May 28, 2015

See Jane Cook is a free weekly Internet food newsletter written by Jane Snow and published by Mimi Vanderhaven. Sign up here to have newsletter appear every Wednesday in your email in box. Join us!

Dear friends,

My tomato plants are outgrowing their greenhouse seed trays on the sidewalk where I plopped them last week. One has even produced a cranberry-sized green tomato. I gotta get those suckers in the ground if I want to gorge on sliced tomatoes with olive oil and basil this summer.

But why wait? Last week I found a way to eat out-of-season tomatoes without gagging. Yes, I’ve discovered the holy grail of year-round tomato pleasure: Grilled Caprese Salad. And you don’t even need a grill! You can nuke the tomatoes in the microwave and the salad is just as juicy and delicious.

The recipe was born of desperation.  A grill was the only heat source for the cooking class I led last week at Crown Point’s annual plant sale. The topic was vegetables and herbs. I needed some unique grilled vegetable recipes – ones that weren’t all over the Internet. The problem was, the vegetables I wanted to talk about weren’t in season yet.

I figured I could make a decent tomato, mozzarella and basil salad if I grilled the tomato to intensify the pallid, off-season flavor.  I didn’t figure it would taste as delicious as it turned out. The smoky flavor of the halved and grilled plum tomatoes, and the slightly melted mozzarella (from the residual heat of the tomatoes) gave a great new twist to the popular salad. To bump up the basil flavor, I drizzled the salad with basil vinaigrette.

A couple of days later I didn’t feel like grilling but wanted to use up the leftover tomatoes, mozzarella and basil before they went bad. So, what the heck, I layered the sliced tomatoes and mozzarella and nuked them just until the mozzarella began to melt. Then I drizzled the salads with leftover basil vinaigrette and added a pinch of sea salt and some shredded basil. Wow. Microwaving makes the tomatoes exceptionally juicy and vastly improves their flavor. The soft, melty texture of the mozzarella is interesting, too. Tony couldn’t get enough.

Whether you grill or nuke this salad, use meaty, fresh plum tomatoes instead of globe tomatoes. Cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise for grilling and in ¼-inch-thick lengthwise slices for microwaving.

GRILLED CAPRESE SALAD WITH BASIL VINAIGRETTE

Basil Vinaigrette:
•    2 tbsp. white or red wine vinegar
•    1/2 tsp. Dijon-style mustard
•    8 to 10 large basil leaves
•    1/4 tsp. salt
•    Few grinds pepper
•    1 clove garlic
•    1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Salad:
•    8 medium-sized plum tomatoes
•    12 slices (about 1/8-inch thick) fresh mozzarella, about the diameter of a plum tomato
•    Coarse sea salt
•    Shredded fresh basil for garnish

For the Basil vinaigrette:

At least an hour in advance (several hours is better), combine vinegar, mustard, basil, salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to chop. With motor running, drop garlic clove through feed tube and process a few seconds until chopped. With motor still running, slowly pour oil through feed tube, processing until smooth. Store at room temperature for up to a day. Refrigerate leftovers, bringing to room temperature before using. Makes about ¾ cup.

For the salad:
Build a medium-hot charcoal fire (or pre-heat gas grill) and soak a handful of hickory wood chips.

Cut tomatoes in halves lengthwise through the blossom scar. With your finger or thumb, strip out and discard the seeds and any pulp. When the coals have ashed over, toss some wood chips on the coals. Place tomato halves on the hot grill directly over the coals and close lid, making sure vents are open. Cook for about  5 minutes, until tomato has grill marks. Open lid and turn tomatoes over with tongs. Cook on other side (lid open) until that side begins to char and tomato has softened but is not totally limp.

Remove tomatoes from grill and while hot, fan 4 tomato halves on each of 4 salad plates, interspersing tomato halves with mozzarella slices. The tomato slices should lean against one another to help retain enough heat to partially melt the mozzarella. Spoon some basil vinaigrette over each salad and sprinkle with sea salt. Garnish with shredded fresh basil. Makes 4 servings.

Note: To microwave instead of grill, cut the tomatoes lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Fan on 4 microwave-safe plates with mozzarella slices and microwave on high power just until edges of mozzarella begin to melt. Continue as with recipe above.

TIDBITS

“I thought this would be Mustard Seed “lite” but it’s not,” a friend said as she steered me through the cool new store in Highland Square in Akron. This was Nancy’s second trip, my first, and I was wowed. I was impressed with the spacious main floor which houses the groceries, deli, bakery, wine shop and everything else the Montrose store has, only sexier. With its cement floor and industrial-looking shelves, the long-awaited Highland Square store has a hip, urban vibe.

Then we took an elevator to the second floor and I was bowled over. A sofa and easy chairs are  arranged around a fireplace. A glassed-in area offers outlets and quiet space for computing. Bartenders pour beer and wine behind a sleek counter that doubles as a busy juice bar.

The real star, though, is the food. You line up (and there will be a line) to place your order at the bar, perusing a menu while you wait. Then you find a seat indoors or outside on the huge deck that wraps around two sides of the market, offering tree-top views of Market Street in the front and Portage Path on the side.

The food is delivered to your table quickly, although it would be worth even a long wait. It is restaurant-quality, and much better than the prepared café foods at EarthFare and Giant Eagle Marketplace, both of which I like. In quality and flavor the food is more West Point, with a dash of cool.

I changed my order three or four times before I got to the front of the line. It’s that kind of menu. I’ll go back for the avocado BLT on toasted Italian bread, the truffle fries with truffle aioli, and the Anti-Inflammatory Salad – organic kale, spinach, herbs, pineapple, blueberries, pumpkin seeds, tamari almonds and turmeric-ginger dressing.

I almost ordered the brown rice and refried bean quesadilla with tomatoes, scallions, black olives, Cheddar, mozzarella and grilled chicken. Ultimately I settled on a quinoa Bowl with vegetables, chicken and green curry sauce. I could have chosen brown rice instead of the quinoa, ginger-lime broth or Thai peanut sauce instead of the curry, and marinated tempeh or salmon instead of the chicken.
The food is not inexpensive – my Bowl was $14 – but it is fresh and delicious.

Check it out.

Rhubarb it up:
One Ohio crop that wasn’t hurt by the late spring cold snap is rhubarb. Boy, is there a lot of it.
At my favorite roadside stand on Copley Road in Copley, the broad leaves have grown as high as a man’s waist. The rhubarb there is selling for $1.50 a bunch, which is a bargain compared to prices in stores.

Visit my buddy at 2198 Copley Road or find another grower for your rhubarb fix.

On Copley Road, look for the small signs beside his driveway that read, “$2.50 Fresh Eggs ” and “$1.50 Rhubarb.” Go before 4 p.m., ring the bell and then holler, because he may be around back.

New blog:
Stephen Michaelides, retired editor of the Cleveland-based Restaurant Hospitality magazine, has begun an ambitious and literary blog, Greek Columns, about – mostly — the restaurant industry. The guy can write. Check it out at http://www.greekcolumns.us.

MAILBAG

From Barb:
Thanks for your memories and the history of the West Point Market. The words “rare gem ” accurately describe that store. Shopping in that store was a great experience offering unique products and food items. The store will be missed by many!

From Kate:
Thx for your reflections (on West Point Market). We so agree the store declined after Russ (left). What’s great is Whole Foods Market!!!! How did we luck out? C. U there.

Dear Kate: I like Whole Foods a lot, but I’m worried the store will take business from our own locally owned Mustard Seed Markets.

From Eric:
I worry where I will find quality prime-grade meat! We had Schlachter’s Fine Meats in Cincinnati. I know good beef when I taste it. For those in the know, we all worry what will become of us without West Point Market.

Dear Eric: Try Kirbies Meats & Catering Stow (http://www.kirbies.com/specialty-foods-and-services/butcher-shop), whose co-owner, Kirbie Burns (with son, Kris), was a meat-cutter  at West Point Market and patterned his full-service butcher shop after the store’s meat department. Kirbies is among a shrinking number of fine butcher shops in the Akron area.

From G.H.:
You echo my sentiments exactly with your thoughts on West Point Market. It’s just devastating to me that they’re closing and, even if they open a mini-WPM, it won’t come close to a full service store like it is now. I can’t imagine Russ Vernon ever selling out, both to his customers and his employees. I’ve often told friends that WPM was a major reason I could never move out of the Akron area and I was quite serious. The store made me a much better cook with readily available hard-to-find ingredients.

Some years ago I needed fenugreek for a recipe which I couldn’t find anywhere.  I went to WPM and they didn’t have it so I asked Russ about it. He was very concerned and within a week he had it there for me and has carried it ever since. Service like that has been lacking since Russ retired but it was still a great shopping experience every time I walked the aisles, picking up items otherwise unavailable try out. It will certainly be a sad closing.

Dear G.H.: Your letter is a fine tribute to a store so many of us love. Thanks for sharing.
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May 20, 2015

See Jane Cook is a free weekly Internet food newsletter written by Jane Snow and published by Mimi Vanderhaven. Sign up here to have newsletter appear every Wednesday in your email in box. Join us!

Dear friends,

Akron will lose not just a grocery store when West Point Market closes at the end of the year, as store owners announced last week. Akron also will lose some national stature, a piece of history and much of its culinary zeitgeist

The influence of West Point Market on our local quality of life in the last 35 years cannot be overstated. The store and former owner Russ Vernon made Akron an unlikely culinary mecca in the 1980s and 1990s while improving the quality of food in both our homes and restaurants.

The revolution in American food in the 1980s was ingredient driven, and the Akron area had an armory of ammunition. The armory was West Point, an outpost of Nicoise olives, radicchio and goat cheese in a wilderness of Pop Tarts and Tang.

I began writing about food for the Beacon Journal in 1982, and gradually came to realize that no matter what trend crested the national horizon, Akron-area cooks could dive right in. The key was always West Point, a rare gem of a store that put in our hands cutting-edge comestibles that even big-city gourmands could only read about or eat in restaurants.

New Yorkers should be so lucky. Zabars? Ha! The famed New York shop couldn’t compare to our West Point, which developed a reputation as the best gourmet-foods store in the United States and earned a coveted Silver Spoon Award from the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade for owner and visionary Vernon.

Two weeks before I left the Beacon Journal in 2006, an NBC-TV news producer called and asked to send a crew to interview me about how, in Akron, Ohio, I managed to become “the best food writer in the country.” I don’t know where she got that idea, but I was flattered. The interview fell through when the crew was shunted to a more important story but I  know what I would’ve have said: West Point Market.

Thanks to West Point I was able to write about goat cheese in 1985, shiitake mushrooms in 1986 and edible flowers in 1988, long before most of my colleagues at other newspapers had access to such ingredients.

The store led the specialty-foods industry in many areas including store design. A steady stream of gourmet-store officials from across the country and abroad trooped to Akron to tour the store and borrow ideas.

For example, a 1987 expansion that made West Point Market one of the largest (if not the largest) specialty foods stores in the U.S. at the time included innovative lighting to create the feel of a department store. Instead of the harsh fluorescent overhead lighting of traditional supermarkets, West Point’s new lighting was soft and subdued and directed at the products rather than the aisles.

“We’re lighting the food, not the people,” Vernon explained.

Vernon was the driving force behind the market’s success and continuing evolution. He was both the face and the heart of the business. When he officially retired in 2005, leaving the store in the hands of his middle son, Rick, and a new business partner, Larry Uhl, Vernon’s absence soon became apparent. Although neither the Vernons nor Uhl admitted business had declined, the store no longer bustled with shoppers when I visited. No one greeted customers enthusiastically by name.

The store’s apparent decline could be blamed on the mainstreaming of gourmet foods, many of which are stocked now in regular supermarkets. But years ago Russ Vernon saw the trend coming and formed a plan to focus on “extreme gourmet” foods and to step up the store’s already legendary service.

“We’ll tell you eight ways to use raspberry vinegar,” Vernon said in a 1994 interview. “This is what will assure us a place in the future. And only that.”

After recovering from a heart attack in 1997, Vernon began talking  about “stepping back” from day-to-day operations, although he still was calling the shots in 2003 when he again discussed the mainstreaming of gourmet and West Point’s response.

“It’s like being in front of a freight train,” Vernon said. “You don’t stop to bend over and tie your shoe.”

I bet if Russ had remained in charge, he would have laid new tracks.

TIDBITS

The first bite of Mussaman curry took me back two decades, to the makeshift dining room in what is now Frank’s Place across from Tangier in Akron. Back then, I thought Sunanta Fogle’s Thai cooking was the most exotic, delicious food I’d ever tasted. A meal last week at the new Lemongrass in Monroe Falls confirmed that long-ago verdict.

Sue Fogle is back and her Thai food is as fabulous as ever.

Fogle, chef/owner of the beloved Bangkok Gourmet restaurant in Akron for years, has returned from a 5-year sojourn in her native Thailand to care for a family member. She has taken a job as chef at Lemongrass Grill, a Thai restaurant that opened May 8 in Monroe Falls. The restaurant is owned by Ming Pung, eldest son of the family that owns Golden Dragon in Cuyahoga Falls.

Many of the menu items are Bangkok Gourmet favorites, including cashew chicken, dumpling snacks and all of the curries. Some of the names have been changed, so read the descriptions if there’s a special dish you’ve been craving.

Sue said she will remain at Lemongrass at least as long as it takes her to teach the kitchen staff her techniques and recipes. Let’s hope that takes a long, long time.

The restaurant is at 20 N. Main St., phone 234-706-6488. The website on Facebook is https://www.facebook.com/lemongrassgrillrestaurant/info?tab=overview .

MAILBAG

From Leslie P.:
I have an additional suggestion for the young lady turning 17 and interested in cooking. I think “Ruhlman’s Twenty: by Michael Ruhlman is a fascinating read for anyone who wants to understand what happens during the cooking process and respects ingredients and methodology.

Dear Leslie: Great suggestion. In the book, Ruhlman distills cooking down to 20 things – techniques, ingredients and attitudes – that govern the craft, and offers 100 recipes that illustrate them.
There are plenty of photographs, too.

From Rob:
Uh, about that herb grinder?  Pretty sure it is for one specific herb, which is now widely available in Colorado and Washington, and with a prescription in several other states.  Probably won’t work very well on coriander seeds. (The fact that it is “frequently bought together” with a digital scale on Amazon might have been a tip-off, but maybe Sherrie is just REALLY accurate when she measures out her spices.)

Dear Rob: Maybe I should have picked up on that – but then, I’m not used to thinking of Amazon as a head shop. Also, I don’t remember anyone grinding the stuff back in the day. Thanks for setting us – um – straight.
Please note: If your email address changes, you must re-subscribe to my newsletter in order to continue receiving it. We are unable to change the address for you in  our email list. The procedure is easy. Just click on the “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of a newsletter.  Then go to  http://www.janesnowtoday.com, to sign up under your new address. Thank you.

Please tell your friends about my blog site (https://janesnowtoday.wordpress.com/ ), where you can find not only each week’s newsletter but archives of past newsletters.

May 13, 2015

See Jane Cook is a free weekly Internet food newsletter written by Jane Snow and published by Mimi Vanderhaven. Sign up here to have newsletter appear every Wednesday in your email in box. Join us!

Dear friends,

The asparagus and blackberries coexist along a wire fence in the side field we call a “lawn.”

When Tony and I bought our 80-year-old farm house eight years ago, the little strip yielded an extravagant crop. One year I picked asparagus until September. The thorny canes produced quarts of blackberries as big as my thumb.

Now the relationship is in trouble. The berries have been AWOL for two years and the asparagus is beyond grumpy. It would be easy to blame a flood followed by back-to-back brutal winters, but I suspect irreconcilable differences. That would explain why the pitiful handful of asparagus I picked last week seemed so happy when introduced to a lemon.

No offense, blackberries, but this marriage was meant to be. Yeah, you’ve had asparagus with lemon before, but you’ve never experienced the passionate connection these guys made in my kitchen. I fried lemon slices in butter with a pinch of sugar and paired them with asparagus spears in an upside-down appetizer tart. Think tarte tatin, but savory instead of sweet.

I’m planting a new blackberry patch this year. Maybe I’ll toss in some rhubarb. Or is it too soon?

UPSIDE-DOWN ASPARAGUS-LEMON TART

lemon-tart

•    1 sheet of frozen puff pastry
•    1 firm lemon, sliced thin
•    14 to 16 spears asparagus, cut 4-inches long (tip end only)
•    1 tbsp. oil
•    2 tbsp. butter
•    1 tsp. sugar

Thaw pastry according to package directions. Slice lemon and cut and wash asparagus. Place an 8-inch oven-safe skillet over medium heat. When hot, add oil and butter. After butter melts, sprinkle sugar evenly in skillet. Arrange as many lemon slices as will fit in skillet in a single layer. Cook, turning once, until the edges begin to turn golden. Remove from skillet with tongs.

Remove skillet from heat. Arrange asparagus spears in a spoke pattern in the skillet, with the tips the center. Place lemon slices in a pattern on top of the asparagus.

Unbend puff pastry sheet and roll briefly with a floured rolling pin to remove creases. Use a  9- or 10-inch round cake pan as a guide to cut pastry in a circle. Place pastry circle over asparagus and lemon slices in pan, tucking edges down along the insides.

Bake at 375 degrees for about 25 minutes, until pastry is cooked through and starts to turn golden. Remove from oven and immediately invert onto a plate. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Serve warm or at room temperature.
TIDBITS
The Cleveland Asian Festival has become one of the fastest-growing summer fetes in Ohio, with good reason. It’s a heckuva food-lover’s paradise, with booths vending goodies from the Near and Far East and just about every country in between. Last year I saw Philippine, Korean, Cambodian, Thai, Japanese, Taiwanese, Laotian, Hmong and Bhutanese dishes, among others.

The 6th annual festival will run from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. this Saturday and Sunday (May 16 and 17) at Payne Avenue between E. 27th and E. 30th streets in Cleveland’s Chinatown. In addition to food, there will be entertainment on a couple of stages and dozens of booths dispensing information and Asian-centric products, including a few with cool Asian clothing.
Admission and parking are free. More details are on the website, http://www.clevelandasianfestival.org/2015/ .

Crown Point Plants Plus:

The big organic plant sale at Crown Point Ecology Center in Bath is expanding into a festival this year. I’ll be doing my part by offering a free cooking class, Grilling from the Garden, at 10 a.m. Saturday (May 16). The area around the barn will be alive with food trucks and vendors selling pies, croissants, herbal teas, coffee, hand-made cheeses, baked goods and crafts. In addition to my cooking class, where will be a container garden workshop at 1 p.m. and a session on rain gardens, native plants and composting at 2:30 p.m.

On Sunday, chef Dan Remark will host a cooking demo at 1 p.m.

The plant seedlings are the stars, though. The more than 230 varieties, from artichokes to ground cherries, include Slow Foods USA’s Arc of Taste heirloom breeds, native prairie seedlings, and a depth and breadth of herb varieties that is astounding.

The plant sale and events run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday at 3220 Ira Road in Bath. For more information, see the website: http://www.crownpt.org .

MAILBAG

From Carol:
Do you have a cold couscous salad recipe?  I found some at a local grocery store but cannot afford $7.99 a pound. I’d rather make my own. Thanks.

Dear Carol: I don’t remember where I got this recipe, but I liked it enough to share in a Beacon Journal article about pasta salads. Does anyone else have a recipe for a great couscous salad?

VEGETABLE COUSCOUS WITH LIME-CURRY VINAIGRETTE

Salad:
•    1 1/2 cups water
•    1 1/2 cups quick-cooking couscous
•    1 medium carrot, cut into 1/8-inch dice
•    1 medium yellow squash, cut into 1/8-inch dice
•    1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/8-inch dice
•    1/4 cup raisins
•    1/4 cup slivered almonds

Dressing:
•    2 tbsp. white wine vinegar
•    2 tbsp. fresh lime juice
•    1 tsp. finely chopped or grated lime peel
•    1 clove garlic, minced
•    1/4 tsp. curry powder
•    1/4 tsp. ground ginger powder
•    1/4 tsp. salt
•    Pinch cayenne pepper
•    1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. olive oil

For the salad, place water in a 2-quart, microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high power until water boils. Remove from oven, stir in couscous, cover and let stand 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, place chopped carrot in a microwave-safe bowl. Add 2 tablespoons water, cover with plastic wrap and microwave on high power for about 1 minute, or until carrots are softened. Combine in a large serving bowl with yellow squash, zucchini, raisins and almonds.

Make dressing by combining dressing ingredients in a jar and shaking well. When couscous resting time is over, uncover and fluff with a fork until all
lumps are gone. Cool a few minutes longer, fluffing occasionally. Combine with vegetables. Add dressing and toss thoroughly. Makes six to eight servings.

From Molly:
Hi Jane. My eldest is turning 17 next month, and cooks a little bit. She’s interested in being in the kitchen, and likes reading cookbooks. Do you have any recommendations for a good beginner book for her? I have “Joy of Cooking,” a Cooks Illustrated’s large tome, a Julia Child, a Jacques Pepin, “Bistro Cooking” by Patricia Wells, “Biba’s Italian Cooking,” “Yan Can Cook,” two by Alton Brown, and more. She enjoys food from many cultures.

Dear Molly: You can’t do better than Julia Child for teaching techniques to beginners and veteran cooks alike. I’d go with a book that has photos, such as “The Way to Cook.” I don’t think it’s a good idea to start kids on cookbooks that are too simplistic. Who wants to make mac and cheese or tuna casserole? Start ‘em with recipes that will knock their socks off and they’ll be hooked for life.

From Pennie:
Oh no you don’t. You don’t get to say “Salmon and chive cheesecake” and just walk away. Spill it!!

Dear Pennie: I wouldn’t dream of depriving you of this treat. Although it is meant to be served at room temperature in small wedges or with crackers for spreading, I know people who eat it straight from the oven, with spoons.

SMOKED SALMON AND CHIVE CHEESECAKE
•    1 tbsp. olive oil
•    1/2 cup minced onion
•    2 cloves garlic, minced
•    1/2 cup minced red bell pepper
•    2 (8-oz.) packages cream cheese, softened
•    3 eggs
•    2 tbsp. milk
•    1/2 tsp. salt
•    1/4 cup fresh-grated Parmesan cheese
•    1/4 cup shredded Jarlsberg or Swiss cheese
•    1/2 cup chopped fresh chives
•    Dash of Tabasco sauce
•    1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
•    2 oz. cold-smoked salmon (lox), diced

Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Sauté onions and garlic for 1 minute. Add bell pepper and sauté 1 minute longer. Remove from heat and set
aside.

In a mixer bowl, beat cream cheese until fluffy. Beat in one egg at a time, until well combined. Beat in milk, salt and cheeses, scraping down sides of
mixer bowl. Add onion-pepper mixture, chives, Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce. Beat to combine. Add salmon and beat just until incorporated.

Lightly oil the bottom and sides of an 8-inch springform pan. Pour batter into pan. Bake in a preheated, 350-degree oven for 45 minutes, or until the cheesecake is firm along with sides but still slightly wiggly in the middle. Remove from oven and cool.

Cover and chill cheesecake for several hours or overnight. Run a sharp knife around sides of pan, then remove pan sides. Cut into wedges and eat
with a fork as an appetizer, or surround the cheesecake with cracker and serve as a spread.

Makes 12 servings.

Please note: If your email address changes, you must re-subscribe to my newsletter in order to continue receiving it. We are unable to change the address for you in  our email list. The procedure is easy. Just click on the “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of a newsletter.  Then go to  http://www.janesnowtoday.com, to sign up under your new address. Thank you.

Please tell your friends about my blog site (https://janesnowtoday.wordpress.com/ ), where you can find not only each week’s newsletter but archives of past newsletters.

May 6, 2015

See Jane Cook is a free weekly Internet food newsletter written by Jane Snow and published by Mimi Vanderhaven. Sign up here to have newsletter appear every Wednesday in your email in box. Join us!

I wrote the following column two weeks ago, just before my computer went kerflooey. In the interim, the Japanese cherry blossoms bloomed and died and the asparagus patch began producing. I’m glad Mother Nature is more reliable than my computer.

Dear friends,

The violets bloomed on my lawn last week and our first cherry blossoms unfurled. Asparagus can’t be far behind. I check my patch on daily walks with my dog, but no spears have broken through the soil yet. Still, it’s full-fledged spring. I don’t care if the temperature dips to freezing this weekend, I’m declaring spring.

I’ve been eating asparagus for a couple of weeks already, rushing the season a bit after denying myself all winter as a matter of principle.  Some foods just taste better in season.

What I’m looking forward to: salmon and chive cheesecake, violets scattered in field-lettuce salads, sugar snap peas eaten right from the vines, morel mushrooms sautéed in butter,  and rhubarb compote over my morning yogurt.

But first, on one evening soon, I will make a voluptuous meal of seared salmon with  tart-sweet rhubarb marmalade. Imagine the bright, jam-like rhubarb draped over the pink fish. I will eat it alone, savoring every bite.

Tony will still be at work, so I won’t have to hear why salmon tastes better raw, and why rhubarb shouldn’t be eaten for any reason. This wonderful dinner will be just for me. Well, me and the dog.

SAUTEED SALMON WITH RHUBARB MARMALADE
•    1/4 cup water
•    1/4 cup sugar
•    1 tsp. grated peeled ginger
•    1/4 tsp. ground allspice
•    1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped
•    1 lb. rhubarb, stalks only, cut into 1-inch pieces
•    Salt, freshly ground pepper
•    1 tbsp. canola oil
•    4 6-oz. salmon fillets with skin
•    4 oz. pea shoots or watercress

In a saucepan, combine the water, sugar, ginger, allspice and vanilla bean and seeds. Add the rhubarb; bring to a boil. Cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is jam-like, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Discard the vanilla bean.

In a nonstick skillet, heat the oil over moderately high heat. Season the salmon with salt and pepper. Cook, turning once, until lightly browned, 8 minutes. Spoon the sauce onto plates, top with the salmon and pea shoots and serve.

From the July, 2002 edition of Food & Wine magazine.

THE MAILBAG

From Maryann Aguilar, Stow:
I read your newsletter about the Panera broth bowls with great interest since we had just tried them. Both my husband and I liked them, which is unusual in that we rarely like the same kinds of soups.

One of your comments, however, really alarmed me. You said you thought the basis of the soup was beef broth. Since I’m allergic to beef and pork, I’m always inquiring at restaurants as to the ingredients of seemingly innocent dishes. I didn’t think to ask about the broth bowl with chicken that we tried. I didn’t remember having a reaction after eating the soup, but sometimes it’s only a mild reaction that I might barely notice.

Not to worry, though. When I went to Panera this past week, I checked with them, and was told that the broth was entirely a vegetable broth, and if it’s ordered without the chicken it qualifies as vegan.

Dear Maryann: Well, I’m stunned. I would never have guessed it’s vegetable broth. Thanks for the note.

From Sherrie Weitzenhof, Bath:
Several columns ago you suggested buying whole spices and then grinding them as needed.  What type of spice grinder do you suggest?  I bought a VA ECID SILVER Hard Top 4 piece grinder – 2.5″ through Amazon, http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00S5WLS0G?psc=1 . When I used it with coriander seed, it didn’t grind the seeds into smaller pieces as I wanted. Am I doing something wrong or should I get something else?  If so, what should I get?

Dear Sherrie: I’m not familiar with the grinder you bought, and the description on Amazon was confusing with its talk of pollen collectors and interchangeable disks. I use a simple, inexpensive Krups burr-type coffee grinder for seeds, leaves and such, and a tiny box grater for larger spices such as nutmeg.

From Betty, Carrollton, Ga.:
When we lived in Akron, I fell in love with a chickpea dish often served on the lunch buffets in both the Indian restaurants we visited from time to time. It was not a “saucy” dish, but the beans were well flavored and looked as though they might have had a good bit of turmeric. I can’t find anything similar in my cookbooks or online. My description may not be good enough to ring any bells, but thanks for trying.

Dear Betty: I found a recipe for a rather dry, highly spiced chickpea dish with turmeric in my old but much-loved copy of “The Bombay Palace Cookbook” by Stendahl (he goes by one name). The author says it is a Punjabi recipe from the town of Pindi. An Indian spice mixture he calls “chana masala” is recommended, although you may use the more common garam masala, Stendahl says.

•    1/2 lb. (about 1 cup) dried chickpeas or two
•    15-oz. cans chickpeas, drained)
•    1/2 packet chana masala or 1 rounded tbsp. garam masala
•    1/2 tsp. Ground coriander
•    1/2 tsp. ground cumin
•    1/2 tsp. paprika
•    1/2 tsp. turmeric
•    1/4 tsp. red chili powder
•    2 tomatoes, coarsely chopped
•    1 piece fresh ginger, size of a Brazil nut, minced
•    1/2 cup water
•    4 tbsp. butter, melted
•    Salt, pepper to taste
Garnish:
•    1/2 packet chana masala or 1 rounded tbsp. garam masala
•    2 tbsp. chopped cilantro
•    1 tsp. garam masala

If using dried beans, wash and then soak in hot water to cover for at least 2 hours. Drain. Bring to a boil in water to cover, with a bit of salt added. Boil for 3 minutes, removing any scum that rises to the surface. Cover and simmer until tender, about 40 minutes, adding more hot water if needed. Drain and transfer to a bowl. Set aside.

Blend together the ground spices and add to the chickpeas. St in the tomatoes and ginger. Heat a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chickpea mixture and the ½ cup water and simmer until liquid evaporates. Transfer to a serving bowl.

Pour melted butter over the chickpeas. Garnish with the half packet of chana masala or the garam masala, coriander leaves, and final 1 teaspoon of garam masala. Serve hot or at room temperature.
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