January 23,2019

Dear friends,
I need some fava beans, quick. Like a moth to a flame, I have been drawn to forbidden sweets lately in an unconscious quest to boost the feel-good chemicals in my brain. I hate this but on the other hand, how else would I have discovered Caribbean coconut roll last week?

Yes, it’s complicated. Short version: I am not depressed, but my brain is genetically low in the chemicals that keep me happy. For years I have solved the problem with medication but now want to do so naturally. That means listening to music, meditating, getting plenty of sunshine and eating fava beans, the only food known to contain dopamine, one of the substances my brain is craving. Sugar will give me a temporary feel-good jolt, but I’d like to avoid cleaning out every pastry shop in South Florida.

Luckily, one of my pastry stops last week was Jerk City, a Jamaican carry out in Port St. Lucie, Fla. I don’t know why I stopped; it wasn’t a bakery and I had just finished lunch. But I rushed in, bought
one of the pastries stacked on the counter, and fled.

The scent of vanilla and coconut washed over me when I opened the plastic clam shell in the car. Wow. I figured “coconut roll” would be a sweet bread, but no. It was a roll of flaky pastry wrapped around and around a thick coconut filling. The roll, cut in half for packing, was about 7 inches long and 2 inches in diameter. The interior was moist and bread-y from the dough spiraled around the filling.

The flavor was — well, imagine a mouthful of buttery, flaky, mellow coconut goodness. It was as gentle and cozy a delivery system for coconut as I’ve tasted.

Later I found a recipe for the coconut roll, which turned out to be a Trinidad version. Many islands in the Caribbean have coconut rolls, all with slight variations. Some tint the filling pink. Some slice before baking. Trinidad does neither.

The following recipe is from The Schizo Chef at www.theschizochef.com/2016/03/coconut-roll/. I have not tried it but the winter is young and I haven’t found fava beans yet. Lord help me.

TRINIDAD COCONUT ROLL

Pastry ingredients:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp. salt
1/4 cup (4 tbsp.) cold butter, chopped
1/4 cup cold vegetable shortening
1/2 cup cold water

Filling Ingredients:
1 cup frozen grated unsweetened coconut, thawed
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

Topping Ingredients:
1 egg
1 tbsp. water
1 tsp. sugar

For pastry: In a large bowl, combine flour and salt.
Add shortening and butter. Using a pastry blender, cut fat into flour until it resembles small peas. Add water and mix just until dough comes together. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for 1 hour.

For the filling: Combine all filling ingredients until thoroughly combined.

Assembly: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place a piece of parchment paper on a cookie sheet and spray with non stick spray. Make egg wash by whisking together the egg and water for the topping.

On a lightly floured board, roll out dough into a rectangle. Spread filling on top. Starting on the long side, roll into a tight cylinder, sealing the ends. Transfer to cookie sheet. Brush the top with egg wash. Sprinkle sugar on top.
Bake for 1 hour, until golden brown.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Slow cooker pork, bean and green chili stew; grilled kabobs of marinated top sirloin, baby bell pepper, onion chunks and chunks of corn on the cob; grilled meatloaf burgers, grilled mixed peppers drizzled with vinaigrette, grilled corn on the cob.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Scrambled eggs, ham steak, grits, biscuit and coffee at Pogey’s in Okeechobee, Fla.; a rueben sandwich at Pogey’s; a chocolate glazed doughnut at Dunkin’ Donuts; Popeye’s 3-piece chicken and a biscuit; roast marinated pork, maduros (sweet plantains), black beans, yellow rice and a cafe con leche at El Cubanito Cuban Restaurant in Port St. Lucie, Fla.; a Trinidad coconut roll from Jerk City in Port St. Lucie; grilled shrimp and spicy grits with garlic bread at Good Spirits Lounge near Okeechobee; eggs over easy, grits, ham, biscuit and coffee at Pogey’s.

THE MAILBAG
From Marge S.:
(For Gail B.), I print your recipes by simply copying them and pasting into a Word document. Highlight the text you want, right click within the highlight and choose “copy.” Open a new Word document, right click on it and choose “paste.” Then you can make adjustments if you want, print it, and save it.

Dear Marge:
You and many others proposed that solution, which is how I print recipes from my newsletter, too. Those who get the newsletter via gmail, which does not support editing functions, will have to go to my blog site to copy and paste JaneSnowToday.wordpress.com

Thank you to those who offered suggestions: Debbie N., Dorothy T., Dorothy B., Christine S., Sura S., J.S., Pennie, Sue D., Judy A., Cindy W., Barbara S., Peggy K., Kay in Santa Fe, Ron C., Iris, Carol W., Ellen, Pat and Deb C.

From Carol B.:
I just printed your recipe for bean stew and can’t wait to fix it. Also, I’m curious about what Tony cooks on a 7-inch electric grill.

Dear Carol:
I measured Tony’s dinky grill and it is actually 10 inches in diameter. It looks smaller because the electric element sits inside a ceramic dish that resembles a soufflé dish, with a grid on top. It is a Japanese thing; they do a lot of grilling at the table.

I didn’t think the grill would be effective because we have a bunch of them taking up space in the basement, and the one I tried didn’t emit enough heat to cook a shrimp.
This one surprised me. Tony fired it up to grill corn on the cob, peppers and hamburgers, in shifts. It cooked everything slowly but surely.

The jury’s still out on the toaster oven.

From Susan R.:
What! No Instant Pot?

Dear Susan:
No. I hate it.

From Pat K.:
I’ve always wanted to know, what do you do with your leftovers? The bean stew recipe you ran last week serves 10. There are two of you. While I like leftovers, what’s a lot of leftovers. Do you freeze and then really reheat? I hate to waste food but I also hate eating the same thing all week long.

Dear Pat:
Sometimes I freeze leftovers, but typically I eat them. I love leftovers. Tony does not. Usually it’s just me and a big pot of whatever. We each had two bowls of the stew initially, then I ate stew the next morning for breakfast. It was the perfect breakfast — protein and vegetables in a warming broth. I had it again for lunch and dinner, and lunch the following day and then breakfast again. I was sad when it was gone. Meanwhile, Tony was happy eating peanut butter toast for breakfast and doctored-up instant ramen noodles for dinners. He eats a lot of ramen and spaghetti while I eat leftovers, fresh fruits and vegetables, yogurt, protein shakes and other healthful stuff.

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January 16, 2019

Dear friends,
My brother brought us up to date via Facebook: “I’m sorry you’re missing the weather today — 16 degrees.” It was our second day in Florida. The temperature had dipped to about 45 degrees overnight and by morning had risen to a crisp 55. Not as frigid Ohio, but still soup weather.

I came prepared. Unlike last year, when I brought no recipes and found the Internet in our campground had been wiped out by a hurricane, I came this week with a clutch of recipe ideas to try. I brought a slow cooker, a rice cooker, a grill and freshly sharpened knives. Our camper is equipped with a 3-burner stove, a midget oven and a microwave. If pressed, I could probably make a multi-course feast with that equipment.

(Tony brought a toaster oven and a 7-inch table-top electric grill. What does he plan to make with those pretend appliances, I wonder?)

Update: Tony just read this over my shoulder and said, “Toast.”

Okay, then. Maybe we can eat his toast with the Southwestern pork and Navy bean stew with green chilies I made for dinner. It simmered all day on the kitchen counter in the slow cooker, and it smells heavenly. It tastes pretty good, too. I had a test bowl after 7 hours and another after 8. By then the white beans had broken down and become creamy. The thick stew is studded with big cubes of tender pork, slices of sweet potato and bits of mild green chilies. I deepened the flavor with onions and garlic and seasoned the stew with plenty of cumin and oregano.

I heated the slow cooker on high as I cut and added the ingredients. By the time the last can of beans was drained and scooped into the pot, the temperature of the mixture had risen enough to skip the usual 15-minute preheat on high. This will be convenient for those who assemble the stew before work.

As for me, I’m just hanging around the camper, listening to my stomach growl and waiting for that toast.

PORK AND WHITE BEAN STEW WITH GREEN CHILIES

2 1/2 lbs. pork butt, in 1-inch cubes
1 jumbo white onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tbsp. ground cumin
1 tbsp. oregano
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
2 cans (about 5 oz. each) chopped mild green chilies, drained
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled, quartered lengthwise, and sliced thin
2 cans (about 16 oz. each) chicken broth
2 cans (about 16 oz. each) Navy or Great Northern beans, drained

Heat a slow cooker on high. Chop/measure/prepare each ingredient and add to a slow cooker in order given. Stir, cover and reduce heat to low. Cook for 8 hours or until pork is tender and beans are soft and creamy. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with more salt to taste. Makes about 10 servings.

GUT CHECK
(I left my weekly planner and food diary in a motel on the way to Florida, so this week’s report is incomplete. Here’s what I recall:)
What I cooked last week:
Egg salad; scrambled egg on seeded toast with hot sauce.

What I ate in/from restaurants last week:
Southwest salad with chicken and a hunk of baguette at Panera; a Burger King Croissanwich; chicken teriyaki skewer, one salt and pepper shrimp, two spoonfuls of chicken stir fry and a sugar-dusted fried doughnut at Szechuan Buffet in Statesville, N.C. (the only place we could park with a camper in tow); pulled pork, potato salad, corn dodgers and iced tea at Bar-B-Que Hut in Sumter, S.C.; a bacon and pineapple pizza from Pizza Hut in Jacksonville, Fla. (delivered to our motel room); a pulled pork and slaw sandwich and Diet Coke at Memaw’s Bar-B-Q in Palm something (Bay? Harbor), Fla.

THE MAILBAG
From Gail B.:
How do I print some of the recipes you put in your weekly newsletter? I cannot find a print icon. I even went to your blog but no icon there, either. Thanks.

Dear Gail:
I’m sharing your question because others have asked, too. I also get questions about why there is no way to post recipes to Pinterest and other collection sites that enable users to keep track of recipes they want to save.

Unfortunately, I can’t help because I don’t handle the physical production of the newsletter. The kind folks at Mimi Vanderhaven manage the mailing list and editing functions, and I am grateful for their help. I will ask them again if there’s a way to add these features. Meanwhile, maybe there’s a computer whiz out there who has an easy solution for printing recipes from this newsletter.

January 9, 2019

Dear friends,
I’m cooking for just myself for a few days while Tony is off to a cabin in the woods, leaving me in charge of the dog and packing for our annual trip to Florida. We leave this week. We will be gone for two months. I could kill him.

So far I have gathered up a stack of summer shirts and the dog’s medicine. I am frantically making lists and doing laundry while subsisting for two days now on crackers and a big bowl of chicken salad.

Today (I’m writing this on Sunday), I will treat myself. At 6 p.m. I will turn on the TV to watch the Golden Globes red carpet while dining on pan-grilled salmon with coconut-lime sauce. I don’t have a lot of time to cook, so I dreamed up a dish that produces lots of flavor in about 15 minutes, tops.

I will savor the break and try not to feel guilty. I envy Tony, who is much better than I am at pampering himself. He lives in the moment. Then again, somebody has to pack.

PAN-GRILLED SALMON WITH COCONUT-LIME SAUCE

3 tbsp. oil such as Canola
3 green onions
1 large clove garlic
1/4 cup light soy sauce
3/4 cup coconut milk
2 tbsp. lime juice
1 tsp. minced ginger
4 salmon fillets, each about 2 inches wide
Coarse sea salt
2 tbsp. chopped peanuts

Heat a medium skillet. When warm, add 1 tablespoon of the oil and swirl. Slice white part of onions and sauté with garlic in the warm oil for 1 minute, just until garlic begins to soften. Add soy sauce, coconut milk, lime juice and ginger and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and set aside to cool to room temperature.

Heat a heavy skillet large enough to hold the salmon over medium-high heat. Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil, swirl and heat. Place salmon fillets, skin sides down, in skillet. Spoon some of the hot oil over the salmon and sprinkle with sea salt. Cover, reduce heat to medium and cook for about 7 minutes for 1-inch-thick fillets, or until salmon is done to your liking.

Spoon some of the sauce onto each of 4 dinner plates. Place salmon fillets on top of sauce. Chop green onion tops and scatter over salmon. Scatter peanuts over fillets. Makes 4 servings.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Roasted kabocha squash with sweet soy sauce, pan-grilled strip steaks; overnight oats with dried cranberries and slivered almonds; venison spaghetti sauce; chicken salad with red sweet peppers and celery; pan-grilled salmon with coconut-lime sauce.

What I ate in/from restaurants last week:
Half of a Southwestern chicken salad and a piece of baguette at Panera; Wendy’s chili with Cheez-its.

THE MAILBAG
From Ann M:
I know the holidays are past along with the need for sauerkraut ball recipes, but I wanted to tell you about the gluten-free ones we make for my celiac family. I substitute Earth Balance spread for the butter, use gluten-free flour (Pamela’s), and put gluten-free Rice Chex in the blender for the coating. They turn out great.

Dear Ann:
Thank you for sharing that. I’m sure many people will try your suggestions.

From Sonja C.:
Do you have a recipe for the hot sauce served at Aladdin’s Restaurants? I’ve tried imitating it and searched online for recipes to no avail. The sauce is a condiment frequently offered for an additional cost if you order hummus. It looks a bit like a vinaigrette dressing in that is separates. It is orangish, with chunks that are finely diced peppers and garlic, perhaps. We like it for dipping falafel or just to add some spiciness to any of our meals.

Dear Sonja:
You have piqued my curiosity. I’ll have to try it. Meanwhile, if anyone shares a recipe I’ll let you know.

January 3, 2019

Dear friends,
I remember packing raw chickens in dry ice at breakneck speed to make the final Fed Ex pickup of the day. The birds were going to a food lab in Columbus to determine how the chickens in Akron supermarket chickens stacked up against the national average of salmonella in chicken. (Result: about 30 percent were contaminated, same as nationwide).

I remember the day a photographer coaxed me into a fort built from hundreds of my cookbooks for a picture to go with a story about cookbook collecting. Before he could snap the photo, the heavy rear wall of the fort toppled onto me, bruising a shoulder and almost burying me.

I remember interviewing a nice guy in a kitchen absolutely trashed from an apparently intense cooking session. Although the photographer had a tough time getting a serene shot, I loved the guy’s green chili stew. For years afterward I imagined the scene when his wife got home from work that day: You let them photograph this??

I remember naming the sauerkraut ball Akron’s iconic food, and Gino’s its best pizza. I remember generous chefs who shared their knowledge and recipes and readers who shared their life stories.

In 24 years as food editor of the Akron Beacon Journal, I amassed a lifetime of memories. I held the position from September 1982 through November 2006, the latest in a line that stretched back to the 1800s. Standouts along the way were Glenna Snow (1932 to 1946) and Polly Paffilas (1961 to 1974), but all 12 of the food writers whose bylines I unearthed in the newspaper archives helped Akron-area readers shop and eat better and more knowledgeably.

Today I’m asking what YOU remember. I am writing a chapter on the Beacon Journal’s food coverage as part of a history of the newspaper untaken by my colleagues. The eventual book will be published by the University of Akron Press. I would like to include readers’ comments on what they liked (or disliked) about the Food section.

I know what I think — the design, artwork and photography were some of the best in the country, and the content when I was writing the section was the result of much blood, sweat and tears.

But what about you? Are there any articles you especially remember? Were you helped by any of the nutrition or food safety advice? Did we make you laugh occasionally? Did any recipes become favorites? In sum, what made the Beacon Journal’s food coverage special?

Many of the recipes I printed became favorites of mine. Among the treasured stack I keep in a mixing bowl in the kitchen are recipes from readers, chefs and cookbooks, along with a handful of recipes I created. Do you have a favorite? The following bread pudding recipe is one of mine. It is from reader Geoff Hewitt, who was profiled in an In the Kitchen column in 1988. The addition of pecans and shredded coconut puts his version over the top.

LOUISIANA BREAD PUDDING
1 long loaf French bread
1 cup chopped pecans
4 cups milk
2 cups sugar
1 stick butter, melted
3 eggs
1 tbsp. dry sherry
2 tbsp. vanilla
1 cup raisins
1 cup shredded coconut
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg

Tear the bread into pieces of various sizes and let air-dry for three days. Spread chopped pecans on a baking sheet and toast at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Combine all ingredients except bread and mix well. Add bread and stir well, using your hands to thoroughly mix the ingredients. The mixture should be quite moist but not soupy. Add more milk if it appears to be too dry. Pour into a greased, 9-by-13-inch baking pan and bake at 350 degrees for one hour and 15 minutes. Serve warm with bourbon sauce.

BOURBON SAUCE
1 stick butter
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
1/2 cup bourbon or other liquor

Stir butter and sugar over low heat until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in egg yolk. Stir in bourbon gradually. Heat until warm but not boiling. Spoon over individual portions of bread pudding.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
A bone-in half ham (shank) with honey-mustard glaze; ham, potato and butternut squash soup; ham quiche. (Eternity is two people and a ham.)

What I ate out last week:
Baked brie en croute, marinated chicken kabob, steamed rice, couscous, green salad and a cut-out cookie at my niece, Heidi’s; chicken pad Thai at Giant Eagle in Cuyahoga Falls.

THE MAILBAG
From Dorothy G.:
“The West Point Market Cookbook” by Russ Vernon is for sale on Amazon.

Dear Dorothy:
I was stunned to see how much the book has soared in price since it was published in 2008. Used copies are going for as much as $132 on Amazon, although a number of more reasonably priced copies in good condition can be had for $25 to $30. Again, I would check the shelves at the Bookseller in Akron first.

From Bill B.:
A book you said you want to get, “The Flavor Matrix,” sounds good. Have you read “The Flavor Thesaurus”? It is what the title says it is: Synonyms and antonyms for flavors. I also recommend “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat” by Samin Nosrat. Both books are great for understanding flavors.

Dear Bill:
I currently am watching the four-part documentary on Netflix based on “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat.” It is entertaining and instructive. As for “The Flavor Thesaurus,” that sounds like a good book for a restaurant critic. Personally, in my years of reviewing I was always searching for a new way to say “mediocre.”

From Karen B.:
It’s good to see that you were recently at Sushi Katsu (in Akron’s Merriman Valley). We were just talking about it yesterday! My son and friend had both been there but it was years ago, and they really enjoyed it. I told them I wasn’t sure how it is since Tony left but apparently it’s pretty good if you were there. Any other thoughts?

Dear Karen:
Tony and I go at least once a month. The sushi is very good. Tony taught the chefs before we handed it over. Sometimes there will be something not up to Tony’s standards, and he will make the chefs aware of it. The sushi is more adventurous under chef Tin than it was under Tony, who is a sushi purist. The tired decor, which Tony wouldn’t let me change, is sleek and modern now. Go! Enjoy!

December 28, 2018

Dear friends,
First came the Vietnamese noodle soup, pho. Then came the Japanese noodle soup, ramen. The two Asian soup trends steamrolled across the country, leaving pho and ramen restaurants in their wake. Except in the Akron-Canton area, where restaurants devoted to the slurpy, soul-warming ramen are scarce.

Oh, sure, you can find bowls of ersatz ramen on restaurant menus, but no restaurants devoted to the stuff until now. Ramen Katsu, a sister restaurant to my husband’s former restaurant, Sushi Katsu in Akron, has opened in Green with a menu absolutely brimming with ramen. There’s miso ramen, shoyu (soy sauce) ramen, vegetarian ramen and build-your-own ramen. A tiny problem: the broth is too sweet for my taste. The toppings and noodles are stellar, though.

But before you get to the main part of the menu, zero in on the appetizers — specifically, a version of edamame that is worth the trip alone. The green soy beans are usually served in their pods, salted and steamed. Diners peel off and discard the pods and eat the tender beans. At Ramen Katsu, you’ll want to linger over the pods awhile before discarding them. That’s because the pods are seasoned with plenty of chopped garlic, sesame seeds, chili pepper flakes and salt. Getting to the beans inside is a delicious journey.

The pods at Ramen Katsu are almost tender enough to eat, and I did chew on a few of them although they’re meant to be discarded. Either way, you’ll get enough of the seasoning to make your mouth sing.

I think the restaurant uses a homemade seasoning mixture with chili flakes. I used a more traditional Japanese seasoning called “shichimi togarashi,” which is a number of ground dried chili peppers mixed with other seasonings such as dried seaweed, black pepper and dried orange peel. It is sold in little shaker bottles in Asian food stores. I also added white sesame seeds, salt, Chinese chili oil and of course, garlic. Here’s my version:

SPICY GARLIC EDAMAME

1 package (12 oz.) frozen edamame (in their pods)
3 tbsp. vegetable oil
3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped (1 heaping tablespoon)
1 tsp. white sesame seeds
1 1/2 tsp. shichimi togarashi (available in Asian stores)
1 tsp. coarse salt (sea or kosher)
1 tsp. Chinese chili oil

Remove frozen edamame from wrapping and place in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high power for about 3 1/2 minutes, or until the beans are warm and completely thawed.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. When hot, add oil. When oil is hot, stir in garlic, sesame seeds, togarashi and salt. Cook and stir until garlic is golden and mixture is fragrant. Add beans and continue to cook, scooping and stirring, for 1 minute or until beans, oil and spices are thoroughly mixed.

Pour into a bowl and drizzle with chili oil, adding more or less to taste. Toss again and serve. Makes 3 to 4 servings (or 1 if you’re Tony).

Here’s a bonus recipe for a cookie so good I made it twice this month.

ORANGE BUTTER COOKIES

1 ¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 ⅔ cups cake flour or more all-purpose flour (cake flour gives a finer texture)
½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
2 packed tsp. freshly grated orange zest
1 large egg plus 2 large egg yolks, at room temperature

FOR THE ICING (Jane’s version):
1 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar
1 orange

Position two oven racks in top and bottom third of oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In a bowl, whisk flours, baking soda and salt together. In a mixer, cream together the sugar, butter and orange zest at medium speed until light and smooth, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of bowl frequently. Add egg and mix. Add one egg yolk and mix. Add remaining egg yolk and mix. Stir in dry ingredients just until combined.

Scoop heaping tablespoons of dough onto parchment, leaving about an inch between cookies. Press each one down lightly with 2 fingers to flatten to a thickness of 1/2 inch. Leave any ridges and valleys on top of cookie intact, but smooth the edges.

Bake about 15 minutes, rotating cookie sheets halfway through. Cookies should be pale but baked all the way through. Cool. From Julia Moskin in the New York Times.

For the icing: Place confectioner’s sugar in a small bowl. Grate the zest of the orange (just the colored part) into the bowl. Juice the orange and stir in 3 tablespoons until smooth. Add more juice if necessary to make a thin icing that slowly drips from a spoon. When cookies are cool, dip the tops of the cookies in the icing. Set aside to dry. Store in lidded containers at room temperature or freeze.

TIDBITS
Cookbooks I want to buy, from the Chicago Tribune’s annual best cookbooks books list:
• “The Flavor Matrix: The Art and Science of Pairing Common ingredients to Create Extraordinary Dishes” by James Briscione with Brook Parkhurst. This is no ordinary book about flavor mashups. IBM’s Watson supercomputer was used to compare chemical compounds in various foods and match ingredients that have similar traits — green beans with pineapple and olives with chocolate, for example. This is exciting stuff for a recipe developer.

• “Dorie’s Cookies” by Dorie Greenspan. This book, filled with luscious cookie recipes (the chocolatey World Peace Cookie is already famous) from the inimitable Greenspan, won the James Beard Award for Best Baking and Dessert Book this year.

• “The Adventures of Fat Rice” features 100 recipes from the “cult favorite” Chicago restaurant Fat Rice. I can’t wait to try Macau-inspired dishes such as minchi, a Macau meat hash, and Po Kok Gai, a Portuguese-Chinese mashup chicken curry with olives. This is flavorful cooking with an exclamation point.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Mexican eggnog; scrambled egg whites and avocado on toast; potato and spinach soup; pot roast with wine and thyme, sautéed cauliflower rice with vegetables; pancakes, bacon and eggs; pickled eggs; homemade tomato soup with grilled cheese croutons; mini microwave fruitcakes soaked in Grand Marnier; potato salad; no-knead bread; truffled risotto with pan-grilled shrimp and an antipasto platter; potato salad.

What I ate out last week:
A hamburger slider with onions from Hamburger Station in Akron; a California roll from Sushi Katsu in Akron; a pickle dog (beef hot dog with mustard, onion and grilled dill pickle spear) from the Stray Dog Cafe in Akron.

THE MAILBAG
From Beth B.:
Re: West Point Market alternative — I really like the Miles Farmers Market on Miles Road in Solon. Superior produce, great meat, pretty decent baked goods and prepared foods (not as nice as West Point Market, though), and lots of specialty items. I try to go there every time I’m up on the East Side for an appointment or errand. The Heinen’s stores in Hudson and especially in Brecksville are pretty swell, too. Wish I hadn’t donated my West Point cookbook during one of my purges.

Dear Beth:
Regretfully, I can’t find mine, either. I’m sure the University of Akron Press would be pleased to sell us copies. The Bookseller in Wallhaven probably has some used ones available, too.

From Jane S.:
You have to try coquito. It is a coconut version of a type of eggnog using cream of coconut, coconut milk, sweetened condensed milk and 151 rum. Generally it is made at home and is served in small glasses. There are several recipes on the internet and youtube. Ask any Puerto Rican friend about it.

Dear Jane:
Coconut cream AND sweetened condensed milk? Maybe I should just glug a bottle of Karo. Anyway, coquito sounds wonderful to this coconut lover, although far too sweet for me to try. Others may want to give it a go, though.

From Amy:
Are you sure your killer brownie recipe is correct? Both the West Point cookbook and the Beacon Journal say 2/3 cup evaporated milk.

Dear Amy:
The reader who questioned the cookbook and Beacon Journal recipe said the batter was so soupy it would not firm up. That is why I offered MY version, created before the cookbook came out and given to me in pieces-parts by the Vernons. I am sure my recipe works. Russ Vernon told me, in an interview promoting the book, that he didn’t want to give away TOO many secrets. Maybe the correct brownie recipe was one of them. Can anyone else comment on the Killer Brownie recipe in the “West Point Market Cookbook?”

December 19, 2018

Dear friends,
I’ve heard of Appalachian old-timers who kept crocks of eggnog on their chilly porches in the weeks leading up to Christmas, replenishing the pot each time visitors sampled the libation. No wonder people used to “go visiting” at the holidays.

I love eggnog with a fierceness fueled by unfulfilled longing. I gave up the drink long ago when I spied the calorie count on a carton of Smith’s: 170 per half cup. This week’s recipe, homemade Mexican eggnog made with 2 percent milk and Splenda, whittles that down to 124 calories without the rum— still not diet food, but geez, it’s Christmas. And when I foam the eggnog and fill half the mug with hot coffee for an eggnog latte, it’s almost guilt free.

I stumbled across Mexican eggnog, or rompope, by accident while searching for Latin American Christmas traditions. I was curious last week after I enjoyed lunch at a newish Puerto Rican restaurant, Hayuya Puerto Rican Cuisine on Canton Road in Akron.

Before I could get to Puerto Rican Christmas recipes, up popped a bunch of recipes for rompope, a cinnamon-spiced eggnog that originated at a nunnery in Oaxaca. In essence, milk is steeped with cinnamon sticks and a selection of spices that changes according to the whim of the maker. Cloves, citrus peel, nutmeg, vanilla and almonds are some popular choices.

After steeping, egg yolks are whisked into the milk and cooked and stirred until thickened. Some recipes call for ground almonds to thicken the nog, but I found if you are patient and stir it over low heat, the eggs will thicken it sufficiently. Warning: Do not allow the egg-enriched mixture to come to a simmer or the eggs will scramble and clump.

Right about now, seasoned cooks are concluding that Mexican eggnog is basically creme anglaise or what the English call “pouring custard.” Maybe so, but who hasn’t wanted to drink custard? I still have some in the fridge if anyone wants to drop by.

ROMPOPE

4 cups milk (I used 2 percent)
1 cup sugar or 1/2 cup Splenda Granulated
1 pinch baking soda
2 sticks (3 inches long) cinnamon
1 whole clove
Zest of 1 orange, in strips, no white pith
1/4 tsp. fresh-grated nutmeg
8 egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup dark rum

Place milk, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, clove and orange zest in a saucepan. Watching carefully, bring to a simmer, lower heat, cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Do not walk away because you must adjust the heat after covering it, or it might boil over. Remove from heat, still covered, and steep for 30 minutes.

Uncover milk mixture and strain out cinnamon sticks, clove and orange peel. Stir in nutmeg. Allow to cool while separating eggs and placing yolks in the bowl of a mixer. Beat yolks until pale yellow and thick. Ladle in warm milk mixture in a thin stream while beating on medium-high speed to prevent eggs from cooking.

When all the milk has been added, return it to the saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the nog has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. Do not allow the mixture to come to a boil or even a simmer or the eggs will curdle.

Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and rum. Serve warm or, even better, chill overnight to allow the flavors to blend before serving. Dust the top of each serving with nutmeg if desired. Makes 8 half-cup servings.

This recipe is an amalgam of several recipes found on the Internet.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Pan-grilled, oven-finished sirloin steak (shared with our dog for his 12th birthday) sliced and served over cauliflower rice with vegetables; hot pepper crackers; skinless chicken thighs simmered with wine and sauerkraut; pork and bell pepper stir fry with five-spice Szechuan sauce and Szechuan peppercorns; scrambled eggs and orange sections with toast and sugar-free blackberry jelly.

What I ate in/from restaurants last week:
A stellar beef empanada, roast pork shoulder and fried ripe plantains at Hayuya Puerto Rican Cuisine on Canton Road in Akron; tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet) miso ramen with eggplant and mushrooms, spicy garlic edamame and two pieces of a California roll at Ramen Katsu in Green; Nashville hot chicken thigh and leg, mashed potatoes and a biscuit at KFC in Wadsworth.

TIDBIT
Judy James is looking for a sauerkraut ball recipe, but not just any sauerkraut ball recipe. She is avid to find the recipe for the iconic sauerkraut balls served at Brown Derby restaurants in years gone by.

James, a retired librarian, wants the recipe for her forthcoming book about the treasured recipes of Akron. She has collected quite a few recipes, but despite some serious research, the sauerkraut ball recipe continues to elude her. The recipe was shared by the Brown Derby and printed in the Beacon Journal’s Action Line column decades ago. According to a 1970 article, the newspaper mailed 550 copies of the recipe to readers, so someone in the Akron area is bound to have it, says Judy. If you have the recipe, or even a clue about where to find it, contact her at akronrecipeproject@gmail.com.

THE MAILBAG
From Cindy W.:
Yay! Thanks for today’s recipe (Shrimp ACC)… my Christmas Day appetizer! You have the greatest readers. For those who might recreate the dish, the Club served its signature appetizer in small individual ramekins finished in a salamander (broiler) with toast points on the side for dipping in the sauce…damn, I’m drooling again!

Dear Cindy:
I may have to try this. Alix, who sent the recipe, points out that despite my skepticism, the Akron General cookbook version really does specify just 1/2 teaspoon of Diablo Sauce and 1/2 teaspoon of chutney. I can’t imagine 1/2 teaspoon of either would add much flavor to 1 1/2 cups mayo and chili sauce. I suggest tasting and doctoring according to your own discretion.

From Kathleen C.:
With the closing of West Point Market, I tried making the Killer Brownies recipe the Beacon Journal published recently (https://www.ohio.com/akron/lifestyle/west-point-market-killer-brownies-how-you-can-make-them-at-home). It’s also the same one in (former owner) Russ Vernon’s cookbook that came out a few years ago.

The first part of the recipe is where I am having trouble, after mixing the batter and baking the first layer.

After it is in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, the consistency of the brownies is liquid. I’ve tried cooking them longer, which is almost an hour to get the batter firm. But then the top gets really hard and the rest of the brownies are hard when fully cooked. So what am I doing wrong? Anyone else have this problem?

Dear Kathleen:
That recipe was posted in September to the newspaper’s website, based on an article written in 2013. It is not my story, so I don’t know much about it. I could not access the 2013 recipe in the Beacon Journal’s database to determine if a mistake had been made in reprinting it in September, and I no longer have the West Point cookbook to compare.

However, in 2006, before West Point coughed up the recipe, I made a knock-off based on descriptions of the recipe and process from owner Russ Vernon and his son, Rick. The mix the Vernons used, Russ told me, is Betty Crocker Super Moist German Chocolate Cake Mix. The liquid is just few tablespoons, not 2/3 cup as in your recipe. The brownies are not baked until firm. The first layer becomes firm when frozen. These tips from my 2006 article may help you:

“… the brownies are baked in three steps. The bottom layer is briefly baked, rapped on the counter to make the batter fall, and baked a few minutes more. When cool, the partially baked layer is slathered with caramel, dotted with chocolate chips and frozen. When everything is rock hard, the top layer is added and the brownies are baked some more. Freezing keeps the caramel layer in place and prevents the bottom layer from over baking.

“Even so, the brownies must be removed from the oven before they appear to be done. My advice is to test your oven temperature for accuracy and then just trust the timing in the… recipe.”

JANE’S KILLER BROWNIES RECIPE
1 box (18.25 oz.) Betty Crocker Super Moist German Chocolate Cake Mix
12 tbsp. butter, melted
3 tbsp. cream
3/4 cup walnut pieces
2/3 cup caramel ice cream topping
2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Powdered sugar

Heat oven to 350 degrees. By hand or with a mixer, mix dry cake mix and butter. Beat in cream. Stir in walnuts by hand. Spread half of the dough in the bottom of a lightly buttered and floured, 9-inch-square baking pan. Bake 5 minutes. Remove from oven and bang on counter to make brownies fall. Bake 3 to 4 minutes longer. Remove from oven and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate until cold.

Spread caramel topping over brownie layer. Sprinkle with chocolate chips. Freeze until firm.

Crumble remaining dough and scatter evenly over frozen caramel layer. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 to 25 minutes, until top is dry. Cool completely, then refrigerate until firm. Cut into squares and dust with powdered sugar. Store in refrigerator or freeze. Bring to room temperature to serve.

From Peggy:
I read with alarm about your waning interest in Belgrade chicken. Twice our “to go” chicken from Belgrade was soggy, too — a new experience. Determined to continue my 60-plus-year affair with a childhood love, I immediately dumped the chicken out of the to-go bucket and into a basket at home. Voila! Sogginess gone.

So please don’t give up. Some things are worth a little loyalty despite changes in the kitchen. Keep the lard in your life!!

Dear Peggy:
Words to live by.

December 12, 2018

Dear friends,

My cracker epiphany can be your solution for a holiday pot luck. What could be easier or more on point than assembling a charcuterie board of high-quality salami, olives, cheeses and crackers?

If you’re known as a good cook, you probably don’t want to duck the kitchen completely. That’s where my cracker epiphany, parts one and two, come in.

About a decade ago I tasted homemade crackers at a book signing for a friend. They were so tender and delicious I had to restrain myself from gobbling them all up. Then later I bought an outrageously priced box of gourmet hot pepper crackers at West Point Market. That was epiphany part two, the one that sent me scurrying to the kitchen.

I remember developing the recipe for the hot-pepper crackers and printing it in Second Helpings, the online column I wrote for the Akron Beacon Journal. When the recipe miraculously surfaced last week, I made the crackers again. I timed myself, and the dough took 10 minutes to make in my food processor and 15 minutes to press into the bottom of two baking sheets — not a great investment of time considering the results.

The pressing part is kind of a pain and you may think you don’t have enough dough for two baking sheets, but keep going. The dough will be almost see-through, but must be that thin to become crispy.

The crackers are stinging hot due to the amount of hot pepper flakes mixed into the dough. They had just the right zing for Tony and me. If your tastes differ, eliminate some or all of the hot pepper. You could replace the pepper with spices such as cracked black pepper or herbs such as dried thyme or minced rosemary.

HOT-PEPPER CRACKERS

2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. (or less) crushed red pepper flakes
1 tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. garlic salt
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup warm water
1 egg white blended with 2 tsp. water
Coarse sea salt

Combine flour, baking powder, salt, pepper flakes, sugar and garlic salt in a food processor and pulse to mix. With motor running, pour oil and Worcestershire sauce through the feed tube, then add water in a thin stream until a soft dough forms and clumps into a ball. If necessary, add a few more drops of water. The dough should be supple, not stiff.

Divide dough in half and lightly oil two 11-by-17-inch jelly roll pans. Place a piece of dough on one pan and cover with plastic wrap. With your hands or a small rolling pin or dowel, spread dough evenly over bottom of baking sheet. the dough will be very thin. Repeat with remaining dough in other pan.

With a sharp knife dipped in water, cut dough into squares or diamonds. Pierce dough all over with a fork. Brush with the egg mixture and sprinkle lightly with sea salt. Bake at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes, until edges begin to brown. Cool in pans, then break into pieces. Store in an airtight container.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Szechuan pork stir fry with slivered Brussels sprouts, carrots and onion (bottom of the vegetable bin) over rice; orange butter cookies with orange icing; Italian sausage, onions and tomatoes over polenta; venison chili; baked pumpkin custard; roast pork, dill pickle, Swiss cheese and mustard sandwich.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
A hamburger with sautéed onions, mustard and pickle with fries at Five Guys; fried chicken (leg and thigh), hot rice, coleslaw at Belgrade Gardens in Barberton (soggy chicken; I’m over Barberton chicken, I think); blue cheese burger, sweet potato fries at Mustard Seed Market in Highland Square; grilled cheese sandwich, Macedonian bean soup, hot tea at Village Gardens in Cuyahoga Falls.

THE MAILBAG

From J.S.:
Good morning! I have been wondering if you or my fellow readers have any recommendations for a gourmet grocery store that is “like” West Point Market. Preferably in Summit, Stark, Medina or Portage counties but further north is OK, too. There is a void that needs filling!

Dear J.S.:
You could expand your search to the entire United States and would not find another store like West Point Market. While Russ Vernon ran it, West Point was the finest specialty grocery store in the country, with the awards to prove it.

I, too, have searched for alternatives for unusual ingredients or just upscale ingredients such as French fleur de sel and specific imported cheeses. I haven’t found any one store that satisfies all my needs. I have cobbled together a network that usually but not always produces results.

Earth Fare and Mustard Seed Markets have good delis and cheese sections. Mustard Seed and wine stores are good bets for wine. Krieger’s has some gourmet products you wouldn’t expect, along with a broader-than-average selection of top-quality produce; Kirbie’s in Stow and Sherman Provision in Norton have great meat. Chicken that has not been hard-chilled, which we non-government types call “frozen,” is available at DiFeo’s. Aldi’s has good, reasonably-priced imported chocolate (but nothing compares to Akron’s own Temo’s). For bread, I now recommend the Brimfield Bread Oven unless you want the best Italian bread you’ve ever had, which is Massoli’s, available at the bakery at 157 Brittain Rd. in Akron and at DeViti’s on Tallmadge Avenue, also in Akron.

I miss West Point too much to shop at Whole Foods 365 in the Wallhaven area of Akron, which is sitting atop West Point’s former property. You might try that, along with Trader Joe’s in Beachwood and any of the large-format Giant Eagle Marketplace stores. Did I miss any?

From Geoff H.:
William B. can find the nuts (in the shell) he is looking for at Dannemillers in Norton on Hametown Road. The phone is 330-825-7808.

Dear Geoff:
Thanks for the tip. I plan to visit soon for other purchases.

From Carol B.:
Regarding filberts and almonds in the shell, the Giant Eagle in Montrose has them in bulk.

Dear Carol:
Thanks. I imagine that means other Giant Eagle stores carry them as well.

From Cindy W:
To read that you never tasted the Akron City Club’s famous appetizer nearly brought me to tears! Being served Shrimp ACC was always the highlight of my meals there, whether as a child guest of a relative who belonged, or as one of the first handful of women admitted to membership.

But reminiscences aside, I seem to recall that recipe being sought and finally found and printed in the Beacon Journal eons ago. I hope you can help find it once again…it is a delicious reason to make and serve toast points once again.

Dear Cindy:
I don’t remember printing that recipe (but my memory often tricks me these days), and I couldn’t find it in a search of the Beacon Journal’s database. However, help is at hand. Read on.

From Alix W.:
Shrimp ACC was a fabulous dish but when I went to the Akron City Club I was afraid to order the most expensive thing on the menu. A lovely woman named Ruby served in the ladies’ dining room and passed out divine sticky buns, one to each guest.

The recipe for Shrimp ACC is in the Akron General Cook Book (published in 1961) along with their wonderful Crabmeat Ravigote. Unfortunately you can no longer purchase the Escoffier Diablo Sauce the recipe calls for but there is a recipe for it on the Internet.

SHRIMP ACC
1 lb. cooked shrimp, crab meat or lobster
1 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup chili sauce
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. chutney (I think this should be 1/2 cup)
Few grains of cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. Escoffier Diablo Sauce (see note) (Jane says: Maybe this should be 1/2 cup, too, or at least one tablespoon)
Grated Parmesan cheese
Melted butter
Place the seafood in a casserole dish. Combine remaining ingredients and pour over seafood. Sprinkle with Parmesan and a few tablespoons melted butter. Bake at 400 degrees until nicely browned. Serve over toast points.

Note: A-1 Sauce may be substituted for the discontinued Escoffier sauce. Or a copycat recipe can be found here: http://www.hungrybrowser.com/phaedrus/m0115M07.htm.

December 5, 2018

Dear friends,
Tony was out of town. The dog and I huddled indoors as sleet encrusted my car in a glaze of ice. We weren’t going anywhere. We needed an extra blanket and soup.

Luckily, I had thought ahead and bought a few ingredients with soup in mind. I didn’t have a recipe, just an idea: potato-mushroom soup. Maybe with bacon?

I hauled out a pot and the ingredients and placed my notepad and a pen on the counter. The way I work is to jot down a list of potential ingredients, in the order I envision using them. I leave space to the left for amounts. Then I measure and cook, measure and cook and, with sticky hands, note ingredient amounts and instructions. My finished written recipe usually has a lot of arrows, rub-outs and additions squeezed in. It’s a mess, but it works for me.

But back to the sleet, the dog and the soup. Oscar left the comfort of the blanket when he smelled bacon sizzling. By the time the soup was done, he was frantic with anticipation. I couldn’t deny him. I spooned a bit of the creamy broth and a few cubes of potato over his kibble, and crowned it with a shred of bacon. I took dog, kibble and a mug of the steaming soup back to the sofa, where we ate while watching “The Christmas Chronicles” on Netflix.

I had two bowls of the soup. Tony ate the rest of it when he returned the next day, proclaiming it the best soup he had ever eaten. I think he was just grateful he didn’t have to eat his hunting buddies’ cooking again.

But the soup was indeed good. After crisping the bacon, I sautéed chopped onions and sliced mushrooms in the bacon fat, added potatoes, sherry, seasonings and chicken broth, and simmered until the potatoes were tender. I finished the soup with a bit of cream to enrich the broth.

POTATO-MUSHROOM SOUP

4 slices bacon
1 lb. sliced mushrooms
1 cup chopped onion
2 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup dry sherry
6 cups chicken broth
2 lbs. white potatoes, peeled and cut in 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup cream

Fry bacon in a soup pot until crisp. Remove bacon and set aside. Fry mushrooms and onions in bacon drippings until onions are softened and mushrooms are cooked. Stir in thyme and salt. Add sherry and chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Add potatoes. Simmer, uncovered, for about 30 minutes, until potatoes are very tender and flavors are blended. Stir in cream and return to a simmer. Makes about 8 servings.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Sirloin steak salad with arugula, goat cheese, toasted walnuts, pear wedges, dried cranberries, roasted Brussels sprouts; frozen DiGiorno pizza; potato and mushroom soup; cornbread.

What I ate in/from restaurants last week:
Superfoods salad with chicken from Aladdin’s in Fairlawn (quinoa, dried cranberries, yellow squash, tomato, peas, walnuts, cucumber, lentils and crisp pita pieces with lemon vinaigrette — love it); spicy shrimp and grits and a glass of Malbec at The Merchant in Akron (really good); pulled pork, pot roast, a hush puppy, beets, mashed potatoes, a sugar-free chocolate cookie and sugar-free pistachio cake at Golden Corral in Green. Don’t judge. Some of the food is pretty good.

THE MAILBAG
From William B.:
Does anyone still sell unshelled nuts in bulk quantities? I’m looking to buy like 5 pounds each of filberts and almonds. Aldi’s has a seasonal bag of nuts for about $7 that has way too many walnuts and Brazil nuts for me. I remember grocery stores used to have bins of nuts in the produce department that you just scooped up.

Also, regarding the letter about rotisserie chicken, I get that unctuousness by roasting it in a clay pot, then seasoning it to taste. You won’t get a brown, crackly skin but it is good. I usually stuff a whole bird with two cut-up onions, a cut-up lemon, a couple cloves of garlic and sprigs of thyme, with the usual salt and pepper.

When I worked at East Side Mario’s our rotisserie chicken was in a marinade of soy sauce, garlic powder, pepper, olive oil, rosemary and lemon. We usually marinated 40 chickens at a time for at least 24 hours.

Dear William:
I remember those barrels of nuts, too, especially around Christmas. A bowl of nuts with nutcrackers and picks to offer to guests was standard in homes around the holidays when I was growing up. Now we all want our nuts shelled, roasted, salted, seasoned or smoked.

I checked a couple of stores and found that nuts in the shell are sold in bulk at Krieger’s in Cuyahoga Falls and Beiler’s Market in Uniontown. Probably other produce markets sell them, too. Beiler’s carries filberts, walnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts, pecans, mixed nuts and chestnuts, all $3.99 a pound in the shell except chestnuts, which are $7.49 a pound.

From Molly:
Regarding your Thanksgiving stuffing/dressing, we turned our leftover dressing into waffles. There are recipes for this online, but basically what we did was combine about 8 cups of stuffing with 3 eggs and enough vegetable stock to moisten. It wasn’t liquid-y enough to form a traditional waffle batter but it was wetter than the dressing alone.

We then coated the waffle wells with the stuff, pun intended, and cooked to about a level 5 until done to our liking. The texture of each waffle was semi-crisp. The cooked waffles waited in a low oven until we were finished with all of them. We piled turkey, gravy and homemade cranberry sauce on top. I opted out of the cranberry sauce and put Cheddar cheese on top instead. There were mashed potatoes to go on the side. Delicious. This is how we’ll eat Thanksgiving leftovers next year.

Dear Molly:
Wowzer. That’s how I want to eat Thanksgiving leftovers next year, too. I hope I remember, because it sounds spectacular.

From Karen:
The next time you are at Alexandri’s in Wadsworth, run over one street and check out the cookies at ToastHeads micro bakery at 122 Watrusa St. for the best cookies in the area. They are pricey but well worth every penny. Only place you will ever go after you try them. And they have gluten free for those who have a hard time finding treats.

Dear Karen:
Although I try not to eat sweets, I have pressed my nose to the window of ToastHeads many times. The cookies look and sound delicious. I have a hard time resisting the rotating roster of jumbo cookie flavors such as salted caramel and s’mores, not to mention the orange-cranberry and bacon-Cheddar breads.

November 28, 2018

Dear friends,
A couple of husbands ago, I baked 11 dozen cookies for my first married Christmas. I worried it wasn’t enough because my mother made many, many more cookies each holiday season. She also had many, many more visitors, a fact I ignored. I ended up eating at least half of those11 dozen cookies myself.

Now, all these years later, I still have no reason to bake Christmas cookies. I have sworn off sugar, my husband is diabetic and my handful of relatives will visit next month maybe once. I still like to bake cookies, though, so I think up reasons to crank up the oven in December.

This year the first batch went to a neighborhood barn dance. The cookies were a triple-ginger with a lemon drizzle. I was trying to duplicate the ginger cookies sold at the late, great West Point Market, but those were soft and mine were as crunchy as ginger snaps. They were delicious.

I made a second batch of cookies Monday because I’ve been itching to duplicate the Almond Cloud Cookie I bought at the Brimfield Bread Oven. Finding the recipe wasn’t hard. Baker Genevieve Smith studied pastry-making at the King Arthur Flour Baking School in Vermont, and King Arthur has the recipe on its website.

The cloud cookie looks like its name. It is about a 3-inch round, puffy white cookie with a delicate, crackly exterior and soft interior that tastes like marzipan. We used to make smaller versions of these things and call them macaroons, but that was before French macarons wiped the very idea of clunky American macaroons from the face of the earth. So now we are rediscovering American macaroons as “Almond Cloud Cookies.”

Whatever. They are really sweet but good. So far I have eaten two cookies and am frantically looking for a recipient for the remaining 20. Maybe the Copley cops. I once took them a loaf of warm, yeasty fruit bread around Christmas, but I think they could make do this year with cookies that taste like almond clouds.

TRIPLE GINGER COOKIES WITH LEMON DRIZZLE

2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup solid vegetable shortening
1/4 cup light molasses
1 egg
2 tsp. minced peeled fresh ginger
1/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger
Lemon drizzle:
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tbsp. lemon juice
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment. Whisk first five ingredients and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat sugar and shortening in a large bowl until fluffy. Beat in molasses, egg and fresh ginger. On low speed, beat in crystallized ginger and the dry ingredients.

Scoop out rounded tablespoons of dough and shape into balls. Arrange 2 inches apart on the baking sheets. Bake at 350 degrees until golden and dry-looking, about 15 minutes. Slip parchment with cookies off the baking sheets and cool, continuing with more batches until dough is used up.

Beat the glaze ingredients together until smooth. The icing should be just thin enough to drip off the tines of a fork. Dip a fork in the glaze and wave back and forth over cookies, repeating until each cookie is streaked with glaze. Makes about 3 dozen.
Adapted from a recipe in Bon Appetit magazine.

ALMOND CLOUD COOKIES

1 3/4 cups (16 oz.) almond paste (I used Solo brand)
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
2 large egg whites, lightly beaten
1 tsp. almond extract (or less; it is pretty intense)
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Lightly grease two baking sheets, or line with parchment. In the bowl of a stand mixer,
blend the almond paste, sugar, and salt until the mixture is uniformly crumbly. Add the
egg whites one at a time, mixing to make a smooth paste. Stir in the almond extract.

Scoop the dough by heaping tablespoons onto the prepared pans.
Dust the cookies generously with confectioners’ sugar, then use three fingers to press
an indentation into the center of each cookie. Refrigerate the shaped cookies,
uncovered, for at least 2 hours or as long as overnight.

When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Bake the cookies for 20 to 25 minutes, just until they’re brown around the edges.

Remove from the oven and let cool on the pan on a rack.

Store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 10 days; freeze for longer storage.

TIDBITS

Finally, a commercial rental kitchen:
Small Akron-area food businesses will soon have a shared-kitchen space available to rent by the hour in The Well building (a former church) on East Market Street in Akron.

Grants from the USDA and several local organizations are paying for the remodeling project, which will include refrigeration and freezer areas, and room for more than one entrepreneur to work at a time, according to Crain’s Cleveland Business.

The rental kitchen, which will be known as Akron Food Works, will be a boon to small caterers, food-truck owners and farmers’ market purveyors who do not have a professional, inspected facility of their own. The kitchen should be up and running by late spring.

Stuffing epiphany:
I ate the last of the Thanksgiving stuffing on Sunday and I’m still licking my chops. This year I made the usual cornbread and sausage stuffing — dressing to you Southerners — and piled it into a casserole for baking. Then I had an inspiration: Wouldn’t this taste even better as a custard? I envisioned a sort of a cross between stuffing and bread pudding.

I moistened the stuffing lightly with turkey broth, then beat a couple of eggs into 1 1/2 cups of milk, which I poured evenly over the stuffing. Into the oven it went (350 degrees for about 30 to 40 minutes). Yeow. The stuffing was set and slightly puffed. The texture was mostly stuffing-like, but laced with enough egg custard to make it moist and faintly pudding-ish.

I will dream of this stuffing until next Thanksgiving.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Hamburger sliders on egg buns; meatloaf, oven-roasted cubed potatoes with olive oil and garlic; pineapple mousse pie, pumpkin pie, cornbread; brined, grill-smoked turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, whipped sweet potatoes with bourbon, cornbread and sausage custard stuffing, sugar-free whole cranberry sauce with dried apricots and toasted pecans.

What I had in/from restaurants:
Greek lemon-orzo soup and a mushroom burger at Alexandri’s in Wadsworth; pulled pork, coleslaw and a corn muffin at Old Carolina Barbecue in Fairlawn.

THE MAILBAG
From Janet C.:
I also read the New York Times article about not brining. What a crock. I did a large brined turkey breast and several thighs last year for my niece and her adult family. Everyone could not get enough of the turkey. I will continue to brine. Some things simply work. Some traditions are really just bad habits. Others are truly the result of trial and error and should be used and treasured.

Dear Janet:
Yes! Tony and I loved the turkey I brined last week and roasted over charcoal on my Weber. I brine pork chops, too, with great results.

From R.P., Raleigh, N.C.:
I grew up in Akron and occasionally we went to the Akron City Club downtown for special meals. They served a very rich shrimp dish called Shrimp ACC. It was served over toast points or very thin shoestring potatoes. Do you happen to have this recipe to share?

Dear R.P.:
I remember dining at the City Club but never had the shrimp, nor do I have the recipe. I tried to contact the former chef, Ed Valente, but discovered that he died in 2015 in Lexington, Ky., where he had relocated after leaving Akron. Ed was a dear man.

Maybe someone who worked at the club back then is reading this and has the recipe. If so, would you please share?

From Mark:
The fall-off-the-bone juiciness of supermarket rotisserie chicken, even more than the convenience/cost ratio, has meant that I haven’t roasted a whole chicken for years. Can a home oven mimic the rotisserie effect without continuous rotation? Would one just extend roasting time or seek a higher end temperature to achieve fall-off-the-bone juiciness?

Dear Mark:
Chefs love to hate on supermarket rotisserie chicken. What you call “fall-off-the bone” tenderness they call “mushy.” I once tried to duplicate supermarket rotisserie chicken at home, but I concentrated on the seasoning. Brining a chicken will produce juiciness, and seasoning the skin will produce flavor, but neither will provide the texture you want.

I think that texture is the result of not just turning the chicken over a heat source, but doing so in a confined, tightly closed space. In other words, kind of steaming it. Do not simply roast your chicken longer and/or bring it to a higher internal temperature. That will produce dry, stringy chicken — the opposite of your goal. I suggest you brine, season the skin, and roast in the classic fashion. Then compare. Maybe — and I write this with zero snark — maybe you have forgotten what a great roast chicken tastes like.

November 20, 2018

Dear friends,
Kim, Kim, Kim. Why are you trying to ruin my Thanksgiving?

In the New York Times Food section last week, the otherwise awesome Kim Severson wrote that turkey brining is passe. She quoted a handful of chefs and writers who are “so over it.” Frankly, they all sounded like turkey haters to me.

Kim came too late to food writing to remember this, but turkey brining was not introduced to the public in 1999 by Alton Brown on the Food Network, as she claims. The year was 1996, and the seminal event was a gala pre-Thanksgiving dinner for a group of food writers at the historic Stag’s Leap Winery in California’s Napa Valley. I was there, and was among the many who that year printed winery chef Jeffrey Starr’s recipe for orange marinated brined smoked turkey. That bird was a revelation. It was and remains the best turkey I’ve ever eaten, and I still make a version of it almost every year.

No, the meat does not taste “watery.” No, the texture is not like “lunch meat.” And no, we did not start brining way back then because low-quality frozen turkeys were the only ones available. We had already discovered fresh heirloom turkeys in a big way. We brined for the same reason most of us still do: Brined turkey (and chicken and pork) is juicy and tastes great. Dry brining, I’ll admit, works OK, too. But I love wet brining. I am so not over it.

Kim cites food sleuths who prepared turkey several ways and compared the results. Dry-brining was preferred in a blind taste test. I, too, have prepared turkey several ways and compared results, although dry-brining was not included. My hands-down favorite method is brined turkey smoke-roasted on a covered grill.

No, turkey brining is not dead, no matter what millions of people read in the New York TImes last week. I think the method still produces the juiciest, most flavorful turkey, and I will brine a turkey this week as I always do. My recipe has changed a bit over the years. I don’t use as much salt now — one-half cup per gallon of liquid is plenty, according to the Morton Salt folks. I don’t brine for days, either. Overnight, I’ve found, will do it. I usually don’t add wine, juice and herbs, either. They don’t penetrate the skin enough to flavor the meat, as Kim pointed out in her article. But yes, I will brine.

It’s not too late for you to brine, either. If you have a stock pot big enough to hold your turkey on end and is small enough to fit in your refrigerator, use that. If not, use a leak-proof plastic food bag or even a spanking-clean cooler. Mix two gallons of water with one cup of salt and pour over the bird. Add more water if needed to completely cover the turkey. Chill (add ice if using a cooler) overnight. Rinse the turkey inside and out and pat dry before roasting.

My favorite way to cook turkey is on a covered grill. When I cook it inside, I use the high-heat method. Here are directions:

GRILL-SMOKED TURKEY

Build a large charcoal fire (about 30 briquettes) in the bottom of one side a lidded grill, and place a 9-by-12-inch foil pan in the bottom of the other half. Remove turkey from brine and pat dry. Rub or spray the unstuffed turkey all over with oil or butter. Place on the grill over the pan. Close lid, leaving vents wide open. Grill for 2 to 3 hours for a 10 to 18-pound turkey. Note that the air temperature and wind can lengthen cooking time.

While roasting, add 6 to 8 charcoal briquettes every 45 minutes, and turn turkey quickly at the same time to rotate the side closest to the coals. Otherwise, do not open lid or heat will escape. Cook turkey until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh registers 175 to180 degrees.

Transfer to a platter, wrap tightly with foil and let rest for about 30 minutes before carving.

QUICK ROAST TURKEY
1 whole turkey, about 18 lbs.
Vegetable oil, such as canola
Water
Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Remove giblets and neck from turkey cavities and wash the bird inside and out under cool running water. Pat dry. Or use a brined bird. Remove any pads of fat from the edge of the body cavity. Insert a meat thermometer at an angle into the thickest part of the breast, touching the breast bone. Lightly oil the skin all over.

Place a wire rack in a large, shallow roasting pan. Place the turkey on the rack, breast side up. The turkey must not hang outside the pan. Pour about 1/2 inch of water into the pan. Place on a rack in the lower third of the oven and roast uncovered until the thermometer registers 160 degrees — about 1 3/4 hours for an 18-pound turkey or 2 hours for a 22-pound turkey. If the turkey weighs less than 18 pounds, check the temperature after an hour. If the turkey begins to brown too much, tent loosely with foil.

When done, remove from oven, transfer to a platter and cover tightly with foil. Let rest for 30 to 45 minutes before carving. Serves 12.

CLASSIC ROAST TURKEY
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Remove turkey from brine and pat dry. Stuff or not, as you choose. Place in a shallow pan (no more than 2 or 3 inches deep) and rub the skin all over with butter or margarine.

Do not cover with a lid or foil, which will steam the meat. Roast uncovered at 325 degrees until brown. Then cover loosely with foil and continue roasting until done (see roasting times below). Basting is not necessary because the juices do not penetrate the skin. Transfer to a platter, cover with foil and let rest for about 30 minutes before carving.

Roasting times at 325 degrees:
10 to 18 lb. turkey — 3 to 3 1/2 hours unstuffed, 3 3/4 to 4 1/2 hours stuffed
18 to 22 lbs. — 3 1/2 to 4 hours unstuffed, 4 1/2 to 5 hours stuffed
22 to 24 lbs. — 4 to 4 1/2 hours unstuffed, 5 to 5 1/2 hours stuffed

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week;
Pan-grilled filet mignon, fried potato cakes, roasted Brussels sprouts with caramelized apple dressing; ginger cookies with lemon drizzle; potato and greens soup; cubed Spam and black beans in Coney sauce (yuck).

What I ate in/from restaurants, etc., last week:
Yaki soba chicken at Kasai in Wadsworth; chicken pot pie from Giant Eagle’s deli; Korean pork belly taco and an al pastor (chicken and pineapple) taco from Funky Truckeria in Norton; egg and shrimp bites, won ton soup, spicy prawns, Peking duck in pancakes and egg tarts for dim sum at Li Wah in Cleveland.

THANKSGIVING SIDES
The Mailbag will be replaced this week with a couple of recipes that I think would taste good at Thanksgiving dinner, along with directions for killer pie crust. Happy holidays, friends.

QUINOA SALAD WITH DATES AND BLOOD ORANGES
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped dates
2 blood or cara-cara oranges

Dressing:
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 tsp. each salt, cinnamon, ground ginger, ground cumin
2 tsp. honey or Splenda to taste

Rinse quinoa well in cold water. Drain in a sieve. Place in a medium saucepan with water. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat and cover. Simmer for about 15 minutes or until grains are al dente. Do not overcook. Drain any excess water.

While quinoa cooks, place onion and dates in a medium-size serving bowl. Make the dressing by combining the vinegar, oil, spices and honey or Splenda in a small jar and shaking well. Place the warm quinoa in the bowl and toss with the dressing, onion and dates.

Cut a thin slice from both the blossom and stem ends of the oranges. Place on a cutting board, one of the cut ends down. With a sharp knife, slice off the skin and white pith all the way around, following the shape of the orange. Then one at a time, slice next to one membrane and flick the bare orange section into the bowl. Do this over the bowl with the quinoa to catch any juices. Continue with second orange. Gently toss to distribute the orange sections.

Cover and chill salad. Toss again before serving. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Note: Pomegranate arils may be substituted for the blood oranges.
This is my original recipe.

GREEN BEANS WITH GORGONZOLA
2 lbs. fresh green beans
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
Salt to taste
1/2 lb. Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

Rinse and dry the beans and trim off both ends. Place a large skillet over medium heat. Pour in the oil and toss in the garlic. Cook 4 to 5 minutes, until garlic has just lightly colored.

Put beans in the pan and shake to spread them out. Pour in 1/4 cup water. Cover, lower heat and cook for about 15 minutes, shaking pan occasionally, until the beans are tender to the bite and lightly caramelized.

Salt beans lightly. Raise the heat and drop bits of cheese into the beans. Cook uncovered, tossing and stirring with a spatula or tongs while the cheese melts, about 1 1/2 minutes. Spoon into a bowl and serve immediately. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

From “Lidia’s Family Table” by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich

MY BEST PIE DOUGH
2 cups all-purpose or 2 cups plus 2 tbsp. pastry flour
1 tsp. salt
2/3 cup (about 10 tbsp.) chilled lard or vegetable shortening
7 to 8 tbsp. cold water

Whisk together flour and salt in a medium bowl. Add lard in small pieces. With a pastry blender, cut the lard into the flour-salt mixture until the pieces of lard are about the size of peas. Use a knife to clean off the blades of the pastry blender occasionally.
Sprinkle the water over the mixture one tablespoon at a time, tossing with a fork to mix. Do not mix with your hands. After 7 tablespoons, pinch a bit of the mixture to see if it will stick together. If not, add remaining one tablespoon of water.

Working quickly so the heat from your hands does not melt the fat, gather the mixture into a ball. Do not knead. Divide in half and flatten each ball slightly. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill an hour or more if possible.

Remove from refrigerator and warm to cool room temperature, until dough is pliable enough to roll. Flour each disk and place on a floured surface or between two pieces of plastic wrap. Roll each disk with rolling pin in strokes from the center to the edges to form a 9- or 10-inch circle. After dough is fitted into pie pan and crimped or filled, bake immediately. Unfilled pie shells may be wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated for baking later. Makes enough for 2 pie shells or 1 double-crust pie.