June 12, 2018

Dear friends,

Peaches and blue cheese: The idea is intriguing. That’s what I thought when I saw a recipe for peach and blue cheese salad in “Michael Symon’s Carnivore.” I imagined the crunch of the raw Marcona almonds contrasted with the soft sweetness of the peaches, reined in with the bite of vinaigrette and pungent blue cheese.

The reality was less than ideal because of a couple of hiccups in the recipe, but ultimately I turned it into a pretty interesting side dish for a grilled steak. In his cookbook, Symon writes that he spoons the salad right on top of rib steaks. I dunno about that (the peach chunks alone would obliterate the steak), but served alongside it was pretty good.

I had to seriously decrease the amount of dressing on the salad (Symon called for using the entire batch) because of the juiciness of the warmed peaches. I also gave up on warming the peaches on a grill, because the natural sugars in the fruit caused them to stick like crazy to the metal. I think the oven temp of 250 for the alternate peach-cooking method was a mistake, so I have upped it to 450 degrees for the two minutes of warming. Other than that…

Seriously, other than that, the salad is a winner. But next time, the Cleveland chef might want to try the recipes he sells under his name.

PEACH & BLUE CHEESE SALAD

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1 garlic clove, minced

¼ cup red wine vinegar

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

1 tsp. honey

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing

6 firm peaches, pitted and quartered

½ cup raw Marcona almonds

2 cups arugula

1 cup crumbled blue cheese

Kosher salt

Heat a charcoal or gas grill to high or preheat the oven to 450 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic, vinegar, mustard, honey, and the ¼ cup olive oil. Brush the peach quarters with olive oil. Grill on a well-oiled grid for 1 minute per side, or warm them in the oven for 2 minutes.

Gently combine the warm peaches, almonds, arugula, and blue cheese in a large bowl. Add just enough dressing to moisten; toss to combine. Season with salt to taste. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

From “Michael Symon’s Carnivore: 120 Recipes for Meat Lovers” by Michael Symon and Douglas Trattner.

HELP U COOK

Regular whole raw almonds may be substituted for the Marcona almonds in the salad recipe above. But if you like almonds, Marconas are worth seeking out. The first time I tasted them was at a farmer’s market in Spain. I didn’t know they were special when I bought a bag of the fat, skinless almonds.

Over the next few days, I became addicted to the almonds. They have the sharp, clean crunch of a macadamia and a ripe, full almond flavor. They are one of the few nuts I’ve had that are delicious raw.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:

Meatloaf, baked sweet potatoes; poke salad with grilled mahi mahi, bell pepper, green onions, avocado, pineapple and sesame vinaigrette; chocolate pudding; hamburgers; spaghetti squash with venison spaghetti meat sauce.

What I ate last week in/from restaurants:

Thai curry noodles with chicken at CoreLife in Fairlawn; spanakopita at Countryside Farmer’s Market in Highland Square; steak sandwich at Dontino’s La Vita Gardens in Akron.

THE MAILBAG 

From Sandy D.:

My hummus recipe is similar to yours and I like it, but have you not heard of or tried gas station hummus? When I first heard about it I thought, “It’s hummus — how much better than mine can it be?” Well, I’m not sure what the magic is but holy smokes, it is the most creamy, smooth, flavorful stuff ever!

You can get it at the Sunoco station in Olmsted Falls at the corner of Columbia and Sprague Roads or the Sunoco in Willoughby at Lost Nation and Lakeshore Boulevard. Call ahead, though — it is so popular it sells out quickly.

As far as your list of questions, I can only answer one. I read a couple of food blogs each week on a regular basis, but there are many out there that are very run-of-the-mill. Seems they are more focused on being cute and stylish than offering me any helpful info about cooking.

At any rate, if you haven’t had gas station hummus yet, please try it. I’d love to hear what you think of it.

Sandy, Sandy, Sandy:

Just the phrase “gas station hummus” sends me into paroxysms of rapture. Hummus from a gas station! I haven’t tasted it and already I’m a believer. I once had barbecued ribs at a gas station in Kansas City and the place is now on everybody’s “best ribs” list, so why not hummus?

It turns out that your gas station hummus has been an underground hit among Cleveland foodies for about a year. It is actually available at three gas stations — the two you mentioned and Ohio City Gas at Lorain Avenue and Fulton Road in the Ohio City area of Cleveland. Muntaha Dari makes the hummus at her gas station in Willoughby and her sister, Khalil, uses the same recipe at the station in Olmsted Falls that she owns with her parents. Their brother owns the Ohio City station, where the hummus is made by his wife, Nazek Allan, from a recipe taught to her by the Dari’s mother. I can’t wait to try it.

From Maryann:

How do you know if meat, chicken, seafood, etc., bought “unfrozen” in a grocery store hasn’t been previously frozen? Sometimes the package seems to have little crystals like just-thawed meat. Usually I repackage family-size items into smaller servings to freeze. Is it safe to do this even if I’m not sure if the item has been previously frozen in storage?

If a product label says “fresh” does it mean never frozen or just not frozen now? If I thaw something that I froze but change my mind about cooking it, can I refreeze it?

Dear Maryann:

If a food is labeled “fresh,” it means by law that it has never been frozen. But the government’s definition of “never frozen” is wacky. It allows processors and shippers to call a food “fresh” if it has been “hard chilled” to 27 degrees. To me, 27 degrees is frozen. A consumers’ group once protested the nonsensical rule by bowling “hard chilled” turkeys down the streets of Washington, D.C.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that if you see ice crystals in a food, it is safe to refreeze. Food safety experts tell us not to refreeze food that has been completely thawed, but frankly, I do it all the time. The safety folks are acting out of an abundance of caution. They fear that if your frozen food has been thawed, you may have allowed it to warm up past 40 degrees for two hours, the point and time at which bacteria can grow enough to hurt you. But if you have sense enough to keep your thawed food cold, you can safely refreeze it. Thawing and refreezing won’t do any favors for the texture or juiciness of the product, but it won’t kill you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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June 6, 2018

Dear friends,

With the price of hummus hovering at $5 for a little bitty saucer’s worth, I needed to make a change. First I found the same quality of hummus in the same amount (10 ounces) at Aldi for $1.99. But then I realized that it’s still just a handful of pureed beans. Why aren’t I making it myself?

I’ve made hummus in the past and many of you probably have, too. Why did we stop? At its most basic, it is merely chickpeas, tahini (sesame seed paste), garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. About 10 minutes in the kitchen gets you a velvety yet substantial dip that is low in carbohydrates and moderately rich in protein. How low, how rich? One-fourth cup of hummus has about 100 calories, 8.5 grams of carbohydrates and 4.8 grams of protein.

In this country hummus is considered a party or snack dip but that hasn’t stopped me from eating it for breakfast lately. I’m not alone, I discovered when I read a J.M. Hirsch article in Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street Magazine, which won the James Beard Award for dining and travel journalism this year. In Israel, Hirsch says, hummus is a breakfast food. Period.

“This is no tub of American grocery store hummus,” he writes. “It is light, ethereally smooth. The flavor is at once boldly nutty with tahini yet also subtle. None of the harsh garlic and lemon I expect. Is there even any garlic in it? Most shocking: It is deliciously warm. Who knew you could eat hummus warm?”

The hummus the writer learns to make in Jerusalem starts with dried chickpeas, cooked until soft and pureed with some of the cooking liquid while warm. Then tahini, lemon and salt are added. Nothing else.

Someday I may become a hummus purist and use dried chickpeas (the smaller the better), but for ease of preparation I’ll still mostly reach for canned. Although many American recipes suggest laboriously removing the skins from the cooked chickpeas, Hirsch’s Israeli version just processes the heck out of them — four minutes total.

Using warm chickpeas is essential, so I heated up my canned beans and liquid before processing. Then I added the tahini, lemon juice, garlic and salt. I like garlic, so sue me.

Olive oil is drizzled over the hummus after it is in the serving bowl.

You can see how Hirsch and the magazine staff make their hummus by Googling “JBF journalism nominees,” clicking on “Read All of the 2018 Journalism Nominees Here,” scrolling down to Hirsch’s hummus article and clicking on it. Sorry the process is so convoluted, but many of the nominated articles are no longer available to the public in any other way. Or could go directly to my streamlined, quick recipe for hummus.

Whichever version you prefer, remember it’s not just for parties anymore.

QUICK VELVETY HUMMUS

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1 can (about 15 oz.) chickpeas (garbanzo beans)

1/3 cup tahini (preferably imported)

2 tbsp. lemon juice

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 tsp. sea salt

2 tbsp. olive oil

Pour chickpeas and their liquid into a small saucepan and heat almost to a simmer. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the liquid. Puree beans in a food processor for 2 minutes, until very smooth. Add tahini, lemon juice, garlic and sea salt. Puree 2 minutes longer. With the motor running, pour in the 1/4 cup cooking liquid and process until smooth and whipped. Pour into bowls and drizzle with olive oil. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:

Summer rolls with shrimp, crispy rice sticks, carrot and cucumber slaw, crushed peanuts and fresh mint; grilled sausage links; a salad of grilled peaches, arugula, blue cheese and almonds; asparagus, walnut and feta salad; hot dogs over a campfire.

What I ate in/from restaurants last week:

A steak, sweet potato and arugula bowl from CoreLife in Fairlawn; half of a steak and arugula sandwich on a baguette from Panera Bread; two coney dogs with mustard and onion from Netty’s Famous Chili Dogs near Marblehead; scrambled eggs, bacon and toast at Big Boppers near Marblehead; a spinach, tomato and Swiss omelet at Big Boppers.

THE MAILBAG

No letters, no Mailbag. So this week I will turn the tables and ask YOU a few questions that have been on my mind.

  • Why did my truffle oil lose its truffle aroma and flavor after a few months?
  • Why is some cornstarch pudding watery the next day?
  • Who buys all those jumbo and extra-large eggs in grocery stores, when every recipe I’ve ever seen calls for large?
  • How many food blogs do you read each week, and why did so many people suddenly decide to do my job? Everybody and their grandmother is a food writer now. I cannot keep up with the output of just Akron food bloggers, let alone a sampling of food blogs from elsewhere. Are there readers for these things?
  • Where is a good place to eat lunch in the Akron area, and what do you order?

* Why not drop me a line?

 

 

 

 

 

May 30, 2018

Dear friends,

The weather is finally hot enough to complain about. A month ago I thought this day would never come. I feared the mean spring might stretch through summer, with chilly evenings and cloudy days setting great swaths of the population on edge.

Friends, we have fended off the cold-weather riots of 2018. Let us celebrate by sacrificing the last of the 2017 tomatoes in the freezer.

I just unearthed a cache of frozen tomatoes intended for chili and winter soups. If you have followed my annual recommendation to toss washed summer tomatoes into plastic bags and freeze them whole, you may have a similar cache. Otherwise, to make this week’s recipe you’ll have to wait a few weeks for summer tomatoes to ripen in your garden or appear in stores. Do not attempt the recipe with cottony shipped-in tomatoes. It requires real, ripe tomatoes for its brash, “summer’s here” flavor.

The recipe for cold tomato soup with warm mojo shrimp was inspired by my fondness for hot and cold temperatures in the same dish. The soup requires very little cooking. The whole tomatoes are thawed, the skins slipped off and the blossom scar cut away and discarded. The tomatoes and juice are pureed in a food processor with sautéed onions, garlic, vinegar, bread and green pepper. The flavor of the soup belies its simplicity.

I had planned to marinate and grill the shrimp but my sinuses started pounding and I wanted out of the kitchen and onto the couch. I just threw the shrimp into a hot skillet to sear, then added a sploosh of mojo criollo marinade, sold in bottles in the ethnic foods section of most supermarkets. The marinade sizzled and evaporated, leaving a glossy lick of flavor on each shrimp.

By this time the soup had chilled, so I poured some into two wide mugs and dangled the shrimp on the rims, like shrimp cocktails. I handed one to Tony as I sank into the sofa cushions with my cold soup and hot shrimp. Ahhhh.

COLD TOMATO SOUP WITH HOT MOJO SHRIMP

For the soup:

5 medium-large frozen whole tomatoes or skinned ripe tomatoes

2 tbsp. olive oil

1/2 cup minced onion

1/2 cup dry white wine

4 oz. chewy white bread such as ciabatta

1 medium green pepper, in chunks

3 large cloves garlic, peeled

6 tbsp. white wine vinegar

2 tsp. salt

Slip the skins from the whole tomatoes and pour the tomatoes and juice (or chopped ripe tomatoes) into the bowl of a food processor.

Heat oil in a medium skillet. Sauté onion until transparent over medium-high heat. Increase heat to high, add wine and boil until reduced by half. Scrape onions and wine into food processor bowl. Add bread, torn into chunks. Add green pepper, garlic, vinegar and salt. Puree until very smooth, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a lidded plastic container and refrigerate until chilled. Makes 4 to 5 servings.

For the shrimp:

16 large raw shrimp

2 tbsp. olive oil

1/4 cup mojo criollo marinade (sold in most supermarkets in the ethnic foods aisle)

Peel shrimp and pat dry with paper towels. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When oil begins to shimmer and pan almost starts to smoke, throw in shrimp and arrange in a single layer. After about 15 seconds, turn shrimp over with tongs. After 15 seconds, add marinade and stir shrimp until marinade evaporates, about 15 seconds.

To serve, pour cold soup into four mugs, stemmed wine glasses or martini glasses. Dangle four shrimp from the rim of each mug or glass. Makes 4 appetizer or light entree servings.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:

Two whole smoked chickens in Tony’s new salvaged outdoor oven; smoked chicken salad with green onions, pecans and dried cranberries; cold tomato soup and warm mojo shrimp; baked steak tacos with green onion, tomato and avocado salsa and chipotle sour cream; hummus.

What I ate in/from restaurants last week:

Salad with grilled chicken at Alexandris in Wadsworth; pulled pork, collard greens and hush puppies from City Barbeque in Fairlawn; salad with double barbacoa at Chipotle’s in Fairlawn.

THE MAILBAG

From Kristi P.:
Re: plain rhubarb jam, I have been making and selling straight rhubarb jam for a few years. It is in big demand. Not always very pretty, though.

Jane notes:
Kristi sells her homemade bread, jam and garden produce at the Saturday farmer’s market in Seville.

From Barbara H.:
In the (rhubarb) jam recipe, could stevia work? Lower the sugar…

Dear Barbara:
Yes, but the preservation time for jams made with stevia is very short. The site sugarfreestevia.net recommends keeping the jam in the refrigerator for one week maximum or freezing it and using it quickly after it is thawed. The only stevia rhubarb jam recipe I could find was a hybrid rhubarb-blueberry jam that called for 1 teaspoon white stevia powder. You’ll need more stevia than that for a rhubarb-only jam.

May 23, 2018

Dear friends,

I try to make my husband happy. That’s why I made Moroccan Chicken with Green Olives last week, and how he came to almost crush my foot on Sunday.

The foot crush was an unanticipated byproduct of his latest craze, giving me a massage. Lest you think this is about him making ME happy, I’ll describe it: I lay face-down on a blanket on the floor while he “massages” my back vigorously with his fingertips, which makes me laugh until I cry, and in turn gives him belly laughs.

“Laughing is good exercise,” Tony explains when I ask him to use the palms of his hands so it won’t tickle. The foot crush was an extra he thought of on the spur of the moment, recalling the rough massage techniques of the high school for athletes he attended in Japan. The technique: He stepped on the bottom of my foot as I lay face-down on the floor. Ow.

So I do what I can for my marriage. Last Wednesday it was making luscious Moroccan chicken. It looked so pretty Tony snapped a couple of photos of it on his iPad and showed them to a Moroccan woman in an English class he takes through Project Learn. She makes the dish with regular couscous, not large-pearl Israeli couscous, Tony reported. Otherwise, mine looked authentic, she said.

That’s nice to know but not essential for me to love a recipe. I am more interested in whether it tastes good, and Mark Bittman’s Chicken With Green Olives does indeed. The recipe is from his book, “The Best Recipes in the World,” a compendium of Bittman’s global favorites. Cook this when you want to make someone happy.

CHICKEN WITH GREEN OLIVES

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2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
3 to 4 lbs. chicken leg-thigh pieces (I used all thighs), legs and thighs separated, trimmed of excess fat
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 large onion, chopped
2 tsp. peeled and minced fresh ginger
About 1 inch cinnamon stick or ¼ tsp. ground
A few saffron threads or ½ tsp. ground turmeric
1 tbsp. minced garlic
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. paprika
Pinch of cayenne, or to taste
2 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
2 cups good-quality green olives, pitted
Fresh lemon juice to taste, at least 2 tbsp.
Chopped fresh cilantro leaves for garnish

Put the oil in a deep skillet or flameproof casserole, preferably nonstick, over medium-high heat. After a minute or so, when the oil is hot, add the chicken, skin side down, and brown it well, rotating and turning the pieces as necessary and sprinkling them with salt and pepper as they cook, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate and pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the onion, ginger, ½ teaspoon or more pepper, the cinnamon, saffron, garlic, bay leaf, cumin, paprika, cayenne, and some salt and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, until the onion softens. Add the stock and raise the heat to medium-high. Return the chicken to the pan, skin side up, and cook at a lively simmer while you prepare the olives.

Put the olives in a small saucepan and cover with water; bring to a boil, drain, and repeat. Add the drained olives to the chicken. Cook until the chicken is done, about 15 minutes from the time you returned it to the pan. Add lemon juice, then taste and adjust the seasoning—it’s unlikely, but not impossible, that the mixture will need some salt. Garnish and serve. (I served it over Israeli couscous.) Serves 4.

From “The Best Recipes in the World” by Mark Bittman.

TIDBIT

Corelife Eatery opens today in Fairlawn, and I plan to be one of the first in line. I’ve had my eye on this healthful-eating concept since the Strongsville location opened. The menu features salads, grain bowls and broth bowls with vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options, as well as choices for the way I like to eat — a bowl of protein and vegetables with maybe a smidgen of whole grains. (Actually, I’d prefer foie gras and creme brûlée but those eat-anything-days are long gone.)

Some menu choices: Spicy Thai Chicken & Rice Noodles, 450 calories with Thai cashew dressing; Spicy Ginger Steak Salad (shredded kale, arugula, steak, bell peppers, ginger, Sriracha), 370 calories with miso sesame dressing; and Grilled Chicken Tortilla Bone Broth Bowl (broth, chicken, shredded kale, napa cabbage, tortilla strips, jalapeno, black beans, cilantro, lime), 630 calories. No prices are listed on the restaurant’s Internet site.

The Fairlawn restaurant is the eighth in Ohio for the chain, which began three years ago in Syracuse, N.Y., and has quickly spread to eight other states. Find out more at corelifeeatery.com.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
Chicken With Green Olives over Israeli couscous; grilled strip steaks, asparagus with butter and lemon; ham and cheese omelet, sautéed mushrooms with feta cheese; spaghetti sauce with venison and bison; spaghetti sauce over melted feta cheese, steamed asparagus; scrambled eggs over melted feta cheese, grapefruit sections; seared peppered tuna steaks drizzled with sesame oil and soy sauce, charred whole scallions, pickled shaved carrots and radishes. (I bought the BIG container of feta cheese.)

What I ate in restaurants last week:
Cobb salad with grilled chicken at Alexandri’s in Wadsworth; egg roll, pad Thai and grilled chicken skewers at the Asian Festival in Cleveland; fried lake perch, cottage cheese and coleslaw at Wil’s Grille & Pub in Coventry Township.

THE MAILBAG

From Jim S.:
I assume you know this but just in case, since you are enjoying your asparagus patch, asparagus is properly eaten with the fingers. What better source than Miss Manners herself?

Dear Jim:
Thanks for attaching Miss Manners’ written explanation that it’s OK to eat asparagus with one’s fingers. She writes in her column, “Asparagus is, indeed, correctly eaten with the fingers, in a very old tradition of which few modern people seem aware.”

I would add that, should the spears be draped with Hollandaise or another sauce, utensils may still be your best bet. However, at home when no one is watching, I have managed to eat even sauced asparagus with my fingers. It’s tricky but entirely possible.

From Maria M.:
I absolutely love rhubarb and have been looking for a rhubarb jam recipe for years. I cannot find one that does not include other fruit/berries or gelatin. Do you happen to have a recipe? Or do you think I could take a strawberry-rhubarb jam recipe and substitute an equal amount of rhubarb for the strawberries? Thank you so much.

Dear Maria:
There’s no reason you cannot make jam or jelly with rhubarb alone, as long as you add pectin, according to information I found at the the University of Georgia’s National Center for Home Preservation site. You should process the jam or jelly in a boiling water bath. More canning safety information can be found at https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_07/jam_jelly_with_pectin.html.

That said, I could not find a recipe for straight rhubarb jam or jelly on the home preservation site, the Ball canning jar site or even the Washington Rhubarb Growers Association site. I finally located the recipe at Kraft Foods’ Sure.Jell site. Here it is:

RHUBARB JAM
2 1/2 lbs. fully ripe rhubarb
1 cup water
1 package Sure-Jell Fruit Pectin
1/2 tsp. butter
6 1/2 cups sugar, measured into a separate bowl

Bring a boiling water canner, half full of water, to a simmer. Wash 8 1-cup jars and screw bands in hot soapy water; rinse with warm water. Pour boiling water over flat lids in a saucepan off the heat. Let stand in hot water until ready to use. Drain jars well before filling.

Chop unpeeled rhubarb finely. Place rhubarb and water in a 4-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil on high heat. Reduce heat to medium; simmer 2 minutes or until rhubarb is tender. Measure exactly 4 1/2 cups prepared rhubarb into a 6- or 8-quart sauce pot.

Stir pectin into prepared rhubarb. Add butter to reduce foaming. Bring to a full rolling boil (a boil that doesn’t stop bubbling when stirred) on high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in sugar. Return to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Boil exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim off any foam with a metal spoon.

Ladle immediately into prepared jars, filling to within 1/4-inch of tops. Wipe jar rims and threads. Cover with two-piece lids. Screw bands tightly. Place jars on elevated rack in canner. Lower rack into canner. Water must cover jars by 1 to 2 inches; add boiling water if necessary.

Cover canner with lid and bring water to a gentle boil. Process 10 minutes. Remove jars and place upright on a towel to cool completely. After jars cool, check seals by pressing middles of lids with a finger. If a lid springs back, lid is not sealed and refrigeration of that jar necessary. Makes 8 1-cup jars.

 

May 15, 2018

Dear friends,

Planting a bed of asparagus will try your patience. You must wait three years before you harvest a spear, to give the plants time to strengthen and grow. This is my new bed’s third year, and I’m whacking down fat spears like Achilles slaying Trojans.

What’s for dinner? Most nights, asparagus. I steam and plate them with sea salt and lemon. I pan-grill them with olive oil, sea salt and lemon and serve them with poached eggs. I eat them raw as a snack. And one evening, I roasted them with potatoes, peppers, salmon and olive oil on a sheet pan. The salmon sheet pan supper is my favorite way to prepare asparagus so far.

Cooking an entire meal on a baking sheet is enjoying a wave of popularity. I like the idea because roasted vegetables taste great, and using just one pan makes cleanup easy. What I don’t like is cooking everything at once, for the same amount of time. The solution is to add ingredients in stages, according to how long they will take to cook.

That’s what I did with my sheet pan salmon. I also cut the vegetables into small dice so they would cook evenly and quickly. The potatoes and peppers, which take longer to roast than asparagus, were cut into 1/4-inch and 1/2-inch pieces, respectively. The asparagus was cut into 1 1/2-inch lengths on the bias. They all went into the oven at the same time, glossed with olive oil and spread on a sheet pan.

When the vegetables were almost done, I nudged them into a pile about the size and shape of my salmon fillet. The fish went on top of the vegetables and everything was returned to the oven for 10 more minutes, until the fish was barely translucent in the center.

Fish should not be cooked until completely opaque all the way through, because it continues to cook off the heat. Leaving a bit of rawness in the center will result in a perfectly cooked fish at the table.

To amp up the flavor of the meal, I squeezed fresh lemon juice over the vegetables before serving, and slathered the fish with lemon-dill mayonnaise before roasting. The mayo mixture puffed and browned in the oven, providing just enough creamy sauce and bright flavor to complement the fish.

I used a large salmon fillet for this recipe, but individual fillets of salmon or even cod would work, too. I’ll probably even make the dish with boneless, pounded chicken breasts before spring is over. That asparagus just keeps on coming.

ROAST LEMON-DILL SALMON AND ASPARAGUS

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1 1/4 lb. salmon fillet (1 large or 4 individual)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
3 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh dill
1 red bell pepper, cut in 1/2-inch cubes
2 medium potatoes, cut in 1/4-inch cubes (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 to 3/4 lb. asparagus, trimmed and cut on the bias into 1 1/2-inch lengths
Olive oil
1 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Pat salmon dry and set aside. In a small bowl or custard cup, beat together mayonnaise, lemon zest, 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice and dill. Set aside.

Combine bell pepper, potatoes and asparagus on a baking sheet. Toss with enough olive oil to gloss the vegetables and oil the pan. Season with salt. Spread in a single layer and bake uncovered at 425 degrees for about 25 minutes, until tender and edges are beginning to brown, stirring once. Remove from oven and nudge vegetables into a mound about the shape of the fish fillet.

Place fish on top of vegetables, skin side down. Spread mayonnaise mixture over fish. Return to oven and bake 10 to 12 minutes, until salmon is almost cooked through. Test the fish by cutting into the thickest part with the point of a knife.

Place fish on a platter or divide among four dinner plates. Toss vegetables with remaining 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Surround fish with vegetables. Makes 4 servings.

TIDBIT

Long, slow smoking and a vinegar-based swab make City Barbeque’s pulled pork some of the best I’ve had. The new eatery at 2870 W. Market St. in Fairlawn also had great sides when Tony and I visited. Can corn pudding get any creamier, or hush puppies crisper? I doubt it.

Then again, we dined on VIP night, before the restaurant was officially open. On our way elsewhere last Saturday, we saw the lights and cars, pulled in, and on our way to the door two exiting diners jammed some invitations into our hands. The free VIP night was held not only to get the word out but to serve as a dress rehearsal for the new staff. You can bet everything was fresh and well prepared, with all the bosses riding herd that night. Will the food be as good on a normal day? We’ll find out.

The Fairlawn restaurant is the latest location of a fast-growing chain that began in Columbus in 1999. For a barbecue joint it is fairly large, with dozens of seats indoors as well as on a patio. Patrons order at one end of a long counter and pick up their trays at the other end. The decor is all steel and wood, with clean lines and few frills. It’s kind of an uptown roll-of-paper-towels-on-the-table place.

The two big smokers built into a back wall handle pork roasts, pork ribs, chicken, beef brisket, sausage and turkey. They are served straight up with two sides, in sandwiches, and the turkey also comes in a salad. I like the generous selection of sides: fresh-cut fries, potato salad, mac and cheese, lettuce salad, green beans with bacon, coleslaw, tender collard greens deeply flavored and studded with chunks of pork (my favorite), baked beans with pieces of brisket, cornbread, and the corn pudding and hush puppies mentioned above.

Prices are about average for local barbecue. The pulled pork dinner is $7.29. A half slab of ribs is $12.99. Brisket with peppers and onions, smoked provolone and horseradish sauce on grilled Texas toast is $8.29.

I think I need one of those brisket sandwiches real soon. For hours and other info, go to www.citybbq.com.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
Baked salmon with lemon-dill sauce, roast cubed potatoes, red bell pepper and asparagus; soft-scrambled eggs with dill and avocado; steamed asparagus with lemon and sea salt.

What I ate in restaurants last week:
Queso fundido with chips and pork tacos al pastore at Nuevo Modern Mexican in downtown Akron; pulled pork topped with slaw, hush puppies, collard greens, corn pudding at City Barbeque in Fairlawn; an egg roll and Mussaman curry with chicken at Thai Pattaya Restaurant in the Portage Lakes area of Akron; strawberry and coffee sugar-free frozen yogurt from Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt in Fairlawn (a Mother’s Day treat from Tony that he bought and hid in the basement freezer).

THE MAILBAG

From C.W.:
Thank you for calling attention to a favorite of mine, the California Long White potato. I discovered it while at the University of Idaho in the early ‘70s. Raised in Akron on Ramsayer potatoes from Wooster, I hated cooking with Idaho’s dry russets, so different in every way. The Long Whites were so similar to Ohio’s, save only for their very thin skins, that I was again able to cook the dishes I loved.

I have only recently been able to find the California Long Whites identified as such during their season, in Kreiger’s and at Szalay’s. Do you know of other sources you can share?

Dear C.W.:
I think I have gotten them at Acme, although I’m not sure they were labeled as such. And I am pretty sure you can find them at West Side Market in Cleveland. The label isn’t essential if you know what you’re looking for — good-sized beige potatoes with a skin so thin it curls away in places, like a peeling suntan.

 

May 9, 2018

Dear friends,

Small, red new potatoes taste so earthy and sweet at this time of year that I buy them exclusively for a couple of months. I’ll segue into California long whites when they hit the market in June, and then play the field with whatever kind of potato looks freshest for the rest of the summer. For now, though, red potatoes are my favorite.

At cookouts I have roasted them in foil and smashed, marinated and grilled them a la Roger Thomas, but gave up finding any other way to cook red potatoes — or any potatoes — outdoors. Then my friend, Michele Sandridge, served some really great, super-easy mustard potatoes at a gathering. She roasted them in the oven, but I immediately realized they could be skewered and grilled over coals.

The tangy flavor belies their simplicity. The recipe (from a Barefoot Contessa cookbook) calls for cutting the potatoes into large chunks and tossing them with chunks of onion and olive oil, whole-grain mustard, salt and pepper. They are spread on a sheet pan and baked until tender. Really, you won’t believe how good these simple potatoes are.

For my next cookout I plan to slather the potato and onion chunks with the mustard-oil mixture, thread the chunks on skewers and grill them over a wood fire. Smoke can only enhance an already delicious side dish.

Fellow fire-lovers should follow my lead while others can bake the potatoes in the oven, as Ina Garten intended. Either way, I think they will be a winner.

MUSTARD POTATOES

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2 1/2 lbs. small red potatoes
2 yellow onions
3 tbsp. good olive oil
2 tbsp. whole-grain mustard
Kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Cut the potatoes in halves or quarters, depending on their size, and place on a sheet pan. Remove the ends of the onions and peel them and cut them in half. Slice them crosswise into inch-thick slices to make half-rounds. Toss the onions and potatoes together on the sheet pan. Add the olive oil, mustard, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and pepper and toss together.

Bake 50 minutes to 1 hour, until the potatoes are lightly browned outside and tender inside. Toss the potatoes from time to time with a metal spatula so they brown evenly. Serve hot, sprinkled with the chopped parsley and little salt. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

From “The Contessa at Home” by Ina Garten.

HELP U COOK

Although my recipe this week is made with red potatoes, I mention California long whites in my introduction. Potato buffs (yes, there is such a thing) are no doubt already familiar with this variety, and as a buff myself, I like to spread the word.

California long whites, technically the White Rose hybrid, are among my favorite potatoes. You can recognize the potato by the tissue-paper-thin skin (light brown) and the tiny, barely dimpled eyes. The flesh is waxy and holds its shape when cooked, which makes it a good choice for potato salad and scalloped potatoes. I just like the thin skin and the flavor.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
Eggs scrambled in butter with feta cheese and avocado; mojo-marinated grilled chicken skewers, potatoes roasted in a campfire.

What I ate in restaurants/ at a friend’s house last week:
Black and blue burger (mushrooms, blue cheese, grilled onions) and grilled asparagus at Wolf Creek Tavern in Norton; tomato soup and half of a steak and arugula sandwich at Panera in Montrose; baked chicken marsala and wilted spinach in portobello mushroom caps, crisp salad with homemade green goddess dressing, mustard roast potatoes at my friend Michele’s house; Spanish omelet and melon at Alexandri’s in Wadsworth; edamame, a creamy baked mussel, a Jane roll and an Amy roll at Sushi Katsu in Akron; two chili dogs at the Hot Dog Shoppe in East Liverpool; a crisp lettuce and cucumber salad, meat loaf and a baked sweet potato at the Riverside Roadhouse in Wellsville; half of a ham sub from Subway.

THE MAILBAG

From Lucinda:
I have a question about your microwave desserts. Since I often entertain just one or two and baking a traditional-size version of desserts is a recipe for overindulging, I’d love to offer these individual treats in more decorative vessels than my dollar-store plain, white coffee mugs.

My question is, then, have you found the shape and diameter of the mug affect the preparation process and outcome of your recipes? I have some lovely stoneware and ceramic mugs by artists who show at Ohio Mart and the Akron Arts Expo, but they tend to be wider, and some a bit shorter, than the ones I have been using.

Dear Lucinda:
Great question. Yes, the shape, size and material of the mug very much influences the timing. I tested all of my microwave mug dessert recipes in 12-ounce ceramic Fiesta ware mugs. You can use other sizes and shapes but you will have to gauge doneness by looks, which I have tried to describe for each recipe.

One reason the book has taken me so long to write is that I keep retesting recipes to take into account yet more variables. The wattage of the oven affects baking time, as does the physical size of the oven and even where on the turntable the mug is placed (never place it directly in the center, where the microwaves meet). I am amazed at microwave mug cookbook authors who tell readers to just bake the batter in any old mug, put it in any old microwave and bake it for an exact number of minutes. Really??

From Ms. O.:
Use your phone or camera to snap a pic of those solitary recipes that are keeping you from selling cookbooks!

From Michele B.:
The last time I got rid of some cookbooks, I took pictures of the few recipes I used and saved them with other recipes I have only in electronic form.

Dear O. and Michele:
Thanks for the suggestion, which had not occurred to me.

 

 

 

May 2, 2018

Dear friends,

My floor-to-ceiling wall of cookbooks is undergoing a severe pruning as I prepare for a yard sale this month. Should I keep Time-Life’s “Great Cooking,” even though the only recipe I use semi-regularly is for crepes stuffed with lemon soufflé? Maybe. Should I sell my two thick books on charcuterie even though I’ve never gotten around to making prosciutto. No. Some dreams die hard.

However, I have packed up dozens of books to sell, even when I invariably find a recipe I overlooked and just have to make. The salad recipe I offer today is a case in point.

Couscous Salad with Chicken, Avocado and Mango started life as a rice salad in an old “Food & Wine Magazine’s Quick from Scratch Herbs & Spices Cookbook.” I was looking for inspiration for using the first of the season’s chives. Instead I found a refreshing, deeply flavored salad that will taste as good in mid summer as it does now.

I changed some ingredients, added some and tinkered with the proportions to come up with the recipe that follows. I’m still going to sell the cookbook, but maybe not before I try the chocolate pudding with fennel and the grilled Fontina, mushroom and sage sandwiches. Among others.

COUSCOUS SALAD WITH CHICKEN, MANGO AND AVOCADO

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1 cup uncooked Israeli couscous (large pearls)
2 1/2 cups cubed boneless, skinless rotisserie chicken (1/2-inch cubes)
1/2 cup diced red onion
1 mango, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 avocados, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. fresh-ground pepper
1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves

Cook couscous in water according to package directions. Drain, refresh with cold water and drain thoroughly. Place in a large bowl with the chicken, onion, mango and avocado.

In a lidded jar combine lemon juice, olive oil, sugar, salt and pepper. Shake well. Pour over salad. Add cilantro and toss gently but thoroughly. Make 4 entree-sized servings.

MICROWAVE DESSERT

I have resumed working on my microwave mug dessert book, which at this rate will be finished when microwave ovens are obsolete. When I started the book just a couple of awful microwave mug recipes were floating around the Internet. Now there are thousands of recipes, but I’ll keep going because I think my techniques are unique and produce better-quality desserts.

Here is an example from my chapter on bread puddings. If you try the recipe, let me know what you think. Read the entire recipe before starting.

MICROWAVE MUG CINNAMON-RAISIN BREAD PUDDING

1 tbsp. butter
1 1/2 tbsp. sugar
3 tbsp. milk
1 large egg white
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
1 cup gently packed white sandwich bread in 1/2-inch cubes (about 1 1/4 slices)
1 tbsp. raisins

Place butter in a 12-ounce pottery mug and microwave on high power until melted, about 20 seconds. Stir in sugar and milk. Add egg white, vanilla, cinnamon and salt. Beat with a fork until the egg white is thoroughly incorporated. Add half of the bread cubes and half of the raisins, pushing to gently submerge. Add remaining bread cubes and raisins. Push into the custard mixture, gently stirring once or twice to distribute raisins.

Microwave at 50 percent power for about 2 minutes 30 seconds for 1,000-watt ovens or 2 minutes for 1,000- and 1,200-watt ovens, adjusting time up or down for lower- or higher-watt ovens.

The pudding is done when the top is set but still moist and the sides of the pudding look set when a knife is inserted between the pudding and the mug. Eat from the mug or, if desired, let stand two minutes, loosen edges with a knife and invert onto a plate. Enjoy warm or at room temperature.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
Al dente asparagus with fresh lemon juice and two poached eggs; chicken couscous salad with mango and avocado; meatloaf with cognac, baked sweet potatoes; hamburger, oven fries, roasted bell peppers; chopped Asian salad and Japanese Genghis Khan (thin-sliced marinated lamb pan-grilled over high heat, served over rice with stir-fried onions and asparagus).

What I ate last week in/from restaurants:
Hummus and beef plate at Aladdin’s in Montrose; a la carte scrambled eggs and bacon at Cracker Barrel in Montrose; a gyro salad at Arby’s in Wadsworth; marinated, grilled chicken with onions, peppers and salad greens at Village Gardens Restaurant in Cuyahoga Falls.

THE MAILBAG

From Geoff:
Re: food processors — Since I prepare quite a few Cajun dishes I need to make the trinity, a mix of onions, peppers and celery, fairly often. This is very easily done in the food processor by simply tossing in medium chunks of all three ingredients and pulsing several times until the correct size chop is reached. It’s much quicker than finely chopping by hand even if your knife skills are good.

Dear Geoff:
I will point out for my niece’s benefit that your Breville processor does a better job of evenly dicing ingredients than her Cuisinart. Still, if the chunks are a uniform size going into the processor, and the chopping is accomplished in brief pulses rather than a steady whirl, the vegetables will be fairly evenly chopped. I chopped an onion in my Cuisinart Sunday evening for a meatloaf, and it came out fine.

From Cindi S.:
I, too, consider my food processor indispensable. I finally got one around four years ago and immediately wondered what took me so long (I’m 45!). I use the shred blade to shred cheese maybe more than anything else. I find pre-shredded cheese has too much cornstarch or whatever non-clumping agent they use these days.

Whole blocks of cheese are far less expensive and the cheese tastes so much better than pre-shredded. I like blends of cheese, too, so I just get blocks of each kind (Cheddar and Monterey jack or Colby and Monterey jack or mozzarella and Cheddar or a favorite…Cheddar and Swiss) and feed slabs of them alternately through the tube, then give them a toss to further mix. I find they really don’t clump once shredded, either.

Dear Cindi:
I forgot about cheese. I use my processor to finely grate (well, chop) the Parmesan I buy in blocks. I freeze the whole blocks, hack off a hunk and grate it as needed for fresh-cheese flavor.

From Carol P.:
I use my food processor for slicing mostly. Do you ever make radish chips? They will never replace potato chips, but I like to keep them on hand. Celery, onions (with a small fan blowing the fumes away), carrot. Also anything I would drag out my mixer for. Really, it’s an all-purpose tool.

Dear Carol:
Radish chips? Do you eat them fresh or bake them? Do tell.

 

April 25, 2018

Dear friends,

Sometimes you have to look a gift horse in the mouth. Especially if the gift is a food processor and the horse creates recipes for a living.

For Christmas 2016 I gave my niece, Heidi, a Cuisinart. She is a very good cook and owns a batterie of cookware but at that point, not a food processor. I would swap anything in my kitchen for a food processor. I consider it indispensable.

Last week I was moving my food processor while cleaning the countertop and wondered what Heidi had used her processor for in the last 16 months. I haven’t heard a peep, so I’m guessing the answer is “nothing.” I know she has been ridiculously busy, so I’ll help her figure out this new appliance. For starters, here is a list of the tasks I use my processor for the most, in no particular order:

TOP 10 THINGS I DO WITH MY FOOD PROCESSOR

  1. Make pesto
  2. Make fresh bread crumbs for meatloaf, etc.
  3. Puree soups
  4. Finely chop nuts
  5. Make frozen blueberry ice cream (a couple handfuls frozen blueberries, a carton of vanilla yogurt, pulse and voila!)
  6. Make smooth sauces such as chimichurri and mole
  7. Make sorbet bases
  8. Make pasta dough
  9. Make peanut sauce for noodles or sate
  10. Make hummus

I don’t use the extra blades much, other than for making julienned carrots occasionally. I used to thin-slice potatoes with another blade, but I don’t cook white potatoes often anymore. For scalloped potatoes, though, that processor blade can’t be beat.

In honor of Heidi, I came up with a recipe last week for Thai pork chops in a sauce made in a food processor. Instead of cutting and combining each ingredient by hand, I dumped everything in the food processor and pureed them. The result was a coconut milk-lime-curry sauce easy enough for a weeknight dinner.

How do you use your food processor?

THAI COCONUT CURRY PORK CHOPS

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1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 can (13.5 oz.) coconut milk
1 tbsp. Thai chili paste
Grated zest of 1/2 lime
Juice of 1 lime
1 tsp. nam pla (fish sauce)
4 boneless pork chops, about 3/4 inch thick
8 cups cabbage in 1-inch pieces, layers separated
Salt, pepper
1/2 cup flour
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
Chopped cilantro (optional)

Cut ginger in half and, one at a time, drop each piece through the feed tube of the food processor with the motor running. The blade will chop the ginger into bits. Repeat with the garlic. Remove lid of processor and add coconut milk, chili paste, lime zest, lime juice and nam pla. Replace the lid and process until smooth.

Place chops in a 1-gallon zipper-lock plastic bag. Add one-half cup of the coconut-milk sauce. Close the bag and massage to moisten all surfaces of the chops. Refrigerate for at least one hour or all day while you are out or at work.

About 45 minutes before dinner, place cabbage in a 9-by-12-inch baking pan. Pour 3/4 cup of the coconut sauce over the cabbage and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover tightly with foil and bake at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes, or until soft and silky.

Meanwhile, 15 minutes before cabbage is done, remove chops from marinade and pat dry (discard marinade). Season chops on both sides with salt and pepper and dust with flour. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook until the edges on each side just begin to brown. Reduce heat to medium and continue cooking until meat is just slightly pink in the center, about 5 minutes. It will continue cooking off the heat.

Remove cabbage from oven, stir and spread on a platter. Arrange chops over cabbage. Pour remaining coconut sauce into hot skillet and boil over high heat until it reduces by about half and thickens slightly. Pour over chops. Scatter chopped cilantro over all. Makes 4 servings.

Note: Swap Thai curry paste for the chili paste if desired, and another vegetable for the cabbage, which I used because I had excess on hand.

GUT CHECK 

What I cooked last week:

A sliced chicken, pesto and avocado open-faced sandwich; chili; chicken salad with apples, dried cranberries and pecans; cabbage baked in Thai sauce and coconut-curry pork chops; microwave cinnamon-raisin bread pudding; pan-grilled chicken breasts with horseradish-mayo topping and a chopped kale salad with sweet and sour dressing; pan-grilled strip steaks with tarragon wine sauce, buttered lima beans, smoked sweet potatoes.

What I ate in restaurants last week:

A grilled chicken salad at Alexandri’s in Wadsworth; half of an Asian salad with chicken and a hunk of baguette at Panera.

THE MAILBAG

From Cheryl:
The bay laurels are in stock now at Donzell’s. Make sure you have enough room when you plant them.

Dear Cheryl:
I am sharing your tip, although I admit I waited until I snagged a plant to do so. Until the weather warms up, I am keeping my bay-leaf seedling near a grow light on my kitchen counter.

When I visited, Donzell’s Garden Center on Waterloo Road in Akron had almost a dozen plants. They are in the herbs section, in case your query for directions, like mine, is met with blank stares.

In case you missed my earlier post, I have wanted to find a bay laurel bush for years, ever since I tasted a blanc mange flavored with fresh bay leaves. FYI, bay laurel is a Mediterranean bush that is too tender for harsh Northern Ohio winters, so your best bet is to use a planter and bring it indoors before the snow flies.

From Mary D.:
I found a new place for you, on the Baldwin-Wallace campus … the Campus Grill: http://www.thecampusgrille.com.

Dear Mary:
You are a doll for sending me this link. I read the Latin menu and am itching to try it. Tony is balking at more Cuban and Caribbean food right now, so I’ll have to wait. Meanwhile, I hope anyone who visits will send me a report.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 17, 2018

Dear friends,

I am sorry to beat you over the head with Cuban cuisine again, but I can’t get that bewitching bread out of my mind. Since I returned from Florida, I have been trying to make a decent loaf of Cuban bread with middling success until I stumbled across the secret: lard. Who knew?

Three Guys From Miami knew. That’s the name of a blog written by a trio of laid-back Florida guys who like to cook Cuban food. How laid back? Their Cuban bread recipe includes a break for beer on the patio while the bread rises and one carps, “Why didn’t we just pick up a loaf of bread at the bakery?” For all their humble charm, the guys aren’t just casual cooks — they have a TV show and cookbooks as well as the website icubano.com.

The Cuban loaf produced with their recipe has a delicately crisp crust, more fragile than a French baguette, and a soft, very slightly sweet crumb. It’s the Cuban bread I remember from Florida.

I am reproducing their short recipe and long, explanatory instructions with just a few edits for conciseness. I found their ramblings helpful. I have put my deviations in parentheses.

PAN CUBANO

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1 tbsp. active dry yeast
2 tsp. sugar
1 1/4 cups warm water
2 cups bread flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup lard
2 tbsp. warm water to brush on loaves before baking

Grease a large bowl and set aside. In a small bowl dissolve the yeast and sugar in 1/4 cup of warm water (110 degrees on an instant-read thermometer). (I proofed the yeast right in the bowl of the stand mixer). Place the bowl in a warm place and let it stand until it starts to foam and double in volume, about 10 minutes. If it doesn’t foam and bubble, you have some bad yeast.

Meanwhile, place the lard in a Pyrex measuring cup or other suitable container. Heat in the microwave on high for about (1 minute) 90 seconds or until melted.

Place the water/yeast/sugar mixture in the mixing bowl of a stand mixer. Add the rest of the warm water (110 degrees) and the salt. Using the dough hook, mix on low speed until blended.

Take your measuring cup and dig in to the flour bag, scooping out two whole cups of each flour. Now the important part: in a separate bowl, sift together the two flours. Sifted flour has more volume than un-sifted flour, so you will use about 3 1/4 cups of sifted flour in the following steps.

Gradually add the flour mixture, a little at a time, to the wet ingredients in your mixer, mixing constantly. At the same time you are adding flour, gradually pour in the melted lard. Keep adding a little flour and a little lard until all of the lard is added. (I had to stop the mixer several times to scrape down sides).

Continue adding more flour — A LITTLE AT A TIME — until you make a smooth and pliable dough. Try to add just enough flour to make the dough elastic — just as much as necessary so that the dough hook barely cleans the sides of the bowl. Too much flour and your bread will be too dense. (Too little and it will spread too much). You will use about 3 1/4 cups of sifted flour to bring the dough to this point — more or less, this is where the art of baking comes in. Save any leftover flour mixture for rolling out the dough.

Set the mixer on a low speed and knead with the dough hook for about 3 to 4 minutes, no more. Your dough will be fairly sticky at this point.

NOTE: If you don’t have a mixer with a dough hook, you can also do this the old fashioned way. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Pound the dough ball down and knead by hand until the dough is smooth and elastic, about ten minutes.

Shape the dough into a ball and place it into the greased bowl, turning to grease all sides of the dough. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and place in a warm place. (We pre-heat our oven to 160 degrees and then turn it off, creating a perfect environment for our rising bread.) Let the dough rise until it doubles in size, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board, using the leftover flour in the bowl. Sprinkle some flour on the dough and use a rolling pin to roll it out to fit diagonally on your largest baking sheet — usually 20 inches long. Roll dough to a 12-by-20-inch rectangle. Sprinkle more flour on the dough and turn it over a few times as you roll to keep it from sticking to the rolling pin. The added flour at this stage should take care of most of the stickiness.

Starting at a long edge, roll the dough into a tight cylinder, with a slight taper at both ends. Wet your fingers and pinch the loose flap of the rolled dough into the loaf, making a tight seam.

Grease a baking sheet and sprinkle lightly with cornmeal. (I used parchment paper instead.) Place the loaf diagonally onto the baking sheet, seam side down. Dust the top with a little extra flour and cover very loosely with plastic wrap. (You don’t want the rising dough to dry out or stick to the plastic wrap.)

Place in a warm spot and let rise until about 2 1/2 times it’s original size, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Cuban bread is wider than French bread, so expect your loaf to spread out quite a bit as it rises. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place a pan of water on the lowest oven rack.

Use a sharp knife (I used scissors) to cut a shallow seam down the middle of the top of the bread, leaving about two inches uncut on each end. Brush the top of the loaf with water (I soaked the brush with water and flicked it onto the bread instead of brushing and potentially deflating the bread). Place on the middle oven shelf. After about 5 minutes of baking, brush some more water on top of the bread.

Bake the loaf until it is light brown and crusty, about 12 to 18 minutes total baking time. (Don’t cut into loaf until it cools.) Makes 1 loaf.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
A broth bowl with chicken, asparagus, cubed sweet potato and wilted spinach in chicken-ginger broth; sausage and cauliflower soup with spinach; hot dogs in buns, chopped salad with ginger dressing; scrambled eggs with roasted red peppers and sour cream; slow-cooker roast beef in red wine with Italian spices; sautéed cod loin, sautéed garlic and spinach.

What I ate in/from restaurants, etc.:
Pepperoni pizza from Rizzi’s in Copley; Waterloo salad with grilled chicken and pita wedges at Waterloo Restaurant in Akron; Thai chicken taco with peanut sauce, cochinita pork taco with pickled onions, lime and cilantro from Funky Truckeria in Norton; breaded chicken stuffed with cheese and broccoli, mixed vegetables at St. George church social hall in Copley.

TIDBIT

The paleo and low-carb diet fads have elevated the status of once-lowly cauliflower, which is being used now as a stand-in for rice (cauliflower risotto) and potatoes (mashed cauliflower), among other starches. I have even seen teensy flecks of it masquerading as quinoa.

I often make mashed cauliflower, and last week found a great new way to use it: as a sub for potatoes in one of my favorite soups, potato and greens soup. The use isn’t revolutionary, but I’m glad I thought of it.

For the soup, brown 1 pound of seasoned bulk sausage (such as Bob Evans in the tube) in a skillet. Meanwhile, in a covered soup pot, simmer about a half head of cauliflower, broken into florets, in a carton (32 ounces) of chicken broth until the cauliflower is mushy-soft. Remove the pot from the heat and puree the cauliflower in the pot with a stick blender. Add the browned sausage and a splash of half and half (optional) and return to a simmer. Add a couple of big handfuls of fresh spinach, cover and simmer until the spinach is wilted. Makes about 6 servings.

THE MAILBAG

From Pat S.:
All that brutal stirring to create delicious gougere isn’t necessary if one owns a mixer. When it comes time to add the eggs, remove the pan from the heat as directed. Dump the batter into a the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Follow the recipe as written, beating in eggs one at a time, then cheese, on medium speed.

Dear Pat:
NOW you tell me. Seriously, thank you for letting me know. I will make gougere more often now, and may even experiment with sugar-free eclairs, which Tony has been asking me for years to make. I might note that by “mixer,” you mean a stand mixer. Hand mixers aren’t powerful enough for the dense puff paste dough.

From Stephanie F.:
Hi Jane. I had to laugh when I read about the Jell-O salad. My mom would make this to try to hide veggies when my sisters were little. I liked veggies but they did not. They referred to it as “Grass Salad.” Occasionally now we will make it for family get-togethers in memory of our mom. Good memories. Thanks!

Dear Stephanie:
Oh, good, I get to kid my brother about Grass Salad now. Speaking of memories, one of my presents for my brother was the letters from basic training and Vietnam he sent me in 1971 that I had saved. I mention this for anyone else of a certain age who is a pack rat and looking for gift ideas for older family members. Rob was very happy to get them.

From Dawn C.:
My oh my! That celebration dinner sounds divine! Lucky husband and brother.
The chocolate-lime-coconut cake entices me to want to know more. And sugar-free, no less. Could you share the recipe with us? And how about the pineapple-mayo dressing? I’ve never had such a thing. Recipe, please! I’m drooling with anticipation.

Dear Dawn:
Don’t get too excited. The pineapple-mayo dressing was merely a cup of mayonnaise combined with about one-fourth cup crushed pineapple and enough of the pineapple juice to thin it to pouring consistency. That’s how my mother did it.

The cake was a cheater, too, but was surprisingly delicious. I started with a sugar-free Betty Crocker yellow cake mix. I replaced part of the liquid in the recipe with the juice of two limes, and added the grated zest of the two limes to the batter. This gave the cake a pronounced lime flavor.

The chocolate part is complicated. I only did it because Tony insisted on some chocolate. I sandwiched the two 9-inch cake layers with chocolate frosting made by beating a can of Betty Crocker sugar-free chocolate frosting with 4 ounces of softened cream cheese and about 3 tablespoons butter. I also added a teaspoon of vanilla to bump the flavor even more. The frosting straight from the can is kind of yucky and I haven’t found a homemade sugar-free frosting recipe that is worth the effort.

The sides and top of the cake were frosted with a thick layer of Lite Cool Whip. It’s not sugar-free, but it’s fairly low in sugar and holds up better than real whipped cream. From my days in the photo studio, I can tell you it holds up for so long it’s scary. To finish the cake, again at Tony’s request, I gently tamped shredded coconut onto the sides. No, the coconut wasn’t sugar free, but I didn’t use a lot of it. Everyone was crazy about this cake. FYI, Tony also wanted almonds in there somewhere, but I put my foot down.

From Isabelle G.:
Jane, I can’t believe the addition of Jell-O to your delicious meal. My granddaughters couldn’t believe that anyone would put cabbage in Jell-O when I made it for Easter. They only know about Jell-O shots. I would like an actual recipe as I made mine up from memory. I may have put too much cabbage in it. I am sending your column to all my granddaughters to prove I am not the only one who likes Jell-O. That salad was a regular in my childhood home. Thanks for the enlightenment.

Dear Isabelle:
The recipe I used calls for 2 small boxes of orange Jell-O, prepared according to package directions, to which I added 1 1/2 cups finely shredded cabbage and 1 cup drained crushed pineapple. I skipped the half-cup or so of sliced celery in my mother’s recipe. The “salad” is poured into an oblong baking pan and refrigerated until set. Variations abound on the Internet, and in fact the original was made with Knox gelatin, not Jell-O. My mother used orange Jell-O because that was my father’s favorite.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 10, 2018

Dear friends,

The cream-puff dough almost did me in. Beating in the eggs one at a time with my six-month-old titanium shoulder was brutal. Tony had to step in to spell me. Who knew cooking would become a matter of stamina as I age?

The pate a choux dough was for French gougere, light-as-air unfilled puffs that were a cocktail snack at a family gathering last weekend. I made the hors d’oeuvre followed by a special meal to mark two important birthdays — Tony’s 60th and my brother’s 70th.

I went all out. The guys wanted steak, so I rubbed inch-thick strips with a homemade seasoning mix (coarse sea salt, fresh-ground pepper, a bit of sugar and herbes de Provence) and grilled them over charcoal. My brother-in-law watched the meat while I made béarnaise sauce with fresh tarragon and plated fat roast asparagus and small new potatoes roasted with olive oil and coarse salt.

I also served my brother’s childhood favorite, Perfection Salad — orange Jell-O with crushed pineapple and shredded cabbage and carrots, with pineapple mayo dressing on the side.

Dessert was two sugar-free layer cakes — one chocolate with chocolate icing and sliced almonds clinging to the sides, and the other — Tony’s request — lime with chocolate filling, whipped cream frosting and coconut.

That was Saturday. On Sunday I slept.

Back in the day, this would have been a quick-fix meal I would have been slightly embarrassed to serve to friends. Back then I could complicate even a salad course with, say, Roquefort beignets. And of course the baguettes with the cheese course would have been homemade. Now my idea of going the extra mile is serving a carousel of sour cream, crumbled bacon, butter and sea salt with the roasted new potatoes.

Dang, I miss those fabulous meals.

The gougere provided a taste of my decadent past without a lot of work if you don’t count that incessant beating. They can be made ahead and frozen, and reheated briefly at the last minute. The prep involves combining flour with melted butter and water and heating while stirring until the dough comes together in a big, springy ball. Then off the heat, four eggs are beaten in one at a time until each egg is absorbed by the flour mixture.

With this dough you can make cream puffs and eclairs, or beat in shredded cheese for gougere. The airy, crisp puffs are often served in wine cellars in France to customers who look like they’ll buy a case or two.

GOUGERE

JaneSnowGougere.jpeg

 

1 cup water
6 tbsp. butter, cut in small pieces
1 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
3/4 cup flour
4 eggs
1 cup grated cheese (gruyere, Parmesan or Cheddar)

Bring water, butter, salt, pepper and nutmeg to a boil in a heavy, 1 1/2-quart saucepan. Remove from heat and pour in the flour all at once. Beat vigorously with a wooden spoon to blend. Then beat over medium-high heat for 1 to 2 minutes or until the mixture leaves the sides of the pan, forms a mass, and begins to film the bottom of the pan.

Remove pan from the heat and make a well in the center of the paste with your spoon. Immediately break an egg into the well and beat it into the paste until it has been absorbed. Continue with remaining eggs, beating them in one at a time. Beat in the grated cheese.

Drop the dough by rounded tablespoons onto parchment-lined baking sheets, leaving 2 inches between mounds. Brush the tops of the mounds with an egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water) if desired, being careful that drips do not hit the parchment.

Place the baking sheets in the lower third and upper third of an oven preheated to 425 degrees. Bake for 20 minutes. The puffs are done when they have doubled in size and are golden brown.

Remove from the oven and puncture the side of each puff with the tip of a sharp knife. Return to the oven, heat off and door ajar for 10 minutes to dry out the insides. Serve warm or at room temperature.

To freeze, cool completely and place in a zipper-lock bag, cushioned in paper towels. Reheat on parchment-lined baking sheets at 425 degrees for 3 to 4 minutes.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
Boiled knockwurst with mustard on buns; oven-cooked bacon; Cheddar gougere; sugar-free chocolate-lime-coconut cake, sugar-free chocolate cake with almonds; Jell-O salad with pineapple-mayonnaise dressing; spice-rubbed, charcoal-grilled strip steaks, béarnaise sauce, roast asparagus with butter and sea salt, roasted new potatoes with sour cream, bacon, butter and sea salt; Japanese curry with chicken.

What I ate in (or from) restaurants:
The low-cal plate — a deliciously seasoned hamburger patty, cottage cheese, tomato slices, hard-cooked egg and applesauce — at Village Gardens in Cuyahoga Falls; spicy chili pork wontons and spicy eggplant at House of Hunan in Fairlawn.

THE MAILBAG

From Stephanie C.:
What is “poke” and how is it pronounced? I see it on menus everywhere.

Dear Stephanie:
Poke is pronounced poe-kay, according to my husband, who made it when he worked in a Hawaii sushi bar years ago. Poke is a Hawaiian raw fish salad that is usually served in a bowl. Bite-sized pieces of seafood — classically, ahi tuna — are seasoned and tossed with green onions and eaten as is, over rice, or on leaves of lettuce. One recipe from the Hawaiian Fish Co. blog (honolulufishmarket.com) calls for chili pepper flakes, sesame oil, green onions, salt and sesame seeds.

A fast-casual restaurant devoted to the dish has opened in the Whole Foods plaza in the Wallhaven area of Akron. Poke Fresh is set up like Chipotle, with customers queueing up to choose a base (rice, greens, grains), a protein (tuna, salmon, chicken, tofu) and toppings. The website is eatpokefresh.com.

I had a delicious version of poke at Sushi Katsu in the Merriman Valley. That’s the place Tony owned until he retired. The new chef, Tin, makes great poke and sushi.

From Heidi:
For the man who wanted the recipe for African peanut soup, here is the one I use. I’ve made it several times and think it’s good. I’ve never had the version West Side Bakery makes so I can’t compare.

AFRICAN PEANUT STEW

1 tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped red onion
1 1/4 cups finely chopped green bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped carrot
1/2 cup chopped celery
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp. peeled, minced fresh ginger
1 tbsp. curry powder
1 can (14 oz.) diced tomatoes, drained
1 bay leaf
4 cups reduced-sodium vegetable broth
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups shelled edamame
1/4 cup creamy or crunchy peanut or almond butter
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 bag (6 oz.) baby spinach, torn in bite-size pieces
1/2 tsp. salt
Coarse-ground black pepper

Heat oil in a 4-quart saucepan. Sauté onion, bell pepper, carrot and celery until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, ginger and curry powder and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes and bay leaf and cook, uncovered, until tomatoes are slightly reduced, about 3 minutes.

Add broth and sweet potatoes; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 8 minutes. Add edamame and peanut butter; stir to combine. Add cilantro and spinach and cook until throughly heated and spinach wilts, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Makes 8 servings.

Recipe by Cheryl Forberg in “Relish the Healthy Table.”

Dear Heidi:
I know Cheryl Forberg, the recipe’s creator and former nutritionist for “The Biggest Loser” TV show. You can’t go wrong with one of her recipes. She specializes in healthful food that tastes great. My favorite baked taco recipe is from Cheryl.