Omelet Mont St. Michel

Dear Friends,

Le Mont-St. Michel, a speck of an island off the coast of Normandy, France, is famous for two things: The Medieval abbey perched atop its rocky tor, and a gloriously puffy omelet. The hulking 11th-century abbey looks impressive (it was a prison during the French Revolution), but my attention was riveted on that omelet.

A travel show on the Japanese television station we subscribe to on cable showed chefs in an island restaurant gouging chunks of butter from vats and sizzling it in straight-sided skillets, while several other chefs beat eggs in copper bowls. They beat, and beat, and beat. The technique was strange – the whisks barely skimmed the surface in a back-and-forth motion.

When the eggs were poured into a pan, tiny bubbles gave the omelet the airy structure of a soufflé. The eggs were two to three inches thick in the pan and remained that thick without deflating. When done, the chef slid the omelet from the pan, folding it in half as it hit the plate. The thing was enormous, with a golden-brown exterior and the last traces of bubbles oozing from the edges.

I replayed the omelet-making part of of the program and had Tony translate from the Japanese. Although no recipe was given, the only ingredients mentioned were eggs, salt and butter. The odd whisking motion thickened the eggs and produced thousands of bubbles. The omelet originated centuries ago at the Mont St. Michel restaurant La Mere Poulard.

Of course, everything finds its way to Youtube eventually, so you can watch the final stages of the omelet’s production here.

I decided to give it a try, but I was danged it I was going to whisk the eggs by hand. I used a stick blender, which allows more control than a mixer or regular blender. By barely submersing the blades, I managed to make tons to bubbles. It took 7 minutes. Imagine how much time hand-beating would require.

An 8-inch cast-iron skillet was just the right size for four beaten eggs. I slipped the eggs into the pan and held my breath. The bubbles did not deflate. I started the omelet over medium heat to quickly produce a skin on the eggs, then turned the heat to low.

Determining when it was done was easy. The omelet developed  holes, like a pancake when it’s ready to be flipped.

I loosened one edge of the omelet with a spatula and coaxed it to slide from the pan onto a dinner plate, folding it in half with the spatula. The spatula must be held in place over the folded omelet for a minute, or the omelet will unfold.

In the end, my omelet looked exactly like the one on television. It was impressive and tasted like – well, airy scrambled eggs. The second time I made the omelet I added a half-teaspoon of sugar to the eggs and a tablespoon of finely grated Parmesan just as I folded it. I  liked this version better. Not that I want to mess with centuries of tradition or anything.

OMELET MONT ST. MICHELE

omelet 004.jpg

  • 4  large eggs
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1 tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese

Break eggs into a medium bowl. Add salt and sugar. Beat with a stick blender to combine, then hold the stick blender blades just under the surface of the eggs and beat for about 7 to 10 minutes, producing as many bubbles as possible.

Heat  butter over medium heat in an 8-inch skillet with straight sides. When the eggs have thickened and are covered with a mass of bubbles, gently pour into the hot skillet. Cook for one minute, then turn heat to medium-low. Continue to cook for 8 to 10 minutes without touching eggs. The omelet is done when the top is firm and holes begin to form. The firm eggs will still be covered with a froth of liquid eggs.

Sprinkle top with grated Parmesan. Loosen edges of omelet with a spatula. Slip spatula under one side of omelet as you tilt pan over a dinner plate, allowing egg to slip out of pan, browned side down. As the last edge slips from pan, fold that edge over with the spatula to meet the opposite edge of omelet. Leave spatula in place for one minute to make sure omelet does not unfold. Serve immediately. Makes  1 omelet (large enough for two but considered a single serving in France).

HELP U COOK

The standard size egg for recipes is “large.” Many recipes – including mine – do not mention size, assuming cooks know that “large” is the default egg. Unless a recipe calls for just one egg, do not substitute jumbo for large, thinking that  more is better. A large egg weighs 2 ounces and a jumbo egg, 2.5 ounces. You could screw up a recipe by substituting jumbo for large.

If you’re wondering whether the color of an egg makes a difference in recipes, it doesn’t. Brown eggs have the exact same cooking properties and nutrition as white eggs.

THE MAILBAG (Oct. 30)

From Sherri Steiner:
Re: How to cook squash or a pumpkin — This is from Kathy Hester’s blog, Healthy Slow Cooking:
“If you have a big, 6-quart cooker, cook a pie pumpkin! Take a small pie pumpkin, wash it off, and poke a few small holes in it. Put it in the your cooker. (It needs to be small enough that it will fit, of course.) Cook it for about 6 to 8 hours and then let it cool. It cuts open like butter and you just scoop out the seeds. You don’t even have to puree it, the flesh will be so cooked that it will just mash up on its own. This works for all squashes like butternut and acorn — any of those hard winter squashes that you hate to cut through. Since pie pumpkins are usually only available in the fall, you can cook up a whole bunch and then freeze in 11/2-cup portions, which equals one can.

“You can bake potatoes and sweet potatoes, too, using any sized cooker. Some people wrap them in foil or spray the crock with cooking spray, but I usually just wash them and poke them all over with a fork. Throw them in the cooker in the morning before you leave for work and when you come home, you have perfectly cooked potatoes. The sweet potatoes can be used for desserts. You can put a little brown sugar and cinnamon on them — its like a pie without a crust or you can crumble gingersnaps on top for more crunch.”

Dear Sherri: What fun. I would caution readers to drain the cooked pumpkin to eliminate some of the liquid. Otherwise, the pie may be soupy. A cheesecloth-lined sieve will work, but I’m impatient so I use a jelly bag – a very fine mesh bag for straining homemade jelly. The mesh is so fine that you can wring out the puree, quickly removing the liquid without losing any of the solids.

From Susan, Wooster:
I just wanted to thank you for the information on Weymouth Farms. I sent my husband to get some pears yesterday (he works in Hinckley) and Paul and Brenda were both so nice. They gave him samples and even went to the orchard to pick some fresh ones off of the tree for him.  The pears are delicious, I had two last night when he got home. They even marked the container so that we knew which ones we were eating!!

Dear Susan: I love turning people on to great local foods such as the O’Neill’s Asian pears. Those who missed the original item can find Weymouth Farms and Orchard at 2398 Weymouth Road in Hinckley.

From Sue Essy:
I was just reading the question from Jill in Wadsworth regarding the amount of oil in apple cake.  I have been substituting unsweetened applesauce for half the amount of oil in my zucchini bread for years, and always receive raves for its taste and moisture.  It also freezes very well.  I would caution not to substitute more than one-half the amount of oil, as the recipe will not turn out right if you do.

Dear Sue: This is good information. Thanks for taking the time to share your experience.

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Asian Pear Madness

Dear Friends,

The madness came upon me again last week as I bit into the first Asian pear of the season. I was entranced, enthralled, captivated by the delicate pear flavor, the crisp texture and the extreme juiciness of the just-picked exotic pear. Later I shared the fever with Tony.

“Wow,” he said after a bite. “Wow, wow, wow!”

Weather  zonked the local Asian pear crop last year, so I hadn’t tasted a really good one in two years. The Asian pears in supermarkets and even the handful I found at a farmers’ market are wan imitations of the ambrosial fruits grown by Paul and Brenda O’Neill at their Weymouth Farms and Orchard just north of Granger Township in Hinckley. The O’Neill’s are among the very few Asian pear growers in Ohio, and the only commercial grower north of Columbus that I could find.

Asian pears are  considered the forerunners of European varieties such as Bartlett and Anjou. They are round and crisp like an apple but with the flavor of a pear. The flesh has a smooth rather than pebbly texture, and the thin skin can be yellow, brown or a mottled combination of the two.

tama,pears 008.jpg

The O’Neills grow more than a half-dozen varieties that begin ripening in early September and continue in succession through November, give or take a couple of weeks depending on the weather. Each has a distinctive flavor that fans describe variously as “honey,” “vanilla,” “floral” and “citrus.” They are so juicy that  make a ripe peach seem dry in comparison. The juice literally floods your mouth.

In part because of this year’s bumper crop, Paul has begun turning his surplus into pear wine and is constructing a tasting room for sampling and retail sales. He already has procured a license.

Although some people cook the pears into jams, compotes, cakes and pies, I like raw preparations that showcase their terrific texture.

The pears will keep for weeks in the refrigerator, so I’ll have plenty of time to try the Pear, Fennel and Walnut Salad from Sunset Magazine that follows. I bought more than a case of the pears and will probably go back for another case when the November varieties ripen. A case is weighs about 15 to 20 pounds. The pears are $2  a pound for 10  pounds or more, and $2.50 a pound for lesser amounts.

The O’Neills also grow and sell Fuji apples, winter squash and specialty pumpkins such as my favorite, the French heirloom  Musque de Provence. For more information and directions to the farm, check the website, (www.weymouthfarms.com).

ASIAN PEAR, FENNEL AND WALNUT SALAD
(Sunset Magazine)

  • 1 fennel bulb
  • 1 large Asian pear
  • 2 1/2 tbsp. walnut oil
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp. salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/3 cup whole or roughly chopped toasted walnut halves
  • 1/4 cup coarsely grated Parmesan cheese

Trim and any discolored areas from fennel bulb. Cut bulb in half lengthwise, lay a flat side on a work surface, and cut into very thin slices. Repeat with other half and set slices aside.

Cut pear into quarters and scoop out cores. Peel quarters and cut into 1/4-in. slices. Set aside.

Whisk together walnut oil, lemon juice, and salt in a small bowl. Taste and add more salt if you like.
Arrange fennel slices and pear slices on 4 salad plates. Drizzle each plate with 1 tbsp. dressing. Arrange walnuts and Parmesan on top. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

TIDBITS

Cooking for cash:

The finalists have been announced for the Pillsbury Bake Off, and Jodie Grasgreen Delamatre’s brother made the cut. I like to think our votes here in Northeast Ohio helped put him over the top. Ronald Grasgreen of Houston, Texas, will compete in the Quick Rise and Shine Breakfasts category next month with his Chocolate Swirl Coffee Cake. Jodie is a Medina County librarian.

A local woman is in the running, too. Janet Gill of Canton will compete in the same category with her Mocha Cappuccino Pull-Apart Coffee Cake.

Good luck to both of them.

Oops:

In last week’s newsletter, the link to Mario Batali’s Food Network recipe for Sweet and Sour Squash was deleted in the production process. Sorry for the inconvenience. This week I’m not taking any chances. Here’s the entire recipe:


MARIO BATALI’S SWEET AND SOUR SQUASH

  • 2 medium butternut squash, cut into 1-inch slices, skin on, seeds discarded
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 medium red onion, sliced paper-thin
  • 1/2 tsp. chili flakes
  • 1 tbsp. dried oregano
  • 1 clove garlic, sliced paper-thin
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Season the squash with salt and pepper, drizzle half of the  olive oil, and place in a single layer on 1 or 2 cookie sheets. Bake at 450 degrees for 18 to 20 minutes, until just tender. Meanwhile, stir together the remaining quarter-cup of oil, vinegar, onion, chili flakes, oregano and garlic and season with salt and pepper. Remove squash from the oven and pour marinade over. Allow to cool 20 minutes in the marinade, sprinkle with mint leaves and serve.

Double oops:

Shirley Barker and others pointed out that a recipe for pumpkin-ginger cookies in last week’s newsletter mentioned ginger in the directions but not in the list of ingredients. One-fourth cup of chopped crystallized ginger should be added with the raisins to the quick bread mix. Sorry I didn’t catch that.

THE MAILBAG

From Jill Nagy, Wadsworth:
I want to know why recipes for apple cakes call for so much oil – 1 1/4 to  2 cups. For 3 apples chopped and 3 cups flour and 1 1/2 cups of sugar and the other stuff,  the oil just seems like a lot.  But I looked at 16 recipes (on the Internet) and some had even more than 2 cups oil but never less than 1 1/4 cups.

Dear Jill: Good question. I don’t know and don’t even have a guess, but I do have a couple of remedies. Substitute applesauce for some of the oil, or cream cheese as in the following recipe from Cooking Light. One-twelfth of a cake is still 280 calories, with 28 percent of the calories from fat, but that’s better than the gazillion fat calories in most apple cakes.


COOKING LIGHT’S CINNAMON-APPLE CAKE

  • 1 3/4 cups sugar, divided
  • 3/4 cup (6 ounces) block-style fat-free cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup butter or stick margarine, softened
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 3 cups chopped peeled Rome apple (about 2 large)
  • Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat 1 1/2 cups sugar, cream cheese, butter, and vanilla at medium speed of a mixer until well-blended (about 4 minutes). Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition; set aside.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add flour mixture to creamed mixture and beat at low speed until blended. Combine 1/4 cup sugar and cinnamon. Combine 2 tablespoons of the cinnamon mixture and apple in a bowl; stir apple mixture into batter. Pour batter into an 8-inch springform pan coated with cooking spray, and sprinkle with remaining cinnamon mixture.

Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until cake pulls away from the sides of pan. Cool cake completely on a wire rack, and cut using a serrated knife.

Note: You can also make this cake in a 9-inch square cake pan or a 9-inch springform pan; just reduce the baking time by 5 minutes.


From Sherri Steiner:

A tip for all those butternut squash you’ll be using. Put the squash in the microwave for a minute, it softens the skin and makes peeling so much easier.

Dear Sherri: That’s a GREAT tip. Thank you for making my life easier.

The Year of the Butternut Squash

Dear Friends,

This is the year of the butternut squash. My cute little plants started growing in June and haven’t stopped yet. The tough, ropey vines cover a quarter of my garden and they are still flowering. They produced squash so big it’s scary. One grew so large I hacked it off the vine early in fear of what it could become.  I cooked half of it Friday and by Monday we were still eating the leftovers.

Unless some of the blossoms out there turn into more butternuts, the last of my crop is now off the vine and safely tucked away in what I refer to as the root cellar (a small basement room with shelves), next to the potatoes. I have enough to squash to see me through the winter.

In hopes that I’ll actually use them all up before summer, I went on the offense last week and rounded up my favorite butternut squash recipes. I’ve probably forgotten some and I know there are great recipes I haven’t discovered yet, so don’t hesitate to send me your favorite.

The recipe I make most often is roasted cubed squash with dried cranberries, an easy side dish that chef Roger Thomas makes. No recipe is necessary for this one. Just peel and seed the butternut and cut into 1-inch cubes. Place in a buttered baking pan, dot with butter and sprinkle with brown sugar. Bake uncovered at 375 degrees for about 30 to 45 minutes, stirring once, or until the squash is soft and the edges are starting to brown. Stir in a handful of dried cranberries.

Often I skip the butter, sugar and cranberries, gloss the cubes with olive oil, and roast them on a rimmed baking sheet, turning the cubes once. The cubes may be added to entrée salads, omelets or my favorite tacos. The taco filling of sweet caramelized squash, salty feta and spicy sausage is incredible.

Use a good, sharp vegetable peeler to strip the skin from the butternut squash. The right peeler can be the difference between efficiency and frustration. You’ll also need a sharp knife to cut the squash into cubes. I use a serrated grapefruit spoon to scoop out the seeds.

By the way, my big butternuts are puny compared to the jumbos grown in Florida. The largest butternut squash ever grown there was 23 pounds 7 ounces, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture. Now that’s scary.

CHORIZO-BUTTERNUT TACOS WITH FETA CHEESE 

  • 1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • Olive oil spray
  • 1 poblano pepper (optional)
  • 1/2 large red onion, cut into paper-thin slices
  • 2 tbsp. fresh lime juice
  • Coarse sea salt
  • 4 links (about 12 oz.) fresh chorizo sausage
  • 8 6-inch corn tortillas
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • Cilantro leaves

Spread squash cubes on a baking sheet and spray with olive oil spray. Season lightly with salt. Roast uncovered at 400 degrees until tender and brown around the edges, about 30 to 45 minutes. At the same time, roast poblano pepper directly on an oven shelf, turning once, until skin is blistered all over. Remove pepper from oven, peel off skin, and cut flesh into thin strips, discarding seeds and stem. 

While squash and pepper cook, toss onions with lime juice and a sprinkling of coarse salt. Remove sausage from casing and brown in a skillet, breaking up with a fork. Stir in pepper strips and keep warm. 

Heat another skillet over medium-high heat. Add enough vegetable oil to film the bottom of the pan. Place a tortilla in hot skillet and cook for about 30 seconds on each side, until tortilla begins to brown in spots. Remove from skillet and start heating another tortilla while you fill the first one with some of the meat mixture, 4 or 5 squash cubes, some onions, 1 tablespoon cheese and a few leaves of cilantro. 

Continue with remaining tortillas and filling. Makes 8 tacos, which serves three to four.

 
THE MAILBAG

From Susie Stech:
Your homemade pizza recipe was perfect timing as I had just returned from vacation where my friend’s sister made us amazing homemade pizza. My question is about the dough. I don’t have a mixer with a dough hook, just the hand-held portable kind. How can I improvise on your recipe to make it work? Thanks.

Dear Susie: You can mix the dough by hand (you’ll burn out the motor of your hand mixer on a dough this dense). Maybe add a tablespoon of olive oil to make the dough a bit easier to work with. Put all but 1 cup of the flour in a bowl, stir in yeast and salt, and mix in water and oil little by little — first with a sturdy wooden spoon  and then with your hands when the dough becomes too hard to stir. Flour a work surface, dump out dough and start kneading in remaining flour until the dough is no longer sticky. Keep kneading until the gluten is fully developed. The dough will want to spring back each time you turn, fold and knead it. The kneading will take a good 10  minutes of steady work. I recommend you save up for a KitchenAid.

You can make a big batch and freeze the excess (in 1-pizza portions) after it rises.

From Maryann Aguilar, Stow:
We found an easier way to freeze fruit pies for later, and it avoids the soggy crust issue.

My husband watches football while peeling and cutting the fruit,  usually apple, and never seems to mind the labor. Cut and mix your fruits with all the other filling ingredients. Put in a freezer zip bag. Label and date. Shape into a pie pan — glass, metal, or aluminum disposable. Stack in the freezer. (After they’re frozen, you can remove the pie pans to re-use, or leave disposables in place for protection.)

When you’re ready to make a pie, use whatever crust you prefer — homemade, ready to unroll, or frozen shell. You can either place the frozen round of fruit right on the bottom crust, or thaw it slightly — depends on the fruit. Apples and peaches work well without thawing, and after all, you froze it round to fit the pan anyway.

If the recipe calls for dotting butter over the filling before putting on the top crust, add it now, and make a few  slashes with a sharp knife in decorative spots.  I use a pastry brush to lightly brush milk over the top crust, and sometimes sprinkle with sanding sugar.

Bake on a lined cookie sheet or pan with edges to avoid any drip mess. Use the usual time and baking temperatures, but check halfway for adjustments. When you see the filling bubbling up through the pie slits, then you know its completely done.

We like to use Cortland apples which aren’t always available everywhere. So when we see them we get a lot, and use this method to guarantee homemade pie ease throughout the winter and spring!
 
Dear Maryann: This is an excellent idea. I especially like the multi-tasking while doing the peeling.

From M.J. Neel, Twinsburg:
Hi Jane,  hope you or your readers can help find a recipe that was on the box of Pillsbury Pumpkin Bread and Muffin mix from years ago.  It was for pumpkin-cranberry cookies and was a favorite for friends and family alike at this time of year.  I looked on the Pillsbury website to no avail.  I can’t find my copy and it was so easy to make.  Thanks.

Dear M.J.: We’ll toss it out there and see if anyone can help. The cookies sound perfect for a fall snack.

Lemon Buerre Blanc: A Simple Pan Sauce

Dear Friends,

Remember a couple of weeks ago when I mentioned a few recipes – braised short ribs, beurre blanc – that were easy to make from memory? I lied. I regularly make a half-assed version of beurre blanc, but later it struck me that I’ve made a real beurre blanc just once or twice, long ago.

Real beurre blanc is a voluptuous pan sauce made with the meat drippings, shallot, vinegar and wine reduced until thickened and enriched bit by bit with a vast quantity of butter. I usually deglaze the pan with wine and whisk in less than a tablespoon of butter. Not the same at all, I was reminded last week when I cooked dinner with a friend.

Warning: The following recipe could ruin you for simple pan sauces. It’s so good you’ll want to lick the pan. If you make it often enough it could ruin your health, too, because I wasn’t exaggerating about the amount of butter. I could not bring myself to whisk in the HALF POUND of butter called for in classic beurre blanc recipes. I cut the amount in half and still felt guilty. But boy, was it good.

A couple of tips: Whisk in the butter over low heat a few bits at a time, adding more when the butter in the pan is almost but not quite melted. Don’t leave out the half and half because it helps stabilize the sauce and prevent it from separating. Even with the cream, the sauce will separate if you don’t serve it right away.

For my pan-cooked pork chops I made a lemon beurre blanc with capers and a pinch of fresh rosemary.  Sweet, roasted cherry tomatoes strewn over the dish balanced the tart lemon and capers.
The textures and flavors of this dish  are wonderful.

PORK CHOPS WITH ROASTED TOMATOES AND LEMON BUERRE BLANC

Image

For the chops:

  • 4 bone-in pork loin chops, about ½-inch thick
  • Salt, pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Flour for dusting

For the sauce and toppings:

  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 2 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp. chopped shallots
  • 1 tbsp. Half and Half or cream
  • 8 tbsp. cold butter, cut in small pieces
  • Salt, pepper
  • 2 tbsp. drained capers
  • 1/4 tsp. minced fresh rosemary
  • 1/4 cup roasted cherry tomatoes at room temperature (see note)

For the chops: Pat chops dry with a paper towel and season generously on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat a large (preferably cast iron) skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, pour about 1/8 inch of oil in skillet and heat until oil shimmers. Dust chops with flour, shaking off excess. Brown in skillet on both sides, then reduce heat to medium-low and continue cooking just until interior of meat is no longer pink. Do not overcook or chops will be tough. Remove from skillet, place on a serving platter and cover to keep warm.

For the sauce: Combine wine, lemon juice and shallots in skillet, raise heat to high and stir, scraping browned bits from bottom of pan. Boil until liquid is reduced to about 1/4 cup. Stir in half and half.
Reduce heat to low and begin whisking in butter a few pieces at a time, waiting until butter is almost melted before adding more. When half of butter has been used, season with salt and pepper and add capers and rosemary. Continue whisking in butter until it has been used up. The sauce should be very creamy.

Immediately pour sauce over pork chops and strew with roasted cherry tomatoes. Makes 4 servings.

Note: To roast tomatoes, slice about 20 cherry tomatoes in half and place cut-sides-up on an oiled baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes, or until they have begun to dry but are still slightly juicy. May be made in advance and refrigerated or frozen.

TIDBITS

A few words, if I may, about fresh-ground pepper.

I know  I can be “snippy,” as one friend put it, and downright obnoxious on occasion. But I don’t think I’ve ever rudely added pepper to my food. Why do most recipes urge us to do so?

“Freshly ground pepper” is pepper that has been impertinently, snippishly ground. Pepper that is ground just before use is “fresh ground.” “Freshly” is an adverb. “Fresh” is an adjective.

Years ago I read about a ruling on the matter by the New York Times copy desk. Yes, the same people who refer to the singer Meat Loaf as Mr. Loaf on second reference.  That foolishness aside, the Times copy editors are dead serious about language matters. When “freshly ground pepper” was threatening to eclipse “fresh-ground”  in the 1980s, they had a pow wow  and decided on “fresh.” I don’t know whether the Times has wavered in the ensuing years, but I have not.

I know this battle is already lost, as is my war on “healthy” food (it’s “healthful” unless those carrots have been doing push-ups). But I cannot read “freshly ground” without envisioning an obnoxious young woman flouncing around the kitchen with a pepper mill.

After decades of  incorrect usage by almost every publication in North America, “fresh-ground” probably sounds stilted to your ears. I apologize, but I simply cannot go with the flow. “Freshly” grates like nails on a chalkboard. For better or worse, my recipes will  never contain rude pepper.

Bring on the cronuts

Any cronut fans out there? I just read Kathy Purvis’ entertaining report on visiting the Manhattan bakery that started the trend, and now I’m Jonesing for a bite. One little bite. Where oh where can I find a cronut?

Calling all locavores

The Peninsula Foundation and the Peninsula Historical Society are becoming players in the eat-local food movement. They sponsored the multi-event local foods fair in Peninsula this summer, and now they are sponsoring a series of cooking demos and tastings at the GAR Hall, also in Peninsula.

The first Eat with the Seasons cooking demonstration will be held at 6 p.m. Oct. 3 (tomorrow!) and will feature chef Ben Bebenroth of Spice Kitchen & Bar. The cost is $30. For more details and ticket information call 330-657-2528, but you’d better hurry.

THE MAILBAG

From Geoff, New Franklin:
Your pizza sounds incredible but I’d like to make one suggestion. Try using Caputo “00” flour, available at West Point Market, instead of all-purpose flour. It is ground finer and produces a superior crust, both chewy and crunchy with a great flavor. After using this flour for pizza crusts, I won’t use any other.

Dear Geoff: You sold me. I usually use bread flour (I forgot to mention that in my recipe), but I’m going to try Caputo, especially after you told me a local artisan pizza maker recommended it. Thanks.

From Debbie Minerich:
Hi Jane, after a good friend shared her daughter’s suggestion with me, I no longer use cornmeal for homemade pizza crust. Shape your pizza on parchment paper cut to the size of your stone, then slide the parchment paper and pizza onto the stone from you paddle. I bake home-made pizza at 500 degrees and notice that the edges of the parchment that overhang the stone get a little “crispy” (my stone is round, as are the pizza’s I make). Have you tried tossing the dough to stretch it (like Lucy did in an episode of “I Love Lucy”)? I don’t use a rolling pin — just stretch the dough by hand and shape it on the parchment. I also use my son’s pizza dough recipe and make it in the mixer as you do.

Dear Debbie: Yes, I stretch my dough rather than roll it. I’ve tried to toss it a couple of times and got it into the air and back on my fists, but not effectively – i.e., it did nothing to further the dough stretching. It was entertaining, though.

From Kim:
Here’s one of my favorite potato recipes. The chicken broth adds a lot of flavor –so much flavor that I often leave off the cheese that the recipe calls for at the end, just to save a few calories.

POTATO GRATIN

  • 1 large clove garlic, smashed
  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 2 1/4 lbs. (about 6) waxy potatoes, peeled
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • Fresh-ground black pepper, to taste
  • Pinch fresh-grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Rub garlic all over the inside of casserole dish. Smear some of the butter all over the inside of the dish. Mince what is left of the garlic.

Using the thin slice disk attachment of the food processor, slice the potatoes. Transfer slices to a saucepan with garlic, remaining butter, broth, thyme, salt and pepper to taste, and nutmeg. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer mixture to prepared pan and shake pan to distribute potatoes evenly. Bake uncovered, occasionally spooning some of the liquid over the top, until the potatoes are fork-tender, about 50 minutes. Sprinkle the cheese over the top and bake until brown and bubbly, about 15 minutes more. Remove from the oven and set aside 10 minutes before serving. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Dear Kim: This is a nice change from the usual potato gratins made with butter and cream. It sounds delicious. I love potato gratins but had banned them because of the calories and fat. Thanks for putting potato gratins are back in my life.

From Molly Clay:
Hi Jane. I’m looking for a source for local duck breast. Have bought it at the West Side Market, and I know that Whole Foods, West Point Market, Heinen’s, and other upscale groceries should carry it. Put in a call to a local farm to see if they have it available. My other idea was to check Asian stores. Do you have any ideas? I paid approximately $12 per pound at the WSM, and it was excellent, but if I can get it cheaper I can indulge more often. Thanks! –Molly

Dear Molly: Call DiFeo’s on Grant Street in Akron, phone 773-7881. The store supplies many West Side Market poultry vendors. If it has wings, they either have it or can get it. I’ve bought not only duck but pheasant and quail there (along with rabbit). Their chicken and turkeys are excellent. They are shipped fresh on ice, not “hard-chilled” like most supermarket brands. I wish I could also give you the name of a local poultry farm, but my favorite duck and turkey farm stopped raising fowl.

Dear Friends,

I’ve been digging potatoes. You can interpret that both ways. Whenever I can steal a half hour I unearth hill of potatoes in my garden. Nine down, two to go. I’ve been relishing  these tender new potatoes in a variety of ways. I made a potato galette one evening, slicing a couple of the larger spuds into a small skillet with sizzling butter and olive oil. The potatoes fused together into a disk that was creamy inside and browned to a crisp outside.

On another occasion I parboiled a handful of fresh green beans and fingerling potatoes I had cut into chunks. Then I heated olive oil in a skillet and stirred in some good-quality curry powder until fragrant. Just before serving I stir-fried the drained beans and potatoes in the hot, curry-seasoned oil.

This is my first big success at potato growing. I even found potatoes in a hillock that failed to produce last year. The volunteer produced 10 pounds of redskin and Russian fingerling potatoes. Tony and I were so amazed at the volume that we weighed them.

Ironically, I have lots of fabulous new potatoes but little time to experiment because I’m feverishly trying to finish a cookbook. I’m cooking a lot, but nothing that involves potatoes.

In need of fast, easy potato recipes and fresh out of ideas , I turned to cookbooks and the Internet last week. Whoa. Who makes all those gooey, leaden, calorie-laden casseroles of potatoes and cheese, potatoes and cheese and sour cream, and potatoes and cream and cream cheese? I had a hard time finding a recipe that showcases the natural flavor of potatoes without the high-fat additions.

Finally I found one. Just one. No doubt there are more but I had to stop searching. That cookbook isn’t going to write itself.

Here’s the quick but chic recipe for new potatoes with rosemary and olives that I adapted from a Food Network recipe. My camera is acting cranky so there’s no photo of the dish. You’ll have to make do with a photo of Tony and me rooting in the dirt for the spuds.

If anyone has a good potato recipe that doesn’t involve loads of butter, cream or cheese, I’d love to see it.

Image

NEW POTATOES WITH ROSEMARY AND OLIVES

  • 1 lb. baby new potatoes or fingerling potatoes, scrubbed
  • Sea salt
  • fresh-ground pepper
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 to 3 tsp. fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
  • 1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives, cut into thin slivers

Place potatoes in a large saucepan and add water to cover by 2 inches; season with salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer just until tender, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the oil and rosemary in a small skillet. Heat over medium heat until the rosemary sizzles; cook until fragrant, about 1 minute, and then remove from the heat and let stand.
Drain the potatoes. When cool enough to handle, cut quarters. Gently toss with the rosemary oil and olives. Season with salt and pepper. Serve warm.

HELP U COOK

This is the time of year to snag some of the last fruits of summer and turn them into pies. Even under ripe fruits make fine pies. Baking not only softens the fruit, but intensifies its flavor.

Fruit pies freeze well baked or unbaked. The experts at Farm Journal recommend  freezing baked  pies to avoid a soggy crust. Here are the instructions from “Farm Journal’s Freezing and Canning Cookbook,”  by the editors of Farm Journal:

Slightly under bake the pie. Cool and freeze without wrapping, then remove from freezer and wrap well or vacuum-pack. Before serving, thaw the pie in its wrapping for 30 minutes at room temperature. Unwrap and bake on the lowest oven shelf at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or until warm all the way through. This technique works for any fruit pie.

THE MAILBAG

From Tom Noe:
I have an easy peazy solution to your reticent (or perhaps recalcitrant) pizza issue — parchment paper! Simply place the stretched dough on a piece of parchment, dress it and then slide the whole thing from the pizza peel onto the stone. After 10 minutes, the dough will be set enough that the paper should easily slide out from between the pizza and the stone. I do this trick for my especially wet doughs like ciabatta and it really helps to alleviate the entire problem.

Dear Tom: Brilliant. And I don’t see why you can’t just leave the parchment on the stone for the entire baking time.


From Lin A.:

You can also use semolina flour to make your pizza slide off the peel.

Dear Lin: Thanks for the advice.

From Sherri Steiner:
Regarding your comments about MasterChef, I gave up watching the cooking shows that involve doing cooking in an allotted time frame. It was too stressful. Why the rush? Can’t they just give constants an hour and edit it down?  I enjoy cooking at my own pace and want to enjoy my time in the kitchen, not be pressured to have it done in a short time.

Dear Sherri: Maybe they are edited down. Otherwise, where do all those mid-task interviews come from?  Such as, “I can’t believe she is on my team for this challenge. If she says one word to me I’ll deck her.”