March 30, 2016

Dear friends,

When we talked about retirement, Elvis never entered the discussion. But last week, three weeks after selling the sushi bar, Tony and I headed for Graceland.

In the back of my mind was a vague plan to drive far enough south to see flowers bloom and to eat barbecue. We did both, and it was thrilling.

I also wanted to check out hot chicken, a spicy Tennessee specialty that is generating national press and a lot of belated excitement. More on that later. First I had to have some mutton barbecue.

For years I had heard about the The Moonlite Bar-B-Q in Owensboro, Ky., and I finally got to check it off my bucket list. The smoked sliced mutton was a tad dry but the ribs, chicken, juicy brisket, pulled pork and catfish were excellent. For $11 we got all that plus a buffet heaped with lovingly prepared Southern sides including rich mac and cheese, baked beans, pinto beans, green beans with ham, buttered cabbage, fried apples, creamed corn and real mashed potatoes with butter puddled on top. Midway through his second plate Tony paused and said seriously, “This is a dream come true.” It was his first encounter with real barbecue, and he plowed through plates and platters with gusto not only at the Moonlite but twice at the excellent Jack’s in Nashville and at Marlowe’s Ribs in Memphis. The succulent meat and thick slabs of cornbread, not to mention the outdoor smoker set-up, was memorable at Jack’s, but nowhere could the side dishes compare to the Moonlite’s. They tasted like they’d been prepared by a bevy of grandmothers for a family picnic.

But back to Memphis, where Elvis music blared from dawn to dusk at our Day’s Inn motel, which had a fabulous guitar-shaped swimming pool and portraits of Elvis above our bed. The Elvis theme was relentless in a good way. Best of all, we were just 15 minutes from Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken.

The one-story building on Front Street downtown looks shabby on the outside and even worse inside. It is one big room with plastic-covered tables, mismatched chairs, EasyNap dispensers and plastic silverware. The floor is a beaten-down, trodden black gummy substance left behind when the tiles were pulled up and discarded. You can still see the faint outlines of the tiles.

But oh, that chicken. The dark, reddish-brown coating is shatteringly crisp. When you bite into it, the juices of the chicken spurt into your mouth. A second later you get the heat. The spiciness varies from batch to batch. Our first order was so mild I wondered what all the fuss was about (besides that killer texture). A couple of days later, our order was moderately spicy-hot – too fiery to give the dog a bite, but not hot enough to numb our mouths. It was perfect.

Gus’s chicken was invented in 1953 in Mason, Tenn..
The original restaurant is still there but as its popularity spread, so did Gus’s chicken restaurants. There are now 14 locations in eight states including outposts in Chicago and Kansas City.

The recipe is about as hard to nail down as Kentucky Fried’s. Many cooks have attempted to duplicate it, with just partial success. The closest I found is from
The Fried Chicken Blog (http://thefriedchickenblog.blogspot.com/2013/07/guss-fried-chicken-update-july-16-2013.html) where author Jay Francis and fellow Gus’s fanatics swap bits of information about the recipe they have observed or heard. Francis describes the coating mixture as a “slurry” of cornstarch and buttermilk, and ticks off a list of spices including cayenne, garlic powder and Louisiana hot sauce.

I started with Francis’s loosely articulated recipe, subtracted a few ingredients and came up with a different way to add spiciness by seasoning the chicken with cayenne before it is dipped in the slurry.

Francis seasons the slurry only, and says it isn’t spicy enough. I also dust the chicken with flour before dipping in the slurry, which helps the coating stick.
I think my recipe is darn close to the real thing. Yes, it’s a mess to make. But when a craving hits and you’re 700 miles from Memphis, what’s a little work?

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SPICY MEMPHIS-STYLE CHICKEN

•    6 small chicken breasts or 2 breasts, 2 thighs and 2 legs
•    2 1/4 cups buttermilk
•    1 tsp. paprika
•    1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper plus more for sprinkling
•    1 tsp. ground black pepper
•    1/2 tsp. garlic powder
•    2 tsp. salt
•    1 cup cornstarch
•    1 cup flour
•    Canola or peanut oil for deep frying

Trim excess skin and fat from chicken, leaving the skin that covers the meaty portions. Place in a bowl and cover with 1 cup of the buttermilk. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.

When ready to cook, in a medium bowl combine paprika, the 1/2 teaspoon cayenne, black pepper, garlic powder and salt. Add cornstarch and whisk to combine. Place flour in a 1-gallon plastic bag. Measure out remaining 1 1/4 cups buttermilk.

Remove chicken from buttermilk and pat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle lightly on both sides with cayenne pepper. One at a time, shake in bag with flour, knocking off excess. Place floured pieces on a plate and dust again with cayenne.

Heat about 3 to 4 inches of oil in a deep fryer or a fairly wide (10 inches), deep pan. Bring the oil to 280 degrees on a deep-fry thermometer. While oil heats, whisk remaining 1 1/4 cups buttermilk into the cornstarch mixture until smooth.

When oil reaches frying temperature, with tongs dip a piece of chicken in the cornstarch slurry, allowing excess to drip back into bowl. Place in oil. Continue with remaining chicken pieces or as many as will fit in pan. You may have to fry the chicken in batches.
Fry each batch for 20 minutes, maintaining temperature and scraping chicken from bottom of pan after a couple of minutes to make sure it doesn’t stick. Scrape periodically and turn chicken over once.

Drain chicken on paper towels. Continue until all chicken pieces have been fried. Makes 3 to 6 servings depending on size of chicken pieces.

HELP U COOK

If you’ve ever had the breading slip off a deep-fried vegetable or piece of fish, you need to remember this rule: Dry first, fry later.

OK, I just made that up, but the rhyme may help you remember to bread only bone-dry pieces of food. The best way to dry a shrimp or japaleno or whatnot is to blot with a paper towel and dust with flour. The flour will soak up any remaining moisture, giving the breading a good chance to stick to the food.

So the order is: Dust with flour, dip in egg, roll in crumbs (or cornmeal or more flour). Or if using a batter coating, dust with flour and dip in batter.

THE MAILBAG

From Tracey C.:
Your pork roast sounds delicious AND doable! Thanks so much for the recipe. Wish I could see what you mean with the rolling-up part of the directions, though. I’m not experienced in that, and for some reason it’s hard for me to visualize. Any tips or websites you could recommend? Especially on how it differs — with the “tucking” — from the standard rolling up method?

If not, no problem. Just thought I’d ask.

I look forward to your weekly message. Thanks for brightening my inbox!

Dear Tracey: There are no websites with pics of the process because the recipe and technique are my own. Basically it’s a standard roll-up (like rolling a cigar). But because pork tenderloins are so small, even when pounded, you must use two of them to encase the filling.

When you pound the two pieces of meat, one of the tenderloins is bound to be larger than the other.
That’s the piece you put on the bottom. Add filling down the length, and put the smaller piece on top. Now you want to essentially tuck that smaller piece around the filling, then draw the edges of the larger piece around the half-cylinder that is now the smaller piece. And yes, tuck in the ends.

If that just confuses you more, how about this: Use two pounded pork tenderloins to form a log encasing the filling. How you get there is your business.

From Ann C.:
It’s asparagus season again, and like in past years I’ll probably buy a lot of asparagus because it looks good, but won’t get around to cooking it until it is too late. Have you tried different ways of keeping it? What’s the best?

Dear Ann: When I remember not to just toss the asparagus in the crisper, I store it in a loose plastic bag with the cut ends wrapped in a damp paper towel. If the cut ends are dry, it helps to cut them again so they can draw moisture from the towel.
A method I haven’t tried but hear is even better is to cut the tough ends and store the asparagus upright in about an inch of water with plastic draped loosely over the tips and stalks. If you try this, let me know how it works.

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March 23, 2016

Dear friends,

I declare spring officially under way. I don’t care what the calendar says or if signs of winter linger. A jonquil bud I plucked from the garden is blooming on my kitchen window sill, so I planted a row of radishes and traded my jeans for capris. Now I’m ready to change my soups and stews for fresh-tasting food brightened with fresh herbs.

One meal that deftly spans the seasons is my chevre-stuffed pork loin with Cara Cara orange sauce. It looks and tastes like a million but it’s easy to make and takes just 45 minutes to roast. Two skinny pork tenderloins are butterflied and pounded to an even thickness. Goat cheese, raisins, pine nuts and fresh rosemary are sprinkled on one piece of meat, topped with the other, rolled up and tied. After roasting, the meat is sliced to reveal the pretty insides, and topped with an orange sauce that is merely ingredients shaken up in a jar.
You can use any type of orange for the sauce. I used

Cara Cara because of the gorgeous color and because they are starting to show up in local supermarkets now. The Cara Cara is a hybrid navel orange first spotted in Venezuela in the 1970s. It has a dark-pink interior that is low in acid, which makes it taste super-sweet. The oranges are exceptionally juicy and the flavor has floral hints. For cooks, though, the big draw is the color. They look beautiful in citrus tarts and salads.

They also look beautiful garnishing this roast. Buy two so you can juice one and slice the other to arrange on a platter with the pork. Your meal will look as pretty as spring.

CHEVRE-STUFFED PORK TENDERLOINS WITH ORANGE DRIZZLE
•    1/3 cups golden raisins
•    1/3 cups port wine
•    2 pork tenderloins, well-trimmed of fat
•    Sea salt, fresh-ground pepper
•    4 oz. French-style goat cheese
•    1/2 tsp. minced fresh rosemary
•    1/3 cup pine nuts
•    3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
•    1/3 cup Cara Cara orange juice (or other fresh-squeezed orange juice)
•    2 tbsp. lime juice
•    1 tbsp. honey
•    1/4 cup minced cilantro

Bring port wine and raisins to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Cover, remove from heat and let stand for at least 30 minutes.

Make a slit lengthwise down the center of each tenderloin, cutting halfway through each piece of meat from end to end. Press flat with your hands. Place plastic wrap over the meat and pound with a blunt meat pounder to an even thickness of about 1/2 inch. Do not pound thin enough to create holes.

Remove plastic wrap and season meat with salt and pepper. Scatter crumbled goat cheese, rosemary, pine nuts and raisins over the larger piece of meat. Place the other piece of meat over the filling. Gather the edges of the larger bottom piece up around the edges of the top piece, overlapping them to seal. Tie the roast at 2-inch intervals with kitchen twine or thread, tucking in the ends to prevent the filling from leaking out.

Rub the roast all over with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. In a jar, combine remaining olive oil with the orange juice, lime juice, honey and cilantro. Shake and set aside. Place roast on a rack in a roasting pan (or on a broiler pan). Roast in a preheated, 400-degree oven for about 45 minutes, until the internal temperature of the meat is 155 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Let rest 10 minutes before cutting into 1-inch-thick slices.

Fan slices on a platter or individual dinner plates and drizzle with room-temperature orange sauce. Makes 6 servings.

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TIDBITS
Geez, I’m tired of making red-sauced pasta for Tony, whose favorite meal is a big plate of spaghetti with meat sauce. Last week it occurred to me that now that he is retired, I can have Akron’s master spaghetti-makers do the work for me. The city is loaded with great little places that embrace tomato sauce with as much gusto as Tony. These are not places I frequent, so I was surprised at how much I liked – no, loved – the food at the first stop on our Italian restaurant tour. I took him to Dontino’s in North Hill, opened in 1930 and still packing ‘em in.

No wonder. I knew the sheets of pasta for the lasagna are made by hand, and after tasting the cavatelli I figure it must be, too. The tender little rolled cylinders of dough were topped with a gorgeously seasoned tomato sauce, which was further topped with a hearty portion of meat sauce, heavy on the meat. It was the finest pasta meal I’ve had in a long time. Tony loved his spaghetti with meat sauce, too, although the spaghetti, of course, wasn’t homemade.

The salads are nothing special and the service is more family restaurant than fine dining, but the pasta is great and the prices are right.

Dontino’s is at 555 E. Cuyahoga Falls Ave. in Akron, phone 330-928-9530. The website is http://www.dontinos.com.

THE MAILBAG
From Linda B.:
In your recent newsletter you mentioned your quest for good pho. Have you ever visited Southern Gardens Tea Room at 497 Portage Lakes Drive in Coventry Township? I haven’t had their pho, but several friends who are pho lovers say it is one of the best.

Dear Linda: You’re the second person to bring this restaurant to my attention this month. I hear the pho is some of the most authentic around. I’m glad to get the word out about the restaurant, because no one would guess from the name alone it serves Vietnamese cuisine. It used to be a tea room but morphed into an Asian restaurant. It is at 497 Portage Lakes Drive in the Portage Lakes area south of Akron, phone 330-644-8363. The website is http://www.southerngardenstearoom.com.

From Sonja C.:
Thank you for letting us know about Thai Pho!  My husband and I had lunch there today, and it was great!  The food was fresh and delicious, the server was friendly and very good, and best of all they were able to adjust any item on the menu to accommodate my soy and wheat sensitivities!  Until today, whenever we go out there are very limited selections available. What a treat to be able to order anything!  Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Dear Sonja: I’m glad to hear this. Nice to know that the owners are so accommodating.

March 16, 2016

Dear friends,

I blame my pancake fixation on Coondog O’Karma. Since November the retired speed-eater from Cuyahoga Falls has been writing post after post about his whacky pancake-making adventures.
Here are some of his Facebook messages:

Nov. 28:
I made myself pancakes for dinner and didn’t mess around!

Dec. 22:
Second week of “pancake addiction:”

Today’s pancake contained crushed peanuts, almonds, and walnuts, along with a quick dash of juicy raisins and cranberries. Griddled on a hot pan coated in coconut oil, it slipped its way down the old Coondog hatch with a healthy patter of butter and a good drench of Log Cabin pancake syrup. It was great pancake history…

Dec. 31:
Last pancake of the year: Cheesy, turkey, coffee pancake, topped with Log Cabin Vanilla syrup and whipped cream. A great pancake combo to cruise out the year with….

Jan. 2:
Pancake of the day: Shredded pork and sauerkraut pancake. Sounds horrible, but not bad.

March 11:
Coondog just mixed Parmesan cheese into the pancake batter. Coondog is a mad pancake genius…

These pancake posts have been driving me crazy with carb lust, so I phoned my friend to ask his pancake philosophy and how he got on the kick.
“I throw everything but the kitchen sink in them,” Coondog said. “When I was poor and a single parent that was my go-to. We lived on pancakes.”

I hadn’t had a pancake in ten years, but I felt my resolve to foreswear such high-carb foods melting. Damn that Coondog. Then I found salvation on the American Egg Board website. A recipe for high-protein pancakes promised to satisfy my craving for just 303 calories, 16 grams of carbs and a whopping 18 grams of protein per serving.

The pancakes are made with a cup of ricotta cheese, a half-dozen eggs and a mere half-cup of flour. I added some raisins and tinkered with the directions to ensure a light texture (I whipped the eggs vigorously before adding the remaining liquid ingredients; added the dry ingredients last; and let the batter sit for 15 minutes to give it time to produce air bubbles).

The result was pancake heaven. The cakes were light, moist and a touch sweet from the raisins. Even Tony loved them. The portion size was not tiny, either. For my 303 calories (plus raisins) I got two large pancakes that filled me up. Tony, of course, ate the three remaining portions.

If you make these pancakes, feel free to add ingredients ala Coondog. Just be aware that if you add an acid such as buttermilk or citrus juice, you cannot allow the batter to rest for more than five minutes. Acid activates the leavening agent in the baking powder, releasing bubbles into the batter. If you don’t use the batter quickly, the bubbles will be gone and the pancakes will be flat and leaden instead of fluffy.

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HIGH-PROTEIN RICOTTA-RAISIN PANCAKES

•    1/3 cup raisins
•    6 eggs
•    1 cup ricotta cheese
•    2 tbsp. canola oil
•    1/2 tsp. vanilla
•    1/2 cup flour
•    3/4 tsp. baking powder
•    1/2 tsp. salt

Plump the raisins by soaking in very hot water while mixing the batter.

Vigorously beat eggs with a whisk in a medium-size bowl for 2 minutes or with a mixer or stick blender for 1 minute on high speed. Add ricotta and beat until smooth. Beat in oil and vanilla. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl and stir to mix. Dump into bowl with ricotta mixture and stir briefly just until blended. Some lumps will remain. Drain raisins and stir into the batter. Let stand uncovered at room temperature for 15 minutes.

Grease a heavy skillet or griddle and heat over medium heat. When hot, dip out batter with a one-third cup measure and pour into the skillet. Cook for about 1 1/2 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Makes 8 pancakes, or 4 servings.

TIDBITS
My home base of Akron has gone from a no-pho to a many-pho town in the blink of an eye. Tony is a pho lover so we’ve tried many of them, as well as a good selection of phos in Cleveland. One of the best is at Thai Pho on Tallmadge Avenue in Akron, which we finally visited last week.

The newish restaurant specializes in the Thai cuisine of the cook-owner’s homeland, but the pho is outstanding. We loved the spicy broth, brightened with lemongrass and a healthy dose of lime. The Thai food is pretty good, too. The restaurant’s website is http://www.authenticthairestaurantakronoh.com/.

THE MAILBAG
From Judy Rogers:
You really make me chuckle sometimes.  Tell your friend, marriage is an art — no matter how similar or crazy different two people are and sharing the same space taboot!

But if you go to Relish.com and search for Caramelized Onion Bread Pudding, you will discover an egg dish that features leeks and Gruyere cheese.  It’s a good Easter morning compromise for Tony and what is not to love with those ingredients?  I substituted French baguettes for the ciabatta bread and used white button mushrooms instead of shitake.

I guarantee this recipe will satisfy the gourmet in you and the breakfast casserole “yen” for Tony.  Enjoy and Happy Easter!

Dear Judy: Tony actually liked my preview dinner of tartines, but the bread pudding recipe does sound scrumptious. You’re right, what’s not to like?

CARAMELIZED ONION BREAD PUDDING
•    2 tbsp. butter
•    2 cups thinly sliced leeks (or spring onion), white and yellow parts only
•    4 oz. thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms, stems removed
•    3/4 tsp. coarse salt, divided
•    3/4 tsp. fresh ground pepper, divided
•    1 tsp. brown sugar
•    1/2 tsp. fresh-grated nutmeg
•    1 loaf (1 lb.) ciabatta bread, in 1-inch cubes (12 cups)
•    1 bunch green onions, finely chopped
•    4 eggs
•    6 cups whole milk
•    1 1/2 cups grated gruyere cheese

Melt butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add leeks, mushrooms, 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper, brown sugar and nutmeg. Cook, stirring occasionally, until leeks are soft and golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Place bread cubes on a baking sheet and bake at 300 degrees until dry and lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven. Increase heat to 350 degrees and grease a shallow, 4-quart baking dish.

Combine leek mixture, bread cubes and remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Mix well and let stand 20 minutes. Press mixture into prepared pan and sprinkle with remaining salt and pepper. (You may cover and refrigerate up to 4 hours before baking).

Bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour, until pudding is set and golden brown on top. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving. Makes 12 servings.

March 10, 2016

Dear friends,

We joke that if we don’t kill each other first, Tony and I will return to Cupid’s Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas next year to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary. I hope we make it, but first we must weather the big chunks of togetherness his retirement brings.

“We are two different people,” Tony said today for about the twentieth time since he handed over the keys to his sushi bar last week. Yes, we’re very different. He throws stuff all over the house while I have a place for everything. He is a spendthrift, I’m a saver. He grew up in a patriarchal society, I’m a
feminist. And that’s just for starters.

A friend, Mitch Allen, wrote recently on Facebook, “Tony and Jane. So perfect and odd that it qualifies as a kind of art that no one could have expected yet everyone understands.” (Or as I paraphrased for Tony, “Mitch says as a couple we’re freaky-weird.”)

Fortunately we both like good food, although sometimes our ideas of what that entails are at odds.
Monday dinner, for example, was spaghetti with venison meat sauce for him and a broth bowl with wilted spinach, mushrooms and thin-sliced roast pork for me.

For Easter later this month he would probably love one of those cheesy breakfast casseroles made with frozen hash browns, but he isn’t getting it. I don’t serve those kinds of mindless fat sumps. I’m sure he will be even happier with what I will serve – tartines.

These French open-faced sandwiches are so perfect for breakfast and brunch gatherings I’m surprised they haven’t already taken over on Easter. They are nothing more than a sturdy slice of toasted bread, thoughtfully topped with a few ingredients. Attention is paid to texture, color and complementary flavors. Two or three varieties look so inviting on a platter. All that’s needed are juice and coffee.

If a few relatives show up I’ll probably make two or three kinds of tartines. If it’s just Tony and me, I’ll settle for a topping of soft-scrambled eggs, prosciutto, diced tomato and crumbled blue cheese.
Try the following combos or make up your own. Maybe you’ll find a freaky-weird pairing that somehow works.

Fresh ricotta cheese
Thin-sliced cantaloupe
Drizzle of honey
Sprinkle of fresh thyme

Smear of cold sweet butter
Thinly sliced radishes
Sea salt

Thin-sliced ham
Fig jam
Toasted walnuts

Serve the toppings on palm-sized slices (or half slices) of sturdy bread that has been toasted in the oven on a baking sheet. The toast and toppings may be made in advance. Assemble just before serving. If appropriate (for the scrambled egg tartine, for example), warm at 400 degrees on the top oven shelf for 5 minutes.

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TIDBITS

My friend Nancy would like me to point out that Monday is Pi Day (3-14), which she celebrates gleefully with pie. Pi Day pie is becoming a thing. If you’d like to celebrate but have no use for an entire pie, try this recipe I developed for a single serving of Key Lime Pie. It features a delicate custard filling with a tart lime flavor and sweet chocolate crust. Watch the filling closely while it cooks to prevent it from boiling and becoming lumpy.

KEY LIME MUG PIE
1 tbsp. butter
1/4 cup chocolate cookie crumbs (crushed Famous Chocolate Wafers)
1/3 cup sweetned condensed milk
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup lime juice (about 11/2 limes)
Grated zest of 1/2 lime

Melt butter in a 12-ounce ceramic mug on high power. Add crumbs and stir well with a fork. Press firmly into bottom of the mug.

Combine milk, egg, lime juice and lime zest in a measuring cup and beat well with a fork. Pour over crust in cup. Microwave on 50 percent power just until the first bubbles appear, about 1 minute and 15 seconds. Do not allow to boil. Place in freezer for 5 minutes for a soft set, or transfer to refrigerator until cool and fully set, about 30 minutes. Eat directly from mug.

THE MAILBAG

From M.K.:
I enjoy your newsletter. Thanks for all you do to bring us great food and recipes.

You may have noticed by now that you Curried Chicken recipe has an error–a not-revised ingredient. In the first paragraph after the ingredients the directions reference adding sour cream instead of the updated yogurt. I say this with kindness and as an editor. I can’t help but to see inconsistencies.

Secondly, I’m happy to see you use National Institutes of Health as a reliable online reference. However WebMD is not a reliable site. WebMD is a big pharma meta site with a “use drugs” bent. As per NIH and the New York Times, I use the Mayo Clinic’s site (www.mayoclinic.com) as a reliable, vetted medical information source.

Again, thanks for the great content.

Dear M.K.: I welcome all corrections. I try to be careful but as you know, errors can slip by the best of us.

Your take on WebMD is interesting. I have read the New York Times article and as a former nutrition reporter whose articles have run nationwide, here’s what I think: There are many awful nutrition sites on the Web but WebMD isn’t one of them. The heart of the Times columnist’s objections seems to be that it’s a for-profit site, unlike the Mayo Clinic site (which I use, also). Much of those profits come from ads from pharmaceutical companies. While no one has suggested that big pharma is dictating the content on WebMD, ads for medications are positioned next to information about related conditions. As a former newspaper reporter I can appreciate the concern, but that doesn’t mean the information consumers get from the site is in error.

March 2, 2016

Dear friends,

I plucked a pinkie-sized gnarled root from a bin at an Asian store and triumphantly held it aloft. Amid a sea of strange fruits and vegetables, it was the only one I recognized. “Fresh turmeric,” I announced to a friend, who snapped it half to expose the neon-orange interior.

The root nubbin went into my basket, although I had no idea what to do with it. My project for the week was to figure it out.

I already knew turmeric is considered a “superfood” by many who get their nutrition advice from pop media sources. They add the dried powder – and root when they can find it — to smoothies, stir frys and soups. I’m a skeptical reporter at heart, so I needed convincing. I turned to two solid sources, WebMD and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Not enough research exists to make ANY claims yet about turmeric, according to the NIH. According to WebMD, research shows the anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric can help ease osteoarthritis pain on a par with ibuprofen. However, there’s not enough evidence to support other health claims, although early research suggests turmeric might help prevent or treat other inflammations and health issues.

I like turmeric anyway. It saturates food with a lovely yellow color while imparting a faint bitter edge that in most dishes is undetectable. It is related to ginger, so there’s that faint flavor, also. I peeled and grated the root as I would fresh ginger, then used it in an altered version of a recipe I got long ago at an Indian dinner in Wooster.

My Baked Curried Chicken is just as good hot as it is cold (I served it once at a picnic on a boat). It’s fairly easy to make, too. Browned onions are whirled in a food processor with herbs, spices and yogurt.

Boneless chicken breasts are soaked overnight in the thick, fragrant mixture. Then the chicken breasts, with the yogurt and spices still clinging to them, are arranged on a tray and baked. That’s not a lot of work for such explosive flavors.

My main criterion for a recipe is always the flavor. If it’s good for you, too, that’s a bonus. This recipe is both. Even though the health claims for turmeric unproven, you can’t do much damage with baked chicken and low-fat yogurt. Eat up.

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BAKED CURRIED CHICKEN
•    2 tbsp. oil
•    1 large onion, chopped
•    2 cloves garlic
•    1 cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves
•    1 tsp. garam masala
•    1 tsp. paprika
•    1/2 tsp. powdered or 1 tsp. grated fresh turmeric
•    1 tsp. grated fresh ginger
•    1 cup plain Greek yogurt
•    3/4 tsp. salt
•    6 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Heat oil in a skillet. Cook onions until they are transparent and begin to brown. Scrape into a food processor with the garlic and cilantro leaves. Puree until almost smooth. Add spices, ginger, turmeric, sour cream and salt and pulse to mix.

Place half of chicken in a large bowl. Cover with half of the sour cream mixture and mix well to coat all pieces. Repeat with remaining chicken and sour cream mixture. Cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight.

Line a baking sheet with sides with foil. Remove chicken from marinade, allowing yogurt mixture to cling to the meat. Arrange in a single layer on the baking sheet. Spoon any mixture remaining in bowl over the chicken. Bake at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes for small chicken breasts or 1 hour for large, until the center of the thickest part of a breast is no longer pink. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of a piece should register 165 degrees. Do not overcook or the chicken will be dry. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

HELP U COOK
I came across a nifty way to make string cheese from cheese curds, which are available in abundance in cheese shops in Amish country. Here are the directions, from “Spice” by Anna Sortun:

1. Chop 1 pound mozzarella cheese curds into small pieces and place in a non-stick pan with 2 teaspoons salt.

2. Heat on low, stirring, until curds are melted and no lumps remain. Remove from heat and drain off any moisture in a sieve.

3. When curds are cool enough to handle but still very warm, gather in a lump and quickly stretch to almost the breaking point, then fold back on itself. Grab both strands and stretch them together, then twist the strands together as if you were making a rope. Keep stretching gently, almost to the breaking point. The more you stretch, the stringier the cheese will be. When finished, it will resemble a thick rope or tightly wrung-out dish cloth.

4. Twist the ends in opposite directions and place one end through the loop of the other end to lock it. Refrigerate for one hour unwrapped to dry completely, then wrap and refrigerate or freeze.

5. To serve, separate the ends, cut the looped end and pull apart into thin strands.

Will keep up to a week in the refrigerator or 2 months in the freezer.

THE MAILBAG
From C.K., Tallmadge:
Your sushi sauce column reminded me of a question. I have more than one recipe that calls for “rice wine vinegar.”  I can only find “rice vinegar.”  Is there a difference?  Also, is there another name for rice wine, which some other recipes call for.

Dear C.K.: Great questions. Rice wine is “sake.” Sweet rice wine is “mirin.” If the recipe just says “rice wine,” use an inexpensive (but still good) brand of sake. I use One Cup Sake for cooking because the container contains just one cup, which I can use up fairly fast.

Japanese rice vinegar and rice wine vinegar are the same thing – vinegar made from rice wine. I should note, though, that whenever I say “rice wine vinegar,” Tony corrects me. To him, it’s just rice vinegar. Japanese rice vinegar tastes less acidic than the vinegars we’re used to. Steer clear of the cheap versions, which will say “gohsei-su” on the label. They are made with other grains besides rice.

From Amy:
You discussed Temo’s Chocolate in your newsletter.  Please remember Grabham’s Chocolates, 4301 State Road in old Northampton. This is a generation-run shop that is absolutely wonderful. They have sugar free also.

Dear Amy: Now I can get sugar-free Grabham’s? I’m there. Thanks for reminding me of the other great chocolate shop in our area. Grabham’s Nutty Bunny is tradition for many at Easter. I still dream about their wonderful pecan turtles and their chocolate-dipped candied ginger. If you want to drool, check out the shop’s website: http://grabhamscandies.com/product-category/grabhams-classics/.