March 23, 2017

Dear friends,

Once when I asked chefs to reveal their favorite breakfasts, the answers ranged from burnt over-hard eggs with ketchup to cigarettes and coffee. One answer kept popping up, though: huevos rancheros. Yessss! That just happened to be my favorite, too.

Is it a coincidence so many food professionals crave this breakfast? Or is it indeed the apex of morning meals, and you should rush right out and eat some, too? If the latter is the answer you’ve probably indulged by now, but who knows what your huevos experience was like?

Back when I wrote the breakfast story huevos rancheros wasn’t lurking on every hip-casual menu. Unless you lived west of the Mississippi, you had to make your own. In light of the many not-so-splendored ways huevos rancheros are mutilated in Midwest restaurants, you’re probably wise to make your own now, too.

The exact ingredients of the dish are in dispute, so I just go with my palate. I usually warm up a couple of corn tortillas, grate some Jack cheese, heat some refried beans, get out the salsa and fry a couple of eggs over easy. Yes, it’s a bit more trouble than opening a container of yogurt. Recently, though, I figured out a way to not only streamline the prep but to make huevos easily for a crowd. If you ever entertain at brunch, print and save this recipe.

Little corn tortillas are fitted into muffin cups, filled with refried beans, salsa, cheese and an egg and baked. No muss, no fuss. More salsa and chopped avocado are strewn over the darling little huevos cups on the plate. The tortillas crisp up while the cheese melts and the egg whites set. When you cut into one, the yolk runs onto the plate, mingling with the salsa and cheese.

If you’re the only one in the house who like huevos rancheros, no problem. Breakfast for one can be made as easily as brunch for a dozen. Buy the corn tortillas at a Mexican grocery that sells fresh tortillas or high-quality refrigerated tortillas, if possible. The quality difference from mass-produced tortillas will be noticeable.

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HUEVOS RANCHEROS CUPS

16 small corn tortillas
16 tbsp. refried beans
1 1/4 cups jarred salsa (mild, medium or hot)
16 eggs
Salt, pepper
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
2 ripe avocados, peeled and diced

Microwave tortillas two at a time directly on the turntable for about 20 seconds on high power, until very soft. Quickly fit them into full-sized muffin cups that have been coated with non-stick spray. Continue with remaining tortillas.

Spread one tablespoon refried beans in the bottom of each tortilla cup. Top each with one teaspoon salsa. Crack an egg into each tortilla cup. Sprinkle each with salt, pepper and one tablespoon cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, until whites have set but yolks are still soft. Remove from pan and place two on each of eight plates. Top each with a ribbon of salsa and some diced avocado. Serve immediately. Makes 8 servings of 2 cups each.

TIDBIT

A fruity and suave sauce from a high-end Ohio jam and sauce producer is a bargain buy right now at Sam’s Clubs. I found a 40-oz. jug of Robert Rothschild Roasted Pineapple Glaze & Finishing Sauce for just $7.68. That’s less than a small jar (12.7 ounces) costs on the Rothschild website. The sauce is sweet and chunky, with a mild sting from the hot peppers. It tasted great on pork and would be spectacular on baked brie or even ice cream.

The Rothschild farm near Urbana is one of the food treasures of Ohio. Since 1984 owners Bob and Sara have been making high-quality, small-batch preserves, vinegars, dips and other fruit-based condiments, most with the raspberries they grow themselves. I hope their Sam’s Club sales help them make it through another three decades.

THE MAILBAG

From Holli Mallak, Shanghai, China:
I just returned to Shanghai from a 10-day trip to Vietnam. I realize this recipe may wreak havoc on your preferred diet, but you must try it:
http://www.legalnomads.com/vietnamese-egg-coffee-recipe.

I hadn’t heard of the European egg coffee until I looked up this article. Maybe a coffee-off is in order?

Give Akron my love.

Dear Holli: Thai iced tea and Thai iced coffee would have to figure in any coffee-off, although I think Vietnamese egg coffee would win in terms of richness. All are made with sweetened, condensed milk, but the Vietnamese coffee is further enriched by beating the milk with an egg yolk until thick and fluffy. According to the article you shared, the mixture is poured over strong, bitter Vietnamese coffee, about half and half.

I used to love the Thai iced tea at the old Bangkok Gourmet restaurant in Akron back when I was young and active enough to burn off the calories. Your Vietnamese egg coffee would be a challenge for even my younger self, but it sounds heavenly. I can’t thank you enough for sharing your experience and the recipe.

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March 15, 2017

Dear friends,

Coconut, ginger and lime may not sound like blizzard foods, but they are when combined in the creamy, rich Brazilian soup I stumbled upon recently while cleaning out a closet. The recipe for the soup was in a 20-year-old issue of Food and Wine in a box of stuff I was sorting. I almost pitched it along with a half-dozen Paris Metro maps and the floor plan of the Louvre. Thank goodness I paged through it, hoping to have a laugh at the foods we ate back then.

This soup — actually more of a bisque — is timeless. It’s unlike any I’ve tasted. In addition to the three ingredients I mentioned, it includes peanut butter, tomatoes, hot peppers and lots of onion and garlic, yet everything gets along. The peanut butter doesn’t bully the delicate coconut and ginger; there’s just enough of it to provide a warm undertone. I couldn’t separate out the flavor in the finished soup.

I could definitely taste the coconut and ginger, though, along with the lime that was added at the end. I would expect those flavors in a brothy soup, but they were surprisingly good in this richer cream soup, too. As it bubbled on the stove, it smelled too good for a family supper. I wished I had invited friends to share.

The recipe is supposed to serve six as an entree, although after Tony tasted it he said he intended to eat the entire batch. And he almost did.

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BRAZILIAN SHRIMP AND COCONUT SOUP

2 tbsp. butter
2 lbs. medium shrimp, shells removed and reserved
1 large onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, chopped
2 small fresh hot chilies such as Thai or serrano, minced
2 tbsp. finely grated fresh ginger (about a 2-inch piece)
1 quart chicken stock or broth
2 cups canned plum tomatoes, drained and chopped
1 can (14 oz.) coconut milk
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Salt, pepper
Lime wedges for garnish

Melt butter in a medium-sized soup pot. Add the shrimp shells, onion, garlic, chilies and ginger and cook over low heat, stirring, until the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the chicken stock and simmer gently, covered, for 15 minutes.

Strain the shrimp broth and return it to the pan. Stir in the tomatoes, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a food processor or blender combine the coconut milk and peanut butter and pulse until smooth. Stir the mixture into the simmering broth. Add the shrimp, lime juice and coriander and simmer just until shrimp turn pink and begin to curl, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Ladle into warm bowls and garnish with lime wedges. Makes 6 entree servings.

TIDBIT

Here’s your laugh for the day, a collection of epic food-related fails (www.pulptastic.com/im-only-bread-but-kill-me), sent to me simultaneously by two food-writer friends.

Note that two of them involve pan lids wedged in the ceiling, confirming my fear of pressure cookers.

THE MAILBAG

From Debbie:
I heard you have to rinse quinoa before you cook it to remove a chemical that could make you sick. Some of your recipes skip this step. Why?

Dear Debbie: Some quinoa on the market is pre-rinsed. If so, it will say that on the package.
Quinoa that is not pre-rinsed should be rinsed in a fine sieve with cool running water before using. Rinsing removes a naturally occurring substance called “saponin” that coats the seeds.

Saponin imparts a bitter taste to quinoa, but it also has many positive qualities. Among others, it protects the plant from insects and is an anti-oxidant and immune system protectant, according to researchers. It also can be toxic, however.

Researchers have found the saponins in quinoa can damage intestinal mucosal cells, according to a study in Britain’s Journal of Science and Food Agriculture. A lot of foods contains saponins, but the amount on quinoa is especially high. Even so, it’s just mildly toxic unless consumed to excess.

March 8, 2017

Dear friends,

While hunting up an old recipe for Asian slaw, I found another salad recipe I didn’t know was lost: Winter Quinoa Salad With Dates and Pomegranates. I made it, swapped blood oranges for the pomegranates, and loved it even more than I did the first time. I gobbled up the leftovers in two days, adding various toppings — pan-grilled chicken, stir-fried shrimp — to turn it into meals.

I have already made a second batch of the grain salad. I like the idea of having something delicious on hand that can be turned into dinner with the addition of protein. I plan to keep making the quinoa salad until i grow tired of it, as a friend does with the Asian slaw. In a note in January, he said he and his wife have eaten the slaw at least once a week since I printed the recipe. If he is taking about my recipe, that’s once a week since May 2007. I don’t think he is, though, based on ingredients he mentioned — miso and mayonnaise. I did find a Food & Wine slaw dressing with those ingredients, so I’m providing a triple-whammy of make-ahead dinners today.

The first recipe is for my reworked version of the quinoa salad. The warm spices give it a Moroccan flair. The second recipe is for my spicy slaw. Just add a bag of supermarket shredded cabbage for a super-quick meal. At the time I developed the recipe, I wrote, “It’s a great quick-fix dish to take to summer pot lucks. The most time-consuming part is making the dressing, which is a blend of soy sauce, peanut butter, rice vinegar, oil and Asian seasonings including fresh ginger and chili bean sauce.”

My friend’s slaw dressing sounds good, too. Miso gives it a umami backbone and that touch of mayonnaise emulsifies the sauce. Maybe I’ll alternate the salads in my fridge.

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QUINOA SALAD WITH DATES AND BLOOD ORANGES

1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped dates
2 blood or cara-cara oranges

Dressing:

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 tsp. each salt, cinnamon, ground ginger, ground cumin
2 tsp. honey or Splenda to taste

Rinse quinoa well in cold water. Drain in a sieve. Place in a medium saucepan with water. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat and cover. Simmer for about 15 minutes or until grains are al dente. Do not overcook. Drain any excess water.

While quinoa cooks, place onion and dates in a medium-size serving bowl. Make the dressing by combining the vinegar, oil, spices and honey or Splenda in a small jar and shaking well. Place the warm quinoa in the bowl and toss with the dressing, onion and dates.

Cut a thin slice from both the blossom and stem ends of the oranges. Place on a cutting board, one of the cut ends down. With a sharp knife, slice off the skin and white pith all the way around, following the shape of the orange. Then one at a time, slice next to one membrane and flick the bare orange section into the bowl. Do this over the bowl with the quinoa to catch any juices. Continue with second orange. Gently toss to distribute the orange sections.

Cover and chill salad. Toss again before servings. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

SPICY ASIAN SLAW

1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tbsp. sesame oil
3 tbsp. light soy sauce
2 tbsp. rice vinegar
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp. hoisin sauce
1 tsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. chopped fresh ginger
1 1/2 tbsp. Chinese chili bean sauce
1/4 tsp. (or more to taste) red pepper flakes
1 tbsp. peanut butter
1 bag (16 oz.) shredded cabbage (about 4 cups)
2 medium carrots, shredded
2 cups bean sprouts
1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro
1/2 cup dry-roasted peanuts

In a small, deep bowl combine oils, soy sauce, vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, hoisin sauce, sugar, ginger, chili bean sauce, red pepper flakes and peanut butter. Whisk until smooth. Mix together cabbage, carrots, bean sprouts and cilantro in a large bowl. Pour enough dressing over slaw to moisten, tossing gently. Garnish with peanuts. Makes about 6 servings. Unused dressing will keep in the refrigerator for weeks.

ASIAN SLAW DRESSING:

1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
3 tbsp. white miso
1 tbsp. mayonnaise
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. grated ginger
Pinch of sugar
3/4 cup oil
Salt, pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients and mix well. Store in refrigerator. Makes about 1 1/4 cups.

TIDBITS

While bumbling around the kitchen during my recovery from knee surgery last fall, Tony invented a new kind of spaghetti sauce. This one was actually edible. He dumped in a lot of spices from the cupboard and although the they shouldn’t have gone together, they tasted fine. His genius, though, was adding about a cup of walnut pieces.

I was reminded of how good nuts taste in red pasta sauce when we thawed the last of his sauce earlier this week. The walnuts add texture and flavor that do not fade in the freezer. Although Tony can’t remember everything he stirred into the sauce, we will remember those walnuts for future batches.

Bakery is back:
Holly Phillips of Stow is back to making custom gluten-free cakes after a brief hiatus. Check out her gorgeously decorated cakes on Facebook under Sweet P’s Custom Cakes (www.facebook.com/SweetP’sCustomCakes. The business formerly was known as Mrs. P’s Gluten Free Bakery. You can reach her at 216-906-2758.
THE MAILBAG
From Doris G.:
Regarding old darkened pans, I am still using 70- to 80-year-old pans that my mother used. I find that regardless of the way they look, they are superior to anything you buy today. Or maybe I think that because they are connected to my late mother.

Dear Doris:
I can relate. I have a couple of my mother’s old, banged-up, darkened baking sheets that I hang onto. I don’t use them often but when I do, I line them with parchment paper to help prevent baked goods from over-browning on the bottoms.

March 1, 2017

Dear friends,

After a couple of failed marriages and a string of doomed relationships, I gave up on love. I concluded romantic love never leads to happily ever after. That’s a myth. It leads to disillusionment and either a painful split or a long, soul-sucking marriage. I thought people who remained in marriages were either too lazy or too afraid to end them when the chemical attraction wore off.

I was pretty happy being single. I had lots of friends, an adorable dog and a great job. Then I met Tony. Bear with me. I’m getting to the Fontina and Prosciutto Soup.

At almost exactly this time 11 years ago, I walked into his sushi bar and began a terrifying romance. I was gun-shy. He was persistent. I fell hard. It was like stepping out of a plane with no parachute. I didn’t trust the feeling for a minute.

Next month will be our tenth wedding anniversary and I’ve learned that love can stay. You just have to do a lot of forgiving and stop expecting perfection. I read somewhere that a successful marriage is two imperfect people who refuse to give up on each other. That pretty much sums it up.

I was reminded of all this when I came across a soup recipe I developed in 2006. I created it after tasting a similar soup at West Point Market. It is a luxuriously rich Fontina cheese soup studded with bits of prosciutto. It’s the last dish I made for a gaggle of girlfriends just before I met Tony. The soup triggers memories of good times that were about to get even better. Much better.

FONTINA-PROSCIUTTO SOUP
1 head garlic
1 tbsp. olive oil
3 tbsp. butter
6 paper-thin slices prosciutto, chopped
1 cup diced yellow onion
1/4 cup flour
6 cups chicken broth
1 bay leaf
2 cups whipping cream
1 lb. Fontina cheese, shredded
1 tbsp. Marsala wine
Salt to taste

Discard any loose outer skin from the head of garlic but do not separate the cloves. With a sharp knife, cut off the tips of the cloves (no more than 1/8 inch), leaving head intact. Place in a small oven-proof bowl or pan and drizzle with olive oil. Bake uncovered at 375 degrees for about 1 hour, until brown and soft. Remove from oven and cool.

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a soup pan and saute prosciutto until frizzled. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Melt remaining butter in pan and saute onion until soft and golden. Sprinkle flour over onions and cook and stir for about 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in broth. Squeeze garlic from the papery skins into the broth. Add bay leaf and cream, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, until onion is very soft.

In batches, puree the soup in a blender. Return to the pan. Add cheese a handful at a time, stirring until melted. Stir in Marsala and season to taste with salt. Return prosiutto to the soup and simmer a couple of minutes. Ladle into bowls. Makes about 10 servings.

TIDBITS

The new West Point Market is starting to look like the store we knew and loved. After a spartan opening before the holidays, when about the only things on the shelves were chocolate and wine, the store has begun to grow into its new space at 33 Shiawassee Ave. in Fairlawn.

There is already a large, full-service cheese department and an extensive seletion of teas and coffees. The wine department, which looks almost as large as the one in the old store, has settled into a separate room adorned with West Point’s iconic British telephone booth. Another room holds cafe tables and the fully staffed wine bar. Although a cafe is not planned, customers eventually willl be able to buy prepared salads and sandwiches in the deli and eat them at the cafe tables, says manager Jovanna Gionti.

“We’re growing every day,” she says. “We’re adding to it.”

A meat department should be up and running in a couple of weeks, she says. Ditto for the soup bar. A gift shop and full-service chocolate shop were being installed last week.

The black wire shelves that hold dry goods are still emptly in spots, but products are arriving daily, Gionti says. Already customers can find such gourmet essentials as snail shells, Maille Dijon Mustard and Maldon Sea Salt.

The store looks roomy, although at 10,000 to 12,000 square feet it is only about one-third the size of the former store in Wallhaven. There’s no on-site kitchen, so the deli items and soups are made in a leased kitchen in the Merriman Valley and transported to the store.

The store is closed Mondays. The website is http://www.westpointmarket.com.

THE MAILBAG

From S.H.:
I got rid of my old cookie sheets and replaced them with dark ones. I noticed that when I used them to bake (lined with aluminum foil) the underside of the baked item turned dark very quickly. I always watch when I bake without the foil and remove the cookies, etc. when they are lightly brown on the edges; but now I believe I either should turn down the temperature and/or decrease baking time even when I line with foil. Am I right?

Dear S.H.: Your first mistake was buying dark-colored baking sheets. They absorb heat and can burn the bottoms of your baked goods. The solution is not foil, which also conducts heat a bit too well. Instead, line your baking sheets with parchment paper. Parchment does not require greasing, and you can reuse the paper until it begins to turn brown.

Reducing the heat is not a good idea because that would not only prevent the undersides from browning too quickly, but also prevent the top and interior of the item from baking at the ideal temperature for proper rise, etc. Instead, even when using parchment, you may have to shorten the baking time. Watch carefully and remove the item from the oven when it appears to be done.