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.

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

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.
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:

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.
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.

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.

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