May 26, 2016

Dear friends,

Tony is getting into the swing of this retirement thing. Last week he decided on his own to do the grocery shopping. He went to the store without a list and brought back a 3-pound package of hot dogs and some boneless chicken breasts. Period.

“You can make some chicken!” he said as if the idea was novel, although we eat chicken all the time. Hot dogs are another story. I don’t think I’ve cooked any in the 10 years we’ve been together and I’m not about to start now. What was he thinking?

The next morning I padded downstairs to find Tony frying six hot dogs and two pieces of bread in a wide skillet. That was his breakfast, or would have been had I not convinced him to stop at two hot dogs for his cholesterol’s sake.

I had no trouble using up the chicken. The weather was mild and the grill beckoned. I wanted to make chicken kabobs but with more flavor than plain meat grilled on skewers. I didn’t have plain yogurt for an Indian-type marinade, but I did have canned coconut milk. I used an Indian technique of pureeing onions and garlic with a bunch of dried spices and added that and lime juice to the coconut milk. A couple of hours was long enough for the flavors to permeate the meat.

The kabobs are flavorful on their own but if you want to get fancy, you could serve them with a mango salsa or cucumber raita. We like them just the way they are.

I like Tony’s hot dogs just the way they are, too: In the package, in the freezer.

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GRILLED CHICKEN CURRY KABOBS
•    2 1/2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
•    1 tsp. ground cumin
•    1 tsp. ground coriander
•    1 tsp. salt
•    1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
•    1/2 cup rough-chopped sweet onions
•    2 cloves garlic
•    Juice of 1 lime
•    1/2 cup canned coconut milk
•    6 long wooden skewers, soaked in hot water

Trim chicken of fat and cut into long, 1/2-inch to 1-inch-wide strips. In a blender combine spices, onions, garlic and lime juice. Puree, stopping and clearing sides with a rubber spatula several times. Add coconut milk and process until smooth. Combine chicken and spice mixture in a gallon zipper-lock plastic bag and gently squeeze to coat chicken evenly. Refrigerate and marinate for two hours.

Prepare a medium-hot charcoal or gas fire. Thread chicken onto the skewers accordion-style. Grill for about 6 minutes or until cooked through, turning skewers to brown all sides. Makes 6 servings.

HELP U COOK

The difference between squeezing two tablespoons or one-fourth cup of juice from a lime is 15 to 30 seconds in the microwave. Put the whole lime on the turntable and nuke on high until the rind is soft and warm. Age also affects the quantity of juice (citrus fruit dries out as it ages), but you can’t do anything about that. You CAN put the lime in the microwave, though. I never juice a lemon or lime without it.

THE MAILBAG

From Fran F.:
After leaving a Sunday gospel concert at the Civic Theater, we went to Everest Restaurant in Cuyahoga Falls, the Nepali/Indian restaurant you mentioned several weeks ago. They did not have a Sunday buffet and the sign in the window advertised a lunch buffet from 11 to 2 p.m. weekdays and Saturday. The lunch buffet is $8.99 and the weekend Saturday buffet is $9.99.

We arrived at Everest at 4:45 p.m. and the sign on the door said they would be back at 5 p.m.   We sat in the parking lot until 5:05 and then pulled away.   By the time we got out of the parking lot and passed in front of the restaurant the “open” sign came on. We turned around and went back.

We ordered Butter Chicken and Curry Chicken as entrees and had a Mango drink.  The food was tasty but the entrees only included the meat and a shared bowl of rice.  Our bill was $31 without tip.  I felt it was a bit overpriced for the amount of food we got.
Dear Fran: Thanks for sharing your experience. Sounds like the buffet I had is a much better deal.

From John O.:
Where can I get good liver and onions in the Akron area?

Dear John: I’m a liver and onions fan but I haven’t eaten it in a while and can’t remember where I had it. Can anyone help?

May 18, 2016

Dear friends,

Tony is home! With a serious case of jet lag! I know it’s serious because he is too tired to eat. A bowl of spaghetti sits untouched in the refrigerator.

“My favorite,” he moaned sleepily when I placed it in front of him Sunday at about 6 p.m. That would be 7 a.m. Japan time. He conked out before the first forkful.

Tony arrived bearing gifts. The aunts sent me really cool T-shirts, purses and handcrafts. His cousins and high school buddies sent food, and his dear mother sent me all of her jewelry. I wish I could be with her. But I’m here, still cooking for just myself until Tony snaps out of it.

Mostly I’ve been making simple things like scrambled eggs and sandwiches. That changed when I found fresh, sweet cherries for $1.99 a pound. They were part of a sale celebrating the grand re-opening of the remodeled Acme No. 1 in West Akron. The store is modern and inviting, and it was packed with bargains last weekend.

Two dollars a pound is probably as low as these seasonal treasures are likely to go. I’ve seen cherries elsewhere, though, at $3 to $4 a pound -– unusual for this time of year. Cherries usually aren’t that inexpensive until supplies peak around the Fourth of July.

Most of our cherries come from Michigan and Washington State in late June and early July. The early cherries are coming from California, which must have a bumper crop this year.

I know just what to do with them. I like the idea of tossing pitted cherries into a salad with smoked turkey and salty feta cheese, or pureeing some and freezing in alternating layers with vanilla yogurt in ice pop molds. I will probably get around to those projects when I recover from my dried-cherry experiment.

Because I was able to afford a few pounds of cherries, I thought I would dry some. I like the idea of controlling the moisture level, producing half-dried cherries (like my half-dried tomatoes) to freeze and add bursts of flavor to my breakfast yogurt next winter. They’d be great in muffins, too.

I found two ways of drying cherries: In the microwave and in the oven. I tried both, but first I had to pit the dang things. Do not believe Internet advice to punch out the pits with a chopstick. The cherry is placed atop the neck of an empty wine bottle and the chopstick is plunged into its fleshy midsection, pushing the pit through the fruit and into the wine bottle below. Surrrre. I tried this with several empty narrow-necked bottles, including a wine bottle, and punched my medium sized cherries without exception into the bottles, pits and all. I punched gently, I stabbed wickedly; the result was the same.

The second Internet-touted method, which I’ve used before, is to insert a paper clip into the cherry and drag out the pit. I must have lost either patience or dexterity (maybe both) as I aged because I HATED fishing around with that paper clip. By the time I captured the pit, my hands were a sticky pink and the cherry was a pulpy mess. I did not attempt cherry number two.

I finally resorted to a paring knife, slicing each cherry in half and digging out the pit with the knife tip. I could pit 18 cherries in 5 minutes, enough to fill a 11-by-17-inch baking sheet. Not bad, but I recommend you go buy a cherry pitter.

In an 1100-watt microwave, the cherry halves dried in 17 minutes on the defrost setting. The cherries were pitted and placed directly on the clean glass turntable, cut sides up, about 1 inch apart. If you go this route, start checking after 10 minutes, keeping in mind that the fruit dries more as it sits.

In an oven set to 200 degrees, the cherry halves dried to my taste in 1 1/2 hours. They were concentrated and wrinkled but still slightly juicy. If you want fully dried fruit leather-type cherries, increase the time to 2 to 2 1/2 hours. The halves were placed cut sides down 1 1/2 inches apart on a foil-lined baking sheet. Tip: When you take the cherries from the oven, slide them, still on the foil, onto a counter and loosen them with the side of a fork. Then cool and eat or freeze.

My conclusion is that that microwave is a bad way to dry cherries. It’s easy to turn them into burnt little disks, even using the defrost setting. A couple of my thinner cherries became cherry chips.

Also, unless you remove the cherry halves from the glass turntable immediately, you’ll have to saw them off with a serrated knife. Then you must soak the turntable a long time and probably scrape it with a spatula to remove the dried cherry residue.

The oven-drying method was a lark in comparison. But why bother at all? Because half- or almost-dried cherries taste amazing compared to the over-sweetened commercial kind.

My half-dried cherries should taste especially good in a batch of coconut drop biscuits. The recipe is from James Villas’ excellent little cookbook, “Biscuit Bliss.” Villas writes that he likes to serve the “rather dainty” biscuits with coffee after an elaborate dinner.

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COCONUT-CHERRY DROP BISCUITS
3/4 cup frozen unsweetened flaked coconut
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. chilled vegetable shortening
1 cup whole milk
1 egg, beaten
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup dried or 1/2 cup half-dried sweet cherries

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Spread the frozen coconut on a large baking sheet and toast, stirring often, until golden, about 30 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and cool.

Increase oven temperature to 425 degrees. Grease the same baking sheet and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the coconut, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut in the shortening with a pastry blender until the mixture is crumbly. In a small bowl, whisk together the milk, egg and vanilla. Add to the dry ingredients along with the cherries. Stir just until the dough is very soft and still slightly wet.

Drop the dough by scant tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheet about 1 inch apart. Bake at 425 degrees in the upper third of the oven until golden, about 12 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature. Makes about 20 biscuits.

From “Biscuit Bliss” by James Villas.

HELP U COOK

It’s hard to remember which foods freeze poorly so here, in one place, is a list:

Sour cream becomes thin and watery.

Mayonnaise separates.

Cream cheese develops a watery texture.

Cooked egg whites become rubbery.

Icings made with egg whites become foamy.

Custard pie fillings become watery or lumpy.

Raw egg yolks thicken.

Heavy cream won’t whip but may be used in cooking.
Cooked grains and pastas soften.

Fruits and vegetables with a high water content become limp.

Many seasonings change in flavor, to wit: Onions, garlic, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and pepper intensify in flavor; salt, thyme, rosemary, dill, sage and basil pale in flavor.

THE MAILBAG
From Isabel T.:
I think it was last year that you had a recipe for an asparagus tart with slices of lemon. I made it once and can’t find the recipe.

Dear Isabel: That was my take on an asparagus and lemon version of tarte tatin. Asparagus spears and sautéed lemon slices are arranged in a skillet over a butter mixture, covered with puff pastry and baked. When done, the tart is inverted onto a serving plate to show off the asparagus and lemon. Wedges of the warm tart are a lovely spring side dish. Thanks for reminding me of this recipe.

UPSIDE-DOWN ASPARAGUS-LEMON TART
1 sheet of frozen puff pastry
1 firm lemon, sliced thin
14 to 16 spears asparagus, cut 4-inches long (tip end only)
1 tbsp. oil
2 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. sugar

Thaw pastry according to package directions. Slice lemon and cut and wash asparagus. Place an 8-inch oven-safe skillet over medium heat. When hot, add oil and butter. After butter melts, sprinkle sugar evenly in skillet. Arrange as many lemon slices as will fit in skillet in a single layer. Cook, turning once, until the edges begin to turn golden. Remove from skillet with tongs.

Remove skillet from heat. Arrange asparagus spears in a spoke pattern in the skillet, with the tips the center. Place lemon slices in a pattern on top of the asparagus.

Unbend puff pastry sheet and roll briefly with a floured rolling pin to remove creases. Use a 9- or 10-inch round cake pan as a guide to cut pastry in a circle. Place pastry circle over asparagus and lemon slices in pan, tucking edges down along the insides.

Bake at 375 degrees for about 25 minutes, until pastry is cooked through and starts to turn golden. Remove from oven and immediately invert onto a plate. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Serve warm or at room temperature.
From Annie:
Hey Jane, I got my peas and onions in early but it is taking longer to get more garden tilled up for the potatoes and fava beans.  I grew most of my own tomato and pepper plants this year and they are ready when Mother Nature is ready to let me put them in.

Every year I plan to go to Crown Point to the heirloom plant sale.  I haven’t been able to get there yet and am planning to go come heck or high water this year.  Do you have the specifics yet?

Dear Annie: I hear you. As I write this (Monday), my basil and eggplant seedlings are covered with plastic cottage cheese containers to ward off the frost. I was hoping to enjoy corn before the Fourth this year when I saw farmers planting in April, but now I doubt it.

Crown Point Ecology Center’s organic plant sale at its farm in Bath began last weekend but has expanded from two days to many more this year. The details are at http://crownpt.org/annual-organic-plant-sale/.
From Lin in France:

You want to know about new-to-me plants? Well, last year I grew a “pigment de oiseau” in a pot on my terrace. These are the tiny peppers you typically find in the spicy oil you drizzle on pizza. Then I strung them on a length of yarn and dried them in the kitchen. This spring I went to a plant fair and talked with a fellow who grows hundreds of different varieties of peppers and asked him what he would recommend and he sold me two: Kashmiri and Varigata. They will also have to tough it out in the pot and with limited sun on my terrace…we’ll see how they work out.

Dear Lin: You have a whole slew of European heirlooms to try. What fun!

From Isabelle Gordon:
In my recent move I lost your buckwheat cakes recipe, one that Tony liked that I think came from a restaurant.  It was like the recipe that I grew up with.  I’m not sure how my request works but I would love to be able to find the recipe.  Thanks in advance.

Dear Isabelle: Unfortunately, I don’t have a searchable database yet. That recipe was from way back when Tony and I met, I think. That would make it 2006. Does anyone have this recipe?

May 11, 2016

Dear friends,

After a nice Mother’s Day brunch, all I needed to make the day complete was a call from my step-son. The call came in early evening. Nico has not missed a Mother’s Day since he moved to Colorado three years ago. Hearing his voice almost makes me forget that hair-pulling senior year when he rebelled against Tony, me, school and the universe.

Nico has changed. He is once again the charming, smart, funny kid who asked deep questions and laughed with me at goofy TV shows. He’s that kid but more mature and thoughtful. I wish I could have shared brunch with him. He was always an enthusiastic and adventurous eater.

But then, so is my dog, who shared the riff on huevos-rancheros-meets-eggs-Benedict I made Sunday. Oscar isn’t as good a conversationalist as Nico but he likes my cooking just as much.

We’re both kind of smitten with the crispy corn cakes I made as the base of my Benedict. I wanted something more substantial than corn pancakes but less leaden than traditional hoecakes, which are basically water and corn meal stirred together and fried.

My hoecakes are cross between the two. I lightened the batter with a smidgen of self-rising flour and added oil for tenderness. The result: They’re sturdier than pancakes but more tender than hoecakes, with the latter’s pure corn flavor.

I topped the cakes with frizzled ham and green onions charred in a dry skillet. I poached the egg for 4 minutes in almost-simmering water in a covered skillet. If I were more ambitious and had calories to burn, I would have topped the stack with a ribbon of jalapeno hollandaise sauce. Instead I used smoky chipotle salsa, which was almost as good.

Too bad Tony didn’t get to taste this. Maybe I’ll make it on Father’s Day, when he will be safely back home.

POACHED EGGS, HAM AND CHARRED SCALLIONS OVER HOECAKES

For the hoecakes:
1/2 cup yellow corn meal
1/2 cup hot water
2 tbsp. self-rising flour
1 tbsp. Canola oil
1/4 tsp. salt

Combine corn meal and hot water in a bowl and let stand for 10 minutes. Stir in remaining ingredients and let stand a few minutes longer.

Pour about one-sixteenth inch oil into a hot nonstick or cast iron skillet. Adjust the heat to medium. When the oil is hot, Spoon in one-fourth of the batter, spreading to form a thin disk about 4 inches in diameter. Cook until edges are brown and crisp. Flip and cook until reverse side is golden. Keep warm in a 200-degree oven.

Everything else:
8 thin green onions, trimmed
6 oz. shaved ham
4 eggs
Salsa (optional)

Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Place onions in dry skillet and cook until dark brown in places on both sides. Remove from pan with tongs and set aside. In same skillet, warm hand until the edges frizzle.

While ham warms, break eggs into a nonstick skillet of barely simmering water. Cover and cook, barely simmering, until whites are set but yolks are still runny, about 4 minutes.

While eggs cook, place a hoecake on each of 4 luncheon-sized plates. Top each with 1 1/2 ounces of the ham and 2 green onions. Carefully remove each egg from the water with a slotted spoon and slide onto the onions. Serve with salsa if desired. Makes 4 servings.

HELP U COOK

While making a pot of soup last weekend I was reminded of all the restaurant utensils and cookware Tony brought to our marriage. I can’t imagine how I cooked without them.

I actually used to use either a wooden spoon or a serving spoon to stir soup, spaghetti sauce and chili. Using giant, long-handled restaurant spoons makes much more sense. I now have foot-long regular, slotted and strainer spoons hanging beside the stove.

If you are still cooking with amateur equipment, visit a restaurant supply store and pick up some inexpensive utensils. While you’re there, grab a pizza peel and one really giant (5-gallon) pot for making stock. A meat saw can come in handy, too. Last week I used mine to hack through a wood dowel, but that’s another story.

THE MAILBAG
From Linda:
Regarding your pork belly article, my favorite meal as a child was roast pork. If my mom asked me on my birthday what I wanted that was my answer…but they seem to have “leaned” all the flavor out of U.S. pork, so what a delight it was to discover good old fat pork here in France! I had a 24-hour roasted pork meal at a restaurant last autumn and was instantly transported back to my childhood. It was pork belly rolled and roasted low and slow, then only a couple of slices on the plate was enough to put me into orbit!

Dear Linda: Some good old-fashioned pork is produced here in Ohio, but you have to search for it and it’s expensive — $4 to $5 a pound if you buy in bulk. Those who are interested should Google “Ohio heritage pork.” We envy you, Linda.

From Sandy T.:
You haven’t mentioned your garden this spring. Have you given up or if not, what new things are you planting this year?

Dear Sandy: Gardening without Tony to plow or Rototill is tough. I’m waiting for him to return from Japan to do most of my spring planting. Meanwhile, I shoveled enough soil to plant a row of sugar snap peas out back and French breakfast radishes and lettuces in the trough on the deck. I’m also trying to grow eggplant in containers this year, after disease and root-gnawing critters wiped out the eggplants in my garden last summer.

My perennial herbs are flourishing and I planted basil last weekend. I’ve harvested a few stalks of asparagus, but my old patch has all but stopped producing. I spent time weeding the new row I planted last year (but can’t harvest until 2018), along with new rows of blueberry and blackberry bushes. So I guess I am gardening, but in a low-energy kind of way.

My new item this year, to be planted when Tony returns, is Japanese sweet potatoes. I had to send away for the plants. I’d love to hear about new plants (new to you) that you and others are trying this season or that you’ve had success with in the past.

May 5, 2016

Dear friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

PORK BELLY WITH BOURBON AND BROWN SUGAR

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

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

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

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

Some serving suggestions:

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

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

• Serve over cheesy polenta or grits.

• Cube and fry with potatoes for an upscale hash.

• Swap it for bacon in a BLT.

HELP U COOK

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

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

TIDBIT

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

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

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

THE MAILBAG

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

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

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

April 20, 2016

Dear friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SILK ROAD NON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HELP U COOK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ASIAN STEAK SALAD WITH CILANTRO AND MINT

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 13, 2016

Dear friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DAVE RUSSO’S NAVAJO TACOS

SALSA:

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

Combine everything in a bowl, stirring well.

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

Combine all ingredients in a lidded jar.

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

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

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

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

TIDBITS

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

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

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

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

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

THE MAILBAG

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

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

April 6, 2016

Dear friends,

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

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

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

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

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

Vinaigrette:

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

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

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

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

HELP U COOK

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

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

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

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

TIDBIT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE MAILBAG

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

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

March 30, 2016

Dear friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_0363.JPG

SPICY MEMPHIS-STYLE CHICKEN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HELP U COOK

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

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

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

THE MAILBAG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 23, 2016

Dear friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 16, 2016

Dear friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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HIGH-PROTEIN RICOTTA-RAISIN PANCAKES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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