May 11, 2016

Dear friends,

After a nice Mother’s Day brunch, all I needed to make the day complete was a call from my step-son. The call came in early evening. Nico has not missed a Mother’s Day since he moved to Colorado three years ago. Hearing his voice almost makes me forget that hair-pulling senior year when he rebelled against Tony, me, school and the universe.

Nico has changed. He is once again the charming, smart, funny kid who asked deep questions and laughed with me at goofy TV shows. He’s that kid but more mature and thoughtful. I wish I could have shared brunch with him. He was always an enthusiastic and adventurous eater.

But then, so is my dog, who shared the riff on huevos-rancheros-meets-eggs-Benedict I made Sunday. Oscar isn’t as good a conversationalist as Nico but he likes my cooking just as much.

We’re both kind of smitten with the crispy corn cakes I made as the base of my Benedict. I wanted something more substantial than corn pancakes but less leaden than traditional hoecakes, which are basically water and corn meal stirred together and fried.

My hoecakes are cross between the two. I lightened the batter with a smidgen of self-rising flour and added oil for tenderness. The result: They’re sturdier than pancakes but more tender than hoecakes, with the latter’s pure corn flavor.

I topped the cakes with frizzled ham and green onions charred in a dry skillet. I poached the egg for 4 minutes in almost-simmering water in a covered skillet. If I were more ambitious and had calories to burn, I would have topped the stack with a ribbon of jalapeno hollandaise sauce. Instead I used smoky chipotle salsa, which was almost as good.

Too bad Tony didn’t get to taste this. Maybe I’ll make it on Father’s Day, when he will be safely back home.

POACHED EGGS, HAM AND CHARRED SCALLIONS OVER HOECAKES

For the hoecakes:
1/2 cup yellow corn meal
1/2 cup hot water
2 tbsp. self-rising flour
1 tbsp. Canola oil
1/4 tsp. salt

Combine corn meal and hot water in a bowl and let stand for 10 minutes. Stir in remaining ingredients and let stand a few minutes longer.

Pour about one-sixteenth inch oil into a hot nonstick or cast iron skillet. Adjust the heat to medium. When the oil is hot, Spoon in one-fourth of the batter, spreading to form a thin disk about 4 inches in diameter. Cook until edges are brown and crisp. Flip and cook until reverse side is golden. Keep warm in a 200-degree oven.

Everything else:
8 thin green onions, trimmed
6 oz. shaved ham
4 eggs
Salsa (optional)

Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Place onions in dry skillet and cook until dark brown in places on both sides. Remove from pan with tongs and set aside. In same skillet, warm hand until the edges frizzle.

While ham warms, break eggs into a nonstick skillet of barely simmering water. Cover and cook, barely simmering, until whites are set but yolks are still runny, about 4 minutes.

While eggs cook, place a hoecake on each of 4 luncheon-sized plates. Top each with 1 1/2 ounces of the ham and 2 green onions. Carefully remove each egg from the water with a slotted spoon and slide onto the onions. Serve with salsa if desired. Makes 4 servings.

HELP U COOK

While making a pot of soup last weekend I was reminded of all the restaurant utensils and cookware Tony brought to our marriage. I can’t imagine how I cooked without them.

I actually used to use either a wooden spoon or a serving spoon to stir soup, spaghetti sauce and chili. Using giant, long-handled restaurant spoons makes much more sense. I now have foot-long regular, slotted and strainer spoons hanging beside the stove.

If you are still cooking with amateur equipment, visit a restaurant supply store and pick up some inexpensive utensils. While you’re there, grab a pizza peel and one really giant (5-gallon) pot for making stock. A meat saw can come in handy, too. Last week I used mine to hack through a wood dowel, but that’s another story.

THE MAILBAG
From Linda:
Regarding your pork belly article, my favorite meal as a child was roast pork. If my mom asked me on my birthday what I wanted that was my answer…but they seem to have “leaned” all the flavor out of U.S. pork, so what a delight it was to discover good old fat pork here in France! I had a 24-hour roasted pork meal at a restaurant last autumn and was instantly transported back to my childhood. It was pork belly rolled and roasted low and slow, then only a couple of slices on the plate was enough to put me into orbit!

Dear Linda: Some good old-fashioned pork is produced here in Ohio, but you have to search for it and it’s expensive — $4 to $5 a pound if you buy in bulk. Those who are interested should Google “Ohio heritage pork.” We envy you, Linda.

From Sandy T.:
You haven’t mentioned your garden this spring. Have you given up or if not, what new things are you planting this year?

Dear Sandy: Gardening without Tony to plow or Rototill is tough. I’m waiting for him to return from Japan to do most of my spring planting. Meanwhile, I shoveled enough soil to plant a row of sugar snap peas out back and French breakfast radishes and lettuces in the trough on the deck. I’m also trying to grow eggplant in containers this year, after disease and root-gnawing critters wiped out the eggplants in my garden last summer.

My perennial herbs are flourishing and I planted basil last weekend. I’ve harvested a few stalks of asparagus, but my old patch has all but stopped producing. I spent time weeding the new row I planted last year (but can’t harvest until 2018), along with new rows of blueberry and blackberry bushes. So I guess I am gardening, but in a low-energy kind of way.

My new item this year, to be planted when Tony returns, is Japanese sweet potatoes. I had to send away for the plants. I’d love to hear about new plants (new to you) that you and others are trying this season or that you’ve had success with in the past.

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