August 31, 2016

Dear friends,

I’m obsessed with tomatoes this summer, maybe because I don’t have any. I harvested just one big, juicy yellow-orange globe from my vines before weeds strangled the last gasping tendril. A month’s vacation did ‘em in.

Without the usual tomato glut, I have been coveting friends’ tomato patches and lusting after the many varieties in farm markets. Last week I lugged home a peck to freeze and almost another peck to eat, and I’m still not sated.

My M.O. this summer is tomato sandwiches. I have slipped thick slices between seeded whole wheat with pesto and a bit of chicken. I have indulged in BLTs and grilled Spam, cheese and tomato. Last weekend I made my favorite so far: Blue cheese and tomato on a soft wheat roll. If anyone knows of a better tomato sandwich, I’d like to hear about it. Seriously.

Tony is about to meet Mr. Tomato in a big way. He has promised to feed me while I recuperate from a knee replacement. By the time you read this, I hope to be home from the hospital. While I lounge in the living room with my ipad and ice compresses, Tony will be in the kitchen making tomato sandwiches.

When he’s done with that, I’ll ask him to make some fresh tomato salsa to spoon over grilled steaks, and roasted tomato sauce to freeze. Tony will either cater to my tomato fixation or abandon me. I think it’s a toss-up.

My favorite salsa fresca recipe starts with a saute of diced portobello mushrooms and garlic flavored with balsamic vinegar. The cooked mushrooms and garlic give the salsa a rich backbone of flavor.

The remaining ingredients are simple — diced ripe tomatoes, sweet onion, green onion, a smidgen of minced jalapeno for heat, and diced yellow bell pepper for color. Roasted corn, barely scorched at the edges, is added, too. The salsa is seasoned with olive oil, lime juice and a hint of ground cumin.

Chopped fresh basil and cilantro are folded in at the end.

My recipe calls for seeding the tomatoes, which is simple. Cut the tomatoes in half horizontally, hold the halves over the sink, and squeeze. The seeds and liquid will come pouring out, leaving you with the pure, meaty flesh.

Too many ripe tomatoes? Do not refrigerate, which kills the flavor. Instead, store them in a dark place to help prevent decay. Or just turn them into roasted tomato sauce. My version is wonderfully full-flavored and a snap to make: On a baking sheet, place 6 medium tomatoes, 4 unpeeled cloves of garlic and a peeled onion cut in half. Roast at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, or until the tomatoes are soft and the skins are beginning to split.

When the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, peel off the skins and place the pulp and juice, along with the onion and peeled garlic, in a food processor.

Puree, then simmer in a saucepan for about 20 minutes to thicken. Ladle into freezer bags and stash away for a taste of summer in the middle of winter.

But enough about those gray, tomato-less days ahead. Today the sun is shining and tomatoes are plentiful. Now is the time to make tomato sandwiches and salsa like crazy. Or in my case, to get my husband to do it.

SALSA FRESCA
(Fresh tomato-basil salsa)

2 tbsp. vegetable oil
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 cup finely diced portobello mushrooms (about 3 oz.)
1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
4 ripe tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/2 cup diced sweet onion, such as Vidalia
1 green onion, including top, sliced
1/2 yellow bell pepper, diced
1/2 fresh jalapeno, minced fine
1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. fresh lime juice
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1 tbsp. minced fresh cilantro
1 tbsp. minced fresh basil
1 to 2 ears corn, scorched in a dry skillet

Heat vegetable oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.

Add garlic and mushrooms and sauté until mushrooms are limp and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Add balsamic vinegar and stir until vinegar evaporates.

Place mushroom mixture in a medium bowl with tomatoes, onion, green onion, bell pepper and jalapeno. Stir well. Add olive oil, lime juice, salt and cumin. Stir well. Stir in cilantro and basil. Cut corn kernels from ear(s) and fold into salsa. Makes about 2 1/2 cups.

In the past week I’ve used my microwave to cook corn, reheat coffee, defrost a Lebanese meat turnover and zap a lemon before squeezing to increase juiciness. I don’t often cook in it, although I should in the summer. The microwave is especially good at baking fruit crisps. Local peaches are spectacular this year, so treat yourself:

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MICROWAVE PEACH CRISP
5 peaches
4 tbsp. flour
3 tbsp. butter
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup chopped almonds
1/4 cup quick oats

To peel peaches more easily, microwave each peach, one at a time, for 30 seconds. Peel immediately while microwaving next peach. Cut each peach into 8 slices. Combine peach slices and 2 tablespoons of the flour in a buttered 8-inch glass pie pan or equivalent shallow microwave-safe dish. Stir to distribute flour.

Melt the 3 tablespoons butter on high power in a small bowl. Stir in chopped almonds, brown sugar, oats and remaining flour. Sprinkle evenly over peaches. Microwave on high power for 6 minutes or until peaches are tender and topping is bubbly. Makes 4 servings.

THE MAILBAG
From Lorraine:
Can you take another garden recipe? My sister is visiting and loved this.

2 to 3 medium zucchinis
l small onion
2 tbsp. olive oil

Cut zucchinis into disks. Sauté onion in olive oil until soft. Add zucchini and cook until they soften a bit, 5 to 6 minutes over medium heat. Add an 8-ounce can of tomato sauce, a pinch or two of oregano, some fresh basil leaves and cook until zucchini is tender but a bit firm.

Spoon half of the vegetables into a 9-by-9-inch baking pan. Cover with 1 1/2 cups cottage or ricotta cheese. Layer on 4 slices of provolone cheese and sprinkle with Parmesan. Cover with remaining zucchini and another sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until bubbling.

This is a very flexible recipe that can be doubled depending on your zucchini haul. An egg and parsley can go in the cheese mixture if you like. This recipe freezes well.

Dear Lorraine: That’s the kind of recipe I like – easy, quick and made with seasonal ingredients. I bet your zucchini lasagna casserole will be on a lot of tables in the coming month. You could add eggplant, too, and browned ground beef or chicken for more protein if desired.

From Bob:
Always enjoy your newsletter! Several weeks back you had a request for Greek Spaghetti. I’ve been meaning to respond, but just never have had a chance.

You did a column years ago about Cincinnati Chili. It’s of Greek origin and has been served in the Cincinnati area since the early 1900s – and, it’s served over spaghetti. It contains unsweetened chocolate and has a hint of cinnamon and cloves, producing a very unique flavor. Could be what your reader was talking about.

Cincinnati Chili is served in “ways.” 3-way is spaghetti, chili, and a gigantic mound of finely shredded mild cheddar cheese. 4-way is spaghetti, chili, either onions or beans, and cheese. 5-way is spaghetti, chili, onions, beans, and cheese.

I’ve had my recipe for years — don’t even remember where I got it. We did serve it occasionally as a special when we owned The Courtyard Cafe in Brecksville, which we sold over 15 years ago. I still make it in the same quantity because everyone enjoys it and it freezes well. My oldest son, Andrew, requested this for his rehearsal dinner. Cincinnati Chili and Coney Dogs were a big hit with our out-of-town guests!

Here’s the recipe:

CINCINNATI CHILI
9 lbs. lean ground beef
3 quarts water
3/4 cup dehydrated onion
6 tbsp. chili powder
3 tbsp. seasoned salt
1 tbsp. allspice
1 tbsp. cayenne pepper
1 tbsp. ground cumin
2 tbsp. minced fresh Garlic
3/4 tsp. ground cloves
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
6 bay leaves
3 oz. unsweetened chocolate
2 cans (28 oz. each) tomato sauce
3/4 cup red wine vinegar

In large kettle, combine beef and water. Break up with hands until beef is separated and mixture is almost a pudding consistency. Stir in remaining ingredients. Bring to a slow boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 3 hours. Stir often.

Let cool. Remove any excess grease. Refrigerate or freeze in small batches until ready to use. Makes 2 gallons.

Dear Bob: I really liked your restaurant back in the day. Thanks for the restaurant-sized recipe, handy for stashing in the freezer. Some of the spices in your chili may intensify or weaken when frozen, so cooks should taste and adjust when reheating.

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August 24, 2016

Dear friends,

On one of those sweltering evenings last week I wanted to serve something refreshing for dinner. Ice cream came to mind, of course, but Tony doesn’t consider it a meal. It’s a flaw but I love him anyway.

The meal I ultimately made served four. Tony ate three portions, so I think he liked it. It was a luscious noodle salad with lacquered chicken strips, cilantro, green onions and red pepper strips in a lime-fish sauce-peanut dressing. Garlic and mint were in there somewhere, too.

This was a case where I started with a recipe, changed some of the major ingredients and revised the cooking or prep methods of others. My version goes into my permanent recipe file.

Despite the number of ingredients, the salad was not hard to make. It goes together quickly after everything is chopped and/or cooked and lined up.

The next time I make it I’ll do my mise en place (prepping the ingredients) a little at a time throughout the day, making the final preparation practically painless. If you want to cut the prep time, you could use rotisserie chicken, but you’ll sacrifice some flavor.

The dressing may taste too fish sauce-y when you taste it by itself, but don’t tinker. The strong flavor blends and mellows when mixed with the bowlful of noodles and vegetables.

This meal is the opposite of those boxed “Suddenly Salad” things (the name is hilarious). Think of it as “Gradually Salad” but with actual flavor.” Now on to the ice cream.

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ASIAN LIME-PEANUT NOODLE SALAD
Dressing:

2 tbsp. sugar
3 tbsp. fish sauce
1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 tsp. dried red pepper flakes

Salad:

1 1/2 cups bean sprouts
8 oz. angel hair pasta
1/2 cup chopped cilantro, loosely packed
2 green onions, green parts only, sliced thin
1/4 cup roasted unsalted peanuts, pulsed to a fine meal in food processor
3 tbsp. vegetable oil
1/4 of a large red bell pepper, cut in thin strips and halved lengthwise
1 tsp. chopped garlic
12 oz. boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut in 1/4-inch-wide strips
1 tbsp. soy sauce
Whole peanuts, whole cilantro leaves and lime wedges for garnish

Mix together dressing ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

Bring 3 to 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Measure bean sprouts into a long-handled strainer.

Dip into the boiling water for 30 seconds, then dip back out and refresh under cold water. Set aside.

Add a tablespoon of salt to the boiling water and cook the pasta until al dente. Drain and refresh under cold water to stop the cooking. Drain well.

Transfer to a large serving bowl. Add the bean sprouts, chopped cilantro, green onions and peanut meal and toss well.

Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add red pepper strips and stir fry for 30 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and add to salad. Pour dressing over noodles and toss well.

In the same skillet, sauté garlic for a few seconds, then add chicken and stir fry about two minutes or until exterior of chicken pieces turn white. Add soy sauce and continue to stir fry until chicken is cooked through and glazed a dark brown.

Toss salad thoroughly again to distribute ingredients and dressing. Arrange chicken over noodles and scatter whole peanuts and coriander leaves on top.

Serve with lime wedges. Makes 4 servings.

TIDBIT
My husband will have a hard time keeping me away from Norton on Wednesday evenings for the foreseeable future. That’s where I found some of the best meatloaf I’ve ever had. On Wednesdays at the Wolf Creek Tavern chef Joe Wingate cuts thick slabs of his already-great meatloaf, wraps the edges in bacon, grills them over wood and serves them with upscale sides for just $12.
Wow.

The big pile of mashed potatoes was buttery and creamy and I loved the well-seasoned broccoli rabe, but the meatloaf was just awesome. Joe said he got the recipe from another cook’s grandmother. It was moist, tender, and smoky from the fire. Joe confirmed he used fresh bread crumbs soaked in milk as the binder.

Wolf Creek is at 3044 Wadsworth Rd. in Norton. The phone is 234-571-4531. See you on meatloaf night.
THE MAILBAG
From Geoff:
Amy F. asked about pine nuts. I happened to see them at C.J. Dannemiller’s (800-624-8671). Not sure of their origin but I’m sure a call to them would help. This is a great place to buy many varieties of nuts as long as you can handle slightly larger than normal quantities.

Dear Geoff: Thanks for telling us about Dannemiller, a vending supplier on Hametown Road in Norton.
I doubt many home cooks would want a 55-pound case for $71 (about $13 a pound), but as you point out, smaller quantities are available. The surcharge for partial cases is 30 cents per pound. Unfortunately for Amy, the pine nuts are from China, a rep says. Check out the company’s other products at http://www.cjdannemiller.com.

From Marilyn:
I buy my pine nuts at Gallucci’s on the eastside of Cleveland. Think they come
from Italy and are good!

Dear Marilyn: The pine nuts at Gallucci’s are from Italy, a rep says, and are $19.99 a pound. They are scooped and weighed when you order, so any amount may be purchased. The store’s website is http://www.tasteitaly.com.

From Kay B.:
We moved from Akron to Santa Fe in 2000. Fall has two amazing harvests: New Mexico chilies and New Mexico pinons (pine nuts) — better by far than imports.

Piñon Nuts: Euell Gibbons, the famous naturalist from the 1970s (seen on Grape Nuts commercials), described the New Mexico piñon nut as the best-tasting wild food in the world. He did not say all pine nuts, just the New Mexico piñon nut (Pinus Edulis). If you have ever tried one, you would remember the flavor… no pine resin taste, just creamy toasted goodness. There is only one number one wild food in the world and this is it.

Nevada Pine nuts, are very “resinous” and have a strong pine taste. You can tell instantly that it is a pine nut or could guess even if you never tried one before. Nevada Pine nuts (Pinus Monophelia) are sold in the Southwest when New Mexico piñon nuts run out.

Asian Imports: Pine nuts from Korea have a slightly less resinous taste than Nevada Pine nuts, but one could still know they are from a pine tree. China has the blandest pine nuts, unfortunately. Because of improper handling, or possibly an inherent characteristic of the species, they tend not to store well, and go rancid within 12 months.

Italian pignolia Most similar in taste to New Mexico pinons — very creamy, buttery toasted flavor with the slightest hint of pine taste… but many have blamed over cultivation to the blanding of the flavor of this variety.

Dear Kay: Thank you for the wonderful information. Your email reminded me of a trip I took to New Mexico once. I bought a sack of unshelled pinon nuts at a Navajo trading post and spent the next few days painstakingly cracking and eating them. It was tedious but when food is involved, I’m persistent.

From Brad P.:
Do you always put butter into your pesto?

Dear Brad: No, but I often do when I serve it over pasta. It gives the sauce a more luxurious texture and flavor. Plus, Marcella Hazan says to add butter, so who am I to argue?

 

August 10, 2016

Dear friends,

Before I start raggin’ on Iowa’s loose meat sandwiches, I’ll admit Ohio has a kind of loose meat chicken sandwich – shredded chicken, popular in the southwestern part of the state – that is blah, too. The one I tried, that is.

I had higher hopes for Iowa loose meat sandwiches, though. The regional specialty, which also can be found in Nebraska and probably elsewhere, has been extolled in magazines and guide books including my travel bible, “Roadfood,” by Jane and Michael Stern.

The sandwich at its most basic is a soft burger bun filled with crumbled and browned ground beef seasoned with salt and pepper. Mustard and dill pickles are the usual toppings. I almost fell asleep in my lunch when I was served that boring version at the Maid-Rite diner in Newton, Iowa. Maybe the cook had an off day. I’m told loose meat often is seasoned with Worcestershire sauce, or a sploosh of mustard right in the pan, or vinegar and sugar. Mine wasn’t.

Newton was one bummer after another. We stopped there not only for the sandwiches but to visit the headquarters of Maytag Blue Cheese and buy a hunk.

The low-slung building, bordered by cornfields, was open when we pulled into the lot. Under trees on the sloping lawn, workers were arranging vases of flowers on linen- swathed picnic tables. Uh-oh. Yes, hectic preparations for an important dinner were afoot (for the American Cheese Society, we learned later). The showroom cheese cases were empty.

We stopped at a supermarket on the way out of town to snag some cheese, which we were really craving by then. We found brands from elsewhere but no cheese from the lauded fromagerie up the road.

The cheese nagged at me for the rest of the drive through Iowa, but what really occupied my mind was that loose-meat sandwich. In junior high, my cafeteria served a variation called “runzaburgers,” a German via Nebraska specialty featuring ground beef and finely chopped cabbage. I could do better than either, I was sure. I invented recipes in my head as miles of corn fields flashed past. Of course, by the time we hit Illinois I was ragingly hungry for ground beef and corn on the cob.

I satisfied the corn craving the day after we hit Ohio. This week I took care of my craving for ground beef.

“This is loose meat on steroids,” Tony said as he watched me cook. I gave the Midwestern sandwich an Asian twist with garlic, ginger, onions and soy sauce cooked with the meat, and lime juice added at the end. We piled the loose meat on big ciabatta buns and topped the mounds with a slivered carrot salad dressed with vinaigrette, along with fresh mint and basil leaves.

With apologies to Iowans, if you’re going to have loose meat this is the way to go.

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VIETNAMESE LOOSE MEAT SANDWICHES
3 tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 cup chopped onions
2 tsp. peeled and chopped ginger
1 1/2 tsp. chopped garlic
1 lb. ground beef
1/4 cup soy sauce
Juice of 1 lime
1 1/4 cups carrot-broccoli slaw, homemade or commercial
2 tbsp. vinaigrette dressing
Salt
12 mint leaves
12 basil leaves
4 large hamburger buns or ciabatta rolls

Heat oil in a large skillet. Saute onions over medium heat for about 2 minutes. Add ginger and garlic and sauté 1 minute longer. Do not brown.

Crumble meat into skillet and stir to combine with onions, ginger and garlic. Break up any large pieces of meat. Cover and cook over medium heat just until no longer pink, stirring once. Drain off fat. Increase heat to high and add soy sauce. Turn and stir until liquid boils away. Remove from heat and drizzle with lime juice, tossing to mix.

Pile meat mixture on the four buns or rolls. Top each with some of the carrot slaw, then the mint and basil leaves. Makes 4 servings.

HELP U COOK

I’d like to remind you again to preheat your skillet before adding oil, then heat the oil before adding the food. These two steps can be the difference between oil-soaked and crisp food. Also, the timing in recipes will make much more sense when you preheat.
THE MAILBAG
From Laura:
When I was young, my mom used to make corn pancakes for breakfast with any leftover corn we had — no measuring, just regular pancake recipe. Also, when corn was in season that’s all we had for supper and we ate four, five or six pieces each. I couldn’t believe it when I got married that my husband wanted to eat a piece or two AFTER we ate a regular supper. And each piece had to be just out of the boiling water. I could never eat it that hot. In fact, I love cold corn with butter and salt.

Dear Laura: That IS a freaky way to eat corn (post-dinner, not your leftover cold method). Corn on the cob seems to be one of those foods that spark family traditions. When I was a kid, we ate corn as a meal, too, but always with sliced tomatoes dabbed with mayo and sprinkled with salt and pepper. If I had kids, they would probably be regaling their spouses about their mother’s habit of eating the first ear raw, on the way home from the farm stand.

From Sherri S.:
Here’s a way to use up some of your beans, from a Women’s Day Article

OVERNIGHT PICKLED GREEN BEANS
3/4 c. white vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
Kosher salt
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1/4 cup fresh dill
1 tsp. whole coriander
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
12 oz. green beans

In a small pot, combine 1 cup water, vinegar, sugar, and 2 teaspoons salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the sugar and salt dissolve, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

Divide garlic, dill, coriander, and red pepper between two wide-mouthed 16-ounce jars. Pack with green beans, then pour the cooled liquid over top. Refrigerate overnight or up to 1 week. (The beans are still tasty after a week; they will just lose their color.)
Dear Sherri: I’ve never been a fan of pickled green beans, but this sounds good. Thanks.

From Lorraine:
I am not successful with blanching and freezing green beans so I make a marinara sauce and freeze the beans in it. They are much tastier than the plain frozen beans that I have made in the past.

Start a quick sauce with :
2 tbsp. olive oil, sauté 1 small onion and 1 whole clove of garlic. When soft and colored lightly add 1 can of plum tomatoes. Add 1/4 tsp of oregano, some parsley and basil to taste. I use fresh from the garden. Also, add 1/2 tsp salt, and a pinch of pepper. Cook quickly for 10 minutes over med high heat. Correct seasoning.

To the tomato sauce I add 1 1/2 pounds lightly steamed beans (cooked about 6 minutes or so). Finish cooking in sauce until tender. They can be eaten as a vegetable with some grated Parmesan cheese, put on pasta, or frozen for later use.

This is not an exact recipe and can change according to the amount of beans I have. I sometimes add a tablespoon of tomato paste to make it richer tasting, but is it flexible. Your recipe looks delicious.

Dear Lorraine: Almost everything freezes better in a sauce than naked, as your green bean recipe illustrates. Thanks.

From Marcia:
Last week, Carol Simon asked for a Greek spaghetti recipe. And while I didn’t clip that particular one, the request reminded me of one of my favorite go-to recipes from the Five Easy Pieces column in the Beacon Journal. “Fast Linguine and Clam Sauce” called for:
1/2 lb. linguine
4 tbsp. butter
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
1 can (6 1/2 oz.) clams

I then throw in more garlic sautéed with a chopped onion or shallot; another can of clams (so you have one chopped, one whole baby clams), undrained;
splashes of lemon juice and bottled clam juice;
a dash of red pepper flakes; and Parmesan for topping.

Not only is this easy, as advertised, but quick.

Dear Marcia: It’s good, too, especially with your tweaks. Thanks for sharing.

We still haven’t found the Greek Spaghetti recipe, although Jan C. recalls it was from the former Papas restaurant in the Montrose area of Fairlawn. The recipe probably ran in Beacon magazine. That content wasn’t always transferred to the electronic database.