Chocolate and Cajeta Cupcakes

May 22, 2013

Dear Friends,

I try to avoid desserts, but there was no getting away from Dorena’s decadent cupcakes. The aroma of homemade chocolate cake filled the kitchen as they baked, and pans of caramelized milk and satiny chocolate ganache lolled seductively on the kitchen counter.

What the heck. I would diet tomorrow, but I had to have a spoonful or six of that ganache immediately, and half of a rich cupcake  later. I’d take the other half home to Tony, I vowed.

The Chocolate and Cajeta Cupcakes were dessert at a post-Cinco de Mayo group cook-and-eat afternoon I enjoyed with friends recently. Appetizers were chips and a layered salsa dip from Dorena and my shrimp and mango tartlets. Kathy and Pat collaborated on the main course of paella (not Mexican but good), Kathy made killer carnitas with warmed corn tortillas, and I furnished the Champagne sangria.

The sangria, chock full of fresh cubed citrus fruits, pears and grapes (and mangos on that occasional), was snubbed in favor of jugs of purchased, pre-mixed margaritas. I couldn’t believe it. I shared my sangria recipe several years ago, but I’m passing it along again because it’s a great summer cooler for a crowd. It’s lower in alcohol than wine, and really stretches a bottle of champagne. Besides, it’s delicious. The fruits are cubed and macerated in a pitcher of mango nectar and juice or – my favorite – a fizzy mango juice drink. To serve, big goblets are half filled with juice and fruit, and topped off with champagne. Play with the proportions until it suits your taste.

Dorena’s cupcake recipe is from the PBS cooking program Pati’s Mexican Table.  Pati Jinich, who was born and raised in Mexico, got the recipe from her sister, she writes in her blog at www.patismexicantable.com.

The chocolate cupcakes alone are great, but she goes one better (actually, two better) by filling the cooled cupcakes with cajeta and frosting them with chocolate ganache. Cajeta is the Mexican form of dulce de leche – a milky caramel that in Mexico is made from sweetened condensed milk. Cajeta is available in cans at Mexican grocery stores.

My friends heaped a plate with leftovers for me to take home to Tony, and I topped the mound with half of the rich cupcake I hadn’t eaten. Tony didn’t get home from the restaurant until about 11 p.m.  As I waited, that cupcake called to me from the kitchen. Tony loved the reheated paella and carnitas. I still haven’t mentioned the cupcake.


CHOCOLATE AND CAJETA CUPCAKES 

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CUPCAKES

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup hot water
  • 3/4 cup cajeta or dulce de leche (available at Mexican grocery stores)

GANACHE

  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 14 oz. semisweet chocolate chopped
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tbsp. unsalted butter

To prepare the cupcakes: Place oven rack in the center position. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter the cupcake molds. With a mixer, beat the butter and sugar until soft and creamy. Beat in egg and vanilla until well combined.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Slowly beat into the butter mixture. Pour in buttermilk and continue beating. In a small bowl, combine hot water and cocoa powder and stir into the batter, beating until combined. Pour the batter into the cupcake molds.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, until the cupcakes rise, are cooked and tanned on top. Transfer to a wire rack and let them cool completely. Using a paring knife, cut a 1-inch plug from the top of each cupcake. Save the cut pieces. Fill each hole with one tablespoon cajeta and replace the cut-out pieces. Top the cupcakes with the chocolate ganache. Makes 12 cupcakes.

To prepare the ganache:
Mash the butter until it’s creamy and has no lumps. Gently melt the chocolate over hot water in the top of a double boiler. Warm the heavy whipping cream slightly. Slowly fold the whipping cream into the melted chocolate. Finish off the ganache by folding in the softened butter and adding sugar until everything is well combined.

From Pati’s Mexican Table by Pati Jinich.

CHAMPAGNE SANGRIA

  • 3 cans (12 oz. each) Knudson Light Mango Spritzer (or 4 cups mango juice)
  • 1 cup mango nectar
  • 1 large orange, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (with skin)
  • 2 limes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (with skin)
  • 1 large lemon, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (with skin)
  • 1 cup seedless grapes, halved
  • 1 to 2 ripe pears, cored and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 2 Tbsp. powdered sugar
  • 2 bottles inexpensive sparkling wine

Early in the day, pour spritzers and mango nectar into a half-gallon pitcher. Add enough of the fruit to fill the pitcher. Stir in powdered sugar. Refrigerate.

To serve, ladle some of the fruit into a wine goblet and fill halfway with the mango macerating liquid. Fill rest of way with sparkling wine. Makes at least 12 drinks.

HELP U COOK

Last week Tony brought home a dozen big morel mushrooms a friend of mine had dropped off at the restaurant. They were so fresh some soil was still clinging to the stalks, Tony said, so he washed them. Aiiii. NEVER wash mushrooms until just before you cook them, I told him. Morels, especially, will rot overnight. So at 10 p.m. I heated a skillet and slowly sautéed the mushrooms in butter. They were incredible.

My advice about mushrooms goes for just about every other vegetable and fruit. Washing and then refrigerating them speeds up decay. So does storing most fruits and vegetables in plastic wrap or bags. I prefer to loosely wrap morels and the asparagus I pick in paper towels and place in the refrigerator’s crisper. They remain fresh much longer this way.

THE MAILBAG

From Lara:
Could the cranberry tart recipe you ran be tweaked to feature rhubarb? I’m
short on rhubarb recipes and it’s growing out there.

Dear Lara: Cranberries have a lot more pectin than rhubarb, so the rhubarb wouldn’t set up as well as the cranberries. I suggest you use a tart recipe developed for rhubarb, such as one of the eight I found at The Rhubarb Compendium (http://www.rhubarbinfo.com/tart), a website that will keep you in rhubarb ideas for years to come. If I had a ton of rhubarb I’d simmer it in batches with a bit of sugar until softened, then freeze the stewed rhubarb in portions to spoon over yogurt, warm biscuits, ice cream and whatnot all winter long.

 

STEWED RHUBARB

  • 4 cups rhubarb in 1/2-inch pieces (about 2 lbs.)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp. water

Combine rhubarb, sugar and water in a 2-quart saucepan. Simmer uncovered over low heat, stirring occasionally, until rhubarb is soft and translucent, about 20 minutes. If necessary, add more sugar to taste. Serve warm or cold.

 

From Jane L.:
In regards to a mailbag question, I saw ramps for sale at Miles Road Market in Solon on Mothers Day.

 

From Carol Wolf:
Jane, The Countryside Farmers’ Market at Howe Meadow in Cuyahoga Valley National Park had ramps on May 11. In previous years, I have also
 purchased them at Mustard Seed in Montrose.

Dear Jane: Thanks for the tip.

 

From Melanie:
How do you cut a mango? I bought a bunch at 49 cents each but make a mess trying to cut them open. Do I peel it like a potato or apple? How do you get around the big seed? Thanks.

Dear Melanie: The big seed is flat on the front and back. Cut the mango from top to bottom along each flat side of the mango seed, removing two big oval hunks. Essentially, you’re cutting the mango in half lengthwise, avoiding the seed. Then place one of the hunks cut side up on the counter and score it in cross-hatches down to the skin, 1/2 to 1 inch cubes. Don’t cut through the skin, though. Then bend the scored fruit so the cubes pop outward. Cut them away from the skin.

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Bone-In Chicken

May 8, 2013

Dear Friends,

Once upon a time, the chicken sold in supermarkets had bones in it. Seriously. No one knew what “bscb” meant, let alone bought any. Chicken came mostly in packages of leg-thigh quarters; bone-in breast halves; “cut up chicken,” which was an entire fryer cut into six pieces (with giblets and neck thrown in); and whole.

I started missing bone-in chicken when I pawed through my freezer recently and unearthed  a lot of boneless breasts and a couple of whole fryers. Then later at the grocery store I became downright nostalgic when I compared the price of boneless breasts to  bone-in chicken thighs, which were on special. I grabbed a package of thighs, determined to return to my chicken roots.

Later I tried to remember what I used to do with bone-in chicken parts. Mmmm. I made paella. I sauced them up for cacciatore. I made a version of chicken paprikas (I actually thought I had invented it until I came across a recipe).  And in one glorious spate of French cooking, I made a gazillion kinds of fricassee.

I started pulling ingredients from the fridge. I had smoky chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, Parmesan cheese and panko crumbs. Hey, I had the makings of a kick-butt stuffing. Of course, to stuff the chicken thighs I would have to – uh – bone them.

OK, I was back to boneless chicken. Before I give you the recipe for this spicy (and economical) chicken fricassee, though, let me go on record as a fan of bone-in chicken. Chicken cooked on the bone simply has more flavor than boneless chicken. So buy some, save some money and treat your taste buds well.

My chipotle-stuffed chicken thighs simmered in wine isn’t too shabby, either. After cooking the little bundles I cut each one into slices and fanned them on plates to show off the stuffing spirals. I had made too much stuffing, which turned out to be a good thing, because I used the extra to thicken the sauce. Yum.

If you’re new to boning chicken, don’t be intimidated. It’s pretty easy if you think of the process as scraping the meat from the bones. Stand each skinned thigh on end, resting on one end of the bone. Then scrape the meat from the bone, starting at the top and working around the bone evenly until you hit bottom. And remember rule number 1: Always angle the knife edge toward  the bone, not toward the meat.

 

CHIPOTLE-STUFFED CHICKEN THIGHS

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  • 10 chicken thighs
  • 1/3 box frozen spinach, thawed, drained and squeezed dry
  • Olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • Salt, pepper
  • 2 canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, minced
  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup dry white wine

Skin the chicken thighs and de-bone them by cutting each one lengthwise, then cutting the chicken from the bones. To do this, start at one end and scrape the meat from the bone  in 1-inch increments all the way around, angling the edge of the knife toward the bone. Always cut toward the bone, not the meat. When boned, one side of the chicken piece will be thicker than the other. Butterfly the thick portion by slicing from the center to within ¼ inch from the edge of that part, then open the flap so it is flat.

Drain and squeeze  spinach. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large, deep skillet  and sauté onions until soft. Scrape into a small bowl. Stir in spinach, salt and pepper, chipotle peppers and bread crumbs. Add egg and mix well.

Place chicken pieces on a work surface, cut sides up. Mound a heaping tablespoon of the stuffing mixture on one side of a thigh and roll up to encase the filling. Tie with kitchen twine and secure each end, if necessary, with toothpicks. Continue with remaining thighs. You will have some filling left over.

Heat the large skillet again and add  2 more tablespoons of olive oil. Brown the chicken rolls on all sides over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to  medium-low. Add wine and scrape the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Cover and simmer for 35 to 40 minutes, stirring in remaining  stuffing mixture after  30 minutes.

Remove chicken from pan, cut and discard twine, and cut each chicken roll into 3 or 4 slices. Fan 2  rolls on each plate and top with some of the cooking sauce. Makes 5 servings.

LOCAL FOOD BLOG NEWS 

Readers have wondered what happened to local food blogger Tom Noe, who hasn’t posted on his restaurant blog, Exploring Food My Way, in months. He sent this explanation: “I am actually doing well. Life’s priorities have shifted over the last year and sadly, the thing I had to cut was writing for the blog. I can assure you, however, I am still out there seeking great meals in the Akron area. I’m just now photo-documenting them on my Flickr page instead . At some point, I may pick up my blogger’s pen and start up again.”

If he does, I’ll let you know. Meanwhile, another local food-lover has remodeled and renamed her blog. Cuyahoga  Falls cook Kathy Carano has transformed Carano’s Cucina into the edgier  Carano’s Punk Rock Cucina with pink and black hound’s-tooth graphics, a zebra-patterned photo backdrop, and an interesting grab bag of subject matter. In recent posts she has reviewed Sweet Basil Pizza in Westlake and Original Steaks and Hoagies in Twinsburg and Ravenna, provided a recipe for couscous with ramps, and shared a pictorial on making caramelized onions.

Kathy’s blog tagline sums up her blog philosophy: “I cook. I bake. I eat out. And listen to great music while doing it. Then I write about it.”

The link is http://caranoscucina.blogspot.com/.

CUPCAKE MADNESS
 

Tasting all those cupcakes sounded like fun, but along about the 30th cupcake my enthusiasm fizzled. I and the other judges kept going, though, ultimately working our way through 59 cupcakes at the Cupcake Camp Akron last Saturday.The fund-raiser for Boy Scout Troop 334 was a rousing success, though, and I found new reasons to say, “What the heck was THAT??!” Here are the five of the most unusual cupcakes we tasted:

1.    Garlic and White Chocolate
2.    Apple with Sauerkraut-Flavored Icing
3.    Chocolate-Chili Pepper
4.    Grapefruit
5.    Pancake and Bacon


THE MAILBAG

From Dona Bowman:
No fair with the teasing. How about running the cranberry tart recipe again for those of us who don’t have it?

Dear Dona: I got at least a dozen emails about omitting the filling recipe. It didn’t occur to me to run a cranberry tart recipe in May; I figured the crust recipe would be enough. I figured wrong. Here it is:


CRANBERRY CRUMB TART

1 9 or 10-inch tart shell (recipe follows)

  • 6 cups cranberries 
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar 
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 12 tbsp. unsalted butter 
  • 1 1/4 cups bread flour 

Make and cool tart shell.

For filling: Combine cranberries with 3/4 cup of the sugar and the salt and toss to coat berries. Spoon into 
prebaked tart shell, mounding slightly in center.

For crumb topping: Cut butter into 1-inch cubes. Using paddle attachment on electric mixer, mix butter, flour and remaining 1 3/4 cups sugar at medium-low speed just until mixture forms large clumps that crumble when pinched.

Do not over mix. Spoon crumb topping over berries. Do not press topping into fruit. 

Bake tart at 375 degrees until topping is golden brown and fruit bubbles 
around edges, about 40 minutes. Serve at room temperature.

Tart shell 
1/4 cup unsalted butter, cold 
1 tsp. sugar 
1/8 tsp. kosher salt 
3/4 cup flour 
3 tbsp. whipping cream 

Cut butter into 1-inch cubes. Place in mixer bowl with sugar, kosher salt 
and flour. Using paddle attachment, blend at low speed until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add whipping cream and mix until dough comes together. 

On a slightly floured surface roll dough into a 13-inch circle. Fold into 
quarters and lift into a 10- or 9-inch tart pan (a pan with straight rather than angled sides). Unfold circle carefully and settle into pan, being sure dough 
reaches into corners.

Gently press dough against sides of pan. 

Fold overlapping dough into pan just to where sides and bottom meet, to 
form double-thick sides. Gently press dough against sides of pan, being 
careful not to press against bottom. (If it’s too thin where sides meet bottom, 
dough will split during baking.) Trim off extra dough by running a rolling pin 
around top edge. Chill until firm, about 20 minutes. 

Line tart shell with heavy foil, covering edges as well as bottom. With a 
fork pierce holes all over bottom of shell, through both foil and dough. Hold fork straight down so tines do not tear large holes in dough. Bake at 400 
degrees until inside of shell looks pale but no longer raw (lift foil and 
look), 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove foil and continue baking until shell is golden brown and has pulled away from sides of pan, about 15 minutes more. Cool.

 

From Susan B.:
I found an older cookbook on making tamales in an second-hand store. All of the recipes start with corn husks, which I can’t find in any store. Also, what is achiote? Can I leave it out?

Dear Susan: Corn husks are sold in packages in Mexican food stores. They are soaked in hot water to make them pliable before filling. I’ve seen chefs use aluminum foil as a substitute, but I recommend you search out the corn husks, because they help flavor the tamale.

Achiote, also called “annatto,” comes in various forms (oil, powder, paste) and is used mostly to give a lovely yellow hue to foods like rice. In many recipes you could omit it without serious damage, but since you’ll be at a Mexican store for the corn husks, why not pick some up?

Cooking with Morel Mushrooms

SENT May 1, 2013

Dear Friends,

I long for morel mushrooms the way I longed for a mohair sweater when I was 15, the way I longed to see Paris at age 30, the way I longed to dump my ex-husband nine years ago…. Well, maybe not as badly as that last example, but I really want some morel mushrooms.

My desire was fueled by a weekend at the Mountain Mushroom Festival in Irvine, Ky., (www.mountainmushroomfestival.org/) where there were plenty of morels to see but none to eat. That’s right: Coolers full of morels, shopping bags full of morels, but not one lousy morel on a toast point with melted butter and a glass of oaky Chardonnay.

“It’s just too prohibitive cost-wise,” explained Sue Hawkins, coordinator of the festival’s morel cooking contest. The mushrooms were going for $50 a pound at the market tent, where dozens of local amateur hunters sold their harvests. At that price, not even the handful of modest local restaurants could afford to put the mushrooms on their menus. In Estell County,  Sue said, morel-lovers either hunt their own or buy a few at the market and cook ‘em themselves.

A lack of mushroom munchies doesn’t cramp the festival, held annually the village of 2,700. The place went morel crazy last weekend with morel contests, morel cooking demonstrations, a morel cook-off and old-timers dispensing morel-hunting advice. Festival vendors sold morel t-shirts, morel key chains and two-foot morel mushrooms carved from wood. Shop windows were decorated with morel paintings and displays, and someone had carved a giant 10-foot-tall morel from a tree trunk in a downtown yard.

Although the earthy gourmet mushrooms grow in many locations, including Ohio, the  Appalachian mountains of eastern Kentucky are especially  suited to their propagation, said avid  hunter and festival committee member Jerald Stacy. “They like the mountains and rocks and wood,” he noted.

He must be right, because folks found a lot of mushrooms last weekend. By noon the first day of the festival, 110 pounds of morels had been sold.

Hunting morels is such a popular rite of spring that locals even have their own name for the mushrooms: “Dry Land Fish.” The common method of cooking the mushrooms probably is responsible for the name, Susan opined.  Most people bread them in corn meal and fry them like fish.

Geez. How do they even taste the mushroom after all that?

The friendly Irvine folks may not know how to cook morels properly (according to me), but they know everything else about the mushrooms. Proof was tubs and tubs of mushrooms for sale at the festival.  The  most gathered by one person was 63/4 lbs., and the blue ribbon for the largest mushroom went to a specimen measuring 75/8 inches tall and 51/2 inches wide.

Because of the late spring, morels are just now appearing in Northeast Ohio woods. The best time to hunt, according to Irvine experts, is during a sunny, warm spell after a rain. During the season, morels appear first on ridge tops, then on the sides of hills, then in the bottom land near streams. They come in several shades: Dark brown, gray and blond. The mushrooms should not be pulled, but rather cut at ground level with a sharp knife. That way, they are likely to propagate again.

Tony and I returned from the festival Sunday and went hunting Monday at what the Irvine locals call  our “honey hole.” As we pulled in, we saw a furtive guy scurrying out of the woods with a sack in one hand and a giant morel in the other. Drat. We found just one morel. Tony is back out hunting today on a friend’s secluded property, where he should have first shot at the mushrooms. If he brings home a bunch, I’ll make a creamy risotto infused with mushroom flavor. Portobello mushrooms may be substituted for the morels if you must, although the risotto won’t taste nearly as good.

MOREL MUSHROOM RISOTTO

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  • 8 oz. fresh morel mushrooms
  • 5 tbsp. butter
  • 2 Tbsp. minced sweet onion such as Vidalia
  • Salt
  • 2 cups arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup fresh-grated Parmesan cheese

Cut the mushrooms in half lengthwise and briefly rinse under cold water to remove any dirt, slugs or debris. Chop the mushrooms, reserving 8 cap halves.

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a medium skillet over medium-low heat and slowly  cook the 8 halves on both sides until the edges begin to turn brown and just start to crisp. Remove mushrooms from pan and set aside. With a rubber spatula scrape all butter remaining in the skillet into a heavy, 4-quart saucepan (the butter is loaded with mushroom flavor). Add remaining 3 tablespoons butter to saucepan and melt over medium heat.

Sauté chopped mushrooms and onion in melted butter until onions are soft and translucent. Season with salt. Add rice and cook and stir for about 2 minutes, until rice becomes translucent. Pour in wine, increase heat and simmer until wine is reduced by half.

Meanwhile, heat chicken broth in a saucepan and keep just under a simmer over very low heat, with a ladle at the ready. When rice is translucent, ladle in about a half cup of the broth. Stir with a wooden spoon over medium heat until the broth has been absorbed. The mixture should bubble lazily. Continue adding hot broth and stirring until absorbed, adjusting the heat under the rice up or down to prevent it from cooking too slowly or too quickly. The process should take about 30 minutes. The rice should be al dente – cooked but not mushy – when the last of the broth has been absorbed. The risotto should creamy and slightly soupy or not, depending on preference.

Remove from heat and stir in Parmesan cheese. Taste, and add more salt if needed. Spoon into four shallow bowls and top with reserved mushroom caps. Makes 4 servings.

FREE CUPCAKES!!

Yes, free. And you can eat all you want at the first-ever Cupcake Camp Akron from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Queen of Heaven Parish Life Center, 1800 Steese Rd. in Uniontown.

Here’s how it works: Bakeries, chefs and generous home cooks supply all kinds of cupcakes, which are judged and prizes awarded. Then those in attendance get to eat the cupcakes. There’s no charge for admission or for the cupcakes, although donations will be accepted. Most of the funds raised from the event, though, comes from sponsors, including Lexus of Akron-Canton, The Lippman School, Dress Up Designs and Reiter Dairy. The money goes to the organizers, Boy Scout Troop 334.

Cupcake Camps have been held all over the country, although this is the first in the Akron area. Come on down and eat yourself sick. Bring some cupcakes or just an appetite. Tony and I will be judging along with caterer extraordinaire Susan Schwab and Beacon Journal Food Editor Lisa Abraham. Complete details can be found at www.cupcakecampakron.com.

THE MAILBAG

From Tom Noe:
Next time you and Tony make a trip up to Park To Shop (I am completely in love with that place, too!) and feel like an excellent Szechuan experience, might I recommend Szechuan Gourmet  located in the back of the building on the corner of Payne and East 36th, The large building sits on the corner and houses several businesses, of which the entrance to Szechuan Gourmet is in the back (actually off of East 36th).

The ma po tofu is splendid and fiery (they have one with the pork and one without) and without a doubt one of my favorite and most surprising dishes there is the spicy garlic eggplant. Even the eggplant haters among our foodie group actually liked it.

And once you finish your meal, I’d suggest going up one more block on Payne to East 37th Street and look for Koko Bakery. They do all sorts of baked items, sweet and savory as well as the Bubble Tea. I usually grab several packages of the frozen buns and bring them home to eat as snacks. The ingredients listed are refreshingly simple and straightforward; no preservatives or additives.

Dear Tom: Thanks for the recommendation. I’ve been looking for a good Szechuan. (Tom’s local restaurant blog is at www.exploringfoodmyway.blogspot.com)

From Karron Brown:
Thought I would comment on pie crust. If you can remember, we once did a photo shoot of bakery items of Jim Dodge’s when he was teaching at Zona Spray Cooking School in Hudson and I made his cranberry tart using his recipe for dough.  Like many recipes it called for fat, i.e., butter.  But unlike many recipes he called for cream instead of water as the liquid. Once mixed, you can roll it out without letting it rest first.  I have used his recipe ever since and have had no complaints whatsoever.


JIM DODGE’S PIE DOUGH

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 stick cold sweet butter, cut into bits
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup cream (or more as needed)

Combine flour, butter, sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse until bits are the size of small peas or large grains of cornmeal. With motor running, drizzle cream through the feed tube until dough begins to clump together. Remove from processor and shape into a disk. Roll into circles and fit into pie or tart pan. Makes enough for a 2-crust pie.

If I am going to use it immediately, I let it rest in the fridge or freezer for at least 15 minutes while I am making the filling. Then fill the shell and bake.  If the recipe requires a pre-baked shell I still let it rest for that 15 minutes.

I love this recipe as I can prepare several shells and have them ready to go, and the resting period does not affect my production because it is after the preparation.

Dear Karron: I do remember that photo shoot, but had forgotten the dough recipe. Thanks for the reminder. The cranberry tart recipe was so popular when I ran it in the newspaper that it has become a standard on many local tables at Thanksgiving.

Potato Salad Reinvented with Sweet Potatoes

SENT April 24, 2013

Dear Friends,

Some of my best ideas come to me while standing in front of the refrigerator, staring at the empty shelves. I had thawed out some thick pork chops on that crazy-warm day last week and was determined to grill them outdoors. We were out of potatoes for potato salad. We were out of mayo for macaroni salad. We had no vegetables in the crisper. Caper-and-pickle salad? Nah.

Then I spotted three sweet potatoes hidden among the onions and garlic in a wire basket near the pot rack.  I had a sack of lemons in the fridge and I found a can of crushed pineapple in the pantry. A recipe was taking shape. It fell into place when I located a few tablespoons of crushed peanuts in the freezer.  I had my picnic salad..

The menu was still iffy, though, because the only other sweet potato salad recipe I’ve tried  came from a cookbook early in my career and tasted like – well, cold sweet potatoes coated with mayonnaise. Could I do better?

I kept it simple. To intensify the flavor of the potatoes, I roasted the cubes rather than boil them. I made a tart but fruity vinaigrette with olive oil, lemon juice and pineapple juice, and added a scant sprinkling of pineapple and crushed peanuts to the potatoes. I’m not usually so restrained, but I didn’t want a cloying salad that tasted like dessert. I wanted an interesting but refreshing salad.

My sweet potato salad went great with the pork, and there were no leftovers. It sure beat that mayonnaise-y salad from the ‘80s.

ROASTED SWEET POTATO SALAD WITH PEANUTS AND PINEAPPLE VINAIGRETTE
Image

  • 1 1/2 lbs. sweet potatoes (3 medium)
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • Salt
  • 2 tbsp. drained crushed pineapple
  • 1 tbsp. toasted finely chopped peanuts

Peel potatoes and cut into 1/2-inch cubes. Coat a foil-lined baking sheet with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the potato cubes, drizzle with remaining 1 tablespoon oil and toss to coat well. Spread potatoes in a single layer. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Roast uncovered at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes, until potatoes can be pierced easily with a fork.

Transfer to a medium bowl and add pineapple. Toss with the pineapple vinaigrette. Add more salt if necessary. Sprinkle with peanuts just before serving. Serve at room temperature. Makes 4 servings.


PINEAPPLE VINAIGRETTE

  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 2 tbsp. pineapple juice (from the canned crushed pineapple)

Combine ingredients in a lidded jar and shake well. Makes just enough to dress one batch of  sweet potato salad.

TIDBITS

Tony buys Kikkoman soy sauce by the bucket (literally; it comes in a 5-gallon plastic bucket). He gets it from a wholesaler, so he found it hard to believe when a caterer friend said she can buy it for less at a Cleveland Asian supermarket. Tony and I both found it hard to believe  we had never heard of Park To Shop.

Heck, I’d shop there just because of the name, but there are other reasons Tony and I will go back. The price of soy sauce is one, and the relative cleanliness is another. The bakery is pretty alluring, too.  We carted home two fresh-made steamed buns filled with Chinese barbecued pork. They were delicious.

Other plusses: A convenient layout that groups foods by type (sauces, noodles, snacks) rather than country. There’s also a deli counter and meat and seafood sections that mirror regular supermarkets. Of course, you probably won’t find fresh chicken feet in the meat case of your local Acme.

The selection is fairly wide, too, but selectively. Almost an entire separate room is devoted to noodles. The produce selection isn’t as bountiful as at the nearby Tink Holl, though, and the produce prices don’t seem to be as low, either.

If you go, do not be tempted to dine at the adjacent East 30th Street Café, which claims to specialize in Szechuan food. The large, nicely appointed restaurant is an offshoot of Li Wah’s, our waiter said. But Szechuan it ain’t. The  iconic Szechuan dish of ma po bean curd came to the table as bits of tofu and shreds of pork in oyster sauce. Yuk.

Park To Shop is at 1580 E 30th St. in Cleveland, in front of the new Asia Plaza. The phone is 216-781-3383. Yes, there’s plenty room to park.

THE MAILBAG

From Barbara M.:
I add a tablespoon of vodka to my pie dough; makes it easier to roll out, and the vodka evaporates when it bakes.



Dear Barbara: I did hear this tip once, and it’s supposed to work very well. It’s from Cooks Illustrated, as I recall.  I haven’t tried it because I keep forgetting to replace the vodka that the teen-ager and his friends drank (and then replaced with water) when Tony and I were in Japan. (Life got ugly for him when we returned.)


From Sally Taylor:

Jane, your pie crust article brought back memories for me.  When I graduated from college I took a notebook to my pie-famous grandmother’s house for a lesson.  She dumped flour and salt in a bowl and took a big spoon and dipped out a hunk of lard.  After working the lard into the flour with a fork, she added water from a glass.  “Amounts?” I said, and she just shrugged.  About three rolls and she had a perfect circle.  When I tried to roll my wet or crumbly mess  I got the USA.  I tore off Maine, and Florida and pasted them around Texas.  Then I started buying Pillsbury crusts!  I have tried other ones that you mentioned over the years but wasn’t happy.

Then I found the America’s Test Kitchen (Cooks Illustrated) recipe using vodka.  They say it is the liquid that makes crust tough.  The vodka added with water evaporates.  While it was super wet, I just patted it into the pie plate and it did make a great crust.  It is available on their Web site and I believe other places on the internet. 

Dear Sally: No need to look it up. Keep reading.

From Jean Hose:
Here is a recipe for:

PIE DOUGH USING  VODKA 
Makes one double 9-inch pie crust

  • 2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 12 tbsp. (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces
  • 1/4 cup cold vodka
  • 1/4 cup cold water

Process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until homogeneous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds (dough will resemble cottage cheese curds and there should be no uncoated flour).

Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.

Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into a 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.

Flaky Pie Crust Revealed

Sent April 17, 2013

Dear Friends,

I like to think I’ve bungled around in the kitchen so you don’t have to. You thought I was born knowing how to make caramel that never crystallizes and soufflés that never fall?

Ha! My childhood was gastronomically deprived. The only thing my mother made well was pie crust, and even that lesson failed to stick.

That explains the leaden, crumbly pie dough that had me in a panic early in my food career. The pie was intended for a photo shoot the next day. Aaargh!

Exasperated, I finally gathered up the mess and carried it next door.

“What am I doing wrong?!” I asked my elderly next-door neighbor.

From a kitchen drawer she pulled a worn pastry blender with a wooden handle. She handed me her secret weapon and told me to never mix pie  dough with my hands again.

I was reminded of the lesson when an email arrived from Jenny Kuenzi of Green, asking for “the very best crust recipe you’ve ever made or were privileged to enjoy.”

I don’t have a favorite crust recipe. I usually just grab a recipe from a trusted cookbook and vary it according to the type of pie or tart I’m making. That’s because pie-dough making is all about technique.

Sure, lard will produce a lighter and flaker crust than shortening, and a bit of butter added to the lard will improve the flavor. But the best dough recipe in world can be a disaster in the wrong hands, and a plain crust of salt, shortening, flour and water can turn out great if it’s prepared correctly.

Here’s what I’ve learned: Chill the fat. Cut it into the flour and salt with a pastry blender until the pieces are the size of peas. Add the water while you fluff everything with a fork. Try to pinch some of the mixture together. If it won’t stick together, add more water until it does. Gather it quickly into a ball and flatten into one or two disks, depending on whether you’re making a one-crust or two-crust pie. Don’t handle the dough more than you absolutely have to because the heat from your hands will melt the fat, which will toughen the crust.

I’m one of those annoying people who always ask “Why?” and if you are, too, here’s the rationale:

If the fat remains cold, the bits will be encased in the flour mixture, forming separate little pockets of air when the fat melts in the oven. That’s what makes pie dough flaky.

Before you start sending me recipes for “foolproof” pie dough, know that I’ve probably tried them all. I’ve made pie dough with vinegar, pie dough with egg, food-processor pie dough, pate brisee (a butter-based dough), pate sable (cookie-like tart dough) and the water crusts used for Louisiana crawfish pie and British pasties.  I once recreated the secret recipe for the fabled Waterloo Restaurant pie dough, which is a cookie-like dough so tender it crumbles in your mouth.

None of those recipes produces a crisp pie dough so flaky it could win a ribbon at the county fair. For that, you’ll need lard and these directions:

DOUBLE-CRUST PIE DOUGH

  • 2 cups all-purpose or 2 cups plus 2 tbsp. pastry flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2/3 cup chilled lard
  • 7 to 8 tbsp. cold water

Whisk together flour and salt in a medium bowl. Add lard in small pieces. With a pastry blender, cut the lard into the flour-salt mixture until the pieces of lard are about the size of peas. Use a knife to clean off the blades of the pastry blender occasionally.

Sprinkle the water over the mixture one tablespoon at a time, tossing with a fork to mix. Do not mix with your hands. After 7 tablespoons, pinch a bit of the mixture to see if it will stick together. If not, add remaining one tablespoon of water.

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

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

THE MAILBAG

From Diana:
My mom used to make hrudka on Good Friday morning and when we came downstairs, she had them hanging on a stick between two chairs with a pan underneath to let all of the whey drain out. Then she used the whey to make lemon pie.

My German husband discovered you can make hrudka and save your arms by making it in the microwave. YUM and easy!

Dear Diana: The microwave would sure save the arm muscles.

From Jan:
Can’t wait to try Tony’s pickled eggs!  Yum!  Reading that recipe made me wonder if you could help.  I bought a 1-quart jar of no-name-brand dill pickle slices… they are blah tasting!  No real discernible flavor… just a hint of dill.  I looked at the ingredients and it’s basically cucumbers, vinegar, salt, flavorings and then the preservatives you cannot pronounce.  No mention of garlic, mustard seed, celery seed, or even real dill you would find in a Vlasic jar.  Is there any way to save this jar of pickles or should I just pitch them out?  Thanks for your help!

Dear Jan: Sure, you can doctor up a blah jar of pickles. Feel free to toss in all the spices you want. Wait a week or so before tasting, to give the spices time to flavor the pickles..

From Geoff:
One of my favorite, and often underrated, sushi dishes is a well-made Japanese omelet called “tamago.”  I’d like to give a shot at making it but a proper tamago pan is important.  Do you or Tony know where I can go to buy one locally?  I’ve seen many on the Internet but I’d rather see the quality rather than take pot luck.  Perhaps an Asian store in Cleveland? Thanks for your help.

Dear Geoff: Not many sushi places make their own tamago (they buy it from vendors), but Tony does. He builds up the sweet omelet layer by layer in a heavy square pan he brought here from Japan. The tamago pans I’ve seen locally are thin and cheap-looking. The eggs would almost certainly scorch. Tony says the traditional square tamago pan is copper. He recommends Mutual Trading Co. in Los Angeles. I found a copper tamago pan in its catalog at http://www.lamtc.com/webcatalog/index.php.

From Susan M.:
Where can I get flake sea salt? It’s an ingredient in a bread recipe I want to try.

Dear Susan: Gourmet-food  stores such as West Point Market in Akron and Trader Joe’s should carry flake sea salt. So should health food stores such as Mustard Seed Market, Earth Fare and Whole Foods.

You needn’t go to that expense, though, for salt that will be dumped into a bowlful of flour and yeast and kneaded into a dough.

Flake sea salt is made by heating brine slowly until delicate crystals form. The flake sea salts I’ve seen have triangular hollow crystals, but the salt can also form as flat, ultra-thin flakes. The allure of the salt is its texture, so it should be sprinkled on foods just before they are brought to the table. To use it in cooking or baking would miss the point.

Any medium-crystal sea salt or even coarse kosher salt may be substituted.

From Michele Smith, Elkton, Md.:
Thanks for sharing the shrimp red curry recipe.  Red curry is one of my favorite Thai curries.  The recipe got me thinking also of one I found on the Taste of Thai recipe site for Spicy Shrimp and Asparagus–no coconut milk in that recipe, but still very delicious.

Since I’ve been living in Maryland, I miss some local Akron items.  When I used to travel home I would go to Yocono’s and buy a quart of their homemade salad dressing to bring back.  I know Yocono’s is gone–but do you think there is anyway you could track down a recipe for their Italian salad dressing?

Another odd request is for the chicken salad recipe from the old Bisson’s that used to be on West Market Street–a cruise down memory lane reminded me of that chicken salad which was a favorite of mine as a child.  I remember my mom bringing it home after work sometimes.

Dear Michele: Finding recipes from defunct businesses is tough. Occasionally a former owner or chef will see a request and respond, but that’s rare. I don’t recall ever having Yocono’s salad dressing recipe, or any recipe from Bisson’s.  If anyone has either recipe, please send me an email.

Stir Fry with Coconut-Peanut Sauce

Dear Friends:

Last week when the warm weather fooled us into thinking summer was almost here, I had an itch to cook something major on the grill. Not burgers, sausage or chicken breasts. I wanted to welcome grilling season with a hunk of meat the size of a VW Beetle.

I opened the massive chest freezer in the basement and hauled out the biggest thing I could find, a turkey bought as a spare last November when supermarkets were practically giving them away. Yes, I’m the kind of person who keeps a spare turkey on hand in case something happens to the main Thanksgiving turkey. I don’t know, maybe the dog will run off with it. This has never happened but anyway, you can never have too many turkeys.

I thawed the turkey for three days in the refrigerator and barbecued it over indirect heat until it was succulent and golden. We dined on the screened deck, sipping champagne and flipping shreds of meat to the dog. The next day we had turkey sandwiches for lunch and turkey enchiladas for dinner. The turkey now was barely half gone. I was making myself another turkey sandwich the following day when Tony wandered into the kitchen and groaned, “No more turkey.”

That was crazy talk, so I ignored him. I could eat turkey and cranberry sauce sandwiches every day for a month and not tire of them. That night we had turkey again, this time in a kick-butt peanut-noodle stir fry I created from provisions in the fridge and cupboard. The coconut-peanut sauce recipe is more or less from Asian noodle queen Nina Simonds. I changed a couple of ingredients and amounts. She uses it as a satay sauce, but it worked great as a stir-fry sauce punched up with garlic and ginger.

I loved, loved, loved this rich stir fry and Tony did, too. He didn’t even gripe about the turkey. I think he thought it was chicken.

PEANUT NOODLE STIR FRY WITH CHICKEN (OR TURKEY)

  • Peanut sauce (recipe follows)
  • 3.5 oz. 1/4-inch-wide rice noodles
  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp. minced fresh ginger
  • 1 tsp. minced garlic
  • 2 cups cooked chicken or turkey in bite-sized pieces
  • 1 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 shallot or 3 green onions, sliced
  • 1 green pepper, sliced in thin strips
  • 1 medium carrot, scrubbed and sliced into thin rounds
  • 2 tbsp. chili oil
  • 1/4 cup crushed dry-roasted peanuts

Make peanut sauce according to the recipe below and set aside. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, remove from heat and drop in noodles. Let stand  for 4 to 5 minutes, until noodles have softened but are still fairly firm (they will finish cooking later in the sauce). Drain and gloss  noodles with some vegetable to prevent them from sticking together. Set aside.

Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Stir half of the ginger and half of the garlic into the hot oil, pressing to extract the flavor. Add the cooked chicken or turkey and stir fry until the edges begin to crisp. Stir in soy sauce. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Heat 2 to 3 tablespoons more oil in the skillet and add remaining ginger and garlic. Add onion, green pepper and carrot and stir to coat with oil. Cover and cook until vegetables are al dente, about 5 minutes, stirring when necessary to prevent bottoms from burning. Stir in chili oil.

Return meat to the skillet and add noodles, turning with tongs to distribute evenly. Pour half of the sauce into over the stir fry and carefully stir to coat everything. Simmer a minute or two. Add about half of the remaining sauce and cook one to two minutes longer.  Mound on dinner plates and top with crushed peanuts. Makes 3 to 4 servings.

COCONUT-PEANUT SAUCE

  • 1 1/4 cups coconut milk, blended before measuring (just shake can)
  • 3/4 cup peanut butter
  • 2 tbsp. fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp. minced fresh ginger
  • 3 tbsp. sweet soy sauce (kekap manis) OR 3 tbsp. packed brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and puree until smooth. Leftover sauce will keep in the refrigerator for at least a week.

CROWN POINT PLANT SALE

Despite the cool weather it’s time to get think about planting the vegetable garden – preferably with organic heritage varieties. My favorite place to buy vegetable seedlings is the Crown Point Ecology Center’s annual plant sale, coming up this weekend at the farm at 3220 Ira Road in Bath. You’ll find a wide variety of unusual  hybrids and heritage plants, from 10 varieties of basil to Cipolinni onions to long, thin Chinese eggplant. If you want to make the authentic version of the green chili salsa recipe I ran last fall, this is the place to buy Nu Mex Joe E. Parker pepper plants.

Plants will be for sale in the barn from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.  Sunday. Master Gardeners will be on hand this year to answer questions, and Mari Keating of Food Not Lawns in Cleveland will speak at 10:30 a.m. Saturday. A word to the wise: Go early for the best selection.

More information, including a complete list of the vegetable and flower plants for sale, is on the farm’s website.

THE MAILBAG

From Harriet W.:
I thought it was only me who was finding it difficult to buy bone-in chicken.  My favorite chicken breast (bone-in, skin on) preparation method is just to rub with a bit of olive oil and season with some coarse salt.  Bake at 350 degrees (is there any other baking temp?) until done.  It’s always juicy and tender done this way.  I do buy free-range, organic chicken but I agree that bone-in add tons of flavor.  I add leftovers to tossed salad or make a sandwich for next day lunch.

Dear Harriet:

Organic free-range chicken is bound to taste great. Another big impact on flavor is whether the chicken has been “hard-chilled” for shipping or shipped on ice. The hard-chilled chicken (normal people would call it “frozen”) is a lot drier than chicken shipped on ice.

From George, Akron:
I enthusiastically second your preference for bone-in anything.  The boneless breasts of chicken trend, in particular, has long outworn its place in the world of cooking if, Iquestion, it ever had a place.  Not that you shouldn’t keep an eye on what you’recooking, but boneless chicken breasts, not to mention their outrageous price comparedto bone-in thighs or legs, or even wings, demand far more care than they deserve.  Giveme bone-in thighs for taste any day.

As an aside to chicken parts, I want to arrest restaurant owners who serve barbecuedchicken wings/legs/thighs for theft of our hard-earned money, for charging the againoutrageous prices for these items that they do.  Chicken parts are among the cheapestcuts of fowl/meat/seafood one can buy in the store.  I can buy a package of 8 to 10 legs orthighs for about $2.  I know there are the labor and markup costs.But c’mon, 50 cents ormore per?

One other thing, I attended the Ramp Festival in Peninsula (on that snowy Saturday a fewweeks back) and aside from one or two vendors selling fresh ramps, no one (particularlythe festival staff) knew where to buy them locally.  The irony of a group putting on anevent that seeks to draw attention to a particular product who doesn’t know where to tellattendees to purchase that product does not escape me, nor should it anyone else.Peninsula Ramp Festival organizers, are you listening?  So, then, it may be too late tobuy ramps, but if it isn’t, does anyone out there know where?

Dear George:A friend mentioned that she bought ramps at a local produce market but I didn’t pay attention because I hate the things (a ramp burger once festered overnight in my car, producing a revolting aroma that put me off the greens forever). If anyone has seen ramps for sale, please let me know.

From Mike, Akron:
Hi Jane. Regarding tamales, corn husks and annatto, I thought I’d use this as an excuse to promote my favorite Mexican destination in Akron — La Loma Supermarket on State Rte. 91 in the Ellet area of Akron. (Well, my second favorite Mexican destination, after El Ranchero Taqueria in North Hill.) La Loma has, by far, the best selection of Mexican specialty items in the area, including corn husks, masa and other tamale makings. They also have a full service meat counter, house-made chorizo, and fresh carnitas and barbacoa on Saturdays around noon. Plus there’s a taco truck in the parking lot that makes some unbeatable food. Here’s their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/LaLomaSupermarket

Thanks!

Dear Mike:Thank you, thank you. This store had slipped under my radar. It sounds wonderful.

Hibachi at Home

Dear Friends,

How appropriate. Last week I cooked the first meal of my diet on a pig. It’s a darling pig, but still. My sister gave me the tabletop pig grill for Christmas, and last week I finally fired her up.

The grill is a 2 1/2-foot-long terra cotta pig with a perforated well on its center back, high on the hog, as it were. Charcoal goes into the well, and the grill nestles on top. A shallow shelf below the well (in the pork belly area) catches the ashes that fall through the holes. I saw the grill last summer at World Market, but Dee bought it at Plough and Hearth.

yakitori2013 001.jpg

I have wanted to grill at the table hibachi-style since visiting Japan last spring. I noticed that Japanese families frequently cook on tabletop electric grills. Yakitori – grilled chicken skewers, is practically the national dish. I like charcoal-grilled yakitori, though, as it is cooked in restaurants. Last spring I watched my brother-in-law, a yakitori chef in Sapporo, grill all kinds of skewered  stuff over a long, narrow grill built into a stone bar at the upscale restaurant where he works. The grill is really no more than a slit. Osam stands behind the counter and works the grill like the pro he is, constantly turning and moving the skewers from high heat to medium to low. My hibachi pig would work splendidly, I thought.

The Japanese use just about every part of the chicken for yakitori. There are chicken-skin skewers, gizzard skewers and even chicken-vein skewers. Aack! I played it safe (and low-calorie) by skinning two chicken breasts, trimming them of all fat and cutting the meat into 1/2-inch or smaller cubes. One reason Japanese yakitori tastes better than most regular  kabobs is that the pieces of meat are smaller, exposing more surface area to both the sauce and the heat. The little nuggets of chicken cook quickly, and the sauce caramelizes on the surface of the meat.

The soy-based sauce is the key to the flavor, but unfortunately, yakitori chefs tend to guard their recipes. I didn’t want to make a sauce that tasted like teriyaki, although yakitori has some hints of that. In the end I kept it simple with soy, honey, mirin (sweet Japanese cooking wine) and garlic. The garlic probably isn’t orthodox but I like it.  I made a bunch of sauce, used half and kept half for the next hibachi pig session.

My pig looked gorgeous with flames shooting from her back. She cooked those chicken skewers as if she’d been doing it all her life. I ate four skewers. Tony ate 20. I lost 7 pounds that week. He didn’t gain an ounce.  Life isn’t fair, but sometimes it’s delicious.

GRILLED CHICKEN YAKITORI

yakitori2013 007.jpg

Sauce:

  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • 6 tbsp. mirin (or 1/Ž4 cup white wine and 1 tbsp. sugar)
  • 6 tbsp. honey
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

Skewers:

  • 24 6-inch bamboo skewers, soaked in water at least 1 hour
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 6 green onions, including tops

For the sauce: Combine ingredients in a small saucepan and stir over medium heat until honey is dissolved. Transfer to a lidded jar and set aside.

For the skewers: Trim chicken of all fat and cut into 1Ž/2-inch or smaller cubes. Place in a zipper-lock plastic bag with 1Ž/4 cup of the sauce. Squeeze gently to distribute sauce. Refrigerate for up to 2 hours.

Trim onions and cut white parts into 3Ž4-inch lengths. Cut green parts into 1 1/2-inch lengths. Thread marinated chicken and onion pieces onto skewers, folding green onion pieces in halves or thirds before skewering. Use 2 or 3 onion pieces per skewer.

Build a hot charcoal fire. Move some of the coals to the other side of the grill so that the fire is hot on one side and medium on the other. Brush  skewers with fresh sauce and place over hot coals, turning once, until edges begin to char. Move to the other side of the grill to finish cooking, about 5 minutes total depending on size of chicken cubes and heat of fire. Brush skewers with sauce again before serving. Makes 2 servings.

HELP U COOK

If you want to add intense citrus flavor to a dish, don’t rely on the juice of the fruit. Lemon or lime juice won’t give you the same pop of flavor as a bit of the grated zest. In some preparations, such as pasta dough, the juice won’t impart much flavor at all. I usually use a combination of rind and juice for the most flavor.

LET’S GO VIRAL

In order to reach more readers, we’re making it easier for food-lovers to access See Jane Cook. After years of requiring folks to sign up and attempt to read an indecipherable access code, we’re going the blog route. Yay!

You will still receive my newsletter weekly in your inbox, but you (and everyone else) can also access it here. We will be able to run more and larger photos on the blog site. Also, in response to many requests, the newsletters will be archived on the site. Eventually my editor, Morgan, hopes to install a search program so you can easily find a newsletter or recipe you need.

Posting the newsletters to a website with easy access should help boost our circulation. Please feel free (I’m begging you!) to email the new blog link to your friends, post it on Facebook, write it on restroom walls…

Thanks for your help. I’m so grateful, seven years after leaving the newspaper, that ANYONE—let alone a few thousand people—is still interested in reading my thoughts.

THE MAILBAG

From Anonymous:
You were able to eat half a chocolate cupcake? What a woman!

Dear Anonymous: Well, half at a time. My willpower lasted only 3 hours. That’s why I’m on a diet.

 

From Sharon:
Can you tell me why milk and cream will sometimes curdle when an acid is added (lemon juice or vinegar, for example), but not other times? This information would be  handy to know.

Dear Sharon: Hmmm. Good one. I had to look it up on About.com. Usually the protein molecules in milk repel each other. Acid affects that property, so the protein molecules clump together – hence, curdled milk. So why does milk curdle sometimes and not others? Here’s the answer from About.com:

“As with many chemical reactions, temperature controls the rate at which the reaction occurs. When adding lemon juice or vinegar to hot milk, it will curdle almost immediately, but adding it to cold milk will not produce a reaction for quite some time.”

Read more about the chemistry of milk at http://foodreference.about.com/od/Dairy/a/Why-Does-Milk-Curdle.htm