June 30, 2016

Dear friends,

Everyone makes cold peanut noodles now but no one makes spicy cold soba noodles with basil-mint pesto. That’s because Nina Simonds and I just dreamed it up. Nina came up with the idea in her book, “Asian Noodles,” and I customized it to what I had in my cupboards.

The noodles are a home run for spicy-food lovers. Thin, slippery buckwheat noodles are bathed in a highly seasoned, medium-hot pesto sauce that clings to the pasta. It’s the kind of dish that would look unremarkable on a potluck buffet table, but be gone by the time you fetched the dish to take home.

I served the noodles with grilled steak Sunday. The recipe was a hail Mary after I discovered we had no potatoes, no rice and no vegetables on hand. I paged through Simonds’ noodle book and lifted the recipe for the pesto because my basil plants are beginning to produce excess leaves, and lord knows I have plenty of mint out back.

Simonds tosses the noodles with chicken and a vinaigrette, but I like the noodles with the just the pesto, which I changed to make more sauce-like. Specifically, I added some of the Vietnamese Lime and Chili Sauce I always have on hand. I use the sauce on salads, in stir fries and as a dipping sauce.
I’ve shared the recipe several times but include it again for those who missed it. It keeps for ages in the refrigerator.

If you don’t have the time or ingredients to make the Vietnamese sauce, substitute one-fourth cup lime juice mixed with one-fourth cup soy sauce.

5779e9a8307b43ed8867368ddfab560e.jpg

SPICY COLD SOBA NOODLES
6 cloves garlic
1 cup fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
1 tbsp. Szechuan chili oil
1 tbsp. toasted sesame oil
Vietnamese Lime and Chili Sauce (recipe follows) or 1/4 cup soy sauce mixed with 1/4 cup lime juice
10 oz. (3 bundles) soba noodles

Drop the garlic cloves one at a time through the feed tube of a food processor with the motor running. When chopped fine, remove lid and add basil, mint, chili oil and sesame oil. Pulse to chop leaves. Drizzle Vietnamese sauce or the soy-lime juice mixture through the feed tube with the motor running, using just enough liquid to produce a loose slurry. Set aside.

Cook soba noodles in boiling water for 2 to 4 minutes, or until noodles are tender but not mushy. Drain well and transfer to a boil. Scrape pesto into bowl with noodles and toss to coat evenly. Chill. Toss before serving. Makes about 6 servings.
VIETNAMESE LIME AND CHILI SAUCE
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.

TIDBITS

• You know those semi-awful drinks made with protein powder? Until now I’ve added the protein to fat-free milk and blended it with lots of ice to make a “milkshake.” Sometimes I glam it up with cocoa powder. Pretty good (and good for you), but not half as good as turning the milk-protein mixture into ice cream. Zowie.

The protein powder gives the ice cream a creamy texture and rich flavor, and a cup of it can really fill you up. Currently I use Pure Protein powder, which has 26 grams protein, 2 grams of sugar and 160 calories per scoop. Add a cup of skim milk, freeze it in an ice cream machine, and you have an outrageous, guilt-free snack.

• My computer hates me again, so please resend your email. My mail program refused to forward any mail to me for roughly the last two weeks, so if you sent an email during that time, could you please resend it? I don’t get a ton of emails to my newsletter, so every one is precious. On another matter, why don’t you write more??

THE MAILBAG

From Tracey:
Hi Jane. Thinking of your upcoming knee surgery. Hope it goes well and that recuperation is as speedy and comfortable as possible!

Dear Tracey: Thank you so much. I’m having a knee replacement at the end of August. I need recipes for meals I can make in a toaster in the living room while reclining in a tilt-back chair.

I’m not about to let a bum knee derail my summer plans, though. Before I’m sidelined, Tony and I will hitch up our camper for a month-long trip to Vail, Colo., Idaho’s hot springs, and Yellowstone National Park. I will see everything from the window of our pickup while Tony hikes, kayaks and zip lines. I hope to do some campfire cooking, too, so I’ll keep you posted.

Advertisements

June 22, 2016

Dear friends,

The first night of our vacation to the shore we had carryout from Cracker Barrel in our camper at a highway rest stop in West Virginia during a rainstorm of biblical proportions. What is wrong with this picture? Yes, Cracker Barrel. Not the roadside rest or camper or even West Virginia. I can handle all that, but starting our retirement travels with a meal from Cracker Barrel?

Well, the meal was delicious. I’m not kidding. I dashed into the restaurant (choices of dining spots at the highway interchange were limited) and ordered two of the first item I saw on a wall menu: Campfire Chicken. It’s a goof-proof summer special of seasoned bone-in chicken pieces cooked in foil with carrots, onions, cherry tomatoes and new potatoes. When we opened the packets a few minutes later at the rest stop, the aroma filled our 24-foot camper.

Tony, the dog and I huddled around the table eating while the rain sliced sideways against the windows. We were happy and cozy.

The food got better after we settled in at the shore, but still, the Campfire Chicken was not bad. I kept thinking about it, and ways I could make it gourmet-worthy. After we returned home, I laid in supplies and experimented. The result is a kind of Northern African-inspired dish that can be cooked on the grill or in the oven.

I used bone-in chicken, as Cracker Barrel does, and cooked it in a foil pouch with cherry tomatoes, olives, dates, lemon wedges, onions, carrots and chunks of sweet potatoes. A spice mixture of cinnamon, coriander, ginger and turmeric pulled it all together.

a6a23b8adec24a709920124dad1cd8c9.jpeg

FOIL-WRAPPED CHICKEN TAGINE
1/2 tsp. powdered ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. coriander
1/4 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. fresh-ground pepper
4 bone-in chicken leg-thighs, breasts or a combination
2 slender carrots, cut in halves and the fat ends sliced lengthwise
1/2 of a large sweet onion such as Vidalia, peeled and cut in quarters
8 grape tomatoes
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives
1 lemon, cut vertically in 8 wedges
4 large pitted dates
1 large sweet potato, pierced and microwaved until almost tender
4 tsp. olive oil

In a custard cup, mix together ginger, cinnamon, coriander, turmeric, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Trim any excess skin or fat from the chicken. Wash and pat dry. Place an 18-inch length of foil on a counter and place another piece of foil, the same size, crosswise on top to form a cross. Place one-fourth of the carrots in the center and arrange one chicken piece on top. Arrange one-fourth of the onion, tomatoes, lemon wedges, olives and a date around the chicken. Cut the potato in 4 chunks and add one to packet. Sprinkle one teaspoon of the spice mixture over the chicken and vegetables. Drizzle with one teaspoon olive oil.

Bring foil up around ingredients, scrunching and pinching to seal. Use remaining ingredients to make three more packets.

Oven method: Place foil packets on two baking sheets and bake at 400 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes, switching positions in oven after 30 minutes.

Grill method: Place over medium-hot coals (about 20
briquettes or medium on a gas grill). Cover with vents half open. Grill for about 40 minutes, depending on heat, or until juices of chicken run clear.

Makes 4 servings. Note: The lemon wedges may be eaten rind and all. They are soft and delicious when cooked.

HELP U COOK

A word, please, about oven tending. When you open an oven door mid-bake or mid-roast, do you leave it open while basting, checking the temperature with an instant-read, or prodding a piece of meat for doneness? Stop it.

Do you leisurely switch the positions of baking sheets mid-bake, letting too much heat escape? Stop it.

I have noticed that many of my friends have no sense of urgency when opening and closing an oven door. If you open the door of a preheated oven and walk four steps to a counter and back to fetch your casserole or unbaked pie, you might as well start preheating all over again. The heat escapes quickly, throwing off not only the timing but the quality of the food.
Try to keep open-door time to a minimum. Have everything you need – food, utensils, hot pads – at your fingertips. Open the door, immediately do what you have to, and shut the door as quickly as possible. If the task requires more than a few seconds of time, remove the food from oven, close the door, and prod or baste at leisure. Then get it back in the oven pronto.

TIDBITS

Where are all the pawpaw trees? I want one so badly I can almost taste it. More accurately, I want a pawpaw badly in order to taste it. I’ve been obsessed since I read a description of the fruit. It reportedly has a creamy texture and tropical flavor that’s a cross between a banana, mango and pineapple. Does that sound great or what?

Pawpaws grow wild in groves in Southern Ohio. They can be grown in Northern Ohio, too. When I was a kid, I remember the pawpaw tree beside the back porch of my grandparents’ neighbor.

Pawpaws are the largest tree fruit native to North America, yet I have never tasted one. How is that possible? I have written about food from my home base in Ohio for 34 years. I have tasted fresh lychees and dragon fruit, rare Japanese haskap berries and Spanish blood oranges, but not a single home-grown pawpaw.

I tried to remedy that this spring by finding a tree and growing the fruit myself, but the biggest pawpaw tree I could find locally was 18 inches. Hey, I’m 66. I can’t wait that long.

Scheduled knee surgery will keep me from attending the 19th annual Ohio Pawpaw Festival Sept. 16-18 at Lake Snowden near Athens, about two hours Southeast of Columbus. I am heartbroken. The festival website is http://www.ohiopawpawfest.com. If you go, would you please, please bring me back a pawpaw?

THE MAILBAG

From Cindy P.:
I am laughing to myself about Tony’s creation (the hotdog face). He’s a big kid inside, isn’t he?

While I don’t make food with faces for myself, I indulge the kid in me by using a lime-green Grinch waffle iron that my daughters bought me for Christmas one year. I think of my daughters every time I use the thing and have it displayed in open, industrial shelving in my kitchen. I don’t care what anyone thinks of it. I love it.

Speaking of waffles, the best I’ve ever eaten are at Brown Sugar Kitchen in Oakland, Calif. The chef/owner puts cornmeal in the waffles and serves them with an apple cider vinegar syrup. OMG. My version — I also add cornmeal, even in the form of grits or polenta, to the batter. No, I don’t use a recipe but I did look at her cookbook to figure out what she did and then I based my version on that. This weekend, I was craving the syrup as well, so I heated some butter, maple syrup, and a tiny bit of balsamic vinegar, and poured that over the waffle. Slightly different and VERY good.

Dear Cindy: I’ll tell Tony you liked his fried hot dog face. He needs no encouragement, though.

Your waffles (with the Grinch iron! Yes!) sound really great. For some reason, I crave things made with cornmeal lately. Putting balsamic in the butter-syrup topping is brilliant.

From Pennie:
I have a food question about mushrooms. You are supposed to wipe them off with a wet paper towel, but I have issues with that. First, they don’t seem as clean as rinsing them. (Aren’t they grown in manure?) And second, it takes a heck of a lot of paper towels to clean a bunch. Am I doing it wrong?

Dear Pennie: Mushrooms are not grown in manure. That’s just a – ahem – dirty rumor that the Mushroom Council spends a lot of money each year to refute. As for the wiping/washing issue, I, too, used to brush and wipe the things, but no more. It’s tedious and doesn’t really clean them well, as you point out.

Mushrooms are porous and will soak up water, which would make them difficult to cook. But that will happen only if you let the mushrooms loll around in the water. If you clean them under running water and dry them right away (here’s where the wiping comes in), they will not ooze an ocean in your sauté pan. And if they do ooze too much, simply turn up the heat and boil it off.

June 3, 2016

Dear friends,

In my continuing quest to have my ice cream and my figure, too, I made yogurt pops last week. Not just plain frozen yogurt pops, but coconut frozen yogurt pops with a mango swirl.

As I write this, on day five, the flavors have finally mellowed and deepened in the freezer. The chalky, bland hints of plain frozen yogurt have faded, leaving a tart tang that works in harmony with the pronounced coconut and fruity mango flavors. So if you make these, be patient. Do not gobble them up immediately.

Also keep in mind that these are low-cal pops. To make something like this taste good takes a bit of time. Most coconut yogurt pop recipes on the Internet call for stirring canned cream of coconut into plain yogurt for texture and flavor. That’s easy, but the product has a ton of calories. Instead I use cookbook author and columnist Mark Bittman’s technique of making a cooked custard to combine with the yogurt. Unlike Bittman I make my frozen yogurt with reduced-fat dairy products, and infuse the custard with shredded, unsugared coconut to produce my favorite flavor.

The custard base helps the texture. So does churning the yogurt-custard mixture in an ice cream machine. That whips air into the mixture as it freezes, which prevents the yogurt pops from hardening into little wands of ice. I’m lucky to have a countertop compressor machine that requires no pre-freezing of the bowl or messing with ice and salt. Any type of machine may be used to churn the mixture, though.

These yogurt pops are going to seriously improve my summer. Now, if I could just figure out how to make a low-cal Dairy Queen Peanut Buster Bar.

yogurtbar.jpeg

COCONUT-MANGO YOGURT POPS
1 1/4 cups skim milk
1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
4 egg yolks
1/4 cup Splenda granulated (or 1/2 cup regular granulated sugar)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups fat-free plain Greek yogurt
1 ripe mango
1/2 tsp. lime juice

Bring milk to simmer. Remove from heat, stir in coconut and cover. Let stand for 1 hour.

Bring milk almost to a simmer again. In a small bowl or 2-cup measure, beat eggs with a fork. Slowly add about a half-cup of the hot milk mixture to the eggs, beating rapidly. Whisk hot egg mixture into the milk-coconut mixture in pan. Stir in Splenda or sugar. Stir constantly over medium-low heat until custard thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Do not allow it to bubble or the eggs will scramble.

Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Cool to room temperature (set bottom of pan in ice water to cool quickly).

Stir yogurt into cooled coconut custard. Dip out one-half cup of mixture. Cover remaining mixture with plastic wrap. Peel and cube mango and puree until chunky-smooth in a food processor. Measure out one-half cup and stir in lime juice. Combine with the half-cup of the coconut mixture. Cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate both mixtures until thoroughly chilled, preferably overnight.

Churn each mixture separately in an ice cream machine if possible, or at least churn the plain coconut mixture. Spoon soft-set coconut-yogurt mixture into ice-pop molds, alternating with a couple of thin layers of the mango mixture. Freeze 4 or 5 days to allow flavors to deepen. To eat, run under hot water and remove from molds. Makes 7 or 8 half-cup ice pops.

TIDBITS

Bomba Tacos & Rum finally opened in Fairlawn in the former Hudson’s space, where walls were knocked out and Hudson’s cozy vibe was considerably lightened up. The restaurant offers tacos, rice bowls and lots of rum – more than 75 varieties including rum cocktails. I can recommend the mojito.

The restaurant is part of a home-grown chain that started in Cleveland in 2007 with Paladar Latin Kitchen & Rum Bar. The offshoot Bomba chain has three locations so far – Akron, Rocky River and Hallandale, Fla.

The “Latin American” food isn’t exactly Latin American; it is “inspired by flavors, ingredients, and dishes from Central and South America, Cuba and the Caribbean,” co-owner Andy Himmel told the Herald in Miami, where authentic Latin American food can be found on almost every corner.

“A South Florida Latin American cuisine’d restaurant hailing from Ohio is like a Peoria-originated Chinese restaurant opening in Shanghai,” the Miami writer noted.

But although you won’t find ropa Viejo or steak palomino on the menu, most of the food is pretty good and the atmosphere is fun.

Best bets: Chunky guacamole, fresh-made, with a list of add-ins you can specify; chicken tinga taco with chipotle sauce, fresh cilantro, onion and hot sauce; and lamb barbacoa taco with plenty of lamb. Skip the empanadas, which taste like they’re made with egg roll wrappers.

The menu and other pertinent details can be found at http://bombatacos.com/fairlawn-ohio/.
SMASHED SWEET POTATOES

I figured if chef Roger Thomas can smash redskins, I can smash sweet potatoes. They turned out pretty good, too.

Choose small, roundish sweet potatoes and cook them in the microwave until tender but not falling apart. Gently smash them between your palms to split the skin in four places around the sides. Marinate for 20 to 30 minutes in a mixture of 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger and 1/2 teaspoon sugar, flipping potatoes once. (Increase amounts for more than two potatoes.) Grill on both sides until crisp.
EEK!
Remember the big package of hot dogs Tony lugged home and I refused to cook? One morning last week I found him in the kitchen making the horror show below for his breakfast. I didn’t say a word; I just got my camera.

f24ca6cfefaa4996a37f408b2dc6f968.jpeg

THE MAILBAG
From Michele:
Liver and onions at the Ido Bar & Grille for the man who asked in your newsletter.

From Jocelyn:
I am not a liver and onions fan but my son loves it. Whenever he is in town we go to the Ido on South Main Street in Akron. He can have his treat and I can have just about anything else. One of my favorites is the almond-crusted halibut, delicious.

From George, Akron:
Liver and onions can be had at Rose Villa in the Portage Lakes area.  It’s pretty good.

From Jan C., Uniontown:
My hubby and I like the liver and onions at Rose Villa in Portage Lakes. Comes with good bread, salad, good veggies, and potatoes. Their fresh-cut fries are crispy the home fries too. Yummy and quite reasonable. Met a friend there for dinner a week ago and we all ended up having the liver.

From Martha K.:
Re: liver and onions — tell John to try Edgar’s Restaurant at Good Park, Lanning’s and the 
Ido Bar & Grille.

From Marilyn K.:
Regarding good liver and onions, Farmer Boy restaurant on Cuyahoga Falls Avenue in Akron makes a delicious plate of liver and onions. Real yum ! I tell my hubby it isn’t good for his cholesterol but he will be 90 later this year and is still running around the city, so why stop him now ? Enjoy  !!!

From Debbie:
I’ve never had them myself, but they are on the menu at Lanning’s. They come with the tableside mini salad bar and a side. The menu shows $24. But that includes the excellent service and view of Yellow Creek (if you dress appropriately – if you wear jeans, you can sit in the bar area. Still very nice and the same great service).

From Mary P.:
Years ago I had some of the best liver and onions at Denny’s Restaurants. They have a new location on Home Ave near Chapel Hill. In fact, across from Steak and shake. Hopefully, they still offer it and it’s as good as way back when.

From Sura:
Liver and onions is a simple dish best eaten at home. I’ve never found a restaurant that makes it as good as fresh homemade, and it’s so easy.

Dear readers: Thanks for helping John (and a lot of us, I bet) find the best liver and onions in the area. I can’t wait to try the liver at the Ido and Rose Villa.