November 23, 2016

Dear friends,

I finally wised up that Tony takes a hunting trip immediately after Thanksgiving each year. Last November I ate almost an entire turkey myself because he left town on Black Friday, just after my backup turkey came from the oven.

Although I didn’t mind eating a whole turkey, I felt kind of selfish. So this year I grill-smoked my backup turkey Tuesday so Tony can have a couple of sandwiches before he heads to the woods on Saturday with his buddies.

(A backup turkey is the one you make at home for yourself when you dine out on the holiday. But you probably already know that.)

My favorite way to eat leftover turkey is, of course, snuggled between two slices of bread with cranberry sauce and a sheen of mayo. I will eat several of these sandwiches before I even think of branching out. There’s no greater November meal. In my opinion, not even the big feast itself can compare.

Maybe by Saturday I will be ready for something different – not an alternative to turkey, but an alternate way to eat it. I have a box of phyllo dough in the freezer for the occasion. I will thaw it and layer it in a pie pan with a hot filling of sautéed onions, shredded turkey, cinnamon and other spices moistened with chicken broth. I will sprinkle the filling with almonds and gather the buttered, papery dough around the mixture before baking.

This is my version of bisteeya, the iconic dish of Morocco that usually takes hours to make. I will make my quick version for a splendid solitary meal while Tony shivers in a tree all day and later dines with the guys on pork and sauerkraut. When he calls, I’ll tell him that the turkey and I miss him.

SHORT-CUT BISTEEYA
2 tbsp. margarine
1 cup chopped onions
Salt, pepper
1/8 to 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 tbsp. flour
1/3 cup lemon juice
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
2 cups shredded cooked turkey or chicken
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
6 sheets phyllo dough
Butter-flavored non-stick spray
1/4 cup sliced almonds

Melt margarine in a heavy, 10-inch skillet and sauté onions until limp. Season with salt, pepper and cayenne pepper. Sprinkle flour over onions and cook and stir over medium-high heat for about 2 minutes, until flour begins to change color. Whisk in lemon juice and chicken broth until smooth. Whisk and simmer until mixture thickens. Stir in turkey and cinnamon. Simmer until very thick.

Peel off two sheets of phyllo, spray the top sheet lightly with butter-flavored spray, and fold in half, butter-side in. Spray the top of the folded sheets and place in a 9-inch pie pan. Repeat with two more sheets of dough, arranging phyllo squares so excess extends beyond the rim of the pie plate, all the way around.

Pour hot filling over dough in pan. Sprinkle with almonds. Spray and fold two more sheets, tucking the square in the pan on top of the filling. Fold the overhanging dough up and over the top pastry.

Spray top of pie. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, until pastry is golden and filling is hot. Let rest 15 minutes before cutting’ into wedges. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

HELP U COOK

Baking season begins in earnest this weekend, and to put you on the right track, here are some tips on why your cookies may spread during baking:

• Make sure your sugar is pure granulated sugar, not a dextrose blend. Read the ingredients list, which should say merely “sugar.” Dextrose blends react like corn syrup, making cookies spread and prevent candies from setting up.

• Many margarine’s contain water, which will affect the texture of your cookies.

• Unbleached flour has a slightly higher protein content than bleached flour. The higher protein can cause cookies to spread and flatten.

• Letting cookie dough stand too long at room temperature also can cause cookies to spread and flatten, so refrigerate the dough between batches.

THE MAILBAG

From David G.:
I’m trying to find onion juice and garlic juice for a turkey injection recipe. I’ve struck out at Market District, Earth Fare and Mustard Seed.

Any suggestion on where else I might try locally?

Dear David: I tried Penzey’s, Trader Joe’s and Heather’s Heat and Flavor (the latter in Hudson) with no luck. Walmart online carries both, but not your closest Walmart megastore in Wadsworth. I think
you’ll have to make your own.

Caveat: bottled onion juice, at least, according to food writer John Thorne, is pretty mild. He says it tastes like juice from boiled onions. So I would use way less homemade juice in your recipe. Old, old Fanny Farmer cookbooks have you add mere drops to recipes.

To make onion juice: Peel and grate an onion on the smallest holes of a box grater set in a fine mesh strainer over a small, deep bowl. Press the pulp with the back of a spoon to extract as much juice as possible. Wear goggles! Wash your hands afterward with salt.

To make garlic juice: Separate a whole head of garlic into cloves. Place in a lidded jar and shake to remove skins. Press the cloves in a garlic press over a fine mesh strainer set over a small bowl. Scrape pulp in press into the strainer and press with the back of a spoon to extract juice. Again, clean hands with salt to eliminate odor.

It might be easier to just use another recipe. But you probably want to do Thanksgiving the hard way….

From Sandy T.:
You mentioned that your favorite way to cook a turkey is on the grill. Could you give us the directions?

Dear Sandy: Sure. The down side is you cannot stuff the turkey when you roast it this way. The upsides are many, though. The turkey will taste better than any you’ve ever roasted in the oven. It will cook in just two to three hours (for up to an 18-pounder).

Did I mention it will taste incredible?

Here are directions:

GRILL-SMOKED TURKEY

Build a large charcoal fire (about 30 briquettes) in the bottom of one side a lidded grill, and place a 9-by-12-inch foil pan in the bottom of the other half.

Rub or spray an unstuffed turkey (preferably brined) all over with oil or butter. When the coals ash over, place the turkey on the grill over the pan. Scatter wood chips over the coals. Close lid, leaving vents wide open. Grill for 2 to 3 hours for a 10 to 18-pound turkey. Note that the air temperature and wind can lengthen cooking time.

While roasting, add 6 to 8 charcoal briquettes every 45 minutes, and turn turkey quickly at the same time to rotate the side closest to the coals. Otherwise, do not open lid or heat will escape and lengthen the cooking time. Cook turkey until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh registers 175 degrees.

Transfer to a platter, wrap tightly with foil and let rest for about 30 minutes before carving.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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November 16, 2016

Dear friends,

The late-September afternoon was abuzz with bees, and the scent of ripening hung heavy in the air. I groaned when Tony boosted me onto the four-wheeler for a ride around our two acres. My new knee was still too tender for the trip, but I was mad with cabin fever and anxious to see how my precious plants had fared in my absence.

The vegetable garden was almost a total loss, and waist-high Canadian thistle had overrun the asparagus bed and young blueberry bushes. But despite my neglect a few clusters of fat red and white grapes dangled from ropy vines and – the surprise of the season – our solitary dwarf pear tree was absolutely loaded.

Suddenly I was pear-rich. I could indulge in fantasies of pear-intensive desserts with plenty left over for snacking. I was in no condition to bake yet, but luckily that was six weeks away. Last year I finally learned that pears fresh from the tree must be kept in cold storage for several weeks before ripening at room temperature. Otherwise they remain rock-hard.

Pear time is now at my house. I pulled several from the fridge last week and dreamed up desserts in my head while they ripened on the counter. On Sunday I began with an idea – pears, walnuts and blue cheese – and ended up with a gorgeous tart that straddles the line between cheese course and dessert.

The tart shell is made with frozen puff pastry. It is filled with a beaten mixture of ground walnuts, butter, eggs and sugar that puffs up slightly in the oven. Before baking, a handful of crumbled blue cheese is scattered over the tart and cored pear halves are nestled in the walnut mixture. The blue cheese lets you know it’s there without overwhelming the pears and walnuts. When the tart comes from the oven, toasted walnut pieces are tumbled in a thick sugar syrup and arranged on top. The syrup assures they both stay in place and glisten.

This tart would taste smashing with a port or a chewy red wine such as Syrah.

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PEAR, WALNUT AND BLUE CHEESE TART
1 sheet (half of a 17.3-oz. box) frozen puff pastry
1 stick (8 tbsp.) butter
1/2 cup walnut pieces
2/3 cup sugar, divided
2 eggs
1/2 cup ground walnuts
1/2 tsp. vanilla
5 or 6 ripe but slightly firm pears
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
1/3 cup water

Thaw puff pastry sheet according to package directions and remove butter from refrigerator to soften at room temperature.

Spread walnut pieces in a baking pan and bake at 375 degrees until toasted but not burnt, about 5 minutes. Remove from oven when edges begin to darken. Immediately transfer to a clean dish towel, gather towel around the nuts and rub pieces together to remove most of the skins, which can be bitter.
Discard skins and set nut pieces aside.

Roll puff pastry on a floured work surface until large enough to fit in bottom and up sides of a 10- or 11-inch tart pan with removable sides. Fit pastry into pan, floured side down. Trim edges with a knife, allowing one-half inch to extend above tart rim. Use trimmed pieces to patch areas that are too short.
Fold the excess pastry even with the rim, tucking between the dough and the side of the pan to make a crust of double thickness. Prick all over with a fork. Refrigerate.

Beat softened butter and one-third cup sugar with a mixer until fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time. Beat in ground walnuts and vanilla, scraping bowl once or twice.

Peel pears with a vegetable peeler. Cut vertically in halves. Remove stems and carefully remove seeds and core with a melon baller or the tip of a paring knife. Place pear halves cut sides down on a cutting board and cut across the pears at quarter-inch intervals, almost but not quite all the way through.

Spread ground walnut mixture in the chilled tart shell. Sprinkle blue cheese evenly over the mixture. Nestle pear halves in the tart shell in a decorative pattern. Combine water and remaining one-third cup sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Boil one minute, until syrup slightly thickens. Remove from heat and brush some of the syrup over the pears.

Bake at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes, until walnut mixture is puffed and set. Remove from oven. Return remaining syrup to a boil and toss toasted walnut pieces in the syrup. Transfer with a fork from the syrup to the warm tart, scattering randomly over the top. Cool to room temperature before removing the sides of the tart pan and cutting tart into 8 wedges. Serves 8.

TIDBIT I

I have become a tea fiend, and not because I have a Japanese husband. In fact, I don’t like matcha (Japanese powdered green tea) and I loathe the barley tea Tony craves. My tea of choice was Ceylon until a few years ago, when I switched to Assam after asking the proprietor of a Lebanese grocery store if it was any good.

“It’s the best tea in the world,” he said slowly, as if instructing an idiot. Many pots later, I’ve decided he was right.

Assam is a black tea named for the region of India where it grows. The native tea plants are a different variety than those that grow naturally in China (the only two regions to which tea is native). The deep-amber tea has a bright, frisky flavor. The best place to buy it is in a Mediterranean or Middle Eastern grocery store. You can find it in upscale stores, but it will cost much more.

My other tea find, of much more recent origin, is the house-blended mix of Earl Gray and regular black tea at Istanbul Grill in Avon Lake. Earl Gray is black tea flavored with bergamot. Cutting the intensity with plain black tea produces a hauntingly, almost floral-flavored cup.

The Istanbul is worth a drive for both the tea and the food. The latter is about as authentic Turkish food as you’ll find locally, seasoned with extraordinary finesse. The restaurant’s website is http://www.istanbulgrillavon.com.

TIDBIT II

If you want to try the splashy new seafood restaurant in Montrose without investing a fortune (entrees are $23 to $58), go during happy hour. The Kingfish, in the space on “restaurant hill” where various Italian restaurants have tried and failed, offers big-portion appetizers for just $5 from 4 to 6 p.m. weekdays in the bar.

Tony and I were impressed with the quality and quantity of our appetizers one evening last week, including a mini platter of house-cured salmon, four substantial kabobs of chicken with a soy-Bourbon glaze, a big bowl of perfectly cooked mussels in a wine-tomato broth, and a plate of meltingly tender cornmeal-fried shrimp with dill pickle remoulade. The happy hour starters are a steal compared to the apps on the dinner menu, which range from $9.50 to $13.50 ($85 if you count the chilled shellfish tower).

The Kingfish has polish right out of the gate thanks to chefs and servers who migrated from Hospitality Restaurants’ other Cleveland-area properties — Rosewood Grill, Delmonico’s, Cabin Club, Blue Point Grille, Salmon Dave’s and Thirsty Parrot. Wade through the company’s website (www.hrcleveland.com) for the Kingfish’s menu and directions.

THE MAILBAG

No fodder for this feature landed in my inbox last week, probably because all of you were stunned senseless by the election. Regardless of party, we all went through the psychic equivalent of a meat grinder.

This is the perfect time to be lulled to sleep by the gazillion watts of tryptophan in a Thanksgiving dinner. Tony and I will spend the day in Columbus with my niece, Heidi, who takes after me in the kitchen. I’m sure she won’t steam her turkey in a roaster or simmer it in a slow cooker. The next day I’ll grill-smoke my backup turkey for my favorite food of the season, Thanksgiving leftovers. Oh, boy.

This year, instead of reprinting instructions for roasting, high-heat roasting and grill-smoking a turkey, I will answer your Thanksgiving cooking questions and provide requested recipes individually via email. Send your questions to me directly at janesnowcooks@gmail.com. I’ll check my inbox daily through 5 p.m. Nov. 23.

 

 

November 9, 2016

Dear friends,

I’ve had a crush on goulash since I was 5 years old, when a pot of goulash on the stove at a playmate’s house drove me wild with desire. I wouldn’t leave until I at least got the name of the dish from my friend’s mother. The aroma alone was killer.

Despite my age at the time, I clearly remember that Mrs. Lee’s goulash was the American version made with ground beef and noodles. Years later I was thrilled to try the real thing on a ski trip to Austria. I learned goulash has many variations. In Innsbruck, entire menus were devoted to the dish and its permutations.

So I can appreciate a good goulash craving as much as anyone, but I have no idea why Tony started pestering me for goulash last week. I had never made it for him. I took him to the New Era in Akron, but we picked the wrong day for goulash; it’s a Saturday special. By that time I was hungry for goulash, too, so searched for recipes in cookbooks and on the Internet.

I was surprised most goulash recipes are so simple they don’t even call for browning the meat. That makes sense, since the dish was originally made over campfires by shepherds in Eastern Europe. That would never do for me, though. Browning the meat gives a stew or fricassee a depth of flavor that can’t be summoned any other way.

I noted many other variations: the meat ranged from veal to pork to beef to venison, the seasonings from paprika alone to a hodgepodge of herbs, and the additions from chopped tomatoes to wine to beef broth to sour cream.

I decided to pick and choose. The recipe I ended up with does not require a lot of prep time (my knee isn’t 100 percent), yet produces a suave, robustly flavored goulash with classic sensibility. In other words no wine, no herbs, no French accents.

I used venison, but beef would work just as well. I served the goulash to Tony Tuesday after a chilly day of deer hunting. He loved it, but apparently not enough to satisfy his craving. Yesterday I caught him searching for goulash restaurants. Bring ‘em on. I’ll put this goulash up against anyone’s.

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HEARTY VENISON (OR BEEF) GOULASH
2 1/2 lbs. venison or lean beef (such as bottom round)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 cups chopped onions
2 red bell peppers, slivered
1 tbsp. sweet paprika
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1 cup hot water
2 large potatoes, peeled and diced

Trim meat of all fat and cut in 1-inch cubes. Season with salt. Heat oil in a wide, squat kettle or large Dutch oven and brown meat in batches. When the edges are dark brown, remove with a slotted spoon before continuing with next batch.

In the same pan with more oil if necessary, sauté onions and peppers over medium-high heat, stirring frequently until limp. Return meat to pan. Stir in paprika and 1 teaspoon salt. Add tomato paste and water, stirring over high heat to scrape browned bits from bottom of pan.

When water comes to a boil reduce heat to low, cover and simmer very slowly for 1 ½ hours. Stir in the potatoes, cover and simmer 1 hour longer. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

TIDBITS

Pumpkins, butternut, dumpling, Delicata, acorn and probably a half-dozen other kinds of winter squash are on display now in food stores. The common denominator for most of them is a hard shell that’s the devil to peel off.

A knife may be a requirement for making jack-o-lanterns but it’s the wrong tool for paring a hard-shell winter squash. Instead, use a sharp vegetable peeler.

You don’t even have to do that if you plan to cook the squash in order to mash or puree it (for pumpkin pie, for example). Cook the whole pumpkin or squash in boiling water until a knife pierces the flesh easily, then cut it open, remove the seeds and strings, and scoop out the flesh.

Or you could cut the pumpkin or squash in half (or leave it whole), place on a baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees until soft.

Delicata, an oval yellow-and-green-striped squash, has a tender skin that may be eaten, so peeling it is unnecessary. You shouldn’t peel spaghetti squash, either – just boil or bake it whole until tender, then cut it open and rake the flesh into strands with a fork.

In the winter a butternut squash or two is always nestled in a hanging mesh basket in the corner of my kitchen. For longer storage they should be kept in a cool place such as a basement, but mine seldom last longer than a couple of weeks.

My favorite way to prepare butternuts is to peel with a vegetable peeler, cut in half horizontally, and cut the bulbous part in half vertically to expose the seeds. I scoop out the seeds, cut the squash into 1-inch cubes and roast on an oiled baking sheet at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes or until tender. If I’m feeling sybaritic I dot the squash with butter and sprinkle with brown sugar before baking. I’ll toss in some dried cranberries, too.

THE MAILBAG

From Jan Cramer, Uniontown:
After all the questions about this recipe, I happened to find the original tucked away in a folder. I am pretty sure this is the one from the Greek restaurant that was in a plaza in the Montrose area.

Dear Jan: I’m pretty sure your recipe is from the Montrose restaurant, too. This was published in Beacon magazine:

PAPAS’ GREEK SPAGHETTI
1 lb. spaghetti
1 bunch green onions, trimmed and washed
3/4 cup (12 tbsp.) butter, oil or margarine
Salt, pepper
Garlic powder
Dried oregano, crumbled
Lemon juice
1/4 cup Chablis (dry white wine)
2 cups (about 1 lb.) grated Kasseri cheese (a hard Greek cheese available in Mediterranean grocery stores)

Cook and drain the spaghetti. Chop the green part of the onions, reserving white part for another use. Melt 5 tablespoons (1/3 cup) of the fat in a large skillet. Sauté the onions until limp. Add the spaghetti and mix well. Season to taste with salt, pepper, garlic powder, oregano and lemon juice.

Add remaining fat and toss with spaghetti mixture. Immediately add wine and mix, boiling off alcohol. Transfer to four pasta dishes and top each portion with one-half cup cheese. Serves 4.