February 14, 2018

Dear friends,

I’m back home in the cold and snow, watching the Olympics and warming myself with thoughts of all the great food I had in Florida. Yes, I ate too many Happy Meals in pursuit of wifi (Hurricane Irma destroyed our campground’s system). And I ate at places like Domino’s (yuk) and Golden Corral (not bad) because marriage is compromise. But I also had a lot of fine seafood and catered to my Cuban food obsession. Here are some highlights.

Best deal: Three pounds of just-harvested large stone crab claws for a measly $30 at a gas station in Everglades City. The charming little town is the self-described “World stone crab capital.” There’s so much crab that it’s even sold at gas stations. We missed the town’s seafood festival by one day, but had a festival of our own after toting the crab back to Okeechobee in a $7 Styrofoam cooler.

Best Cuban sandwich: Not Mervyn’s in Ft. Pierce, which somewhere along the line won the local title. Its Cubans are good but not great because they include salami and are relatively small. I want a sandwich with heft. I want to get two meals out of one.

The foot-long Cubans from El Cubanito’s in Ft. Pierce were just about perfect – crisp pressed Cuban bread, plenty of marinated roast pork, the traditional mustard and dill pickle chips along with ham and melted cheese. But the sandwich from Vicky Bakery in suburban Miami had all of that and a hint of creamy mayo, too. Later I made a clone that Tony said was even better that Vicky’s, but I doubt it. Here in the frozen North, I’m already planning to buy a pork roast and start making Cuban bread. I miss those sandwiches.

What I learned: Yuca is cassava is manioc. Same tuber, different names. I already knew the difference between yuca, a starchy vegetable that is eaten widely in the Caribbean, and yucca, an ornamental shrub. Before frying some up (or boiling, roasting or steaming it), you should know the difference, too.

Gator is still chewy, dammit. Tony, who claims he has cooked and served alligator steaks in his sushi bar, also claims that the alligator he got at festivals and in restaurants in Florida was tender and juicy. I say it was as dry and chewy as all the other alligator I’ve eaten over the years in the line of work.

I was happy, though, that Tony limited his alligator obsession to eating it. All month he wondered aloud whether a license was needed to hunt them. I finally realized he was serious. How would he kill one? Grab it and choke it, he said. What would he do with the carcass? Eat the tail and mount the head to hang on the wall, he said. Lord help us.

Best seafood meal:
Shrimp Tortuga at a casual beach restaurant, the Cottage, in Ft. Myers. Friends took us to the place, where we ate outdoors on a deck overlooking the ocean. The shrimp I ordered came with crusty bread to dip in the luscious sauce that was a flavor bomb of butter, garlic and lemon. Intense garlic and lemon. A friend and I couldn’t stop sopping up that sauce.

I tried to duplicate the dish back at the campground. I made a silky beurre blanc with wine, butter, lemon juice, garlic and a dash of hot sauce. It was delicious but not shrimp Tortuga. I tried again after I came home, and this time I got it right. The sauce is merely melted butter with lots of chopped garlic, lots of hot sauce and a dash of cream. Instead of lemon juice, I used grated lemon rind for a more intense lemon flavor. Bingo.

 

SHRIMP TORTUGA

 

Shrimp Tortuga

 

• 8 tbsp. butter
• 2 tbsp. minced garlic
• 1 to 2 tbsp. hot pepper sauce (Sriracha or Tabasco)
• 1 lb. large shrimp, peeled
• 1/4 cup dry white wine
• 1 tbsp. cream
• Finely grated zest of 1 large or 2 small lemons
• 2 tbsp. minced cilantro leaves

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add garlic and cook until softened but not starting to brown. Stir in hot pepper sauce. Increase heat to medium and sauté shrimp, stirring once or twice, just until no longer opaque. Remove shrimp from skillet and set aside.

Increase heat to medium-high and add wine. Simmer until reduced slightly. Stir in cream and remaining 6 tablespoons butter. Stir in lemon zest and cook for one minute. Taste sauce and add more hot sauce if desired. Return shrimp to pan and bathe in sauce. Divide among 2 to 4 plates and top with cilantro. Makes 2 to 4 servings.

GUT CHECKWhat I cooked last week:


Shrimp with garlic, butter, lemon and hot sauce.

What I ate in restaurants:
Pulled pork, smoked brisket, cornbread stuffing, mashed potatoes and a yeast roll at Golden Corral; fried hog snapper, french fries and coleslaw at Triad Seafood in Everglades City, Fla.; Cuban sandwich, plantain chips and yuca fries from Mervin’s Cafe in Ft. Pierce, Fla.; a chicken sandwich from KFC near Jacksonville, Fla. pepperoni pizza from Rizzi’s in Copley, Ohio; a quinoa and kale broth bowl with chicken and an apple at Panera Bread in Montrose.

TIDBIT

The Akron Recipe Project, a book in the making from retired Akron librarian Judy James, needs your help. The book will be about what people in Akron have been cooking for their families for generations. It will also be about the stories behind the recipes.

James is collecting the recipes and stories now, and hopes a few of you will share. The recipes need not be iconic Akron recipes – just recipes that are important to you and your families.

Submit recipes to Judy James at akronrecipeproject@gmail.com or contact Judy at 330-815-0775.

THE MAILBAG:

From Ellen M.:
The best wedding soup I ever had was at Yocono’s on West Exchange Street in Akron. I also liked their individual casseroles of penne pasta, meatballs, marinara sauce and cheese baked in the oven. Has anyone found a close second for either dish?

Dear Ellen:
I am sorry I missed those dishes when the restaurant was in business. I know Vaccaro’s Trattoria in Bath had excellent wedding soup the last time I tasted it. Hopefully we will hear from others who have suggestions for you. Anyone?

From Tammy Jo:
My husband has single-handedly stuffed our four (yes, four) freezers with an assortment of venison this season. I have made venison chili, venison spaghetti sauce, venison lasagna, a venison version of pasta a’ fagioli, and Johnny Marzetti with ground venison.

Do you or Tony have any other venison recipes that I could surprise my husband with?

Dear Tammy Jo:
Just about any ground beef recipe can be made with ground venison. I have made ground venison gravy over mashed potatoes, hamburger goulash and shepherd’s pie.

I request Tony’s deer be butchered into ground meat and an abundance of roasts. I use the latter in spicy recipes – for example, I rub a roast with Mexican spices and cook it in a slow cooker, then shred it with forks and use it as a stuffing for burritos. Last year I also cubed a roast and turned into classic goulash, which I provided a recipe for (made with beef) in my newsletter. You can access it by clicking here.

I am less inclined to cook venison steaks but when I do, I make a fruity wine sauce with the pan drippings to pour over the meat. Another good idea for venison steaks is to marinate them. This is a great time to try bulgogi, Korean marinated and grilled strips of meat. Use any venison steak and cut it into strips and marinate several hours or overnight. Grill (or pan grill) the strips and serve with rice at an Olympic-watching evening.

This recipe was given to me years ago by Jong Mi Edinger of Hudson. I am also including her recipe for a spicy salad to round out the meal.

BULGOGI

• 1 lb. flank steak (or venison steak – any cut)
• 5 tbsp. soy sauce
• 3 tbsp. sugar
• 3 tbsp. Oriental sesame oil
• 1/2 tsp. black pepper
• 2 tsp. toasted sesame seeds
• 1 tbsp. pressed garlic
• 1 green onion, minced
• 2 tbsp. white wine
• 1 medium onion
• 1 head garlic, separated into cloves and peeled

Cut the meat across the grain into 1/8-inch-thick strips. Combine all remaining ingredients except the medium onion and head of garlic. Mix well and pour over meat strips. Cover and refrigerate one to two hours (or overnight if using venison).

Meanwhile, cut onion in half lengthwise, then slice halves horizontally. Prepare a hot fire in a charcoal or gas grill, and cover grill with a fine-mesh screen. Remove meat from marinade and place on screen with sliced onion and whole garlic cloves. Grill until beef is cooked through but still moist. Serve with the onions and garlic cloves and, if desired, cooked white rice. Serves three to four.

SPICY SALAD

• 1 head leaf lettuce
• 3 tbsp. soy sauce
• 1 tbsp. sesame oil
• 1/4 tsp. sesame seeds
• 1/4 tsp. sugar
• 1/4 tsp. black pepper
• 1 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
• 1 tsp. (or to taste) crushed red pepper flakes

Wash and dry lettuce. Tear into bite-sized pieces and place in a bowl. In a small bowl, combine remaining ingredients. Pour over lettuce and toss. Serves four.

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February 7, 2018

Dear friends,

I didn’t get to taste the swamp cabbage but I did snag one of the last pieces of sour orange pie at the Lakeport, Fla., Sour Orange Festival last weekend. The shindig’s logo was an orange, making a puckery-angry face. How could I pass up such a unique food event just a 15-minute drive from our campground?

Things were well underway when we parked in a tufted and rutted pasture with about 20 other vehicles. Apparently the festival was not a hot ticket beyond Lakeport, a sun-baked crossroads of 7,500 residents.

A dozen or so knocked-together booths selling crafts, fried alligator, boiled swamp cabbage and the like were set up in a grove of live oaks. A trio played country-western music on a scuffed stage attached to the community building, where all the sour orange action took place.

This was the 26th year for the festival and its centerpiece, the Sour Orange Bake-Off, said organizer Dorri Evans. A moist coconut cake filled with sour orange curd won this year’s contest, which had just two entries, Dorri said with a rueful shake of her head. “We usually get twelve to fifteen.”

Dorri and her committee were on track to sell out of sour orange pie, as usual, though. In the weeks leading up to the festival the women juiced three 55-gallon drums of sour oranges picked from local trees, which grow wild in the area. The trees, brought here by Spanish colonizers, used to grow all over Florida. They were the root stock for Florida’s sweet-orange industry. Sour oranges are a staple of Cuban cooking and the cooking of Lakeport, where women turn the juice they squeeze into creamy frozen pies that taste like a Creme-sickle.

Tony and I shared a slice and got the recipe from Dorri. Sour orange juice is hard to find outside Latin American and Mexican food stores. Half lime juice and half orange juice may be substituted. Dorri gave me a sour orange before I left. It tastes citrusy but not orange-like. It is pleasantly sour, not lemon or lime sour. I like the flavor and am sorry I won’t be able to find the fruit in stores.

I’m even more sorry I won’t be around for the swamp cabbage festival in nearby Belle Glade later this month. I learned that what old Floridians call “swamp cabbage” is what we call “hearts of palm,” a gourmet item that costs a fortune when you can find it in cans.

Stubby palm trunks were heaped beside a chain saw in the pickup bed of one orange festival purveyor, who said the classic swamp cabbage preparation is boiled with vinegar, although it can be used for fritters and in salads, too. The main ingredient is from the sabal palm (elsewhere coconut and other palms are used, too). “Unfortunately, you have to kill the tree,’’ the purveyor lamented. “I think it’s the state tree of Florida.’’

 

FESTIVAL’S FAMOUS SOUR ORANGE PIES

Image 

• 3 cans (14 oz. each) sweetened condensed milk
• 2 tubs (8 oz. each) frozen whipped topping, thawed
• 2 cups sour orange juice (or 1 cup lime juice and 1 cup regular orange juice)
• 3  8- or 9-inch graham cracker pie crusts

Combine milk, topping and juice and beat with an electric mixer until well blended. Pour over graham crusts. Place in freezer until very firm, preferably overnight. (Wrap with plastic after filling firms up.) Let pies soften slightly at room temperature before cutting into wedges. Makes 3 pies.

Jane’s notes: * To make one pie, use 1 can milk, 2/3 tubs topping, 2/3 cup juice and 1 pie shell.
* Just before serving, decorate pie(s) with whipped topping and orange slices if desired.

GUT CHECKWhat I ate in restaurants week:


Half of a bagel-egg sandwich from Dunkin’ Donuts; a fish sandwich (probably tilapia) with fries and coleslaw at the Tin Fish in Okeechobee, Fla.; boneless ribeye steak, baked potato and iceberg lettuce salad with blue cheese dressing at the Brahma Bull Restaurant near Okeechobee; a tower of marinated raw tuna, avocado chunks, diced cucumber, crab cream cheese and pickled ginger with salmon roe and wasabi cream and eel sauces at 12A Buoy in Ft. Pierce; sugar-free Dilly Bar from Dairy Queen; and a practically flavor-free ham and pineapple pizza from Domino’s (my first from the chain).

What I cooked last week:
Nothing. Tony, however, made delicious grilled hot dogs on top-sliced buns with mustard, chili, grilled hot peppers and chopped onions. Yum.

THE MAILBAGFrom M.P:

Wanted to let you know that Siamone Fryer (Siamone’s in the Gala Plaza on Waterloo Road) has opened in her new location in the Brimfield Plaza. I was so glad to hear, and anxious to have her delicious Malay curry.

Dear M.P.:
That is good news. I like her food, too. The restaurant’s Facebook page, under Thai Monies, lists hours of 4 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday at 4112 Brimfield Plaza, State Route 43, in Kent. Phone 1-330-474-7588.


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January 31, 2018

Dear friends,

The worst part of Tony’s bad cold is what it did to my Cuban food fest. Oh, sure, I have been coddling and catering to him. But he still is in no mood to travel, and the closest Cuban restaurant is 45 minutes away from our campground in Okeechobee, Fla.

That’s what compelled me to make Cuban sandwiches Sunday for just the second or third time in my life. I had to have one, preferably a clone of the fabulous Cuban I got earlier in the week at Vicky Bakery near Miami. It was the only bright spot in a god-awful, traffic-snarled 10-hour drive to Key Largo and back that Tony insisting on taking.

Most Cuban sandwiches are pressed and contain roast pork, ham and melted cheese, but from there the details get hazy. Variations abound. Vicky’s Cuban had the requisite mustard and dill pickle chips, but it had two kinds of cheese and the filling seemed slightly creamy, as if it had been kissed by mayo. The Cuban bakery, of course, also made the Cuban bread that was the backbone of the sandwich.

I started my quest for the perfect Cuban with a 3-pound pork roast, a bottle of mojo criollo marinade and a jar of sliced olives. The olives were left from last week’s fling with Cuban picadillo and I thought, what the heck, I’ll dump them in the slow cooker with the pork roast and criollo sauce.

Wow. The olives tanged up the already-tangy sour orange-garlic criollo to liftoff proportions. The resulting pork roast was spectacular, with practically no work on my part. If you want to make authentic Cuban roast pork from scratch, as I did last February,  you can find the recipe by clicking on February 2017 in the Archived newsletters to the right, and scroll for the February 16 newsletter.

But if you don’t feel like cooking or have minuscule kitchen space, as I do in my camper, you won’t be disappointed with the olive slow-cooker version. Criollo sauce can be found in the ethnic food aisle of many supermarkets, or visit a Latin market.

I bought Cuban bread for my sandwich at a local supermarket, but I won’t be that lucky when I get back to Ohio. I have made Cuban bread in the past, but a good substitute for those who don’t want to turn a sandwich into a project would be any non-sliced, soft artisan-type loaf — not, for example, a French baguette or ciabatta. The loaf should be long, fairly low, and about 4 inches wide.

Except for the roast pork, the meats and cheeses for the sandwich should be bought at a full-service deli counter. Ask that they be sliced one-eighth-inch thick. The cooked pork roast should be sliced slightly thicker at home. It is easier to slice if it is made a day in advance and chilled.

Tony thought my Cuban sandwich was better than Vicky’s. He has a bad cold, of course, but even I thought the sandwich tasted like an authentic Cuban. I will make it often when we return to the vast Cuban wasteland of Ohio.

JANE’S SEMI-EASY CUBAN SANDWICH

Roast pork with olives (recipe follows)

• 1 to 2 loaves unsliced non-crusty artisan bread about 4 inches wide and 2 inches high
• 2 tsp. yellow mustard
• 4 large slices (1/8-inch thick) jack cheese, or enough to cover 12 inches of the bread
• 4 slices (1/8-inch thick) ham
• 4 slices (1/8-inch thick) Colby cheese
• Dill pickle chips
• 2 tsp. mayonnaise
• 2 tbsp. butter

Make the pork a day in advance if possible and chill. Trim fat and cut into slices between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick. Set aside.

Cut the loaf (loaves) of bread into two 12-inch-long pieces, or long enough to fit into your largest skillet. Cut each piece in half horizontally. Spread each bottom half with mustard and top evenly with Jack cheese. The cheese should cover the bread in one layer. Top with enough pork roast to just cover the bread. Top with ham, then Colby cheese, then a layer of dill pickle chips. Spread one teaspoon of mayonnaise on the cut surface of each top piece of bread. Place on top of the fillings to form two sandwiches.

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Place one of the sandwiches in the skillet and weight down with another, slightly smaller skillet filled with canned goods. The idea is to press the sandwich. Cook until the bottom starts to brown and the bottom piece of cheese starts to melt.

Remove sandwich from skillet and melt another tablespoon of butter. Return sandwich to skillet, flipped over, and weight as before. Cook until golden brown. Remove from skillet and slice cater-corner into two large triangles. Repeat with remaining sandwich. Serve immediately.

MOJO-CRIOLLO CROCK POT PORK WITH OLIVES

• 1/2 of a large onion, sliced
• 1 pork shoulder roast, about 3 lbs.
• 1 bottle mojo criollo marinade, about 20 oz., or enough to come halfway up sides of roast
• 1 jar sliced green olives in brine (about 1 1/2 cups with liquid)

Spread onion slices in the bottom of a slow cooker. Place pork roast on the onion slices. Pour the mojo criollo marinade around the roast. Dump the olives (with juice) over the roast. Cover and cook on high power for about 6 hours or until tender but not falling apart, turning roast twice.

GUT CHECK

What I ate out last week:

Grilled chicken breast, cottage cheese and fruit from Pogey’s Restaurant in Okeechobee, Fla.; Cuban sandwich, empanada from Vicky Bakery in Miami, Fla.; cheeseburger from McDonald’s; egg McMuffin from McDonald’s; Vietnamese egg roll, grilled pork banh mi from Saigon Restaurant in Okeechobee; a cake doughnut from Dunkin’ Donuts.

What I cooked last week:
Criollo mojo-marinated Cuban pork with olives in the slow cooker; Cuban sandwiches; shrimp with garlic-lemon butter sauce and cilantro.

Shrimp with garlic-lem butter sauce and cilantro


Food moment of the week:

While bobbing in a pool ringed with palm trees —
Tony: Why aren’t there any coconuts?
Me: Because those are cabbage palms.
Tony: Wow! Really??

THE MAILBAG

From Cheryl S.:
A lot of recipes call for bay leaves, which don’t seem to do much flavoring. For brothy soups, I’ve had luck by breaking up the leaves and putting them in a screen tea ball and hanging it in the pot, which I’m not inclined to do with pasta sauce, etc. I was thinking of buying a bay laurel this spring and wonder if there is a difference when using fresh bay leaf instead of dried.

Also, I remember you moved your rosemary plant indoors to your unheated porch with lots of windows. How did that work out? Mine always die within a couple of months of moving them indoors, whether in direct or indirect sunlight.

Dear Cheryl:
My rosemary always died indoors, too, which is why I started wintering the bushes in our mud room. The first year, the rosemary survived the winter. The second winter, when temperatures dropped below zero and stayed there for a while, the bush died. I gave up for a few years and just replanted rosemary every summer. I’m trying to over-winter my third bush this year.

For years I, too, spurned bay leaves. The aroma and flavor of dried leaves seemed so faint that I left them out of many recipes. Then I tasted a blanc mange flavored only with fresh bay leaves. The flavor was haunting. Later, a friend gave me a few leaves from her live plant and I used them in various dishes as they dried. Since then, I have exchanged old for new dried leaves regularly and use them when called for, trusting that they provide an undercurrent of flavor. Each winter I vow to hunt down a live bay bush in the spring, but haven’t so far. If you find one, let me know. Like rosemary, it must be brought inside for the winter.

From S.H.:
I will surely try your picadillo (from last week’s newsletter); but when I checked over your photo of the plate (of food), I could see the picadillo, the rice and what was the other yellow food?

Dear S.H.:
Those are yuca fries with garlic sauce. They have a texture similar to potato. The flavor is mild. I am obsessed with fried yuca. Yuca is also known as “cassava.”

From Noreen Stone:
There is a man in Port Clinton who sets up a food truck in the summer at 480 SE Catawba Road and sells Cuban sandwiches. He used to have a small restaurant in Marblehead which I miss greatly. He would whip up great vegetarian options for us. Oh, and if you’re nice to him, he’ll sing a bit of Elvis for you. He is also an Elvis impersonator.

Dear Noreen:
How can you lose with a one-two hit like that? Elvis and Cuban sandwiches?! I’m in love.

Please note: If your email address changes, you must re-subscribe to my newsletter in order to continue receiving it. We are unable to change the address for you in our email list. The procedure is easy. Just click on the “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of a newsletter. Then click here to sign up under your new address. Thank you.

January 24, 2018

Dear friends,

My marriage to Tony has thrived when my others have failed in part because we’re both willing to compromise. Last week he drove 45 minutes so I could see the movie “The Post” and afterward endured rush-hour traffic for carryout from a Cuban restaurant.

A few days later I accompanied Tony to yet another flea market and kept my mouth shut when he carted home his fifteenth pair of hedge clippers, garish red rope lights to adorn the camper, and an 8-inch-high incense burner that looks like Stonehenge if Stonehenge were carved into naked women.

Ah, well, the Cuban food was good and “The Post” was spectacular. I even got misty-eyed when I saw the Post newsroom, which looked like every newsroom I’ve ever worked in. Editors and reporters shouted and cursed. Just about everyone smoked. A sense of urgency prevailed. We fought the good fight every day for our readers.

People ask me if I miss my career as a newspaper reporter. I miss about 12 years of it, not the last half when nobody swore, nobody smoked and the sense of urgency was tempered by middle-management editors who cared more about their careers than a good story. Ah, the good old days when a woman could enjoy the occasional cigar and no one even noticed.

On the plus side, food has changed for the better in the last two decades. The variety of fresh food available in stores has increased exponentially, and even small burgs are likely to have a restaurant or two that produce meals made from scratch with a bit of flair.

The one culinary failing of the area where I live is that no Cuban restaurants have opened yet. I have to cook the food myself or visit Florida, where I gorge on Cuban sandwiches, succulent marinated pork and fabulous Cuban bread until I’m sated. Last year I even bought, froze and brought home two Cuban sandwiches to eat later in the Ohio wasteland.

This winter I’m camping in the interior of Florida miles from a Cuban restaurant, I was aghast to discover. Enter Tony, the husband of my dreams, who doesn’t mind driving 45 minutes for dinner at my choice of restaurant.

This week at El Cubanito in Port St. Lucie I got picadillo, the best use of ground beef since meatloaf. The dish is simply ground beef sautéed with chopped olives and spices and served in a heap by itself or over rice. I like to eat it separately from the rice so the flavors remain concentrated.

Picadillo is so easy to cook that I made it later in the cramped kitchen of our camper. When I get home I think I’ll make a big batch and use some in a favorite dish of Tony’s, shepherd’s pie. Now, that’s a win/win compromise.

PICADILLO

Image

• 2 cups diced onion
• 1 cup finely chopped green pepper
• 2 tbsp. olive oil
• 4 cloves garlic, minced
• 2 pounds ground beef
• 3 canned plum tomatoes, drained and chopped
• 1 tsp. ground cumin
• 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
• 1 tsp. oregano
• 1/2 cup pitted green olives, chopped
• 1/3 cup raisins (optional)
• 1/2 tsp. salt
• Black pepper (to taste)

Sauté onion and green pepper in olive oil in a large frying pan until the onion is softened. Add the garlic and ground beef and mash the vegetables into the meat, sautéeing until the beef is no longer pink. Add the tomatoes, cumin, cinnamon and oregano. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for about 15 minutes.

Add olives and raisins and simmer 5 minutes longer. Season with salt and pepper.
Serve hot beside or over rice.

GUT CHECK


What I cooked last week:

Grilled skirt steak with fig-balsamic vinegar, grilled hot peppers in olive oil, baked potatoes; scrambled eggs with country bacon and fried peppers; picadillo.

What I ate in and from restaurants last week:
No-sugar Dilly Bar from Dairy Queen; a Cuban sandwich from a gas station near Lake Placid, Fla.; a bento box of California roll, octopus tempura and chicken teriyaki over rice at Hokkaido Restaurant in Port St. Lucie; over-easy eggs, bacon, grits and toast at Gladys’ Restaurant in Okeechobee; picadillo, yellow rice and yuca fries with garlic sauce from El Cubanito’s in Port St. Lucie; oysters Rockefeller, a fried grouper finger and Tortuga Shrimp — large shrimp in a creamy garlic-lemon sauce — at The Cottage in Ft. Myers; smoky, juicy pulled pork and black-eyed peas from Honest John’s Log Cabin Bar-B-Que in La Belle, Fla; and a McDonald’s Happy Meal. Again.

THE MAILBAG

From Terri H.:

I’ve been enjoying your newsletters for years — always interesting posts and recipes. However, last week’s was disappointing — “Don’t hate”? If you’re going camping in Florida and enjoying the warm weather, good for you! I used to live in Tampa and appreciated the “snow birds” visiting from the cold, dark North. But your readers, especially those like me who live in Northeast Ohio, have been suffering with brutal, cold weather. We don’t need snarky posts about you enjoying the warm weather. I almost unsubscribed but your recipes brought back memories of my childhood in Tampa. Have some empathy.

Dear Terri:
I reread that post and I apologize. I remember just two years ago when my mood nose-dived in November and didn’t lighten up until the chives came up. Sometimes my attempts at humor bomb. This was one of them.

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Please note: If your email address changes, you must re-subscribe to my newsletter in order to continue receiving it. We are unable to change the address for you in our email list. The procedure is easy. Just click on the “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of a newsletter. Then click here to sign up under your new address. Thank you.

January 17, 2018

Dear friends,

Temperatures dipped here to the low 60s last weekend, so hearty cooking was on my mind. I know I won’t get much sympathy from friends back in Ohio, where half-inch-thick ice encased cars, porch steps and anyone foolish enough to stand still for long.

In Okeechobee, Fla., where Tony and I are camping, the cold snap meant wearing my Fiona the hippo sweatshirt in the mornings and foregoing the swimming pool for a couple of days. Tough life.

I warmed up our camper one day with a seasoned roast bubbling in the slow cooker. Later I shredded the meat and layered it in a casserole with cheese, black olives, green onions and salsa. I baked the casserole — actually, I had enough for two — and scooped the gooey, meaty mixture into warm flour tortillas.

Making the filling this way and having diners scoop and roll their own tortillas is an easy way to make burritos for a crowd. I baked one pan of filling and froze one for later, but you could assemble the casserole in an oblong cake pan for one big batch of burritos if you are feeding a crowd.

Sorry to write and run, but I gotta go — the pool is calling. Don’t hate.

 

FRESH BAKED
SHREDDED BEEF BURRITOS:
• 2 lbs. boneless chuck roast, trimmed of fat

• 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
• 1 tsp. ground cumin
• Salt, pepper

CASSEROLE:
• 1 can (15 oz.) fat-free refried beans
• 2/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
• 1 cup chopped green onion
• 1 can (5.5 oz.) sliced black olives, drained
• 2 cups (or to taste) chunky salsa
• 2 cups shredded Monterey Jack and Colby mixed cheese

For the beef, up to two days in advance: Place roast in a baking pan and rub all over with the cayenne, cumin, salt and pepper. Add enough water to come halfway up sides of roast. Cover tightly with foil. Bake in a preheated, 350-degree oven for about 3 hours, or until very tender.

 Remove foil and cool slightly, then shred meat with two forks. Season well with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

For the casserole: Spread 1/2 can of refried beans in the bottoms of two 9-inch-square baking pans. Top evenly with the feta cheese. Spread a half-cup chopped onion in each pan, then the black olives. Divide meat between the two pans. Top each with 1 cup of the salsa and 1 cup of the shredded cheese. Cover tightly with a double layer of foil.

Casseroles may be cooked immediately, refrigerated for up to two days, or frozen. If not frozen, bake uncovered at 400 degrees for 40 minutes or until heated through.

Or freeze one or both for up to 6 months. Bake frozen casserole at 400 degrees for 45 minutes, then uncover and bake 30 minutes longer or until hot all the way through.

To serve, scoop spoonfuls of the casserole into warm flour tortillas. Pass hot sauce at the table if desired. Each casserole makes 6 burritos.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Yellow rice with Cuban black beans, sausages and fried local peppers.

What I ate in restaurants last week:
Marinated, roasted and shredded Cuban pork, yellow rice and black beans, fried ripe plantains and yuca fries with garlic dipping sauce at El Cubanito in Port St. Lucie, Fla.; two hamburger Happy Meals with fries on two trips to McDonald’s; a great chicken and sautéed onion taco with cilantro at a food truck in Indiantown, Fla.; a breaded pork cutlet sandwich at Pogey’s Family Restaurant in Okeechobee, Fla.; liver and onions, mashed potatoes and gravy at Lakeside Family Restaurant in Okeechobee; a sausage-egg burrito and coffee at McDonald’s.

Note: McDonald’s is the only place near my campground where I can access wifi. Hence the breakfasts and Happy Meals. I did get a really cool pair of cartoon cat glasses with one Happy Meal, which made it all worthwhile.

THE MAILBAG

From Chris O., Charlotte, N.C.:
Regarding your search for Cuban food, I’ve always heard people rave about red beans and rice, but I’ve never had any. It sounds simple to make, but what makes Cuban red beans and rice so good? Are they different from New Orleans’ recipe?

 

Image


Dear Chris:
The seasonings are entirely different. In addition, New Orleans red beans and rice is spicy hot; the Cuban version is not. I like them both. My real fave, though, is Cuban black beans. They are long-cooked, deeply flavored, and dumped over white rice at the table.

BLACK BEANS AND RICE
• 1/2 lb. dried black beans
• 1 1/2 quarts water
• 2 large onions, chopped
• 1 green pepper, chopped
• 4 cloves garlic, chopped
• 1/2 cup olive oil
• 1 tbsp. salt
• 1 oz. bacon
• 1/4 lb. ham bone
• 2 tbsp. oregano
• 3 bay leaves
• 1/2 cup vinegar
• Cooked white or yellow rice
• Chopped onion for garnish (optional)

Wash and sort beans. Cover with water by 2 inches and soak overnight. Or bring to a boil, remove from heat and let stand 2 hours.

Drain beans. In a skillet, fry onion, green pepper and garlic in olive oil until tender. Add to beans along with the 1 1/2 quarts water, salt, bacon, ham bone, oregano and bay leaves. Cook over low heat until beans are tender and of a thick consistency, about 2 to 3 hours. Add vinegar a few minutes before serving. Serve over rice, topped with raw chopped onion.

From Pat S., Hudson:
Regarding popovers, when I lived in Great Britain I think I saw them add meat drippings to the muffin tin (at least a half inch), then heated the tin and then added the dough Maybe that’s why they didn’t stick. I’ve also seen Yorkshire pudding made in a large cast iron skillet; it looks like a Dutch baby when it’s done. Just some thoughts. Thanks for all your good info and recipes.

Dear Pat:
I’m getting the idea that the more fat, the better. My popovers released from the pan after I let them cool for about 5 minutes, but they still required a bit of prying. Maybe Anne K., below, has the answer.

From Anne K.:
I really have to disagree with most of what you wrote about popovers. I have been making them for 50 years. I would suggest watching the Barefoot Contessa’s popover video. She has it exactly right. Popovers fall out of the pans if properly greased.

Dear Anne:
I am far from an expert popover maker, and am glad for any help I can get. I watched the video you mentioned (others should Google “barefoot contessa popovers youtube”), and Ina Garten’s recipe and method are similar to the one I tried — and failed with — the first time. There are some differences. She says to heat the muffin or popover tin for exactly two minutes, and to bake the popovers at 425 degrees for exactly 30 minutes. She stirs the batter until smooth, unlike the stir-to-moisten technique I followed on my second,  more successful attempt. Her popovers turned out high and fluffy. I will try Garten’s recipe the next time.

Interesting fact I picked up while researching Garten’s method: Before switching careers and becoming the Barefoot Contessa, she was a nuclear policy analyst in the Nixon administration.

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January 10, 2018

Dear friends,

What the heck?! I have made gorgeous, puffy soufflés, cream puffs that rise like clouds and gougere that are crisp and hollow. I thought I knew a thing or two about pastries and air when I settled on soup and popovers for lunch with friends.

What a letdown when my popovers stubbornly refused to rise. We ate them anyway, although they were dense and eggy, and we had to pry them from the pan with knives and spoons. Ugh.

I couldn’t let popovers defeat me. In the coming days I read everything I could about the pastries, which are supposed to rise high above the pan until they’re crunchy outside and mostly hollow inside.

I had thought beating the batter well was the key. In fact, my recipe said to beat the batter until smooth. Not true. Popover batter should be treated like muffin or scone batter, and stirred gently just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Otherwise, it will not rise.

I picked up many other tips, too, such as warming the milk and heating the pan to encourage the rise. I also learned that popovers are not just muffin-shaped cream puffs, which was kind of what I imagined. They are the American cousins of British Yorkshire pudding, and are eggy and denser than cream puffs, and only partially hollow.

Here’s the gist of what I learned to make my popovers pop:

•  Warm the milk and have eggs at room temperature.
•  Heat the muffin tin before adding the batter.
•  Do not beat in flour until smooth. Stir it gently, just enough to moisten the flour but leaving some lumps.
• The popovers will stick to the pan no matter how well you grease it. Have patience. After they cool about five minutes, they are easier to remove from the pan.

Popovers are good warm or at room temperatures, plain or with butter or jam. Tony and I ate them with soup for supper and the next morning with marmalade and tea.

POPOVERS

Popovers

 

• 3 eggs, at room temperature
• 1 1/4 cups milk
• 1 1/4 cups flour
• 1/2 tsp. salt
• Neutral oil such as Canola

Place a 12-cup muffin tin in the oven while preheating to 450 degrees.

Beat eggs in a medium-size bowl, preferably one with a handle and spout. Warm milk in a microwave to about 100 degrees, not to a boil. Slowly whisk milk into eggs, beating well.

Combine flour and salt and add to egg mixture. With a spoon, stir just enough to moisten flour. Do not over mix. A few lumps are OK.

Remove muffin tin from oven and brush liberally with oil. Fill cups two-thirds full of batter. Bake at 450 degrees for 12 minutes. Without opening oven door, reduce heat to 350 and continue baking for 15 to 20 minutes, or until batter is puffed and beginning to brown.

Cool five minutes in pan before releasing the edges with a sharp knife and removing popovers. Eat plain, with butter or with jam. Makes 12.

HELP U COOK
Room-temperature or warm eggs are called for in many recipes  — often because egg whites whip to a greater volume when warmed. If you forget to remove eggs from the refrigerator in time to warm them to room temperature, just submerge the whole eggs in warm tap water until the shells feel warm. This will probably sound stupidly self-evident to some people, but others may have struggled for years until they learned this. Count me among the latter.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked at home last week:
Pan-grilled strip steaks, baked sweet potatoes.

What I ate out last week:
Hamburger station hamburger with onions, mustard and pickle, a few fries; half of a roast beef, baby Swiss and onion on ciabatta bread, cup of clam chowder from Shisler’s Cheese House in Copley;  wedding soup, salad and garlic bread at Marie’s in Wadsworth; chicken pot pie, a couple of bites of fried green tomato, bacon and Jack cheese sandwich at Tamarack: The Best of West Virginia near  Beckley, W.Va.; pulled pork sandwich and coleslaw at Sonny’s Barbecue in Brunswick, Ga.; Egg McMuffin and coffee at McDonald’s in Ft. Pierce, Fla.; conch chowder, a conch fritter and shrimp tostones — plantains smashed and fried, topped with Jack cheese, shrimp, chopped red onion, tomato, cilantro, avocado and a spicy white sauce — at Conchy Joe’s Seafood in Jensen Beach, Fla.

THE MAILBAG

No mail this week. Hey, I’m sending YOU mail from Florida. Poke your heads out of the blankets and snowsuits and drop me a line. I’m off in search of Cuban food today. I’ll report back next week.

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January 3, 2018

Dear friends,

When my husband gets homesick for Japan he has a nice, long conversation with his family in Hokkaido and then he starts cooking. With the temperature in the teens last weekend and a holiday in the offing, he made one of Japan’s iconic cold-weather celebration meals, shabu-shabu.

Tony tells me about eating the communal hot-pot meal around a kotatsu — a table with heavy blankets to cover laps, with a heater under the table. Diners are served platters of thin sliced meats and chunks of vegetables, which they cook at the table in seasoned dashi — dried bonito flake broth spiked with soy sauce. The food is removed from the bubbling broth with chopsticks and dunked in sauce. Tony likes sesame and ginger sauces, although ponzu sauce is also used.

The meal is healthful and delicious, and designed for entertaining. Although hot pot/shabu-shabu restaurants are popping up in the United States now, it is so easy and economical to make at home that there’s no reason to spend big bucks dining out.

Tony and I cooked our meals in a shabu-shabu nabe — a Japanese hot pot pan — that he bought in Japan. The stainless steel, lidded pan is about 9 inches in diameter with a center chimney for heating over an electric or gas hot plate. You can buy a nabe on Amazon for about $45, but there’s no need. Google the item, then choose one of your lidded pans that is close to that shape. The center chimney helps the broth heat faster, but it is not essential.

You will have to visit an Asian store to buy some of the items, such as dashi granules, for shabu-shabu. While you’re there, check out the produce, which often costs less than at supermarkets. Although the vegetables in shabu-shabu may be varied according to taste, do try to find a daikon radish to cube and add to the pot. It becomes sweet, soft and almost translucent when cooked.

 

SHABU-SHABU

 

Shabu Shabu

• 4 cup dashi (bonito soup stock made from instant granules (Tony uses Honashi brand)
• 2 tbsp. soy sauce
• Sesame dipping sauce (recipe follows)
• Ginger dipping sauce (recipe follows)
• 9 oz. thinly sliced pork, beef or chicken
• 4 oz. enoki mushrooms
• 4 oz. tofu, cut into cubes
• 2 handfuls bean sprouts
• 2 handfuls spinach leaves
• 1 cup napa cabbage leaves
• 2 cups 1-inch chunks of  daikon radish
• Sugar-snap  peas, green onions or other vegetables as desired

Make dashi according to package directions and stir in soy sauce. Make dipping sauces. Clean and cut vegetables and arrange on platters.

Pour enough of the hot dashi into a a hot pot pan or other shallow, lidded pan to come halfway up sides. Place on a heat source in the middle of the table and add a few pieces of the meat and each vegetable. Replace lid and simmer until food is cooked. Diners remove food with chopsticks and dip in sauces to eat, replenishing meat and vegetables in the broth as they are consumed. The daikon will take the longest to cook. It should be very tender when done.

SESAME SAUCE
• 2/3 cup soy sauce
• 1/3 cup mirin (Japanese sweet cooking wine)
• 3 tbsp. sugar
• 1/4 cup sesame oil
• 2 tbsp. sesame seeds

Combine ingredients in a small pan and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

GINGER SAUCE
• 1/2 cup soy sauce
• 1/4 cup mirin
• 2 tbsp. grated ginger
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• 2 tbsp. chopped green onion

Combine ingredients in a small pan and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
Lentil soup with ham; Parmesan popovers; pork chops, mashed potatoes and sauerkraut.

What I ate in restaurants last week:
Turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, roast cubed sweet potatoes and dried cranberries at Earth Fare; Hot Nashville Chicken with coleslaw at KFC in Wadsworth (way too sweet; won’t try it again); single hamburger with grilled onions, pickle and mustard at Five Guys.

THE MAILBAG
From Nancy S.:

I think since Brad P. and his wife are retired (see last week’s Mailbag), he and his wife should start a foodie group through you.

Dear Nancy:
Did you forget I’m retired, too? This newsletter is enough work for me, thanks. But Meetup is a good place to start a group, as several writers pointed out.

From Jan C.:
When you dry-brine, which I plan to try soon, can seasonings be added to the salt?

Dear Jan:
Yes, feel free to add any dry flavoring ingredients, from herbs and spices to grated citrus peel, to the salt rub.

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December 27, 2017

Dear friends,

“That’s a do over,” my niece said on Christmas Day, nodding at my platter of Wild Rice and Citrus Salad. It looked gorgeous. The glistening swath of shiny black grains was topped with colorful peeled orange and grapefruit sections and dotted with dried cranberries and bits of pecan. I thought it tasted great. It was a do over?

“That’s what we call a new recipe that’s good enough to make again,” Heidi explained.

Oh, yes, I would make this again. Banished were my memories of the chewy, bland black grains I boiled in the 1970s to accompany duckling ala orange. This wild rice was tender and infused with flavor, thanks to fellow food writer Heather McPherson.

Heather, retired from the Orlando Sentinel, wrote about the salad last year in a blog she produces for hypeorlando.com. The recipe in Heather’s Florida Kitchen contains celery and a bed of greens, which I eliminated. I also expanded the directions to explain things some of us Northerners might not know.

For example, Heather called for cooking the wild rice for 20 to 25 minutes. Maybe that’s fine for recently harvested wild rice (I was surprised to learn it grows in Florida swamps), but my bulk-purchased wild rice took a full 60 minutes to tenderize. You’ll know it’s done when most of the black grains have split. If you find the cooked rice is still too chewy after you drain it, just transfer all of it to a bowl, cover and microwave it in one-minute increments until tender.

Although it’s an oxymoron, cultivated wild rice is becoming increasingly available, as the land conducive to growing true wild rice shrinks. Hopefully, the distinctive wild grain (it’s not actually rice) will remain available in the future.

 

WILD RICE AND CITRUS SALAD

 

Wild Rice And Citrus Salad

• 4 tbsp. olive oil, divided
• 1/2 cup diced yellow onion
• 2 cups wild rice, uncooked
• 2 cups orange juice
• 2 cups water
• 1 bay leaf
• Fine sea salt to taste
• 2 tbsp. sherry vinegar
• Coarse-ground pepper to taste
• 1/2 cup dried cranberries
• 2 oranges, peeled and cut into segments (see note)
• 1 grapefruit, peeled and cut into segments (see note)
• 1/2 cup toasted, chopped pecans

Place 2 tablespoons olive oil and onions in a medium saucepan; sauté 3 to 4 minutes, until softened. Add wild rice, orange juice, water and bay leaf; season with salt. Cover and cook 20 to 60 minutes, or until rice is tender but not overcooked (most of the rice grains will split open when done). Remove from heat; let stand 5 minutes.

Remove bay leaf from rice and fluff with fork. Transfer to a bowl. Sprinkle with vinegar and remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Toss. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add cranberries and toss again. Cover and refrigerate until chilled. The salad may be made a day ahead to this point. Adding the dressing and cranberries before refrigerating infuses the wild rice with flavor and softens the cranberries.

Just before serving, toss rice well. Mound on a platter. Scatter citrus sections over rice. Scatter chopped pecans over all. Makes 8 or more servings.

Note: To peel citrus segments, first cut off the top and bottom of the orange or grapefruit with a sharp knife. Place the piece of fruit on a cutting board, one flat end down. With the sharp knife, pare the thick peel and pith from the fruit in downward swaths, following the natural shape of the fruit. You will end up with a completely skinned but intact piece of fruit.

With the sharp paring knife, cut the segments from the membranes by slicing downward close beside a membrane and flicking the segment out. Repeat until all of the segments have been freed. Do this over a bowl to catch the juices. Discard the peel and membranes.


GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
Wild rice-citrus salad, potato salad, pickled eggs, Swiss cheese fondue, baked ham with apricot-honey glaze, chocolate-peppermint miniature trifles.

What I ate out last week:
Chicken pad Thai at the Asian restaurant in Giant Eagle Market Place in Cuyahoga Falls; an incredible Forbidden Stir Fry with a gingery-spicy sauce over black rice at the Courthouse Inn and Restaurant in Lisbon; steak burrito bowl at Chipotle; edamame, tuna nigiri and a Jane roll at Sushi Katsu in Akron’s Merriman Valley; mu shu pork from China Express in Wadsworth.


THE MAILBAG
From O.R.:
Hold the phone. Scrambled eggs with horseradish? You may be the smartest person I’ve ever encountered. Please let us in on your method! Do you add the horseradish before cooking, after? What kind exactly? I must experience this as soon as possible.

Dear O.R.:

I would like to take credit, but I learned the eggs-and-horseradish thing from my mother. Her method was even stranger than mine. After plating, she would gently prick the yolk of her fried egg and slip in a half-teaspoon or so of prepared horseradish. She gently daubed the yolk mixture with her toast and ate it until gone. Then she would cut up and dispatch the white.

Unlike my gentle mother, I cut up fried eggs, yolks and all, and shovel them into my mouth. But sometimes I remember her fondness for horseradish and slather the stuff (prepared, from a jar) on my plated scrambled eggs. Your email got me thinking, though. The next time I make soft-scrambled eggs, I will stir in a tablespoon of horseradish when they are almost set, dragging my spoon to distribute the horseradish in a thin ribbon through the eggs.

From Sandy D.
For Brad who is looking for foodie culture in the Akron area, I suggest he go to meetup.com.  After filling in the parameters, he will find at least two meet ups that I am aware of. I am not part of these groups so I can’t speak to their passion or quality, but Akron Area Dining Out Group and Akron Area Beer Lovers are two that I found after a quick search.

From Francie L.:
For your reader asking about foodie culture how about the Canton Food Tours (http://cantonfoodtours.com/)? We did a cousins’ night out in September and had a great time. They’ve also expanded the tours to Wooster as well.

Dear Sandy and Francie:
Thank you both for excellent ideas. I also found an Akron/Canton Foodies Group on meetup.


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December 20, 2017

Dear Friends,

What was I THINKING? I invited my family to celebrate Christmas at my house Saturday while I’m trying to avoid carbs, especially sugar. I can’t punish them for my overindulgence. But if I bake cookies or make candy my willpower will snap like an old rubber band.

Here’s the plan: I bought enough wrapped chocolates to fill a candy dish; I’ll send any excess home with my niece. I will buy a plateful of lovely handmade cookies (I saw some beauties at Earth Fare) but no ginger cookies, my favorites. And I will make decadent chocolate-peppermint trifles.

The trifles will not wreck my diet because I’m making just one miniature trifle for each person. Three of them — mine and my diabetic husband’s and brother’s — will be made with sugar-free pudding, cake and whipped topping to reduce the carb count.

I’m serving the individual trifles in squat, footed Italian prosecco glasses. In my test batch, I drizzled 1/2-inch-thick rounds of pound cake (cut to snugly fit the glasses) with peppermint schnapps, added a layer of chocolate fudge sauce, then a layer of vanilla pudding sprinkled with crushed candy cane. The layers were repeated, crowned with a puff of whipped cream and decorated with a miniature candy cane. If the glass is tall, you may want to add whipped cream between each set of layers. Lined up on the buffet table, the trifles should be real show-stoppers.

The trifles can be made with a rich homemade custard or boxed vanilla pudding. If you use boxed, add a splash of vanilla to bump up the flavor. I bought the pound cake, but if you have gobs of time to spare (ha!) you could make a sponge cake or pound cake from scratch. Roughly crushed amaretti cookies (from an Italian or specialty-foods store) would be delicious, too. I recommend buying premium fudge sauce from a fancy-foods store. The trifle recipe is so simple that inferior ingredients could sink the flavor.

My blueprint can be expanded or shrunk to accommodate two to dozens of diners. You could even make one big trifle instead of individual ones, although you’d lose the impact of all those adorable little trifles.

f you need an easy but gorgeous finale for your Christmas buffet, here you go. You’re welcome.

 

CHOCOLATE-PEPPERMINT MINATURE TRIFLES

 

PEPPERMINT TRIFLE

 

• Pound cake, thawed if frozen
• Peppermint schnaps
• Fudge sauce, warmed
• Vanilla pudding, homemade or from a mix Crushed candy canes
• Whipped cream or topping
• Miniature candy canes

Line up the other ingredients in the order above. For each trifle you will need about 1/4 cup fudge sauce, 1/4 cup pudding and 2 tbsp. crushed candy canes. The exact amounts will depend on the size of your glasses.

If the glasses come to a point, fill the point with pudding or whipped topping. Then begin layering with a cake round, a tablespoon or more of fudge sauce, the same amount of pudding, some crushed candy cane and, if the glass is deep, a layer of whipped topping. Continue layering until the glass is almost full. Top with more crushed candy, a dollop of whipped cream or topping and a whole miniature candy cane. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

NOTE: Making beautiful layers of ingredients without smearing the glass can drive you nuts. My tip is to drop the ingredients from tiny spoons (espresso or iced tea spoons) into the very center, then use a long straw or other slim implement to spread it evenly to the edges.


GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
Pan-seared, oven-finished thick pork chops with Italian herbs and a wine reduction, French green beans, baked sweet potatoes; pickled eggs; chocolate pudding; scrambled eggs with horseradish; chocolate-peppermint mini trifles.

What I ate in restaurants last week:
Steak salad in a tortilla bowl crowned with french fries (which I virtuously skipped) at Brimfield Family Restaurant; barbecued ribs from Dickey’s Barbecue Pit in Medina; a thin-crust veggie pizza from Earth Fare; grilled chicken breast with feta, roasted red pepper and escarole at Village Garden in Cuyahoga Falls..


THE MAILBAG

From Bob P.:
I grew up in Akron but have lived in North Carolina for more than 30 years. I am on a quest that has led me to you. No, not the Holy Grail, but the holy grail of Akron appetizers, the sauerkraut ball. Of course, they are unheard of down here.

I have searched the net and get a variety of recipes, but which one is truly what I grew up with? The cream cheese recipes confuse me — I don’t remember them being creamy. I thought with your storied career you may be able to help.

Dear Bob:
The sauerkraut balls against which all others are measured are the ones that were served at the old Bavarian Haus on East Market Street. They were the size of a golf ball with a crispy-crunchy coating and creamy, tart filling of sauerkraut, ground ham and chopped onion. The creaminess is slight, and doesn’t come from cream cheese.

The restaurant is long gone, but Chef Dick Mansfield gave me the recipe in 1995, before all traces of the building were plowed under. He mixed batches in a big plastic bucket, so you can figure the recipe makes plenty — Mansfield says eight dozen. Feel free to cut the recipe in half.

Don’t, however, be tempted to add enough flour to firm up the sauerkraut mixture. The raw mixture should be so soft it would spread and flatten if the balls were fried without freezing. They must be frozen, and deep fried straight from the freezer, to produce that crisp exterior and soft center.

This recipe won’t disappoint you, Bob. Maybe you can fry up a ginormous batch and teach those barbecue boys a thing or two about good Midwestern eats.

SAUERKRAUT BALLS
• 1 1/4 lbs. ground ham
• 6 eggs
• 2 1/4 tsp. granulated garlic or 1 tsp. garlic powder • 1 tsp. black pepper
• 3/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
• 1 medium onion, minced fine
• 5 lbs. sauerkraut, drained and chopped
• 4-6 cups flour
• 1 egg beaten with 1 cup milk
• Flour for coating
• Dry, unseasoned bread crumbs
• Oil for deep-frying

In a very large bowl, combine ham, eggs, garlic, peppers and onion. Add sauerkraut and mix well with your hands. Add flour a little at a time, kneading until the mixture is smooth and can be shaped into soft balls. Use only enough flour to achieve the proper consistency. The mixture will be soft and sticky.

Pull off chunks of the mixture and roll between your palms to make balls the size of a golf ball. Place on cookie sheets and freeze until firm, about two hours. While frozen, roll in the flour, then in the egg-milk mixture, then in the bread crumbs. Freeze again and transfer to plastic freezer bags until ready for use, or fry immediately without thawing.

To fry, heat oil to 375 degrees. Fry a few at a time until the coating is golden brown and a fork easily pierces to the center. If the oil is too hot, the outsides will burn before the insides thaw and cook. Makes about 96.

From Brad P.:
My wife and I are retired. We have a passion for food. It seems like the Akron area lacks the “foodie’’ culture that is so rich in other parts of Ohio. We have taken the culinary walking tour in Asheville, N.C. — outstanding. We go to the Traverse City, Mich., area yearly. It is amazing for food, wine, craft beer and so much more.

Can you make us aware of a culinary group in our area that shares our passion? Is there such a thing? We are looking for a way to be around others in this area who share our passion, to talk and share and experience.

Dear Brad:
The foodie culture in Ohio was INVENTED here in Akron at West Point Market. No one else in the state had the ingredients that were available to Akronites, nor a mentor as enthusiastic and knowledgeable as retired owner Russ Vernon.

Although the store has downsized, it still holds regular wine tastings that many passionate local food lovers attend. You will also find such people congregating at the Countryside Farmers Markets and events sponsored by the Countryside Conservancy (cvcountryside.org). And finally, you could try a couples dinner class at the Western Reserve Cooking School in Hudson. Does anyone else have a suggestion?

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