April 20, 2016

Dear friends,

Because of a mythical May yard sale I may or may not have, I made Uzbekistan flat bread last weekend. In culling my cookbook collection for the sale, I keep finding recipes I ABSOLUTELY must try in books I’ve never cooked from until now. The result is just two dozen books so far in the sale pile and flat bread out the kazoo.

Thank god I froze half the dough because the half I used yielded six 8-inch loaves. My husband is in Japan tending to his ailing parents, leaving the dog and me to deal with any culinary excess. The dog was game, but sanity prevailed. We split one loaf, I burned one and I gave the remaining four to friends down the street.

The flat bread sounds exotic but actually is homespun comfort food. The thin, golden-brown loaves have puffy, soft rims and are about 8 inches in diameter – just enough for one or two people. In their cookbook, “Home Baking,” Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid call it “Silk Road Non.” Non, they explain, is the word for bread in much of central Asia. In India it’s spelled “naan” or “nan” and, as in India, the Uzbek version is baked in a tandoor oven. You won’t confuse this chewy, yeasty non with thin Indian naan, however.

I like this flat bread recipe because the dough can be made one day and baked the next, and the loaves cook in just 5 to 8 minutes. On the down side, unless you have an oven shelf lined with unglazed quarry tiles, you can bake just one loaf at a time on a pizza stone or two on a baking sheet. I used a pizza stone.

The Uzbeks add rendered lamb fat (!) to the dough, but melted butter may be substituted.

The recipe calls for mixing and kneading the dough by hand, which was a minor pain. After making it once, I feel sure it can be mixed and kneaded with a KitchenAid.

The dough disks are sprinkled with salt and, if desired, chopped chives before baking. I used coarse sea salt but will skip the chives the next time because they tend to burn.

If you make the bread, you could top it with cheese and other pizza goodies. But at least once you should try the simple salted version. It’s cool to know you’re enjoying the same bread that’s eaten in Tashkent and Samarkand.

SILK ROAD NON

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  • 2 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 3 cups warm water
  • 7 to 9 cups all-purpose flour or 2 cups whole wheat flour and 4 to 6 cups all-purpose
  • 1 tbsp. salt plus extra for sprinkling (I used coarse sea salt for sprinkling)
  • 4 tbsp. rendered lamb fat or melted butter

Dissolve the yeast in the water in a large bowl. Add 3 cups of the flour (if using whole wheat flour, add it and 1 cup all-purpose), one cup at a time, stirring well until a smooth batter forms. Stir one minute longer, always stirring in the same direction. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for up to 3 hours.

Stir in 1 tablespoon salt. Add 3 tablespoons of the fat and fold in. Continue to add flour, a cup at a time, stirring and folding until the dough becomes too stiff to stir. Turn onto a well-floured board and knead until smooth and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes.

(Note: Jane suggests mixing and kneading the dough with a heavy-duty mixer.)

Place dough in a clean, oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 2 hours. Or refrigerate overnight. Place a rack in the upper third of the oven and place a large baking stone or unglazed quarry tiles on the rack, if you have them. A baking sheet may be substituted. Preheat to 500 degrees.

Turn the dough onto a floured board and cut in half (you may freeze one half for use later). Cut each portion of the dough into six equal pieces. Two at a time, flatten the pieces and roll to 8-inch circles. Alternate rolling to give each piece time to relax. Place on a floured surface and cover with plastic wrap and a towel. Keep the unused dough covered as you work. Continue until all of the dough has been rolled.

One or two at a time (or as many as will fit in your oven), prick the dough rounds all over with a fork to within 1 inch of the edges. Brush the tops with some of the remaining butter. Sprinkle with salt. Slip a floured peel under each dough round and transfer to the oven, opening and closing the oven door as quickly as possible. Bake 5 to 7 minutes or until flecked with gold. Use a long-handled spatula to lift the bread from the oven. Cool on a rack for 5 minutes or so, then wrap in a cloth to keep warm. Continue with remaining breads. Makes 12 rounds.

From “Home Baking” by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid.

HELP U COOK

Chocolate-dipped strawberries are a luxurious treat that are easy to make at home if you add a bit of oil to the melted chocolate. You could use coating chocolate, but chocolate without the additives tastes better, I think. The only problem is it tends to thicken up in the pan quickly, making for frustrating dipping.

Here’s the fix: Add 1 1/2 teaspoons neutral-flavored oil (such as canola) to the chocolate before melting on the stove or in a microwave. Skewer each berry near the blossom end with two toothpicks at right angles to each other. After dipping, the toothpicks help the berries stand upright (like a miniature Christmas tree stand) while the chocolate sets up.

From Annie:
We are adding an addition this year for my in-laws and doing some remodeling. The kitchen will probably be outside for most of the summer so any grilling hints or recipes would be appreciated. I still rely on Roger’s Smashed Potatoes for grilled carbs every summer. I change up some of the spices to vary the taste.  But maybe with all the grilling, we can skip some carbs so I can also slim down and keep up with my husband.

Dear Annie: Sounds like a good time for you to cook once to eat twice. Think big – two whole chickens, pork roasts, butterflied leg of lamb, a dozen hamburgers you can chunk up and warm later in the microwave with seasonings for a taco bar.

The leftover chicken can be shredded and used in lots of cold entrees including my favorite chicken papaya salad (remember that recipe?). And don’t forget to haul out last summer’s recipe for grilled pizza, which cooks in about 30 seconds.

You can sauté on the grill, too. Use a cast-iron or another heavy-duty pan to make cheesesteaks, for example: Quickly sauté thin-sliced beef, tuck into hoagie buns with slices of American cheese, and clap a lid on the pan until the cheese melts.

I envy your vegetable sides this summer. If I were relying on a grill, I would keep a bowl in the fridge of a rotating variety of grilled summer vegetables dressed with olive oil and minced garlic.

You could even add them to your tacos. Come to think of it, even though I’ll have a stove, summer-long grilled vegetables sounds like a good idea.

Some other ideas: Grilled ratatouille, couscous salads (the couscous fluffs in five minutes in boiled water from the microwave), and big-bowl salads made with greens and grilled meat. I’m sharing a repeat of an Asian steak salad I made once with fresh greens and herbs from the garden and a Vietnamese dressing I make in big batches and keep in the refrigerator all the time.

When I created the recipe I wrote, “I cooked the asparagus and snow peas very briefly in the microwave, not even bothering to put them in a bowl. I made my favorite Vietnamese dressing and tossed it with the thin-sliced beef, chopped vegetables and minced herbs. I mounded the fragrant salad over arugula and garnished each plate with a few cubes of papaya. It was the bomb.”

ASIAN STEAK SALAD WITH CILANTRO AND MINT

8 oz. cold grilled steak
1/2 cup Vietnamese Lime and Chili Sauce (recipe follows)
1/2 of a medium-sized cucumber, peeled and diced (1 cup)
2 green onions, sliced
1/2 cup asparagus spears in 1-inch lengths
1 small handful (about 15) snow peas
2 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
1 1/2 tbsp. chopped fresh mint
2 cups torn salad greens
1 cup cubed tropical fruit (1-inch chunks) such as papaya or pineapple (optional)
Coarse sea salt

Slice meat very thin across the grain. If strips of meat are longer than 3 inches, cut to size. Place in a bowl and toss with the sauce. Add cucumber and green onions. Scatter asparagus directly on the glass carousel of a microwave oven and microwave on high power for 30 seconds. Refresh under cold running water; drain and add to salad bowl. Repeat microwaving process with snow peas. Refresh, then add to bowl. Add cilantro and mint and toss well.

Place salad greens in the center of two salad plates. Arrange fruit chunks along one side. Toss beef salad again and mound on greens, dividing evenly between the two plates. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt. Makes two servings.

VIETNAMESE LIME AND CHILI SAUCE
(jumbo recipe; may be cut in half)

10 cloves garlic, finely minced
Grated zest of 2 1/2 limes
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. Lime juice
5 tbsp. Distilled white vinegar
3 tbsp. Plus 1 tsp. Nam pla (Vietnamese fish sauce)
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. Soy sauce
7 1/2 tbsp. Sugar
5 fresh small red chilies or 1 or 2 jalapenos (or to taste), seeded and minced, or 1 tbsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/4 cups papaya or mango nectar or unsweetened pineapple juice

Combine all ingredients in a lidded jar. Keeps for weeks in the refrigerator.

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April 13, 2016

Dear friends,

What a sweetheart. Not only did Tony give me a bye on cooking his birthday dinner last week, he chose my favorite restaurant for a celebration. Although we hadn’t been to Russo’s Restaurant in Cuyahoga Falls in at least five years because of Tony’s work schedule, I didn’t need a menu. A guy at the bar was working his way through a Navajo taco when we arrived and one glance was all it took.

“I’ll have what he’s having,” I told the waitress.

The dinner plate was a riot of colors. Big, puffy rounds of fried bread peeked out here and there from their blanket of crawfish, scallops, whitefish, sautéed peppers and fresh salsa, crowned with a swirl of sour cream and showered with chopped green onions. This extravaganza tastes as good today as it did 21 years ago when chef David Russo put it on the menu of his previous restaurant, Liberty Street Brewing Co. in Akron.

If your eyes have strayed down to the recipe already, you’re probably snorting. Yes, it is long and involved. But Dave Russo’s Navaho taco is the kind of food that inspires fan followings and twitter accounts (not that the tacos are that social yet). Some people would do anything for one of ‘em – even prepare a four-part recipe.

Russo gave me the directions years ago. I have made the tacos and can report the recipe works perfectly.

If you want to wow friends or family, this recipe will do it.

I suggest you stir together the seasoning mix, chop the vegetables, toast the cornmeal and make the salsa one day, and prepare the filling and fry bread the next. Or if you live nearby and have $30 to spend, just go to Russo’s (www.russoskitchen.com).
Tony poached about half of my Navajo taco, which I grudgingly allowed. It was his birthday.

DAVE RUSSO’S NAVAJO TACOS

SALSA:

•    2 tomatoes, diced
•    1/2 cup chopped onion
•    1/2 cup chopped green pepper
•    1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
•    2 jalapenos, seeded and chopped
•    1/2 cup chopped cilantro
•    1 tbsp. white wine vinegar
•    Juice of 1/2 lemon
•    1 tbsp. brown sugar
•    1/2 tsp. salt

Combine everything in a bowl, stirring well.

SEASONING MIX
:
•    1 1/2 tsp. oregano
•    1 tsp. onion powder
•    2 tsp. salt
•    1 1/2 tsp. cumin
•    1 tsp. garlic powder
•    1/2 tsp. black pepper
•    1/2 tsp. white pepper
•    2 tsp. ground New Mexican dried chili pepper
•    2 tsp. ground guajillo chili pepper (or use all New Mexican pepper)

Combine all ingredients in a lidded jar.

FILLING:
•    1 tbsp. toasted corn meal
•    1/4 cup olive oil
•    14 oz. of your choice of chicken, steak (cut into strips about 2 inches long and 1/4-inch thick), or peeled shrimp
•    1 red bell pepper, in julienne (very thin) strips
•    1 green bell pepper, julienned
•    1 medium red onion, julienned
•    1 tsp. minced fresh garlic
•    1/2 cup peeled, seeded and chopped ripe tomatoes
•    1/2 cup chicken or beef broth

In a dry skillet over medium heat, shake corn meal until toasted medium dark. Set aside.
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon seasoning mix over chicken, steak or shrimp, coating all sides. Add the meat or seafood to the hot oil. Brown meat, stirring constantly (if using shrimp, sear on both sides and remove from the pan and set aside).
Add peppers, onions and 1 tablespoon of seasoning mix to pan. Cook, stirring, about three minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more.
Stir in toasted cornmeal, then tomatoes and broth (if using shrimp, return to pan now). Simmer 3 minutes, until sauce has reduced and thickened. Keep warm.

FRY BREAD
•    3 cups sifted flour
•    1 tbsp. baking powder
•    1/2 tsp. salt
•    1 cup warm water

Combine flour, baking powder and salt in large bowl. Slowly mix in warm water with a fork. Stir until soft but not sticky. If too sticky, add a touch more flour. Gather into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand 15 minutes.
Pull off egg size balls of dough. Pat or roll into flat disks 1/4-inch thick. Press thumb into center of dough round and pierce several times with fork.
In a large skillet, bring 3 cups of vegetable oil to 350 degrees on a deep-fry thermometer. Fry the cakes 30 seconds on each side or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.
To assemble tacos, place one fry bread on a plate, spoon on some of the filling, and place a second fry bread overlapping the first. Spoon on more filling. Top with salsa and a dollop of sour cream. Makes about 4 servings.

TIDBITS

You can’t just stop a barbecue binge cold turkey. Tony and I couldn’t, at any rate. The first week after we returned from our jaunt to Tennessee he suggested we visit Carolina BBQ in Akron “just to compare.” Twice.

Then we found Dickey’s Barbecue Pit in Medina, which is as close to Memphis-style as we’ve found around here. The restaurant has slow-smoked ribs, beef brisket, chicken and pork, along with ham, turkey and sausage. It also has chopped brisket salad and quality sides including a rich mac and cheese and green beans with bacon.

Dickey’s is at 960 N. Court St. On Sundays kids eat free and everyone gets free soft-serve ice cream.
Takes the cake
Tony’s birthday cake this year was the best yet. Usually it’s pretty sad, because he has eliminated sugar and tries to hold down the carbs for health reasons. This year I discovered Pillsbury Sugar-Free cake mixes, and the chocolate cake I made was tremendous – moist and fine-textured, with a decent chocolate flavor.

To ensure a moist cake I under-baked it slightly, until the cake started to pull away from the sides of the pan but the top was still slightly puffy and could be dented with a finger. When cool, I filled and frosted the layers with whipped strawberry cream cheese and decorated the top with sliced and whole strawberries.

To make the whipped cream cheese, allow an 8-ounce package of low-fat cream cheese to soften at room temperature or zap it for a few seconds (out of the foil liner) in the microwave. Puree a handful of strawberries in a food processer, add cream cheese and process until well combined, sprinkling in Splenda to taste for sweetness if desired.

THE MAILBAG

From Marty L.:
When I wanted to make a strawberry pie for a “taste of spring,” I had a stroke of genius for making the blind pie shell. Instead of using a weighted empty pie pan on top, I found that my silicon lid cover was absolutely perfect. I left it inside the crust until it was set and just starting to brown, then took it out for the last 5 minutes for the inside to brown.

Dear Marty: Good idea, but I still think I’ll just chill the unbaked shell for 15 minutes and do away with weighting altogether.

April 6, 2016

Dear friends,

While we assess the frost damage and wonder whether we’ll ever see another fresh-from-the-earth vegetable, we can make something different and delicious from the same old root vegetables we’ve endured all winter. I had forgotten about the roasted vegetable and bacon salad I made for Father’s Day one year when Tony’s son was still a teen-ager and my in-laws were visiting. It’s a great side for grilled steak.

Roasting is one of my favorite ways to cook dense vegetables because not only is it easy – just wash, toss with oil and bake on a cookie sheet – but it deepens and sweetens the flavors of the vegetables.

I often splash a little vinaigrette on cooked vegetables to give them flavor without adding butter with its saturated fats.

While you wait for the peas and spring lettuce to grow, you could do a lot worse than this:

ROASTED VEGETABLE SALAD WITH BACON
•    3 medium yellow-flesh potatoes (14 oz.)
•    4 medium carrots (7 oz.)
•    3 cloves garlic, sliced
•    1 cup red onion in 1-inch chunks
•    2 tbsp. olive oil
•    1 1/2 tsp. coarse sea salt
•    1 1/2 slices bacon, diced
•    1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme

Vinaigrette:

•    1 tbsp. red-wine vinegar
•    1 1/2 tsp. Dijon-style mustard
•    1 tbsp. olive oil
•    1/4 tsp. sea salt
•    Coarse-ground pepper to taste

Scrub potatoes but leave skins on. Cut into 1-inch chunks. Scrub carrots and peel if necessary; cut into 1-inch chunks. Combine on a large baking sheet with garlic and onion. Drizzle with the olive oil and mix well to coat all surfaces of vegetables. Sprinkle with salt and dot with bacon.

Bake at 400 degrees for about 45 to 50 minutes, turning once with a spatula, until edges of vegetables begin to brown. Loosen from sheet with a spatula and transfer to a medium serving bowl. Sprinkle with thyme.

Whisk vinaigrette ingredients in a small bowl and drizzle over vegetable mixture. Stir gently. Serve at room temperature. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

HELP U COOK

After years of weighting down unbaked pie crusts with dry beans, rice and — when desperate — metal cookie cutters, I learn that baking blind is unnecessary if you chill the unbaked pie shell.

Baking blind is weighting a foil-lined unbaked pie shell and baking several minutes, then removing the foil and weights and baking a few minutes longer until golden brown. The foil and weights prevent the crust from forming large bubbles when baked without a filling.

In a book I’ve used for years, “Pies & Pastries,” author Janet Pittman writes, “If you use a metal pie pan or a refrigerator-to-oven pie pan, baking blind is not necessary. Refrigerate the unbaked shell 15 to 20 minutes before baking. Then bake 8 to 10 minutes until the shell is golden brown.”

Although she recommends 475 degrees for both blind and refrigerator-to-oven baking, I use 450 because I’m prone to burning the dang things.

TIDBIT

I hereby dub Rob Stern the poet laureate of food for the rappin’ rhyme he sent about my chicken-breading instructions last week. He can take it from here:

“Dry first, fry later” has a blank verse appeal, I suppose,
But for a prole dish
Like fried chicken (or fish)
We want poetry, not prose,
So let me propose that THIS is how it goes:

First dry it, then fry it.
Now, Jane, you try it.
Or… We can kick it up more,
Add directions to underscore
And increase our store
Of fried food lore

For the ultimate greasy, crunchy score.
Thus, here is how it could go:
Dry with a paper towel, yo,
Now into flour, keep up the flow,
Dip in egg quick, that’s the trick,
Breading last, working fast,
Now – oil hot?
In the pot!

The moment is fraught,
The culmination of all you’ve learned and been taught,
Will it all be for naught?!
No! (I thought not) –
It comes out golden brown.
Word spreads all around town,
Jane wins the hot chicken throw down,

I don’t clown,
You’ve achieved your fried chicken cap ‘n gown,
With distinction and renown,
By using your wit.
But, if you’re a nitwit,
And this is too much to commit
To memory, then just remember the very first bit,
To wit:
First dry it,
Then fry it.

Bravo, Ron! You get down!
Now, how about a haiku on baking blind?

THE MAILBAG

From Eric:
Have you ever gone to the best hamburger joint on Beil Street in Memphis?  They deep fry the patties in 100-year-old filtered grease, and the burgers are just yummy. Can’t remember the name.

Dear Eric: I did some nosing around and found info on Dyer’s Burgers at 205 Beale Street, where not only the burger but the cheese that goes on it is deep fried in ancient (but I assume continually replenished) grease. Sorry I missed it and those hand-cut fries. The website is http://www.dyersonbeale.com.