May 5, 2016

Dear friends,

I could say the universe conspired against my pork-belly cookout Monday, but I don’t think the universe gives a damn what I do with pork belly. I am so weary of people blaming everything on the universe or, worse yet, fate (“everything happens for a reason”). Take a humble pill, people! Take some responsibility!

Ok, that’s out of my system. Anyway, I had planned to grill-smoke the handsome hunk of pork belly I got at Sherman Provision in Norton but we had no charcoal lighter fluid and the fire-starting wand was nowhere to be found because Tony had put it somewhere and he is still in Japan and the day was overcast and I miss him terribly and oh, to heck with it. I came inside and tossed the meat in the oven.

I say “meat” loosely because pork belly is mostly fat. It is bacon before it’s cured and sliced. It is seriously delicious, and just what I needed on a dreary day.

The pork belly trend is still roaring in upscale restaurants, where it graces salads, grits, sandwiches, tacos and more. The texture can be crisp or soft and pillow-y depending on how it is prepared. Most chefs begin by brining the pork belly so I did, too. I sliced off the rind (which toughens during cooking) and rubbed both fatty and meat sides with salt and sugar, and marinated it overnight in a plastic zip-lock bag with equal parts bourbon and water.

After giving up on the grill, I looked to chef David Chang for advice on roasting. I used his technique from “The Momofuku Cookbook” of roasting in a pan just large enough to snugly hold it. My 2-pound hunk of pork belly fit in a large loaf pan with no room to spare. After an hour at high temperature and an hour at low temperature, it was done. Chang wraps and chills the cooked pork belly to ensure neat slices, but I had no problem slicing the warm meat with a serrated knife.

I had planned to dice the pork, crisp it in a skillet and nestle it in tacos with cilantro and a squeeze of lime, but I didn’t. It had started to rain and I didn’t feel festive. I photographed the pork and ate a couple of slices standing at the counter. The rest is in the freezer waiting for Tony’s return. Pork belly is an indulgent meal to share.

PORK BELLY WITH BOURBON AND BROWN SUGAR

pork.jpg

  • 1 piece (about 2 lbs.) pork belly
  • 2 tbsp. salt
  • 2 tbsp. packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup bourbon
  • 1 cup water

Use your sharpest knife to slice the rind from the pork belly, leaving as much fat as possible on the meat. . This can be achieved by angling the edge of the blade toward the rind while slicing. Discard rind or save for pork cracklings.

Rub the salt and sugar over both sides of the pork belly. Place in a gallon plastic zip-lock bag with the bourbon and water and seal. Refrigerate overnight.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Remove meat from bag and discard brine. Place pork belly fat side up in a pan just large enough to hold it snugly (a large loaf pan works well). Roast uncovered at 450 degrees for 1 hour or until fat has browned, basting after 30 minutes.

Reduce temperature to 250 degrees and roast 1 to 1 1/4 hours longer. The pork should be tender but not falling apart. Cool for 30 minutes before cutting into 1/2-inch-thick slices with a serrated knife. Serve at room temperature, or gently warmed in a skillet, or crisped in some of the rendered pork drippings.

Some serving suggestions:

• Scatter a few slices over a salad as an appetizer.

• Tuck several pieces in a bun and top with a vinegar-based coleslaw.

• Serve over cheesy polenta or grits.

• Cube and fry with potatoes for an upscale hash.

• Swap it for bacon in a BLT.

HELP U COOK

The next time you grill steaks, season them with a ridiculous amount of salt and pepper and remove them from the grill way too soon. These two tricks should give you the best steaks you’ve ever cooked.
Most of us under-season meat before cooking. We sprinkle on some salt and pepper, as we would season food at the table. But to really bring out the flavor of meat, you should rub almost a teaspoon of coarse salt into each side of a steak, and follow that up with lots of pepper. Then grill. It won’t taste too salty.

Also, plan ahead to allow your steaks to rest about 10 minutes before serving. Not only will they be juicier, as the moisture is evenly dispersed through the meat, but they will finish cooking off the fire. Yes, the meat will continue to turn from bloody to pink or from pink to medium-well while resting off the heat. So if you like medium-rare, remove the steaks from the heat when they’re still fairly rare.

TIDBIT

While shopping at a Nepali market in the North Hill area of Akron, I saw a flyer for the 2-month-old Everest restaurant, located where Raj Mahal used to be on State Road in Cuyahoga Falls. Then I saw a mention by Katie Byard in last week’s Beacon Journal. I had to go.

The restaurant has Nepalese and Indian food, and both are represented on the daily buffets. I stopped by last Sunday and loved the bone-in curried chicken, butter chicken, pakora (turmeric batter-fried vegetables) and the thick, soft flatbread.

The restaurant is at 2033 State Road, phone 234-706-6630. It is open for lunch and dinner daily except Tuesdays. The Sunday buffet is $9. I was told I could see the daily menu on the restaurant’s website, but it hasn’t been posted yet. The website is https://everestrestaurant.net.

THE MAILBAG

From Jim S.:
My grandmother and mother each made the hot bacon dressing the same way you wrote it up.  We kids always called it dandelion dressing, but out of dandelion season we ate it on spinach too. It’s also great on wilted lettuce–pour over torn iceberg lettuce and sweet onions.  (I write this and I’m back on my Aunt Ferne’s porch for summer Sunday family dinner.)  As your mother said, “Yum!
 
Dear Jim: I hope these old recipes don’t die out. They invoke a lot of family history. My grandmother poured the hot dressing over curly endive in the winter.

From Kathy C.:
I was just reading this week’s newsletter and had to smile at the dandelion discussion. When I was a kid, my Sicilian grandmother would stop the car (or have my father stop if we were all together going somewhere) if we were driving by a big open field so she could pick the greens.  She loved them.  I didn’t learn to appreciate them until much, much later.

Dear Kathy: What a great memory. My family didn’t forage for anything except blackberries, which may be why I’m so crazy about foraging now. In the 1980s and 1990s I used to see elderly women picking wild grape leaves along Riverview Road in Akron in the fall, and I’d long to be invited into their kitchens to watch them cook.

April 20, 2016

Dear friends,

Because of a mythical May yard sale I may or may not have, I made Uzbekistan flat bread last weekend. In culling my cookbook collection for the sale, I keep finding recipes I ABSOLUTELY must try in books I’ve never cooked from until now. The result is just two dozen books so far in the sale pile and flat bread out the kazoo.

Thank god I froze half the dough because the half I used yielded six 8-inch loaves. My husband is in Japan tending to his ailing parents, leaving the dog and me to deal with any culinary excess. The dog was game, but sanity prevailed. We split one loaf, I burned one and I gave the remaining four to friends down the street.

The flat bread sounds exotic but actually is homespun comfort food. The thin, golden-brown loaves have puffy, soft rims and are about 8 inches in diameter – just enough for one or two people. In their cookbook, “Home Baking,” Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid call it “Silk Road Non.” Non, they explain, is the word for bread in much of central Asia. In India it’s spelled “naan” or “nan” and, as in India, the Uzbek version is baked in a tandoor oven. You won’t confuse this chewy, yeasty non with thin Indian naan, however.

I like this flat bread recipe because the dough can be made one day and baked the next, and the loaves cook in just 5 to 8 minutes. On the down side, unless you have an oven shelf lined with unglazed quarry tiles, you can bake just one loaf at a time on a pizza stone or two on a baking sheet. I used a pizza stone.

The Uzbeks add rendered lamb fat (!) to the dough, but melted butter may be substituted.

The recipe calls for mixing and kneading the dough by hand, which was a minor pain. After making it once, I feel sure it can be mixed and kneaded with a KitchenAid.

The dough disks are sprinkled with salt and, if desired, chopped chives before baking. I used coarse sea salt but will skip the chives the next time because they tend to burn.

If you make the bread, you could top it with cheese and other pizza goodies. But at least once you should try the simple salted version. It’s cool to know you’re enjoying the same bread that’s eaten in Tashkent and Samarkand.

SILK ROAD NON

67f5cce202b04a03a6b7ee30dfe1c545.jpg

  • 2 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 3 cups warm water
  • 7 to 9 cups all-purpose flour or 2 cups whole wheat flour and 4 to 6 cups all-purpose
  • 1 tbsp. salt plus extra for sprinkling (I used coarse sea salt for sprinkling)
  • 4 tbsp. rendered lamb fat or melted butter

Dissolve the yeast in the water in a large bowl. Add 3 cups of the flour (if using whole wheat flour, add it and 1 cup all-purpose), one cup at a time, stirring well until a smooth batter forms. Stir one minute longer, always stirring in the same direction. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for up to 3 hours.

Stir in 1 tablespoon salt. Add 3 tablespoons of the fat and fold in. Continue to add flour, a cup at a time, stirring and folding until the dough becomes too stiff to stir. Turn onto a well-floured board and knead until smooth and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes.

(Note: Jane suggests mixing and kneading the dough with a heavy-duty mixer.)

Place dough in a clean, oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 2 hours. Or refrigerate overnight. Place a rack in the upper third of the oven and place a large baking stone or unglazed quarry tiles on the rack, if you have them. A baking sheet may be substituted. Preheat to 500 degrees.

Turn the dough onto a floured board and cut in half (you may freeze one half for use later). Cut each portion of the dough into six equal pieces. Two at a time, flatten the pieces and roll to 8-inch circles. Alternate rolling to give each piece time to relax. Place on a floured surface and cover with plastic wrap and a towel. Keep the unused dough covered as you work. Continue until all of the dough has been rolled.

One or two at a time (or as many as will fit in your oven), prick the dough rounds all over with a fork to within 1 inch of the edges. Brush the tops with some of the remaining butter. Sprinkle with salt. Slip a floured peel under each dough round and transfer to the oven, opening and closing the oven door as quickly as possible. Bake 5 to 7 minutes or until flecked with gold. Use a long-handled spatula to lift the bread from the oven. Cool on a rack for 5 minutes or so, then wrap in a cloth to keep warm. Continue with remaining breads. Makes 12 rounds.

From “Home Baking” by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid.

HELP U COOK

Chocolate-dipped strawberries are a luxurious treat that are easy to make at home if you add a bit of oil to the melted chocolate. You could use coating chocolate, but chocolate without the additives tastes better, I think. The only problem is it tends to thicken up in the pan quickly, making for frustrating dipping.

Here’s the fix: Add 1 1/2 teaspoons neutral-flavored oil (such as canola) to the chocolate before melting on the stove or in a microwave. Skewer each berry near the blossom end with two toothpicks at right angles to each other. After dipping, the toothpicks help the berries stand upright (like a miniature Christmas tree stand) while the chocolate sets up.

From Annie:
We are adding an addition this year for my in-laws and doing some remodeling. The kitchen will probably be outside for most of the summer so any grilling hints or recipes would be appreciated. I still rely on Roger’s Smashed Potatoes for grilled carbs every summer. I change up some of the spices to vary the taste.  But maybe with all the grilling, we can skip some carbs so I can also slim down and keep up with my husband.

Dear Annie: Sounds like a good time for you to cook once to eat twice. Think big – two whole chickens, pork roasts, butterflied leg of lamb, a dozen hamburgers you can chunk up and warm later in the microwave with seasonings for a taco bar.

The leftover chicken can be shredded and used in lots of cold entrees including my favorite chicken papaya salad (remember that recipe?). And don’t forget to haul out last summer’s recipe for grilled pizza, which cooks in about 30 seconds.

You can sauté on the grill, too. Use a cast-iron or another heavy-duty pan to make cheesesteaks, for example: Quickly sauté thin-sliced beef, tuck into hoagie buns with slices of American cheese, and clap a lid on the pan until the cheese melts.

I envy your vegetable sides this summer. If I were relying on a grill, I would keep a bowl in the fridge of a rotating variety of grilled summer vegetables dressed with olive oil and minced garlic.

You could even add them to your tacos. Come to think of it, even though I’ll have a stove, summer-long grilled vegetables sounds like a good idea.

Some other ideas: Grilled ratatouille, couscous salads (the couscous fluffs in five minutes in boiled water from the microwave), and big-bowl salads made with greens and grilled meat. I’m sharing a repeat of an Asian steak salad I made once with fresh greens and herbs from the garden and a Vietnamese dressing I make in big batches and keep in the refrigerator all the time.

When I created the recipe I wrote, “I cooked the asparagus and snow peas very briefly in the microwave, not even bothering to put them in a bowl. I made my favorite Vietnamese dressing and tossed it with the thin-sliced beef, chopped vegetables and minced herbs. I mounded the fragrant salad over arugula and garnished each plate with a few cubes of papaya. It was the bomb.”

ASIAN STEAK SALAD WITH CILANTRO AND MINT

8 oz. cold grilled steak
1/2 cup Vietnamese Lime and Chili Sauce (recipe follows)
1/2 of a medium-sized cucumber, peeled and diced (1 cup)
2 green onions, sliced
1/2 cup asparagus spears in 1-inch lengths
1 small handful (about 15) snow peas
2 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
1 1/2 tbsp. chopped fresh mint
2 cups torn salad greens
1 cup cubed tropical fruit (1-inch chunks) such as papaya or pineapple (optional)
Coarse sea salt

Slice meat very thin across the grain. If strips of meat are longer than 3 inches, cut to size. Place in a bowl and toss with the sauce. Add cucumber and green onions. Scatter asparagus directly on the glass carousel of a microwave oven and microwave on high power for 30 seconds. Refresh under cold running water; drain and add to salad bowl. Repeat microwaving process with snow peas. Refresh, then add to bowl. Add cilantro and mint and toss well.

Place salad greens in the center of two salad plates. Arrange fruit chunks along one side. Toss beef salad again and mound on greens, dividing evenly between the two plates. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt. Makes two servings.

VIETNAMESE LIME AND CHILI SAUCE
(jumbo recipe; may be cut in half)

10 cloves garlic, finely minced
Grated zest of 2 1/2 limes
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. Lime juice
5 tbsp. Distilled white vinegar
3 tbsp. Plus 1 tsp. Nam pla (Vietnamese fish sauce)
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. Soy sauce
7 1/2 tbsp. Sugar
5 fresh small red chilies or 1 or 2 jalapenos (or to taste), seeded and minced, or 1 tbsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/4 cups papaya or mango nectar or unsweetened pineapple juice

Combine all ingredients in a lidded jar. Keeps for weeks in the refrigerator.

April 13, 2016

Dear friends,

What a sweetheart. Not only did Tony give me a bye on cooking his birthday dinner last week, he chose my favorite restaurant for a celebration. Although we hadn’t been to Russo’s Restaurant in Cuyahoga Falls in at least five years because of Tony’s work schedule, I didn’t need a menu. A guy at the bar was working his way through a Navajo taco when we arrived and one glance was all it took.

“I’ll have what he’s having,” I told the waitress.

The dinner plate was a riot of colors. Big, puffy rounds of fried bread peeked out here and there from their blanket of crawfish, scallops, whitefish, sautéed peppers and fresh salsa, crowned with a swirl of sour cream and showered with chopped green onions. This extravaganza tastes as good today as it did 21 years ago when chef David Russo put it on the menu of his previous restaurant, Liberty Street Brewing Co. in Akron.

If your eyes have strayed down to the recipe already, you’re probably snorting. Yes, it is long and involved. But Dave Russo’s Navaho taco is the kind of food that inspires fan followings and twitter accounts (not that the tacos are that social yet). Some people would do anything for one of ‘em – even prepare a four-part recipe.

Russo gave me the directions years ago. I have made the tacos and can report the recipe works perfectly.

If you want to wow friends or family, this recipe will do it.

I suggest you stir together the seasoning mix, chop the vegetables, toast the cornmeal and make the salsa one day, and prepare the filling and fry bread the next. Or if you live nearby and have $30 to spend, just go to Russo’s (www.russoskitchen.com).
Tony poached about half of my Navajo taco, which I grudgingly allowed. It was his birthday.

DAVE RUSSO’S NAVAJO TACOS

SALSA:

•    2 tomatoes, diced
•    1/2 cup chopped onion
•    1/2 cup chopped green pepper
•    1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
•    2 jalapenos, seeded and chopped
•    1/2 cup chopped cilantro
•    1 tbsp. white wine vinegar
•    Juice of 1/2 lemon
•    1 tbsp. brown sugar
•    1/2 tsp. salt

Combine everything in a bowl, stirring well.

SEASONING MIX
:
•    1 1/2 tsp. oregano
•    1 tsp. onion powder
•    2 tsp. salt
•    1 1/2 tsp. cumin
•    1 tsp. garlic powder
•    1/2 tsp. black pepper
•    1/2 tsp. white pepper
•    2 tsp. ground New Mexican dried chili pepper
•    2 tsp. ground guajillo chili pepper (or use all New Mexican pepper)

Combine all ingredients in a lidded jar.

FILLING:
•    1 tbsp. toasted corn meal
•    1/4 cup olive oil
•    14 oz. of your choice of chicken, steak (cut into strips about 2 inches long and 1/4-inch thick), or peeled shrimp
•    1 red bell pepper, in julienne (very thin) strips
•    1 green bell pepper, julienned
•    1 medium red onion, julienned
•    1 tsp. minced fresh garlic
•    1/2 cup peeled, seeded and chopped ripe tomatoes
•    1/2 cup chicken or beef broth

In a dry skillet over medium heat, shake corn meal until toasted medium dark. Set aside.
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon seasoning mix over chicken, steak or shrimp, coating all sides. Add the meat or seafood to the hot oil. Brown meat, stirring constantly (if using shrimp, sear on both sides and remove from the pan and set aside).
Add peppers, onions and 1 tablespoon of seasoning mix to pan. Cook, stirring, about three minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more.
Stir in toasted cornmeal, then tomatoes and broth (if using shrimp, return to pan now). Simmer 3 minutes, until sauce has reduced and thickened. Keep warm.

FRY BREAD
•    3 cups sifted flour
•    1 tbsp. baking powder
•    1/2 tsp. salt
•    1 cup warm water

Combine flour, baking powder and salt in large bowl. Slowly mix in warm water with a fork. Stir until soft but not sticky. If too sticky, add a touch more flour. Gather into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand 15 minutes.
Pull off egg size balls of dough. Pat or roll into flat disks 1/4-inch thick. Press thumb into center of dough round and pierce several times with fork.
In a large skillet, bring 3 cups of vegetable oil to 350 degrees on a deep-fry thermometer. Fry the cakes 30 seconds on each side or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.
To assemble tacos, place one fry bread on a plate, spoon on some of the filling, and place a second fry bread overlapping the first. Spoon on more filling. Top with salsa and a dollop of sour cream. Makes about 4 servings.

TIDBITS

You can’t just stop a barbecue binge cold turkey. Tony and I couldn’t, at any rate. The first week after we returned from our jaunt to Tennessee he suggested we visit Carolina BBQ in Akron “just to compare.” Twice.

Then we found Dickey’s Barbecue Pit in Medina, which is as close to Memphis-style as we’ve found around here. The restaurant has slow-smoked ribs, beef brisket, chicken and pork, along with ham, turkey and sausage. It also has chopped brisket salad and quality sides including a rich mac and cheese and green beans with bacon.

Dickey’s is at 960 N. Court St. On Sundays kids eat free and everyone gets free soft-serve ice cream.
Takes the cake
Tony’s birthday cake this year was the best yet. Usually it’s pretty sad, because he has eliminated sugar and tries to hold down the carbs for health reasons. This year I discovered Pillsbury Sugar-Free cake mixes, and the chocolate cake I made was tremendous – moist and fine-textured, with a decent chocolate flavor.

To ensure a moist cake I under-baked it slightly, until the cake started to pull away from the sides of the pan but the top was still slightly puffy and could be dented with a finger. When cool, I filled and frosted the layers with whipped strawberry cream cheese and decorated the top with sliced and whole strawberries.

To make the whipped cream cheese, allow an 8-ounce package of low-fat cream cheese to soften at room temperature or zap it for a few seconds (out of the foil liner) in the microwave. Puree a handful of strawberries in a food processer, add cream cheese and process until well combined, sprinkling in Splenda to taste for sweetness if desired.

THE MAILBAG

From Marty L.:
When I wanted to make a strawberry pie for a “taste of spring,” I had a stroke of genius for making the blind pie shell. Instead of using a weighted empty pie pan on top, I found that my silicon lid cover was absolutely perfect. I left it inside the crust until it was set and just starting to brown, then took it out for the last 5 minutes for the inside to brown.

Dear Marty: Good idea, but I still think I’ll just chill the unbaked shell for 15 minutes and do away with weighting altogether.

April 6, 2016

Dear friends,

While we assess the frost damage and wonder whether we’ll ever see another fresh-from-the-earth vegetable, we can make something different and delicious from the same old root vegetables we’ve endured all winter. I had forgotten about the roasted vegetable and bacon salad I made for Father’s Day one year when Tony’s son was still a teen-ager and my in-laws were visiting. It’s a great side for grilled steak.

Roasting is one of my favorite ways to cook dense vegetables because not only is it easy – just wash, toss with oil and bake on a cookie sheet – but it deepens and sweetens the flavors of the vegetables.

I often splash a little vinaigrette on cooked vegetables to give them flavor without adding butter with its saturated fats.

While you wait for the peas and spring lettuce to grow, you could do a lot worse than this:

ROASTED VEGETABLE SALAD WITH BACON
•    3 medium yellow-flesh potatoes (14 oz.)
•    4 medium carrots (7 oz.)
•    3 cloves garlic, sliced
•    1 cup red onion in 1-inch chunks
•    2 tbsp. olive oil
•    1 1/2 tsp. coarse sea salt
•    1 1/2 slices bacon, diced
•    1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme

Vinaigrette:

•    1 tbsp. red-wine vinegar
•    1 1/2 tsp. Dijon-style mustard
•    1 tbsp. olive oil
•    1/4 tsp. sea salt
•    Coarse-ground pepper to taste

Scrub potatoes but leave skins on. Cut into 1-inch chunks. Scrub carrots and peel if necessary; cut into 1-inch chunks. Combine on a large baking sheet with garlic and onion. Drizzle with the olive oil and mix well to coat all surfaces of vegetables. Sprinkle with salt and dot with bacon.

Bake at 400 degrees for about 45 to 50 minutes, turning once with a spatula, until edges of vegetables begin to brown. Loosen from sheet with a spatula and transfer to a medium serving bowl. Sprinkle with thyme.

Whisk vinaigrette ingredients in a small bowl and drizzle over vegetable mixture. Stir gently. Serve at room temperature. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

HELP U COOK

After years of weighting down unbaked pie crusts with dry beans, rice and — when desperate — metal cookie cutters, I learn that baking blind is unnecessary if you chill the unbaked pie shell.

Baking blind is weighting a foil-lined unbaked pie shell and baking several minutes, then removing the foil and weights and baking a few minutes longer until golden brown. The foil and weights prevent the crust from forming large bubbles when baked without a filling.

In a book I’ve used for years, “Pies & Pastries,” author Janet Pittman writes, “If you use a metal pie pan or a refrigerator-to-oven pie pan, baking blind is not necessary. Refrigerate the unbaked shell 15 to 20 minutes before baking. Then bake 8 to 10 minutes until the shell is golden brown.”

Although she recommends 475 degrees for both blind and refrigerator-to-oven baking, I use 450 because I’m prone to burning the dang things.

TIDBIT

I hereby dub Rob Stern the poet laureate of food for the rappin’ rhyme he sent about my chicken-breading instructions last week. He can take it from here:

“Dry first, fry later” has a blank verse appeal, I suppose,
But for a prole dish
Like fried chicken (or fish)
We want poetry, not prose,
So let me propose that THIS is how it goes:

First dry it, then fry it.
Now, Jane, you try it.
Or… We can kick it up more,
Add directions to underscore
And increase our store
Of fried food lore

For the ultimate greasy, crunchy score.
Thus, here is how it could go:
Dry with a paper towel, yo,
Now into flour, keep up the flow,
Dip in egg quick, that’s the trick,
Breading last, working fast,
Now – oil hot?
In the pot!

The moment is fraught,
The culmination of all you’ve learned and been taught,
Will it all be for naught?!
No! (I thought not) –
It comes out golden brown.
Word spreads all around town,
Jane wins the hot chicken throw down,

I don’t clown,
You’ve achieved your fried chicken cap ‘n gown,
With distinction and renown,
By using your wit.
But, if you’re a nitwit,
And this is too much to commit
To memory, then just remember the very first bit,
To wit:
First dry it,
Then fry it.

Bravo, Ron! You get down!
Now, how about a haiku on baking blind?

THE MAILBAG

From Eric:
Have you ever gone to the best hamburger joint on Beil Street in Memphis?  They deep fry the patties in 100-year-old filtered grease, and the burgers are just yummy. Can’t remember the name.

Dear Eric: I did some nosing around and found info on Dyer’s Burgers at 205 Beale Street, where not only the burger but the cheese that goes on it is deep fried in ancient (but I assume continually replenished) grease. Sorry I missed it and those hand-cut fries. The website is http://www.dyersonbeale.com.

March 30, 2016

Dear friends,

When we talked about retirement, Elvis never entered the discussion. But last week, three weeks after selling the sushi bar, Tony and I headed for Graceland.

In the back of my mind was a vague plan to drive far enough south to see flowers bloom and to eat barbecue. We did both, and it was thrilling.

I also wanted to check out hot chicken, a spicy Tennessee specialty that is generating national press and a lot of belated excitement. More on that later. First I had to have some mutton barbecue.

For years I had heard about the The Moonlite Bar-B-Q in Owensboro, Ky., and I finally got to check it off my bucket list. The smoked sliced mutton was a tad dry but the ribs, chicken, juicy brisket, pulled pork and catfish were excellent. For $11 we got all that plus a buffet heaped with lovingly prepared Southern sides including rich mac and cheese, baked beans, pinto beans, green beans with ham, buttered cabbage, fried apples, creamed corn and real mashed potatoes with butter puddled on top. Midway through his second plate Tony paused and said seriously, “This is a dream come true.” It was his first encounter with real barbecue, and he plowed through plates and platters with gusto not only at the Moonlite but twice at the excellent Jack’s in Nashville and at Marlowe’s Ribs in Memphis. The succulent meat and thick slabs of cornbread, not to mention the outdoor smoker set-up, was memorable at Jack’s, but nowhere could the side dishes compare to the Moonlite’s. They tasted like they’d been prepared by a bevy of grandmothers for a family picnic.

But back to Memphis, where Elvis music blared from dawn to dusk at our Day’s Inn motel, which had a fabulous guitar-shaped swimming pool and portraits of Elvis above our bed. The Elvis theme was relentless in a good way. Best of all, we were just 15 minutes from Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken.

The one-story building on Front Street downtown looks shabby on the outside and even worse inside. It is one big room with plastic-covered tables, mismatched chairs, EasyNap dispensers and plastic silverware. The floor is a beaten-down, trodden black gummy substance left behind when the tiles were pulled up and discarded. You can still see the faint outlines of the tiles.

But oh, that chicken. The dark, reddish-brown coating is shatteringly crisp. When you bite into it, the juices of the chicken spurt into your mouth. A second later you get the heat. The spiciness varies from batch to batch. Our first order was so mild I wondered what all the fuss was about (besides that killer texture). A couple of days later, our order was moderately spicy-hot – too fiery to give the dog a bite, but not hot enough to numb our mouths. It was perfect.

Gus’s chicken was invented in 1953 in Mason, Tenn..
The original restaurant is still there but as its popularity spread, so did Gus’s chicken restaurants. There are now 14 locations in eight states including outposts in Chicago and Kansas City.

The recipe is about as hard to nail down as Kentucky Fried’s. Many cooks have attempted to duplicate it, with just partial success. The closest I found is from
The Fried Chicken Blog (http://thefriedchickenblog.blogspot.com/2013/07/guss-fried-chicken-update-july-16-2013.html) where author Jay Francis and fellow Gus’s fanatics swap bits of information about the recipe they have observed or heard. Francis describes the coating mixture as a “slurry” of cornstarch and buttermilk, and ticks off a list of spices including cayenne, garlic powder and Louisiana hot sauce.

I started with Francis’s loosely articulated recipe, subtracted a few ingredients and came up with a different way to add spiciness by seasoning the chicken with cayenne before it is dipped in the slurry.

Francis seasons the slurry only, and says it isn’t spicy enough. I also dust the chicken with flour before dipping in the slurry, which helps the coating stick.
I think my recipe is darn close to the real thing. Yes, it’s a mess to make. But when a craving hits and you’re 700 miles from Memphis, what’s a little work?

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SPICY MEMPHIS-STYLE CHICKEN

•    6 small chicken breasts or 2 breasts, 2 thighs and 2 legs
•    2 1/4 cups buttermilk
•    1 tsp. paprika
•    1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper plus more for sprinkling
•    1 tsp. ground black pepper
•    1/2 tsp. garlic powder
•    2 tsp. salt
•    1 cup cornstarch
•    1 cup flour
•    Canola or peanut oil for deep frying

Trim excess skin and fat from chicken, leaving the skin that covers the meaty portions. Place in a bowl and cover with 1 cup of the buttermilk. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.

When ready to cook, in a medium bowl combine paprika, the 1/2 teaspoon cayenne, black pepper, garlic powder and salt. Add cornstarch and whisk to combine. Place flour in a 1-gallon plastic bag. Measure out remaining 1 1/4 cups buttermilk.

Remove chicken from buttermilk and pat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle lightly on both sides with cayenne pepper. One at a time, shake in bag with flour, knocking off excess. Place floured pieces on a plate and dust again with cayenne.

Heat about 3 to 4 inches of oil in a deep fryer or a fairly wide (10 inches), deep pan. Bring the oil to 280 degrees on a deep-fry thermometer. While oil heats, whisk remaining 1 1/4 cups buttermilk into the cornstarch mixture until smooth.

When oil reaches frying temperature, with tongs dip a piece of chicken in the cornstarch slurry, allowing excess to drip back into bowl. Place in oil. Continue with remaining chicken pieces or as many as will fit in pan. You may have to fry the chicken in batches.
Fry each batch for 20 minutes, maintaining temperature and scraping chicken from bottom of pan after a couple of minutes to make sure it doesn’t stick. Scrape periodically and turn chicken over once.

Drain chicken on paper towels. Continue until all chicken pieces have been fried. Makes 3 to 6 servings depending on size of chicken pieces.

HELP U COOK

If you’ve ever had the breading slip off a deep-fried vegetable or piece of fish, you need to remember this rule: Dry first, fry later.

OK, I just made that up, but the rhyme may help you remember to bread only bone-dry pieces of food. The best way to dry a shrimp or japaleno or whatnot is to blot with a paper towel and dust with flour. The flour will soak up any remaining moisture, giving the breading a good chance to stick to the food.

So the order is: Dust with flour, dip in egg, roll in crumbs (or cornmeal or more flour). Or if using a batter coating, dust with flour and dip in batter.

THE MAILBAG

From Tracey C.:
Your pork roast sounds delicious AND doable! Thanks so much for the recipe. Wish I could see what you mean with the rolling-up part of the directions, though. I’m not experienced in that, and for some reason it’s hard for me to visualize. Any tips or websites you could recommend? Especially on how it differs — with the “tucking” — from the standard rolling up method?

If not, no problem. Just thought I’d ask.

I look forward to your weekly message. Thanks for brightening my inbox!

Dear Tracey: There are no websites with pics of the process because the recipe and technique are my own. Basically it’s a standard roll-up (like rolling a cigar). But because pork tenderloins are so small, even when pounded, you must use two of them to encase the filling.

When you pound the two pieces of meat, one of the tenderloins is bound to be larger than the other.
That’s the piece you put on the bottom. Add filling down the length, and put the smaller piece on top. Now you want to essentially tuck that smaller piece around the filling, then draw the edges of the larger piece around the half-cylinder that is now the smaller piece. And yes, tuck in the ends.

If that just confuses you more, how about this: Use two pounded pork tenderloins to form a log encasing the filling. How you get there is your business.

From Ann C.:
It’s asparagus season again, and like in past years I’ll probably buy a lot of asparagus because it looks good, but won’t get around to cooking it until it is too late. Have you tried different ways of keeping it? What’s the best?

Dear Ann: When I remember not to just toss the asparagus in the crisper, I store it in a loose plastic bag with the cut ends wrapped in a damp paper towel. If the cut ends are dry, it helps to cut them again so they can draw moisture from the towel.
A method I haven’t tried but hear is even better is to cut the tough ends and store the asparagus upright in about an inch of water with plastic draped loosely over the tips and stalks. If you try this, let me know how it works.

March 23, 2016

Dear friends,

I declare spring officially under way. I don’t care what the calendar says or if signs of winter linger. A jonquil bud I plucked from the garden is blooming on my kitchen window sill, so I planted a row of radishes and traded my jeans for capris. Now I’m ready to change my soups and stews for fresh-tasting food brightened with fresh herbs.

One meal that deftly spans the seasons is my chevre-stuffed pork loin with Cara Cara orange sauce. It looks and tastes like a million but it’s easy to make and takes just 45 minutes to roast. Two skinny pork tenderloins are butterflied and pounded to an even thickness. Goat cheese, raisins, pine nuts and fresh rosemary are sprinkled on one piece of meat, topped with the other, rolled up and tied. After roasting, the meat is sliced to reveal the pretty insides, and topped with an orange sauce that is merely ingredients shaken up in a jar.
You can use any type of orange for the sauce. I used

Cara Cara because of the gorgeous color and because they are starting to show up in local supermarkets now. The Cara Cara is a hybrid navel orange first spotted in Venezuela in the 1970s. It has a dark-pink interior that is low in acid, which makes it taste super-sweet. The oranges are exceptionally juicy and the flavor has floral hints. For cooks, though, the big draw is the color. They look beautiful in citrus tarts and salads.

They also look beautiful garnishing this roast. Buy two so you can juice one and slice the other to arrange on a platter with the pork. Your meal will look as pretty as spring.

CHEVRE-STUFFED PORK TENDERLOINS WITH ORANGE DRIZZLE
•    1/3 cups golden raisins
•    1/3 cups port wine
•    2 pork tenderloins, well-trimmed of fat
•    Sea salt, fresh-ground pepper
•    4 oz. French-style goat cheese
•    1/2 tsp. minced fresh rosemary
•    1/3 cup pine nuts
•    3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
•    1/3 cup Cara Cara orange juice (or other fresh-squeezed orange juice)
•    2 tbsp. lime juice
•    1 tbsp. honey
•    1/4 cup minced cilantro

Bring port wine and raisins to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Cover, remove from heat and let stand for at least 30 minutes.

Make a slit lengthwise down the center of each tenderloin, cutting halfway through each piece of meat from end to end. Press flat with your hands. Place plastic wrap over the meat and pound with a blunt meat pounder to an even thickness of about 1/2 inch. Do not pound thin enough to create holes.

Remove plastic wrap and season meat with salt and pepper. Scatter crumbled goat cheese, rosemary, pine nuts and raisins over the larger piece of meat. Place the other piece of meat over the filling. Gather the edges of the larger bottom piece up around the edges of the top piece, overlapping them to seal. Tie the roast at 2-inch intervals with kitchen twine or thread, tucking in the ends to prevent the filling from leaking out.

Rub the roast all over with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. In a jar, combine remaining olive oil with the orange juice, lime juice, honey and cilantro. Shake and set aside. Place roast on a rack in a roasting pan (or on a broiler pan). Roast in a preheated, 400-degree oven for about 45 minutes, until the internal temperature of the meat is 155 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Let rest 10 minutes before cutting into 1-inch-thick slices.

Fan slices on a platter or individual dinner plates and drizzle with room-temperature orange sauce. Makes 6 servings.

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TIDBITS
Geez, I’m tired of making red-sauced pasta for Tony, whose favorite meal is a big plate of spaghetti with meat sauce. Last week it occurred to me that now that he is retired, I can have Akron’s master spaghetti-makers do the work for me. The city is loaded with great little places that embrace tomato sauce with as much gusto as Tony. These are not places I frequent, so I was surprised at how much I liked – no, loved – the food at the first stop on our Italian restaurant tour. I took him to Dontino’s in North Hill, opened in 1930 and still packing ‘em in.

No wonder. I knew the sheets of pasta for the lasagna are made by hand, and after tasting the cavatelli I figure it must be, too. The tender little rolled cylinders of dough were topped with a gorgeously seasoned tomato sauce, which was further topped with a hearty portion of meat sauce, heavy on the meat. It was the finest pasta meal I’ve had in a long time. Tony loved his spaghetti with meat sauce, too, although the spaghetti, of course, wasn’t homemade.

The salads are nothing special and the service is more family restaurant than fine dining, but the pasta is great and the prices are right.

Dontino’s is at 555 E. Cuyahoga Falls Ave. in Akron, phone 330-928-9530. The website is http://www.dontinos.com.

THE MAILBAG
From Linda B.:
In your recent newsletter you mentioned your quest for good pho. Have you ever visited Southern Gardens Tea Room at 497 Portage Lakes Drive in Coventry Township? I haven’t had their pho, but several friends who are pho lovers say it is one of the best.

Dear Linda: You’re the second person to bring this restaurant to my attention this month. I hear the pho is some of the most authentic around. I’m glad to get the word out about the restaurant, because no one would guess from the name alone it serves Vietnamese cuisine. It used to be a tea room but morphed into an Asian restaurant. It is at 497 Portage Lakes Drive in the Portage Lakes area south of Akron, phone 330-644-8363. The website is http://www.southerngardenstearoom.com.

From Sonja C.:
Thank you for letting us know about Thai Pho!  My husband and I had lunch there today, and it was great!  The food was fresh and delicious, the server was friendly and very good, and best of all they were able to adjust any item on the menu to accommodate my soy and wheat sensitivities!  Until today, whenever we go out there are very limited selections available. What a treat to be able to order anything!  Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Dear Sonja: I’m glad to hear this. Nice to know that the owners are so accommodating.

March 16, 2016

Dear friends,

I blame my pancake fixation on Coondog O’Karma. Since November the retired speed-eater from Cuyahoga Falls has been writing post after post about his whacky pancake-making adventures.
Here are some of his Facebook messages:

Nov. 28:
I made myself pancakes for dinner and didn’t mess around!

Dec. 22:
Second week of “pancake addiction:”

Today’s pancake contained crushed peanuts, almonds, and walnuts, along with a quick dash of juicy raisins and cranberries. Griddled on a hot pan coated in coconut oil, it slipped its way down the old Coondog hatch with a healthy patter of butter and a good drench of Log Cabin pancake syrup. It was great pancake history…

Dec. 31:
Last pancake of the year: Cheesy, turkey, coffee pancake, topped with Log Cabin Vanilla syrup and whipped cream. A great pancake combo to cruise out the year with….

Jan. 2:
Pancake of the day: Shredded pork and sauerkraut pancake. Sounds horrible, but not bad.

March 11:
Coondog just mixed Parmesan cheese into the pancake batter. Coondog is a mad pancake genius…

These pancake posts have been driving me crazy with carb lust, so I phoned my friend to ask his pancake philosophy and how he got on the kick.
“I throw everything but the kitchen sink in them,” Coondog said. “When I was poor and a single parent that was my go-to. We lived on pancakes.”

I hadn’t had a pancake in ten years, but I felt my resolve to foreswear such high-carb foods melting. Damn that Coondog. Then I found salvation on the American Egg Board website. A recipe for high-protein pancakes promised to satisfy my craving for just 303 calories, 16 grams of carbs and a whopping 18 grams of protein per serving.

The pancakes are made with a cup of ricotta cheese, a half-dozen eggs and a mere half-cup of flour. I added some raisins and tinkered with the directions to ensure a light texture (I whipped the eggs vigorously before adding the remaining liquid ingredients; added the dry ingredients last; and let the batter sit for 15 minutes to give it time to produce air bubbles).

The result was pancake heaven. The cakes were light, moist and a touch sweet from the raisins. Even Tony loved them. The portion size was not tiny, either. For my 303 calories (plus raisins) I got two large pancakes that filled me up. Tony, of course, ate the three remaining portions.

If you make these pancakes, feel free to add ingredients ala Coondog. Just be aware that if you add an acid such as buttermilk or citrus juice, you cannot allow the batter to rest for more than five minutes. Acid activates the leavening agent in the baking powder, releasing bubbles into the batter. If you don’t use the batter quickly, the bubbles will be gone and the pancakes will be flat and leaden instead of fluffy.

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HIGH-PROTEIN RICOTTA-RAISIN PANCAKES

•    1/3 cup raisins
•    6 eggs
•    1 cup ricotta cheese
•    2 tbsp. canola oil
•    1/2 tsp. vanilla
•    1/2 cup flour
•    3/4 tsp. baking powder
•    1/2 tsp. salt

Plump the raisins by soaking in very hot water while mixing the batter.

Vigorously beat eggs with a whisk in a medium-size bowl for 2 minutes or with a mixer or stick blender for 1 minute on high speed. Add ricotta and beat until smooth. Beat in oil and vanilla. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl and stir to mix. Dump into bowl with ricotta mixture and stir briefly just until blended. Some lumps will remain. Drain raisins and stir into the batter. Let stand uncovered at room temperature for 15 minutes.

Grease a heavy skillet or griddle and heat over medium heat. When hot, dip out batter with a one-third cup measure and pour into the skillet. Cook for about 1 1/2 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Makes 8 pancakes, or 4 servings.

TIDBITS
My home base of Akron has gone from a no-pho to a many-pho town in the blink of an eye. Tony is a pho lover so we’ve tried many of them, as well as a good selection of phos in Cleveland. One of the best is at Thai Pho on Tallmadge Avenue in Akron, which we finally visited last week.

The newish restaurant specializes in the Thai cuisine of the cook-owner’s homeland, but the pho is outstanding. We loved the spicy broth, brightened with lemongrass and a healthy dose of lime. The Thai food is pretty good, too. The restaurant’s website is http://www.authenticthairestaurantakronoh.com/.

THE MAILBAG
From Judy Rogers:
You really make me chuckle sometimes.  Tell your friend, marriage is an art — no matter how similar or crazy different two people are and sharing the same space taboot!

But if you go to Relish.com and search for Caramelized Onion Bread Pudding, you will discover an egg dish that features leeks and Gruyere cheese.  It’s a good Easter morning compromise for Tony and what is not to love with those ingredients?  I substituted French baguettes for the ciabatta bread and used white button mushrooms instead of shitake.

I guarantee this recipe will satisfy the gourmet in you and the breakfast casserole “yen” for Tony.  Enjoy and Happy Easter!

Dear Judy: Tony actually liked my preview dinner of tartines, but the bread pudding recipe does sound scrumptious. You’re right, what’s not to like?

CARAMELIZED ONION BREAD PUDDING
•    2 tbsp. butter
•    2 cups thinly sliced leeks (or spring onion), white and yellow parts only
•    4 oz. thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms, stems removed
•    3/4 tsp. coarse salt, divided
•    3/4 tsp. fresh ground pepper, divided
•    1 tsp. brown sugar
•    1/2 tsp. fresh-grated nutmeg
•    1 loaf (1 lb.) ciabatta bread, in 1-inch cubes (12 cups)
•    1 bunch green onions, finely chopped
•    4 eggs
•    6 cups whole milk
•    1 1/2 cups grated gruyere cheese

Melt butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add leeks, mushrooms, 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper, brown sugar and nutmeg. Cook, stirring occasionally, until leeks are soft and golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Place bread cubes on a baking sheet and bake at 300 degrees until dry and lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven. Increase heat to 350 degrees and grease a shallow, 4-quart baking dish.

Combine leek mixture, bread cubes and remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Mix well and let stand 20 minutes. Press mixture into prepared pan and sprinkle with remaining salt and pepper. (You may cover and refrigerate up to 4 hours before baking).

Bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour, until pudding is set and golden brown on top. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving. Makes 12 servings.

March 10, 2016

Dear friends,

We joke that if we don’t kill each other first, Tony and I will return to Cupid’s Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas next year to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary. I hope we make it, but first we must weather the big chunks of togetherness his retirement brings.

“We are two different people,” Tony said today for about the twentieth time since he handed over the keys to his sushi bar last week. Yes, we’re very different. He throws stuff all over the house while I have a place for everything. He is a spendthrift, I’m a saver. He grew up in a patriarchal society, I’m a
feminist. And that’s just for starters.

A friend, Mitch Allen, wrote recently on Facebook, “Tony and Jane. So perfect and odd that it qualifies as a kind of art that no one could have expected yet everyone understands.” (Or as I paraphrased for Tony, “Mitch says as a couple we’re freaky-weird.”)

Fortunately we both like good food, although sometimes our ideas of what that entails are at odds.
Monday dinner, for example, was spaghetti with venison meat sauce for him and a broth bowl with wilted spinach, mushrooms and thin-sliced roast pork for me.

For Easter later this month he would probably love one of those cheesy breakfast casseroles made with frozen hash browns, but he isn’t getting it. I don’t serve those kinds of mindless fat sumps. I’m sure he will be even happier with what I will serve – tartines.

These French open-faced sandwiches are so perfect for breakfast and brunch gatherings I’m surprised they haven’t already taken over on Easter. They are nothing more than a sturdy slice of toasted bread, thoughtfully topped with a few ingredients. Attention is paid to texture, color and complementary flavors. Two or three varieties look so inviting on a platter. All that’s needed are juice and coffee.

If a few relatives show up I’ll probably make two or three kinds of tartines. If it’s just Tony and me, I’ll settle for a topping of soft-scrambled eggs, prosciutto, diced tomato and crumbled blue cheese.
Try the following combos or make up your own. Maybe you’ll find a freaky-weird pairing that somehow works.

Fresh ricotta cheese
Thin-sliced cantaloupe
Drizzle of honey
Sprinkle of fresh thyme

Smear of cold sweet butter
Thinly sliced radishes
Sea salt

Thin-sliced ham
Fig jam
Toasted walnuts

Serve the toppings on palm-sized slices (or half slices) of sturdy bread that has been toasted in the oven on a baking sheet. The toast and toppings may be made in advance. Assemble just before serving. If appropriate (for the scrambled egg tartine, for example), warm at 400 degrees on the top oven shelf for 5 minutes.

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TIDBITS

My friend Nancy would like me to point out that Monday is Pi Day (3-14), which she celebrates gleefully with pie. Pi Day pie is becoming a thing. If you’d like to celebrate but have no use for an entire pie, try this recipe I developed for a single serving of Key Lime Pie. It features a delicate custard filling with a tart lime flavor and sweet chocolate crust. Watch the filling closely while it cooks to prevent it from boiling and becoming lumpy.

KEY LIME MUG PIE
1 tbsp. butter
1/4 cup chocolate cookie crumbs (crushed Famous Chocolate Wafers)
1/3 cup sweetned condensed milk
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup lime juice (about 11/2 limes)
Grated zest of 1/2 lime

Melt butter in a 12-ounce ceramic mug on high power. Add crumbs and stir well with a fork. Press firmly into bottom of the mug.

Combine milk, egg, lime juice and lime zest in a measuring cup and beat well with a fork. Pour over crust in cup. Microwave on 50 percent power just until the first bubbles appear, about 1 minute and 15 seconds. Do not allow to boil. Place in freezer for 5 minutes for a soft set, or transfer to refrigerator until cool and fully set, about 30 minutes. Eat directly from mug.

THE MAILBAG

From M.K.:
I enjoy your newsletter. Thanks for all you do to bring us great food and recipes.

You may have noticed by now that you Curried Chicken recipe has an error–a not-revised ingredient. In the first paragraph after the ingredients the directions reference adding sour cream instead of the updated yogurt. I say this with kindness and as an editor. I can’t help but to see inconsistencies.

Secondly, I’m happy to see you use National Institutes of Health as a reliable online reference. However WebMD is not a reliable site. WebMD is a big pharma meta site with a “use drugs” bent. As per NIH and the New York Times, I use the Mayo Clinic’s site (www.mayoclinic.com) as a reliable, vetted medical information source.

Again, thanks for the great content.

Dear M.K.: I welcome all corrections. I try to be careful but as you know, errors can slip by the best of us.

Your take on WebMD is interesting. I have read the New York Times article and as a former nutrition reporter whose articles have run nationwide, here’s what I think: There are many awful nutrition sites on the Web but WebMD isn’t one of them. The heart of the Times columnist’s objections seems to be that it’s a for-profit site, unlike the Mayo Clinic site (which I use, also). Much of those profits come from ads from pharmaceutical companies. While no one has suggested that big pharma is dictating the content on WebMD, ads for medications are positioned next to information about related conditions. As a former newspaper reporter I can appreciate the concern, but that doesn’t mean the information consumers get from the site is in error.

March 2, 2016

Dear friends,

I plucked a pinkie-sized gnarled root from a bin at an Asian store and triumphantly held it aloft. Amid a sea of strange fruits and vegetables, it was the only one I recognized. “Fresh turmeric,” I announced to a friend, who snapped it half to expose the neon-orange interior.

The root nubbin went into my basket, although I had no idea what to do with it. My project for the week was to figure it out.

I already knew turmeric is considered a “superfood” by many who get their nutrition advice from pop media sources. They add the dried powder – and root when they can find it — to smoothies, stir frys and soups. I’m a skeptical reporter at heart, so I needed convincing. I turned to two solid sources, WebMD and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Not enough research exists to make ANY claims yet about turmeric, according to the NIH. According to WebMD, research shows the anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric can help ease osteoarthritis pain on a par with ibuprofen. However, there’s not enough evidence to support other health claims, although early research suggests turmeric might help prevent or treat other inflammations and health issues.

I like turmeric anyway. It saturates food with a lovely yellow color while imparting a faint bitter edge that in most dishes is undetectable. It is related to ginger, so there’s that faint flavor, also. I peeled and grated the root as I would fresh ginger, then used it in an altered version of a recipe I got long ago at an Indian dinner in Wooster.

My Baked Curried Chicken is just as good hot as it is cold (I served it once at a picnic on a boat). It’s fairly easy to make, too. Browned onions are whirled in a food processor with herbs, spices and yogurt.

Boneless chicken breasts are soaked overnight in the thick, fragrant mixture. Then the chicken breasts, with the yogurt and spices still clinging to them, are arranged on a tray and baked. That’s not a lot of work for such explosive flavors.

My main criterion for a recipe is always the flavor. If it’s good for you, too, that’s a bonus. This recipe is both. Even though the health claims for turmeric unproven, you can’t do much damage with baked chicken and low-fat yogurt. Eat up.

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BAKED CURRIED CHICKEN
•    2 tbsp. oil
•    1 large onion, chopped
•    2 cloves garlic
•    1 cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves
•    1 tsp. garam masala
•    1 tsp. paprika
•    1/2 tsp. powdered or 1 tsp. grated fresh turmeric
•    1 tsp. grated fresh ginger
•    1 cup plain Greek yogurt
•    3/4 tsp. salt
•    6 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Heat oil in a skillet. Cook onions until they are transparent and begin to brown. Scrape into a food processor with the garlic and cilantro leaves. Puree until almost smooth. Add spices, ginger, turmeric, sour cream and salt and pulse to mix.

Place half of chicken in a large bowl. Cover with half of the sour cream mixture and mix well to coat all pieces. Repeat with remaining chicken and sour cream mixture. Cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight.

Line a baking sheet with sides with foil. Remove chicken from marinade, allowing yogurt mixture to cling to the meat. Arrange in a single layer on the baking sheet. Spoon any mixture remaining in bowl over the chicken. Bake at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes for small chicken breasts or 1 hour for large, until the center of the thickest part of a breast is no longer pink. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of a piece should register 165 degrees. Do not overcook or the chicken will be dry. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

HELP U COOK
I came across a nifty way to make string cheese from cheese curds, which are available in abundance in cheese shops in Amish country. Here are the directions, from “Spice” by Anna Sortun:

1. Chop 1 pound mozzarella cheese curds into small pieces and place in a non-stick pan with 2 teaspoons salt.

2. Heat on low, stirring, until curds are melted and no lumps remain. Remove from heat and drain off any moisture in a sieve.

3. When curds are cool enough to handle but still very warm, gather in a lump and quickly stretch to almost the breaking point, then fold back on itself. Grab both strands and stretch them together, then twist the strands together as if you were making a rope. Keep stretching gently, almost to the breaking point. The more you stretch, the stringier the cheese will be. When finished, it will resemble a thick rope or tightly wrung-out dish cloth.

4. Twist the ends in opposite directions and place one end through the loop of the other end to lock it. Refrigerate for one hour unwrapped to dry completely, then wrap and refrigerate or freeze.

5. To serve, separate the ends, cut the looped end and pull apart into thin strands.

Will keep up to a week in the refrigerator or 2 months in the freezer.

THE MAILBAG
From C.K., Tallmadge:
Your sushi sauce column reminded me of a question. I have more than one recipe that calls for “rice wine vinegar.”  I can only find “rice vinegar.”  Is there a difference?  Also, is there another name for rice wine, which some other recipes call for.

Dear C.K.: Great questions. Rice wine is “sake.” Sweet rice wine is “mirin.” If the recipe just says “rice wine,” use an inexpensive (but still good) brand of sake. I use One Cup Sake for cooking because the container contains just one cup, which I can use up fairly fast.

Japanese rice vinegar and rice wine vinegar are the same thing – vinegar made from rice wine. I should note, though, that whenever I say “rice wine vinegar,” Tony corrects me. To him, it’s just rice vinegar. Japanese rice vinegar tastes less acidic than the vinegars we’re used to. Steer clear of the cheap versions, which will say “gohsei-su” on the label. They are made with other grains besides rice.

From Amy:
You discussed Temo’s Chocolate in your newsletter.  Please remember Grabham’s Chocolates, 4301 State Road in old Northampton. This is a generation-run shop that is absolutely wonderful. They have sugar free also.

Dear Amy: Now I can get sugar-free Grabham’s? I’m there. Thanks for reminding me of the other great chocolate shop in our area. Grabham’s Nutty Bunny is tradition for many at Easter. I still dream about their wonderful pecan turtles and their chocolate-dipped candied ginger. If you want to drool, check out the shop’s website: http://grabhamscandies.com/product-category/grabhams-classics/.

February 24, 2016

Dear friends,

The end is near. Like any good survivalist, I’m stocking up. My freezer is loaded with shrimp, edamame and ramen noodles. A couple of cases of Champagne are tucked under the basement stairs. Tubs of miso and boxes of tofu are stacked in the refrigerator. My oversized bottles of rice vinegar and soy sauce have been topped up.

I’ll miss a lot of things when Tony hands over the keys to his Akron sushi bar, Sushi Katsu, and retires Feb. 29 – wine and fish at wholesale prices, access to 20-pound tubs of toasted sesame seeds…. but mostly I’ll miss Tony’s extraordinary sushi. It’s not easy to make at home, he says. He would have to drive to Columbus for the sushi-quality seafood, spend an hour cooking, fanning and seasoning the rice, make ponzu and eel sauces, etc. etc.

“It would be a hassle,” he admitted.

Luckily, we’ll still be able to dine at Sushi Katsu. The new owners recognize Tony’s skill and asked him to train their sushi chefs before he leaves. He has spent the last three weeks teaching, and will probably remain awhile after the restaurant changes hands, “until I’m comfy they can do it,” he says.

Still, I no longer will be able to send Tony to work with empty containers to fill and bring home. For ponzu and eel sauces, at least, that will be no problem. I can easily make my own.

Ponzu, one of the simplest Japanese sauces, is basically citrus-spiked soy sauce. Tony makes his with lemon juice, rice vinegar and soy sauce.

Eel sauce is more complicated, and each sushi bar in Japan has a secret recipe. At its simplest, it is a mixture of soy sauce, sugar and water simmered until thickened. Tony also adds sake and lemon juice. When he made sushi in Japan, he started the eel sauce by boiling sea eels in water with soy sauce and sugar. He skips that step here.

Tony won’t divulge the proportions of either sauce because the recipes have been passed on to the new owners, but he gave me enough information to make reasonable copies. The sauces can be used on a variety of things besides sushi. A splash of ponzu, a thin sauce, is delicious on grilled seafood as a finishing touch. Eel sauce (tsume) is similar to teriyaki sauce, and can be brushed on fish, pork and chicken before cooking or drizzled over the finished seafood and meat.

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PONZU SAUCE
•    1/4 cup soy sauce
•    1/4 cup lemon juice
•    1 tbsp. rice vinegar
•    Dash of cayenne

Combine all ingredients and mix well. May be stored indefinitely in the refrigerator.

EEL SAUCE
•    2 cups water
•    1 cup soy sauce
•    1 cup sugar
•    2 tbsp. sake
•    1 tbsp. lemon juice

Combine ingredients in a narrow, deep saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Reduce heat and simmer without stirring until reduced by half. Let stand overnight. Transfer to plastic squeeze bottles and store in refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before using. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.
LACQURED SALMON WITH RICE STICKS
•    1 oz. (about) thin rice sticks
•    Vegetable oil
•    2 tbsp. olive oil
•    4 salmon fillets, each about 2 inches wide
•    4 tbsp. (about) eel sauce
•    4 green onions, green part only, sliced

With scissors, snip off four pieces of rice sticks, each about half the size of your hand. Gently tease apart the strands into a fan shape.

Heat about a half-inch of oil in a wide skillet until very hot. Drop in one mass of rice sticks and when the noodles puff, turn with a spatula. When the noodles puff again, remove and drain on paper towels. Noodles should not brown. Continue with remaining rice sticks.

Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of oil from the pan. Brush the salmon, pink sides only, with some of the eel sauce. Place skillet over medium-high heat.

Arrange salmon skin side down in hot skillet. Cover and cook for 7 to 10 minutes or until desired degree of doneness. Turning is not necessary. With a spatula, remove fillets from grill, leaving skin behind.

Place a mass of noodles on one side of each of four dinner plates. Rest salmon fillets against the noodles. Drizzle with more eel sauce and sprinkle with chopped green onions. Serves four.

TIDBIT
Three words: Chicken fried bacon. It actually exists. My friend, Charlotte Observer food editor Kathleen Purvis, found it at Acre restaurant in Auburn, Ala., recently. Strips of bacon (no mention whether crisp or raw) are dipped in batter and deep fried.
Talk about piling sin on sin.

Kathi said with all the breading and seasonings, she couldn’t really taste the bacon. No matter. It still contains the full complement of calories even without the gravy.
THE MAILBAG
From Marty Kaltenbach:
You frequently reference Malley’s chocolates. I’ll tell you that Temo’s chocolate is better. Especially any of the dark bark. Larry and Elaine and the crew still make all the chocolate in-house. Caramel, too. The bark is thick and has the right percentage of cocoa — not so dark as to be bitter.

They take cash or check only, and they are closed in summer to protect their product and reputation.  Stop in and visit.

Dear Marty: Thank you for giving me a chance to love on Temo’s. I adore Temo’s chocolate. I have stopped in to visit (and buy) many times. I have traipsed to the basement to watch the chocolatier at work. At Easter and Christmas, I can buy it at my local Acme. I took gobs of it to Japan as gifts. Tony bought me a tiny box of Valentine’s chocolates at Malley’s because he passes the store daily and Malley’s sells sugar-free. I am not one to look a gift box of chocolates in the mouth.

For those who haven’t had the pleasure, Temo’s shop is at 495 W. Exchange St. in Akron, phone 330-376-7229.

From Dorothy Tucker:
Please tell Dale that pork shanks also make a very good osso buco. I have been using them for the last 15 years —  great, just great.

Dear Dorothy: Thanks for the suggestions. I’ll try that, too.