September 18, 2014

Dear friends:

I’ve gotten several recipe ideas at Sweet Pea Cafe – some from the inventive food and some from the reading material chef/owner Josh Thornton keeps on hand. The reading material at the Fairlawn restaurant is cookbooks and old Cook’s magazines, thoughtfully arranged on a rack for solo diners and cookbook lovers who like to read while they eat.

My latest find was a clever and delicious recipe for cherry tomatoes based on a homespun French dessert. Claflouti, a cross between a crustless quiche and a soufflé that leans more toward the latter, is typically made with cherries. The recipe I found in an odd little book, “The French Kitchen Cookbook” from Love Food books, omits the sugar, adds creamy goat cheese and fresh herbs, and substitutes cherry tomatoes for the cherries.

Wow. My friend Dorena and I polished off big hunks of the clafouti and kept sneaking out to the kitchen for “one more bite.” We loved the texture, which is more substantial than a soufflé but still quite airy. The next week we made another one, adding chopped green chilies and char-grilled corn kernels for a Southwestern flavor. After you make one, you’ll realize the possibilities are endless.

This savory clafouti would be a great brunch dish. It is baked in a gratin pan and could easily be doubled and baked in a roasting pan for a larger group. The size we made serves six if accompanied by a salad and maybe a roll.

By the way, if you haven’t been to Sweet Pea lately, stop by to see the updates Josh has made to the décor and the menu. No clafouti yet, but with Josh, you never know. The café is at 117 Mertz Blvd. in Fairlawn. The website is http://www.sweetpeacafe.moonfruit.com/.

CHERRY TOMATO CLAFOUTI
3 cups cherry tomatoes
3 oz. French-style goat cheese
2 tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
1/2 cup flour
4 eggs
1 1/4 cups milk
1/2 tsp. salt

Place whole tomatoes in a buttered, 1 1/2-quart gratin dish. Scatter grape-sized gobs of the cheese evenly over the tomatoes. Sprinkle with thyme. Whisk together the flour, eggs, milk and salt. Pour into dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 to 55 minutes, or until puffy and golden. Makes about 6 servings.
From “The French Kitchen Cookbook” by the editors of Love Food Books.

TIDBITS

After years of making do on my birthdays with sad little sugar-free supermarket cakes and wretched sugar-free apple pies from Bob Evans, I was deliriously happy last week with the gorgeous cake Tony ordered from Cupcake Castle on Mertz Boulevard in Fairlawn (www.cupcakecastle.net).

The fancy single-layer chocolate cake was moist and sweet without a trace of the bitterness  fake sweeteners often impart. It was decorated with swirls of rich cream-cheese chocolate frosting. Yeow.
Although owner Jean Covel stocks the cases at the bakery with traditional cupcakes, she also caters to those on restricted diets. In addition to sugar-free, she has made gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free and vegan cupcakes and cakes, she says.

“We have a lot of allergic kids nowadays so we cater to them,” she says, noting that advance warning of 24 to 48 hours is appreciated.

Jean creates her own recipes for these specialties, tinkering with ingredients until they taste as much as possible like the real thing. My cake tasted exactly like a high-quality cake made with sugar.

The shop is adorable, with overstuffed furniture and coffee tables arranged ala an espresso bar so adults and kids alike can relax while enjoying a cupcake. Jean has dreamed up lots of activities for children.

While I was chatting with her, a tot skipped around the counter from the rear of the shop, where she had been frosting her own cupcake.

Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.

POPCORN, HAI!

While our cupcake mania apparently has not migrated to Japan yet, the country is way ahead of us in movie-theater eats. Japan is ahead of us in movie-theater EVERYTHING.

Tony and I saw two films during our recent trip – the first just to check out the amenities of Japanese theaters and the second time to be cosseted. The hallways of the theater had walls of colorful cubby holes filled with sanitized pillows and blankets patrons may use for free. The pillows probably weren’t necessary because the theater seats were full-sized La-Z-Boys separated by end tables with built-in drink holders.

I was astounded when one of the concession workers dropped by our seats with a sampler of three flavors of popcorn because I had expressed an interest. She slid the tray onto my end table, bowed politely and left.

The shrimp-flavored popcorn wasn’t bad, but I didn’t care for the scallop or seaweed varieties. Gaak! In retrospect, cold, fishy popcorn is a small price to pay for all that service.

THE MAILBAG

From Stephanie Foley:
I am looking for the recipe for a shrimp appetizer that we used to get at the Nick Anthe’s on North Main Street in Akron. It was a grilled shrimp in a cocktail glass like a shrimp cocktail but had a warm, spicy cheese sauce to dip the shrimp into.

We loved that appetizer and were hoping the new restaurant in that building (Wise Guys) would have it. We went there recently and sadly, they do not. Do you have that recipe or can you find it? We have tried to re-create it and have come close but can’t seem to nail it.

Dear Stephanie:

Dear Stephanie: Boy, does that sound good. I’m miffed that I missed it. I don’t have the recipe but I hope someone out there does and is willing to share.

From Geoff:
In a recent newsletter, Karen M. was disappointed about the French Coffee Shoppe closing, as am I, although I will miss their delicious chicken sandwiches more than the crepes.  I’ve tried to duplicate them at home and I’m on the right track with everything except their homemade mayonnaise.  Does anyone have their recipe for it?  I think they kept it a secret.

Dear Geoff:
I missed that gem, too. Never tasted it and now it’s too late. If anyone is sitting on the recipe, please share.

From Martha:
Try this tip from Mark Bittman for getting air out of zipper-lock bags. Fill a large bowl or sink with water. Close all but 1/2 inch of the zipper. Submerge the bag in the water to force out the air. Zip the last bit closed when the air is expelled without letting water in. I tilt the bag at an angle with the last open bit just exposed. I think you get the picture.

Dear Martha: Brilliant, although I like the straw method, too.

From Bee:
Backyard foraging this summer yielded wild strawberry leaf tea spiced with sorrel and sweetened with clover and maple syrup. I am looking for wild greens ideas.

Dear Bee: I found some excellent information on Ohio’s wild edible greens, from stinging nettles to cattails, at http://www.trails.com/list_2598_wild-edible-plants-ohio.html. This is a subject I’ve been wanting to explore, too. Let me know if you find anything tasty.

From Rachel:
Loved the recommendation for sweet corn ice cream… it’s my favorite of the summer flavors at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams.  The business is based in Columbus, but there’s a scoop shop in Chagrin Falls, too. My boyfriend and I are Akronites who have been transplanted to Powell, Ohio, and we’re lucky enough to live within walking distance of one of Jeni Britton Bauer’s legendary homages to dessert. (And thank goodness, because the walk lets me justify the indulgence!)

The Jeni’s website has a mouthwatering description of the flavor: http://jenis.com/peek-into-our-kitchen/sweet-corn-black-raspberries/.

It’s a seasonal flavor… which means I’d better get moving, to get my hands on some.  See you all at the ice cream shop!

Dear Rachel: Yeah, rub it in. You are one lucky ice-cream lover to live that close to a Jeni’s.

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