September 28, 2016

Dear friends,

Tony has been on a macaroni and cheese kick since our trip to Memphis last spring. He ordered it in all the barbecue joints we visited in Kentucky and Tennessee, enthralled that tastier versions exist than the one in the blue and yellow box. Apparently it was the first time he had ventured beyond Kraft, and he couldn’t get over it.

I don’t make mac and cheese because of the fat factor, so Tony has had to glean the odd sample where he can – diners, Bob Evans, Cracker Barrel. It has been slim pickings, which is why I decided to make a big panful to take to a pig pickin’ pot luck on Sunday. I knew Eunice’s mega-watt macaroni and cheese would outshine any he had tasted on the trip.

Eunice is a woman I met once at a Juneteenth festival in Southwest Akron. A bunch of people were celebrating the anniversary of the historic day (June 19) word of the Emancipation Proclamation finally reached Texas, months after it was issued by Abraham Lincoln in January 1863. I figured such a gathering would attract at least a smattering of good cooks, so I went to eat and stumbled on Eunice’s stellar macaroni and cheese.

A few days later at her house, Eunice let me in on her secret: Four cheeses, including cream cheese for a velvety, rich finish. Her version also contains butter, egg and evaporated milk in addition to 2 ¼ pounds of cheese in all. No wonder it tasted good.

I’m still hobbling around with a can and walker, so Tony helped make the mac and cheese Sunday morning. I measured and chopped the cheese, and he stirred it into the cooked macaroni until it melted. It smelled and looked wonderful when it came out of the oven. We wrapped it in newspaper, hauled it to the party and came back with an empty pan. I was embarrassed but touched when I overheard Tony point out our casserole to folks in the buffet line. There were several mac and cheeses, and Tony didn’t want anyone to miss the best one.

“How does my macaroni and cheese compare to the ones you tasted on our trip?” I asked with a sly grin on the way home.

“It is almost the best,” Tony said with a touch of regret. “Moonlite Bar-B-Que is still better.”

Oh, really? Well, until he can get to Owensboro, Ky.,again, Eunice’s will have to do.

EUNICE’S MACARONI AND CHEESE
1 lb. elbow macaroni
2 cans (12 oz. each) evaporated milk
4 tbsp. butter
1/2 lb. Cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 lb. Colby cheese, grated
1 lb. (half of a box) Velveeta cheese, cut in small cubes
4 oz. cream cheese, cut in small cubes
1 egg
Salt, pepper

Cook macaroni in a large kettle of boiling, salted water until al dente – pliable but not mushy. Drain well and return to pot. Add milk and butter and place over medium-low heat. When butter has melted, add cheese a little at a time until the cheeses have melted into a smooth sauce.

Remove from heat and stir in egg. Season with salt and pepper. Pour into a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, until edges begin to set and casserole is bubbly.

Serves 10 to 12 as a side dish.

TIDBITS

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Ripe fruit are dropping from local pawpaw trees now, and I got my mitts on three of them. A kind reader, Lori, recalled that I had whined earlier this summer about never having tasted these large, native Ohio fruits. When her tree in Bath began dropping the ripe fruit she sent me an email, and soon delivered three paw paws to my door.

“Not everyone likes them,” she cautioned. “Let me know what you think.”

The greenish-yellow fruits are about the size of a small fist, with the slightly flattened, oval shape of a Haitian mango. I cut one in half and dipped in a spoon. The flavor starts out OK – kind of a cross between banana and passion fruit – but it keeps intensifying until it goes too far, slumping into a faintly chemical, rotten flavor at the finish. The texture is usually described as “creamy” but to me it was more slime than custard. I can’t help thinking of pawpaws as the durian fruit of the New World.

Anyway, Lori, that’s what I thought of it. Even though I didn’t like it, I appreciate the chance to finally taste it, and for that I thank you.

THE MAILBAG

From Bill Bowen:
I just read your post and the green tomato mincemeat recipe. I would heartily suggest that the tomatoes and apples be ground as the recipe instructs in an old-fashioned meat grinder. I’ve tried to adapt several of my older recipes that call for ground ingredients by using the food processor. However, what you get is finely chopped and dry rather than ground and juicy. And somehow that makes a difference in the texture of the final dish, which always leaves me disappointed.

Dear Bill: My grandmother’s hand-crank meat grinder is on a shelf in my kitchen, in limbo until I have an excuse to use it. I think I’ve found it.

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September 21, 2016

Dear friends,

As I type this, Tony is bronzing a dozen ears of corn on the grill, the latest salvo in his endearing attempt to cook me well. He has grilled T-bone steaks and eggplant, made the best meatloaf I’ve ever tasted, and served me Japanese curry, tamago (Japanese sweet omelet) and cantaloupe macerated in plum wine.

I didn’t know the man could cook. Sure, he’s a chef, but a SUSHI chef who deals primarily in raw seafood and rice. Until now he has played dumb in the kitchen while encouraging me to make all of our meals. After 10 years you’ve been outed, pal.

But how can I be annoyed when he is taking such good care of me while I recover from knee replacement surgery? I can’t.

Tony has had a couple of misfires, true. Lunch one day was a platter of peanut butter, pesto and Cheddar cheese sandwiches, a startling combo he admitted he had “just made up.” And I had to get tough one day as he hungrily eyed a 4-pound sack of frozen corn I had used for two weeks as an ice bag. No, he could not cook and eat corn that had been frozen and thawed repeatedly. Besides, this was Ohio in the middle of fresh corn season.

Slowly I have learned to hobble to the kitchen with a walker and fetch my morning yogurt. I have graduated from reheating coffee and carrying it back to the living room in a big plastic glass (to prevent slop-overs) to actually making the coffee. And although I’m in no hurry to elbow Tony out of the kitchen, I did make soup with his help on Saturday.

Because of my limited mobility and endurance, the soup had to be quick and easy to make. I sent Tony to the store for a tube of breakfast sausage, a bag of spinach and some potatoes, and we set to work.

Tony actually did almost everything while I emptied cartons of broth into a soup pot and instructed.
Some of you already may have guessed we made Potato and Greens Soup, one of my old favorites.

This version was different, though, because of the broth. Typically the soup is made by simmering peeled and chunked-up potatoes in chicken broth until falling-apart tender, then mashing the potatoes right in the pan and adding browned bulk sausage, handfuls of fresh spinach and cream.

For years I’ve substituted fat-free milk for the cream, and this time I used a wonderful Thai-flavored broth in place of chicken stock. If you can find the broth, snap it up. It is “Thai Coconut Curry Culinary Broth” made by College Inn and sold in a 32-ounce aseptic box. I have not seen it in any supermarket, but I have found it twice at R Grocery Outlet (also known as Sommers), the indoor surplus-groceries retailer at Hartville Marketplace in Hartville.

The Thai broth turned my old favorite into an entirely different soup – slightly exotic but still comforting, with underlying flavors of coconut and lemongrass. If you manage to get your hands on some of the broth, buy extra because it would be spectacular in any number of dishes. I’m looking forward to big bowlfuls of Thai steamed mussels.

I have tried to duplicate the broth with no success so far. Of course, the soup is plenty good enough with plain chicken broth.

One last note: I’m only telling you about this find because, in my current mobility-compromised state, I won’t be shopping at the mega market any time soon. But in the coming months when my knee has healed, I trust you won’t be as greedy as I was on my last trip to the store when I bought every last box of broth on the shelves. Please, show some restraint.
THAI POTATO AND GREENS SOUP
2 aseptic boxes (32 oz. each) College Inn Thai Coconut Curry Culinary Broth (or chicken broth)
5 medium-large potatoes
1 lb. bulk (not link) sausage (the kind that comes in a plastic tube)
1 cup fat-free or 2 percent milk
8 oz. fresh spinach leaves, washed and drained

Place broth in a soup pot and bring to a simmer. While broth heats, peel potatoes and cut into big chunks. Add to broth, cover and simmer for about 30 to 45 minutes, until potatoes are falling-apart tender.
With a potato masher, mash the potatoes right in the pan, leaving some of the potato slightly chunky.

While the potatoes cook, brown the sausage in a skillet. After mashing the potatoes, transfer sausage to the soup pot with a slotted spoon. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Stir in milk and return to a boil. Stir in spinach and simmer for a few minutes, until spinach is wilted. Makes 10 to 12 servings.

TIDBITS
One of the bright spots of my recent hospital stay was a visit by a dear friend, Chuck Montague, who came bearing chocolate. Lilly Handmade Chocolates to be precise, from the artisan chocolate shop of the same name in the Tremont area of Cleveland.

The hands making the chocolates belong to Chuck’s son and daughter-in-law, chefs Joshua and Amanda Montague. Each extreme-gourmet chocolate was exquisite, but none more so than a filled white chocolate gilded with a pink leopard print. It featured a creamy center of orange liqueur and blood orange and passion fruit reductions enrobed in Valrhona white chocolate. Ask for the “Frou-Frou” when you visit the shop, which you should do immediately. The website is http://www.lillytremont.com.

Cookbook sale

Although my shelves are stuffed, I can’t resist buying cookbooks at flea markets and yard sales. There’s no such thing as too many cookbooks, right? If you agree, you won’t want to miss the used book sale Oct. 1 at the Akron-Summit County Public Library’s main location in downtown Akron.

The library and its branches regularly host book sales to raise money and cull older titles from both the library and volunteers’ collections. The Oct. 1 sale is unique in that it will feature only cookbooks. The Friends of the Main Library have amassed hundreds of cookbooks for the sale, which will be held just outside the gift shop during library hours. Happy hunting.
THE MAILBAG

From Laura Lea Frank:
I found my mom’s recipe for green tomato mincemeat from the 1930s if you’re interested. Most (modern) recipes for mincemeat don’t have any meat in them This one takes suet (people still buy it at meat counters to feed the birds).

Dear Laura: You bet I’m interested. Thanks for sending this heritage recipe from your mother, Rose Conley of Tallmadge.

GREEN TOMATO MINCEMEAT
1 peck of green tomatoes, ground
1/2 peck of apples, peeled and ground
2 tbsp. salt
2 tbsp. ground cloves
2 tbsp. ground allspice
1 cup vinegar
5 pounds brown sugar
3 cups finely chopped suet

Combine ground tomatoes, apples spices, vinegar and sugar in a large kettle. Cook slowly for 3 hours. Cool. Stir in the suet. Can in glass jars. Makes about 8 quarts. Recipe may be halved.

Note from Jane: Because canning recommendations have changed since this recipe was developed, I suggest you freeze the mincemeat in pie-sized (5-cup) portions instead.