February 22, 2017

Dear friends,

Pimento cheese is having a moment. The classic Southern sandwich spread has begun showing up on menus of upscale Southern restaurants, and even made a recent episode of the Bravo TV series Top Chef (although the judges hated John Tesar’s version with crab).

I thought my moment with pimento cheese had come and gone in the 1950s, until recently the last time I ate a sandwich filled with the stuff. My mother, an Ohioan all her life, bought the spread in little glass jars and doled it out sparingly. I thought Kraft had invented it. I had no idea it could be made at home by amateurs.

Southerners have known better all along. In decades past, many a cook’s reputation was made or broken by his or her skill with — and secret recipe for — pimento cheese. Although arguments abound about ingredients and technique (grate versus puree?), the version I like consists of sharp and extra-sharp Cheddar stirred together with mayonnaise, grated onion, Worcestershire sauce, horseradish and cayenne pepper. The chopped pimentoes are added at the end. My basic recipe, minus the horseradish, is from Southern Living magazine.

I began looking into pimento cheese after the Top Chef appearance, and am amazed at the flavor variations and the ways the spread is being used. So far I’ve used it as a dip with crackers and for grilled cheese sandwiches (delish). I’ve also seen it melted over fries, dolloped on burgers, stirred into grits, in mac and cheese, and shaped into balls, breaded and deep fried.

Chefs are treating the basic cheese spread as a blank canvas and pumping up the flavor with a multitude of add-ins such as crumbled bacon and chili paste and tamari (think Asian). Personally, I’m thinking of using it as a base for cloning some of West Point Market’s late, great cheese spreads such as my favorite, Coyote.

But first I’ll spoon some of it into a crock and surround it with crackers to snack on Sunday while I watch the Oscars. Lowbrow meets highbrow. You tell me which is which.

CLASSIC PIMENTO CHEESE

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1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. finely grated onion
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. hot pepper sauce
8 oz. block sharp Cheddar, grated
8 oz. block extra-sharp Cheddar, grated
1 tbsp. prepared horseradish
1 jar (4 oz.) chopped pimento, drained

Combine mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, onion, cayenne and hot pepper sauce in a bowl and mix well. Stir in cheese, horseradish and pimento. Cover and chill several hours before using. Makes about 4 cups.
THE MAILBAG
From Marcia:
I’m hoping you have a reasonable version of lobster bisque in your archives, something akin to the soup at Beau’s on the River in Cuyahoga Falls. That is the best lobster bisque in town, I swear. Chunks of lobster, thick slices of mushrooms, sliced green onions and an extremely flavorful broth loaded with cream.

I cannot find a good recipe in the half-dozen cookbooks I use for research, nor can I find Beau’s version on the Internet and I’m afraid to adapt, say, a mushroom bisque recipe because I don’t know what the umami is. I would appreciate your help.

Dear Marcia: I think the umami — meaty depth of flavor — of all seafood soups is rich seafood stock. Without hesitation, I reached for a copy of the New York Times Cookbook by Craig Claiborne for his classic version of the soup. It doesn’t call for mushrooms, but you can add them when you sauté the carrots and onions.

Claiborne suggests you ask the fishmonger to kill and split the live lobster for you. Good luck finding someone to do that for you today. I take the coward’s way out and gently steam a live lobster just until it expires before splitting and continuing with a recipe. Depth of flavor is added by simmering the lobster shell in the unthickened soup for an hour, then draining and thickening. This isn’t Beau’s recipe, but I bet you’’ll like it.

LOBSTER BISQUE

1 1/2 lb. live lobster
5 tbsp. butter
1/4 cup finely diced carrot
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 bay leaf
Pinch of thyme
2 sprigs parsley
3 tbsp. cognac
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup seafood stock
1 tbsp. sherry or Madeira
1/4 cup flour
3 cups boiling milk
3 tbsp. heavy cream (about)

Split and clean the lobster (after gently steaming just until dead, if desired). Crack the claws and cut the body and tail into four or five pieces.

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a sauté pan. Sauté the carrot and onion until the onion is transparent. Add the bay leaf, thyme, parsley and lobster. Sauté until the lobster turns red, or about 5 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally. Add 2 tablespoons of the cognac and ignite. When the flames die down, add the wine and seafood stock and simmer 20 minutes.

Remove the lobster, cool and remove the meat from the shell. Finely dice the meat, sprinkle with sherry and set aside. Reserve the shell and broth.

Melt the remaining butter in a saucepan, add the flour and blend with a whisk. Cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes. Meanwhile, bring the milk to a boil and add all at once to the butter-flour mixture, stirring vigorously with the whisk. Grind or crush the lobster shell and add to the sauce. Add the reserved broth with the vegetables and simmer, covered, about 1 hour. Strain through a fine sieve.

Bring the soup to a boil and add enough cream to achieve the desired consistency. Stir in the reserved lobster meat. Correct the seasonings and add the remaining cognac. Makes about 5 servings.

From Anne M.:
For linguini carbonara, try Geraci’s Restaurant in Cleveland heights. It’s not Akron, but at least it’s on the south side of the metro Cleveland area.

The family restaurant is cash only. We stop by a couple of times a year. It has been featured on the Food Channel’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. The website is http://www.geracisrestaurant.com.

Dear Anne: Thanks for the recommendation.

From M.A.:
Fran asked if carbonara is served in our area. Yes, dba at Northside has it on the menu as one of its four regular pasta offerings. Fran can have a full serving ($21), a taste ($7) or as one of three tastes including green spaghetti and Bolognese for $21. Now I’ve got my mouth watering…..

Dear M.A. Me, too.

From Sura:
In our younger days, my husband and I ate spaghetti carbonara at least once a week. I made it with bacon and used the rendered fat, a really good Parmesan and heavy cream for the sauce. Salt and pepper to taste and whatever herbs or chopped scallions added after. I used no eggs at all, and always used linguine for the pasta.

Dear Sura: Oh, for our younger days when we could eat foods like spaghetti carbonara with abandon.

From Amber, Florida (formerly Bath):
Regarding carbonara my late husband taught me to reserve a bit of the water the pasta was cooked in to add creaminess to the sauce. We always use bacon and bacon grease.

Dear Amber: Yep, good ideas all.

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February 16, 2017

Dear friends,

You didn’t think I was going to go cold turkey on Cuban food, did you? After a month of mojo roast pork, spicy empanadas, fried plantains and Cuban sandwiches in Florida, I returned to Ohio with a gorgeously tanned husband (he won’t heed my warnings about skin cancer) and a serious craving for Cuban food.

My Cuban cookbooks don’t address the kind of slow-cooked mojo-marinated pork roasts made at my favorite Florida Cuban restaurant, Pipo’s, so I looked on line and found the ultimate recipe at — of course — Serious Eats. I wish I could stop stealing Kenji Lopez-Alt’s recipes, but they are so good and so “last word” that to create my own version would be silly.

Perfection doesn’t come easy, of course. The roast must cook a total of six hours, although the hands-on work is done in minutes. Time must be allowed for marinating, too, so I suggest you start the recipe the day before serving, as I did.

For the garlicky marinade, unless you have access to sour Seville oranges, buy a couple of oranges and limes and juice them yourself to get that sweet-tart citrus flavor. The marinade also includes ground cumin, lots of garlic and fresh oregano, which I didn’t have and didn’t want to buy. I provide directions for substituting dried.

The roast is wrapped in foil and baked at a low temperature for three hours. Then the foil is pulled back, the temperature raised slightly and the roast cooked three more hours to crisp the exterior. Make this on a day when you settle in for a marathon TV or reading session.

At our house, while the meat cooked Tony studied for his citizenship test which, post-election, he decided he should finally take. (He calls Woodrow Wilson “Woody,” and at one point I heard him mumbling rapidly under his breath, “Who’s the daddy, who’s the daddy, who’s the daddy.”)

Me: Are you saying, “Who’s your daddy?”
Tony: No, who’s THE daddy. Of the United States.
Me (after a long pause): You mean the father of our country?? George Washington?
Tony: Yes, the daddy.

Later, wiser and starving, we tucked into the pork roast, cilantro rice and a side of sautéed broccoli rabe. The meat was…well, I’ll let Lopez-Alt describe it: ”Juicy, succulent with garlic and citrus, intensely porky, and melt-in-your-mouth tender.”

Exactly.

CUBAN ROAST PORK WITH MOJO MARINADE

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For the mojo:

8 medium cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. fresh-ground black pepper
1/4 cup minced fresh oregano leaves (I used 2 tbsp. dry)
1/2 cup fresh juice from 1 to 2 oranges
1/4 cup fresh lime juice (or 3/4 cup blood orange juice instead of the orange and lime juices)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt

For the pork and to finish:

1 (6- to 8-lb.) boneless pork shoulder roast, rind removed (I used a 4-lb. roast)
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves (I substituted fresh cilantro)
3 tbsp. finely chopped fresh oregano leaves (I subbed 2 tsp. dried)
Lime wedges for serving
Steamed rice

For the mojo, combine garlic, cumin pepper, oregano, orange and lime juices and olive oil in a small bowl of lidded jar and mix well. Season to taste generously with salt. Pour half of the mojo over a pork roast in a zipper-sealed plastic bag. Squish with hands to coat meat evenly. Refrigerate to marinate at least 2 hours or, ideally, overnight. Refrigerate remaining mojo.

For the pork and to finish: When meat is finished marinating, reheat oven to 275 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a double layer of heavy-duty foil. Place pork and juice on top and fold up foil, crimping to seal loosely but making sure there is room for air to circulate inside. Place in oven and roast for 3 hours.

Increase oven temperature to 325 degrees. Fold back foil and continue roasting, basting pork with pan juices occasionally, until pork shows almost no resistance when a metal skewer or knife is inserted and the surface is crackly and brown 2 to 3 hours longer. Remove from oven and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes.

Pour one cup of accumulated pork drippings into a bowl, discarding any left over. Add the reserved mojo and whisk with into, oregano and salt to taste. Slice or shred pork and arrange on dinner plates with the lime wedges and rice. Moisten the meat with some of the mojo sauce, passing the rest at the table. My 4-pound roast made at least 6 servings.
THE MAILBAG
From Fran F.:
Several years ago we spent a week in Rome and had a to-die-for spaghetti carbonara with pancetta. I have been looking ever since returning home for a good restaurant in the Akron area that makes a great spaghetti carbonara.

I have tried to make it at home and cannot get that same intense, creamy Parmesan flavor that we had, despite using Parmesan Reggiani and pancetta purchased from DeViti’s. What would make the difference in flavor? If any of your readers knows of a great place that makes the dish, I hope they will share.

Dear Fran: I can’t think of any restaurants that have spaghetti carbonara on the menu. It is such a simple but wonderful dish. I hope someone has a suggestion.

Meanwhile, I consulted an old, authentic Italian cookbook recommended to me years ago by chef Roger Thomas, who studied in Italy. Could the secret to great carbonara be lard? That’s what Ada Boni uses in her recipe in “Italian Regional Cooking.” Boni also makes the dish with streaky bacon, although that may have been a sop to Americans, and uses the drippings in the sauce. She makes the dish with rigatoni but notes any pasta shape may be substituted. An interesting fact: She calls carbonara “charcoal-burner’s style.”

RIGATONI ALA CARBONARA

4 tsp. lard
5 oz. streaky bacon, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
Salt
1 1/4 lbs. rigatoni
5 eggs
5 tbsp. freshly grated imported Parmesan cheese
5 tbsp. freshly grated imported Pecorino cheese
Pepper

In a small sauté pan, heat the lard and sauté the bacon and garlic. As soon as the garlic is browned, discard it. Bring a large pan of salted water to a bubbling boil. Add the rigatoni and cook until tender but still firm.

Meanwhile, beat the eggs thoroughly in a large, shallow skillet with a pinch of salt, the cheeses and plenty of fresh-ground pepper. Do not heat.

As soon as the rigatoni are tender, drain them and add to the pan with the egg mixture. Add the bacon with its cooking fat, then cook over very low heat, stirring constantly, for a couple of minutes to heat the eggs through. Serve immediately. Serves 6.

From Nancy S.:
I know I read some time ago that you buy your seeds locally and I’m thinking it was someplace in the Valley? Please share!

Hi, Nancy: I buy heirloom plants — not seeds — at Crown Point Ecology Center’s annual sale on the farm in Bath. Check the website (www.crownpt.org) for details. The sale is usually held in May.

A couple of years ago I discovered an interesting seed store in Amish country. Berlin Seeds (no website; Google the store name) in Millersburg has fair prices and a wide basic selection of seeds. A plus is free planting advice from the clerk/owners.

For heirloom vegetable seeds, I have ordered from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (www.rareseeds.com), although many other great mail-order sources exist. I’d like to know which companies others have used.

February 9, 2017

Dear friends,
I need cuddle food. I am back from a month-long stay in Florida and huddling under blankets to keep warm. I’ve eaten a lot of hot soup since we returned five days ago. In the evenings I sip hot tea and bundle up in a fluffy pink onesie Tony bought me years ago and that I vowed never to wear.

Yeah, yeah, I can hear your hoots and catcalls. I know whining about the cold weather after a trip to Florida elicits about as much sympathy as a billionaire complaining about a dip in the stock market. So I’ll shut up and share a recipe that warmed me up, Slow Cooker Sweet and Sour Chicken.

Because it took 36 hours for our furnace to raise the temperature in our home from 50 to 70 degrees (whining again), I turned on the oven but didn’t want to spend time away from my blankets actually cooking. So I found a soulful, flash-fast recipe that requires merely dumping ingredients in a slow cooker and turning the switch.

About four hours later we spooned hunks of falling-apart chicken and a caramel-y sauce over rice and feasted in the living room, wrapped in blankets. Tony loved the dish, athough it was more sweet than sour. The next time I make it I’ll add a splash of vinegar.

The sauce was delicious anyway. Soy sauce, brown sugar, sherry, ketchup, water and garlic are poured over a whole frying chicken in the slow cooker. The ingredients combine with juices from the chicken to make the deeply flavored sauce that is is thickened with cornstarch just before serving.

The recipe is from my favorite slow-cooker book, “Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook” by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann. Try it when you need some cold-weather cosseting.

SLOW COOKER SWEET AND SOUR CHICKEN

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1 broiler-fryer chicken, 3 to 4 lbs.
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup dry sherry or apple juice
1 tbsp. ketchup
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 green onions, trimmed and halved
1 cloved garlic, pressed
2 tbsp. cornstarch
2 tbsp. water
2 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds (optional)

Wash and dry the chicken, saving giblets for another use. Cut off any lumps of fat. Place chicken in the slow cooker, breast side up.

Combine the soy sauce, brown sugar, water, sherry, ketchup, red pepper flakes, green onions and garlic in a small bowl. Pour over chicken. Cover and cook on high about 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 hours, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of a thigh registers 180 degrees.

Transfer chicken to a platter. Pour sauce remaining in slow cooker into a saucepan, discarding green onions. Combine the cornstarch with water. Bring the sauce to a simmer and slowly whisk in the cornstarch mixture. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens. Spoon over chicken. Garnish with sesame seeds if desired. Makes 4 servings.
TIDBIT
Thank you all for responding to my plea for more email. As I mentioned before, I found all that email I wasn’t getting on a new email server my provider switched to. Now I’m up to my ears in unanswered email. I will eventually get to all of it. Thank you for your patience.

To bypass all my forwarding woes, email me directlly at janesnowcooks@gmail.com.

THE MAILBAG

From Susan M.:
I have a question. My recipe calls for the zest of one orange. I have a zester and can manage this but if I want to use the bottled orange peel, how much would equal one orange? I am aware that this can be very expensive.

Dear Susan: I would never use bottled orange peel in a recipe that calls for fresh because the volatile oils — the flavorful element — dissipate as the peel dries. lnstead of using a zester, which can dig too deep and be time-consuming in my opinion, grate off just the outer orange part of the peel with a rasp grater such as a Microplane. It will really speed up the process. Take a couple of swipes, turn the orange; a couple of swipes, turn the orange. Continue until the zest is on the counter and the orange is a naked and white. If your recipe calls for juice from the orange, zest before you squeeze.

From George, Akron:
I’ve lost your re-creation of Pho Hoa’s Vietnamese Chicken Salad. Can you help?

Dear George: That recipe was from a 2006 Second Helpings newsletter, written before Mimi Vanderhaven gave my column a new home. Here’s how I described the salad I ate at the Cleveland restaurant: “Fine shreds of Chinese cabbage were heaped on a platter with shredded chicken, fresh mint and cilantro. The salad was sprinkled with chopped nuts and doused with a refreshing lime and rice vinegar dressing spiked with fish sauce.”

My version is very similar to the restaurant’s but with half the fish sauce, which is an acquired taste.

VIETNAMESE CHICKEN SALAD

1/2 rotisserie chicken
4 tbsp. fresh lime juice
3 tbsp. rice vinegar
1 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. Vietnamese fish sauce
1 tsp. sugar
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 garlic clove, minced
1 small head napa cabbage, sliced very thin (about 6 cups)
1 tbsp. minced fresh hot pepper, such as serrano
1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
1/4 cup Thai basil leaves, chopped (optional)
1/2 of a medium red onion, sliced very thlin
1 1/2 cups shredded carrots
2 tbsp. minced dry roasted peanuts

Pull the chicken meat into shreds, discarding skin and bones. Place in a bowl and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon lime juice, 1 tablespoon rice vinegar and 1 teaspoon soy sauce. Toss and set aside.

In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine remaining lime juice, vinegar and soy sauce with the fish sauce, sugar, pepper flakes and garlic. Set aside.

In a large bowl toss together the cabbage, hot pepper, herbs, red onion and carrots. Pour dressing over slaw. Top with the shredded chicken and sprinkle with peanuts. Makes 6 servings.

February 1, 2017

Dear friends,

The produce clerk tried to steer me to the California navels.

“Don’t you have any Florida oranges?” I asked. “Just juice oranges,” he shrugged, pointing to a heap of gorgeous, thin-skinned beauties.

I pounced on them. When my late mother and I visited Florida, we ate an orange a day per Mom’s direction. She would roll our oranges on a counter and cut a plug from the blossom ends. We would suck out the juice and then eat the pulp.

I bought a bag of the sweet juice oranges and thought about Mom each time I ate one. I have been thinking about her a lot anyway because Tony and I are camping at the same KOA Mom and I used on our annual week-long treks. Tony and I are just a short walk from the bayou shoreline where Mom fed a heron her grouper dinner and we watched sunsets and played games of Rummikub at a picnic table. Until now I’ve been back just once since those trips in the 1990s, to scatter her ashes in the salt water from the shore.

For the last month I’ve made new memories with my husband, and they’ve been wonderful. We swam, biked, kayaked, hot tubbed and ate lots of seafood, cuban food and oranges. By the time you read this, we will be on our way home. No more fresh-from-the-Gulf seafood. No more Pipo’s Cuban sandwiches But we will still have plenty of oranges to hand-juice in the mornings ala Mom, and to use in salads such as this one from eatingwell.com.

ORANGE AND ARUGULA SALAD

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2 tsp. fresh-grated orange zest
1/4 cup orange juice
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp. minced shallot
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. fresh-ground pepper
1 1/2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
3 oranges
4 cups lightly packed arugula
1 small red onion, thinly sliced

Whisk together orange zest and juice, balsamic vinegar, shallot, mustard, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Whisk in the oil until well blended. Remove the rind and white pith from the oranges with a very sharp knife and discard. Slice oranges thinly, or remove the individual segments by slicing between the membranes. Halve the orange slices if they are large. Toss the arugula and romaine together in a shallow salad bowl. Separate the onion slices into rings. Scatter the onions and oranges over the greens. Drizzle the vinaigrette over the salad and toss.

From http://www.eatingwell.com.

TIDBIT

Is your memory slipping with age? Do you misplace recipes as often as you lose your keys? Welcome to my club. Hey, I created the most of the recipes in this newsletter and even I can’t find them.

You are out of luck for years one through six, but you can find recipes from the last four years of See Jane Cook on my blog website, janesnowtoday.wordpress.com. Just to confuse you, this is different from my actual website, janesnowtoday.com.

The WordPress site has archived newsletters from January 2013 to the present. Thanks to Morgan Lasher, my editor at Mimi Vanderhaven, it also has a search function.

Type in “green beans” and you will get a column I wrote about planting green beans with a recipe for green beans with rosemary, feta and walnuts.

At the bottom of each newsletter on WordPress are buttons to share it on Facebook and Twitter. I don’t advertise this newsletter at all, so mentions are appreciated. Please share my recipes and photos on Pinterest at will. Thanks for helping to spread the word.

THE MAILBAG

From Mary Jane, Albuquerque, N.M.:
Jane and Tony, what fun that you are having an adventure in a camper and enjoying St. Pete. Hubs and I are having an adventure in a motor home for the next year in Albuquerque, so I too am learning how to cook in a small space after having a commercial kitchen in my home which used to be my tea room. I have adapted and can now produce almost any dish I have cooked by using an electric pressure cooker, pressure oven and microwave/convection oven. We don’t even have to use the propane oven or stove top because I brought along an electric hot plate. It sounds like you are feasting on some great seafood and I am having serious foodie envy. Lucky you!

We lived in St. Pete for several years and I wanted to tell you about some of our favorite places to visit. For dessert, the gelato at Paciugo is the best and they have a great variety of flavors — rose, green tea, salted caramel. http://www.paciugo.com/gelato/flavors/.

If you love Greek food, a visit to the Greek Village Restaurant in Seminole is a must. They have the best Greek salad and they add a scoop of potato salad to it, which I had never seen before and it makes it more special. Try anything on the menu and I’m sure you will put it on your list of favorites. Here’s the menu: http://www.locu.com/places/greek-village-seminole-us/#menu.

For a fabulous Italian market stop by Mazzaros Market in Clearwater. Handmade pasta, exceptional selection of cheese and amazing bakery. http://www.mazzarosmarket.com.

For seafood our favorite is Guppy’s in Indian Rocks Beach. Best Grouper Sandwich and blue crab burger EVER.

Crepes, French macarons, quiche, and best breakfast in Indian Rocks Beach: http://www.cafedeparisbakery.com/.

Ceviche Tapas Bar is a good place for an early bite or a great dinner. The braised oxtail is a must-try. Flamenco dancing some evenings. http://www.ceviche.com/st-petersburg/gallery/.

Dear Mary Ann: You are so kind to take time to steer me to your favorite places. I saw your email just two days before we left for home, so I’ll have to wait until next year to try your picks. I am running the full list (minus a few minor edits) for those who are traveling to the Clearwater/St. Pete area — and judging by my mail, that’s a lot of people. I have one place to add: MD Oriental Market, the biggest Asian food store I’ve ever seen. None of the employees could tell me the square footage, but it is as large as a major supermarket.

The market is one of three in the Tampa area. The one Tony and I visited, in Pinellas Park, has a sushi bar, a hot buffet line, and live fish and seafood in stacked aquariums.

Good luck to you with your year-long camper experience. At least you’re in a great food area for your adventure.