wish I could stop stealing Kenji Lopez-Alt’s recipes, but they are so good and so “last word” that to create my own version would be silly.

Perfection doesn’t come easy, of course. The roast must cook a total of six hours, although the hands-on work is done in minutes. Time must be allowed for marinating, too, so I suggest you start the recipe the day before serving, as I did.

For the garlicky marinade, unless you have access to sour Seville oranges, buy a couple of oranges and limes and juice them yourself to get that sweet-tart citrus flavor. The marinade also includes ground cumin, lots of garlic and fresh oregano, which I didn’t have and didn’t want to buy. I provide directions for substituting dried.

The roast is wrapped in foil and baked at a low temperature for three hours. Then the foil is pulled back, the temperature raised slightly and the roast cooked three more hours to crisp the exterior. Make this on a day when you settle in for a marathon TV or reading session.

At our house, while the meat cooked Tony studied for his citizenship test which, post-election, he decided he should finally take. (He calls Woodrow Wilson “Woody,” and at one point I heard him mumbling rapidly under his breath, “Who’s the daddy, who’s the daddy, who’s the daddy.”)

Me: Are you saying, “Who’s your daddy?”
Tony: No, who’s THE daddy. Of the United States.
Me (after a long pause): You mean the father of our country?? George Washington?
Tony: Yes, the daddy.

Later, wiser and starving, we tucked into the pork roast, cilantro rice and a side of sautéed broccoli rabe. The meat was…well, I’ll let Lopez-Alt describe it: ”Juicy, succulent with garlic and citrus, intensely porky, and melt-in-your-mouth tender.”

Exactly.

CUBAN ROAST PORK WITH MOJO MARINADE

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For the mojo:

8 medium cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. fresh-ground black pepper
1/4 cup minced fresh oregano leaves (I used 2 tbsp. dry)
1/2 cup fresh juice from 1 to 2 oranges
1/4 cup fresh lime juice (or 3/4 cup blood orange juice instead of the orange and lime juices)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt

For the pork and to finish:

1 (6- to 8-lb.) boneless pork shoulder roast, rind removed (I used a 4-lb. roast)
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves (I substituted fresh cilantro)
3 tbsp. finely chopped fresh oregano leaves (I subbed 2 tsp. dried)
Lime wedges for serving
Steamed rice

For the mojo, combine garlic, cumin pepper, oregano, orange and lime juices and olive oil in a small bowl of lidded jar and mix well. Season to taste generously with salt. Pour half of the mojo over a pork roast in a zipper-sealed plastic bag. Squish with hands to coat meat evenly. Refrigerate to marinate at least 2 hours or, ideally, overnight. Refrigerate remaining mojo.

For the pork and to finish: When meat is finished marinating, reheat oven to 275 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a double layer of heavy-duty foil. Place pork and juice on top and fold up foil, crimping to seal loosely but making sure there is room for air to circulate inside. Place in oven and roast for 3 hours.

Increase oven temperature to 325 degrees. Fold back foil and continue roasting, basting pork with pan juices occasionally, until pork shows almost no resistance when a metal skewer or knife is inserted and the surface is crackly and brown 2 to 3 hours longer. Remove from oven and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes.

Pour one cup of accumulated pork drippings into a bowl, discarding any left over. Add the reserved mojo and whisk with into, oregano and salt to taste. Slice or shred pork and arrange on dinner plates with the lime wedges and rice. Moisten the meat with some of the mojo sauce, passing the rest at the table. My 4-pound roast made at least 6 servings.
THE MAILBAG
From Fran F.:
Several years ago we spent a week in Rome and had a to-die-for spaghetti carbonara with pancetta. I have been looking ever since returning home for a good restaurant in the Akron area that makes a great spaghetti carbonara.

I have tried to make it at home and cannot get that same intense, creamy Parmesan flavor that we had, despite using Parmesan Reggiani and pancetta purchased from DeViti’s. What would make the difference in flavor? If any of your readers knows of a great place that makes the dish, I hope they will share.

Dear Fran: I can’t think of any restaurants that have spaghetti carbonara on the menu. It is such a simple but wonderful dish. I hope someone has a suggestion.

Meanwhile, I consulted an old, authentic Italian cookbook recommended to me years ago by chef Roger Thomas, who studied in Italy. Could the secret to great carbonara be lard? That’s what Ada Boni uses in her recipe in “Italian Regional Cooking.” Boni also makes the dish with streaky bacon, although that may have been a sop to Americans, and uses the drippings in the sauce. She makes the dish with rigatoni but notes any pasta shape may be substituted. An interesting fact: She calls carbonara “charcoal-burner’s style.”

RIGATONI ALA CARBONARA

4 tsp. lard
5 oz. streaky bacon, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
Salt
1 1/4 lbs. rigatoni
5 eggs
5 tbsp. freshly grated imported Parmesan cheese
5 tbsp. freshly grated imported Pecorino cheese
Pepper

In a small sauté pan, heat the lard and sauté the bacon and garlic. As soon as the garlic is browned, discard it. Bring a large pan of salted water to a bubbling boil. Add the rigatoni and cook until tender but still firm.

Meanwhile, beat the eggs thoroughly in a large, shallow skillet with a pinch of salt, the cheeses and plenty of fresh-ground pepper. Do not heat.

As soon as the rigatoni are tender, drain them and add to the pan with the egg mixture. Add the bacon with its cooking fat, then cook over very low heat, stirring constantly, for a couple of minutes to heat the eggs through. Serve immediately. Serves 6.

From Nancy S.:
I know I read some time ago that you buy your seeds locally and I’m thinking it was someplace in the Valley? Please share!

Hi, Nancy: I buy heirloom plants — not seeds — at Crown Point Ecology Center’s annual sale on the farm in Bath. Check the website (www.crownpt.org) for details. The sale is usually held in May.

A couple of years ago I discovered an interesting seed store in Amish country. Berlin Seeds (no website; Google the store name) in Millersburg has fair prices and a wide basic selection of seeds. A plus is free planting advice from the clerk/owners.

For heirloom vegetable seeds, I have ordered from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (www.rareseeds.com), although many other great mail-order sources exist. I’d like to know which companies others have used.

February 9, 2017

Dear friends,
I need cuddle food. I am back from a month-long stay in Florida and huddling under blankets to keep warm. I’ve eaten a lot of hot soup since we returned five days ago. In the evenings I sip hot tea and bundle up in a fluffy pink onesie Tony bought me years ago and that I vowed never to wear.

Yeah, yeah, I can hear your hoots and catcalls. I know whining about the cold weather after a trip to Florida elicits about as much sympathy as a billionaire complaining about a dip in the stock market. So I’ll shut up and share a recipe that warmed me up, Slow Cooker Sweet and Sour Chicken.

Because it took 36 hours for our furnace to raise the temperature in our home from 50 to 70 degrees (whining again), I turned on the oven but didn’t want to spend time away from my blankets actually cooking. So I found a soulful, flash-fast recipe that requires merely dumping ingredients in a slow cooker and turning the switch.

About four hours later we spooned hunks of falling-apart chicken and a caramel-y sauce over rice and feasted in the living room, wrapped in blankets. Tony loved the dish, athough it was more sweet than sour. The next time I make it I’ll add a splash of vinegar.

The sauce was delicious anyway. Soy sauce, brown sugar, sherry, ketchup, water and garlic are poured over a whole frying chicken in the slow cooker. The ingredients combine with juices from the chicken to make the deeply flavored sauce that is is thickened with cornstarch just before serving.

The recipe is from my favorite slow-cooker book, “Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook” by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann. Try it when you need some cold-weather cosseting.

SLOW COOKER SWEET AND SOUR CHICKEN

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1 broiler-fryer chicken, 3 to 4 lbs.
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup dry sherry or apple juice
1 tbsp. ketchup
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 green onions, trimmed and halved
1 cloved garlic, pressed
2 tbsp. cornstarch
2 tbsp. water
2 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds (optional)

Wash and dry the chicken, saving giblets for another use. Cut off any lumps of fat. Place chicken in the slow cooker, breast side up.

Combine the soy sauce, brown sugar, water, sherry, ketchup, red pepper flakes, green onions and garlic in a small bowl. Pour over chicken. Cover and cook on high about 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 hours, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of a thigh registers 180 degrees.

Transfer chicken to a platter. Pour sauce remaining in slow cooker into a saucepan, discarding green onions. Combine the cornstarch with water. Bring the sauce to a simmer and slowly whisk in the cornstarch mixture. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens. Spoon over chicken. Garnish with sesame seeds if desired. Makes 4 servings.
TIDBIT
Thank you all for responding to my plea for more email. As I mentioned before, I found all that email I wasn’t getting on a new email server my provider switched to. Now I’m up to my ears in unanswered email. I will eventually get to all of it. Thank you for your patience.

To bypass all my forwarding woes, email me directlly at janesnowcooks@gmail.com.

THE MAILBAG

From Susan M.:
I have a question. My recipe calls for the zest of one orange. I have a zester and can manage this but if I want to use the bottled orange peel, how much would equal one orange? I am aware that this can be very expensive.

Dear Susan: I would never use bottled orange peel in a recipe that calls for fresh because the volatile oils — the flavorful element — dissipate as the peel dries. lnstead of using a zester, which can dig too deep and be time-consuming in my opinion, grate off just the outer orange part of the peel with a rasp grater such as a Microplane. It will really speed up the process. Take a couple of swipes, turn the orange; a couple of swipes, turn the orange. Continue until the zest is on the counter and the orange is a naked and white. If your recipe calls for juice from the orange, zest before you squeeze.

From George, Akron:
I’ve lost your re-creation of Pho Hoa’s Vietnamese Chicken Salad. Can you help?

Dear George: That recipe was from a 2006 Second Helpings newsletter, written before Mimi Vanderhaven gave my column a new home. Here’s how I described the salad I ate at the Cleveland restaurant: “Fine shreds of Chinese cabbage were heaped on a platter with shredded chicken, fresh mint and cilantro. The salad was sprinkled with chopped nuts and doused with a refreshing lime and rice vinegar dressing spiked with fish sauce.”

My version is very similar to the restaurant’s but with half the fish sauce, which is an acquired taste.

VIETNAMESE CHICKEN SALAD

1/2 rotisserie chicken
4 tbsp. fresh lime juice
3 tbsp. rice vinegar
1 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. Vietnamese fish sauce
1 tsp. sugar
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 garlic clove, minced
1 small head napa cabbage, sliced very thin (about 6 cups)
1 tbsp. minced fresh hot pepper, such as serrano
1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
1/4 cup Thai basil leaves, chopped (optional)
1/2 of a medium red onion, sliced very thlin
1 1/2 cups shredded carrots
2 tbsp. minced dry roasted peanuts

Pull the chicken meat into shreds, discarding skin and bones. Place in a bowl and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon lime juice, 1 tablespoon rice vinegar and 1 teaspoon soy sauce. Toss and set aside.

In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine remaining lime juice, vinegar and soy sauce with the fish sauce, sugar, pepper flakes and garlic. Set aside.

In a large bowl toss together the cabbage, hot pepper, herbs, red onion and carrots. Pour dressing over slaw. Top with the shredded chicken and sprinkle with peanuts. Makes 6 servings.

February 1, 2017

Dear friends,

The produce clerk tried to steer me to the California navels.

“Don’t you have any Florida oranges?” I asked. “Just juice oranges,” he shrugged, pointing to a heap of gorgeous, thin-skinned beauties.

I pounced on them. When my late mother and I visited Florida, we ate an orange a day per Mom’s direction. She would roll our oranges on a counter and cut a plug from the blossom ends. We would suck out the juice and then eat the pulp.

I bought a bag of the sweet juice oranges and thought about Mom each time I ate one. I have been thinking about her a lot anyway because Tony and I are camping at the same KOA Mom and I used on our annual week-long treks. Tony and I are just a short walk from the bayou shoreline where Mom fed a heron her grouper dinner and we watched sunsets and played games of Rummikub at a picnic table. Until now I’ve been back just once since those trips in the 1990s, to scatter her ashes in the salt water from the shore.

For the last month I’ve made new memories with my husband, and they’ve been wonderful. We swam, biked, kayaked, hot tubbed and ate lots of seafood, cuban food and oranges. By the time you read this, we will be on our way home. No more fresh-from-the-Gulf seafood. No more Pipo’s Cuban sandwiches But we will still have plenty of oranges to hand-juice in the mornings ala Mom, and to use in salads such as this one from eatingwell.com.

ORANGE AND ARUGULA SALAD

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2 tsp. fresh-grated orange zest
1/4 cup orange juice
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp. minced shallot
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. fresh-ground pepper
1 1/2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
3 oranges
4 cups lightly packed arugula
1 small red onion, thinly sliced

Whisk together orange zest and juice, balsamic vinegar, shallot, mustard, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Whisk in the oil until well blended. Remove the rind and white pith from the oranges with a very sharp knife and discard. Slice oranges thinly, or remove the individual segments by slicing between the membranes. Halve the orange slices if they are large. Toss the arugula and romaine together in a shallow salad bowl. Separate the onion slices into rings. Scatter the onions and oranges over the greens. Drizzle the vinaigrette over the salad and toss.

From http://www.eatingwell.com.

TIDBIT

Is your memory slipping with age? Do you misplace recipes as often as you lose your keys? Welcome to my club. Hey, I created the most of the recipes in this newsletter and even I can’t find them.

You are out of luck for years one through six, but you can find recipes from the last four years of See Jane Cook on my blog website, janesnowtoday.wordpress.com. Just to confuse you, this is different from my actual website, janesnowtoday.com.

The WordPress site has archived newsletters from January 2013 to the present. Thanks to Morgan Lasher, my editor at Mimi Vanderhaven, it also has a search function.

Type in “green beans” and you will get a column I wrote about planting green beans with a recipe for green beans with rosemary, feta and walnuts.

At the bottom of each newsletter on WordPress are buttons to share it on Facebook and Twitter. I don’t advertise this newsletter at all, so mentions are appreciated. Please share my recipes and photos on Pinterest at will. Thanks for helping to spread the word.

THE MAILBAG

From Mary Jane, Albuquerque, N.M.:
Jane and Tony, what fun that you are having an adventure in a camper and enjoying St. Pete. Hubs and I are having an adventure in a motor home for the next year in Albuquerque, so I too am learning how to cook in a small space after having a commercial kitchen in my home which used to be my tea room. I have adapted and can now produce almost any dish I have cooked by using an electric pressure cooker, pressure oven and microwave/convection oven. We don’t even have to use the propane oven or stove top because I brought along an electric hot plate. It sounds like you are feasting on some great seafood and I am having serious foodie envy. Lucky you!

We lived in St. Pete for several years and I wanted to tell you about some of our favorite places to visit. For dessert, the gelato at Paciugo is the best and they have a great variety of flavors — rose, green tea, salted caramel. http://www.paciugo.com/gelato/flavors/.

If you love Greek food, a visit to the Greek Village Restaurant in Seminole is a must. They have the best Greek salad and they add a scoop of potato salad to it, which I had never seen before and it makes it more special. Try anything on the menu and I’m sure you will put it on your list of favorites. Here’s the menu: http://www.locu.com/places/greek-village-seminole-us/#menu.

For a fabulous Italian market stop by Mazzaros Market in Clearwater. Handmade pasta, exceptional selection of cheese and amazing bakery. http://www.mazzarosmarket.com.

For seafood our favorite is Guppy’s in Indian Rocks Beach. Best Grouper Sandwich and blue crab burger EVER.

Crepes, French macarons, quiche, and best breakfast in Indian Rocks Beach: http://www.cafedeparisbakery.com/.

Ceviche Tapas Bar is a good place for an early bite or a great dinner. The braised oxtail is a must-try. Flamenco dancing some evenings. http://www.ceviche.com/st-petersburg/gallery/.

Dear Mary Ann: You are so kind to take time to steer me to your favorite places. I saw your email just two days before we left for home, so I’ll have to wait until next year to try your picks. I am running the full list (minus a few minor edits) for those who are traveling to the Clearwater/St. Pete area — and judging by my mail, that’s a lot of people. I have one place to add: MD Oriental Market, the biggest Asian food store I’ve ever seen. None of the employees could tell me the square footage, but it is as large as a major supermarket.

The market is one of three in the Tampa area. The one Tony and I visited, in Pinellas Park, has a sushi bar, a hot buffet line, and live fish and seafood in stacked aquariums.

Good luck to you with your year-long camper experience. At least you’re in a great food area for your adventure.

January 25, 2017

Dear friends,

A cook at the ocean is a cook who is itching to get into the kitchen with a slew of seafood. Throw in access to America’s winter vegetable basket, and the urge is too strong to ignore. That’s what finally got me into the galley of our camping trailer last weekend on our month-long trip to Florida.

As I mentioned last week, the equipment comprises a 3-burner gas stove, an oven that isn’t much bigger than a microwave, and a microwave. With provisions from a farmers market and a seafood store, we had oven-roasted baby eggplant, sweet potatoes and kabocha squash with a thick grouper fillet Tony roasted outside over a wood fire. Cooking fish doesn’t need a sauce or seasoning other than salt.

The next evening Tony and I worked together in our mini kitchen to produce a summery ceviche made with ingredients from our pint-sized fridge. In about 30 minutes, we briefly simmered 1 1/2 pounds of succulent wild Gulf shrimp and tossed them with red bell pepper, green onions, mango and a tart grapefruit-lime dressing.

Tony made the dressing, did most of the chopping and helped me tweak the flavors. After we were done I showed him how I came up with the recipe — a list of ingredients jotted in the margin of a newspaper, transferred to a tablet in the order I planned to use them, and amounts penciled in as we worked and tasted.

I learn things every time I cook with Tony. Here’s one thing I already knew: If you’ve ever wondered whether to peel shrimp before or after you boil, steam or grill them, the answer is after. Shrimp cooked in their shells are simply more flavorful than shrimp that are peeled first. Of course, sometimes you must feel the shrimp first, such as for a stir fry. Not so for the recipe below.

GRAPEFRUIT SHRIMP CEVICHE

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Boil shrimp in lightly salted water to cover, just until meat becomes opaque. Do not overcook. Immediately drain and refresh in cold water to stop the cooking process. When cold, peel and discard shells and tails. Remove the vein if desired. Drain well.In a medium-size serving bowl, combine the grapefruit zest and juice, lime juice, salt, togarashi or pepper flakes, grated ginger and olive oil. Beat until mixed well. Add remaining ingredients including the shrimp. Mix well. Cover and chill. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

1 1/2 lbs. extra-large shrimp (uncooked, in shell)
1 tbsp. grated grapefruit zest
1/2 cup fresh grapefruit juice
1 tsp. lime juice
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 to 1 tsp. togarashi (Japanese hot pepper mixture) or red pepper flakes
1 tsp. grated fresh ginger
1/4 cup olive oil
3 green onions, trimmed and finely chopped, both green and white parts
1/4 cup minced red bell pepper
3/4 cup mango in 1/2-inch dice
1/3 cup lightly packed chopped fresh basil

TIDBITS

I have been enjoying some memorable meals at Pipo’s Cafe, a casual Cuban restaurant just up the street from our campground in St. Petersburg/Madeira Beach. The unpretentious restaurant serves homestyle Cuban dishes. All of the day’s offering are displayed in steam and trays behind a counter at the front of the restaurant. You look them over and order, and a waitress delivers them to your table.

There’s always a criollo mojo-marinated hind quarter of a hog so tender it spills from the skin in juicy shreds. Another staple is mojo-roasted chicken quarters. Two or three more entrees are added daily, along with black beans, white and yellow rice, incredible ham-flavored green beans, fried plantains and empanadas. Sandwiches (the Cuban has won awards) are made to order.

I don’t know how I’ll be able to leave this restaurant when Tony and I have to return to Ohio. Yeah, I’ll miss the sunshine and the palm trees and the beach. But mostly I’ll miss Pipo’s. The website is http://www.pipos.com.

THE MAILBAG

From Robin, Creston:
When you featured an omelet restaurant some time back in your newsletter for the Post House Restaurant near Doylestown, I immediately put this restaurant on my restaurant bucket list. I had passed this restaurant many, many times, but when you said it was good, it went on the list. I did make it there and enjoyed it…but I’m embarrassed to say not until right after an article appeared in the Wooster Daily Record announcing this vintage landmark will be closing at the end of February. I enjoyed an omelet along with their home fries and hot cakes. They did not disappoint for great diner food!

I hope to make a return trip for a milk shake and a burger. I hope you and Tony make it back to Northeast Ohio before the end of February.

Dear Robin: I’m glad you got to the Post House before it closes. Last fall the owner told me they don’t want to, but the updates demanded by building inspectors are too expensive for their modest budget. Tony and I will be back in time for one last omelet.

January 19, 2017

Dear friends,

I’m in a summer state of mind. Don’t hate me, but I can’t get excited about stews and roasts with the temperature hovering in the low 80s here in Florida.

I’ve been eating Honeybell tangerines, ripe tomatoes, fresh shrimp and just-picked strawberries. I’m living the dream.

Our piece of paradise is a small camper on a patch of grass and sand in St. Petersburg, Fla. The beach is a mile away. A salty inlet is steps from our door, as is a bike path and swimming pool. We have been here for two weeks and will remain for another two weeks before facing the tail-end of Ohio’s winter.

Tony, who honed his people skills beind the sushi bar, is absolutely delighted with campground life. On our first day here he returned from a walk with an invitation for cocktails and the first names of everyone from Ohio. He wants to have a sign made with our names and city and a catch phrase like “On the road again.” No. Just no.

I awoke from a nap that first day and stepped outside to an array of our possessions scattered around the camp site. Tarps were on the ground, tools were here and there, our kayak was off the truck and over by the fire ring, fishing poles leaned against the bumper, and a collapsible red wagon, our bicycles and a 6-foot ladder littered the path between the camper and the road.

“We look like hillbillies,” I said. “We have to clean this up.” I figured he had been digging around for something and had just flung junk willy-nilly. I realized I was wrong when I asked why the ladder was out.

”For display,” he said.

The man was showing off our posessions like the proprietor of a flea market. Oh, my lord.

Anyway, I’m not doing a lot of cooking on my midget 3-burner stove. I have an oven, but it doesn’t get as much use as the microwave. Yesterday Tony cooked steaks outdoors over a wood fire and for lunch I warmed up a couple of store-bought arepas.

Breakfast was sliced strawberries over creamy ricotta cheese.

I have good intentions, though. I located a good seafood store, and I plan to steam spiny lobsters in a Thai coconut-lime broth. Maybe I’ll even bake a shortcake to showcase those ripe Florida srawberries.

Although you probably can’t lay your hands on spiny lobster, you can enjoy a tropical strawberry shortcake. Here’s a recipe for a strawberry-coconut shortcake I created a few years ago to feed my ongoing passion for all things coconut. The shortcake dough contains both coconut extract and shredded coconut, and toasted coconut is sprinkled over the finished dessert.

Tony suggests you display the tropical strawberry shortcakes on a sideboard to admire while you have dinner. And if you have a nice ladder, you could set that up, too.

STRAWBERRY-COCONUT SHORTCAKE

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1 pint strawberries
3 tbsp. sugar, or to taste
For the shortcakes:
2 cups self-rising flour
2 tbsp. sugar
3/4 cup sweetened coconut
8 tbsp. cold butter
2 tsp. coconut extract
1/2 to 2/3 cup milk
1 cup toasted coconut

Wash berries, remove hulls and cut in half or slice. Toss in a bowl with sugar to taste. The amount will vary depending on the sweetness of the berries.

In a food processor, combine flour, sugar and coconut. Cut butter into small pieces and add one at a time through the feed tube while the motor is running. Scrape mixture into a bowl. Toss with a fork while sprinkling with extract and enough milk to form a soft dough.

Gather dough into a ball. Scoop up one-third cup of the dough and gently shape into a disk about 1 inch thick and 3 inches across. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Continue with remaining dough.

Bake at 425 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until edges just begin to turn golden. Serve warm or at room temperature. To serve, split biscuits in half horizontally and fill and top with strawberries.

Sprinkle with toasted coconut. Makes 7 shortcakes.

Note: To toast coconut, spread on a baking sheet and bake at 425 degrees for 3 to 5 minutes or until light brown, stirring once.
TIDBITS
Tony and I stumbled on yet another version of hot chicken on our way to Florida. During our trip to Nashville last year we became hot chicken fans, so we practically shrieked when we spotted a “hot chicken” sign while filling the tank in Crescent Springs, Ky.

But Kentucky hot chicken is not Tennessee hot chicken, we learned. It is a totally different, weird and wonderful dish of its own. In fact, it does not exist beyoned Crescent Springs, a waitress at Joella’s Hot Chicken told us. Just the original Joella’s and one nearby restaurant serve it.

The chicken appears to be pressed, with a killer crunchy breading that is beyond crispy. It is topped with a complex, oil-based hot sauce and served on a paper plate with a pickle chip skewered to the chicken’s surface with a toothpick.

The dark-brown sauce comes in six levels of hotlness. I had a mid-hot Ella’s Fav, which was sweetened with too much honey but addictive nonetlheless. Tony had the Hot, and said he can’t imagine anyone ordering the Fire in the Hole, the ultimate flavor. Tony has a tolerance for spicy food (at home he uses Tabasco like ketchup), but had trouble finishing his chicken. He did anyway, of course.

Tony had his chicken over waffles. I had mine with slaw and green beans. I plan to stop again on my way back to Akron and maybe try the hot chicken sandwich with pimiento cheese. Fellow wanderers can find Joella’s at 2440 High St. in Crescent Springs.
The website is http://www.hotchickencom.
THE MAILBAG
Was it something I said? No one has sent me an email since the beginning of January. Please write to me with your questions and ruminations, as well as notes about restaurants and food stores you’ve visited and new dishes you’ve tried. Thanks.

 

January 4, 2017

Dear friends,

Maybe Tony was homesick. Maybe he was thinking of his mom, who died in August at age 86. Whatever the reason, he decided to create a traditional Japanese New Year’s Eve meal.

New Year’s is the biggest holiday in Japan. Tony’s family always celebrated with an all-night gathering of the aunts and uncles who prepared and feasted on a buffet of special dishes while watching “Red and White,” a nationwide annual New Year’s singing contest, on TV.

The elders are in their 80s now and don’t stay up all night. In fact, when we called shortly after midnight Tokyo time, even Tony’s brother was already in bed. We thought of them and my dear mother-in-law Fumi when we celebrated that evening (there’s a 12- to 13-hour time difference, depending on the season).

From memory, Tony made a red bean and mochi (elastic-texured pounded rice) stew (oshiruko) and a soup with rice cake (ozoni) that is traditionally eaten New Year’s morning. I’m not crazy about mochi but I loved his third dish, a vinegary salad of shredded daikon radish, carrot and black beans. The soft, meaty beans were a counterpoint to the crisp carrot and radish, both in texture and flavor. Black soybeans are used in Japan, Tony says, but he substituted regular black beans with a delicious result.

I didn’t go hungry while Tony loaded up on mochi and stew and soup. I had made a back-up selection, split pea soup, earlier that day because with Japanese food, you never know. These are the people who invented squid-flavored popcorn.

We would have fit right in with Tony’s family’s celebration this year. I went to bed at 11 p.m. and Tony fell asleep in the living room before the ball dropped. No matter. The New Year arrived just the same.

I think you will like Tony’s refreshing black bean sunomono (salad).

KURO MAME SUNOMONO

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(Black bean salad)

2 cups julienned daikon radish
1/2 cup julienned carrot
3/4 cup cooked black beans
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup rice vinegar
3 tsp. sugar
Salt to taste

Combine radish, carrots and beans in a serving bowl. In a smaller bowl or large measuring cup, stir together water, vinegar and sugar until sugar dissolves. Pour over vegetables and mix well. Season lightly with salt. Cover and refrigerate for several hours before serving. Makes 4 to 5 servings.

TIDBITS

I haven’t had much luck finding decent ramen in northeast Ohio until last week when I found not one but two restaurants to satisfy my craving. The first was close to home (and heart) at Sushi Katsu in Akron’s Merriman Valley. The second was at Flying Cranes, a darling half-Japanese half-American cafe in Cleveland on the edge of Shaker Heights.

Chefs Tin and Jason at Sushi Katsu, my husband’s former restaurant, serve a bowlful of comfort made from scratch with pork bones. The broth is lighter than ones I’ve had in Japan, but delicious and authentic-tasting. The broth is loaded with succulent slices of pork, pickled and poached eggs, kombu seaweed and bits of burdock. The noodles are crinkly and al dente. Bravo. A big bowl is $9. The restaurant’s website is http://www.sushikatwsu.com.

Flying Cranes Cafe has the standard ramen as well as the champon variety Tony had. The milky seafood broth was stocked with vegeables and ramen noodles. Tony said it was an authentic representation of the Southern Japanese specialty. Japanese comfort foods such as donburi bowls and Japanese curry also are on the menu, as well as soups, sandwiches, quiche and other non-Asian fare. The menu reflects the tastes of the owners, British-born Bill Frye and his wife and the chef, Kayoko, who is from Japan.

The website is http://www.flyingcranes cafe.com.

THE MAILBAG

From Pennie:
A Norwegian cookie I want to make calls for almond extract which tastes bad to me. Too artificial. I’ve seen suggestions to substitute vanilla extract so I could do that but not sure the flavor would taste right. Subbing brandy extract, another suggestion, sounds odd to me. What about using Torani syrup or almond butter? The ingredients are simple ones.

Dear Pennie: Brandy extract sounds a lot more fake-tasting than almond extract. Your grandmother’s recipe has almost no liquid other than an egg and a teaspoon of extract, so I would not sub more than 2 teaspoons. I don’t think Torani syrup would do it in that small a quantity. Same goes for almond liqueur (amaretto).

I think your choices are either putting up with the taste of almond extract (which I love) or subbing vanilla for an entirely different taste. I’m craving some of those cookies!

December 28, 2016

Dear friends,

Like many of you, I cooked for a crowd at Christmas. Probably unlike many of you, I planned on a crowd of just two. My family met after Christmas this year at my niece’s in Columbus, so Tony and I spent the actual holiday with a ham, a full fridge and a crackling Yule log on Netflix.

I was delighted. “We won’t have to cook for a week,” I told Tony on Christmas Eve as I wedged a pumpkin pie into the refrigerator between a platter of antipasto and bowl of potato salad. There’s Champagne! Green bean salad! Blue cheese-stuffed olives! Cool Whip!

We are still wallowing in the bounty. For breakfast this morning (Tuesday) I had a slice of pie, two pieces of green-onion tamago (Japanese cold omelet) and a couple of bites of shaved ham. I won’t quit until we’re gnawing on the bone.

One item that is disappearing rapidly is the green bean salad. I’m alarmed. It is everything a green bean salad should be: A symphony of textures and flavors, mostly savory with a touch of acid and a hint of sweet.

The recipe is new to me, although I found it on Bon Appetit’s web site so some of you may be familiar with it. Of course, I tinkered a bit. Basically, fresh, al dente green beans are tossed with fried garlic chips and onions, toasted slivered almonds, and dried cranberries in a slightly sweet apple cider vinaigrette.

The original recipe calls for cooking the green beans in boiling water for just one to two minutes, until “bright green but still very firm.” Oh, no you don’t. Green beans should be cooked until the starches at least begin to turn to sugar, and chewing them is not a major investment of time. Back in the early 1980s the new al dente-vegetables trend was a backlash against the mushy, overcooked veggies that until then had dominated restaurant (and home) cooking. “Al dente” was never intended to mean “almost raw.”

Take your time when you fry the onion and thin garlic chips. The garlic must turn golden brown and become crisp, which requires pllenty of oil and fairly low heat.

If you’re stocking your fridge for New Year’s, you might want to make a double batch of this salad.

CRANBERRY-TOASTED ALMOND GREEN BEAN SALAD

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1 1/4 lbs. green beans
1/4 cup olive oil
2 fat garlic cloves
1/3 cup thinly slioed onion
1/2 cup (about 2 oz.) slivered blanched almonds (matchstick shape)
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 tsps. honey
Sea salt

Trim beans and cook in plenty of boiling water until tender but not mushy, about 5 minutes. Drain and refresh under very cold water to set the color and stop the cooking. Drain well.

Heat olive oil over medium-low heat in a medium skillet. Peel and thinly slice garlic cloves vertically. Slowly brown garlic, onion and almonds in the oil. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Add cranberries, vinegar and honey to oil in skillet and simmer 2 to 3 minutes, until cranberries are juicy. Toss with green beans and the garlic mixture in a bowl. Season with salt, toss again and taste. Serve chilled or at room temperature. Makes 6 servings.

TIDBITS

Okay, I’m humiliated. My Christmas shout-out last week was not written as a plea for attention. I was not trying to guilt-trip you into praise. At 67, I have honestly wondered lately whether I’m too old to be relevant and I certainly have no desire to mellow into a nice, sweet old food blogger.

Please. I’m anything but nice.

Still, I must have sounded needy because I got a lot of emails along the lines of “Don’t worry, we love you and sleep with your cookbook under our pillows,” so OK. I’ll keep writing if you keep messaging me occasionally with questions, restaurant recommendations, recipes to try and snarky comments. Agreed?

And happy New Year, you bums.

THE MAILBAG

From Judy S., Scottsdale, Ariz.:
Merry Christmas! My gift to you is this recipe that is guaranteed to warm you up during any winter cold spell. The recipe comes from Jan D. Atri at http://www.jandatri.com, who has articles in the Arizona Republic and has had several restaurants over the years.

I hope you enjoy the soup as much as we do. Depending on my mood, I sometimes add smoked paprika after tasting.

CHARRED RED PEPPER SOUP

6 red bell peppers
2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 large leek, cleaned well and chopped
2 medium red or white potatoes, diced
1 medium carrot, diced
1 large onion, chopped
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups heavy cream
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. white pepper

Wash and pat dry peppers Place on a baking sheet and broil at 400 degrees until charred and blistered, turning every few minutes. Remove from oven, place peppers in a paper or plastic bag and close tightly.

Let stand for 20 minutes. Remove from bag and discard skin and seeds.

Melt butter and olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat Add leek, potatoes, carrot, onion and peppers. Saute until tender, about 10 minutes. Add chicken broth and cream. Simmer for 25 minutes.

Place mixture in a blender, in batches if necessary, and puree. Caution: Start blender on low and place a towel over lid to avoid hot liquid from spilling out. Strain through a sieve and return to saucepan.

Simmer for 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve. Makes about 8 servings.

Dear Judy: The soup sounds wonderful and I’ll definitely try it. Thank you so much.

December 21, 2016

Dear friends,

My Christmas breakfast sandwich is as far from an Egg McMuffin as you can get — not that I don’t crave an Egg McMuffin on occasion, but that occassion is not Christmas. Christmas is for fancier fare.

I found a breakfast sandwich that is both fancy and fast. Store-bought raisin bread is spread with a creamy mixture of goat cheese, honey and grated lemon rind. The filling is slathered with orange marmalade before topping with a second slice of buttered raisin bread. The sandwich is griddled in a skillet until warm and melty.

You can make a bunch of these a couple at a time in a big skillet or more on a griddle, and keep them warm in the oven while finishing enough for your tribe. If you make the goat cheese filling on Christmas Eve, you can turn these out faster than flapjacks.

The original recipe is from “Cooking Light The Complete Quick Cook” by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough. I swapped orange marmalade for their fig jam and omitted their addition of basil leaves. Either version would be delicious. And quick.
GRILLED GOAT CHEESE SANDWICHES WITH MARMALADE AND HONEY
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2 tsp. honey
1/4 tsp. grated lemon rind
4 oz. goat cheese (chevre)
8 slices cinnamon-raisin bread
2 tbsp. orange marmalade
Softened butter
Powdered sugar

Blend together honey, lemon rind and goat cheese. Spread the mixture evenly on four slices of the bread. Top with the marmalade. Top with remaining bread slices. Spread a scant amount of butter on the outside of the bread. Grill in a hot, dry skillet or griddle until lightly toasted on both sides. Cut each sandwich in half diagonally and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Makes 4 servings.

TIDBIT

Just when I start wondering whether I’m losing my relevance and if anyone is reading this newsletter anymore, I get a cllutch of lovely thank-you emails totally out of the blue.

Can you folks read my mind??

If you can, you know how much I treasure your loyalty, your friendship (and you do feel like friends) and your feedback. I still enjoy writing this newsletter, which I’ve been doing for almost 10 years for See Jane Cook and another 10 or so for its precurser, Second Helpings.

Our interaction is what keeps me writing, so drop me a line now and then. And from Tony and me to you and yours, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Jolly Festivus.

THE MAILBAG

From Jonathan:
Could you help me with a menu and recipe for a dinner featuring beef tenderloin?

Dear Jonathan: Tenderloin is an easy but elegant entree. I like the flavor a grill imparts but I don’t like standing outside over a grill while the party swirls inside without me. So I developed this two-step cooking method: Smoke the whole tenderloin briefly on the grill and refrigerate. A half hour before serving, finish cooking it in the oven.

Sliced tenderloin with horseradish sauce deserves a festive, totally yummy side dish. I suggest serving it over my winter vegetable hash, which is a bit of work but worth it.

SMOKED BEEF TENDERLOIN WITH HORSERADISH CREAM SAUCE

1 whole beef tenderloin, about 1 1/2 lbs.
Vegetable oil
Salt, pepper
3/4 cup sour cream or creme fraiche
1 1/2 tbsp. (or to taste) prepared horseradish
Milk

Up to a day in advance: Trim and discard most of the visible fat from the meat, and remove any silverskin (the thin, filmy layer of connective tissue). Rub meat all over with oil. Season liberally with salt and pepper.

Scatter a handful of wood chips over a hot charcoal fire. Place meat on grill positioned directly over the coals. Close lid and cook for 5 minutes, turning after 2 1/2 minutes. Remove from grill and, if prepping in advance, cool, wrap and refrigerate.

To make the sauce, beat together the sour cream or creme fraiche with the horseradish and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in enough milk to thin sauce to a thick pouring consistency. Cover and refrigerate.

About 45 minutes before serving, heat oven to 400 degrees. Remove meat from refrigerator and place in an oiled cast-iron skillet or shallow baking pan. Rub with more oil. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes for medium-rare meat, 150 degrees on a meat thermometer. Let stand for 10 minutes, then slice into 1/4-inch-thick rounds.

Mound winter vegetable hash (recipe follows) in the center of 4 to 6 dinner plates. Fan tenderloin slices over the hash and drizzle with horseradish sauce. Serves 4 to 6.

WINTER VEGETABLE HASH

1 small celery root, 3/4 lbs. (2 3/4 cups diced)
1 large turnip, 1/2 lb. (1 3/4 cups diced
1 lb. parsnips (3 1/2 cups diced)
2 medium carrots (1 1/4 cups diced)
1 medium potato (1 cup diced)
2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 cup chopped onion
3 tbsp. olive oil
Sea salt
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 cup white wine vinegar

With a good-quality vegetable peeler, peel vegetables. Cut into 1/4- to 1/2-inch cubes. Combine in a large bowl with garlic and onion and mix well.

Heat olive oil in a large, deep frying pan over medium-high heat. Add diced vegetables and saute for 15 minutes, turning occasionally with a spatula.

Stir in salt, thyme and rosemary. Add vinegar and toss with the vegetables, turning rapidly with a spatula until vinegar has evaporated.

Place pan of vegetables into an oven preheated to 350 degrees. Roast for 45 minutes, or until vegetables are soft and top begins to brown. Serves 6 to 8.

Dear friends,

I just finished lunch of canned tomato soup poured steaming over little chunks of cheese that I dredged up, all melty, with a spoon. Mmmm. It’s the meal my mother made for me when I had a cold, as I do now. Even in my adulthood, if the cold was bad, Mom would drive up from East Liverpool to heat up a can of soup with a side of TLC.

Almost everyone has a get-better food of questionable pedigree that goes down like a hug. I also have a Christmas cookie along those lines. It’s so humble it barely earns its place on the cookie plate. I’m almost embarrassed to share the recipe with you, but this cold has gotten me down and I’m not up to much more work this week.

I made a batch of Mom’s Cookie Candy because I ate too many of those fancy lemon knot cookies I wrote about two weeks ago, and didn’t have enough for my doctor AND my mail carrier AND the neighbor who did me a favor last summer.

My emergency gift cookie goes by many different names. My family calls it Cookie Candy because it’s basically fudge with oats stirred in. I clearly recall my first taste of this chocolatle-peanut butter wonder. I was in the fifth grade, and for weeks after, my friends and I were obsessed with getting our hands on more of them.

The cookies remain one of my favorites, edged out only by nut-filled kifli. Making them takes me back to Mom’s kitchen and her big plastic Tupperware drum of Christmas cookies that was refilled as needed with reinforcements from the basement freezer.

I don’t care if they are stupid-easy to make and look like — well, never mind; I still love these cookies.

COOKIE CANDY

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2 cups sugar
3 tbsp. cocoa
1/2 cup milk
1/4 lb. butter or margarine
1/2 cup peanut butter
3 cups uncooked oats

In a saucepan combine sugar, cocoa and milk. Add butter and chunk it up with a spoon. Stir over medium heat until mixture comes to a steady boil. Boil steadily but gently for 2 to 2 1/2 minutes, until a small amount dropped in cold water can be formed into a soft ball.

Remove from heat and quickly stir in peanut butter until smooth, then stir in oats. Immediately drop by tablespoons onto foil. Cool complettely before storing in a lidded container. Makes about 2 1/2 dozen.
THE MAILBAG

From Pennie:
I’d like to buy nice imported cold cuts and cheeses for the holidays — the sort of things I used to get at West Point Market. Where is a good place to find them now that West Point no longer has refrigerated items? I’m a huge fan of the sort of cold cuts served for breakfast in Belgium on hard rectangular rolls.

Dear Pennie: I have been wondering the same thing about a lot of items I used to buy at West Point. I know you can get European cheeses at Earth Fare and Mustard Seed Market. Some luxury cold cuts are available at Leach’s Meats and Sweets in Barberton, DeVitis in Akron and Kirbie Meats in Stow, but I haven’t seen a selection that rivals West Point’s. Anyone want to jump in here?

From L.W.:
Congratulations on your recent conversion to fruitcake tolerance from aversion. If I had a circle of nearby friends and family who would share it, I might have given your recipe a go. But you had a tease about a single-serve microwave version, then left us hanging — no recipe, no link, just that Jane Snow endorsement to start us drooling. Please share with us…my bottle of Bourbon is at the ready.

Dear L.W.: Sorry for the tease. I ran that recipe last year, but should have realized not everyone saw it.

PERSONAL FRUIT CAKE
1/2 tbsp. butter
8 pecan halves, cut crosswise in halves
2 tbsp. mixed candied fruit
1 tbsp. dried apricots in 1/4-inch dice
1 tbsp. raisins
1 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. sugar
1/8 tsp. powdered ginger
Pinch of ground cloves
Pinch of ground cinnamon
1 egg yolk
1 tsp. Bourbon or water
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

Melt butter in a 12-ounce microwave-safe mug. Stir in nuts and fruit. Sprinkle in flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and spices and mix well with a fork, turning over fruit and nuts several times. Add egg yolk, Bourbon or water and vanilla and stir until thoroughly mixed. Microwave at 50 percent power for:

1 minute 45 seconds for 1000-watt microwave ovens or 1 minute 15 seconds for 1100- and 1200-watt ovens, adjusting the time up or down for lower or higher wattage ovens.

The cake is done when the top is dry and the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the mug. Let rest one minute, then run a knife around edge of cake and invert onto a plate. Eat warm or at room temperature.