October 26, 2016

Dear friends,

Time sneaks up on you. One Halloween you dress up as Carmen Miranda with tap shoes and real fruit on your head (I made a chicken-wire base and centered the arrangement with a pineapple), and the next thing you know you’re spending the holiday on the sofa in a sweat suit watching TV.

When did Halloween parties stop being part of my life? In my 30s and 40s, even in years when no friends threw a bash, I at least dressed up and hit the streets of Kent for my alma mater’s surreal downtown blowout.

One year I went as half-man, half-woman, buying two head-to-toe outfits at Goodwill, cutting everything down the middle, and sewing the male-female pieces together. One half of my head was covered with a fedora and the other half with a flowered pillbox.

Now I don’t even hand out candy to trick-or-treaters because we don’t have any on my stretch of country road, where the houses are far apart and set way back. For a couple of years I bought a few treats and delivered them myself to neighborhood kids, but the children grew up and I don’t bother anymore.

Somewhere I still have a cache of silly disguises such as Groucho Marx glasses, a pig’s nose, and antennas made from miniature slinkys and ping pong balls glued to a headband. For most of my adult life I kept such things handy because you just never knew….

Yes, once I was the kind of person who dressed up and went out on Halloween. I miss her, but not enough to become her again. That would require staying out after 10 p.m. and drinking alcohol, neither of which I enjoy much anymore.

On the other hand, my taste for Halloween treats continues unabated. If I still bought candy bars for door-knockers, I would probably still buy way too many and use the leftovers in something like Milky Way brownies, which I wrote about in my Carmen Miranda days. If you lean more to Snickers, I’m also sharing a recipe I developed for Snickers cheesecake made with 16 miniature (“fun size”) candy bars. For the latter, Snickers bars are melted down, swirled through the batter and drizzled over a sour cream topping. More bars are sliced and used to decorate the finished cake.

SNICKERS CHEESECAKE

2 cups graham cracker crumbs
2 cups sugar, divided
1/4 lb. butter, melted
4 packages (8 oz. each) cream cheese, softened
1 tbsp. vanilla
Pinch salt
4 large eggs, at room temperature
16 Snickers fun-size bars, divided
4 tbsp. milk, divided
2 cups sour cream
Whipped cream for garnish
Whole fun-size Snickers Bars for garnish

Stir together graham crumbs and one-fourth cup sugar in a bowl. Drizzle in butter and stir well with a fork. Press evenly into the bottom of a 10-inch springform pan.

Beat cream cheese and 1 1/2 cups sugar at medium speed of electric mixer until soft and fluffy. Add vanilla and salt and blend. Add eggs, one at a time, beating on lowest speed of mixer. Pour over crust.

Chop 10 candy bars and combine with two tablespoons milk in a small saucepan. Cook and stir over very low heat until smooth. Spoon over cheesecake batter in parallel strips. With a knife, cut across the strips to swirl melted candy into batter. Bake in a preheated, 350-degree oven for one hour, or until done. The cheesecake is done when the edges appear to be firm, but center moves slightly when gently shaken. Cool for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, chop remaining six candy bars and melt with remaining two tablespoons milk over low heat. Beat together sour cream and remaining one- fourth cup sugar. Spread sour cream mixture over cheesecake. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and drizzle melted candy over sour cream in a decorative pattern. Return to oven for three minutes. Refrigerate immediately. Before serving, decorate with whipped cream and whole candy bars, if desired.

MILKY WAY BROWNIES

BATTER
13 fun-size Milky Way Bars
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
3/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt

MILKY WAY FROSTING

4 fun-size Milky Way Bars
2 tbsp. butter
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. water

For batter, chop candy bars into thirds and combine with butter in a small saucepan. Cover and stir over very low heat until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and stir in sugar and vanilla. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in flour blended with baking powder and salt.

Spread batter in a greased, 8-by-8-inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until edges pull away from sides of pan. Cool.

For frosting, melt candy bars with butter in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in powdered sugar and water, beating until creamy. Spread over cooled brownies. Cut into squares to serve.

TIDBITS

The Boy Scouts in Uniontown are cooking again, which is cause for celebration. The Scouts (actually, their parents and boosters, including my friend Marty LaConte), are staging their popular cabbage roll fund-raiser this weekend at Queen of Heaven Catholic Church’s Parish Life Center. On Sunday, eat-in or carry-out diners will get two big cabbage rolls, sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, corn bread or a roll and beverage for $8 for adults and $6 for children.

The hours are noon to 3 p.m. but I suggest you go early because the cabbage rolls usually sell out. That may happen early this year because the dinner is being held after church rather than on the usual Saturday night. Also, cabbage rolls may be bought in bulk this year from 5 to 6 p.m. Saturday evening, after the all-day cooking session. Marty and her crew will make 800 cabbage rolls as usual, and when they’re gone they’re gone.

The church is at 1800 Steese Road in Uniontown.

THE MAILBAG

From Sue T., Pittsburgh:
I have a favorite ice pop recipe that I am trying to modify to a low-sugar version since I am on Weight Watchers. Do you have any suggestions for a sugar replacement in a frozen treat?  My recipe is 1 1/2 cups of water, 1 cup sugar, 1/2 cup white wine, 3/4 cup lemon juice and grated rind of 4 lemons. Thank you so much.

Dear Sue: I would replace the sugar with a generous half-cup of Splenda granular and taste. Add a bit more Splenda if necessary. Then beat the bejeezus out of the mixture in a blender to aerate it before you pour it into ice-pop molds. Even better would be to partially freeze the mixture in an ice cream maker before spooning into the molds.

Sugar helps soften the texture of frozen treats. Without sugar, your pops could freeze to the consistency of a block of ice. The wine helps, and so will aerating or processing in an ice cream maker.

I replace the sugar with half as much Splenda granular because I think it is sweeter than regular sugar, although the company says otherwise. Also, it can develop a bitter edge if too much is added.

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October 20, 2016

Dear friends,

Rats. I remember yet another original recipe I have lost. A loaf of coarse-textured cranberry-cornmeal yeast bread would go so well with fall stews and roasts, not to mention a Thanksgiving turkey.

I created the recipe for Second Helpings, my Internet newsletter when I worked at the Beacon Journal. The online recipes weren’t saved in the newspaper’s database, and I lost my copies in one of many computer blowouts. Gaaa!

If anyone out there has the recipe I’d be grateful for a copy. While I wait, I’ll nibble on a few cornmeal-cranberry scones. I found the scone recipe when I was searching the Internet for my cornmeal yeast bread. Sometimes my recipes turn up in other food sites, but not this time. The scones are pretty good, and almost satisfied my craving. The small amount of corn meal added to the flour base produces a texture that is slightly grainy and tastes of corn. This recipe is from the Ocean Spray Cranberries folks.

CRANBERRY-CORN MEAL SCONES

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2 cups flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup butter
2/3 cup milk
3/4 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
Combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt in medium bowl and stir until mixed. Cut butter into flour mixture with a pastry blender until coarse crumbs form. Add milk and stir with fork just until a sticky dough forms. Gently stir dried cranberries into dough.  Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead gently about 10 times. Pat dough into a 1/2-inch thick circle. Cut out dough circles with a 2 1/2-inch biscuit cutter and place on cookie sheet.  Bake 14 to 18 minutes or until golden brown. Makes 10 scones.

TIDBITS

Please change your copy of last week’s Ginger Beef with Black Bean Sauce recipe to read “2 lbs. beef tenderloin” rather than “2 tbsp.” Most of you had already figured that out, but I liked the comments that poured in regarding my mistake. “Are you sure that’s Tylenol you’re taking?” one reader queried.

THE MAILBAG

From Christine T.:
My father used your chicken liver and walnut pate recipe that was published in the Akron Beacon Journal 15 years ago or so. He has been unable to find a copy of the recipe. Is this something you can provide?

Dear Christine: Yes, and gladly. Although the recipe isn’t mine (I got it from a Silver Palate recipe calendar), I have been spreading the word about it for years. It’s the best chicken liver pate I’ve eaten – voluptuous with cream and cognac, and studded with bits of crisp bacon and crunchy nuts.

PATE MOUSSE WITH BACON AND WALNUTS
8 slices bacon, diced
1 lb. chicken livers
1/2 cup brandy
3/4 cup heavy or whipping cream
1 medium-size yellow onion, chopped
1/4 cup Hellmann’s mayonnaise
1 tsp. dried thyme
Large pinch ground nutmeg
Salt and fresh-ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
3 tbsp. chopped flat-leaf parsley

One day before serving, fry the diced bacon in a medium skillet until crisp. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. In same skillet, sauté the livers in the hot bacon fat over medium-high heat until brown on the outside but still pink inside, 4 or 5 minutes. Remove from the pan and reserve.

Pour the brandy into the skillet over medium heat and stir, scraping loose browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the cream and heat to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer until reduced to about 1 cup.

Process the livers, onion, and reduced cream in a food processor until smooth. Add the mayonnaise, thyme, nutmeg, salt and plenty of pepper. Process until smooth. Add the diced bacon, walnuts, and parsley and pulse just until blended. Transfer to a crock or decorative serving bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight to allow the flavors to blend. Serve with baguette slices or crackers.

From Debbie M.:
I’m gearing up for holiday baking. Do you or any of your readers know where bakers can purchase ground poppy seed? It’s rather expensive on Amazon and I prefer to support local merchants when possible. I placed an order for apricot butter on Amazon and purchased walnuts when they were on sale. I’m getting ready to make kolachy rolls but need ground poppy seed — my husband’s and son’s favorite. Thanks!

Dear Debbie: Leach’s Meats & Sweets in Barberton sells ground poppy seed filling for $3 a pound. No doubt other stores sell it, too. Check bakeries and stores in areas that have a large Eastern European population.

Leach’s is at 256 31st. St. SW, phone 330-825-4415.

From Maryann:
I enjoyed your comments about apples, pies, and dumplings. My mother used to make little dumplings with leftover apples and dough that we called “pagach,” which could be either of Slovak or Polish origin.

In your list of which apples were good for what, you left out the very excellent Courtland apples. They are the only ones I use for pies and most apple cake recipes. They retain their shape in a pie, but aren’t crunchy or mushy. They also seem to absorb the spices well. My pie recipe uses flour, sugar and cinnamon, and makes a light brown slurry rather than the clear gel-like sauce of most apple pies. People who say they don’t like apple pie have changed their mind after tasting mine!

Dear Maryann: Heck, I’m sold and I haven’t even tasted it.

October 12, 2016

Dear friends,

Dinner tonight is a hunk of French bread, horseradish pickles and low-fat cottage cheese. I have lost my husband and chief cook to deer season. While he hunkers in a tree somewhere, I lie supine in a tilt-back chair, heaving myself upright and hobbling around the house only to let the dog out, limp to the bathroom, or fetch a snack from the kitchen.

This is week six of my recovery from a total knee replacement. I appreciate all the encouraging emails, and I thank Dorena and Marty for visiting and bringing food. I have graduated from a walker to a cane, and from hard drugs to Tylenol. I even drove a car – briefly – last weekend.

But enough about me. Let’s talk about you, and why you won’t be seeing an original recipe from me yet again this week. It’s because cooking has become an extreme sport. OK, we’re back to me. Sadly, I can’t stand long enough to chop an onion and a head of cabbage, let alone brown them in a skillet.

Before this painful operation, I thought I’d enjoy a couple of weeks in bed with Tony supplying a steady stream of savory tidbits and cups of tea. Then life would get back to normal. Ha! I was in too much agony to eat for the first two weeks, and now that the pain has subsided to merely a wasp-stinging-me-in-the-leg level, Tony is off to the woods. Just kill me.

I hope next week or maybe the week after that I will resume cooking. Until then it will be cottage cheese, carry out and Lean Cuisine for me, and a reheated recipe for you. Luckily, I have a lot of truly great recipes lying around. I had forgotten I even had this recipe for gingered beef from local legendary Thai chef Sue Fogle. I can’t wait to make it again.

SUE FOGLE’S GINGER BEEF WITH BLACK BEAN SAUCE
2 tbsp. beef tenderloin, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tbsp. flour
Oil
2 tbsp. brandy
1 tbsp. peeled and chopped ginger
2 tbsp. black bean sauce (sold in Asian markets)
1 tbsp. orange marmalade
1/2 cup quartered and sliced onion
1/4 cup oyster sauce
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 tbsp. slivered red bell pepper
2 tbsp. chopped green onion

Place beef and flour in a plastic or paper bag and shake to coat the meat. Heat about one-eighth inch oil in a large, heavy skillet. Brown beef on all sides in the oil. Add brandy and stir well. Remove beef from pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. Drain any remaining oil and brandy from skillet.

In the same pan, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat. Add ginger, black bean sauce and marmalade and stir for 2 minutes. Add onion and oyster sauce and stir 2 minutes longer. Return beef to pan and stir over heat for 1 minute. Add chicken broth and stir over high heat for a minute. Spoon mixture onto plates and sprinkle with slivered peppers and chopped green onions. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

MOM’S PIE DOUGH
4 cups flour
1 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 3/4 cups solid vegetable shortening, chilled
1/2 cup cold water
1 egg
1 tbsp. vinegar

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar and salt. Add shortening by teaspoons. With a pastry blender or two knives, cut shortening into flour mixture until the bits are pea-size and evenly distributed.

With a fork, beat together water, egg and vinegar. Drizzle into the flour mixture, tossing with a fork to moisten evenly. Cut briefly with knives or a pastry blender to work in any remaining dry flour. Do not stir or knead. Gather dough into 2 balls, wrap and refrigerate for 15 minutes or up to 2 days. Dough also may be wrapped well and frozen.
TIDBITS

Western Fruit Basket is alive and kicking in downtown Akron. Last week I mistakenly said it had closed based on a visual scan of the vacant corner where it used to do business at Broadway and East Market Street. The new owners let me know the Greek grocery/restaurant/bakery/gift basket business changed hands two years ago and moved a couple of doors down the street to 115 E. Market St.

The store always has baklava on hand, as well as spanakopita, galataboureko and various other Greek pastries. Kataifi, the shredded wheat-like pastry a reader asked about last week, may be ordered, says Meela Magois, who owns the shop with her father, Greg.

If you visit around lunch time, try a fresh-made lamb or chicken gyro, a specialty, for just $4. The menu also includes hard-to-find Greek dishes such as pastitsio, moussaka and Greek spaghetti. The phone is 330-376-3917 and the website is http://www.wfbasket.com.
THE MAILBAG

From Debbie Minerich:
I enjoyed your recent article and recipe for mac and cheese and have attached a family favorite that was passed along by my husband, Bill, whose Boy Scout Troop makes it on camp-outs. Most times we just “eyeball” the amount of ingredients rather than rely on accurate measurements. We also like to heat our home-canned stewed tomatoes to top the baked casserole with prior to serving. Enjoy!

8 oz. macaroni (elbow or shells)
1 to 2 tbsp. butter
1 small onion, chopped
8 oz. sour cream
2 cups cottage cheese
8 oz. cream cheese, cut in cubes
8 oz. sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded

Partially precook macaroni until it is a bit firmer than al dente. Drain and return to pan. Heat oil in a small skillet and sauté chopped onion until translucent.

Combine all ingredients in the macaroni pan and mix well. Pour into a buttered, 2-quart baking dish. Cover with a lid or foil and bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes or until bubbly.

Dear Debbie: Thanks for sharing your family favorite.  I like the idea of the tomatoes.

From Molly C.:
Jane, for the person, O.R.  looking for kataifi, it may be found at Aladdin’s Baking Co. on Carnegie in downtown Cleveland. Aladdin’s is just down the street from Progressive Field (go Tribe!). Here’s a link: http://www.aladdinbaking.com/con1.html.

My favorite Middle Eastern restaurant is Nate’s on West 25th, a few storefronts north of the West Side Market. Highly, highly recommend for anything on the Middle Eastern menu. I can’t speak for the deli choices as I’ve never eaten anything other than the delicious Lebanese fare.

Dear Molly: Thanks for the valuable advice. I’ve heard of Nate’s but never visited. Thanks for reminding me. I’ll drag Tony away from Chinatown on our next trip to Cleveland, and have lunch at Nate’s.

October 5, 2016

Dear friends,

The last time I made an upside-down apple tart I used the wrong kind of apples and ended up with pie dough topped with applesauce. When you bake with apples, variety is crucial.

I don’t remember from year to year which variety is good for what, so I usually fall back on Golden Delicious. It is good for pies and tarts because the apple slices retain their shape when cooked.

When I want to branch out, I do not consult the Pollyanna charts from apple growers, which pretty much say every apple is good for everything. That’s where I went wrong in using Gala apples for a tarte tatin. Instead, I Google cookbook author Nancy Baggett. She tested a bunch of apple varieties in all kinds of preparations and has reliable recommendations.

The best choices for whole baked apples: Empire, Honeycrisp, Jonathan, Braeburn and Rome.

Some good choices for pies and crisps: Stayman, Rome, Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, Golden Delicious, Jonathan, Pink Lady and York.

Nancy likes to punch up the flavor of pies by using three kinds of apples. I bought just one kind, but you may want to follow her lead if you make a pie this month. I won’t be making apple pie. Earlier this week I made dumplings, the preferred treatment for apples in my youth, when my mother would make a big batch each autumn for an all-dessert supper.

You can’t get away from apple dumplings in Ohio in the fall, which is a good thing. Just about every small market and farm stand sells them. Often they are the whole-apple kind consisting of a cored apple filled with cinnamon-sugar and butter, wrapped in pie dough and baked. They are good, I’ll grant you, but I prefer the sliced-apple kind I learned to make at my mother’s kitchen counter.

The recipe couldn’t be easier. Sliced apples are mounded on squares of dough and topped with butter, cinnamon and brown sugar. The pastry is drawn up around the apples and pinched, and the dumplings are baked on cookie sheets.

I baked some for Tony using half Splenda and just a smidge of brown sugar. I plunked my warm dumpling in a cereal bowl and topped it with cold milk. For a moment, I was a 8 years old again.

BROWN SUGAR APPLE PACHES
1 recipe Mom’s Pie Dough (recipe follows)
6 medium apples
1 tsp. cinnamon
16 tbsp. packed brown sugar
2 tbsp. chilled butter, cut in 16 pieces

Divide each of the balls of dough in half, to make 4 pieces of dough. Working with one piece at a time (refrigerate the others), roll on floured waxed paper into a 12-inch square. Cut into four 6-inch squares.

Peel an apple, cut into fourths and remove the core. Cut into thin slices and mound about 1/3 cup in the center of each dough square. Work with one apple at a time to prevent browning. Sprinkle apple mounds with a pinch (1/16 tsp.) of cinnamon. Mold 1 packed tablespoon brown sugar over each mound of apples. Top each with a piece of butter.

Gather dough around each mound of filling, pinching to seal. Place on rimmed, parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes, until apples are tender and pastry starts to brown. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 16 dumplings. Recipe may be halved or cut in fourths.

MOM’S PIE DOUGH
4 cups flour
1 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 3/4 cups solid vegetable shortening, chilled
1/2 cup cold water
1 egg
1 tbsp. vinegar

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar and salt. Add shortening by teaspoons. With a pastry blender or two knives, cut shortening into flour mixture until the bits are pea-size and evenly distributed.

With a fork, beat together water, egg and vinegar. Drizzle into the flour mixture, tossing with a fork to moisten evenly. Cut briefly with knives or a pastry blender to work in any remaining dry flour. Do not stir or knead. Gather dough into 2 balls, wrap and refrigerate for 15 minutes or up to 2 days. Dough also may be wrapped well and frozen.

THE MAILBAG
From Suzanne Y.:
Did you mention that you were a fan of the Post House Restaurant located on the corner of State Routes 585 and 57 near Orrville? If so, you may want to make a trip before the end of February 2017 — they are closing their business.

On Facebook, Suzy West wrote, “As a family member of the Post House Restaurant, I would like to thank you all for your kind comments and walk down memory lane. Yes it is becoming common knowledge that we are closing… “

Evidently they had some code violations and it takes boatload of money to fix. Mainly sprinklers. It’s an old house.

Dear Suzanne: Yes, I did write about the Post House and its terrific omelets (the eggs are mixed with a bit of pancake flour in a blender). I’m sorry to hear the restaurant is closing. Those who want a good homespun meal should visit soon. Hours are 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

From O.R.:
I managed to miss out on the kataifi at this year’s Annunciation Greek Festival!  It’s one of my favorite Greek pastries.  Do you or any other readers know of local bakeries that routinely carry it?  Many thanks.

Dear O.R.: That’s a tough one. Kataifi, for those who are wondering, are pastry logs made from shredded filo dough wrapped around a nut center and soaked in syrup. They look like little shredded wheats. Since Western Fruit Basket in Akron closed, I don’t know of a bakery that carries Greek pastries other than baklava. All is not lost, though. Athens Foods, the Cleveland company; that makes filo dough, sells ready-made, frozen kataifi. Check out the website, http://www.athensfoods.com, then contact the company to find a store near you.