August 12, 2020

Dear friends,

This is my favorite week of the year to cook. The tomatoes taste like big, sloppy pieces of candy and the corn is so sweet and fresh it doesn’t even require cooking. Local peaches are finally ripe so I bought a half-peck of Red Havens at Bauman’s Orchards in Rittman on Saturday, and they are waiting for me on the kitchen counter. I think I’ll make a peach and elderberry clafouti, finally using some of the elderberries that grow near my blackberry patch in the side yard.

Tonight (Monday when I’m writing this) I’ll make a salade Nicoise with those ripe tomatoes, our own green beans and a clutch of the baby Yukon Gold potatoes I grew in old 5-gallon soy sauce buckets out back.

Pandemic or no, life is good in Ohio in early August.

Last week was a pretty good week to cook, too. That’s when I invented my new favorite lunch, a protein salad I’ll be making the rest of the summer. I love it because it is crunchy and soft and herbal and so high in protein that it fills me up for the afternoon. That is a minor miracle because I’ve been limiting my calories to 1,200 a day since May, and I’m usually hungry before dinner time (I’ve lost 17 pounds).

The salad requires no cooking, just a bit of chopping and assembling. It is made with three protein-rich foods: Shelled edamame beans, feta cheese and canned tuna. The shelled beans are sold frozen in supermarkets. To save calories, I used low-fat feta and water-packed albacore tuna.

I added diced cucumber and sweet onion for crunch, cubed ripe tomato for a sweet, juicy note, and handfuls of snipped fresh herbs Mint, chives, basil, thyme and tarragon were what I grabbed, but you may use whatever fresh herbs you have on hand.

The salad is dressed with lemon juice and olive oil. A substantial 1 1/2-cup serving has just 184 calories.

EDAMAME PROTEIN SALAD

1 package (10 oz.) shelled frozen edamame
1 can (5 oz.) water-packed tuna (I used albacore)
1/2 cup crumbled low-fat feta cheese
1 1/2 cups peeled and diced (1/2-inch) cucumber
1 cup diced sweet onion such as Vidalia
1 cup diced ripe tomato
1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
Sea salt to taste
1/3 cup (more or less) finely snipped fresh herbs such as tarragon, basil, thyme, parsley, chives and mint

Empty bag of edamame into a microwave-safe bowl. Cover and microwave on high power for 1 to 2 minutes, until thawed and tender. Place in a bowl. Add remaining ingredients and toss well. Makes 6 1/2 cups, at 184 calories per 1 1/2-cup serving.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Pesto, cream cheese, hard-cooked egg and tomato on toast; edamame protein salad; roasted eggplant and garlic salad, corn on the cob, smoked baby back ribs with gochujang barbecue sauce; chunky peanut butter toast with thick slice of tomato and sea salt (wow!); roasted eggplant lasagne with ricotta and mozzarella cheeses; open-face broiled tomato sandwiches with cream cheese, anchovies and mozzarella; corn on the cob; peanut butter and tomato sandwich; slow-cooker pot roast, Indian-ish grated carrot salad, incredible muskmelon from Dunkler’s in Copley.

What I ate from restaurants, etc.:
Stuffed peppers from Sam’s Club; sugar-free strawberry frozen yogurt from Menchie’s; chicken burrito bowl from Casa del Rio Express in Fairlawn. What I really have been craving is a lobster roll from Chowder House in Cuyahoga Falls; this week I’m determined to brave the 5 p.m. traffic.

THE MAIL BAG
From George, Akron:
With zucchini now in abundance, it’s time for one of my favorite recipes—your pasta with zucchini, heavy on the garlic flavor as I remember. After a concerted search, I now turn to you to supply it again. Thanks!

Dear George:
It’s cute that you assume I am organized. I have a few of my favorite recipes in hanging folders and more are stuffed in a big bowl in the kitchen. But I no longer have access to the crack team of librarians at the Beacon Journal — all of whom have been downsized now, sad to say — and my own filing is nonexistent.

I don’t remember that recipe, so we must hope to heck someone else does. If it was in my newsletter since 2015, you can search my blog (follow the link on this page). If it appeared in the newspaper, you can access it online with your library card through the Akron-Summit County Public Library’s website, akronlibrary.org. Go to “Databases” and click on the newspaper’s name under “A” But if the recipe was in my internet newsletter, either Second Helpings or earlier editions of See Jane Cook, we must rely on the hive mind. Does anyone remember a zucchini pasta recipe?

From Anne Marie:
I read your newsletter and the discussions on braised dishes with green beans, stewed tomatoes, onions and garlic. While I have no doubt that similar dishes exists across many cultures, to me it sounds exactly like Loubie Bzeit (several spellings), a Lebanese dish. It’s so easy to make, healthy and one of my favorites, and is available at Aladdin’s. There are dozens of recipes on the web, but my favorite is this one that appeared in Food and Wine in 2007:
https://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/braised-green-beans-tomatoes-and-garlic

Dear Anne Marie:
Thanks. I’m always interested in how recipes from other parts of the world end up here, filtered through our own lens.

From Donna G.:
We, too, have a bumper crop of eggplant. Easiest recipe ever — cut into 1/2-inch slices, salt and sweat. Brush with a little olive oil and put on a hot grill a few minutes on each side. Serve with roasted corn and grilled peaches. I love summer!

Dear Donna:
I do, too! I grill eggplant slices but brush them with sweet soy sauce mid-grill. Grilling does something wonderful to eggplant, right?

From Francie L.:
Just wanted to thank you for the fabulous Shrimp, Corn and Green Bean Salad recipe. My daughter and her husband had been visiting us from San Antonio, which started out as a two-week visit and extended to five weeks. It was lovely having them but my son-in-law is a vegetarian and I was running out of dinner ideas. Luckily I saw your recipe in the morning and was able to pick up green beans and corn at the Jackson Township Farmers Market. It was a huge hit and my daughter even asked for the recipe link.

They are safely back in San Antonio but I’m definitely keeping that recipe on rotation this summer.

Dear Francie:
You were so nice to let me know. I always am thrilled when someone likes a recipe.

August 5, 2020

Dear friends,
I picked seven long, slim eggplants last week and almost whooped with joy. For years my yield was paltry to nonexistent. Finally I grew a decent crop, with more babies in the wings.

I crave eggplant. I may be obsessed with it. It’s one of those foods I hated as a kid but now can’t get enough of. The difference is I don’t fry them in blotter-like slices until they ooze oil, as my mother did. And I favor thin Asian eggplants, which have tender, non-bitter skins.

By the way, my Japanese mother-in-law told me that long, skinny eggplants are NOT Japanese, as Americans often call them. The ones she bought in Hokkaido are stubby little globe-shaped miniatures that are usually pickled. She thought our big globe eggplants were hilarious because to her they seemed comically large.

During the heat wave last week I wanted an easy way to prepare my precious first crop. Frankly, I would have preferred to twitch my nose and just have them appear, cooked, on my plate. That wasn’t going to happen so came up a way to get the most flavor out of them with the least work.

I split the eggplants in half lengthwise, scored the flesh, and arranged them on a foil-lined baking sheet. Then I pulverized an unconscionable amount of garlic with lemon juice and olive oil, spooned that over the eggplants, and roasted them until the edges began to crisp and the centers were creamy-soft. If you like garlic, I bet you’ll love this.

Don’t try this with globe eggplants. Visit a farm market or Asian store for the long, slim eggplants. While you’re in the Asian store, buy a mortar and pestle unless you already own one. It’s the best way to make the garlic emulsion (although you could use a garlic press), and they are relatively inexpensive at Asian stores. Buy one that holds a couple of cups and has rough stone sides. The pretty, petite white mortar and pestle I bought long ago at a kitchenware shop isn’t good for anything but holding rubber bands.

This is sure to become one of my go-to summer eggplant recipes, along with my even simpler recipe of halved, grilled eggplants brushed with kekap manis (sweet soy sauce). How about you? I could use some more no-sweat Asian eggplant recipes if you have any. Temperatures are high and the garden keeps producing.

ROAST ASIAN EGGPLANTS WITH GARLIC AND LEMON

6 to 8 large cloves of garlic
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. olive oil
3 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 lbs. (about 7) long, thin Asian eggplants

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Or alternately, build a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill or set gas grill to medium-hot.

Peel garlic and run through a garlic press into a small bowl and add salt or, even better, pulverize with the salt with a mortar and pestle. Pound straight down like a jackhammer until the garlic is smooth and creamy. You need one tablespoon of garlic puree. If necessary, add more garlic. Pound in the oil a little at a time, then beat in the lemon juice with a fork.

Wash the eggplants. Trim and discard the stems. Cut in halves lengthwise and arrange cut-sides-up in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet. With the tip of a sharp knife, make several slanted slashes in the white flesh of each eggplant, almost but not quite through to the skin.

With a teaspoon, spoon the garlic mixture over the eggplants, smoothing with the back of the spoon. Bake at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes, until the skin at the edges just begin to crisp and the interior is soft and creamy. Alternately, grill with the lid closed and vents wide open until soft and creamy. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

TIDBIT
Just a reminder to use tested recipes, not your grandmother’s recipes, for canning and pickling. Your grandmother didn’t know much about food safety compared to today’s experts, and even if no one in your family died from eating her canned goods, it may just mean no pathogens were floating around her kitchen that day. Do you want to take that chance?

One of the best free sources of information on safely preserving food is the University of Georgia’s National Center for Home Food Preservation at nchfp.uga.edu. Along with a wealth of information about pickling, drying, curing and canning times, temperatures and techniques, the site has a slew of recipes for everything from watermelon rind pickles to dry-cured ham.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Pan-grilled gochujang barbecue chicken breast sandwich, steamed asparagus; pan-grilled hamburger patty, green beans in spicy sauce, roast beet salad with feta and balsamic vinegar; pan-grilled chicken breast sandwich with fresh dill and Kewpie mayonnaise, micro-steamed corn; spicy cucumbers with lemon-herb yogurt, grilled strip steaks, steamed corn and baked potatoes; pesto, tomato and scrambled egg on toast; tofu-green bean breakfast scramble; BLTs on toast, steamed corn; egg, bacon, tomato and pesto on toast; roasted eggplants with garlic-lemon sauce, steamed corn; ginger-tofu stir fry with green beans and bell pepper. Note for those who asked: I found silken tofu at Giant Eagle.

What I ate from restaurants, etc.:
Meat loaf and mashed potatoes from Sam’s Club; chicken Valdostano (with mushrooms, prosciutto and fontina cheese in wine sauce), baked ziti with meat sauce and salad with toasted almonds, feta and pears from Vaccaro’s Trattoria in Bath (outstanding, and just $40 for all that for four people).

THE MAILBAG
From Michele M.:
I do love green beans. I put them in Italian potato salad, Greek potato salad, Niçoise salad, with ham and potatoes ( yum! ), and my very favorite pasta dish of green beans, potatoes, and pasta with pesto. I believe it is a Ligurian dish (pesto!). I have been making it for many years, and make and freeze pesto for it. It is truly a taste of summer. I like to over cook the potatoes a little, so they make a bit of a sauce with the pesto and some pasta water. I don’t generally like fresh cracked black pepper, but for some reason a little bit is just right on this. Then I top it with halved cherry tomatoes for some acidity.

Perhaps these ideas will help with your huge bean harvest. I am so jealous.

Dear Michele:
I made that classic Italian recipe once at my friend Lin’s house. I think I have enough beans left for a batch. Thanks for the reminder.

From William B.:
Well, green beans with tomatoes was a hot item a few years ago, but it’s always good. Sauté about a cup of diced onions, 3 or 4 crushed garlic cloves (more if you like), about 1/2 bunch of chopped fresh parsley and 3 or 4 large super-ripe tomatoes chopped in about 1/3 cup olive oil until it is all wilted/juicy. Dump in maybe 3 to 5 pounds of snapped washed fresh green beans, add maybe a cup of water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat until the beans are meltingly tender. Season with salt and pepper. Always good: hot, warm, room temp or cold.

When I was a kid my mom made this with a half bushel of beans. That way there was enough for a family of seven and maybe some leftovers. We usually had to punch those beans and then snap them before lunch so they’d be ready for dinner.

Dear William:
I must have missed that recipe when it was passed around. It sounds like an American country version of that French country dish, ratatouille, which is basically stewed vegetables with lots of garlic. Thanks.

From Dorothy B.:
Just an aside to your remark about green beans for the dogs:
I had a friend who every night when she came home from work opened a can of beans while the dog danced round waiting
anxiously. It was a ritual. He got a full can of cut green beans every single night and absolutely devoured them.

Dear Dorothy:
That put a smile on my face.

From Theresa K.:
One of my favorite summer dishes with corn is to take 3 or 4 bi-color ears off the cob and put in a large skillet with butter, salt and pepper, a splash of half and half, and half of a diced Vidalia onion. Bring to a simmer and add 1 cup of cherry tomatoes cut in halves and a handful of sliced okra. Simmer about 10 minutes and serve. You could probably sub green beans for the okra!

Really tasty and pretty, too!

Dear Theresa:
Thanks for the idea. I make a “succotash” that is similar, but with green beans instead of limas and I skip the tomatoes you use. A little bit of cream adds a world of richness, doesn’t it?

From Chris:
Share those bumper crops with family, friends, food pantries and neighbors! Many people are unable to grow their own and will love you for your generosity.

Dear Chris:
Thank you for the reminder. All of us should be sharing our garden surplus with the needy during this pandemic when so many people — especially children — are going hungry.

July 29, 2020

Dear friends,

The first corn of the season crashed smack-dab into a green bean glut at my house last week, leading to an overflowing refrigerator.

I picked up some bi-colored milk and honey corn at Graf Growers in Copley on Monday, then hightailed it to Seiberling Farm in Norton on Wednesday for its season opening. There’s no such thing as too much corn.

Meanwhile, I had been struggling to keep up with the 15 green bean bushes Tony planted in May, which are so heavy with bean pods they lounge spread-eagled on the watermelon vines.

My solution was to eat corn with almost every meal, roast some green beans with garlic and lemon, parboil and freeze a few quarts of beans, and then bring both beans and corn together in a knockout composed salad.

The big platter of shrimp salad with green beans and corn was summer on a plate. I scattered three ears’ worth of corn kernels (so tender I didn’t need to cook them) over torn romaine and arranged the shrimp and cooked green beans over the lettuce. Then I added sliced radishes, sliced avocado, tomato chunks and hard-cooked eggs and drizzled it with an addictive tarragon dressing.

To deepen the flavor, I tossed the green beans and corn with some of the dressing before arranging on the salad.

A big composed salad like this takes time to make because each element must be cooked/chopped/peeled/sliced in advance. I prepared each ingredient (boiled the eggs, peeled the shrimp, etc.) when I had time throughout the day, so it came together quickly when we were ready to eat. You could even start a day in advance. It looks glorious and tastes pretty good, too.

TARRAGON VINAIGRETTE
1 tbsp. minced shallot or onion
3 tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. (packed) minced fresh tarragon leaves or 1 tsp. dried
Sea salt to taste

Combine all ingredients in a custard cup and let stand at least 1 hour, preferably overnight, before using.

SHRIMP, CORN AND GREEN BEAN SALAD

1 1/2 lbs. large shrimp
1/2 lb. green beans, trimmed and boiled until al dente
3 ears of corn
Salt, pepper
6 cups torn romaine lettuce leaves (1 big head)
4 eggs, cooked for 7 minutes, cooled and peeled, cut in halves
1 avocado, peeled and cut into slices
3 radishes, sliced thin
Tomato chunks or cherry tomatoes for garnish

Cook the shrimp briefly in boiling water, just until the meat is no longer translucent (one minute more or less, depending on size of shrimp). Shock with cold water until shrimp are room temperature. Peel and refrigerate.

Drain the green beans and toss with 1 tablespoon of the dressing. Season with salt and refrigerate until needed. Cut the kernels from the cobs and toss with 1 tablespoon of the dressing. Season with salt and refrigerate until needed.

When ready to serve, arrange the torn romaine on a platter. Season with salt and pepper. Scatter corn over lettuce. Pile the shrimp in the center. Arrange green beans, eggs and avocado in a pleasing pattern over the lettuce. Scatter radish slices over all. Garnish with tomato chunks. Drizzle with remaining dressing. Makes 4 servings.

TIDBIT
I didn’t mean to leave you hanging with my story about meeting and dining with Paul Prudhomme in New Orleans. At least a dozen of you, with varying degrees of urgency, wanted to know the question that got me kicked out of his restaurant.

First, I didn’t get kicked out. His icy demeanor told me the interview was over. I left on my own after trying a couple of more times to get an answer. I don’t give up easily.

So here’s the story: Prudhomme was one of the first celebrity chefs. He began to spend considerable time away from his restaurant, flying across the country for interviews and television appearances. I asked the question food critics had been whispering about for awhile: didn’t his absence affect the quality of the food at his restaurant?

That’s it. It was a big deal back then, not so much now when we don’t expect a celebrity chef to be in the kitchen every time we visit. Still, we always kind of hope, right?

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Avocado toast topped with scrambled egg; protein ice pops; blanched green beans for freezing; BLTs on toast; tofu and green bean stir fry with sticky chile sauce over rice; black raspberry tart; peach galette; poached chicken; cantaloupe and prosciutto; french toast; mojo-marinated grilled chicken, sliced tomatoes with pesto; roast green beans with lemon zest and garlic; microwaved corn on the cob (several times); shrimp, corn and green bean salad with tarragon vinaigrette; egg, tomato, feta and salsa on toast.

What I ate from restaurants, etc:
Chicken Cobb salad from Giant Eagle; a chili-cheese dog and fries from the Hot Dog Shoppe in East Liverpool; a vanilla cone from Dairy Queen.

THE MAILBAG
From Annie:
Time for a column on string beans. You know — green ones, and yellow and purple ones for that matter. They are coming out my ears and I am running out of ways to serve them. Plain steamed with butter, sautéed with bacon like my mom did them, with seasoned crumbs ala Cook’s Illustrated. I did try a new one from “The New Vegetarian Grill” with soy and sesame oil, not pretty but delish. The family is not one for bean salad, so what can I do next besides pickling them?

Dear Annie:
After you try the shrimp, corn and green bean salad above, gather a bunch of the raw beans and roast them. Roasting shrinks and sweetens green beans. They are delicious. Wash, dry, trim and spread on a couple of foil-lined baking sheets. Drizzle with olive oil, dot with slivers of garlic and mix with your hands. Season with chunky sea salt and roast at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Toss, then continue roasting for 15 to 20 minutes or until tender. You could season them in myriad ways before roasting. I like to add a tablespoon of grated lemon zest before roasting.

Last summer I made a ham and green bean soup that earned a spot in the rotation. After simmering (with cubed potatoes), I ladled it into bowls and stirred a spoonful of pesto into each portion. Just like that, the soup went from homespun Amish to perfumed Provencal.

I’m also feeding a lot of cooked green beans to the dog. Try it. Your dog could be the answer to your string-bean problem.

July 22, 2020

Dear friends,
The line snaked down the block and around the corner. K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen was the hottest restaurant in New Orleans in 1984, maybe in the country. I had an appointment with chef/owner Paul Prudhomme, but still felt threatened as I slinked past a hundred or more hungry diners on my way to the front of the line. I gave my name to the doorman and was whisked inside.

The chef was waiting for me at a two-top against the wall near the kitchen. He handed me a fork. He had maybe the most gorgeous eyes I’ve ever seen and they laughed up at me. Was he flirting? Yes, and he continued to flirt for an hour and we sampled a dozen or so dishes a woman was testing on a home stove back in the kitchen for the chef’s upcoming cookbook. Then came the tricky part of the interview. I asked a difficult question, Prudhomme looked betrayed and shut down the charm. His eyes turned flinty and silently told me to get out.

All that ran through my mind when I read this week that the legendary K-Paul’s had closed for good, a casualty of the pandemic. Chef Paul died in 2015 and the new owners couldn’t keep the 41-year-old restaurant afloat.

The restaurant I visited was not the two-level French Quarter luxe space Prudhomme ended up in. It was a humble room crammed with tables. No cloth tablecloths. Simple wooden chairs. While Prudhomme was not an unknown — he had been chef at Commander’s Palace — his restaurant was just gaining acclaim. I was the unknown. I was in town to cover an American food conference with chefs from across the country and a handful of reporters from big newspapers…. and me. From Akron, Ohio.

I remember standing on the rim of a bass drum at Preservation with my hero, the food critic of the Philadelphia Inquirer. With the help of the drum, we could almost see the musicians. I remember sipping Sazeracs in the Roosevelt Hotel, where they were invented. I remember dinner in a private dining room upstairs at Antoine’s with the owner. I remember a dory heaped with boiled crawfish, which we peeled and ate, sucking the heads, aboard a paddle wheeler on the Mississippi.

But after all these years, what I remember best is that lunch and interview with Paul Prudhomme at the hottest restaurant in town. We were digging into his signature dish, blackened redfish, when a corn muffin came sailing from across the room and almost hit Paul in the head.

“What’s wrong with these muffins? They’re dry,” yelled a woman I recognized as the restaurant critic of the Washington Post. Paul shrugged and turned back to me.

On the way out of the restaurant the woman stopped me as I passed her table. She wanted to know how I had anded an interview when the town was swarming with food reporters.

“I called ahead,” I said simply. The moment was almost as sweet as that blackened fish.

I made blackened cod last week in memory of K-Paul’s, and it was as delicious as I remembered. The spice mixture rubbed into the fish and the high-temperature method of cooking give the fish a juicy, almost steak-like flavor.

A few tips before you start: Choose fish fillets about 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick, and disconnect your smoke alarms. If you have a range hood vented to the outside, great. If not, open a few windows because it’s gonna get smoky.

K-PAUL’S BLACKENED FISH

1/2 lb. unsalted butter (less if cooking fewer fillets)
1 tbsp. sweet paprika
2 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
3/4 tsp. white pepper
3/4 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1/2 tsp. dried oregano leaves
6 (8-to 10-oz.) fish fillets (preferably redfish, pompano or tilefish), cut about 1/2 inch thick

Melt the butter in a medium skillet. Set aside. Heat a large cast-iron skillet (if you don’t have one, don’t make this recipe) over very high heat until it is beyond the smoking stage and you see white ash in the skillet bottom, at least 10 minutes.

Combine remaining ingredients except fish (all the spices) in a small bowl. Dip each fillet in the butter on both sides, then sprinkle both sides with the seasoning mix, patting it in by hand.

When the skillet is ready, place the fillets (as many as will comfortably fit) in the skillet and carefully pour 1 teaspoon of the melted butter over each fillet. Cook over high heat, uncovered, until the underside looks charred, about 2 minutes (the time will vary according to the fillets’ thickness and the heat of the skillet). Turn the fish over with a spatula and again drizzle each fillet with 1 teaspoon butter. Cook until fish is done, about 2 minutes more. Fish may have to be cooked in batches.

Drizzle more butter over fillets and serve piping hot.

From “Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen” by Paul Prudhomme.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Green bean, ham and potato soup with pesto; egg salad; blackened cod, sesame green beans, baked potatoes and chopped salad; pickled eggs; picadillo galette with sour cream squiggle and avocado; picadillo omelet; pan-grilled hamburger patties, green bean salad; jicama and red pepper strips with yogurt-salsa dip; BLTs with pesto on toast.

What I ate from restaurants, etc.:
Peanut butter cupcake from Marshallville Packing in Marshallville; chicken adobo with rice and pinto beans from Casa del Rio Express in Fairlawn.

THE MAILBAG
From Bill B.:
Your pico de gallo ice pops don’t sound too far from gazpacho. I would try making them with a tomato-cucumber base as a savory chiller. But they sound good any way. I may just have to go looking for these treats.

Dear Bill:
I think you will be delighted with the ice-pop shop, La Fresa, in the Ellet-Goodyear Heights area of Akron. It is on Darrow Road (Rt. 91) near the intersection of Newton Street.

From Linda C.:
I just discovered Tajin this year. Terrific on corn on the cob. I will try the ice pops. They are vegan!

Dear Linda:
Tajin on corn on the cob! Yes!

From Bob P.:
I’ve been using Tajin on lots of dishes as an experiment. My favorite so far is on fresh pineapple. It’s also great on popcorn.

Dear Bob:
At this rate I’m going to have to buy another bottle of the spice mix. I’ll definitely try your suggestions.

July 15, 2020

Dear friends,
I bet you figured I couldn’t let those pico de gallo ice pops go. No siree. Before I had licked the last bit of goodness from the stick in the parking lot at La Fresa in Akron, I was plotting how to make them at home.

Before we go any further I should warn you that the pops aren’t for everyone. Tony hated the bite he had at the Mexican ice cream shop, and said my version was “even worse.” But I am obsessed with pico de gallo ice pops. They are sweet and salty, fruity and savory. They are contradiction on a stick.

The name comes from the chunky fresh salsa — chopped tomatoes, onions, chilies, lime juice — served with tacos and such. The ice pops in the internet cooking videos I watched did not contain the condiment, though. In fact, they contained mostly watermelon juice, orange juice, water, chopped fruit and maybe jicama, plus salt. But to heck with them.

The pico de gallo ice pop I tasted and loved had hints of strawberries and bananas, so I included them in my recipe. I also added some chunky salsa because, what the heck: pico de gallo. I did make watermelon juice the backbone as the recipe videos advised, and splashed in some orange juice.

The crowning touch, in my opinion, is Tajin seasoning. If you haven’t tasted this wonder stuff, buy some immediately. I’ve seen it in the Spanish section of supermarkets, discount stores and, of course, Latin food stores. The orange-red powder is a mixture of dried chilies, salt and dehydrated lime zest. It features in an episode of the new “Queer Eye” where peeled mangoes are skewered on Popsicle sticks, rolled in Tajin and grilled. Gotta try that.

For the ice pops, you’ll need a blender or food processor to puree the frozen bananas and strawberries with the remaining ingredients. Then just pour into molds, freeze and enjoy. Or not, if you’re Tony. But what does he know?

PICO DE GALLO ICE POPS

1/2 cup watermelon juice (puree 1 cup of chunks and strain the juice)
1/4 cup orange juice
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 cup medium-hot chunky salsa
1 sliced and frozen banana
1/2 cup frozen strawberry slices
1 tbsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. Tajin seasoning
1/4 tsp. salt
Combine juices and salsa in a bowl and whisk to blend. Place frozen banana and strawberry slices in a blender or bowl of a food processor. Add the sugar, Tajin and salt. Add enough of the juice mixture to puree the frozen fruit. Pour into the bowl with the remaining juices and whisk to blend.

Pour or ladle mixture into ice pop molds. Freeze solid. Run under hot water briefly to remove from molds. Makes enough for four 1/2-cup molds.

TIDBITS
At least one thing has gone right this year. The local lavender harvest has been stupendous. Lisa Hartzler, who grows both decorative and culinary lavender on her Home Sweet Lavender Farm in Sterling, had such a huge crop she is selling directly to consumers for once.

“I have 208 plants and about two-thirds of it is culinary and I’m excited to share,” she says. She usually sells only to stores but this year individuals may call and arrange to buy the lavender at the farm. A bundle of long stems — they appear to contain a couple dozen stems in the photo she sent — is $10.

For more information, visit Hartzler’s website at homesweetlavender.com. The phone is 330-466-4971.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Chipotle chicken, spicy tomato rice and fresh-picked green beans with sesame oil; hamburgers, sautéed mushrooms, corn on the cob; scrambled tofu with turmeric and cumin; grilled top sirloin steak, corn on the cob, green beans with olive oil and feta, mint iced tea; shrimp cocktail, chopped salad and watermelon; pico de gallo ice pops; coconut-curry pork and roast vegetables over rice.

What I ate from restaurants, etc.:
Grilled chicken chef’s salad from Giant Eagle; fried liver and onions, mashed potatoes with gravy, coleslaw and wedding soup from Alexandri’s in Wadsworth.

THE MAILBAG
From Chris D.
Your microwave peach crisp sounds great! I may try it with my stash of Pumpkin Spice Cheerios instead of vanilla wafers since I need to avoid gluten.

Dear Chris:
Good idea. Cheerios may stand up to the bubbling peaches long enough to provide some crunch. It’s worth a try. Those who don’t have a problem with gluten may substitute any crisp cookie. I think gingersnaps would be terrific with peaches.

From Martha:
You asked how we are using up Peach Truck peaches. Uses are delicious, swift and easy. Hand eaten. Ice cream or sorbet. Jam. Smoothies. Pie and cobbler (cookouts galore). Grilled for dessert with ricotta or ice cream and balsamic. Sliced on a salad with feta and almonds. They actually go pretty quickly even for a single like me!

The trucks usually make a second round in about a month. I’ll get another box. These I slice, toss with a tablespoon or two of fresh lemon juice, and parcel out into quart freezer bags and freeze flat. One bag makes a small pie. Two for a larger. Two for a family or party-sized cobbler. Peach pie in the middle of winter is a marvelous treat. Or cobbler for Easter. Or the aforementioned ice cream. Peaches smell and taste of summer — just the recipe in cold, dark winter.

Dear Martha:
You convinced me. When the Ohio peaches ripen, I’ll take a meandering drive along the back roads of Columbiana County and buy enough peaches to freeze. I’ll also try your idea for the peach, feta and almond salad. Thanks.

From C.T.:
Regarding ingredients search, I just put all the ingredients in a Google search line. For example, “chicken breasts, dill, mushrooms and sour cream” elicited a nice Taste of Home recipe plus a number of others.

Dear C.T.:
Simplest is sometimes best. Thanks.

July 8, 2020

Dear friends,

Do you really want to cook in this weather? I don’t, which is why I made a microwave peach crisp on Saturday. The kitchen remained cool and I had a nice dessert to go with the spicy lacquered Chinese-y pork ribs I smoked on the Weber.

I wish I could share the ribs recipe because the sauce was spectacular. I didn’t write down amounts, though. But I did keep track of how I made the peach crisp, and especially the streusel topping. Finding the right ingredients and amounts for a crumbly topping isn’t easy when you’re dealing with a microwave. Almost everything you put on fruit in a microwave softens and sinks. The usual flour-oats-butter-sugar mixture not only sinks, it becomes unpleasantly doughy.

I solved the problem by STARTING with crunchy stuff — chopped almonds and crushed vanilla wafers. I added uncooked oats and bound it all with melted butter. Then I waited until the peach mixture was half cooked to add the topping. Voila — a fruit crisp with a topping that stays on top and that actually is crisp.

You can make this with The Peach Truck peaches everyone is rushing to buy (thanks to saturation ads, trucked-in peaches are the pumpkin spice latte of 2020), or wait for juicy Ohio peaches that will be ready later this month. I’m waiting, although I bought a few supermarket peaches for a trial run of this recipe. It’s so easy to make you could do both. Now tell me, what are you doing with all those peach-truck peaches?

MICROWAVE PEACH CRISP

Topping:
5 tbsp. butter
1/4 cup quick or old-fashioned (not instant) oats
1/4 cup coarsely crushed almonds
1/2 cup crushed (not pulverized) vanilla wafer cookies
Pinch of salt

Filling:
5 cups peeled and sliced peaches
1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar to taste
3 tbsp. flour

Place butter in a microwave-safe bowl. Melt on high power in a microwave. Place about 1/3 cup whole almonds in a quart-size plastic bag. Close and crush (I used a smooth meat pounder) until almonds are in coarse pieces. Measure out 1/4 cup. Place oats and almonds in bowl with melted butter and stir. Place a big handful of cookies in the same bag and crush. Measure out 1/2 cup and stir into topping mixture with salt and set aside.

Peel peaches with a sharp vegetable peeler and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Place in a medium-size bowl with sugar and flour and stir well, using less sugar for very sweet peaches. Pour into a shallow, buttered 1-quart microwave-safe dish or a buttered deep glass pie pan.

Microwave on high power for 6 minutes. Remove from oven and scatter topping over peaches. Return to oven and microwave 4 to 6 minutes longer, until peaches are bubbly and soft. Let stand at least 2 minutes before serving. May be served warm or cold. Top with whipped cream if desired.

TIDBITS
This may be old news to you, but I just found out West Point Market’s Killer Brownies are available at Pandora’s Cupcakes on Brookwall Drive near Regal Theater in the Montrose area of Copley Township.

Th legendary Akron treats have been renamed “West Point Market’s Original Triple Layer Brownie,” according to Rick Vernon, who owned West Point and supplies the brownies. They are available in a rotating array of flavors including original (caramel), raspberry, no nut, peanut butter, blondie, Bourbon pecan and cherry amaretto.

The brownies are a steep $5 each, but they’re huge. They aren’t available at the Pandora’s location in Tallmadge, so Eastsiders will have to drive across town to get their fix.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Roasted bell peppers with lemon-herb ricotta; steamed asparagus; Sonoran shrimp ceviche; open-face sandwich with ham, melted feta, pesto and arugula; baked tofu with peanut sauce over arugula and coconut-lime rice; jalapeno popper chicken, sautéed green beans and corn; sautéed chicken breasts with herbs over arugula; microwave peach crisp; smoked ribs with a Sichuan barbecue sauce, chopped salad; avocado toast and scrambled eggs with ketchup on toast.

What I ate from restaurants:
Pepperoni pizza from DiCarlo’s Pizza on Portage Trail in Akron. The small chain originated in the Ohio Valley and its pizza tastes like the pizza of my childhood in East Liverpool — ultra-creamy mozzarella and salty, high-quality pepperoni on crisp-crusted squares with a kick-butt tomato sauce. It isn’t Orlando’s, my hometown fave, but it’s close.

THE MAILBAG
From Kathy:
In response to your request for websites, have your readers try myfridgefood.com. I love reading what you eat and cook every week.

Dear Kathy:
This is what Mary D. was searching for, although the pop-up ads on the site are beyond annoying and the selection of recipes I was shown (after I punched in ingredients) was kind of calorie-intensive.

From Sandy H.:
After reading your latest newsletter, in response to Mary D.’s question about findIng recipes by way of the ingredients you have, Weight Watchers offers this feature in its app. You may need to be a member to use it.

Dear Sandy:
The basic Weight Watchers app is $3.99 a month. Add-ons can push the cost to $10. That’s less expensive than the traditional program but still may not be worth for those interested only in the recipe-finder function.

From Susan R.:
When it comes to looking for recipes with specific ingredients, I use EatYourBooks.com.
I do have a membership and have entered most of my cookbook collection, and find I’m using my cookbooks a lot more. They also index magazines, blogs, and newspaper columnists such as Diana Henry and Nigel Slater.

Dear Susan:
Thanks for steering us to this interesting site. Users type in a list of the cookbooks they own and an index of recipes is automatically created. Recipes may then be searched by ingredient, ethnicity, etc. The site also allows you to search food magazines and blogs to which you subscribe. A limited free membership allows you to search five of your cookbooks and magazines. A premium membership with unlimited searches is $3 a month or $30 a year.

From Sandy D.:
In response to Mary D. asking about websites to search by ingredients, I’ve long been a fan of allrecipes.com and they have a recipe by ingredient feature on the website.

Dear Sandy:
Alas, there are no recipes that include pickles, chicken and garlic, the ingredients I typed into the search engine. I didn’t leave disappointed, though, because the site kindly showed me recipes for stuffed chicken breast, Mexican quinoa and zucchini noodle shrimp scampi. What the latter two have to do with my ingredients is a mystery. The search function is easy to use, though, and has a handy feature that allows you specify ingredients you DON’T want. For example, yes to beef, red wine and onions, hold the squirrel.

July 1, 2020

Dear friends,
Thanks to a tip from my friend, Joan, I now have a bushy French tarragon plant from Cochran’s Plants on State Road in Cuyahoga Falls. That’s one more herb to add to my unruly collection of chives, marjoram, fennel, dill, basil, rosemary, thyme, mint, lavender and sage.

I love all of them and I want to use them all, immediately. What a coincidence that I found a recipe that allows me to do just that: Herbed ricotta with lemon to dollop on grilled vegetables for the Fourth of July.

The herbed ricotta is the kind of recipe I obsess about. The flavor is lemon-herb-y, like a lemon meringue pie without the sugar but with an herbal kick. I probably would have skipped right over it had I not been looking specifically for ways to use my herbs. That would have been a shame.

The deceptively simple recipe is from Dorrie Greenspan’s “Everyday Dorrie: The Way I Cook.” She calls it “Ricotta Spoonable” and writes,”I prepare this year-round, changing the herbs according to what I have at hand, but I make it most often in summer, when I’m apt to fill the table with small plates of good stuff, things that don’t need to be eaten in any order and that lend themselves to mixing and matching.” It goes especially well with beet salad, frittata, onion galette and charred peppers, she writes.

This is a refreshing go-with when eaten with fork or spoon between bites of something else, as you would an Indian raita. It would make a great appetizer when dolloped on a cracker or slice of baguette, and a great sauce when stirred into pasta.

The recipe calls for one-third cup minced mixed herbs, which is a lot. Pick more than you think you’ll need. Then bundle them together and snip them all at the same time with scissors. I used thyme, basil, marjoram, chives and tarragon, and didn’t worry about the tender stems. Use whatever herbs are handy.

Like Dorrie, I’m going to keep a tub of this stuff in the refrigerator because the uses are infinite. This morning I ate it on toast for breakfast. Mmmm, summer.

RICOTTA SPOONABLE

2 cups whole-milk ricotta, drained if there’s liquid
1 large lemon
3 tbsp. minced shallots, rinsed and patted dry (I used sweet onion instead)
2 scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. or more fleur de sel (coarse sea salt) or 1/4 tsp. fine sea salt
Fresh-ground pepper
1/3 cup minced mixed fresh herbs such as dill, parsley, tarragon, thyme, cilantro and basil

Put ricotta in a medium bowl. Finely grate the zest of the lemon over it, then halve and squeeze the lemon and blend in the juice. Stir in the shallots, onions, olive oil, salt and a healthy pinch of pepper. Taste for salt and pepper, then stir in the herbs. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour before adjusting for salt, pepper and lemon juice and serving.

From “Everyday Dorrie: The Way I Cook,” by Dorrie Greenspan.

TIDBIT
I was lured by the idea of a salsa Popsicle. Now I’m hooked on the food.

La Fresa Ice Cream on Darrow Road in the Ellet area of Akron is an incredibly cool place to cool off. On one side of the shop are ice cream cases filled with tropical ice creams and paletas (Mexican frozen fruit bars) in dozens of flavors from mango to, yes, pico de gallo.

The other side has a window for ordering tacos, tortas, burritos and other Mexican meals and snacks, along with tables that are mostly blocked off. My soft-corn tacos were street style and pretty good. Tony’s giant torta Cubano was strange but delicious. It featured shredded hot dogs, beans, lots of cheese, ground beef and god knows what else, and was almost as big as my head.

Tony was not a fan of my pico de gallo ice pop but I was smitten. It tasted kind of like bananas, strawberries and lime with bits of cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes in it, and was slightly sweet and a lot salty. I suspect it was made with a good dose of tajin, a Mexican seasoning blend of chili pepper, salt and dehydrated lime. If I had calories to burn I’d work my way through the ice pops and then start on the fruit parfaits, which looked awesome — a combination of cubed fruit, frozen fruit purees and whipped cream.

La Fresa is in a small shopping strip, with a few well-spaced tables in the covered walkway it fronts. Check out the menu at lafresaicecream.com.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Steak salad with pickled beets, sweet onions and feta; avocado toast with a fluffy scrambled egg and watermelon chunks; venison chili; Japanese chicken curry and rice; French toast; egg and fried tomato sandwich with pesto; grill-smoked chicken leg quarters with gochujang barbecue sauce, chopped salad.

What I ate at/from restaurants:
Steamed edamame, shrimp sunomono and tamago (Japanese omelet) from Sushi Katsu in Akron; a baby cone from Dairy Queen; A chicken taco, pork taco and a pico de gallo ice pop (paleta) at La Fresa Ice Cream on Darrow Road in Akron.

THE MAILBAG
From Amy:
I’m going to be moving into an apartment with a kitchenette. I’ll have a countertop burner, a microwave, and a toaster oven. This will be a new way of cooking for me, so tips are appreciated!

Dear Amy:
That sounds like camping, and not in a good way. I’m sure your creativity will kick in after dealing with the limitations for a few weeks, though. Meanwhile, I recommend a slow cooker for soups, stews and roasts. Your microwave will get more of a workout than usual, so get a copy of a good microwave cookbook such as “Not Your Mother’s Microwave Cookbook” by Beth Hensperger. You’ll be amazed at how versatile nuking can be. And with the countertop burner, you’ll probably be making a lot of one-pot meals such as this clever one-pan putanesca pasta, created by one of Martha Stewart’s cooks:

Combine 12 ounces linguine, 12 ounces halved cherry tomatoes, 1/2 cup pitted and halved Castelvetrano olives, 1/4 cup capers, 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, and 4 1/2 cups water in a large straight-sided skillet. Bring to a boil over high heat. Boil mixture, stirring and turning the pasta with tongs to prevent sticking, until pasta is al dente and almost all the liquid has evaporated, 8 to 9 minutes. Top with more fresh parsley.

From Mary D.:
Do you have a preferred website to search recipes by ingredients you have on hand?

Dear Mary:
I don’t, because I’m usually trying to dream up recipes myself. But that’s an interesting question. Can anyone else recommend a good ingredient-search website?

From Molly C.:
In response to your comment/question about what to do with marjoram and chives, off the top of my head I thought of chive butter. You could then freeze the chive butter in ice cube trays or in a log to cut when needed, right? I wondered the same thing about freezing marjoram butter. Could be useful for that Thanksgiving turkey. Just a thought.

Dear Molly,
Good thought! And as you can see from this week’s herbed ricotta recipe, I’ve been thinking of ways to use those herbs, too. Keep those ideas coming.

June 24, 2020

Dear friends,

I almost succumbed to the ease of gas grilling last week, but not quite. My barbecue integrity remains intact.

A few times recently I’ve groaned inwardly at the thought of building a charcoal fire in the Weber — stacking the briquets, soaking them, waiting five minutes, spraying them again with lighter fluid and igniting them, only to wait 15 to 20 minutes before I can cook (I’ve already given up on those fragile electric wand starters and the time suck of charcoal chimneys).

But for now I soldier on because the reward is worth the inconvenience. The chicken I barbecued last week may have been good enough to keep me going until Labor Day. It was smoky, juicy and sticky with a kick-butt barbecue sauce using my new favorite ingredient, earthy Korean gochujang hot pepper paste. I will use this delicious sauce all summer long.

I slathered the sauce at the end of cooking time (to prevent burning) on outsized chicken legs Tony had brought home from Aldi. There were more than a dozen in the package, and those chickens had to have been barnyard bullies. You may sub any bone-in chicken cut. Thighs would be good.

The chicken is cooked by indirect heat in a covered grill (the coals on one side, the meat on the other) for 45 minutes to an hour, then tossed with the sauce and cooked directly over the coals until the sauce turns sticky and begins to singe, five to 10 minutes.

The sauce, a Mark Bittman recipe, has a kick but isn’t hot enough to burn. That’s just my personal judgement, of course; you may rate it higher or lower on the Scoville scale.

OK, time light your charcoal. Or if you’ve already gone to the dark side, turn on the gas.

GRILLED CHICKEN LEGS WITH GOCHUJANG BARBECUE SAUCE

1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup Korean gochujang chili paste (available in Asian stores)
2 tbsp. minced garlic
1 tbsp. minced ginger
1 tbsp. sesame oil
2 tbsp. honey
Bone-in chicken pieces, as many as you can eat or will fit on half of your grill, skinned or skin left on

Combine everything except chicken in a jar and beat well with a fork to smooth out the chili paste. Set aside, but shake before using.

Build a a large charcoal fire against the wall of the grill on one side, about 30 to 40 stacked briquettes. When the coals have ashed over and the interior of the pile is red hot, place an oiled grid over the coals. When the grid is hot, arrange the chicken on the side of the grill opposite the coals. Cover with a vented lid and cook for 25 minutes without lifting lid. Uncover and rearrange chicken, turning pieces over and swapping places near the coals. Cover and continue cooking until cooked through, about 20 minutes longer.

Place the chicken in a large bowl and drizzle some of the sauce over the chicken. Toss well. If needed, add more sauce and toss again. You should have at least half of the sauce to refrigerate for another use.

Spread the coals and place chicken on the grid directly over the coals. Grill, turning once or twice, until the sauce is sticky and begins to singe. Transfer to a platter to serve.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Scrambled eggs, sautéed peppers and fried ripe tomato slices with melted feta; roast bell peppers, carrot batons and cubed potatoes with pan-grilled pork chops glazed with gochujang barbecue sauce; avocado toast with prosciutto; shrimp cocktail, ricotta cheese topped with sliced local strawberries; strips of marinated pan-grilled skirt steak over cauliflower rice and stir-fried vegetables; cauliflower-coconut soup with Thai curry paste, pan-grilled chicken breast; egg, ham, tomato and feta sandwich with pesto; pan-grilled pork loin chop with sugar-snap peas; grilled strip steak, baked potatoes, fava bean and feta salad with lemon, olive oil and mint.

What I carried out:
Edamame salad, couscous salad, bean salad and cold peanut noodles from Whole Foods; a raspberry chunk cone from Strickland’s.

THE MAILBAG
From Ann F.:
It was good to see your Indian recipe a couple of weeks ago. Check out “Indian-ish ” by Priya Krishna. The onion dahl recipe is out of sight and the jammy lotus root something really different. It is easier than the usual Indian cooking and the book is a wonderful read, especially the part about her father becoming the family yogurt maker.

Dear Ann:
I have heard good things about that book and have enjoyed Krishna’s articles in the New York Times Food pages. Thanks for the reminder. I’m now on the waiting list for a library copy.

From Marilyn B.:
The best place for herbs including French thyme and the tarragon you mentioned is Quailcrest Farm. It is located north of Wooster. It’s not that far. Check the website (quailcrest.com) for info. Last year it closed In June or July for the season.

Dear Marilyn;
Quailcrest is open but the French tarragon is sold out, according to the employee I reached Monday. I’ll call earlier next year. Thanks for the referral.

From Mary B.:
Here’s another version of the garlic slicer with a press built in, from Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Garlic-Crushing-Easy-Squeeze-Ergonomic-Dishwasher/dp/B0838STJ3P.

Dear Mary:
I’m hard on garlic presses like this one. Maybe I press too hard or load it too full, but they always break. Thanks, though. I’ve never seen a dual press/slicer.

From Kelly M.:
Great column last week! I’m making herbed lemonade right now and plan to make the turkey/chicken salad tomorrow. Maybe an herbed omelet for Father’s Day? My husband planted every herb imaginable, and now I’m prepared not to waste anything. Thank you!

Dear Kelly:
You’re welcome, and good luck with that. I seldom get around to using every herb in my garden. I’d like to hear how you do it. In the fall I lop off big hunks of several herb bushes — thyme, sage, oregano, rosemary — to hang by thread and thumbtacks from a beam in my kitchen to dry. The leftover basil is turned into pesto to freeze. The rest of the herbs languish over winter. Any ideas for what to do with marjoram and chives? I use them in a couple of recipes each but not nearly enough.

June 17, 2020

Dear friends,
Tony dug a turkey from the depths of our giant chest freezer, practically crowing with delight. His find would be the perfect crash-test dummy for his latest project, a garage-sale homemade outdoor oven/smoker he had hooked up to a propane tank from our camper. The steel-plate oven/smoker, rusty with age, has been in our backyard for a couple of years and it works fine with charcoal and wood as fuel. Now Tony wanted to test its mettle with propane. “What’s wrong with wood and charcoal,” I whined?

After thawing the turkey for a couple of days and dry-brining with salt, it went into the smoker with a pan of water. Tony could not keep the temperature under 300 degrees. After an hour, the front end of the turkey looked like a cigar had exploded in its face. “What’s wrong with wood and charcoal,” I whined?

Tony was stoic. He would see the experiment through to the end. The result was a turkey that, in fact, resembled charcoal but tasted nothing like the glorious charcoal-smoked turkeys I produce at Thanksgiving. Still, it was turkey and the interior was moist and edible. It’s hard to ruin a turkey.

We had enough turkey for dinners and lunches for four days. I was in heaven. My favorite was a chopped salad I made with the turkey, onion, avocado and romaine, glossed with an Asian dressing and topped with crunchy rice noodles. Just as Tony started to rebel at another meal of turkey, I whipped up this beauty for lunch.

The recipe makes a lot. I heaped two-thirds on it on a platter, crowned it with a cloud of puffed rice noodles and photographed it. I was starving, so I scooped half of the leftovers in the bowl onto a plate for myself and yelled out the back door that lunch was ready. Five minutes later Tony sailed into the dining room with a fork and the platter. He thought I had portioned it up for him.

I didn’t say a word about Tony’s giant lunch other than to whine, “Next time, charcoal and wood.”

If you don’t have a turkey on hand, leftover rotisserie chicken will do nicely in this recipe.You also may swap out the vegetables for whatever you have on hand.

CHOPPED CHICKEN SALAD WITH CRISPY NOODLES

Dressing:
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. sesame oil

Salad:
Canola oil
2 to 21/2 oz. rice noodles
Salt
1 cup peeled, seeded cucumber in 1/2-inch diced
1 cup red or sweet onion in 1/2-inch dice
3/4 cup diced red bell pepper
3 cups chopped romaine or iceberg lettuce
2 cups cooked chicken or turkey in 1/2-inch dice
2 avocados in 1/2-inch dice

Combine dressing ingredients in a custard cup and set aside.

Heat about 1 inch of oil in a wide, heavy skillet. While oil heats, pull apart the rice noodles over a bowl. Toss a noodle into the oil to test the temperature. If it puffs immediately, it’s ready. Fry noodles by the handful in a single layer, turning with tongs to puff on both sides. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt.

Combine the remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Add dressing and salt to taste and toss gently but thoroughly to coat. Heap salad on four plates. Top with fried noodles. Makes 4 servings.

TIDBIT
A bounty of herbs
The chives are in full bloom, the mint is creeping toward the garage and the sage is overrunning the thyme and marjoram. I love this time of year when the air is perfumed with herbs running riot.

I used to pore through books and websites for new ways to use each herb. Now I use them all together, all the time. I will pick a few sprigs of each and, bundled together, snip them into a cherry-tomato salad. Last week I snipped thyme, marjoram, chives and sage into a bowl of cooked and shelled edamame (you can buy them shelled), sprinkled them with crumbled feta, olive oil and lemon juice, and added a big pinch of coarse salt. It was so fresh-tasting.

I’m also crazy about mint-basil lemonade. I squeeze a lemon half over ice in a glass, add Splenda or sugar to taste and a few crushed basil and mint leaves. Fill with water and stir. Sometimes I omit the lemon and sugar and let the herbs flavor the water overnight.

How do you make use of your herb patch? Also, does anybody know where I can buy some French thyme? Culinary tarragon plants have become elusive the last few years, and the ones I do find and plant don’t make it to spring.

Where Dining is life
“…the belief, shared by everyone here, that what happens at the table is among the most important activities in civilization. It is about intimacy, convivium, creativity, appetites, desire, euphoria, culture, and the joys of being alive.”
— Bill Buford, writing about the French culinary capital, Lyon, in his new book, “Dirt: Adventures in Lyon as a Chef in Training, Father and Sleuth Looking for the Secret of French Cooking.”

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Herb and feta omelet, steamed asparagus; grilled chicken legs with gochujang barbecue sauce, tomato salad with garlic, basil and mint, and baked Japanese sweet potatoes; venison spaghetti sauce; spaghetti squash baked with ricotta, spaghetti sauce and Asiago cheese; edamame salad with fresh herbs, crumbled feta and lemon juice.

What I ordered out:
Marinated grilled chicken, beef and kefteh, basmati rice, kibbee, baba ganoush, hummus, tabouli and pita bread from Mediterranean Market & Grill in Cuyahoga Falls.

THE MAILBAG
From Marlene H.:
You asked about our quarantine eating experience. Mine was such a derailment, although a somewhat needed comforting derailment. I normally would buy a one-pound bag of flour and a one-pound bag of sugar, which would last me a year or more as I’d only use it during the holidays for a few traditional recipes. Pre-quarantine I used non-traditional ingredients like almond flour, cassava flour, coconut sugar, stevia, almond milk, and the like. I even was to the point of really liking the shiritaki noodles.

Since the stay-safe-at-home order began mid-March, I have gone through at least 15 pounds of flour,10 pounds of sugar, six pounds of butter, and over a gallon of cream making bread, pizzas, pretzels, 30-layer crepe cakes, pies, pasta and lasagna, just to name a few. I’d really appreciate your recipes for salad meals, especially some that utilize the grill.

Thanks so much! Always enjoy your newsletter, but it’s been especially comforting during this time.

Dear Marlene:
Dang, pretzels? A 30-layer crepe cake? I wish I’d thought of them. But my wanton butter-and-cream days are over and it sounds like yours are, too. I hope you will try my chopped turkey/chicken salad because it is so filling. Grilled steak salads are favorites, too. I like to heap dressed lettuce, onions and cherry tomatoes on a platter and top it with sliced grilled steak, grilled pepper strips, grilled asparagus and, in the middle, a mound of sautéed sliced mushrooms or cubes of roasted butternut squash.

From Linda C.:
I have definitely gone plant based. Eating more oil-free hummus has helped, along with more fruits and vegetables. I found a Southwest dip to add to veggies, tacos or on baked potatoes. I’m sharing it and another recipe.

I’m just starting to use tofu. I’ll try your recipe.

SOUTHWEST DRESSING/DIP
1/4 cup raw cashews
1/2 cup salsa
1 tbsp. cider vinegar
1 tbsp. lime juice
If you don’t have a strong high-speed blender, soak the cashews in water at least 1 hour and drain. Puree all ingredients in a blender, thinning with a little water if desired. Refrigerate.

CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER HUMMUS
1 can chickpeas, drained
1/4 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup cocoa powder
Pinch of salt
2 tbsp. water
Pulse chickpeas in a food processor until almost smooth. Add remaining ingredients and pulse/blend to desired consistency. Refrigerate in an airtight container. Optional: Top with mini chocolate chips to serve. Serve with apple slices, graham crackers or other fruits for dipping.

Dear Linda:
Thanks for the interesting recipes. They both sound like a painless way to go meat-free.

From Beth N.:
This tofu press seemed extravagant when I purchased it, but we have put it to good use and saved a couple trees’ worth of paper towels in the process. Plus — so easy! Press in morning for use at night. Refrigerate leftover pressed tofu for another day if needed (only one vegetarian in house). I know this one is out of stock, but worth looking into!

Tofu Press to transform your tofu by Tofuture. For more information: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01698J0RU/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_U_sqs4EbQQ9CK14

Dear Beth:
How cool! This is just the type of gadget I would rush out and buy. Or these days, click and buy. I had no idea it existed. I see that several manufacturers make tofu presses if the Tofuture model is unavailable.

From Joy:
Reading your recent newsletter about the problem with grating ginger, I thought you might be interested in this garlic slicer I bought way back in 2012 that I also use for ginger, although the ginger has to be cut into smaller pieces akin to the size of a garlic clove to fit the slicer: http://www.janesbakerandchef.com/mobile/Zyliss-Garlic-Slicer-P808.aspx

It was quite cheap at the time I bought it, only five bucks, but I see that now the price has doubled. It’s an unnecessary gadget no cook really needs, of course, and like all gadgets it doesn’t work perfectly every time, but it does come in handy for this old gal when I’m prepping ingredients for stir fries, etc. as my cutting skills at age 76 are not as “sharp” as they used to be!

Dear Joy:
But is there ever really an unnecessary kitchen gadget? I say this as someone once awarded the title of “queen of kitchen gadgets” by a moving crew. Thanks for the recommendation.

June 10, 2020

Dear friends,
After pruning my cookbooks, I missed those hundreds of books’ worth of inspiration. I finally found the motherload without paying a penny. I just downloaded the app “Libby.” Now I can borrow hundreds of cookbooks from my library with my iPad.

Yes, I know I’m late to the party. I had the Overdrive library app years ago, but it was so complicated I had to attend classes to learn how to use it. And then so few ebooks were available that I deleted it. I bought some cookbooks, discovered the discount ebook site BookBub and bought a few more. But I wanted to borrow books, not buy them.

A friend finally clued me into Libby, Overdrive’s replacement. It is easy to use and has many cookbooks that can be downloaded directly to Kindle. I’m thrilled. It can be found in your online app store.

I was so excited I rashly downloaded a batch of books but had time to cook from just one of them. It’s a pretty good one, though. “5 Spices, 50 Dishes” by Ruta Kahate is filled with recipes for simplified Indian-style dishes including the one I made last week, Sweet Potatoes With Ginger and Lemon.

I didn’t have sweet potatoes (#coronashopping) so I used butternut squash. I didn’t have fresh hot peppers so I used pickled jalapeños. In these semi-quarantine times, we make do.

The dish is full of flavor and tastes even better cold or room temperature than hot. It makes a lot more than the four servings the author says so I had plenty of leftovers to eat with sandwiches and to sizzle in a skillet with spinach for a kind of Indian-style hash that I served with eggs.

Note: Use the big holes of a box grater to grate the ginger in the recipe. If you try to “finely grate” it, as called for in many recipes, you will end up with ginger juice and a pile of hay-like fiber. Trust the voice of experience.

Now, this is off the beaten food path but I wan’t to mention two other library apps technophobes like me may have missed. Acorn, the great site for British TV shows, can be accessed from the RBDigital app, free with your library card (at least in Akron; probably many other libraries, too). Ditto for Kanopy, an app for borrowing documentaries and independent films.

Now, back to cooking:

SWEET POTATOES WITH GINGER AND LEMON

2 lbs. sweet potatoes and/or butternut squash
2 tbsp. canola oil
½ tsp. whole mustard seeds
2 small green serrano chiles (or 1 jalapeno), cut horizontally in half
1 medium red onion, finely chopped (about 1½ cups)
1 tsp. grated fresh ginger (about 2-inch piece; see note above)
½ tsp. ground turmeric
½ to ¾ teaspoon salt
2 tbsp. lemon juice, or to taste

Boil the sweet potatoes in water to cover until just tender. Cool, peel, and cut into 1-inch pieces. If you use butternut squash, peel and cube the squash before boiling until tender.

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over high heat. When the oil begins to smoke, add the mustard seeds, covering the pan with a lid or spatter screen. When the seeds stop sputtering, add the chiles. When the chiles are toasted, add the onion and ginger. Sauté until the onion is lightly browned, then add the turmeric and stir.

Add the sweet potatoes or squash and salt and toss gently to mix. Cover and steam over low heat until the flavors meld, about 4 minutes. Sprinkle the lemon juice over and serve hot or at room temperature. Makes 6 servings.

From “5 Spices, 50 Dishes” Ruta Kahate.

TIDBITS
When I asked what kind of recipes you want these days, Kathryn G. wrote to say she is tired of cooking. She cooked liked crazy during lockdown, and now just wants to be outside. Sounds familiar. With the beautiful weather calling, we all need ideas for quick meals and snacks. I have a few and hope others do, too.

* Buy some really good crusty bread. Cut into thick slices, arrange on a platter and sprinkle with olive oil and some chopped tomato. Grind some pepper and sprinkle with chunky salt. Drape folded prosciutto slices over the bread. Imagine you are in Italy.
* Buy some good salami, a hunk of Asiago cheese, grapes, cherry tomatoes and crackers or a baguette. Slice the salami and cheese and arrange everything on a bread board. This could be dinner or a snack.
* Dress up a rotisserie chicken dinner with the snappy cherry tomato salad I made last week. Place the tomatoes in a single layer on a cutting board. Press lightly with one hand while cutting horizontally with a serrated knife. You can cut a bunch at a time this way. Toss in a bowl with sea salt and a chopped clove of garlic. Go outside and pick sprigs of mint and basil or whatever herbs you find. Bundle them together and mince them with scissors right into the tomato bowl. Stir.
* Make sheet pan suppers. Place pork chops or chicken thighs or boneless breasts on a foil-lined baking sheet. Add cherry tomatoes, asparagus, onion chunks or whatever fresh vegetables you have on hand. Spray lightly with olive oil spray. Season with salt and pepper. You could slather some kind of bottled sauce — even mayo — on the meat. Roast at 400 degrees until done. Check every 20 minutes or so and remove items as they finish cooking.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Fried rice with shrimp, asparagus and peppers; smoked mojo-marinated chicken leg quarters and Japanese sweet potatoes; butternut squash and spinach hash with steamed egg and toast; dry-brined smoked turkey, roast sweet potatoes; broiled open-face turkey sandwiches with pesto and feta cheese, sautéed cherry tomatoes and bell pepper with balsamic vinegar; steamed asparagus; chopped turkey salad with soy-sesame dressing and crispy rice sticks; grilled filet mignon, baked potatoes, tomato salad with garlic, basil and mint; mint and basil lemonade.

What I ordered out:
Greek gyro and salad from Continental Cuisine in Fairlawn; a ham and pineapple pizza from Rizzi’s Pizzeria in Copley.

THE MAILBAG
From Martha K.:
I drain tofu so it will brown better in stir fries and roasting. I make crispy baked tofu by tearing it for more craggy edges. Toss with spices of choice and roast at 450 degrees. It’s crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. When I roast tofu I’ll add vegetables to the pan such as whole trimmed scallions, halves of baby bok choy, or red onion quarters, broccoli, whatever’s on hand. Here’s a basic recipe: https://www.epicurious.com/ingredients/oven-roasted-tofu-is-the-main-vegetarian-we-need-article. Here’s a recipe for a shawarma-spiced tofu pita sandwich but the method is perfect for a main dish: http://www.epicurious.com/recipe/food/views/shawarma-spiced-tofu-pita-wraps.

Dear Martha:
I’m going to try your technique minus the oil (but with a sheen of olive oil spray) and see if that works (I’m cutting calories). I really like the idea of tearing the tofu into jagged pieces to create more surface for crisping. Thanks for the info.

From Joy, Vancouver, B.C.:
In your latest newsletter I noticed your question about baking crispy tofu and thought you might be interested in how a blogger I follow makes her crispy baked tofu. I kept her recipe on file as my oldest granddaughter is vegan. I’m actually game to try any type of food within reason but if I tried to feed it to my husband he’d leave the table and head out for McD’s. The recipe is at: https://cookieandkate.com/how-to-make-crispy-baked-tofu/.

Dear Joy:
This recipe has a couple of twists. The tofu is weighted and squeezed after cutting into cubes, and just one tablespoon of oil suffices for the entire 12-ounce package. It doesn’t say whether to use regular or silken tofu, so I’m guessing regular. Thanks for sending this.

From Carol W.:
Where do you find silken tofu? I would like to give it a try. Sounds good!

Dear Carol:
I have bought it in regular supermarkets and also Asian food stores. The package will say “Silken Tofu.” Remember to buy firm.

From Carol B.:
Do you use toasted sesame oil only or does it matter? Thanks.

Dear Carol:
Yes, I use only toasted sesame oil. It’s the one with the big flavor, and it is used in small quantities. I have never actually seen untoasted sesame oil, although I’m sure it is available. My go-to unflavored oils for cooking are canola and corn or whatever is on sale.