December 12, 2018

Dear friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

HOT-PEPPER CRACKERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE MAILBAG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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December 5, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

POTATO-MUSHROOM SOUP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 28, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRIPLE GINGER COOKIES WITH LEMON DRIZZLE

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

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

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

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

ALMOND CLOUD COOKIES

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

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

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

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

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

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

TIDBITS

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

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

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

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

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

I will dream of this stuffing until next Thanksgiving.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 20, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GRILL-SMOKED TURKEY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 14, 2018

Dear friends,
I saw a bumper sticker last week that I have GOT to get. It said, “I used to be cool.” In truth, though, cool was never my style. I’ve always been one beat too early or too late.

I first visited New York City in the early 70s, when it was horrifyingly filthy and Times Square was a sea of sex shops. Not cool.

I knew South Beach in Miami Beach as an ultra-cheap place to stay while on union business until it was slowly transformed into an ultra-hip location for fashion shoots. By the time my $60 room at the Edison Hotel soared to $250 a night, I was gone.

On the other hand, remember the fascination with Tuscany, which was ragingly hip in the 1990s. I finally got there in 2000.

The only good thing about this trend is that I still hold out hope of getting my hands on a cronut.

With food, I’ve usually been ahead of the curve. I had to be a trend-sniffer in my job, and it was easy when word of almost every new cookbook, menu item and grocery store product landed on my desk.

People are still discovering warm goat cheese salads, for example. I see it on restaurant menus and in magazine food features. I printed a recipe for Alice Waters’ original version in about 1985.The salad is one of the few dishes I didn’t passionately embrace and then discard. It shows up on menus today because it is still cool.

It is also delicious, with just the right heft to ease you into a multi-course dinner. I made the salad for my brother and his wife on Sunday, followed by roast beef with sour cream gravy and my perennially cool sugar-free pumpkin pie for dessert.

Classically, the salad is a lush plate of baby greens centered with a marinated, crumbed disk of goat cheese that has been baked just until it begins to slump. Crisp, thin croutes are served alongside. The warm cheese is spread on the croutes and eaten in rich, alternating bites with the palate-cleansing greens.

Of course, I updated the recipe. From laziness (and because it never seemed to matter), I skipped marinating the inch-thick disks of cheese. I didn’t roll them in crumbs, either. Nor did I dress the greens with French vinaigrette. I subbed a lip-smacking caramelized apple vinaigrette that was as good as it sounds, and scattered toasted walnuts and crumbled bacon over the greens. The vinaigrette was a happy discovery in “The Food52 Cookbook, Volume 2” by Amanda Hesser.

Like the classic warm goat cheese salad, my autumn version is timeless. Still, if I see it on a restaurant menu in 10 years, I’ll scream.

WARM AUTUMN GOAT CHEESE SALAD

6 cups mixed baby salad greens
1/2 of a French baguette, sliced thin
Butter
4 1-inch-thick rounds of chèvre cheese, about 6 oz.
Caramelized apple vinaigrette (recipe follows)
4 strips crisp bacon, crumbled
1/4 cup toasted walnut pieces

Gently wash greens, roll up in a clean kitchen towel and return to refrigerator.
Spread both sides of bread slices with a scant amount of butter. Place on a baking sheet and toast in a 400-degree oven until edges begin to brown and bread is hard. Remove from oven and set aside.

Place cheese rounds on a baking sheet covered with parchment. Bake at 400 degrees just until cheese starts to slump, 3 to 4 minutes. Meanwhile, transfer greens to a medium-sized bowl and toss with just enough of the dressing to gloss the leaves. Divide among four salad plates. With a thin spatula, transfer cheese rounds from the baking sheet to the center of each plate of greens. Scatter bacon and walnut pieces over salads. Place 3 or 4 baguette croutes on each plate. Makes 4 salads.

CARAMELIZED APPLE VINAIGRETTE
(From “The Food52 Cookbook, Volume II”)
½ cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 Gala apple, peeled, cored, and cut into ¼-inch dice
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
Juice of ½ lemon
Salt
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup canola oil

Combine ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons of the vinegar and the brown sugar in a small skillet and cook over medium heat. Stir and cook until the mixture turns a dark caramel color and begins to thicken. You will start to see big foamy bubbles on the surface. Add the apples and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples are tender, about 5 minutes.

Remove from the heat and put in a blender, along with the remaining 2 tablespoons vinegar, the thyme, lemon juice, and a pinch of salt. Whoosh until blended. Then, with the motor running, slowly add the oil, blending until the dressing is emulsified. Taste and season with salt and perhaps a splash more vinegar. Refrigerate unused dressing.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Pan-grilled strip steaks with crushed pepper, butter-roasted baby potato halves, roasted dumpling squash wedges dusted with Parmesan; Szechuan stir fry with tofu, green beans, carrots, bell pepper and scallions over rice; roast chicken thighs withTony’s homemade hot sauce, roast baby potatoes, sautéed broccoli rabe with garlic; warm goat cheese salad, roast beef with sour cream gravy, mashed potatoes, baked butternut squash chunks with dried cranberries and butter, sugar-free pumpkin pies.

What I ate in/from restaurants this week:
A grilled Thanksgiving sandwich of turkey, munster cheese, cranberry sauce, stuffing and pureed butternut squash at Melt in the Montrose area of Bath Township; crispy chicken and bacon salad with warm pita wedges at Alexandris in Wadsworth; pineapple and ham pizza from Rizzi’s in Copley; Greek souvlaki (marinated pork skewers), rice pilaf, coleslaw and half of a pumpkin cookie at Farmer Boy Restaurant in Springfield Township.

THE MAILBAG
From Beth B.:
Brimfield Bread Oven (mentioned last week) also has a stand at the new Countryside Public Market in the Northside Lofts building on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. I’ve enjoyed traveling vicariously with you through France!

Dear Beth:
Thanks. That’s just the push I need to check out the new Akron farmers’ market. More information can be found at http://www.cvcountryside.org/announcements/countryside-public-market-is-now-open.

From Pennie:
Regarding grits/polenta, they are some of my favorite foods. I have had much success with reheating solidified grits and polenta in the microwave. Amazingly, the original texture comes back. One of my current favorite restaurant dishes is the three ginormous meatballs on a bed of cheese polenta at Bravo! in Summit Mall in Fairlawn. Because eating that would use up pretty much my whole day’s calorie allowance, I just have half and bring the rest home for later. Reheats beautifully.

Regarding Stouffer’s restaurants, I have fond memories a homecoming dinner at Top of the Town in the new Erieview Plaza on East Ninth Street in Cleveland, near where the Galleria is today. The wind and rain dragged us by our umbrellas across that large, open plaza. Later, when I worked in downtown Cleveland, the restaurant was a spot for a very special occasion. Stouffer had another location in the same office building — a bustling basement cafeteria with good-quality, reasonably priced food.

When I moved to Richfield, one of the most beautiful spots was the Stouffer farm at the corner of Broadview (Wheatley Road) and Brecksville Road.This was where the family lived and made their butter. The view from the farmhouse was as idyllic as the picture on the menu you posted. Overlooking the Cuyahoga Valley, there were apple orchards, a picturesque lake and a barn. The orchards are now overgrown, the buildings are gone and the property is now filled with a large office park. The sweeping view of the valley remains. I could never understand why Stouffer didn’t preserve it, as something like Bob Evans’ Farm in southern Ohio.

Ah, well. Thanks for the memories.

Dear Pennie:
No, thank you.

From Dorothy:
Years ago I worked in the Federal Building in downtown Cleveland. We would go to Stouffer’s in Erieview for special birthdays, etc. It had good food and atmosphere. Also, about 65 years ago my sister-in-law and husband had a small wedding dinner at Stouffer’s on the Square. The service and food were very good. I miss Stouffer’s restaurants.

Dear Dorothy:
Thanks for sharing your memories of an era long gone.

November 7, 2018

Dear friends,
The aroma made me nuts. That’s the only explanation I can think of for buying $16 worth of bread for two people Friday. Two carb-restricted people.

I can’t remember how I found The Brimfield Bread Oven on my iPad, but when I showed Tony a photo of the bakery’s brick oven, he reached for his coat. We were off to Brimfield. The last time we had crusty, brick-oven bread was in September in France. That oven was 200 years old. The Portage County oven was built just a couple of years ago, but it is no less effective.

The Brimfield Bread Oven looks like a French boulangerie. Burnished, brown loaves in a variety of shapes are stacked higher than your head on wire racks that face you as enter. There are batards, baguettes, boules and substantial, crisp loaves studded with black olives. There are loaves crusted with seeds and soft Pullman loaves and sandwich buns in plastic sleeves.

Genevieve and Jud Smith raised more than $20,000 on Kickstarter to help open the bakery — why did no one tell me?! — in 2016. Jud learned serious baking techniques at The Great Lakes Baking Co. in Hudson and the King Arthur Flour Bakery in Vermont, where Genevieve joined him to study pastries.

I bought a croissant for Tony, a cookie for me, a big loaf of sourdough Kalamata olive bread (made only on Fridays) and an equally big loaf of white sourdough with a killer crust. The breads were $6 and $5 respectively and tasted incredible.

The Smiths advise patrons to call ahead to reserve favorites. The breads and pastries on hand vary throughout the day as the brick oven cools. High-temperature items are baked first and cool-temperature items last. There are a few tables in a connecting room where customers can sip coffee, tea, beer or wine and nibble croissants, scones and cookies. Pizzas are available from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

We did our best, but the olive bread alone took us three days of toast, sandwiches and snacks to polish off. On day two when we hadn’t touched the other loaf, I knew I had to use it or lose it. Because it was slightly stale at that point (criminal, I know), I turned it into bread soup — really, really good bread soup.

My soup, variations of which are common in many cultures, is a comforting winter bowlful of chicken, mushrooms, onions and provolone cheese cushioned with pillowy-soft slices of bread. Everything is drenched in chicken broth. It is like a savory bread pudding, and — maybe this is the carbs talking — is one of my favorite things in the world to eat.

The preparation is so easy that the soup almost qualifies as fast food. If you use good-quality rotisserie chicken and canned broth, you can make the soup in minutes, simmer it for a while longer, and let it bake while you do other things.

Save these directions. If you visit Brimfield Bread Oven (www.brimfieldbreadoven.com), you’ll probably leave with too much bread, too.

CHICKEN-MUSHROOM BREAD SOUP

6 tbsp. butter
1 1/2 cups rough-chopped onions
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
Pinch of grated nutmeg
1/2 cup dry white wine
Salt, fresh-ground pepper
6 cups chicken stock or broth
2 cup cubed cooked chicken
6 thick slices (at least 1 inch thick) crusty bread
6 oz. chopped provolone cheese

Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a large, deep skillet. Sauté onions and mushrooms over medium-high heat until both have softened. Add nutmeg and white wine, crank heat to high and boil until reduced by half.

Season mushroom mixture with salt and pepper. Stir in chicken stock, partially cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in chicken and simmer 5 minutes longer.

After adding chicken, toast the bread in a toaster and butter one side of each slice with the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Arrange three slices in the bottom of a deep (4 to 5 inches) casserole dish large enough for the three slices to fit in a single layer. With a slotted spoon, transfer all of the onions, mushrooms and chicken from the broth to the casserole, covering the bread evenly. Scatter half of the cheese cubes on top. Top with remaining three slices of toast and the rest of the cheese.

Ladle the broth over the layers in the casserole dish. The broth should barely cover the top layer. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, until the bread is swollen and puffy and the top is golden brown. To serve, scoop out with a large spoon. Makes 4 servings.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
French onion soup; chicken fricassee with white wine, apples, potatoes and shredded cabbage; sugar-free pumpkin pie; Szechuan stir-fry sauce; chicken and mushroom bread soup.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Cheese panini with peppers and onions at the Eye Opener in Akron; Nashville hot chicken and coleslaw at the Parkview Nite Club in Cleveland; chicken shawarma sandwich and hot tea at Continental Cuisine in Fairlawn; a Jane roll and edamame from Sushi Katsu in Akron; and an egg roll and beef with tangerine peel at Szechuan Gourmet in Kent.

THE MAILBAG
From Susan R.:
(Regarding last week’s newsletter), the easiest way to cook polenta is Paula Wolfert’s oven method at https://www.finecooking.com/recipe/oven-roasted-polenta. Thanks for your newsletter. I always enjoy it.

Dear Susan:
What could be easier than combining corn meal and water in a pan and shoving it into the oven? No stirring! Thanks for bringing this recipe to my attention.

From Martha K.:
I’m pretty confident you subscribe to Epicurious newsletters, but in case you missed it, here’s a nifty polenta recipe and easy prep method. Google: oven polenta with roasted mushrooms and thyme.

Dear friend:
No, I don’’t subscribe to the Epicurious newsletter. I’m afraid if I read any more recipes or food tips my head will explode. Only partly kidding. Thank you, though, for this baked polenta recipe, which Epicurious got from the October issue of Bon Appetit magazine. I like the lagniappe: “…if you’re feeling indulgent, top with a little heavy cream mixed with a finely grated small garlic clove.” Oh, yeah.

From Alix:
Your dinner party experience reminded me of what I did last year. I called a friend and said, “Let’s have a dinner party.” We were on! We are two widows, 60- and 70-ish. We ordered beautiful invitations, a lovely centerpiece and dry cleaned the gorgeous tablecloth. We had 12 guests that had all been friends for at least 40 years. There was PLENTY of conversation. So glad we went through with it.

I still love to entertain and am actually planning a Christmas cocktail party for my neighbors. One of my guests jumped on the train and had a really lovely dinner party on a winter night. Maybe this kind of entertaining will come back but I doubt it.

Dear Alix:
I think the younger generation, with their energy and stamina, are the only ones who can save this kind of entertaining. I won’t hold my breath.

From John, Norton:
I am retired and I never, never recall ever going to a dinner party. Would not be interested at all.

I never recall my parents going through this to have a dinner party. Ok, relatives very very rarely came over for a turkey dinner but that is it.

My aunt told me years ago that slaving in a kitchen to fill others’ mouths is slavery. Plus they are often not grateful. I am a bachelor and would never be interested in a dinner party. Some of my aunts, after years of kitchen slavery, told me decades ago that company are people with nothing to do, and they come over to your house and do it, for long hours. My aunts tried to eliminate it as best they could. And they did.

Dear John:
Well, alrighty.

October 31, 2018

Dear friends,
Dinner parties have pretty much faded into the past, and I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I mean the kind of dinners where you light the candles and serve a three- or four-course meal you have spent hours preparing.

I used to have dinner parties every other month or so, and attend friends’ dinner parties about as often. They were my favorite way to socialize: more intimate than a party, with good conversation and a lovely feeling of well-being at the end of the night. Those evenings could be magic.

Now meals with friends, when they occur at all, are likely to be less formal — pizza on the grill or a last-minute pot luck. Spending two days cooking is physically difficult and expensive, too.

Ah, but the rewards. I was reminded just how much I missed dinner parties when I had a handful of girlfriends over last week. I took a few shortcuts — I bought pate instead of making it, for example — but I still managed to offer a luxurious dinner of braised lamb shanks over polenta and individual Grand Marnier soufflés — plus homemade bread and a mesclun salad with bacon and toasted walnuts that served as a first course with the pate.

A leisurely dinner of good food helps the conversation flow. We talked and laughed for hours. And then I had delicious leftovers the next day.

Of course, to accomplish all this I had to start cleaning the house two weeks out, and start shopping and cooking well before the event. The morning of the dinner, as I was scrounging for cloth napkins in the hall closet, I remembered why I don’t entertain like this anymore. It’s a lot of work.

Much later, while sipping the last of the pinot noir and swapping stories, I remembered why I used to entertain like this. There’s no better way to enjoy the company of friends.

The lamb shanks, with their rich, winey broth, were inspired by a meal my friend, Linda, cooked for Tony and me in France. I assembled and partially cooked them the day before the dinner, refrigerated them in their pan, and cooked them an hour longer just before the meal.

BRAISED LAMB SHANKS

4 strips bacon
4 lamb shanks
Salt, pepper
2 cups roughly chopped onions
3 cloves garlic, chopped
4 to 6 carrots, scrubbed and cut in 1 1/2-inch lengths
1 tbsp. tomato paste
2 branches fresh thyme or 1 1/2 tsp. dry
1 bay leaf
1 cup beef broth
1 bottle (750 ml) dry, drinkable red wine (I used a $7 pinot noir)

Fry bacon in a wide, deep, lidded pan until crisp; drain on paper towels. Trim any excess fat from the shanks and season very well with salt and pepper. Brown on all sides over medium-high heat in the bacon fat. Remove from pan and set aside.

Reduce heat to medium and sauté onions and garlic in the fat remaining in pan, adding a splash of vegetable oil if necessary. Stir in carrots and tomato paste. Add thyme and bay leaf.

Return lamb shanks to pan. Increase heat to high and add beef broth. Bring to a boil and boil for a couple of minutes to reduce slightly. Add wine. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, partially cover and simmer for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, until lamb is very tender. Serve with polenta or potatoes. Makes 4 servings.

HELP U COOK
Polenta is a dish that a requires a lot of stirring in the kitchen when you’d rather be having cocktails or eating an appetizer with your guests — unless you have a way to make polenta in advance and keep it warm without solidifying (the polenta, not you) into a giant hunk.

Here’s how: Make the polenta as usual, adding extra water per directions if you intend to serve it soft. I stir one cup of cornmeal and a teaspoon of salt all at once into 5 cups cold water, then cook and stir it occasionally over heat adjusted to allow the polenta to sputter very lazily. When the grains of cornmeal are soft and taste cooked, stir in 6 tablespoons butter and a cup of grated Parmesan.

To keep the polenta from setting up, place the pan of polenta in a larger pan of hot water over low heat. It may be kept warm an hour or more in this manner. Beat the polenta with a spoon before serving.

TIDBIT
The New York Times’ Eric Asimov, writing on the perils of opening a cellared wine too soon: “Drinking it was like being confined to the first paragraph of a great book.”

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Roasted delicata squash, chicken skewers with sweet soy sauce; no-knead bread, mousse pate with a salad of greens, toasted walnuts, bacon and vinaigrette, braised lamb shanks in red wine over polenta, and individual Grand Marnier soufflés; chocolate chip cookies; sirloin steak salad with roasted butternut squash, toasted walnuts, shaved onions, feta cheese and vinaigrette; eggs over hard with thin-sliced Swiss cheese on seeded bread.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Thin-crust veggie pizza from Earth Fare; hamburger steak, mashed potatoes and a cornmeal muffin at Cracker Barrel; beef fried rice at Giant Eagle Marketplace restaurant in Cuyahoga Falls; two Taco Bell tacos.

THE MAILBAG
From Linda A.:
My parents went to the Stouffer’s (restaurant) in Summit Mall in Fairlawn every Friday night when I was in high school. Thought you might be interested in this…
https//www.tastecooking.com/stouffers-secret-history/

Dear Linda:
Thank you so much for sharing this link. I came to Akron in 1978 and faintly remember the Summit Mall Stouffer’s. I regret I didn’t have a chance to eat there. For years, though, as the newspaper’s food writer I was peppered with requests for recipes from the chain, which I see from your referenced article started in 1922 as a coffee shop in the Arcade in Cleveland.

Eventually the restaurants took a back seat to food production. Lean Cuisine is still made here in Northeast Ohio, but the hot beef tenderloin sandwiches and green salads with white French dressing are long gone. Many of the recipes are still floating around in a cookbook Stouffer published, “The Stouffer Cookbook of Great American Food and Drink.” I don’t have a copy of the book, but I found a copy of the French dressing recipe I once printed in my Recipe Roundup column:

WHITE FRENCH DRESSING
3 tbsp. cornstarch
1/4 cup cold water
1/2 cup boiling water
1/4 tsp. paprika
1/4 cup hot water
1/2 cup sugar
3 tbsp. salt
1 tsp. dry mustard
2 3/4 cups vegetable oil
1 cup cider vinegar
1/2 tsp. onion juice
1 clove garlic

Dissolve cornstarch in cold water in a saucepan. Add boiling water and cook 3 to 4 minutes over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thick.

Dissolve paprika in hot water; add to cornstarch mixture and cook 1 minute longer. Stir in sugar, salt and mustard. Strain mixture to eliminate any lumps, if desired.

Whip hot mixture on medium speed of an electric mixer while gradually adding oil alternately with vinegar. Beat in onion juice. Add garlic clove, cover and refrigerate 24 hours to blend flavor. Remove garlic before serving. Makes 1 quart.

From Kris:
We raise and butcher our own chickens and use the necks, butts and wingtips to make broth to can. I skim off the fat before canning. Could I use the fat to cook potatoes?

Dear Kris:
As long as the moisture has been eliminated — the fat should solidify when chilled — you can fry food in it and it will taste very good indeed. Too bad you don’t raise ducks. I’d give a lot for some duck fat.

October 24, 2018

Dear friends,
One more vacation post and then I’ll stop, I promise. But I have to tell you about the clever way Parisian butcher shops make rotisserie chicken. Yes, that trend has travelled across the Atlantic.

I didn’t see any spitted chickens in supermarkets, but some charcuteries — meat/deli shops — are cashing in by setting up free-standing, glass-enclosed rotisseries outside on the sidewalk. The birds are spitted three or four across in three or four vertical rows with — here’s the genius detail — a pile of potato chunks at the bottom.

As the birds cook, they drip their delicious juices onto the garlic-flecked potatoes below. The birds turn golden brown. The potatoes turn golden brown. What a grand idea.

I don’t have a rotisserie, so I jerry-rigged the next-best thing. I tumbled a bunch of halved baby potatoes with coarse sea salt, chopped garlic and olive oil on the bottom of an oblong baking pan. I placed a wire cooling rack over the pan and roasted the chicken on top.

Just as in the rotisseries in Paris, the juices dripped down and flavored the potatoes. I coated the raw potatoes with olive oil so they wouldn’t stick to the pan and burn before the juices began to flow. It worked perfectly.

ROAST CHICKEN WITH GARLIC POTATOES AND DRIPPINGS

1 roasting chicken, about 4 1/2 to 5 lbs.
Olive oil
Salt
1 1/2 lbs. baby potatoes, scrubbed and halved, or larger potatoes in 1 1/2-inch chunks
3 cloves garlic, chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove packet of giblets, if there, and wash chicken inside and out. Trim any large pieces of fat around openings. Blot chicken dry with paper towels. Rub all over with olive oil. Rub all over with about a tablespoon of salt. Set aside.

Place the potatoes in a 9-by-12-inch baking pan. Drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat evenly. Use just enough oil to gloss the potatoes. Season with salt and toss again with garlic.

Place a cooling rack over the baking pan. It should be large enough to rest on the rim of the pan. Place chicken on rack. Roast at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes per pound, or until an instant-read thermometer registers 165 to 170 degrees when inserted in the thickest part of the thigh. Let rest 15 to 20 minutes before carving. Serves 4.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
A steak salad platter of pan-grilled top sirloin over mixed baby lettuces with sautéed mushrooms, toasted walnuts, onions and roast beets with feta cheese and vinaigrette; roast chicken over garlic baby potatoes; Japanese chicken and rice soup; sugar-free pumpkin pie.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Chicken lo mein, egg roll and fortune cookie from China Star in Akron; lamb Bolognese over pasta and hamburger with blue cheese (shared) at Wolf Creek Tavern in Norton; half of a Subway Cubano sandwich; two cheeseburgers and a few fries from Swenson’s.

THE MAILBAG
From Mark:
While enjoying custard tarts in Portugal three weeks ago, I wondered why they resembled a sweeter, more vanilla-flavored version of the Hong Kong egg tarts which culminate my dim sum feasts at Li Wah in Cleveland. Simple: The Portuguese brought them to Macau, and local chefs complimented their Western visitors by adopting the recipe. Now I know that the French have done the same, although using pastry cream seems tres Gallique.

Dear Mark:
Thank you for providing more background on those delicious custard tarts. I have had poor versions at the Chinese buffets Tony drags me to. I’ll have to try the real thing at Li Wah.

From Ellen M.:
I’m a big fan of The Great British Baking Show on PBS. The last challenge I watched was for patisseries. NEVER heard of this before, and lo and behold, here you are giving us a recipe for the custard tarts.

Your recipe looked a lot easier than theirs. Making the “creme pat,” and Mary Berry said the store puff pastry is excellent and making your own is so much work. I’m going with Mary Berry and Jane Snow.

And of course Paul Hollywood, the hunk, but I digress. Thanks again for the recipe, and enjoyed your blog.

Dear Ellen:
I am glad you wrote about The Great British Baking Show. I have heard so much about the program and have been tempted to binge-watch the series on Netflix, but I am afraid I would end up making and eating a lot of the desserts. My hips can’t take it. For that reason, I avoid it. I like hearing about the show, though, so thanks. Maybe I’ll Google Paul Hollywood.

October 17, 2018

Dear friends,
Tony went native in France. He embraced the culture as if he were coming home, even buying a straw fedora like the men wore in the rural chunk of France we visited. The hat is stowed for the winter now, and my husband seems a lost soul as he wanders supermarkets in search of decent cheese, a dry rose, a passable loaf of bread.

Mon Dieu.

My burden is a carb hangover. I couldn’t resist the baguettes and macarons, and now I’m paying for it. I crave bread. I crave sugar. I crave those addictive little custard tarts I bought at an outdoor market at Place Monge in Paris. They were so good I hid them from Tony and ate both of them myself. Don’t judge me until you taste one.

The mini tarts are sold at cheese stores and patisseries all over Paris. They have a puff pastry crust, although it’s not allowed to puff, and a very dense, sweet vanilla custard filling that is blistered in patches on the top. The tarts are actually Portuguese, I learned, although the French have enthusiastically adopted them.

Last weekend, in a final sugar splurge, I made a dozen of the tarts to both enjoy and to atone for swiping Tony’s share in France. I used an internet recipe from the French Cooking Academy, converting the grams and liters to ounces and cups. The tarts were as good as I remembered.

The tarts are tiny — they’re made in cupcake tins — and easy to assemble if you use frozen puff pastry. But because the ingredients are few, quality is important. Use a real vanilla bean to flavor the custard, and don’t downgrade the cream to half and half or whole milk.

The recipe makes enough custard — actually, creme patisserie — to fill about 24 tart shells. I thought that was an unconscionable number of tarts for two people, so I made just 12 tarts and spooned the remaining filing into two custard cups to eat as very rich pudding.

Tony loved the tarts so much I had to fight for my share. I’m glad I didn’t tell him about the leftover custard.

FRENCH CUSTARD TARTS

1 box (2 sheets, 17.3 oz.) frozen puff pastry
6 large egg yolks
3/4 cup superfine sugar (see note)
1/3 cup cornstarch
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 vanilla bean
Butter to grease pan

Remove pastry from box and thaw at room temperature for 45 minutes while you make the filling.

In the bowl of a mixer, beat the egg yolks and sugar until they turn a very pale yellow. By hand, gently stir in the cornstarch.

Heat milk and cream on medium-high heat in a medium-sized saucepan. As they heat, split the vanilla bean with a sharp knife and scrape the seeds into the milk mixture. Add the vanilla pod and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.

Remove the vanilla pods and slowly whisk into the yolk mixture in a thin stream, beating rapidly to prevent the egg yolks from cooking. Return to saucepan. Whisk and cook until the custard comes to a boil. Continue to whisk and cook for 1 minute, until custard is thick but still pours in thick ribbons.

Remove from heat and place plastic wrap directly on custard. Cool to room temperature while fashioning tart shells.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. On a lightly floured board or counter, unfold one sheet of puff pastry. With a floured rolling pin, roll to about one-eighth-inch thickness. With a 4 1/2- or 5-inch circular biscuit cutter or glass, cut 4 circles. Ease them into a buttered 12-hole cupcake tin. Re-roll half of the scraps. Cut one more round and fit it into another cupcake hole. Set aside remaining scraps.

Repeat with remaining sheet of puff pastry. You should have two empty cupcake holes. Re-roll remaining pastry scraps from both sheets of pastry. Cut two more rounds and fit them into the remaining cupcake holes.

Spoon custard into the tart shells to fill no more than half way. Refrigerate the remaining custard to eat later. Bake tarts at 375 degrees for about 45 to 50 minutes, or until filling puffs, then subsides, and turns dark in spots. Cool. Serve tarts at room temperature or chilled. Makes 12 tarts.

TIDBITS
Ruth Reichl book signing:
The former New York Times restaurant critic and Gourmet magazine food editor will give a free lecture at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 25 at the Canton Palace Theater. Afterward she will sign copies of her 2014 novel, “Delicious.” Reservations are required from http://www.starklibrary.org.

Musings on food and life:
Lists of the best food memoirs of all time are a thing now. I’ve seen lists on Amazon, Pinterest and Food52. A Canadian friend, former Toronto Star food editor Marion Kane, has an interesting list. Check it out here: https://www.marionkane.com/recipe-2/im-eating-delicious-food-memoirs/.

I segued from reading mostly fiction to mostly memoirs and biographies a decade ago. My latest reads include “Mastering the Art of French Eating” by Ann Mah, “Medium Raw” by Anthony Bourdain and “Hunger: A Memoir of My Body” by Roxane Gay.

Because everyone is doing it, I might as well, too. Here’s my list for the best food memoirs I’ve read, in no particular order:

“The Art of Eating” by M.F.K. Fisher; “Born Round” by Frank Bruni; “Kitchen Confidential” by Anthony Bourdain; The Tummy Trilogy (three books) by Calvin Trillin; “Garlic and Sapphires” by Ruth Reichl; “Heartburn” by Nora Ephron, and “Blood, Bones and Butter” by Gabrielle Hamilton.

Are there any I missed?

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Pumpkin pie; honey-mustard pork chops, stir-fried bell peppers and olives with Szechuan chili oil; cornbread, venison-lentil chili; soft-scrambled eggs with truffle salt, buttered toast; French custard tarts; baked leeks, carrots and chicken tenders with a mayonnaise-mustard crumb topping.

What I ate in/from restaurants last week:
Pork chow mein with crispy noodles from Chin’s Place in Akron; pad Thai at the stir-fry bar at Giant Eagle in Cuyahoga Falls.

THE MAILBAG
From Sue B.:
On a chilly fall Sunday morning I made your Carrot-Leek with Thyme Soup. Although my carrots were not freshly dug from the ground, the soup is/was just delicious! I will definitely grow carrots next year in the garden. Sharing today with friends as we gather around my new Amish table… so lovely!. I especially enjoyed your writings while in France. Lucky you!

Dear Sue:
Thank you for the feedback on the recipe. That’s nice to hear. I’m also glad you enjoy hearing about my trip to France, because I’m still dishing about it. The trip was my first to France in almost 20 years. The last time I went (with my mother), the Eiffel Tower was not surrounded by wire fences patrolled by gun-toting police, the black swans were still in the ponds at its feet, and the lines to enter the museums and Notre Dame were not a couple of blocks long. But the food is still good and the city is still impossibly romantic.

Before I remarried, I had planned to spend three months in Italy when I retired. Two weeks in France with Tony seems like a fair trade-off.

October 10, 2018

Dear friends,
Despite ambitious plans, I ended up cooking just one or two things during a recent vacation in France. My favorite was a first-course soup made with fat, sweet carrots and leeks we bought at the weekly market in nearby Olonzac.

The soup I tossed together started with a handful of lardons (batons of pork belly, essentially) my friend had in the fridge. I sautéed the chopped leeks and a clove of garlic in the renderings, then reduced some wine to add another layer of flavor. Then in went the carrots, fresh herbs Linda grows in her elevated courtyard, and some of her homemade chicken broth. When I asked for cream to finish the soup after pureeing, Linda hauled out a pot of creme fraiche. A couple of dollops is all it took.

With such exceptional ingredients, the soup was bound to be good. And it was — creamy, complex and a touch sweet from the carrots, with notes of herbs. We served it at room temperature in stemmed martini glasses. Ooh la la.

When I returned home I made the soup again to measure the ingredients and construct a recipe. Even without lardons, French carrots, homemade stock and creme fraiche, the soup is pretty good. Actually, more than pretty good.

Make this with the new crop of freshly dug carrots, and serve it warm on a crisp fall day.

CARROT-LEEK SOUP WITH THYME

2 slices bacon, chopped
2 leeks, white part only
1 fat clove garlic, chopped
Sprig of thyme
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup dry white wine
5 medium carrots, cleaned and sliced
1 quart chicken broth
1/2 cup cream

Render bacon in a 4-quart saucepan. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside to drain. Slice white part of leeks in half lengthwise and clean well under running cold water. Drain. Roughly chop. Sauté in bacon fat with garlic over medium-high heat until leeks are wilted, adding olive oil if needed.

Stir in thyme, bay leaf and salt. Add white wine and boil until reduced by half. Stir in carrots. Add chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered for 35 to 40 minutes or until vegetables are very soft.

Remove thyme stem and bay leaf from soup. Puree until smooth with a stick blender or in batches in a food processor, returning to pan. Stir in cream and heat through. Ladle into cups or bowls. Makes 6 cups soup. Soup may be served hot, cold or at room temperature.

TIDBIT
If you have room on your shelf for more cookbooks and you live in or near Akron, you won’t want to miss the Akron Summit County Public LIbrary’s Big Book Sale this coming Friday, Oct. 12.

James Switzer of Friends of the Main Library reports that although the thousands of used books for sale range broadly in subject matter, “…there will be at least a couple hundred cookbooks, some classic, some specialized (nationality or regional, courses like soups or desserts, techniques like bread machines, Crock Pots or pressure cookers, health books on diets and heart-healthy).”

The books will go for $1 for most hardbacks, 50 cents for paperbacks and 25 cents for series romances. The sale will spill over into the lobby from the gift shop, and will be held during regular library hours. Switzer notes that parking is free on Saturday in the deck adjoining the library on High Street.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Sautéed chicken tenders with herbs de Provence over mesclun salad with toasted walnuts and dried cranberries; carrot and leek soup, pan-grilled strip steak, green salad with cucumbers.

What I ate out last week:
Lentil salad, mustard chicken, mashed potatoes, wedge of Camembert, pineapple cake on Air France; Szechuan wontons in chile oil and a platter of hot and spicy Hunan blue crabs in a sticky sauce at Cheng Du Spicy Food in Flushing, N.Y.; pepperoni pizza from Rizzi’s in Copley; superfoods salad and spicy beef kefta roll at Aladdin’s in Montrose; Macedonian bean soup and half an egg salad sandwich at Village Gardens in Cuyahoga Falls; ham salad on whole wheat at Honey Baked Ham in Montrose.

THE MAILBAG
From Janet C.:
Regarding the items you saw in French supermarkets: When I was with my niece in France last year to visit her daughter, an exchange student, we were fed mightily at each of her host’s homes. One of the families served a meal made of different kinds of crepes. The lady was able to purchase the crepes at the store, with a sheet of paper like between deli meats between each one.

The main course was huge crepes cooked in a skillet in butter, topped with ham and cheese, and while the cheese melted, a fried egg with a runny yolk was done in a separate skillet and placed in the center, then folded like a packet for each person.

The dessert crepes were smaller and cooked again in lots of butter with either just sugar, hazelnut spread or jam in them. The meal was accompanied by an oil and vinegar-dressed salad and copious amounts of wine. I do not know of anywhere you can simply pick up fresh crepes.

Dear Janet:
Great idea for easy entertaining as long as you don’t have to make the crepes, right? I remember years ago Frieda’s Finest marketed crepes that were sold in the produce sections of some stores. I haven’t seen them lately.

From James S.:
I never tasted West Point’s double (triple) ginger cookies, but Trader Joe’s has triple ginger snaps. Not to die for, but the best I ever ate.

Dear James:
I think it’s a about time we got a Trader Joe’s in Akron.