August 24, 2016

Dear friends,

On one of those sweltering evenings last week I wanted to serve something refreshing for dinner. Ice cream came to mind, of course, but Tony doesn’t consider it a meal. It’s a flaw but I love him anyway.

The meal I ultimately made served four. Tony ate three portions, so I think he liked it. It was a luscious noodle salad with lacquered chicken strips, cilantro, green onions and red pepper strips in a lime-fish sauce-peanut dressing. Garlic and mint were in there somewhere, too.

This was a case where I started with a recipe, changed some of the major ingredients and revised the cooking or prep methods of others. My version goes into my permanent recipe file.

Despite the number of ingredients, the salad was not hard to make. It goes together quickly after everything is chopped and/or cooked and lined up.

The next time I make it I’ll do my mise en place (prepping the ingredients) a little at a time throughout the day, making the final preparation practically painless. If you want to cut the prep time, you could use rotisserie chicken, but you’ll sacrifice some flavor.

The dressing may taste too fish sauce-y when you taste it by itself, but don’t tinker. The strong flavor blends and mellows when mixed with the bowlful of noodles and vegetables.

This meal is the opposite of those boxed “Suddenly Salad” things (the name is hilarious). Think of it as “Gradually Salad” but with actual flavor.” Now on to the ice cream.

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ASIAN LIME-PEANUT NOODLE SALAD
Dressing:

2 tbsp. sugar
3 tbsp. fish sauce
1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 tsp. dried red pepper flakes

Salad:

1 1/2 cups bean sprouts
8 oz. angel hair pasta
1/2 cup chopped cilantro, loosely packed
2 green onions, green parts only, sliced thin
1/4 cup roasted unsalted peanuts, pulsed to a fine meal in food processor
3 tbsp. vegetable oil
1/4 of a large red bell pepper, cut in thin strips and halved lengthwise
1 tsp. chopped garlic
12 oz. boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut in 1/4-inch-wide strips
1 tbsp. soy sauce
Whole peanuts, whole cilantro leaves and lime wedges for garnish

Mix together dressing ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

Bring 3 to 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Measure bean sprouts into a long-handled strainer.

Dip into the boiling water for 30 seconds, then dip back out and refresh under cold water. Set aside.

Add a tablespoon of salt to the boiling water and cook the pasta until al dente. Drain and refresh under cold water to stop the cooking. Drain well.

Transfer to a large serving bowl. Add the bean sprouts, chopped cilantro, green onions and peanut meal and toss well.

Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add red pepper strips and stir fry for 30 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and add to salad. Pour dressing over noodles and toss well.

In the same skillet, sauté garlic for a few seconds, then add chicken and stir fry about two minutes or until exterior of chicken pieces turn white. Add soy sauce and continue to stir fry until chicken is cooked through and glazed a dark brown.

Toss salad thoroughly again to distribute ingredients and dressing. Arrange chicken over noodles and scatter whole peanuts and coriander leaves on top.

Serve with lime wedges. Makes 4 servings.

TIDBIT
My husband will have a hard time keeping me away from Norton on Wednesday evenings for the foreseeable future. That’s where I found some of the best meatloaf I’ve ever had. On Wednesdays at the Wolf Creek Tavern chef Joe Wingate cuts thick slabs of his already-great meatloaf, wraps the edges in bacon, grills them over wood and serves them with upscale sides for just $12.
Wow.

The big pile of mashed potatoes was buttery and creamy and I loved the well-seasoned broccoli rabe, but the meatloaf was just awesome. Joe said he got the recipe from another cook’s grandmother. It was moist, tender, and smoky from the fire. Joe confirmed he used fresh bread crumbs soaked in milk as the binder.

Wolf Creek is at 3044 Wadsworth Rd. in Norton. The phone is 234-571-4531. See you on meatloaf night.
THE MAILBAG
From Geoff:
Amy F. asked about pine nuts. I happened to see them at C.J. Dannemiller’s (800-624-8671). Not sure of their origin but I’m sure a call to them would help. This is a great place to buy many varieties of nuts as long as you can handle slightly larger than normal quantities.

Dear Geoff: Thanks for telling us about Dannemiller, a vending supplier on Hametown Road in Norton.
I doubt many home cooks would want a 55-pound case for $71 (about $13 a pound), but as you point out, smaller quantities are available. The surcharge for partial cases is 30 cents per pound. Unfortunately for Amy, the pine nuts are from China, a rep says. Check out the company’s other products at http://www.cjdannemiller.com.

From Marilyn:
I buy my pine nuts at Gallucci’s on the eastside of Cleveland. Think they come
from Italy and are good!

Dear Marilyn: The pine nuts at Gallucci’s are from Italy, a rep says, and are $19.99 a pound. They are scooped and weighed when you order, so any amount may be purchased. The store’s website is http://www.tasteitaly.com.

From Kay B.:
We moved from Akron to Santa Fe in 2000. Fall has two amazing harvests: New Mexico chilies and New Mexico pinons (pine nuts) — better by far than imports.

Piñon Nuts: Euell Gibbons, the famous naturalist from the 1970s (seen on Grape Nuts commercials), described the New Mexico piñon nut as the best-tasting wild food in the world. He did not say all pine nuts, just the New Mexico piñon nut (Pinus Edulis). If you have ever tried one, you would remember the flavor… no pine resin taste, just creamy toasted goodness. There is only one number one wild food in the world and this is it.

Nevada Pine nuts, are very “resinous” and have a strong pine taste. You can tell instantly that it is a pine nut or could guess even if you never tried one before. Nevada Pine nuts (Pinus Monophelia) are sold in the Southwest when New Mexico piñon nuts run out.

Asian Imports: Pine nuts from Korea have a slightly less resinous taste than Nevada Pine nuts, but one could still know they are from a pine tree. China has the blandest pine nuts, unfortunately. Because of improper handling, or possibly an inherent characteristic of the species, they tend not to store well, and go rancid within 12 months.

Italian pignolia Most similar in taste to New Mexico pinons — very creamy, buttery toasted flavor with the slightest hint of pine taste… but many have blamed over cultivation to the blanding of the flavor of this variety.

Dear Kay: Thank you for the wonderful information. Your email reminded me of a trip I took to New Mexico once. I bought a sack of unshelled pinon nuts at a Navajo trading post and spent the next few days painstakingly cracking and eating them. It was tedious but when food is involved, I’m persistent.

From Brad P.:
Do you always put butter into your pesto?

Dear Brad: No, but I often do when I serve it over pasta. It gives the sauce a more luxurious texture and flavor. Plus, Marcella Hazan says to add butter, so who am I to argue?

 

August 10, 2016

Dear friends,

Before I start raggin’ on Iowa’s loose meat sandwiches, I’ll admit Ohio has a kind of loose meat chicken sandwich – shredded chicken, popular in the southwestern part of the state – that is blah, too. The one I tried, that is.

I had higher hopes for Iowa loose meat sandwiches, though. The regional specialty, which also can be found in Nebraska and probably elsewhere, has been extolled in magazines and guide books including my travel bible, “Roadfood,” by Jane and Michael Stern.

The sandwich at its most basic is a soft burger bun filled with crumbled and browned ground beef seasoned with salt and pepper. Mustard and dill pickles are the usual toppings. I almost fell asleep in my lunch when I was served that boring version at the Maid-Rite diner in Newton, Iowa. Maybe the cook had an off day. I’m told loose meat often is seasoned with Worcestershire sauce, or a sploosh of mustard right in the pan, or vinegar and sugar. Mine wasn’t.

Newton was one bummer after another. We stopped there not only for the sandwiches but to visit the headquarters of Maytag Blue Cheese and buy a hunk.

The low-slung building, bordered by cornfields, was open when we pulled into the lot. Under trees on the sloping lawn, workers were arranging vases of flowers on linen- swathed picnic tables. Uh-oh. Yes, hectic preparations for an important dinner were afoot (for the American Cheese Society, we learned later). The showroom cheese cases were empty.

We stopped at a supermarket on the way out of town to snag some cheese, which we were really craving by then. We found brands from elsewhere but no cheese from the lauded fromagerie up the road.

The cheese nagged at me for the rest of the drive through Iowa, but what really occupied my mind was that loose-meat sandwich. In junior high, my cafeteria served a variation called “runzaburgers,” a German via Nebraska specialty featuring ground beef and finely chopped cabbage. I could do better than either, I was sure. I invented recipes in my head as miles of corn fields flashed past. Of course, by the time we hit Illinois I was ragingly hungry for ground beef and corn on the cob.

I satisfied the corn craving the day after we hit Ohio. This week I took care of my craving for ground beef.

“This is loose meat on steroids,” Tony said as he watched me cook. I gave the Midwestern sandwich an Asian twist with garlic, ginger, onions and soy sauce cooked with the meat, and lime juice added at the end. We piled the loose meat on big ciabatta buns and topped the mounds with a slivered carrot salad dressed with vinaigrette, along with fresh mint and basil leaves.

With apologies to Iowans, if you’re going to have loose meat this is the way to go.

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VIETNAMESE LOOSE MEAT SANDWICHES
3 tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 cup chopped onions
2 tsp. peeled and chopped ginger
1 1/2 tsp. chopped garlic
1 lb. ground beef
1/4 cup soy sauce
Juice of 1 lime
1 1/4 cups carrot-broccoli slaw, homemade or commercial
2 tbsp. vinaigrette dressing
Salt
12 mint leaves
12 basil leaves
4 large hamburger buns or ciabatta rolls

Heat oil in a large skillet. Saute onions over medium heat for about 2 minutes. Add ginger and garlic and sauté 1 minute longer. Do not brown.

Crumble meat into skillet and stir to combine with onions, ginger and garlic. Break up any large pieces of meat. Cover and cook over medium heat just until no longer pink, stirring once. Drain off fat. Increase heat to high and add soy sauce. Turn and stir until liquid boils away. Remove from heat and drizzle with lime juice, tossing to mix.

Pile meat mixture on the four buns or rolls. Top each with some of the carrot slaw, then the mint and basil leaves. Makes 4 servings.

HELP U COOK

I’d like to remind you again to preheat your skillet before adding oil, then heat the oil before adding the food. These two steps can be the difference between oil-soaked and crisp food. Also, the timing in recipes will make much more sense when you preheat.
THE MAILBAG
From Laura:
When I was young, my mom used to make corn pancakes for breakfast with any leftover corn we had — no measuring, just regular pancake recipe. Also, when corn was in season that’s all we had for supper and we ate four, five or six pieces each. I couldn’t believe it when I got married that my husband wanted to eat a piece or two AFTER we ate a regular supper. And each piece had to be just out of the boiling water. I could never eat it that hot. In fact, I love cold corn with butter and salt.

Dear Laura: That IS a freaky way to eat corn (post-dinner, not your leftover cold method). Corn on the cob seems to be one of those foods that spark family traditions. When I was a kid, we ate corn as a meal, too, but always with sliced tomatoes dabbed with mayo and sprinkled with salt and pepper. If I had kids, they would probably be regaling their spouses about their mother’s habit of eating the first ear raw, on the way home from the farm stand.

From Sherri S.:
Here’s a way to use up some of your beans, from a Women’s Day Article

OVERNIGHT PICKLED GREEN BEANS
3/4 c. white vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
Kosher salt
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1/4 cup fresh dill
1 tsp. whole coriander
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
12 oz. green beans

In a small pot, combine 1 cup water, vinegar, sugar, and 2 teaspoons salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the sugar and salt dissolve, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

Divide garlic, dill, coriander, and red pepper between two wide-mouthed 16-ounce jars. Pack with green beans, then pour the cooled liquid over top. Refrigerate overnight or up to 1 week. (The beans are still tasty after a week; they will just lose their color.)
Dear Sherri: I’ve never been a fan of pickled green beans, but this sounds good. Thanks.

From Lorraine:
I am not successful with blanching and freezing green beans so I make a marinara sauce and freeze the beans in it. They are much tastier than the plain frozen beans that I have made in the past.

Start a quick sauce with :
2 tbsp. olive oil, sauté 1 small onion and 1 whole clove of garlic. When soft and colored lightly add 1 can of plum tomatoes. Add 1/4 tsp of oregano, some parsley and basil to taste. I use fresh from the garden. Also, add 1/2 tsp salt, and a pinch of pepper. Cook quickly for 10 minutes over med high heat. Correct seasoning.

To the tomato sauce I add 1 1/2 pounds lightly steamed beans (cooked about 6 minutes or so). Finish cooking in sauce until tender. They can be eaten as a vegetable with some grated Parmesan cheese, put on pasta, or frozen for later use.

This is not an exact recipe and can change according to the amount of beans I have. I sometimes add a tablespoon of tomato paste to make it richer tasting, but is it flexible. Your recipe looks delicious.

Dear Lorraine: Almost everything freezes better in a sauce than naked, as your green bean recipe illustrates. Thanks.

From Marcia:
Last week, Carol Simon asked for a Greek spaghetti recipe. And while I didn’t clip that particular one, the request reminded me of one of my favorite go-to recipes from the Five Easy Pieces column in the Beacon Journal. “Fast Linguine and Clam Sauce” called for:
1/2 lb. linguine
4 tbsp. butter
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
1 can (6 1/2 oz.) clams

I then throw in more garlic sautéed with a chopped onion or shallot; another can of clams (so you have one chopped, one whole baby clams), undrained;
splashes of lemon juice and bottled clam juice;
a dash of red pepper flakes; and Parmesan for topping.

Not only is this easy, as advertised, but quick.

Dear Marcia: It’s good, too, especially with your tweaks. Thanks for sharing.

We still haven’t found the Greek Spaghetti recipe, although Jan C. recalls it was from the former Papas restaurant in the Montrose area of Fairlawn. The recipe probably ran in Beacon magazine. That content wasn’t always transferred to the electronic database.

July 28, 2016

Dear friends,

I miss Ohio corn season. I miss the fun of buying a hot, buttered ear at Szalay’s, of rushing to Graf Growers on opening day before the first picking is gone, and the camaraderie of the group shuck at Seiberling’s. But Idaho corn ain’t bad.

God knows where — or if — it is grown here, because all I’ve seen on the drive from Colorado to Lava Hot Springs are acres and acres and acres of potato plants and wheat. The fields stretch to the horizon.

Still, the ears Tony and I bought last week in a little supermarket were fat and tender. No one but me was rushing to buy it, though, and I haven’t seen a single roadside stand in Colorado, Idaho, or — this week — Montana or Wyoming.

Maybe the Idahoans save their enthusiasm for potatoes, which are indeed delicious here. The russets we bought taste so fresh, with a tender skin I’ve rarely seen on this type of bagged spud.

But potatoes aren’t corn, not by a long shot. I miss my fellow Ohio corn lovers. We know how to celebrate summer, and it isn’t by tossing a tater in microwave.

For the first week when I get back home, I plan to eat corn on the cop every day — plain, steamed corn. Then I’ll branch out to grilled steaks with roasted corn salsa, fresh corn souffe, corn chowder and corn fritters.

One of my favorite corn recipes sounds fancy but is easy to make. Stir up some pancake batter and add corn. Grill some shrimp. Mash a bit of goat cheese with a canned chipotle pepper. Fry the corn batter and put everything together. It’s summer on a plate.

Corn Fritters With Grilled Shrimp and Chipotle Chevre
Serves 4 as an appetizer

4 ounces chevre (French-style goat cheese), softened
1/2 of a canned chipotle pepper, minced
2/3 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
dash of cayenne
1/2 teaspoon cumin
oil
1 egg yolk
1/3 cup milk
3 ears of corn (about 2 cups kernels)
2 egg whites
8 large raw shrimp, peeled
In a small bowl, combine cheese and chipotle pepper and mix well; set aside.
In a medium bowl, combine flour, salt, cayenne and cumin; stir well. Add 2 teaspoons oil, egg yolk and milk and whisk until smooth. Set aside.

Peel corn and place an ear on end in a bowl. With a sharp knife, cut the kernels from the cob. Repeat with remaining ears. You should have about 2 cups kernels. Stir the kernels into the batter.

In a clean bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until stiff. Fold gently but thoroughly into the corn batter.

Heat about 4 tablespoons oil in a large skillet. For each fritter, drop two rounded tablespoons of batter into skillet, spreading the mixture into a 3-inch disk with the spoon. Cook over medium-high heat until brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels, and keep warm in a 200-degree oven.

Skewer the shrimp, two per skewer, and grill or pan-grill just until tender. Place one or two fritters on each of four salad-size plates. Top each with a skewer of shrimp and a dollop of the chèvre mixture.

Makes four appetizer servings.

TIDBITS

Darn it, we’ll miss the Montana State Fair, which runs through Sunday in Great Falls. We are traveling in the opposite direction. I had hoped to sample some of these midway snacks:

* Lefse (potato flatbread) at the Sons of Norway booth
* Walleye on a stick
* Foot-long (!) corn dogs
* Bacon-beef sundaes
* Deep-fried licorice
THE MAILBAG

From Marty LaConte:
We have our chef’s aprons on for another amazing dinner cooked by Boy Scout Troop 334 in Green at Queen of Heaven Church. On Aug. 13 from 5 to 7:30 p.m. we will be serving an authentic Carolina slow-smoked barbecue.Two of our Scout dads have large commercial sized smokers and they will be camping out the night before in order to get the pork roasts started in the wee hours of the morning. Then at 5 p.m. the public is invited to dig in.

We will have pulled pork roasted with a dry rub and three traditional sauces on the side (red, mustard and vinegar). The dinner will consist of smoked pulled pork, leg-thigh quarter chicken, smoked pork and beans, mac and cheese and cornbread.

We will be cooking for 600 but when it’s gone, it’s gone. The costs will be $10 for adults, $7 for children and $7 for all-sides dinner. The dinner is being held in conjunction with a church celebration with a car raffle, kids’ games and Iive music. It should be a great time so come hungry, bring Tony (but there won’t be any hot dogs) and maybe you’ll win a car.

Dear Marty: Tony and I will be there and, as good as it sounds, so will half of Akron. We’ll come early before the pig is gone.

June 30, 2016

Dear friends,

Everyone makes cold peanut noodles now but no one makes spicy cold soba noodles with basil-mint pesto. That’s because Nina Simonds and I just dreamed it up. Nina came up with the idea in her book, “Asian Noodles,” and I customized it to what I had in my cupboards.

The noodles are a home run for spicy-food lovers. Thin, slippery buckwheat noodles are bathed in a highly seasoned, medium-hot pesto sauce that clings to the pasta. It’s the kind of dish that would look unremarkable on a potluck buffet table, but be gone by the time you fetched the dish to take home.

I served the noodles with grilled steak Sunday. The recipe was a hail Mary after I discovered we had no potatoes, no rice and no vegetables on hand. I paged through Simonds’ noodle book and lifted the recipe for the pesto because my basil plants are beginning to produce excess leaves, and lord knows I have plenty of mint out back.

Simonds tosses the noodles with chicken and a vinaigrette, but I like the noodles with the just the pesto, which I changed to make more sauce-like. Specifically, I added some of the Vietnamese Lime and Chili Sauce I always have on hand. I use the sauce on salads, in stir fries and as a dipping sauce.
I’ve shared the recipe several times but include it again for those who missed it. It keeps for ages in the refrigerator.

If you don’t have the time or ingredients to make the Vietnamese sauce, substitute one-fourth cup lime juice mixed with one-fourth cup soy sauce.

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SPICY COLD SOBA NOODLES
6 cloves garlic
1 cup fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
1 tbsp. Szechuan chili oil
1 tbsp. toasted sesame oil
Vietnamese Lime and Chili Sauce (recipe follows) or 1/4 cup soy sauce mixed with 1/4 cup lime juice
10 oz. (3 bundles) soba noodles

Drop the garlic cloves one at a time through the feed tube of a food processor with the motor running. When chopped fine, remove lid and add basil, mint, chili oil and sesame oil. Pulse to chop leaves. Drizzle Vietnamese sauce or the soy-lime juice mixture through the feed tube with the motor running, using just enough liquid to produce a loose slurry. Set aside.

Cook soba noodles in boiling water for 2 to 4 minutes, or until noodles are tender but not mushy. Drain well and transfer to a boil. Scrape pesto into bowl with noodles and toss to coat evenly. Chill. Toss before serving. Makes about 6 servings.
VIETNAMESE LIME AND CHILI SAUCE
10 cloves garlic, finely minced
Grated zest of 2 1/2 limes
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. lime juice
5 tbsp. distilled white vinegar
3 tbsp. Plus 1 tsp. nam pla (Vietnamese fish sauce)
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. Soy sauce
7 1/2 tbsp. Sugar
5 fresh small red chilies or 1 or 2 jalapenos (or to taste), seeded and minced, or 1 tbsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/4 cups papaya or mango nectar or unsweetened pineapple juice

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

TIDBITS

• You know those semi-awful drinks made with protein powder? Until now I’ve added the protein to fat-free milk and blended it with lots of ice to make a “milkshake.” Sometimes I glam it up with cocoa powder. Pretty good (and good for you), but not half as good as turning the milk-protein mixture into ice cream. Zowie.

The protein powder gives the ice cream a creamy texture and rich flavor, and a cup of it can really fill you up. Currently I use Pure Protein powder, which has 26 grams protein, 2 grams of sugar and 160 calories per scoop. Add a cup of skim milk, freeze it in an ice cream machine, and you have an outrageous, guilt-free snack.

• My computer hates me again, so please resend your email. My mail program refused to forward any mail to me for roughly the last two weeks, so if you sent an email during that time, could you please resend it? I don’t get a ton of emails to my newsletter, so every one is precious. On another matter, why don’t you write more??

THE MAILBAG

From Tracey:
Hi Jane. Thinking of your upcoming knee surgery. Hope it goes well and that recuperation is as speedy and comfortable as possible!

Dear Tracey: Thank you so much. I’m having a knee replacement at the end of August. I need recipes for meals I can make in a toaster in the living room while reclining in a tilt-back chair.

I’m not about to let a bum knee derail my summer plans, though. Before I’m sidelined, Tony and I will hitch up our camper for a month-long trip to Vail, Colo., Idaho’s hot springs, and Yellowstone National Park. I will see everything from the window of our pickup while Tony hikes, kayaks and zip lines. I hope to do some campfire cooking, too, so I’ll keep you posted.

June 22, 2016

Dear friends,

The first night of our vacation to the shore we had carryout from Cracker Barrel in our camper at a highway rest stop in West Virginia during a rainstorm of biblical proportions. What is wrong with this picture? Yes, Cracker Barrel. Not the roadside rest or camper or even West Virginia. I can handle all that, but starting our retirement travels with a meal from Cracker Barrel?

Well, the meal was delicious. I’m not kidding. I dashed into the restaurant (choices of dining spots at the highway interchange were limited) and ordered two of the first item I saw on a wall menu: Campfire Chicken. It’s a goof-proof summer special of seasoned bone-in chicken pieces cooked in foil with carrots, onions, cherry tomatoes and new potatoes. When we opened the packets a few minutes later at the rest stop, the aroma filled our 24-foot camper.

Tony, the dog and I huddled around the table eating while the rain sliced sideways against the windows. We were happy and cozy.

The food got better after we settled in at the shore, but still, the Campfire Chicken was not bad. I kept thinking about it, and ways I could make it gourmet-worthy. After we returned home, I laid in supplies and experimented. The result is a kind of Northern African-inspired dish that can be cooked on the grill or in the oven.

I used bone-in chicken, as Cracker Barrel does, and cooked it in a foil pouch with cherry tomatoes, olives, dates, lemon wedges, onions, carrots and chunks of sweet potatoes. A spice mixture of cinnamon, coriander, ginger and turmeric pulled it all together.

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FOIL-WRAPPED CHICKEN TAGINE
1/2 tsp. powdered ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. coriander
1/4 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. fresh-ground pepper
4 bone-in chicken leg-thighs, breasts or a combination
2 slender carrots, cut in halves and the fat ends sliced lengthwise
1/2 of a large sweet onion such as Vidalia, peeled and cut in quarters
8 grape tomatoes
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives
1 lemon, cut vertically in 8 wedges
4 large pitted dates
1 large sweet potato, pierced and microwaved until almost tender
4 tsp. olive oil

In a custard cup, mix together ginger, cinnamon, coriander, turmeric, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Trim any excess skin or fat from the chicken. Wash and pat dry. Place an 18-inch length of foil on a counter and place another piece of foil, the same size, crosswise on top to form a cross. Place one-fourth of the carrots in the center and arrange one chicken piece on top. Arrange one-fourth of the onion, tomatoes, lemon wedges, olives and a date around the chicken. Cut the potato in 4 chunks and add one to packet. Sprinkle one teaspoon of the spice mixture over the chicken and vegetables. Drizzle with one teaspoon olive oil.

Bring foil up around ingredients, scrunching and pinching to seal. Use remaining ingredients to make three more packets.

Oven method: Place foil packets on two baking sheets and bake at 400 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes, switching positions in oven after 30 minutes.

Grill method: Place over medium-hot coals (about 20
briquettes or medium on a gas grill). Cover with vents half open. Grill for about 40 minutes, depending on heat, or until juices of chicken run clear.

Makes 4 servings. Note: The lemon wedges may be eaten rind and all. They are soft and delicious when cooked.

HELP U COOK

A word, please, about oven tending. When you open an oven door mid-bake or mid-roast, do you leave it open while basting, checking the temperature with an instant-read, or prodding a piece of meat for doneness? Stop it.

Do you leisurely switch the positions of baking sheets mid-bake, letting too much heat escape? Stop it.

I have noticed that many of my friends have no sense of urgency when opening and closing an oven door. If you open the door of a preheated oven and walk four steps to a counter and back to fetch your casserole or unbaked pie, you might as well start preheating all over again. The heat escapes quickly, throwing off not only the timing but the quality of the food.
Try to keep open-door time to a minimum. Have everything you need – food, utensils, hot pads – at your fingertips. Open the door, immediately do what you have to, and shut the door as quickly as possible. If the task requires more than a few seconds of time, remove the food from oven, close the door, and prod or baste at leisure. Then get it back in the oven pronto.

TIDBITS

Where are all the pawpaw trees? I want one so badly I can almost taste it. More accurately, I want a pawpaw badly in order to taste it. I’ve been obsessed since I read a description of the fruit. It reportedly has a creamy texture and tropical flavor that’s a cross between a banana, mango and pineapple. Does that sound great or what?

Pawpaws grow wild in groves in Southern Ohio. They can be grown in Northern Ohio, too. When I was a kid, I remember the pawpaw tree beside the back porch of my grandparents’ neighbor.

Pawpaws are the largest tree fruit native to North America, yet I have never tasted one. How is that possible? I have written about food from my home base in Ohio for 34 years. I have tasted fresh lychees and dragon fruit, rare Japanese haskap berries and Spanish blood oranges, but not a single home-grown pawpaw.

I tried to remedy that this spring by finding a tree and growing the fruit myself, but the biggest pawpaw tree I could find locally was 18 inches. Hey, I’m 66. I can’t wait that long.

Scheduled knee surgery will keep me from attending the 19th annual Ohio Pawpaw Festival Sept. 16-18 at Lake Snowden near Athens, about two hours Southeast of Columbus. I am heartbroken. The festival website is http://www.ohiopawpawfest.com. If you go, would you please, please bring me back a pawpaw?

THE MAILBAG

From Cindy P.:
I am laughing to myself about Tony’s creation (the hotdog face). He’s a big kid inside, isn’t he?

While I don’t make food with faces for myself, I indulge the kid in me by using a lime-green Grinch waffle iron that my daughters bought me for Christmas one year. I think of my daughters every time I use the thing and have it displayed in open, industrial shelving in my kitchen. I don’t care what anyone thinks of it. I love it.

Speaking of waffles, the best I’ve ever eaten are at Brown Sugar Kitchen in Oakland, Calif. The chef/owner puts cornmeal in the waffles and serves them with an apple cider vinegar syrup. OMG. My version — I also add cornmeal, even in the form of grits or polenta, to the batter. No, I don’t use a recipe but I did look at her cookbook to figure out what she did and then I based my version on that. This weekend, I was craving the syrup as well, so I heated some butter, maple syrup, and a tiny bit of balsamic vinegar, and poured that over the waffle. Slightly different and VERY good.

Dear Cindy: I’ll tell Tony you liked his fried hot dog face. He needs no encouragement, though.

Your waffles (with the Grinch iron! Yes!) sound really great. For some reason, I crave things made with cornmeal lately. Putting balsamic in the butter-syrup topping is brilliant.

From Pennie:
I have a food question about mushrooms. You are supposed to wipe them off with a wet paper towel, but I have issues with that. First, they don’t seem as clean as rinsing them. (Aren’t they grown in manure?) And second, it takes a heck of a lot of paper towels to clean a bunch. Am I doing it wrong?

Dear Pennie: Mushrooms are not grown in manure. That’s just a – ahem – dirty rumor that the Mushroom Council spends a lot of money each year to refute. As for the wiping/washing issue, I, too, used to brush and wipe the things, but no more. It’s tedious and doesn’t really clean them well, as you point out.

Mushrooms are porous and will soak up water, which would make them difficult to cook. But that will happen only if you let the mushrooms loll around in the water. If you clean them under running water and dry them right away (here’s where the wiping comes in), they will not ooze an ocean in your sauté pan. And if they do ooze too much, simply turn up the heat and boil it off.

June 3, 2016

Dear friends,

In my continuing quest to have my ice cream and my figure, too, I made yogurt pops last week. Not just plain frozen yogurt pops, but coconut frozen yogurt pops with a mango swirl.

As I write this, on day five, the flavors have finally mellowed and deepened in the freezer. The chalky, bland hints of plain frozen yogurt have faded, leaving a tart tang that works in harmony with the pronounced coconut and fruity mango flavors. So if you make these, be patient. Do not gobble them up immediately.

Also keep in mind that these are low-cal pops. To make something like this taste good takes a bit of time. Most coconut yogurt pop recipes on the Internet call for stirring canned cream of coconut into plain yogurt for texture and flavor. That’s easy, but the product has a ton of calories. Instead I use cookbook author and columnist Mark Bittman’s technique of making a cooked custard to combine with the yogurt. Unlike Bittman I make my frozen yogurt with reduced-fat dairy products, and infuse the custard with shredded, unsugared coconut to produce my favorite flavor.

The custard base helps the texture. So does churning the yogurt-custard mixture in an ice cream machine. That whips air into the mixture as it freezes, which prevents the yogurt pops from hardening into little wands of ice. I’m lucky to have a countertop compressor machine that requires no pre-freezing of the bowl or messing with ice and salt. Any type of machine may be used to churn the mixture, though.

These yogurt pops are going to seriously improve my summer. Now, if I could just figure out how to make a low-cal Dairy Queen Peanut Buster Bar.

yogurtbar.jpeg

COCONUT-MANGO YOGURT POPS
1 1/4 cups skim milk
1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
4 egg yolks
1/4 cup Splenda granulated (or 1/2 cup regular granulated sugar)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups fat-free plain Greek yogurt
1 ripe mango
1/2 tsp. lime juice

Bring milk to simmer. Remove from heat, stir in coconut and cover. Let stand for 1 hour.

Bring milk almost to a simmer again. In a small bowl or 2-cup measure, beat eggs with a fork. Slowly add about a half-cup of the hot milk mixture to the eggs, beating rapidly. Whisk hot egg mixture into the milk-coconut mixture in pan. Stir in Splenda or sugar. Stir constantly over medium-low heat until custard thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Do not allow it to bubble or the eggs will scramble.

Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Cool to room temperature (set bottom of pan in ice water to cool quickly).

Stir yogurt into cooled coconut custard. Dip out one-half cup of mixture. Cover remaining mixture with plastic wrap. Peel and cube mango and puree until chunky-smooth in a food processor. Measure out one-half cup and stir in lime juice. Combine with the half-cup of the coconut mixture. Cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate both mixtures until thoroughly chilled, preferably overnight.

Churn each mixture separately in an ice cream machine if possible, or at least churn the plain coconut mixture. Spoon soft-set coconut-yogurt mixture into ice-pop molds, alternating with a couple of thin layers of the mango mixture. Freeze 4 or 5 days to allow flavors to deepen. To eat, run under hot water and remove from molds. Makes 7 or 8 half-cup ice pops.

TIDBITS

Bomba Tacos & Rum finally opened in Fairlawn in the former Hudson’s space, where walls were knocked out and Hudson’s cozy vibe was considerably lightened up. The restaurant offers tacos, rice bowls and lots of rum – more than 75 varieties including rum cocktails. I can recommend the mojito.

The restaurant is part of a home-grown chain that started in Cleveland in 2007 with Paladar Latin Kitchen & Rum Bar. The offshoot Bomba chain has three locations so far – Akron, Rocky River and Hallandale, Fla.

The “Latin American” food isn’t exactly Latin American; it is “inspired by flavors, ingredients, and dishes from Central and South America, Cuba and the Caribbean,” co-owner Andy Himmel told the Herald in Miami, where authentic Latin American food can be found on almost every corner.

“A South Florida Latin American cuisine’d restaurant hailing from Ohio is like a Peoria-originated Chinese restaurant opening in Shanghai,” the Miami writer noted.

But although you won’t find ropa Viejo or steak palomino on the menu, most of the food is pretty good and the atmosphere is fun.

Best bets: Chunky guacamole, fresh-made, with a list of add-ins you can specify; chicken tinga taco with chipotle sauce, fresh cilantro, onion and hot sauce; and lamb barbacoa taco with plenty of lamb. Skip the empanadas, which taste like they’re made with egg roll wrappers.

The menu and other pertinent details can be found at http://bombatacos.com/fairlawn-ohio/.
SMASHED SWEET POTATOES

I figured if chef Roger Thomas can smash redskins, I can smash sweet potatoes. They turned out pretty good, too.

Choose small, roundish sweet potatoes and cook them in the microwave until tender but not falling apart. Gently smash them between your palms to split the skin in four places around the sides. Marinate for 20 to 30 minutes in a mixture of 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger and 1/2 teaspoon sugar, flipping potatoes once. (Increase amounts for more than two potatoes.) Grill on both sides until crisp.
EEK!
Remember the big package of hot dogs Tony lugged home and I refused to cook? One morning last week I found him in the kitchen making the horror show below for his breakfast. I didn’t say a word; I just got my camera.

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THE MAILBAG
From Michele:
Liver and onions at the Ido Bar & Grille for the man who asked in your newsletter.

From Jocelyn:
I am not a liver and onions fan but my son loves it. Whenever he is in town we go to the Ido on South Main Street in Akron. He can have his treat and I can have just about anything else. One of my favorites is the almond-crusted halibut, delicious.

From George, Akron:
Liver and onions can be had at Rose Villa in the Portage Lakes area.  It’s pretty good.

From Jan C., Uniontown:
My hubby and I like the liver and onions at Rose Villa in Portage Lakes. Comes with good bread, salad, good veggies, and potatoes. Their fresh-cut fries are crispy the home fries too. Yummy and quite reasonable. Met a friend there for dinner a week ago and we all ended up having the liver.

From Martha K.:
Re: liver and onions — tell John to try Edgar’s Restaurant at Good Park, Lanning’s and the 
Ido Bar & Grille.

From Marilyn K.:
Regarding good liver and onions, Farmer Boy restaurant on Cuyahoga Falls Avenue in Akron makes a delicious plate of liver and onions. Real yum ! I tell my hubby it isn’t good for his cholesterol but he will be 90 later this year and is still running around the city, so why stop him now ? Enjoy  !!!

From Debbie:
I’ve never had them myself, but they are on the menu at Lanning’s. They come with the tableside mini salad bar and a side. The menu shows $24. But that includes the excellent service and view of Yellow Creek (if you dress appropriately – if you wear jeans, you can sit in the bar area. Still very nice and the same great service).

From Mary P.:
Years ago I had some of the best liver and onions at Denny’s Restaurants. They have a new location on Home Ave near Chapel Hill. In fact, across from Steak and shake. Hopefully, they still offer it and it’s as good as way back when.

From Sura:
Liver and onions is a simple dish best eaten at home. I’ve never found a restaurant that makes it as good as fresh homemade, and it’s so easy.

Dear readers: Thanks for helping John (and a lot of us, I bet) find the best liver and onions in the area. I can’t wait to try the liver at the Ido and Rose Villa.

May 26, 2016

Dear friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HELP U COOK

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

THE MAILBAG

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

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

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

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

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

May 18, 2016

Dear friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From “Biscuit Bliss” by James Villas.

HELP U COOK

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

Sour cream becomes thin and watery.

Mayonnaise separates.

Cream cheese develops a watery texture.

Cooked egg whites become rubbery.

Icings made with egg whites become foamy.

Custard pie fillings become watery or lumpy.

Raw egg yolks thicken.

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

Fruits and vegetables with a high water content become limp.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 11, 2016

Dear friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

POACHED EGGS, HAM AND CHARRED SCALLIONS OVER HOECAKES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HELP U COOK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 5, 2016

Dear friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

PORK BELLY WITH BOURBON AND BROWN SUGAR

pork.jpg

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

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

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

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

Some serving suggestions:

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

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

• Serve over cheesy polenta or grits.

• Cube and fry with potatoes for an upscale hash.

• Swap it for bacon in a BLT.

HELP U COOK

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

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

TIDBIT

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

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

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

THE MAILBAG

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

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

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