April 26, 2017

Dear friends,

I didn’t have much luck with college roommates. One stole my favorite blouse and punched me in the head in a fit of jealousy. Another kicked me out because she thought I had stolen the rent money (In reality she was irked because I was dating a hippie, which offended her plastic-doily sensibilities. The rent check was merely lost in the mail and turned up a couple of weeks later).

With this kind of a track record, it was almost thrilling to hear from a former roommate who wasn’t mad at me. In fact, Manda had been bullied by the puncher, too. We had fun savaging the puncher in emails before the conversation turned to food. Did I have an easy recipe for curried chicken?

Manda, you have no idea how many easy curried chicken recipes I have. You’ve come to the right roommate. Of course, easy back then and easy now are two different things. I remember my first stab at making curried chicken, in the 1970s: Butter, flour, milk, curry powder and chicken chunks. I thought it was tres exotic.

My curried chicken recipes these days are filed by country — Thai, Indonesian, Indian. Then there are subsets — red, yellow, green; peanut or coconut; Parsi, Bengali, Madras or Kerala. But Manda didn’t ask for all that, and I don’t want to test her patience. You never know what a roommate might do, even if she is in her 60s now and a retired social worker.

I do suggest she broaden her curry horizons beyond the bottle of yellow powder we knew in the 1970s. Curry flavorings now come in a range of pastes and sauces that more authentically duplicate the diverse curries of Southeast Asia. Although curry is thought to have originated in India, it has been adopted in Pakistan, Myanmar, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Because Manda specified a quick curry, I’m sharing a recipe I developed for an easy coconut chicken curry. It uses both Indian curry powder and Thai curry paste to create tons of flavor in a hurry.


4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
2 tsp. good-quality curry powder (from and Indian grocery store, if possible) or garam masala (an Indian spice blend)
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
3 tbsp. oil
1/4 tsp. green curry paste
1 cup thick coconut milk (see note)

Place chicken in a bowl. With clean or gloved hands, rub chicken with curry powder and then yogurt. Cover and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or up to 4 hours.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Remove chicken from yogurt mixture, allowing some to cling to the meat. Brown chicken on one side. Turn, cover and reduce heat to medium. Continue cooking for about 7 to 10 minutes, until chicken is just cooked through. To test, cut into the thickest part of a chicken piece with a sharp knife. The meat should be white, not pink.

Remove chicken from pan and add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to pan. When hot, add curry paste and stir-fry for 1 minute. Stir in coconut milk and bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute. Return chicken to pan and simmer 1 minute longer. Place chicken on 4 dinner plates and top with sauce. Makes 4 servings.
Note: Chill the can of coconut milk before using. Open and pour off the clear liquid. Use the remaining thick coconut milk in this recipe.


* What I cooked last week: Ground venison and mushroom gravy over mashed cauliflower; steaks on the grill with Diane sauce; frozen pupusas; chicken, asparagus and Thai eggplant stir fry with my homemade Sichuan sauce; hot dogs over a fire pit in the back yard, and poached eggs over asparagus with fresh-squeezed lemon.


* What I ate in restaurants last week: Cavatelli with meat sauce at Casa Emanuel in East Liverpool with my brother; chili dogs at The Hot Dog Shoppe in East Liverpool (different day); bacon and arugula pizza at Pizza Fire; the Fresh Harvest Buffet at Hard Rock Rocksino in Northfield, and tomato soup and half of a steak and arugula sandwich at Panera.

Yes, I dined at a buffet. Tony and I went to the casino for a date night. We ate and dropped $20 in the slots. I thought buffets were all behind me when I stopped reviewing restaurants but then I met Tony, who adores buffets. Like most food critics, I think a buffet is an excellent place to get tepid, mass-produced food. Tony thinks a buffet is an adventure where he can sample a wide range of potentially exciting food in trip after trip until he is full. This usually takes at least three, sometimes four trips not counting fruit for dessert. He gets his money’s worth.

Since I met Tony we have eaten at many Chinese buffets (his favorite); a barbecue buffet on vacation; Golden Corral (which isn’t half bad); the pizza buffet at Marie’s in Wadsworth, and the Indian-cuisine lunch buffet at the Bombay Grill in Fairlawn. Tony would like to know if he has missed any. Me, not so much. But I love the guy, so if you know of any local all-you-can-eat buffets worth trying (not brunch, which is a separate genre), do tell.


From Martha, Akron:
For thin-crust pizza: 3 Palms in Hudson and now Cleveland (www.3palmspizzeria.com). Go not only for the pizza, which is the best outside my brother’s house or Italy, but everything else from beans and greens, the cheese plate, all the different meatballs and sauces, homemade bread, desserts and luscious wines and adult beverages. I drive there regularly from West Akron, bypassing many other places.

Second best is the Merchant Tavern on Merriman Road in Akron. Again, everything Victor cranks out from the kitchen is dee-lish. Try the Thai mussels.

Dear Martha: Thanks for the recommendations. You had me at “Thai mussels.” And no wonder you find the food at 3 Palms outstanding. After reading your note, I learned that the chef-owner is Shawn Monday, who over the years has produced some of my favorite meals at the old Inn at Turner’s Mill, then Downtown 140 and now at One Red Door and Flipside Burgers, all in Hudson (Flipside has a couple of other locations). I can’t wait to try the pizza at 3 Palms and the mussels and pizza at the Merch.

From Geoff, New Franklin:
Your list of ingredients in the rice pudding recipe called for “sushi rice or any firm long-grain white rice (not converted).” Sushi and most rice puddings are normally made with short-grain rice. Was this a mistake?

I’d also like to recommend a very good Thai restaurant that opened recently. It’s called Thai Patteya located at 497 Portage Lakes Blvd. south of Akron. Their pho is excellent as are the pad Thai and curries. Reasonably priced and a very nice atmosphere.

Dear Geoff: Yay, a new Thai restaurant! I have been craving Mussaman curry.

As for the rice issue, until I met Tony I used regular long-grain white rice for rice pudding. Now I use Japanese rice which, as you say, is short-grain. I wasn’t aware that most rice puddings are made with short-grain rice. In fact, I don’t know of any short-grain rice besides Japanese and arborio, although no doubt some exist. Nevertheless, I think almost any kind of rice except sticky rice may be used for pudding. I have even used basmati with success, although I wouldn’t recommend it for the rice pudding mousseline.

April 20, 2017

Dear friends,

Not many local restaurants serve something so popular the proprietors are compelled to offer it commercially. Barberton Hot Rice and Whitey’s Chili come to mind. Another is the steak sauce served for 40-some years and now bottled and sold at Lanning’s Restaurant in Bath.

I hadn’t thought of that steak sauce or even the restaurant in decades, until last week when we celebrated Tony’s birthday there with a gift certificate from a friend.

“I love this steak sauce,” Tony said as he offered me a bite of his porterhouse drenched in the stuff. The brown brothy sauce was spooned onto the steak in the kitchen. It sparked a taste memory that was just out of reach, like a word on the tip of my tongue. I grabbed my spoon and took a taste unmuddled by beef. Ah, yes. Julia Child’s steak Diane.

I have made steak Diane several times, including once on a camp stove during an electrical outage. The dish is always made in the pan just before serving. Steaks are quickly browned, then set aside. In the same pan, shallots are sautéed in butter, and then beef bouillon, Dijon mustard, Madeira and fresh lemon juice are added and simmered to concentrate the flavors. The steaks are bathed in the sauce before plating.

Steak Diane is seriously good, an icon of a recipe that should not be forgotten. But who wants to stand over a stove while everyone is already at the table? Maybe that’s why the dish has waned in popularity.

Lanning’s apparently solved that problem, and I figured I could, too. It took a couple of batches, but I think I have come up with a decent make-ahead version of steak Diane sauce. It should keep in the refrigerator for at least a couple of weeks because of the acid it contains, so feel free to make a double batch.

The sauce may be used by itself over grilled steak, but it’s better when added to the pan after making pan-grilled steaks. Remove the cooked steaks from the pan, add the sauce and simmer, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Return the steaks to the pan and swirl in the sauce, then plate the steaks and pour the sauce over the meat.

Tony didn’t say whether my sauce tastes like Lanning’s, but I know he liked it. As he flipped steaks on the grill Sunday he shouted to me in the kitchen, “Got any more of that sauce?”
No, but in a matter of minutes I made some.


2 tbsp. olive oil
1/4 cup minced shallots
1/4 cup Madeira
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 cup rich beef broth
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

Heat oil in a small skillet or sauté pan. Sauté shallots until softened. Add Madeira and bring to a boil.

Simmer until liquid is reduce by half. Stir in mustard and Worcestershire sauce. Add beef broth and lemon juice and simmer for two minutes. Use immediately or cool, pour into a lidded container and refrigerate. Makes enough for 4 steaks.


* Few chefs have embraced the farm-to-table movement as enthusiastically as Ben Bebenroth, who actually leased a farm to supply his restaurant, Spice Kitchen + Bar in Cleveland. Beginning in June he will share this year’s chef-grown bounty with us at a farm stand at his Spice Acres Farm, 9570 Riverview Road in Brecksville.

I mention this because even at the height of summer it’s a gamble buying fruits and vegetables at produce stands and stores. Many have no connection to a farm and get trucked-in stuff from wholesalers. Wise consumers ask.

You won’t have to ask at Spice Acres, where eggs, vegetables, honey and flowers — the overflow the chef doesn’t use at his restaurant — will be sold from 9 a.m. to dusk Thursday through Sunday this summer. It is one of 11 leased farms in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

* Pizza love: For years I disdained thin-crust pizza as the spoil-sport Puritan cousin of lush, wanton, thick-crusted pies. No longer.

First I tasted a few crisp-crusted, imaginatively topped pizzas on vacation last summer in Colorado. Then I developed a craving for the brick-oven beauties at Pizza Fire (with several locations in Northeast Ohio), where thin disks of dough are topped and cooked in a matter of minutes while you watch.

Now I’m in act three of my obsession. Earth Fare, I discovered, sells fresh, unbaked 12-inch pizzas that crisp up beautifully in your home oven in about 10 minutes. Best of all, they cost just $10 and serve two, compared to the still-reasonable $9 or so personal pies at Pizza Fire.

I still love Rizzi’s bubbling, cheesy, thick-crust pizzas, and will no doubt return to them in time. But for now I’ll save a few bucks and a bunch of calories with my new fave from Earth Fare. Are there any other thin-crust pizzas I should try?

By the way, the area of Florida I visited in January is dotted with Pizza Fire-type places that proudly advertise their coal-fired ovens. Is it just me, or do other Northerners feel that “coal-fired” flavor is nothing to brag about?


From Sharon:
Have you ever used an Instant Pot? I am thinking about getting one but don’t know how useful it would be.

Dear Sharon: I haven’t but I plan to buy one soon. A fellow food writer swears by them. Mike Vrobel of Copley, who writes the popular Dad Cooks Dinner blog (see my list of favorites for the link), uses his Instant Pot as a pressure cooker to make quick after-work meals for his family. He even “baked” a cheesecake in one. l understand that the electric appliance also may be used as a rice cooker, slow cooker and steamer. They cost about $100 at discount stores.

April 13, 2017

Dear friends,

The burning question in my life since the finale of Top Chef on March 2 is how to get my hands on some of Shirley Chung’s drop-dead delicious rice pudding.

Shirley was not the winner (Brooke Williamson edged her out to become season 14 Top Chef), but Shirley’s pudding was the hit of the finale. It was Padma’s favorite dish of the evening. Tom said it was his favorite Top Chef dessert ever and may have been the best dessert he has tasted, period.

The rice pudding was ultra-creamy, not too sweet, and studded with tropical fruit and other goodies that the judges kept dredging up with their spoons. A scoop of lemon-lime “snow” that Shirley made with liquid nitrogen nestled on top of each portion.

So far neither the recipe or recipe guesstimates have been posted to the Internet. I got tired of waiting and made the pudding myself. Keep in mind that I have no clue what the ingredients are other than rice, so my pudding is definitely not Shirley’s. It is pretty good, though, and meets all the criteria: Intensely creamy — almost mousse-like – and not too sweet, with a variety of add-ins that vary in texture, flavor, temperature and even saltiness.

The add-ins: Cubes of ripe mango, cubes of frozen kiwi, salted whole cashews and sesame brittle.

I used Japanese rice for the pudding because I think it’s the best. It is sold in mainstream stores as “sushi rice,” although it is used for all purposes in Japan. The grains are plump and flavorful, a cross between long-grain and arborio. I made a standard stove-top rice pudding and chilled it until firm, then fluffed it up with a stick blender and folded in unsweetened whipped cream. Note that there is no vanilla in the recipe. The pudding doesn’t need it, and I didn’t want a dominant flavor competing with the add-ins.

All of the add-ins except the brittle are ready-made —just dice up some fruit and open a can of nuts. The sesame brittle takes a bit of time to produce but I think it’s worth it. I toasted sesame seeds and stirred them and some Asian sesame oil into melted sugar in a small saucepan, then poured it onto a buttered platter to cool. The broken shards of brittle, the fruit and the nuts are buried in each portion of rice pudding just before serving.

This dessert would be an unexpected treat after an Asian meal. It is more sophisticated and frankly tastes better than traditional Chinese rice pudding. Until Shirley coughs up her recipe, it may be the best rice pudding you’ve ever had.




3 1/2 cups milk
3/4 cup Japanese sushi rice or any firm long-grain white rice (not converted)
Pinch of salt
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup whipping cream


2 kiwi, peeled and in 1/2-inch dice
Sesame brittle (recipe follows)
12 to18 salted whole cashews
1 or 2 ripe mangos

For the pudding: Heat 1 1/2 cups of milk to a simmer in a medium-size saucepan. Stir in rice and salt. Return to a simmer. Cover and simmer very gently for about 15 minutes, until the milk has been absorbed. Stir in 1 1/2 cups more milk and the sugar. Return to a simmer and cook uncovered over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened and creamy, about 15 minutes.

While pudding simmers, microwave remaining one-half cup milk until lukewarm in a glass measuring cup. Beat in the egg with a fork. Remove pudding from heat and stir a couple tablespoons into the egg mixture, beating rapidly to prevent egg from cooking. Very slowly pour egg mixture into pudding in pan, beating constantly. Return to low heat and cook and stir for 2 minutes. Do not allow pudding to boil. Remove from heat, cover and chill.

Just before serving, beat whipping cream until stiff peaks form. With a spoon or an immersion blender, beat pudding until fluffy. Fold whipped cream into pudding.

For the add-ins: Place diced kiwi on a plate, each cube separate, and freeze uncovered overnight or until solid.

For the brittle, toast 1/4 cup sesame seeds in a dry skillet on a burner, stirring often, until golden brown. Set aside. Combine 1/2 cup sugar and 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil in a very small (2-cup) saucepan over low heat. Stir until sugar melts. Continue cooking until mixture is cinnamon-colored. Stir in sesame seeds and immediately pour onto a well-buttered platter, tilting to thin the mixture. Set aside for up to 2 days or so unless very humid. Break into bite-size pieces.

To assemble the pudding: Place two spoonfuls of pudding in the bottoms of six goblets or on-the-rocks glasses. In each glass, layer a couple of pieces of fruit, nuts and brittle with pudding between each addition. Continue until glasses are filled. Decorate tops with more add-ins. Makes six servings.


We wash rice in water to remove some of the starch before cooking, to prevent it from becoming glue-like and sticky. Rice should not be washed before using it in pudding, however; because the starches help thicken the mixture.

Another rice pudding tip: Don’t worry if rice pudding seems soupy when you remove it from the burner or oven. Like tapioca, rice requires time to soak up the liquid. The pudding will continue to thicken as it cools.


From Jenny Kuenzi:
My husband’s parents live in Pittsurgh and are turning 90 and 91 years old this month and in July. They are still runing around like they’re our age, but we prefer them not to drive the distance to our home in Green. Therefore, we are traveling to Pittsburgh on a regular basis. I would like to take a complete meal for the four of us (already prepared). What would you suggest in the way of a non-casserole and non-pasta make-a-day-ahead main dish? They like chicken, pork and beef. I realize I will need to to prepare it the day before and keep it cold in a cooler while we travel and then reheat it at their home. They do not have any dietary restrictions other than they do not like heavy cream sauces.

Dear Jenny: I have a few ideas. Big entree salads would be easy to tote — grilled and sliced steak or salmon in one container, the salad in another and dressing in a third. Add some interesting bread for a filling meal.

You’ve probably already thought of soups, but how about a Pittsburgh sandwich specialty such as meatball splash? Tote homemade meatballs, spaghetti sauce and bread, and put together the open-faced meatball sandwiches on the spot. Another idea is to grill or bake meats such as chicken breasts or pork chops, and take a topping — fruity salsa, pesto — on the side. Serve it with a room-temp vegetable such as roasted green beans with lemon, pine nuts and shaved Parmesan.

You should slightly undercook meats you plan to reheat. Cool them quickly and chill, and keep them cold during the trip to your in-laws. They are lucky to have their health — and a thoughtful cook like you.