Crispy Soft-Shell Crabs with Szechuan Sauce

Dear Friends,

Tony buys frozen soft-shell crabs by the case for his sushi bar. I love soft-shell crabs. Why, then, has it taken me so long to tap into the mother lode? Tony doesn’t mind sharing, and in fact brought home some soft shells months ago for me to cook. I finally retrieved them from the freezer Sunday, thanks to a recipe I saw in a cookbook when I was looking for something else. This is what jumped out at me: “Stir-Fried Szechuan Lobster with Chili Sauce”  followed by, “This spicy number is one of our favorite dishes in the whole Chinese repertory. It’s also delicious when made with crab or shrimp…”

My apologies to David Rosengarten, author of the “Dean & Deluca Cookbook,” for taking liberties with his luscious recipe, starting with the soft shells instead of hard-shell crustaceans. I deep-fried them rather than stir-fried them in chunks in their shells, and I doubled the sauce recipe. I re-warmed the crispy-crunchy crabs in the sauce and served them over mounds of steamed rice. The crabs were glorious.

The spicy-sweet sauce is actually more of a glaze. I’m glad I made a double batch, because it was just enough for the six crabs I cooked. My version makes a mildly spicy dish. (I gauge heat by whether I let the dog have a bite, and in this case I did). If you prefer more heat, add one or two more  Szechuan chili peppers.

As part of a Chinese dinner with other dishes, one crab per person is plenty. If serving the crabs alone, as I did, three per person is about right.

Tony loved this meal. I think there are more soft-shell crabs in my future.

CRISPY SOFT-SHELL CRABS WITH SZECHUAN SAUCE
Szechuan sauce:

  • 1/4 cup hoisin sauce
  • 1/4 cup chili sauce (such as Heinz)
  • 4 tsp. rice wine or sherry
  • 2 tsp. soy sauce
  • 2 tsp. fish sauce
  • 2 tsp. chili paste with garlic
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. sesame oil
  • 1 tsp. hot chili oil

For the crabs:

  • 6 frozen soft-shell crabs, thawed
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups panko bread  crumbs
  • Oil for deep frying

For the stir fry:

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp. finely minced ginger
  • 3 tbsp. chopped garlic
  • 1/2 cup sliced green onions, white and green parts
  • 1 dried Szechuan chili (optional)

Combine all sauce ingredients and mix well.

For the crabs:
Drain thoroughly, then place between paper towels and gently but firmly press out  as much moisture as possible. Set aside.

Line up three shallow bowls near the stove. Place flour in one bowl and crumbs in another. In the third, beat the eggs with two tablespoons water.

Heat 1 1/2 to 2 inches of vegetable oil in a wide, deep pan or deep fryer. When the temperature reaches 375 degrees, begin breading crabs: dip each one in flour, shaking off excess, then dip in egg mixture, then coat completely with crumbs. In batches if necessary, fry in hot oil for about three minutes or until a deep golden brown, turning once with tongs. Drain on paper towels.

For the stir fry:
Heat a large skillet over high heat until hot. Add vegetable oil and heat. Reduce heat to medium. Stir fry ginger, garlic, green onions and dried chili for about one minute. Add half of the Szechuan sauce and stir well. Warm three of the crabs in the sauce, turning to coat both sides. Remove to dinner plates or a platter. Stir remaining sauce into skillet and repeat with remaining crabs. Serve over small mounds of rice, drizzled with remaining sauce in skillet. Remove the dried chili peppers before eating.  Makes two servings (or six as part of a larger Chinese meal).

 

schuecrabs
Crispy Soft-Shell Crabs with Szechuan Sauce

TIDBIT   

You’ll never have to eat noodles alone again with the Anti-Loneliness Ramen Bowl. My friend, Cindy, forwarded a link to this bizarre product, which is basically a bowl with a smartphone holder. Check it out at http://www.misosoupdesign.com. Then tell me whether you’d mind chatting with someone who was slurping noodles.

HELP U COOK

If you can’t find frozen soft-shell crabs in your local supermarket, try a seafood store such as Klein’s in Akron or BayLobsters in Twinsburg. They are usually packaged in individual cellophane sleeves. Soft shells are Atlantic blue crabs that have shed their shells and are caught before their new shells harden. The entire thing is edible, so no cleaning is required. When thawed, the crab should smell sweet, with a faint salt whiff of the sea.

THE MAILBAG

From K.K.:

It seems your slow cooker chicken paprikas recipe is missing!

Dear K.K.: Ayiii! I promised it last week, then forgot. Here it is:


SLOW COOKER CHICKEN PAPRIKAS

  • 3 chicken breast halves (bone-in)
  • 3 chicken thighs 
3 chicken legs
  • Salt, pepper
  • 2 tbsp. sweet Hungarian paprika
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup sour cream

Wash chicken pieces and trim off excess skin. Rub all over with salt, pepper and paprika. Place in crockery cooker. Scatter onion over chicken. Pour in chicken broth. Cover tightly and cook on high setting for 30 minutes. Turn to low setting and continue cooking for 6 to 7 hours, or until chicken is tender. Just before serving, stir in sour cream. 
Makes 6 servings.

From Dennis Altieri, Stow:
Hi Jane. Wolfgang Puck Versa Cooker is a slow cooker that is not your mother’s slow cooker.  You can braise in it as well as slow cook; it saves steps and pans.

Dear Dennis: I hadn’t heard of this new version. I’ll put it on my birthday list.

From Joan, Copley:
You mentioned stuffed pepper soup in your last email. Do you have a recipe for stuffed pepper soup made in a slow cooker? How can you figure out how many servings you get in a 4- or 6-quart cooker? Our church is having a “souper” bowl luncheon and I need to know how much soup a 4- or 6-quart cooker makes.

Dear Joan: One cup is generally considered a serving of soup. So if you fill your 4-quart cooker, that would be 16 servings. A 6-quart cooker would hold 24 servings. Subtract a couple of cups if the soup doesn’t fill the cooker all the way to the top.

Use a regular soup recipe, browning the the ground beef and aromatics (onions, garlic, etc.) in a skillet before transferring to the slow cooker and adding the remaining ingredients. You could brown the stuff in the cooker on high power, but using a skillet is quicker. Liquid doesn’t evaporate in a slow cooker, so add it after the other ingredients, using just enough to produce the  ratio of solids to liquids that you prefer. Here’s my stovetop version of stuffed pepper soup. In the winter I use frozen whole tomatoes from my garden instead of canned tomatoes, and roasted frozen green and hot peppers.

STUFFED PEPPER SOUP

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 or 4 bell peppers, seeded and cut in large chunks
  • Hot peppers to taste
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • Salt, pepper
  • 1 tbsp. chili powder
  • 4 cups beef broth
  • 2 cans (28 to 32 oz. each) whole plum tomatoes
  • 1 cup uncooked rice

Heat a soup kettle over medium-high heat. Add olive  oil and when it begins to shimmer, add peppers and cook, covered, until peppers are limp, stirring often. Remove  from pan with tongs and set aside. In same pan, adding more oil if needed, sauté onions and garlic for 1 minute. Add ground beef and cook until no longer pink. Drain off most of the grease and season beef with salt, pepper and chili powder. Return peppers to pan. Stir in beef broth and tomatoes and their juice, breaking up tomatoes with a spoon. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes or until flavors are blended. Add more salt and pepper if needed. Stir in rice and continue to cook, covered, for about 20 minutes or until rice is done. Makes about 8 servings.

From Rob:
Four comments about those hard black beans:
1) You’re absolutely right that old beans can get so dry that it is really hard to get them properly softened, no matter how long you soak and cook them.  Rather than boiling, I’d toss that bag and buy a new one.  The difference between “fresh” dried beans and ones that have been in your pantry for a few years is remarkable, and since dried black beans are cheap, why frustrate yourself?  (Oh, and write the date on that new bag so you can keep track of just how long it’s been sitting around.)
2) Use canned beans (I know, I know…).
3) Invest in a pressure cooker – it makes short work of dried beans (of course, the investment in a pressure cooker wipes out the savings of using cheap dried beans!).
4) Cooks Illustrated/America’s Test Kitchen actually suggests using salted water (a brine) to soak your beans.  According to the food scientists, the sodium ions in the water are exchanged for calcium ions in the beans’ skins, which makes them more tender.  For one pound of beans, dissolve 3 tablespoons of table salt in 4 cups of water.  Soak the beans for at least 8 and up to 24 hours.  Discard brine, rinse beans, and proceed with recipe.  I tried this once and the beans did have a wonderful, creamy texture but I found them very salty (and I like salt).

Dear Rob: Thanks for seconding my hunch, that the beans were probably hard because they were old and uber-dry. Also, I appreciate the info on salting beans, an about-face from the accepted lore of years past.

From Peggy:
Ah, venison!  I have a copy of a venison marinade recipe  
published in the Beacon Journal Food section, 
perhaps 20 years ago. I used it several 
times and really like how it not only 
tenderizes venison, but also eliminates that
”gamey” flavor.  Hope you like it!


MARINADE FOR GAME

  • 1 cup  each chopped celery, carrots and onion
  • 1 1/2 cups oil
  • 3  cups vinegar
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup rough-chopped parsley
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp. each thyme, basil, cloves, allspice berries
  • 1 pinch of mace
  • 1 tbsp. crushed peppercorns
  • 6 crushed cloves garlic

Sauté celery, carrots and onions in oil
until the onions are golden. Add remaining 
ingredients and simmer for one hour. 
Strain and cool.

From “The Joy of Cooking.”

Dear Peggy: Nice to know there are other venison cooks out there.

From Kevin Noon:
I am The Environmentally Friendly Knife Sharpener.  We met several years ago when the Countryside Conservancy Farmers Market was at Stan Hywet Hall.  I haven’t seen you in a while and would like to make you aware that Countryside has markets all year long.  Countryside meets twice a month at Old Trail School in Bath.  The next market will be  from 9 a.m. to noon Feb. 9, and then Feb. 23 , March 9 and 23, and April 6 and 27.  Here is a link to the Countryside website.

If you get the chance to come out, it will be nice to see you.  We normally have between 40 and 50 vendors depending on weather — greens, lettuces, meats, baked goods, coffees and teas, even prepared foods.

Dear Kevin: And knife sharpening! Thanks for reminding me (and all of us) of the winter markets. I’ve been hibernating and need to get out. Hope to see you soon.

From Robin Miller, Creston:
Mrs. Millers’ Homemade Noodles (www.mrsmillersnoodles.com), which produces homemade noodles right in Fredericksburg, sells “Old Fashioned Large Pot Pie Squares.”  While I’ve never tasted that variety of noodle, her other varieties are wonderful!  Esther Miller started making the noodles in her home and now produces them commercially in Fredericksburg along with her family.  While I don’t know what stores carry which varieties, I buy her noodles at Buehler’s Markets.  I believe that Giant Eagle and Fisher Foods may also carry her noodles.  This may be the product Barbara purchased at Troyers.

Dear Robin: How interesting! I love to hear about local products like this.

From Bridget:
Regarding produce stores, I much prefer Shaffer’s down the street from Figaro Farms in Uniontown.

Dear Bridget: I forgot about that one. Thanks.

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Crock Pot Recipes: Red-Cooked Duck, Spring Risotto, and Chocolate Bread Pudding

Dear Friends,

I was so busy making soups this week (chili, potato and greens, stuffed pepper, Japanese ramen) that I didn’t take time to create a new recipe. Thanks to an email I got from Jan, I don’t have to. She reminded me of the pleasures of plopping ingredients into a slow cooker and dishing up a meal a few hours later.

She wrote: “I received a Crock-Pot for Christmas and have not had one for at least 15 years.  It did not come with many recipes, which was disappointing.  I was wondering if you could recommend a few of your favorite Crock-Pot recipes and also a good website or book.”

Yes indeedy. When I wrote for the Beacon Journal, I learned to love slow cookers after I spent  a week creating recipes and testing various techniques. Then about five years ago, I really fell in love with the appliances thanks to a terrific cookbook, “Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker” by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann. The women bake bread in the thing. They make risotto. They whip up dreamy, warm bread puddings.

I didn’t do too badly myself years ago when creating the recipes for my column. My favorite among the recipes I came up with is Chinese Red Cooked Duck, a rich, winey entrée that would be great on a blustery night.

By the way, Crock-Pot is the brand name of the original slow cooker. Either capitalize it or bring down the wrath of the folks at Rival.  Don’t forget the hyphen, either.

I’ve taught a few slow-cooker classes and passed along these tips:

  • If possible, brown meats before placing in the cooker. This adds flavor, better appearance and increases the temperature of the meat for safe cooking.
  • Use the correct size slow cooker for the recipe. Most slow cookers work best when one-half to three-quarters full.
  • Generally, foods should be cooked on high power for the first 15 minutes to bring the food to a safe temperature, then lowered for all-day cooking. Some slow cookers have controls that start the food on high power and then automatically switch to low.
  • Cooking foods on high power for the entire cooking time is fine if you’re in a hurry. The food will cook in about half the time. Low power holds the temperature at just below the boiling point while at high power, the food gently simmers.
  •  Oddly, vegetables cook more slowly than meats in a slow cooker, so you might want to nuke that potato before adding it to the roast. Otherwise, your roast will be ready for dinner but the potato will still be hard.
  • When adapting a recipe to slow cooking, increase the spices and decrease the liquid.

The first two recipes that follow are mine, and the last two are from “Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker.” The chicken paprikas isn’t as deeply flavored as traditional versions, but cooks who are in a hurry will like it. The recipe requires no sautéing, browning or stirring.  Everything but the sour cream is placed in the slow cooker in the morning. Just before dinner, the sour cream is stirred in.

More recipes may be found at the official Crock-Pot website, www.crockpot.com

 

RED-COOKED DUCK 

  • 1 whole duck, 5 to 6 lbs.
  • 2 tbsp. oil
  • 6 quarter-size pieces peeled ginger
  • 3 whole star anise (available in Asian groceries)
  • 2 green onions, cut in 2-inch lengths
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 cups dry sherry
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 1/4 cup crushed rock sugar (available in Asian groceries)

Wash duck and cut off the tail and loose flaps of skin with poultry shears or a sharp knife.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Brown duck well on all sides.

Transfer duck to a large round or oval crockery cooker, breast-side down. Add remaining ingredients, including enough boiling water to barely cover duck. The amount of water will vary with the shape and size of the slow cooker.

Cover and cook on high for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to low and cook about 6 hours longer, or until duck is very tender.

Remove and discard as much fat as possible. At the table, with chopsticks, pull duck meat from bones in shreds. Ladle some of the sauce over duck. Serve with rice. Save remaining sauce for flavoring stir-fries.

Makes 4 servings.

 

SPRING RISOTTO

Adapted From “Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker” by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann.

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 medium-size shallots, minced
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 1/4 cups Arborio rice
  • 3 3/4 cups chicken broth
  • 1/4 lb. fresh asparagus
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 cups fresh-grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tbsp. finely minced chives

In a small skillet over medium heat, warm the oil. Cook the shallots until softened, 3 to 4 minutes; do not brown. Add wine and cook, stirring, for a minute or so. Add rice and cook, stirring, until it turns from translucent to opaque (do not brown), about 2 minutes. Scrape mixture into a medium or large round slow cooker. Add broth and salt. Cover and cook on high until all the liquid is absorbed but rice is still moist, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. While rice cooks, trim tough ends of asparagus and cut into 1-inch lengths on the diagonal. After rice has cooked 1 1/2 hours, quickly stir in asparagus. Replace lid and continue cooking. When the risotto is done, it should be just a bit liquidy, and the rice should be al dente – tender with just a touch of firmness.

Stir in 1/2 cup of the cheese, the chives, and season to taste with salt. Pass remaining cheese for sprinkling. Serve immediately, spooned into bowl. Risotto will keep on the Keep Warm setting for an hour or so.

Makes 3 to 4 servings.

 

CHOCOLATE BREAD PUDDING

From “Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker” by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann.

  • 1 1/4 cups whole milk
  • 12 oz. bittersweet chocolate, in pieces or chips
  • 4 to 4 1/2 cups cubed good-quality day-old white bread or challah (1 medium-sized loaf), crusts removed, diced
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup  plus 2 tbsp. granulated or raw sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 3 tbsp. Dutch-process unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/4 cups whipping cream
  • 3 tbsp. cold butter, diced

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, warm milk until bubbles form at edge. Remove from heat, add 8 ounces of the chocolate and let stand until chocolate has melted. Whisk until smooth. Coat a medium-sized round  cooker’s liner with butter-flavor nonstick cooking spray. Add the diced bread. With a mixer or by hand, beat together the eggs and yolks, ¾ cup of granulated sugar, vanilla and cocoa until pale and thick. Slowly stir in warm chocolate mixture and cream. Pour over the bread cubes and push down to submerge. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes or up to 8 hours.

Fold in remaining broken chocolate or chips. Dot with the butter and sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Cover and cook on high until the pudding is puffed, wiggles slightly in center, and a knife inserted into the center comes out mostly clean, 21/2 to 3 hours. An instant-read thermometer in the center should read 190 degrees.

Remove lid and cook on high another 15 minutes. Turn off cooker, cover and let stand for at least 15 minutes before serving warm or at room temperature. Serve with sweetened crème fraiche or whipped cream if desired.

 

TIDBITS

A big welcome to Sherman Provision in Norton for signing on as the newest sponsor of See Jane Cook. I’ve patronized the country meat market for years, and hope some of you will seek them out as well, in thanks for keeping this free newsletter going. That’s a minor reason for supporting Sherman’s, though. It is among the dying breed of full-service butcher shops where the meat is actually cut on the premises. It is owned by Mike and Mauri O’Brodo. He is the head butcher and Mauri, an enthusiastic cook, writes a blog (http://shermanprovision.wordpress.com/) with recipes and information. Coincidentally, her latest entry is about having friends over for roast beef with blackened seasonings, prepared in a slow cooker (along with smashed redskins and strawberry shortcake).  I like what Mauri writes about entertaining:

“We had a great evening.  I know if you wait for everything to be perfect, you will never have anyone over.  Friends are so very forgiving.  They don’t care if everything is perfect.  They just want to see you.”

Exactly.

 

THE MAILBAG

From Barbara:
Try Troyers in Walnut Creek for pot pie noodles. I bought a package several years ago in Amish Country.  They were more rectangle than diamond shaped, but were called pot pie noodles on the label.

Dear Barbara: This is the first I’ve heard of commercially made pot pie noodles. Thanks for the tip

 

From J.A.:
A gallon of mayo????

Dear J.A.: I assume you’re referring to my friend’s recipe for Jimmy’s creamy garlic dressing from the Jan.  4 newsletter. Yes, she made it in gigantic batches for the restaurant. To make one quart, divide everything by 4. That’s still a lot, but  I would hesitate to cut the recipe further.

 

From Becky Tompkins:
I’ve read with interest your collection of sauerkraut ball recipes.  They all sound good, but they all sound like a lot of work!  I found this recipe years ago in some kind of newsletter.  They’re very simple and very good!
SAUERKRAUT BALLS

  • 1 lb. bulk sausage
  • 1 lb. can sauerkraut, drained
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • Milk
  • Bread crumbs

Brown the sausage until there is no more pink. Add sauerkraut and cream cheese. Blend together until the cheese melts. Put in refrigerator until cold. Roll into 1″ balls. Dip balls in milk, then roll in bread crumbs. Bake on cookie sheet at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Makes 40-45 balls.

Guten Appetit!  [It says the recipe is from Germany.]

Dear Becky: Boy, this DOES sound easy. I also like the fact that they’re baked instead of fried. Thanks for sharing.

 

From Michele Kisthardt, Hudson:
Someone took my son pheasant hunting, and he brought home a plastic bag full of pheasant (pieces? – looks like a bunch of chicken breasts). I’ve never cooked or eaten pheasant and there weren’t many appealing recipes online. Most recipes cooked or roasted the entire bird. Do you or your readers have a recipe to recommend? Can it be a substitute for pork or chicken? Thanks for any help you can offer.

Dear Michele: Pheasant is very lean, so it must be handled carefully. I recommend browning the pieces, then cooking slowly in a liquid – essentially a braise, or fricassee.

I cooked pheasant just once, and didn’t feel it was worth the effort for the paltry amount of meat the bird produced. I simmered the pheasant in a wine sauce and served it over polenta. I know there are many recipes for roast pheasant. In some, bacon slices are placed over the breast to keep the meat moist. I don’t think this works. Pheasant is just too dry. I suggest you stick to fricassees. Here’s the recipe I used:

 

BRAISED PHEASANT 

  • 1 pheasant, 2 to 3 lbs., cut into 6 serving pieces
  • Salt, pepper
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 slices bacon, chopped
  • 1 tsp. dried rosemary
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 tsp. tomato paste
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 tbsp. fresh-grated Parmesan cheese

Lightly season pheasant pieces with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large, deep skillet. Add onion, bacon, rosemary, cloves and bay leaves and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until onion softens, about five minutes.

Add pheasant pieces and cook until golden on both sides, about five minutes per side.

Stir in tomato paste, then wine, scraping up browned bits on bottom of pan. Add broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, for 30 to 40 minutes, until pheasant is tender.

Transfer pheasant to a platter or wide, shallow bowl and keep warm. Bring sauce to a boil. Boil until thickened and reduced to one cup. Pour over pheasant.

Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Serve with polenta, rice or couscous. Serves two to four.

 

From Mike:
I love America’s Test Kitchen. The recipes usually come out perfectly. I recently saw a recipe for traditional black beans and rice. I followed the recipe but could not get the beans to soften. Too bad, because the remainder of the recipe was really great. I soaked the beans overnight — probably about 18 hours. After soaking, the recipe called for cooking the beans for about 40 minutes. I cooked them for an hour and a half but the beans were still fairly hard. Do you have any suggestions? I went ahead and made the recipe with the hard beans. The rice was excellent.

Dear Mike: Experts say that salt can make the beans tough if added during cooking rather than at the end. I don’t think this is your problem, though. My best guess is that your beans were just really dry – possibly from age. My suggestion if you encounter this problem again is to bring the beans to a boil and soak a few hours more before proceeding with the recipe. Anyone else have a better idea?

 

From Barbara Wendell:
Re: Your column about pomegranates. This is also persimmon season. We ate them a lot when we lived in Florida.  They are full of vitamins and fiber.  We could get a bag full of about 10 to 12 for $3 from a roadside fruit stand or $1.29 each in the grocery store.  They are a another funny little fruit, that looks like a small orangish tomato, but they are firm, sweet and delicious.  Where can I buy them in Summit County?

Dear Barbara: I’m surprised you haven’t found them in grocery stores. If available, they’d probably be in the tropical/exotic fruit section, near the mangos and pomegranates. I bought one last weekend at an Asian grocery store. Another good place to look is in produce stores such as Krieger’s Market in Cuyahoga Falls (http://www.kriegersmarket.com/) and Figaro Farms in Uniontown.

 

From Jean Brown:
We were regulars at Yocono’s restaurant when we lived in Akron for more than 50 years. On Saturdays the restaurant served stuffed bell peppers in a plate-sized metal pan with a handle. It was broiled or baked in this pan with a toasted red sauce with some cheese around the sides of the bell pepper. Can you help me find a recipe?

Dear Jean: I don’t have this Yocono’s recipe, but I’m hoping someone else does. If they share it, I’ll forward it to you. Your description makes me sorry I missed those stuffed peppers.

Henry’s Jerky

Dear Friends,

Tony phoned while I was out shopping one Saturday afternoon in December.

“I just wanted to warn you,” he said, “that two deer are hanging in a tree out back.”

I lived most of my life without having such conversations. I didn’t run in those circles. My loved ones were more likely to warn me not to trip over the case of champagne in the kitchen, or that the caviar in the fridge wasn’t imported Oesetra but domestic paddlefish, sorry, honey.

Because he’s a Tokyo-trained sushi master, Tony can actually MAKE caviar, knowledge that thrilled me when I met him. But he doesn’t fish for pregnant sturgeon. He kills deer. I am kind of horrified that he’s capable of such a thing, while at the same time I like venison. But to drive home the down side of hunting, I always name the animal and make Tony eat the meat.

“We’re having Loretta tonight,” I’ll say.

Tony The Hunter

In the six years I’ve known Tony I’ve become a pretty good venison cook. In fact, so good that Tony looks forward to evenings when Loretta or Betty or whomever is on the menu. The secret, in case you get your hands on some wild venison, is not in the recipe but in the way the deer was killed (hunters call it “harvested,” a ridiculous euphemism; I call it “killed,” just as I call the cable Outdoor Channel Tony subscribes to the “dead deer channel.” If you watch it long enough, a deer is gonna get it.) Anyway, when a deer is dispatched cleanly and quickly, before adrenalin has time to shoot through the body, the meat does not taste “wild.”

This hunting season Tony killed two does specifically for the meat. A butcher ground half of the meat and carved the rest into roasts. The roasts are for making jerky, a new venture for us. We bought an old hand-crank meat slicer at a yard sale and I located my favorite jerky recipe. We couldn’t wait to get started.

Sunday was jerky day. Tony sliced and I marinated. We cut the meat into thin strips and layered them in a large, plastic-lined roasting pan. I sprinkled each layer with marinade before adding the next layer of meat. Today is drying day. The aroma of meat and spices wafts through the house as I write. My recipe says to dry the meat at 140 to 160 degrees until all moisture is gone. The meat should bend without breaking. I can’t wait to taste it.

……

OK, I’ve tasted. Now it’s Tuesday morning. A gallon-size zip-lock bag bulging with jerky is sitting on the counter and more venison is marinating in the refrigerator. The jerky tastes like the beef jerky we buy in stores. We did it! And by the time the second batch is finished, we’ll have enough jerky to get a small town through the winter.

We’re making a second batch because the first batch doesn’t taste exactly like Henry’s. He’s my friend’s late father, a butcher who made beef jerky in his basement and gave me  the recipe. I think he guessed on the amount of meat when writing down the recipe, because there was barely enough marinade to sprinkle over each layer. I tripled it for the second batch, and that’s the recipe I’m sharing below.

Hunters and recipients of hunters’ largess will be pleased with the flavor it produces, and also with the technique. The meat may be dried in an oven. Henry used a food dryer set at  140 to 160 degrees, but I used my electric oven, even though the  temperature cannot be set that low. I heated the oven to the lowest temperature possible, 170 degrees, and then turned off the oven. Every half hour or so I’d punch in 170 degrees again and the digital readout would display the actual temperature. When it fell below 130, I’d heat the oven again.

Those who don’t have access to venison may use beef to make this jerky. Or if you happen to have a pregnant fish, give me a call and we’ll trade.

HENRY’S JERKY

  • 2 tbsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp. garlic powder
  • 3/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 3/4 cup Liquid Smoke
  • 4 to 5 lbs. lean boneless venison or beef roast, sliced 1/8-inch thick

Combine all ingredients except meat in a large measuring cup or small bowl. Stir will.

Arrange three or four layers of meat strips in a glass, stoneware, plastic or plastic wrap-lined metal roasting pan, spooning marinade over each layer. Pour remaining marinade over top. Cover tightly and refrigerate for 6 to 12 hours.

Remove meat from marinade and pat dry. Place in a single layer on mesh screens or cooling racks  set over foil-lined baking sheets. Dry at 140 to 160 degrees for 8 hours or until there are no more moist spots. The meat will bend but not break when warm. A cooled piece will crack when bent but will not break.

To dry in an oven: Heat to the lowest temperature possible, put trays of meat in the oven, then turn oven off if temperature is above 160 degrees. Check every 30 minutes, re-heating oven when temperature drops below 140 degrees on the digital readout or on an oven thermometer.

HELP U COOK

The last time I made homemade mayonnaise, about a month ago when I ran out of Hellman’s, it turned out badly. I had been watching too much “Master Chef” and thought I could whip it up without a recipe. Hah! Even adding an extra egg yolk didn’t rescue the thin, sloppy mess I had produced. I now know to use a recipe and if that fails, look up the mayonnaise rescue technique rather than trust my memory. Here’s how to rescue broken mayonnaise, according to James Beard: Pour the separated  mixture into a clean  measuring cup. Wash and dry the food processor bowl. Process two egg yolks in the clean bowl. Then slowly pour the separated mixture through the feed tube. The mayonnaise should rebind.

Now here’s a question for you. Do you think those contestants on “Master Chef” really make all those dishes without recipes while racing the clock? This is the Gordon Ramsay series that runs on Fox. Not “Hell’s Kitchen,” the other one. The contestants are  home cooks, for crying out loud. Even I can’t whip up souffles and mayonnaise without consulting a recipe, and I worked with food 40 hours a week for 25 years. Sautees, roasts and even bouillabaisse, yes. Recipes requiring precision such as souffles, cakes and mayonnaise, no.

Master Chef, my favorite food program, will be back for season four sometime this spring. Tryouts were held in Cleveland last fall, so maybe we’ll see a local contestant.

THE MAILBAG

From Sharene:
For the sauerkraut balls in last week’s newsletter, what type of sauce would one serve with that? I am new to making any kind of meatballs. Thank you.

Dear Sharene: Sauerkraut balls are usually eaten without sauce. If you’ve never made a meatball, these may be challenging. The sauerkraut-ham mixture is very soft and kind of tricky to work with. Be  forewarned. Another recipe for the cocktails snacks follows.

From Leslie Kennedy:
Here’s an alternative recipe for sauerkraut balls. It was given to me by Betty Sikora of North Canton over 30 years ago.  It is a New Year’s family tradition — I always make a double batch!  They freeze well and can be reheated in a 400-degree oven for about 20 minutes.

SAUERKRAUT BALLS

  • 1/2 lb. sausage (like the regular Bob Evans in a tube)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped onion (or one small-medium)
  • 16 oz. jar or can of sauerkraut, drained and chopped
  • 2 to 3 tbsp. dried bread crumbs
  • 3 to 4 oz. cream cheese (lowfat Neufchatel is fine)
  • 1 tbsp. dried parsley
  • 1 tsp. mustard
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 2 eggs, beaten with ¼ cup milk
  • Flour for coating
  • Dry bread crumbs for coating (I use homemade dried rye bread crumbs)
  • Oil for deep frying

Brown and drain sausage and onion. Cool slightly. Transfer to a large bowl. Stir in sauerkraut and the 2 to 3 tablespoons bread crumbs. (At this point I usually throw the sausage/sauerkraut mixture in the food processor and process slightly to get the big lumps out.)

In a separate bowl or food process mix cream cheese, parsley, mustard, garlic powder and pepper. Add to sausage mixture and mix well. Chill at least one hour.

Roll into small walnut-size balls. Dip into the egg mixture, then flour to coat, then egg mixture again, then roll in bread crumbs. Fry in deep fat fryer until golden brown. Drain.  Enjoy!

Note: I like to use the food processor to mix everything well and chop finely so it all rolls into balls easily. Having a couple extra hands to form an assembly line makes it go faster and lessens the labor. It’s work but oh, so worth it!

Dear Leslie: Thanks so much for sharing. The addition of cream cheese sounds good.

From O.R.:
I’m looking for a really good recipe for homemade Russian dressing or, failing that, a lead on where I can buy a nice bottled version. This stuff just doesn’t seem to exist in stores!

Dear O.R.: Hmmm. I haven’t used Russian dressing in so long that I didn’t notice it had disappeared from stores. The pink-tinged dressing with its mayonnaise base tasted great on iceberg wedge salads, I recall. Its high calorie content (all that mayo), may be why it declined in popularity. Then again, maybe not. Its cousin, Thousand Island dressing, is still scarfed up on Reuben sandwiches from coast to coast. For help in resurrecting Russian dressing, I turned to one of my favorite old cookbooks, the 1961 edition of “The New York Times Cook Book” by Craig Claiborne. I still use this book for some of my favorite recipes – country pate, mushroom bisque and satay sauce, to name just three. Claiborne’s recipe for “Russian Dressing a l’Audelan” in made with mayonnaise, chopped beets, and caviar or horseradish. That sounds a bit esoteric, so I consulted James Beard for his version. The dressing is American despite its name, and Beard was an expert on American food.

Whoa. Even Beard used caviar in Russian dressing, I discovered in “James Beard’s Theory & Practice of Good Cooking.” His recipe calls for chili sauce instead of beets, though, and he also zips up the mayonnaise (homemade, of course) with dry mustard, chopped onions and Worcestershire sauce. Beard says the addition of caviar makes the dressing authentic. If using chili sauce, skip the caviar, he advises.
After reading these recipes, I don’t think I have ever tasted Russian dressing. Back in the day, caviar was in short supply in my hometown of East Liverpool. We were rolling in pickle relish, though, so those long-ago iceberg salads probably were dressed with Thousand Island.

CRAIG CLAIBORNE’S RUSSIAN DRESSING

  • 1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped cooked beets
  • 1 tbsp. prepared horseradish or black caviar
  • Salt to taste

Mix mayonnaise and beets until dressing is an even pink hue. If horseradish is used, mix it in thoroughly. Caviar should be folded in carefully. Add salt. Refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving. Makes about 2 cups.

JAMES BEARD’S RUSSIAN DRESSING

  • 1 1/2 cups homemade mayonnaise
  • 2 tbsp. finely chopped onions
  • 2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tbsp. red or black caviar (not the best quality)
  • OR 1 tbsp. chili sauce

Combine all ingredients and chill, using either the caviar or the chili sauce but not both.

BEARD’S HOMEMADE MAYONNAISE
(Food processor method)

  • 1 whole egg
  • 1 tbsp. vinegar or lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. fresh-ground pepper
  • 1 1/2 cup flavorless vegetable oil such as canola

Combine egg, vinegar, salt and pepper in processor bowl and process until blended, about 2 to 3 seconds. While motor continues to run. Gradually pour oil through feed tube, slowly at first. As mayonnaise thickens, the sound of the machine will become deeper. Taste for additional vinegar or lemon juice, salt and pepper. Transfer to a covered container and refrigerate up to 10 days.

Pomegranates

Dear Friends,

Each season has its pleasures. I keep telling myself this as I defrost the dog after his romps outside in the snow. The idiot is in heaven.

Oscar in the Snow
Oscar loving the snow.

My snow-season pleasure is pomegranates, which are in abundant supply this month in supermarket produce sections. Prices have dropped as low as two for $1 in some stores, so I intend to eat my fill between now the end of the season, which runs for another three to six weeks.

When did we suddenly become crazy for all things pomegranate, from shampoo and salad dressing to the fruit itself? I can’t pinpoint the exact date, but it stems from the fruit’s coronation as a “superfruit” sometime in the last decade. Pomegranates are high in antioxidants and an excellent source of fiber and Vitamins C and K. I’ve been on a pomegranate kick for about two years, since they became widely available and relatively affordable in stores. This is my second full-on pomegranate season. From November through January or February, whenever the season ends, I will not be without one or two in my refrigerator.

We have California farmers to thank. Although pomegranates have been grown commercially in California for decades, production exploded in the last few years as word of the fruit’s health properties spread. By 2011, more than 30,000 acres were planted in pomegranates in California, up from about 15,000 acres in 2009 and just 2,500 in 1976, according to various industry sources. The 2012 fall crop is expected to be 4 million boxes this year, according to The Packer, a produce trade newspaper. A box equals 28 pounds.

Now there’s even a California Pomegranate Council to promote the fruit (www.pomegranates.org), and websites with health info, recipes and craft projects. On the growers’ site I learned how to juice a pomegranate: Place the whole fruit in a plastic bag and roll and press on a counter with your palm to break all the seeds without cracking the rind. When the crackling sound stops, pierce the rind and squeeze out the juice. Or just place all the arils in a blender and pulverize them. Both methods sound messy (pomegranate juice stains, remember). I think I’ll just buy the juice in a bottle.

In the early days of my affair with pomegranates, when I mostly consumed the arils in glasses of champagne, I told folks to squish the little ruby sacs with the tongue to release the juice, and spit out the seeds. Now I know better. The entire aril is eaten, tiny seed and all.

Last year I moved beyond eating the arils plain, branching out to sprinkle them on salads. This year it occurred to me that since most of the world has been eating pomegranates for centuries (it is one of the oldest cultivated fruits), someone has probably developed a few recipes for them. I went looking, which is when I found the Pomegranate Council and its recipe for Persian Chicken in Walnut-Pomegranate Sauce. This is my new favorite way to ward off the winter blues. Although my dog would disagree, it sure beats rolling in the snow.

PERSIAN CHICKEN IN WALNUT-POMEGRANATE SAUCE

  • 1 pomegranate
  • 1 cup pomegranate juice
  • 1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts
  • 1 1/3 cups chicken broth
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
  • 1 tbsp. molasses
  • 6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
  • Salt, pepper
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups half-slices red onion
  • Hot cooked couscous

Score fresh pomegranate and place in a bowl of cool water. Break open the pomegranate under water to free the arils (seed sacs). The arils will sink to the bottom of the bowl and the membrane will float to the top. Sieve and put the arils in a separate bowl. Measure out 1//4 cup and tie in cheesecloth with kitchen string. Reserve 1⁄4 cup more for garnish. Refrigerate or freeze remaining arils for another use.

In a food processor or blender combine the juice, walnuts, 1⁄3 cup of the broth, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Cover and process for 10 seconds. Stir remaining broth and molasses into mixture; set aside. Season chicken on all sides with salt and pepper. Roll in flour to coat. Heat olive oil in a large, deep nonstick skillet or Dutch oven. Brown the chicken pieces in batches on all sides, adding more oil if needed; drain. Add chicken pieces back to pan.

Pour walnut sauce over chicken. Immerse cheesecloth bag of arils in liquid; add onion and bring mixture to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Uncover and simmer 10 to 15 minutes more or until chicken is no longer pink and sauce is desired consistency, stirring occasionally. Remove cheesecloth bag and discard. Serve chicken and sauce over couscous, garnished with remaining pomegranate arils. Makes 6 servings.

HELP U COOK
This is a good time of year to curl up with an old movie and a bowl of popcorn. If you haven’t done so in awhile, your popcorn may be too old to pop. As the kernels age, they dry out. Moisture inside the kernel is what makes the seed explode. If your popcorn is the microwave kind, sealed in a bag, there’s nothing you can do. But if you pop the old-fashioned way, you can restore the kernels by soaking them in cold water overnight. Drain and allow to dry completely before popping.

THE MAILBAG   
From Ron:
How interesting that you should have the item on “pot pie” in your newsletter. I am from Pennsylvania (near Altoona) and my Mom made this. I had just been planning to make it this week! Last night I made up the ham broth from the bone, and will finish the dish today.

Dear Ron: I’m glad we keep these old-fashioned recipes alive, and discussing them in forums such this helps, don’t you think? Although we may not want to return to a steady diet of such fare,  heritage recipes help preserve the histories of our families.

From Marcia Adair:
Here’s a dilemma I’ve never before encountered until I tried a new recipe for short ribs.  Because there are only two of us, I bought just a pound of meat, while the recipe called for 3 pounds.  No problem — as I’ve done many times, I simply cut the ingredient quantities in half.

Wrong this time.  By the time the onions, garlic, peppers and spices were cooked, the recipe called for a cup of black coffee and a cup of red wine.  The cooking time was then 21/2 hours in a 325-degree oven, covered. When I took the pan out of the oven, the onion pieces were burned, the liquid had all evaporated, and the meat was tough.

Are there good rules of thumb on when and when not to cut back on cooking liquids that I’ve never read before? Looking forward to your advice.

Dear Marcia: This is a tough question. You have to consider the purpose of the liquid in the recipe, decide whether the cooking method will cause any of the liquid to evaporate, and gauge how fast the liquid will evaporate. In the case of your recipe, the purpose of the liquid is to braise the meat. So right away, you know you’ll need enough liquid to come a little more than halfway up the sides of the pile of short ribs.

Even so, the long cooking time (despite the lid, which keeps in moisture) will cause some of the liquid to evaporate. The evaporation time will depend not only on the temperature (moderate in this case) and  cooking time (long), but also the size of the pan. The liquid will evaporate much more quickly in a wide, shallow pan than a small, deep pan, for example.

I guess the rule we’re looking at here is that when the cooking time is long or the heat is high, be generous with the liquid when cutting a recipe in half. Also, monitor the dish while it’s cooking, and add more liquid if necessary.

From Barbara:
Please share your best recipe for sauerkraut balls.

Dear Barbara: Gladly. The following recipe is from the old Bavarian Haus restaurant in Akron. The chef gave me the recipe in 1995 and I shared it in my cookbook, “Jane Snow Cooks.”

SAUERKRAUT BALLS

  • 1 1/4 lbs. ground ham
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 1/4 tsp. granulated garlic or 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 3/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1 medium onion, minced fine
  • 5 lbs. sauerkraut, drained and chopped
  • 4 to 6 cups flour
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 cup milk
  • Flour for coating
  • Dry, unseasoned bread crumbs
  • Oil for deep-frying

In a very large bowl, combine ham, eggs, garlic, peppers and onion. Add sauerkraut and mix well with your hands. Add flour a little at a time, kneading until the mixture is smooth and can be shaped into soft balls. Use only enough flour to achieve the proper consistency. The mixture will be sticky.

Pull off chunks of the mixture and roll between your palms to make balls the size of a golf ball. Place on cookie sheets and freeze until firm, about two hours. While frozen, roll in the flour, then in the egg-milk mixture, then in the bread crumbs. Freeze again and transfer to plastic freezer bags until ready for use, or fry immediately.

To fry, heat oil to 375 degrees. Fry a few at a time (straight from freezer) until the coating is golden brown and a fork easily pierces to the center. If the oil is too hot, the outsides will burn before the insides thaw and cook.

Makes about 96.