January 28, 2016

Dear friends,

I felt kind of silly toting home my Spiraletti. It reminded me of the time Tony bought me a Forever Lazy – a furry pink onesie – from an ad on late-night TV. The onesie was about five sizes too big and it hurt our eyes to look at (www.foreverlazy.com). We called it “the pink nightmare.”

The Spiraletti looks and sounds like a wacky TV product, too, but I actually tracked it down at Target and fought for one of the last two on the shelf. I had to have it. The Spiraletti produces low-carb, low-cal pasta.

The plastic Farberware gizmo has a hand crank and three cutting disks that turn zucchini and other fruits and vegetables into thin ribbons and strands that look like fettuccini and spaghetti. Two of my friends have them. The gadget is a low-carb wonder.

OK, so zucchini strands don’t taste like pasta. Also, they give off tons of moisture during cooking, which can water down a sauce. But they have a better texture and taste than spaghetti squash, and a big pile of the guilt-free noodles can fill you up.

One friend tosses the zucchini spaghetti with butter and Parmesan cheese, which I think defeats the purpose. Another friend brought her machine to my house one night and we stir fried the zucchini strands with a Szechuan sauce — pretty good but still not the ideal use of the “noodles.”

Then I bought my own Spiraletti and on Sunday turned a big batch of zucchini noodles into pad Thai. Whoa. Now we’re talking. The zucchini noodles stood in for rice noodles admirably. I ate the leftovers for breakfast and was sad that Tony and I had laid waste to just four zucchinis. I consider the pad Thai, though, a mere appetite teaser for glorious noodle dishes to come – cold peanut noodles, “pasta” with broccoli rabe and pine nuts, lemon “fettuccine” with fresh herbs and a touch of goat cheese…. The low-cal options are limitless.

I recommend you par-boil the noodles for one to two minutes and drain very well to eliminate some of the moisture content before starting my pad Thai recipe. If you don’t have a Spiraletti, julienne the zucchinis by hand. Or you could thinly slice the zucchinis with a mandolin, stack the slices and cut into thin julienne sticks. Of course, if you’re congenitally thin or just don’t give a damn, you could make the dish with 8 ounces of rice noodles.

DSCN1849.JPG

SKINNY PAD THAI
•    4 zucchinis, 7 to 8 inches long, about 2 lbs.
•    1/2 lb. large shrimp
•    1 tbsp. nam pla (fish sauce)
•    1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. sugar (or a scant 1/4 cup Splenda)
•    1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. white wine vinegar
•    1 tbsp. hoisin sauce
•    1 tbsp. ketchup
•    1 tbsp. peanut butter
•    2 tbsp. vegetable oil
•    2 cloves garlic, minced
•    4 green onions, sliced
•    2 eggs beaten
•    1/3 cup crushed peanuts, raw or roasted
•    Red pepper flakes to taste

Trim the ends of the zucchini and wash well. Cut into long, spaghetti-like strands with a Spiraletti or julienne by hand. Drop into rapidly boiling water and boil for 1 minute. Drain well, then wrap in a towel and squeeze out as much moisture as possible. Set aside. Peel the shrimp and blot dry with paper towels.

In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the nam pla, sugar, vinegar, hoisin sauce, ketchup and peanut butter. Line up the shrimp, sauce, zucchini and remaining ingredients near the stove.

Heat a large, heavy skillet over high heat. When hot, add oil and swirl to coat the pan. When the oil shimmers, add the garlic and onions and stir fry for 15 seconds. Add the drained zucchini and cook for 2 minutes, lifting and turning the vegetables with a pair on tongs to wilt the zucchini evenly.

Pour the sauce over the zucchini and continue to lift and turn until the zucchini is al dente and the sauce has reduced and thickened slightly. Stir in the crushed peanuts. Push the mixture to one side of the pan and add the eggs. Cover with the zucchini. Do the same on the other side with the remaining eggs.

After about 15 seconds, lift and turn to distribute the eggs throughout. Remove from heat and transfer to four shallow bowls or plates. Sprinkle each with one-fourth teaspoon red pepper flakes or to taste.

Makes 4 servings.

Note: if the zucchini still gives off too much water while cooking in the sauce, push it to one side of the pan and boil the sauce over high heat to reduce.
HELP U COOK
If you’re worried about lead leaching from old water pipes in your house, get them checked out. Meanwhile, start with cold water when boiling pasta, rice, eggs and other foods. Cold water is less likely than hot water to dissolve any metals that pipes may contain.

THE MAILBAG
From Jan S.:
Hi Jane. Happy New Year! This has been bothering me for a while and just remembered to ask you: If baking powder comes in a can with a plastic lid, why doesn’t baking soda come the same way? Wouldn’t it keep the baking soda fresher longer?  If you wanted to put it in the fridge to absorb smells you could just leave the lid off the container right?

I really have a pet peeve with the box of soda. The box opening never stays closed and when it is in the cupboard it probably absorbs all kinds of odors from the spices and other things in the cabinet, not to mention the moisture in the summer. Would it be helpful for me to transfer the soda to a plastic or glass container?  Or is that a no-no?

Dear Jan: Your observations make so much sense that now I’m worried about it, too. Thanks a lot.
I emailed the baking soda folks but didn’t get an answer so here’s what I think: Yes, you could transfer the baking soda to another container. Or just put the entire box in a quart zipper-lock plastic bag and seal it between uses. This is what I do with my 5-pound bags of flour (using a 1-gallon plastic bag) to cut down on the mess. I’ll be doing that with baking soda from now on, too.

From Linda Tustin: Have you ever made bone broth with a pressure cooker? I use my Instant Pot and cook it for about 3 1/2 hours total. Works great!

Dear Linda: I don’t have a pressure cooker, I’m embarrassed to say. I have an unreasonable fear of them. My mother always made my brother and me stand far away, and warned us the lid could blow off at any time and plow through the ceiling.

From Michele Smith, Elkton, Md.:
Thanks for your tips on making the brown stock or bone broth. If you add just a tablespoon of white vinegar to the mixture, it helps pull more of the nutrients from the bones and does not affect the flavor at all.  Additionally, you can make it in a slow cooker. I have left bones to simmer overnight — up to 24 hours and then put the mixture in recipe quantities in zip close bags. Lay them flat on a cookie sheet and they can be frozen.  Then when it’s time to use, just run under a little warm water, snip the sides with scissors and you have stock for your recipes.  It melts rather quickly, too.

Advertisements

January 21, 2016

Dear friends,

Kathy promised a meal of plain protein and vegetables – no carbs, no sweets – when I agreed to take my miserable, dieting self to her house to watch the Golden Globes on Sunday. “I’ll throw in a baked potato for Dorena to keep her happy,” Kathy said.

I arrived ravenous to a house fragrant with beef brisket in a rich brown gravy. Kathy was just about to mash the potatoes, and Dorena was placing the pate she had brought on a plate with crackers.

At dinner I ate a slice of gravy-less brisket, a couple of spears of asparagus that tasted far too good to be fat-free, and a small mound of zucchini “noodles” tossed with Parmesan and – was that butter? No crackers, no potatoes. Not too bad, right?

Then, just as the red carpet began, Kathy plunked herself down in the living room with a plate of my favorite homemade cookies. I was an inch away from caving, so I grabbed my coat and ran.

That was last week. This is the third week of my diet and I’m doing really well, although you probably wouldn’t want to hang out with me. I’m a bit cranky. My carb addiction is slowly fading, though, and I no longer feel like the Sta-Puff Marshmallow Man when I zip up my jeans.

I’m putting myself through this hell not only because I’m desperately trying to look youthful (well, youthfully middle-aged) for my 9-years-younger husband, but because he’s going to sell his restaurant and retire in March, and I want to be able to keep up with him. The lighter I am the better I can walk on my beat-up legs.

At home I’ve been eating a lot of broth bowls stocked with mushrooms, kale, tofu, bean sprouts, a few cubes of sweet potato and lean protein such as sliced poached chicken. This may sound unbearably ascetic, but it tastes quite rich. The reason is the broth. Not only do I make my own, but I started modifying and intensifying the flavor with techniques I picked up while perfecting my Japanese ramen broth.

Classic beef broth is made by simmering meaty beef bones with aromatics — onion, carrots, celery and garlic – and a “bouquet garni” of herbs and spices tied in a cheesecloth pouch. For brown beef stock, which is more deeply colored and flavored, the bones are browned first in the oven.

For my beef stock last week, I also tossed in a few chicken backs and a couple of tomatoes, and simmered the stock for about 28 hours. The extra ingredients and long, slow simmering produce a broth with unusually robust flavor. You know you’ve made a great broth when you can chill it, carve out a hunk and balance it on a spoon.

After fussing with broth bowls last winter, I stripped them to their essence and ditched all the pre-cooking. I have found that kale wilts and sliced mushrooms cook just fine when warmed up for a minute or so with the broth in a microwave. I spoon some solid broth into a bowl and melt it for a minute on high power in a microwave, then add the remaining ingredients and heat for another minute or two.

I no longer skim the broth, either, after learning that the scum is merely protein that eventually dissolves into the broth. I don’t even make a cheesecloth pouch to hold my spices. I just toss ‘em in the pot and strain them out later when I strain the broth to remove the bones.

My new bone broth bowls are a quick and easy meal for those who are watching their weight – or anyone, for that matter. I came home Sunday and had a comforting bowl while I watched the Golden Globes. I almost didn’t miss Kathy’s Italian lemon cookies. Almost.

DSCN1847
BETTER BEEF STOCK
4 to 6 lbs. raw beef bones (frozen is fine)
1 piece meaty beef shank, about 1 inch thick (or other meaty beef bone)
2 to 3 chicken backs
1 onion, unpeeled, cut in half
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 large carrot, cut in half
2 medium fresh or frozen tomatoes or 4 canned whole tomatoes
2 sprigs dry thyme or 1 tsp. thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. herbs de Provence
1/2 tsp. whole black peppercorns
Salt

Place beef bones, shank and chicken backs in a very large roasting pan (or 2 smaller pans) in a single layer. Scatter onion, garlic and around the bones. Bake uncovered at 375 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes, until bones are golden brown.

Scrape everything in the pans into a large stock pot and cover with water to about 1 inch from top of pot. Add tomatoes. Add thyme, bay leaf, herbs de Provence, peppercorns and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer uncovered for about 28 hours. The pot should barely bubble overnight. The liquid will reduce down to about half.

With tongs and a slotted spoon, remove bones and other solid ingredients from broth, draining well over pan to catch all the good stock. Place a wire mesh strainer over another stock pot large enough to hold the broth. Strain the broth into the pot. Taste for seasoning and add more salt to taste.

Cool broth in pan at room temperature, then refrigerate overnight. Lift off the solid fat and discard. Heat broth to a simmer and adjust seasonings. Refrigerate or freeze in portions until ready to use. The yield will depend on the size of the stock pot.
WEST POINT MEMORIES
From Susan Becker, Orrville:
More than twenty years ago I was shopping at West Point and looking for adzuki beans for a recipe I wanted to try. An employee asked if I needed assistance but was stumped when I asked for that bean. I had never heard of it before and it was obvious neither had she. With apologies for being unable to help, she left me to resume my shopping. She later found me in another area of the store to tell me I could find adzuki beans at the Mustard Seed Market. She had done the leg work for me. It exemplified the special service that West Point always provided its customers — a small gesture that made a big impression.

Dear Susan: I remember once, after buying ingredients for a recipe-testing session, Russ inquired the check out whether I’d found everything I needed. All but a can of Spam, I told him. “Follow me,” he said, zipping down an aisle. “I think we have one around here somewhere.”

He eventually located the Spam on a bottom shelf in the canned goods aisle. There was exactly one can.

From Jim Switzer:
A number of years ago my friend F. Eugene Smith, who had something (a lot?) to do with designing one of West Point Market’s incarnations, took me on a tour of the bowels of the place.  I was surprised to see that there was a complete classroom in the basement where new hires were taught how to be West Point staff: blackboard, diagrams, notes.

Customer service, customer service, customer service.  In retrospect I don’t know why I was surprised.  Russ Vernon didn’t leave much to chance, from product to presentation to personnel.

I also remember, even more decades ago, that Russ saved grapes that were taken off sale for Butch, my friends the Fryes’ pet monkey. Early recycling.

Dear Jim: I love the story about the monkey. A lot happened at that place behind the scenes. It’s the only food store I know of in our area that bought small amounts of exotic produce directly from farmers and gatherers. People would take in a quart of yellow raspberries from their backyard or a clutch of morel mushrooms they found in the woods, and the store was happy barter.

From Mike Vrobel, Dad Cooks Dinner:
Jane, you inspired me to write up my own goodbye to West Point Market:
http://dadcooksdinner.com/2016/01/farewell-west-point-market.html/.

Dear Mike: Your tribute is so well-written. I know you wrote the email just to me, but I’m sharing so others can enjoy your essay.
HELP U COOK
Mark Auburn of Akron sent along a helpful bit of information for those trying to find achiote powder. If you have annatto seeds and don’t want to go to the bother of grinding them, steep a tablespoon of the seeds in a cup of hot vegetable oil to create a “long-lasting, deeply colored, flavorful” infusion that may be used in place of achiote powder, as it is in Puerto Rico.
Thanks, Mark.

THE MAILBAG
From David R., Akron:
I have some veal shanks for osso buco and need more.  I used to get them through West Point.  Is there any place in the area that carries them, or will take orders? If I can’t get the cut reasonably soon, is there a meat I can use with what I have to supplement it without sacrificing too much?

Dear David: Try Kirbie Meats in Stow. If butcher David Burns doesn’t have them on hand, he can probably order them. Or you could drive to West Side Market in Cleveland, or just use the beef shanks available in many supermarkets.

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.

January 6, 2016

Dear friends,

The relatives had come and gone and my friends and I were ready for our own little holiday celebration.
We gathered at Kathy’s house for an evening of appetizers, birthday cake and Drunk History.

For her birthday cake, Dorena had requested the coconut-chocolate cake I made for another friend, Nancy, last summer. Michele brought the champagne, Nancy provided a platter of spicy broiled shrimp with garlic and lime, Dorena made a batch of kidney bean salad and Kathy dazzled with a slew of nibbles, from a cheesy hot dip to stuffed and sliced pork tenderloin served on little rolls. As Nancy noted the next day, there was “much, much deliciousness.”

Not the least of which were her shrimp. Yeow. They tasted like a kicked-up version of New Orleans-style barbecued shrimp minus the pound of butter. When

Nancy shared the recipe, I was surprised my taste buds were off by about 600 miles. The spicy, complex flavors hail from the Yucatan region of Mexico, where garlic, citrus, cilantro and annatto are combined in the area’s most iconic spice mixtures.
Nancy used annatto seeds she bought last year at a Cleveland spice store and ground them herself, which was difficult and messy, she says. Afterwards, she ordered achiote – ground annatto seeds – from Amazon. You don’t have to go to that expense or trouble, though. Annatto seeds and ground annatto (achiote) are available at just about any Latin food store as well as Dave’s supermarkets, which cater to ethnic populations.

You’ll notice the shrimp are marinated and cooked in their shells. Diners peel and eat the shrimp at the table. Shrimp cooked in their shells are simply more flavorful than shrimp that are peeled before cooking. I tested this once with side-by-side batches of shrimp on a barbecue grill, and the difference was striking. I bet the folks at Cooks magazine tested it, too, because that’s where Nancy found the recipe.

The noshing meal was our last hurrah before I and my friends went on New Year’s diets. We ate ourselves silly that evening and laughed ourselves silly, too. If you have seen Drunk History, you know why. On the Comedy channel program, after host Derek Waters and a guest comic get roaring drunk, the guest tells Derek about a chapter in U.S. history. Famous actors and comedians act out the episode while lip syncing the drunk’s commentary. It’s hilarious.

Today I’m not laughing. It’s three days into my diet and I could eat the shellac off the dining room chairs. But I’m still dreaming about that spicy shrimp. And that cake. And those dates stuffed with pecans and boursin….

boiled-shrimp.jpeg

BROILED SHRIMP WITH GARLIC, LIME & CILANTRO
2 lbs. large shell-on shrimp (16 to 20 per lb. or larger)
1/4 cup salt dissolved in 1 quart of water in a large bowl
1/2 cup oil (peanut, Canola)
2 tbsp. whole coriander seeds, lightly crushed
1 tsp. red pepper flakes or to taste
1 tsp. ground annatto (achiote powder)
1/2 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
2 tsp. grated lime zest
6 cloves garlic, pressed or minced into fine paste
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
2 lime halves
Lime wedges for garnish
Chopped cilantro for garnish

Devein shrimp if needed but do not peel. Cut a deep slit through the shell and into the thickest part of each shrimp to allow the seasonings to permeate. Brine prepared shrimp in bowl of salted water for 15 minutes. Drain and dry shrimp well between two kitchen towels or plenty of paper towels.

Make a seasoning paste by combining oil with crushed coriander, red pepper flakes, ground annatto, black pepper, lime zest and garlic. Stir to combine. Place shrimp, seasoning paste and all but a handful of the cilantro in a gallon zipper-lock plastic bag. Seal and massage seasoning paste into the shrimp, working under the shells and along the tops. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Cover a cooling rack with foil and liberally pierce foil all over. With more foil, cover a rimmed baking sheet large enough to contain the cooling rack. The foil is not required but aids the cleanup. Soak bamboo skewers in warm water.

When almost ready to cook, position top oven rack 4 inches from heat source and preheat broiler set to high. Thread shrimp on skewers, nesting like a stack of spoons. Closeness buys a little more time under the broiler. Arrange skewered shrimp on the foil-covered rack. Use the lime halves to douse each with lime juice.

Broil shrimp for 2 minutes. Rotate pan and broil 2 minutes longer. Remove pan from oven and turn shrimp skewers over. Return to boiler for 2 minutes, rotate pan and cook 1 to 2 minutes longer. The goal is shrimp with a few charred spots, a browned appearance but still tender on the inside.

Slide shrimp from skewers and pile on a platter. Sprinkle with remaining chopped cilantro and another squeeze of lime juice. Garnish with small lime wedges and cilantro sprigs. Serves 4 as a main course, 8 as an appetizer.

HELP U COOK

You say “annatto,” I say “achiote.” They’re basically the same spice. “Annatto” usually refers to the reddish seeds of the annatto tree, while achiote mostly is used to describe ground annatto seeds that are combined with other seasonings in a popular Mexican spice mixture. Achiote, especially when mixed with garlic, peppercorns, onion and oregano, is the principle seasoning of meat dishes in the Yucatan. You’ve heard of suckling pig roasted in banana leaves? Achiote is what makes the famous Yucatan dish sing.

According to Southwestern chef Mark Miller, achiote “…has a strong iodine-like flavor that may take some getting used to, as it imparts a somewhat bitter note, not unlike Campari.” You probably won’t find it in regular supermarkets, but it is available at almost any Latin food market.

THE MAILBAG

From Bess Brown:
You couldn’t have written a better tribute to The West Point Market. I too was in love with the store. Once a month, for years, I would make the trip from Mansfield to see what was new and to purchase favorites.

Saturday I went to the sale but like you went out empty handed. It just didn’t feel right to me to join in the picking of the bones. I had treated myself to a trip to the market just a few weeks before, allowing myself to savor it for what I thought was to be my last time.

I just wanted to thank you for your article.

Dear Bess: Judging from the number of emails I got in response to my love letter to West Point, you and I are not alone in our fondness for the store. I wouldn’t mind hearing more recollections of that special place. I think it’s fitting that we pay tribute. I’ll try to see that Russ Vernon gets copies of any email that’s sent.

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.