Jane’s Favorite Recipes of 2013

Dear Friends,

Full disclosure: I dreamed up my “best recipes of the year” story in the early 1980s as a quick way to fill my newspaper food section amid holiday distractions and December vacation days. Now everybody does it, and with good reason. It’s fun to look back over a year’s worth of meals with family and friends, and it can draw attention to a recipe or two readers may have missed.

The exercise jogs my memory, too. How could I have forgotten Bread Soup, one of my all-time favorite dishes, tasted for the first time in 2013?

My other 2013 favorites range from a Chicken Shawarma sandwich to fancy Butternut Squash Polenta. All of the recipes are good enough to add to your permanent recipe file.  In no particular order, here are my favorites. Enjoy.

1.    Parmesan-Crusted Pork Chops

Browning pork chops on the range and finishing them in the oven, a French technique, produces chops that are “gloriously golden and crisp, with a juicy interior,” I wrote in February, when I served these Parmesan-crusted beauties over butternut squash polenta.

PARMESAN-CRUSTED PORK CHOPS:

  • 2 boneless pork chops, each  1 1/2 inches thick
  • Salt, pepper
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tsp. water
  • 1/4 cup grated fresh Parmesan
  • 1/2 cup panko dried bread crumbs
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil

Season chops on both sides with salt and pepper. Line up shallow bowls of the Parmesan, egg and panko. Dip chops on both sides in egg, sprinkle both sides with Parmesan, then dip in bread crumbs, pressing so that they adhere to the meat. May be prepared to this point several hours in advance and refrigerated. Bring chops to room temperature before proceeding.

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Heat butter and olive oil over medium heat in an oven-proof skillet large enough to hold the chops. Brown chops on both sides. Place in oven and bake for about 15 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted horizontally into the middle of  a chop registers 145 degrees

Note: Chop recipe may be doubled or tripled.

2. BUTTERNUT SQUASH POLENTA

  • 1 1/2 cups peeled butternut squash in 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • Salt
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup yellow corn meal
  • 4 tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp. dried crumbled sage
  • Butter, olive oil for frying

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Pour olive oil onto a rimmed baking sheet. Add squash cubes and toss in oil to coat both squash and baking sheet. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes, until cubes are tender and golden brown on the bottom. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Bring water to a boil in a deep saucepan. Slowly add cornmeal a few grains at a time, stirring constantly to prevent cornmeal from clumping. When all cornmeal has been added, stir in salt and continue to stir for 5 minutes, until very creamy. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 15 to 20 minutes.

Add butter, cheese and sage, stirring until ingredients are thoroughly incorporated. Gently stir in roasted squash cubes. Pour into a buttered, 9-by-12-inch baking dish. Smooth top and set aside to cool. Polenta may be made a day in advance and refrigerated at this point.

About 10 minutes before serving, cut polenta into 2 1/2-inch circles with a biscuit cutter (or just cut into squares). Heat butter and olive oil in a large skillet and fry polenta until crisp and golden brown on both sides. Makes enough for 6 to 8 servings.

3. Chicken and Bread Soup

This comforting, flavorful soup may be the key to peace in our time, I wrote in February after discovering the recipe in Joyce Goldstein’s book, “Solo Suppers.” I continued, “ Who could be cranky after spooning up a custardy chunk of bread infused with broth and  studded with vegetables and chicken?”
The soup is seriously delicious.

CHICKEN AND BREAD SOUP

  • 4 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 cup sliced mushrooms (optional)
  • 1 medium onion, cut into small dice
  • 2  ribs celery, cut into small dice
  • 2 small carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 12 to 16 oz. total), cubed
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • Salt, pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 4 or 5 thick (1-inch) slices of sturdy bread
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese or half Parmesan and half Fontina

In a wide saucepan melt 1 tablespoon butter with 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Cook mushrooms  until the edges begin to brown.

Add 1 tablespoon butter and remaining 1 tablespoon oil and reduce heat to medium. Add onion, celery and carrots and cook until softened,  about 10 minutes. Add chicken and stir fry until golden, about 5 minutes. Add wine and boil until it evaporates. Add chicken stock, salt and pepper to taste and the cinnamon. Cover and simmer gently until the chicken is tender, 20 to 30minutes.

Meanwhile, melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet. Toast bread slices on both sides, adding more butter if necessary, until golden.

In a 6-quart, deep-sided casserole such as a soufflé dish, arrange 2 to 2 1/2 slices of the bread in a single layer.  Sprinkle some of the cheese on top, then the chicken and vegetables. Top with remaining bread slices. Soup may be made and refrigerated up to 8 hours at this point.

Ladle broth over the top and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Cover loosely with foil. Place on a baking sheet and bake at 300 degrees for 45 to 60 minutes, depending on the depth of the casserole. The bread on the top should be chewy and the bread on the bottom, custardy. Makes 3 to 4 servings.

4. Asparagus with Lemon and Poached Eggs

This simple dish became my favorite one-dish meal last spring. Just-picked asparagus spears snapped from the bed in the side yard are cooked tender-crisp, topped with poached eggs and splashed with fresh lemon juice. When you cut into the eggs, the soft yolks mingle with the lemon juice, producing a sauce reminiscent of (but a lot less calorie-laden than) hollandaise.

ASPARAGUS WITH LEMON AND POACHED EGGS

Per person:

  • 1 handful of asparagus
  • 1/2 of a lemon
  • Coarse sea salt
  • 2 eggs
  • Fresh-ground black pepper

Wash the asparagus. Cut off the woody ends and shave the cut end with a vegetable peeler or paring knife. Place the asparagus and about 1 1/2 inches of water in a medium skillet. Cover, bring to a boil and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes, until asparagus is barely tender. Remove from water with tongs and place on a salad plate.

Stick a fork in the cut side of the lemon and squeeze the juice over the asparagus. Sprinkle with sea salt.
Heat the asparagus water until it barely begins to simmer. While the water heats, break two eggs into a custard cup. With a spoon, swirl the water in the skillet to produce an eddy, and slide the eggs into the center. (The swirling will keep the whites in a tight ring around the yolks unless you stirred too frantically, in which case bits of white will spin off like comets.)

Cover the pan and maintain a slow simmer for 3 minutes. Remove each poached egg with a slotted spoon and place on top of the asparagus. Season with pepper and more salt. Makes 1 serving.

5. Chicken Shawarma with Garlic Sauce

The classic pita sandwich with spit-cooked meat is popular all over the Middle East. I like the variation sold at Continental Cuisine in Fairlawn, featuring dill pickles and a crisp, rolled pita crust.  “You came pretty close,” the owner said after I created this knockoff in March.

CHICKEN SHAWARMA

  • 1 lb. boneless chicken breast
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. distilled white vinegar
  • 5 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. ginger powder
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • Oil for frying
  • 3 8-inch pita loaves
  • Dill pickle chips

Rinse and dry chicken. Slice across the grain into 1/4-inch thick ribbons. Place in a large zipper-lock plastic bag with the lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, olive oil, salt, paprika, ginger and nutmeg. Seal. Knead the bag to mix and distribute the marinade. Refrigerate at least 4 hours or preferably overnight, turning bag occasionally.

Heat a large skillet or griddle over high heat. Gloss with oil. In batches if  necessary, cook chicken strips quickly on both sides until they begin to brown. Set  Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Cut around the edges of each pita loaf and gently separate without tearing. If bread is prone to tearing, heat for 10 seconds or so in a microwave.

On a counter, line up the meat, mayonnaise mixture and dill pickles. Heat oven to 350 degrees. One at a time, microwave each pita half on high powder for about 10 seconds, until until bread is soft. Quickly spread some garlic sauce over the cut side of the pita, place some chicken in a line down the center of the pita, and top with one or two pickle chips. Roll pita around chicken cigar-fashion and place seam-side down on an ungreased baking sheet. Continue until all chicken is used up. Bake at 250 degrees until pita is crisp, about 15 minutes. Makes 2 to 3 servings.

CREAMY GARLIC SAUCE

  • 1 head garlic
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup cold mayonnaise

Separate and peel the garlic cloves. Remove the greenish center germ if present. Puree garlic with salt in a food processor, scraping down sides several times until mixture forms a paste. With the motor running, drizzle in about 1/4 cup of the oil. Continue processing until the oil has been absorbed. With motor still running, drizzle in 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Repeat until all oil and lemon juice have been used. The mixture should be thick and creamy. If it breaks, as mine did, stir in the mayonnaise by hand and chill.

6. Gourmet Grilled Ham and Cheese Sandwiches

I cannot justify eating the mother of all grilled cheese sandwiches more than once a year, even if it IS the best sandwich in the universe. I developed the recipe after enjoying one of the outrageous, two-fisted grilled cheese sandwiches at Melt Bar and Grilled in Independence in March.

GOURMET GRILLED HAM AND CHEESE SANDWICHES
WITH APPLES, TOASTED WALNUTS AND BALSAMIC-CARAMELIZED ONIONS

  • 1 1/2 cups sliced onions (1/4-inch thick)
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 to 2 apples, peeled, cored and cut vertically into ½-inch-thick slices (12 slices)
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 2 tbsp. broken walnut pieces
  • 4 tbsp. softened butter
  • 4 slices sturdy white bread, cut ¾-inch thick
  • 8 oz. sliced ham (about ¼-inch thick)
  • 4 oz. sliced Cheddar cheese
  • 4 oz. sliced Swiss cheese

To prepare onions, cut onion in half vertically, peel and cut the halves crosswise into 1/4-inch thick slices. Heat a medium (9-inch) sauté pan over high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil. When hot, reduce heat to medium and sauté onions with a dash of salt, stirring occasionally, until mostly golden. Stir in vinegar and continue cooking until deep brown but not burned, about 30 minutes total. Remove from skillet and set aside.

Toss apple slices with sugar. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil and the 1 tablespoon butter in the same pan. Cook apples slices over medium-high heat until browned on both sides. The apples should be soft but not mushy. Remove from pan and set aside.

Stir walnut pieces into oil and juices left in pan. Raise heat to medium high and cook, stirring, until nuts are brown. Sprinkle with salt and set aside.

Butter both sides of each piece of bread with the softened butter. Heat a large oven-proof skillet over high heat. Brown bread on one side only in the skillet. Place two pieces on a plate, browned sides up. Top with half of the Swiss and half of the Cheddar. Divide the apples, nuts, ham and onions between the cheese-topped pieces of bread, mounding the fillings evenly.

Top with remaining cheeses. Cover with remaining two slices of bread, toasted sides down.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat the large skillet over medium-high heat. Place sandwiches in skillet and cook for 2 minutes. Transfer to middle oven rack and bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. Turn controls to broil and cook until tops of sandwiches are golden brown. Makes two very large sandwiches.

TIDBITS

After thinking long and hard, my New Year’s wish is that I’ll never see another cake pop in my life. Some food fads just get on your nerves.  Now that those little gobs of crumbled cake glued together with frosting have made it into supermarkets, the end of the trend must be near. I hope.

In this season of good cheer, let’s take a minute to reflect on the bad that has assaulted our taste buds this year:

•    Greek yogurt everything: I like Greek yogurt, but sadly, the marketing vampires have sunk their fangs into it and are sucking out every drop of nutritional authenticity. Greek yogurt added to the squiggle of icing that tops a granola bar — really?  I’ve seen Greek  yogurt-coated raisins, Greek yogurt-added baby food, and of course, Ben & Jerry’s frozen Greek yogurt. The product is becoming as ubiquitous as “Tuscan.” I knew that craze had peaked when I spotted a Tuscan dog collar.

•    Sriracha: Another likeable product that has been marketed so relentlessly that Lays even coated potato chips with it last year. The Thai hot sauce has burst out of Asian restaurants and onto the shelves of  specialty stores, supermarkets and that great leveler of taste, Walmart. It spices everything from barbecue sauce to lollipops and shares  table space with ketchup and mustard at burger bars. It is not the Second Coming. It’s just another Asian chili sauce.

•    Coconut water – Rihanna and other celebrities tout the health benefits of this drink, which ideally is the clear liquid found inside green coconuts. It is high in potassium, rich in minerals and low in carbohydrates and calories. But brands produced overseas aren’t held to the same truth-in-labeling standards as domestic quaffs, so who knows what is in those bottles? And coconut water isn’t a miracle drink that can promote liver health and soothe menstrual cramps, among many other unproven claims, according to Fake Food Watch (www.fakefoodwatch.com).

•    Lobster macaroni and cheese: I’m over it and I wish restaurants would get over it, too. I get it – comfort food upscaled. But it has been on menus from coast to coast for at least a decade, long enough for diners to realize they’re being overcharged for a few shreds of lobster and a handful of pasta. Can we please move on?

CORRECTION

The eggnog latte recipe in last week’s newsletter was incorrect. I shared an early, pre-testing version of the recipe by mistake. I apologize for the error and offer this tested and corrected  recipe:

SKINNY NO-SUGAR EGGNOG LATTE

  • 1/2 cup espresso or strong, fresh-brewed coffee
  • 1/2 cup fat-free milk, warmed and frothed, if desired
  • 1 tsp. rum extract or flavoring
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. Splenda granular (not Splenda for Baking)
  • 1/4 tsp. fresh-grated nutmeg
  • 2 tsp. instant vanilla pudding powder

Combine all ingredients in a mug in order given, stirring to dissolve pudding powder. Makes 1 serving.

THE MAILBAG

From Tammy:
I did some research on this topic and got nowhere.  The Big City Chophouse (and the restaurant before located on Market Street in downtown Akron) served a coconut cream pie that was sprinkled with crushed peanut brittle. I cannot find out if the new restaurant at that location (3 Point) serves that
dessert.  I would love more info if you can provide it! Thanks!

Dear Tammy: Chad Leek and Domenico Fragomeni bought the Chophouse in June 2010 and installed Domenico’s mother, Olympia, as the dessert maker. She uses her own recipes to create the almond panna cotta and other items on the dessert tray that is brought to each table after dinner. No Chophouse recipes exchanged hands.

“I do my own thing,” Olympia says.

She does not make coconut cream pie, although she does occasionally make a Bourbon-caramel banana cream pie with crumbled chocolate pralines on top. Oh, my. That sounds like a pie that could make you forget all about coconut cream.

Olympia doesn’t know when she will make the banana cream pie again, but if you visit, save room for dessert anyway. You probably can’t go wrong with Olympia in the kitchen.

More information, including menus and directions, are on the restaurant’s website, www.3pointrestaurant.com.

From Jennifer:
I went to a local church supper. They had the most marvelous hot green bean dish.  I’m sure I tasted vinegar.  Does anyone have a green bean dish recipe with vinegar? Thank you.

Dear Jennifer: Hopefully we can solve this one for you. I’ll pass along any responses I receive.

From Peggy:
My sister was making her annual “hillbilly” Christmas cookies and candy, and I decided to help her this year. One of the things she makes is something her husband calls “crack.” She lays saltines out on a aluminum lined cookie sheet, boils butter and brown sugar to make a caramel, pours the caramel over the crackers and puts them in the oven for a couple of minutes, covers with chocolate chips and then tosses the whole thing in the freezer. It is addictive….”crack”. We discovered that if you slightly burn the caramel, it tastes even better!

So tonight, I decided to use the hillbilly caramel to glaze my ham. Yeah. It was that good. The gravy was better. I am at a whole new level of hillbilly heaven!

Oh, I should have prefaced all if this with the fact that we grew up, and that Patti still lives in the family house in Brady Lake. It, not Barberton, nor Kenmore, is truly the capitol of you-know-where…..

Had to share. Had to bring some down-home to you for Christmas.

Hey, Peggy: I’m from East Liverpool. I know hillbilly. A few years ago I had a visitor from Ireland who told me hillbillies originated there and emigrated to the Appalachian region. She wanted to see some hillbilly habitat to compare. I took her to Chester, W.Va., across the river from East Liverpool. When she saw the refrigerators on porches and cars up on blocks, she got so excited. Just like home, she said.

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