October 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,

A lush row of kale in the garden sparked a search last week for a great – not just good – kale soup recipe. I have made a few kale soups in the past and they were good but not great. Last week I had to read dozens of recipes and try two of them before I hit the jackpot. The Spicy Pork and Kale Soup recipe I adapted from an old Bon Appetit magazine will join a handful of other favorite soups in regular rotation.

I did not create this recipe. The magazine’s former senior food editor, Alison Roman, did, and she clearly is a master of flavor. I have been developing recipes for at least two decades but never would have thought to pair cumin with soy sauce. I must check out Roman’s other creations at her new home, BuzzFeed (www.buzzfeed.com/life).

Anyway, the cumin-soy sauce combo is inspired. When the flavors come together with the other seasonings in the soup they are not overt, but they both add an underlying bass note  to the flavor profile. The spicy Asian noodle soup builds flavor by first crushing lemon zest with whole peppercorns and whole cumin in a mortar. This is easy (you don’t need a mortar, either), and the remaining ingredients are assembled quickly. Washing and de-veining the kale is the most time-consuming step.

I like that the seasonings are mixed with the plain ground sausage before it is browned in the soup pot. This distributes the bold flavors – fresh ginger, red pepper flakes, garlic and the crushed mixture – evenly through the soup, ensuring a “pow” in every bite.

Once assembled, the soup is simmered for just 15 minutes or so before serving. I added 15 minutes to the cooking time to give the flavors more time to meld. The soup was outstanding and I bet it would be even better reheated the next day. I don’t know because we didn’t have leftovers. It’s that good. Be forewarned, though, that the soup is spicy. If you want to tone it down, add a bit less red pepper flakes.

SPICY PORK AND KALE SOUP

janesnow-kale
(Based on a recipe from Bon Appetit)

•    1/2 tsp. whole black peppercorns
•    1/4 tsp. grated lemon zest
•    1/2 tsp cumin seeds
•    3/4 lbs. ground pork
•    1 tsp. finely chopped ginger
•    2 cloves garlic, minced
•    3/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
•    1 tbsp. vegetable oil
•    Salt
•    4 cups chicken broth
•    4 scallions, sliced thin
•    2 tbsp. soy sauce
•    1 tsp. fish sauce
•    1 large bunch curly kale, veins removed and roughly chopped
•    8 oz. very thin rice noodles

With a mortar and pestle if you have it, crush together the peppercorns and lemon zest. Add cumin seeds and continue to crush. Or place in a small freezer bag (the thick-plastic kind) and crush with a meat pounder. In a small bowl, combine the pork with the crushed mixture, ginger, garlic and red pepper flakes. Mix well and set aside for 15 minutes or so.

Heat a heavy soup pot over medium-high heat. Add oil and when hot, add the ground pork. Season with salt. Brown the pork, breaking up the meat with a spoon. Add the chicken broth, scallions, fish sauce and soy sauce. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes to meld flavors. Stir in the kale and simmer 15 minutes longer, covered, while preparing the noodles.

Drop the rice noodles in a separate pot of boiling water. Boil for about 5 minutes, until tender. Drain. Divide noodles among 4 bowls. Ladle soup over noodles. Makes 4 servings.

TIDBITS

I had never craved pumpkin latte until Starbucks’ incessant advertising drilled it into my head this fall. I went from oblivious to yearning in 30 days. That’s what millions of dollars in ads and a sophisticated social media campaign will do for a product. As an article in Forbes put it, “…Pumpkin Spice Latte has become the Beaujolais Nouveau of the new millennium.” (Yes, the seasonal coffee drink has been around for 10 years but this fall is when the ads became ubiquitous, as Starbucks attempted to enshrine it as a beloved American tradition.)

Starbucks doesn’t sell sugar-free pumpkin spice lattes so I went to Plan B, making my own. Recipes abound on the Internet. Some require you to make pumpkin syrup. Others flavor the drink with canned pumpkin and spices. I stirred a pinch of pumpkin pie spice and a few drops of vanilla into my coffee and sipped while I contemplated. I settled on a recipe from the kitchn (www.thekitchn.com) that calls for briefly cooking the pumpkin and spices to deepen and mellow their flavors.  That made sense to me.

All of the recipes I saw have a ridiculous coffee-to-milk ratio (about two tablespoons coffee to a cup of milk), so I changed that to roughly half and half. I also changed the amount of vanilla because the two tablespoons in the original recipe (for just two cups of coffee) gave the milk mixture a bitter edge.

In ten minutes (not counting the first test batch) my pumpkin latte craving was slaked. The homemade latte was pretty good. Can we all move on to gingerbread lattes now?

PUMPKIN SPICE LATTE

•    2 tbsp. canned pumpkin
•    1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
•    2 tbsp. sugar (or 1 1/2 tbsp. Splenda)
•    2 cups milk (I used skim)
•    1 tbsp. vanilla
•    2 cups strong hot coffee or espresso

Combine canned pumpkin and spice in a small (1-quart) saucepan. Cook and stir over medium heat until hot and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add sugar and continue to stir until the mixture looks like a bubbly syrup. If using Splenda, stir in a small amount of the milk (2 to 3 tablespoons)  and cook and stir until bubbly. Whisk in the milk in a slow stream. Add vanilla. Warm, whisking occasionally.

Pour a half-cup of coffee in each of four 12-ounce mugs. Stir one-fourth cup of the milk mixture into each mug. Froth remaining milk mixture in a narrow, deep bowl with a stick blender, or pour into a quart jar and shake until frothy. Top the coffee mixture with the foam. Makes 4 faux lattes.

THE MAILBAG

From Debbie:
I don’t know if Geoff considers Walnut Creek local, but Hillcrest Orchard of Walnut Creek sells unpasteurized cider. They are just a few blocks east of “downtown” Walnut Creek at 2474 TR 444 (that’s Township road for you city slickers). The mailing address is Sugarcreek, Ohio 44681 — you can Google the address for directions. The cider is a little sweeter than I remember from 50 years ago, but still pretty good. They sell a variety of apples by the pound, half peck, peck, half bushel and full bushel.  They also sell local produce and bulk chocolate, nuts and candy. This makes a nice day trip especially if you stop at Mrs. Yoder’s in Mt. Hope for lunch or dinner.

Dear Debbie: That does sound like a great fall outing. Thanks for the info.

From Peggy:
My favorite apple orchard, Beckwith Farms, told me that there is a little farm store on Deerfield Circle that sells its own unprocessed cider. She described is as a red brick building that is the only market on the circle. There is a sign declaring the cider unpasteurized outside the building, so it is easy to find. I Googled the area and saw Fruitlands Farm Market on the map.

Dear Peggy: Yet another nice day trip. Thanks to both of you for coming through for Geoff.

From Jodie DeLamatre:
Regarding meatloaf, I like Martha Stewart’s mother’s recipe and so does my family: http://www.marthastewart.com/318232/meatloaf-101-with-mrs-kostyra.

Dear Jodie: The recipe hits all of my meatloaf must-haves – soft bread crumbs, lots of onion and ketchup. Plus the extras (carrots, celery, garlic and parsley) are tame enough to let the flavor of the meat shine. I could go for this. Thanks, Jodie.

From John:
Several years back we purchased Russian tea biscuits made by Zoltan of Mary’s Bakery on the east side of Cleveland, our best find of these pastries. Do you have access to the recipe? Thank you.

Dear John: Sorry to disappoint you, but I had never heard of the bakery or the baker until you wrote. Zoltan sounds Hungarian. You could try a couple of the remaining Hungarian bakeries in Cleveland. If somebody has a better idea, I’ll pass it along.
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.

Advertisements

October 21, 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,

I have gotten calls over the years to settle bar bets, but none as good as this. Would I be willing to come to Ken Stewart’s Grille to taste three meatloaves and declare the winner?

Free meatloaf? Are you kidding?

On the designated day I slid onto a bar stool and the bartender, my close friend Michele Sandridge, plunked down three plates. On each, a thick slice of meatloaf with sauce snuggled against a pile of mashed potatoes. Oh boy oh boy.

Did I mention I love meatloaf? Once I even tried my hand at making the ultimate meatloaf, pitting it in a newsroom taste test against Julia Child’s and a Chicago contest winner. My co-workers hated my pate-inspired, cognac-spiked loaf. In my defense I wrote, “If the taste test proved anything, it’s that people have very individual ideas of what makes a great meat-loaf. In the same blind tasting, more than a few raspberries were directed at Julia Child’s recipe.”

I, too, have an individual idea of what makes a great meatloaf, I warned last week’s contestants — customer Mike Price, Ken Stewart’s day chef Micah Lipford and Michele’s fellow bartender, Carol Diacobone.  My personal taste is for juicy meatloaf that has a loose, tender texture. I like lots of onions. I don’t like dry bread crumbs, cracker crumbs or oatmeal as a binder. I prefer fresh, soft bread crumbs. Although it’s not a deal breaker, I like a free-form meatloaf rather than one shaped in a loaf pan. And although a ketchup-based glaze is nice, it’s not absolutely necessary.

I tasted the three meatloaves blind. Although the contestants hovered, they kept quiet while I made up my mind. One meatloaf (Price’s, I later learned) tasted of dried bread crumbs. One (Lipford’s) had a good texture but hinted of cumin. And one, the bartender’s, was just right.

I really liked Diacobone’s juicy, flavorful meatloaf and was surprised to learn later that it contained dry bread crumbs. It also contained dry onion soup mix, an ingredient I’ve railed about in the past. Maybe the bloody Mary mix cancelled out the dried-spices flavor. Or maybe, as Diacobone claims, the secret to its superior flavor was a meat mixture of beef, veal and pork.

Whatever the reason, it all worked. The meatloaf was fantastic  and the lip-smacking, mildly spicy sauce was the icing on the loaf.

Of course, my meatloaf (not the Cognac one) would have beaten all of them. You probably think yours would, too. That’s meatloaf culture in America. If you think yours is better than Carole’s or mine, send your recipe. I’d like to see it.

CAROL DIACOBONE’S WINNING MEATLOAF
•    2 cups bloody Mary mix
•    1 packet Lipton onion soup mix
•    2 lbs. meatloaf mix (a mixture of ground beef, veal and pork; Carol uses the mix from Miles Market in Solon)
•    2 tsp. dried parsley
•    1 tsp. McCormick’s Garlic Pepper
•    3/4 cup Grated Romano cheese
•    2 eggs
•    1/2 cup milk or enough to moisten crumbs
•    1/2 cup Progresso Italian Style dry bread crumbs
•    Topping (recipe follows)

Stir the onion soup mix into the bloody Mary mix and allow to soften for 2 hours. Combine in a bowl with the ground meats, parsley, garlic pepper, cheese, eggs. Combine milk and bread crumbs and stir until crumbs are softened. Add to meatloaf mixture and mix well. Form into 2 loaves. Place side by side in a baking pan large enough to hold them comfortably with room between and around the loaves.

Pour enough water in pan to barely film the bottom. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for about 1 1/2  hours or until cooked through but still juicy. Transfer to a platter. Top with the warm sauce to serve.
Pour the warm sauce over the meatloaves to serve.

TOPPING
•    6 slices bacon
•    1 medium onion, roughly chopped
•    1 1/2 cups ketchup
•    1/2 cup water

Fry bacon in a skillet until brown. Add onion and continue to cook until softened. Do not drain off grease. Stir in ketchup and water. Simmer until sauce thickens slightly, about 15 minutes.

MEATLOAF
•    2 lbs. ground chuck
•    1 medium onion, chopped
•    1 tsp. salt
•    1/2 tsp. pepper
•    1 tbsp. dried thyme
•    1 tbsp. A-1 Steak Sauce
•    2 tbsp. ketchup
•    2 eggs
•    2 tbsp. milk
•    3 slices bread

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Dump the ground chuck into a 9-by-13-inch baking pan and fluff it up with your fingers to separate the big chunks into smaller chunks.

Add onion, salt, pepper, thyme and A-1 sauce. Add the ketchup, eggs and milk.

Tear the bread into large chunks and process in a food processor or blender until it is reduced to small crumbs. Or by hand, tear the bread into small (1/2-inch) pieces and add to the meat mixture.

Gently mix the ingredients with your hands. Do not press and squeeze the meat or the meatloaf will be tough. Shape the mixture into a flat loaf almost as long as the pan and about 5 inches wide. If you like, squirt some ketchup down the center of the meatloaf. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven. With two spatulas, immediately transfer the meatloaf to a big plate. If the meatloaf is allowed to remain in the pan, it will soak up all of the grease that has oozed out during cooking. Cut the meatloaf into thick slices.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

TIDBITS

From the outside, Family Groceries in the North Hill area of Akron looks like a small, well-kept convenience store. But if you’re looking for bread and milk, don’t bother. Yak butter, yes.

Despite the bland moniker, Family Groceries is about as interesting as they come.  It is one of a handful of ethnic grocery stores that cater to the influx of Nepalese refugees who have settled in the area. But Family Groceries is larger than most, with a big fresh-food area stocked with meats and exotic fruits and vegetables, and – the prize – a chatpattey chef straight from the refugee camps.

Buddha (he goes by just the one name) cooks one thing, chatpattey. It’s a popular Nepalese street food of puffed seasoned rice, fresh  vegetables, cilantro, onion, potato, ground spices, lime and two kinds of tiny chickpeas. It is unlike anything I’ve ever tasted – a mound of highly seasoned crunchy, soft, salty, sour, fresh bits of food all jumbled together. It’s addictive.

Buddha makes chatpattey to order from bowls and tubs of ingredients he prepares before the store opens at 10 a.m. He keeps at it until 7 p.m. daily in a walled-off alcove with picnic tables at the rear of the rambling store. The $2 size is plenty for a meal. It also comes in $5 (large) and $10 sizes, the latter intended for families.

Buddha made chatpattey for 12 years in a refugee camp in Nepal before emigrating to Akron, says store owner Naresh Subba (who used to be a nuclear physicist, but that’s another story). Both Subba and Buddha ended up in refugee camps in Nepal when neighboring Bhutan expelled its citizens of Nepalese descent.

Subba’s store is much larger than it appears from the outside. I would not have guessed another area lay behind the store proper that is accessed from the street. You must walk to the rear and hang a right to find the connecting passageway. The hidden chatpattey area is to the left, past the vegetable display cases.

The Chatpattey is served in pressed-foam boxes to eat there or take out. If you go, ask for mild. Trust me on this. It’s hot.

Family Groceries is at 768 N. Main Street in Akron. It is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.

THE MAILBAG

From Peggy P.:
Your gumbo recipe took me back to my friend, Patrick, and his little town of Gulfport, Miss.  It sits about halfway between Biloxi and New Orleans. Whenever I visit I go to different places to check the gumbo. There are so many different, delicious gumbos that it is difficult to choose one over the other. Like chili here, every kitchen has its own take on the ingredients and hot-ness. So good!

I am sending you a “seafood chili” that I found somewhere on the Internet. Again, there are a million of them. This one, though, is easy to make and I love the way it comes together.

SEAFOOD CHILI
•    1/4 cup olive oil
•    2 cups chopped onion
•    2 leeks, white part only, chopped
•    10 garlic cloves, minced
•    5 tsp. dried oregano
•    35 oz. can Italian plum tomatoes, not drained
•    16 oz. clam juice
•    2 cups dry red wine
•    1/2 cup pure chili powder (not chili powder spice mix)
•    5 tsp. toasted cumin seed
•    1 tbsp. salt
•    1 tsp. cayenne pepper
•    2 medium red bell peppers, chopped
•    12 Littleneck clams
•    12 mussels, scrubbed and debearded
•    1 1/2 lb. grouper cut into 1-inch pieces
•    12 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
•    3/4 pound bay scallops
•    Fresh cilantro for serving

Heat oil in a heavy saucepan over low heat. Add onions and leeks.  Cover and cook until tender, usually about 15 minutes.  Add garlic and oregano and cook another 10 minutes.  Add tomatoes, breaking up large pieces with a spatula.  Stir in the clam juice, wine, chili powder, cumin, salt and cayenne.  Slowly bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered for 1 hour.  Add bell peppers and simmer for 20 minutes.  Refrigerate overnight.

Bring sauce to a boil. Reduce heat to a brisk simmer. Add clams and mussels. Cover and cook until shellfish open, approximately 5 to 10 minutes.  Discard any shellfish that do not open. Gently stir in grouper and shrimp. Cover and simmer for 2 minutes. Add scallops. Cover and simmer until fish is just opaque, about 3 minutes.

Top with cilantro and serve.
Dear Peggy: This recipe sounds incredibly good. I had never heard of seafood chili. It sounds like cioppino with heat and chili spices added. This would be a great fall dish for a crowd.

From Carol E.:
I was so surprised at learning how pears are ripened. At what point do you pick the pears to store in refrigerator?

Dear Carol: The instructions I read say to pick the pears when “mature.” I picked them when they were fully grown and had deepened in color from yellow-green to yellow with the occasional tinge of orangey-pink.

From Geoff:
From what I understand, it’s traditional to use file powder in a gumbo only if it contains no okra since okra acts as a thickener itself. If okra is part of the dish, omit the file.

Apple cider season is here again and the few times I’ve had some were disappointing, as usual. Do you, or any of your readers know where I can get unpasteurized cider? Each year my search turns up nothing. I’ve been told it’s illegal to sell it in Ohio but I know it’s available easily in Pennsylvania. Many of the cider makers tell me they no longer use heat in pasteurization but ultra-violet light. It seems to make very little difference as both are lacking in the flavor I remember from years ago. Any help would be appreciated.

Dear Geoff: I avoid gumbo recipes that contain okra, which is not one of my favorite vegetables. I seldom use file powder, either, relying on a roux to thicken the stew. I think we’ve now hit on all three methods of thickening gumbo and cooks can take their choice.

As for unpasteurized cider, Ohio does allow it to be sold where it is produced as long as it has a warning label. I hope some local orchards still sell the good stuff. Can anyone help us out?
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.

October 14, 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,

Until last week the only thing I had ever stolen was a popcorn ball on a dare when I was in the fourth grade. Now there’s another black mark — about 10 pounds of ripe quinces.

Remember the quince bushes growing on City of Akron property I mentioned a couple of weeks ago? The yellow fruit were so ripe they were rolling on the sidewalks along Portage Path and Casterton Avenue in Highland Square.

A few days later my evil twin, Dorena, said she spotted quince bushes loaded with fruit in downtown Akron, near her doctor’s appointment the next day. Did I want to meet her for a raid? Heck, yeah.

I tried to call the City of Akron’s arborist (who knew “urban arborist” was a career path?) for permission. He still hasn’t returned my call. So with all that fruit just going to waste I figured it was OK – no, it was my DUTY – to haul it away and eat it. Otherwise it would rot on the sidewalks, possibly causing a pedestrian mishap and expensive lawsuit. You’re welcome, Akron.

Still, I felt kind of guilty as we pawed through the bushes inches from rush-hour traffic along Cedar Street within sight of my former employer, the Beacon Journal. Would a former colleague spot me and think I had become a crazy street person? Would the cops haul us away?

We picked the ripe fruit for about 30 minutes as cars whizzed by. A couple of friendly strangers waved. No one else gave a damn, including the traffic cop a block away. We left with bulging plastic grocery sacks. The quinces were dead ripe.

My nose can attest to that. First my car and then my kitchen filled with the lovely citrus-floral aroma of the raw fruit. The ones Dorena and I harvested are lime-sized fruits from red-flowering quince shrubs. They are deliciously edible, although the quinces most people eat are much larger and grow on trees. The difference is that small quinces are more tedious to peel and core, but I can’t complain when the fruit is free.

Quince-savvy cooks warn that even large quinces are hard to peel. My enthusiasm began to wane until one cook posted in the comments section of an Internet recipe that she just poaches the fruit without peeling. I found out the hard way that coring is essential, though. The first batch I poached was tough to eat, what with all the seed-spitting.

Although quinces may be used in pies, meat glazes, cakes and even in savory stews, I think most people use them for jam. I don’t eat much jam, though, so I began my first foray into quince-cooking with two simple preparations – poached quinces and brandy steeped with quinces, vanilla bean, ginger and star anise.

The brandy is the simplest way of all to use quinces, and it actually involves no cooking.  The vanilla bean, ginger and star anise are placed in lidded containers and brandy is poured over them. In six weeks the flavored brandy is ready to drink, brush on pork roasts, add to pie fillings or drizzle over ice cream. Mine should be full-strength by Thanksgiving.

British cookbook author Nigella Lawson makes the brandy with a cinnamon stick and star anise. I was afraid the cinnamon would cloak the quince flavor so I omitted it and added a small piece of ginger and a vanilla bean.

My brandy is steeping in half-pint and pint jars instead of one big jug in order to have enough for gift-giving. So far, two weeks in, the quinces have not changed color as they do when cooked.

The poached quinces are another story. As they bubble in a mixture of sugar and water  they turn from white to pink and continue to deepen in color after cooking. Poached quinces taste wonderful over plain Greek yogurt.  They may be kept in the refrigerator in the syrup for two weeks.
P.S.: The hardest thing about this quince escapade was not swiping the fruit but typing “quinces” instead of “quince” for the plural. Quince, like mice, used to be a collective noun but through incorrect usage, “quinces” gradually became the standard. The barbarians have won again.

QUINCE BRANDY

jane-snow-quince
•    7 small quinces, halved, or 1 to 1 1/2 larger quinces cut into eighths
•    2 1/3 vanilla beans
•    4 thin slices fresh ginger
•    6 small star anise
•    1 1/2 liters inexpensive brandy (as needed to fill the jars)
•    2 pint and 4 half-pint lidded jars, sterilized in the dishwasher

Wash the quinces and cut the small ones, if using, in halves through the stem ends. No need to core or remove the seeds. Place 3  halves in each pint jar and 2 halves in each half-pint jar. If using large quinces, distribute the pieces proportionately among the jars. Cut one vanilla bean in half and place a piece in each pint jar. Cut remaining whole vanilla bean in thirds and place a piece in each half-pint jar. Place a star anise in each jar. Fill with brandy and replace lids. Leave at room temperature for at least 6 weeks before serving.

POACHED QUINCE
•    1 1/2 lbs. small quinces (about 16 lime-sized fruit) or 4 large quinces
•    4 cups water
•    2 cups sugar
•    1/2 vanilla bean
If using small quinces, wash and cut in halves. Remove the core and seeds with a sharp knife. If using large fruit, cut into fourths through the stem end and cut away core and seeds. Cut the pieces into 1/4-inch-thick wedges.

Combine water and sugar in pan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves and water comes to a simmer. Add quinces and vanilla bean. Simmer about 45 minutes or until fruit is very soft. Serve as a meat glaze or dessert topping. I like it over plain Greek yogurt. Refrigerate in the syrup for up to 2 weeks.

HELP U COOK

Don’t toss out used vanilla beans if they are still aromatic. They may be rinsed, wiped off and used again, especially if you did not scrape out the aromatic seeds. Many experts suggest burying a used vanilla bean in sugar to flavor the sugar, but I don’t use much vanilla sugar. Instead I toss used vanilla beans into a jar of vodka and let it sit for months, adding more used vanilla beans as they become available. Voila! – homemade vanilla.

TIDBITS

How sad that Paul Prudhomme died last Thursday, a day after I wrote about him and his gumbo. His hometown newspaper, the Opelousas, La., Daily World, described the famous chef as a kind, gentle man. I knew him as a charming flirt who could get a bit snippy.

In the early 1980s – I forget the exact year — I was sent by my newspaper to interview Prudhomme in his lair, K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen in New Orleans. The man was a rock star of the culinary world. It’s hard to overstate his popularity. He was responsible for the Cajun-food craze that didn’t just sweep but blanketed the country. Chefs from coast to coast, in big cities and villages, were blackening  everything from prime rib to shrimp in homage to Prudhomme’s  iconic blackened redfish.

You think the cronut and salted caramel are popular? They are blips compared to the blackened redfish mania that gripped America. The government banned the harvest of redfish for several years because the popularity of the dish dangerously depleted the species in the Gulf of Mexico.

I remember recreating this dish so my readers could make blackened fish at home. It involved heating a cast-iron skillet over high flame until the skillet became gray with heat, then placing in it a fish fillet heavily encrusted with spices. My house filled with smoke, the alarms blared and I flung open windows and doors in the middle of winter. I’m sure this was no deterrent to readers because the fish was so delicious. Blackening gives it an almost steak-like flavor.

The day I visited Prudhomme, the line to his restaurant was almost two blocks long – at noon! – because he famously did not take reservations. It was kind of thrilling to walk to the head of the line past all those angry stares and give my name to the doorman, as instructed. Paul was expecting me. I was ushered to his small table against a wall in the large, open dining room. He handed me a fork as I eased into a chair across from him. Turns out a home cook was back there in the restaurant kitchen, out of the way of the real chefs, testing recipes on a regular kitchen stove for Prudhomme’s first cookbook. Paul and I were the tasters.

I forget everything we ate that day from shared dishes, but it was lot and it was all incredible. As a young eager-beaver reporter, I frantically scribbled notes, shooting questions at Paul between bites.  He asked a lot of questions about me, too. Although he was married to Kay at the time, he was getting alarmingly chummy.  I remember his eyes. They were mesmerizing.

Then I asked Paul whether his restaurant suffered during his frequent absences to appear on television and at food events, a question the food world whispered about at that time. The warmth in his eyes drained. He wrapped up the interview in about 30 seconds and an employee ushered me out. But I already had my story, not to mention all that incredible food.

THE MAILBAG

From C.K., Tallmadge:
The last time I made gumbo, the recipe called for file powder. I was out of town and could not find it in the local upscale market. Your (well, Paul’s) recipe doesn’t call for it. Does it make a difference in gumbo?

Dear C.K.: I don’t think so, although some folks from New Orleans may beg to differ. If your recipe starts with a cooked roux, you shouldn’t miss the thickening properties of the file powder. If the gumbo turns out too soupy, simmer it longer until it thickens to your liking. File powder, made from ground sassafras root, does add a bit of flavor, too, but most gumbos are so spicy I don’t think you’ll miss it.

From Kathy Gauer:
Love the newsletter and appreciate you still doing it. I was wondering if you knew this — I recently found out that a favorite restaurant, Grille 39, that used to be in a plaza on Massillon Road in Green, is now called the Rose Covered Inn on East Waterloo Road, state Route 224, sort of in the area of the Goodyear Blimp Air Dock but further east past the Massillon Road intersection. Same chef/owner that has been around a long time and has a wonderfully delicious and assorted menu at reasonable prices. The grilled pork chops and homemade mashed potatoes were the best I have ever eaten!! There is a different decor at the new location than Grille 39 had but the food is still great!

Dear Kathy: This is the kind of news I love to hear – another local restaurant with great home cooking.  The Rose Covered Grill is at 2156 E. Waterloo Rd. in Akron. The owner is Joe Cernava, who owned Grille 39 and before that, Joe’s Bar and Restaurant in the Montrose area of Copley Township.

From Linda in France:
I’m with Bill on the pizza stone thing. I bought four fire bricks at the local builder’s supply place and put them in the oven. My tiny butane-fueled stove has a tiny oven but it exceeds 500 degrees!

I make the crust on a piece of parchment on a pizza peel then swoosh it right onto the bricks, paper and all! Works great, and I’d do it the same way if I had a lid for my charcoal grill which I haven’t figured out yet. By the way, pate feuilletee is CHEAP and that is what I make pizza on these days.

Dear Linda: How nice that ready-made puff pastry is so available. Thanks for telling me how to get the raw pizza off the pizza peel – always a challenge for me.
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.

October 7, 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,

Tony grunted and moaned as he hunched over a bowl of gumbo and scooped up spoonfuls  in rapid succession. I figured he was in pain.

“Don’t eat so fast,” I cautioned.

Then I realized the grunts and moans were near-reverent exclamations of delight.  It was pitiful and it’s my fault. I did this to him by serving mostly healthful food night after night, year after year, until a taste of something really good reduced him to a quivering mass of gratitude.

In our decade together Tony has been the victim of my new theory of eating, a theory that’s pretty outrageous for a food writer. After gaining 100 pounds in 25 years of food reporting, and losing it just before I met Tony, I vowed I would not regain the weight. In 10 years I’ve regained just 20 pounds, but it is a constant battle.  Eating healthfully most of the time helps, of course. So does eating plain.

I decided that food shouldn’t taste fabulous all the time.  People dieting or watching their weight should not be tracking down recipes for low-cal cheesecake and fettuccine carbonara. Great-tasting food is too easy to overeat. My normal dinners are a simply cooked piece of protein, no sauce, and vegetables served with seasonings but no fats such as butter. Once or twice a week I make something really good (although not swimming in fat), but the rest of the time I prepare plain, healthful meals.

If only Tony had snagged me in my heyday. Back then, gumbo would have been just the appetizer. I would have followed it with something like chicken etouffee or barbecued shrimp, which basically is shrimp with seasonings poached in a pound of butter.

Gumbo isn’t nearly as bad, although if you make it the traditional way, with a cooked roux, it has more than a smidgeon of fat. I wouldn’t make gumbo any other way. When the temperatures dropped last week, I hauled out the spices and made a pot. I used a Paul Prudhomme recipe, the gold standard for Cajun food. If you’re going to do it, do it right.

The aroma alone could have probably satisfied me. The house smelled delicious as the gumbo bubbled on the stove. Prudhomme’s Chicken and Andouille Smoked Sausage Gumbo is a mahogany bowlful of meat and rice with enough cayenne to give it a sting but not a jolt. The rice is not mixed into the soup. Never.  A molded mound of rice is placed in a bowl and the gumbo is ladled around it.

The rich color of the soup comes from the roux, which you must cook very carefully in a skillet and add to the soup a spoonful at a time. The roux is made from the pan drippings and flour, to which you add sautéed onions, peppers and celery. The roux is stirred over medium-high heat (I do not walk the tightrope of high heat that Prudhomme suggests) until the mixture is a dark red. If burnt flecks begin to appear, you must discard the roux and vegetables and start over. Wear long kitchen mitts and be careful.

Don’t be afraid of the length of this recipe (or any recipe). It usually means the process is explained in enough detail for you to succeed.

CHICKEN AND ANDOUILLE SAUSAGE GUMBO

jane-snow-gumbo
“Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen”
•    2 lbs. bone-in chicken (I used 1 1/2 lbs. boneless breasts), in serving size pieces
•    Salt
•    Garlic powder
•    Cayenne pepper
•    1 cup finely chopped onions
•    1 cup finely chopped green bell peppers
•    3/4 cup finely chopped celery
•    1 1/4 cups flour
•    1/2 tsp. salt
•    1/2 tsp. garlic powder
•    1/2 tsp. cayenne
•    Vegetable oil for deep frying
•    About 7 cup chicken stock or broth
•    1/2 lb. andouille or other smoked sausage
•    1 tsp. minced garlic
•    Hot cooked converted rice (Uncle Ben’s)

Remove excess fat from chicken and rub pieces all over with a generous amount of salt, garlic powder and cayenne, coating evenly. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine onions, bell pepper and celery; set aside. Combine flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder and 1/2 teaspoon cayenne in a gallon-size plastic bag.

Heat 1 1/2 inches of oil in a large, heavy skillet until very hot. While oil heats, shake the chicken pieces one at a time in the bag with the flour, knocking off excess. Reserve 1/2 cup of the flour mixture. Fry the chicken in the hot oil until the crust is brown on both sides and meat is cooked, about 5 to 8 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels.

Pour hot oil into a glass measuring cup, leaving as many of the browned bits in the pan as possible. Scrape the pan bottom to loosen bits, then return 1/2 cup oil to the pan.

Place pan over medium-high heat. Wearing mitts and using a long-handled whisk, gradually stir in the reserved 1/2 cup flour. Cook, whisking constantly, until roux is dark red-brown, being careful not to let it burn or splash on your skin. Remove from heat and immediately add reserved vegetable mixture, stirring constantly until the roux stops getting darker. Return pan to low heat and cook until vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes, stirring constantly and scraping the pan bottom well.

Meanwhile, bring the stock to a boil in a 5 1/2 -quart saucepan. Add the roux mixture by spoonfuls, stirring until dissolved between each addition. Return to a boil, stirring and scraping pan bottom. Reduce heat to a simmer and stir in the andouille and minced garlic. Simmer uncovered for about 45 minutes, stirring often toward end of cooking time.

Cut the cooked chicken into cubes, discarding bones. When the gumbo is cooked stir in the chicken and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Mound about 1/3 cup cooked rice in the center of each soup bowl and ladle gumbo around the rice. Makes 6 entrée servings.

HELP U COOK

October is clam season in Ohio, where more clams are sold during the month than anywhere else in the country. If you have tickets to a clam bake, you can stop reading now. But if you plan to cook some clams yourself, there are a few things you should know.

I buy clams (as small as possible) the day I will use them, bring them home and store them in a breathable bag (poke holes in one if necessary) atop a bowl of ice. When you’re ready to cook, remove each clam from the bag and, if open, tap the shell to close it. If the clam refuses to close, pitch it out because it’s dead. Cooking dead clams is a no-no. They will make you sick. Throw away clams with broken shells, too.

Most clams I see in local stores have already been cleaned. But if you’re lucky enough to get fresh-from-the-ocean clams, you’ll have to filter out the sand inside the shells. Place the clams in salty water, toss in a handful of corn meal and let stand for 20 minutes. The clams will eat the meal and spit out the sand.

Scrub the shells with a stiff brush. Place in a steamer over hot water or in a pan in an inch or so of liquid (water and beer, water and wine, etc.). Cover and steam just until the shells open. I begin peeking after four or five minutes and scoop out each clam as it opens. This is kind of anal, but I hate chewy, overcooked clams.

Serve with melted butter or as is.

THE MAILBAG

From Bill Bowen:
I just read your notes about grilled pizza. This is why I have a pizza stone for the oven and one for the grill. No flipping, no schlepping. Light your fire, let it burn down. Put your stone on the grill and let it pre-heat for 20 minutes of so. go inside and get your pizza ready on your peel. Slide it onto the stone, close the grill. Wait until the pizza is done. Eat and enjoy. Make the second pizza while the first one is cooking. Works on the gas grill too. Think of your grill as a heated box (an oven) that has bad temperature controls — you’ve got fast oven and slow oven. Not much in between.

Dear Bill: That sounds a lot easier than the hot-coals method I used, although you sacrifice the blistered crust.

From Sally:
I never had luck getting hard fruit to ripen on the counter.  It just goes from hard to rotten.  I have better luck putting it in a brown paper bag.  Maybe you should try that with a few of your pears.

Dear Sally: Thanks, I will after they hard-chill for a couple of more weeks. But the lesson here is that fresh-from-the-tree pears do not ripen at room temperature no matter what you do. They must be chilled first for two to six weeks. Pears sold in stores are pre-chilled and ready to ripen at room temperature.

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.