June 28, 2017

Dear friends,

l grew up with Jamie, graduated high school with him, and remained close to him and his family even after our 13-year marriage ended. I didn’t expect to be making cabbage rolls for his Polish wake at age 67.

Tony declined the invitation to accompany me to my ex brother-in-law’s home Sunday, but he would have been welcome. Jamie and Tony were friendly, and my ex would stop in the restaurant to share clutches of morel mushrooms he picked each spring.

Jamie will forever be a part of my culinary history. With him I explored the restaurants of Italy, England and France. He was there when I ate my first snail, tasted my first Camembert and discovered cioppino. I remember when he cracked up a restaurant in Italy where we were the only (we thought) English speakers by too-loudly responding to my whispered confession with “How can you be off your feed when you’re doing Europe on 20,000 calories a day?”
His brother, Bill, decided on a Polish wake because it seemed the right way to celebrate Jamie’s fun, quirky personality and his heritage. Bill didn’t intend to set up a cabbage roll smack-down between me and cousin Tammy, but that just became part of the fun.

Polish sisters Bernie (Jamie’s late mother) and Sophie (absent with a broken arm) prided themselves on their cabbage rolls. The recipes were similar but not identical. Without planning to, Tammy made her mother Sophie’s recipe and I made Bernie’s for the wake. Jamie’s brothers and cousins had a good time lobbying for a cabbage roll face-off, but Tam and I called it a draw.

My ex mother-in-law taught me to make these cabbage rolls. The deep flavors belie the straightforward ingredients of cabbage, ground beef, rice and tomato juice. It is a dish made in heaven — which, if there’s justice in the universe, is where Jamie is enjoying some now.

POLISH CABBAGE ROLLS

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  • 1 large head cabbage
  • 2 1/4 lbs. ground beef
  • 1 cup white rice, cooked according to package directions
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 egg
  • Salt, pepper
  • 2 quarts tomato juice

Core cabbage, steam or boil briefly and separate into leaves. Drain.

In a bowl, combine beef, cooked rice, onion, egg, salt and pepper. Add 1 cup of the tomato juice; mix gently but thoroughly. The mixture should be very moist.

Place a mound of filling on the stem end of a cabbage leaf and roll up, tucking sides inward as you roll.

Continue with remaining filling.

Place a layer of leftover cabbage leaves on the bottom of a wide kettle. Layer stuffed rolls on top.

Combine 1 cup of the remaining tomato juice with 1/2 cup water. Pour over rolls. Cover with more cabbage leaves. Cover with a lid and gently simmer until filling is cooked and cabbage is tender, about 2 hours. Remove cabbage rolls and add remaining tomato juice to sauce in pan. Heat and pass at the table.

GUT CHECK

More than a dozen of you said you like this feature and only one said she has had enough, so I will continue. Many writers said they like to hear what I ate because it gives them ideas for meals to cook and/or restaurants to visit. I like it because it encourages me to visit different restaurants each week so I won’t seem boring, and cook meals that won’t embarrass me. But I still won’t give up Spam

What I cooked last week:
Lots and lots of cabbage rolls; avocado and soft-scrambled egg on buttered ciabatta toast; lemon-lavender pots de creme (a disaster); grilled thick hamburgers; fried left over cabbage roll stuffing mixture scrambled with an egg (desperation dinner).

What I ate at friends’ homes last week:
Minted cold pea soup, cold salmon terrine, a platter of roast fingerling potatoes with herbs, roast tomatoes and roast peaches, and apple rum cake at Raymond and Doris’; cold strawberry soup, stuffed BLT cherry tomatoes and Belgian endive with Bellinis, Korean bulgogi (tender marinated, grilled beef) in lettuce wraps, and fruit kolachy at a potluck with friends Martha, Joan and Michele; grilled hamburgers, potato salad and sugar-free raspberry pie at my brother’s; and cabbage rolls, macaroni salad, scalloped potatoes, carrot salad and carrot cake with cream cheese icing at my ex brother-in-law’s. I was a real social butterfly last week.

What I ate in restaurants last week:
A taste of Tony’s chicken pasta with diavolo sauce and half a burrito-like sandwich of warm, cheesy flatbread wrapped around sliced spicy sausage, peppers, romaine and mozzarella at Piada in West Akron; beef with broccoli and Sichuan chicken from Chin’s near Tangier in Akron; grilled double-cream gouda and roasted pineapple on toasted sourdough, tomato soup with a balsamic syrup squiggle, and diced fresh fruit at the Blue Door in Cuyahoga Falls.

TIDBITS

Piada Italian Street Food, a fast-food Italian, opened two weeks ago in the former West Point Market block in Akron’s Wallhaven area. Lines wrapped around the building the first week, a manager told me, and the place was very busy when Tony and I visited during week two.

Although I have seen some disparaging comments on Facebook, I thought the food was very good for the price. The Columbus-based chain is modeled on Chipotle, with a front counter where diners choose pasta, sandwich or salad; various sauces and toppings; and protein (sausage, fried or grilled chicken cubes, steak cubes, meatball, calamari and hot peppers, or grilled salmon). Main choices all cost about $7 to $8 plus protein, which ranges from 99 cents to $2.49. The pasta choices are angel hair carbonara, pesto or diavolo (a spicy red sauce).

I liked the wheat flatbread that serves as the sandwich wrap. It’s thin as a tortilla but tastier because it is embedded with Parmesan cheese and warmed up on a crepe griddle until the edges are crispy. I also liked that calorie counts for all of the items are printed on the menu.

The Akron Piada is the latest restaurant in the rapidly expanding chain owned by the Bravo Brio folks. The website is www.mypiada.com.

 

THE MAILBAG

From Mark:
I am SO eager to read responses to your query about local purveyors of lamb.

USDA standards defining “lamb” as opposed to “mutton” must be less stringent about the age and growth than they are in, say, New Zealand and Australia. The shrink-wrapped stuff marketed locally seems mighty long-in-the-tooth, though I guess at least one country’s standards for calling it “lamb” includes limitations on the animal’s advancement towards full adult dentition.

From Deborah:
We are searching for lamb as well. Lately, we’ve been able to purchase it at the Countryside Conservancy Farmers’ Market on Saturdays at Howe Meadow and at Acme No. 1 in very limited supply.

Dear Mark and Deborah: We must be a small club of lamb lovers, because no one else responded. Or maybe they just don’t want to tip us off to their supplier. I will continue to search. Too bad the Middle Eastern market on Graham Road in Cuyahoga Falls has become such an inconsistent source. Anyone have any Lebanese/Middle Eastern friends they can query?

As for lamb vs mutton, the USDA basically has no mandatory standards. All lamb in stores is USDA inspected for wholesomeness (freedom from disease), but grading for quality is voluntary. The quality gradings (prime, choice and good) take into account tenderness, juiciness, flavor and — but one criterion — maturity. According to the USDA, 80 percent of the U.S. lamb supply is good or choice. But I guess if you want to make sure your lamb is indeed young, you have to see it on the hoof.

From Janet C.:
I love to hear what you cooked and what you ate out. I always find new places to try.

Recent things I cooked: Stuffed shells with spaghetti sauce and sausage, Caesar salad, and brown sugar shortbread drizzled with white Belgian chocolate. I’m going to a barbecue on Sunday with friends. Taking deviled eggs with chopped jalapeños and sweet relish, a shrimp dip that I serve with Bugles, and puff pastry appetizers with cremini mushrooms, smoked gruyere and caramelized onions. I told my friends I would bring the appetizers.

I’m going to the Desert Inn in Canton for the Mid-Eastern grilled platter for our anniversary this week and to the bar at Russo’s in Cuyahoga Falls for raw oysters and the roasted garlic appetizer for my birthday. I’m going to Trump Tower in Toronto tomorrow night for my very favorite, steak tartare. I cannot find it many places in Ohio unless we drive to Cleveland. If you know of any place near Akron that serves it, please let me know.

Dear Janet: Yay, a reciprocal gut check! Thank you for sharing. You have reminded me of places to revisit and foods I want to eat.

Does anyone know of an Akron restaurant where Janet can get steak tartare?

Winner of two James Beard Awards for food writing.

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June 22, 2017

Dear friends,

No potatoes. No cabbage. No macaroni. A bag of carrots was the only fodder I had for a picnic salad to go with the ribs that were slow-smoking on the grill. “I’ll make carrot slaw,” I thought. “I bet no one has thought of that before.”

Ha! The Internet and a zillion food bloggers have ensured that every dish I dream up these days has been dreamed up before. When I Googled “carrot slaw,” I got 675,000 hits.

The way I deal with this overload is to ignore it. I create most of my recipes without looking at versions that have come before. That is the only way I can remain fresh and come up with something new tailored to (hopefully) your tastebuds and mine.

The slaw recipe was also tailored to my pantry. I had just bought a bag of walnut halves, so I toasted some in a skillet for added crunch. I found some crumbled feta in the fridge and added that, too, for little bursts of creaminess. The herbs in pots out back were ready for harvesting, so I plucked some basil and rosemary to add freshness to a mustard vinaigrette. Everything came together in a slaw that not only is unique — I think — but delicious.

Make that 675,001 hits for “carrot slaw.”

CRUNCHY-CREAMY CARROT SLAW

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  • 4 cups grated carrots (on the large holes of a box grater)
  • 1/4 cup walnut pieces
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp. chopped fresh basil
  • 1/4 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary

Grate carrots into a medium-size serving bowl. Scatter walnut pieces in a dry skillet and toast over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until nuts are golden brown. Cool, then add to carrots with feta cheese.

In a small lidded container combine olive oil, vinegar, salt, mustard, basil and rosemary. Shake well to combine. Pour about half of dressing over carrot mixture, tossing to coat evenly. Add more dressing only if needed. Season to taste with more salt. Makes about six servings.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:

Scrambled egg, ham and feta cheese on a toasted baguette with hot sauce; grill-smoked ribs with Tennessee rub and spicy barbecue sauce, carrot and toasted walnut slaw; strip steaks with wine sauce, balsamic-roasted cauliflower.

What I ate in restaurants last week:
Thai chicken salad at Panera; a Coney dog and a sugar-free country apple pie ice cream cone (1 scoop) at Boss Frosty’s in Wadsworth; soft Indian paratha bread dipped in egg, fried, and folded around curry-seasoned chicken and sautéed onions (the Frankie) at Greedy Girl Restaurant in Cleveland Heights; a BLT at Rockne’s in Fairlawn; huitlacoche spoonbread, half a Cuban sandwich and half a chorizo-sweet potato-pineapple burrito at Nuevo Modern Mexican Restaurant in downtown Akron; and a steak sandwich and excellent fries at the Canal Boat Lounge in Canal Fulton.

Note: In my defense, I couldn’t cook for a few days after I fell and injured a shoulder. I’ll be back in the kitchen soon.

THE MAILBAG

Dear friends: I know summer is dawning and you’re busy, but could you spare a minute to dash off a note? Tell me how your tomatoes are growing and whether you lost herbs last winter like I did (my thyme and tarragon mysteriously died).

Tell me where I can buy good, reasonably priced lamb, because I’m stumped.

Tell me where you go for Thai food. Tell me where I can buy naan. Tell me whether you like my
what-I-ate-last-week feature or if you’ve heard quite enough.

Basically, just write.

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June 9, 2017

Dear friends,

My husband’s citizenship and English classes finally paid off last weekend. He has been attending classes three evenings a week since February in his quest to finally become an American citizen. No, he didn’t pass his naturalization test yet (that’s scheduled for June 26); even better, we got to attend the annual English as a Second Language potluck picnic at Patterson Park in Akron on Saturday.

The spread was humongous and as diverse as I’d hoped. I hovered near a stack of San Salvadoran pupusas before the meal began, waiting for the signal to dive in. I snagged one of the corn cakes stuffed with pork and nibbled while I surveyed the other offerings. There were dishes from Nepal, Myanmar, Bhutan and Guatemala. I lfound a pot of Thai chicken curry and a big tub of Nepali chatpati, a crunchy-spicy snack with a dozen or more ingredients. Rebecca Jenkins, the ESOL coordinator, steered me to circlet of Nepali fried bread the size of an onion ring, and returned later for a sliver of Mexican tres leches (three milk) cake.

Tony’s contribution was big platters of inari sushi (pockets of sweetened tofu skin stuffed with seasoned sushi rice) and homemade tamago (a seasoned, layered omelet). I took an all-American dessert: Red, White and Blue Bread Pudding.

The pudding is assembled in five layers — three layers of custard-soaked bread cubes interleaved with a layer of blueberries and a layer of halved strawberries. I sprinkled the fruit layers with sherry for extra flavor. Although my bread pudding was way prettier than Tony’s offerings, his platters were empty when we left while only half of my pudding had been eaten. Go figure. The pudding tasted great, though, and would be a wonderful Fourth of July dessert.

The English classes, by the way, are under the aegis of Project Learn of Summit County. Even though Tony has been in this country for more than 30 years and speaks very passable English, he has been taking classes at the International Institute in Akron in preparation for the citizenship test. Sadly, his vocabulary is being rid of charming phrases such as “Project Runaway” and “pickle little” (a small cucumber). Darn it.

Here’s my bread pudding recipe:

RED, WHITE AND BLUE BREAD PUDDING

22 oz. sturdy white sandwich bread
6 tbsp. butter, melted
6 cups milk
5 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. salt
2 cups blueberries
1 cup halved or quartered strawberries, depending on size
2 tbsp. dry or medium-dry sherry

Cut bread into 1/2-inch cubes. Place in a very large bowl. Drizzle with butter, tossing to coat evenly.

In another large bowl, whisk together milk and eggs. Beat in sugar, vanilla and salt. Pour over bread cubes and let stand several minutes while you butter a 9-by-12-inch baking pan.

Ladle about one-third of the bread cube mixture into the prepared pan. Scatter blueberries over the bread cubes. Drizzle evenly with one tablespoon of the sherry. Cover evenly with another one-third of the bread cube mixture. Scatter strawberries over the bread and drizzle with remaining sherry. Top with remaining bread cubes and custard mixture.

Bake at 375 degrees for about 1 hour, or pudding is puffed and edges are brown. Makes about 8 servings.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
Rosemary crackers; deconstructed chicken stir fry with rice sticks and spicy orange sauce; red, white and blue bread pudding; thick strip steaks with red-wine sauce, an arugula and Parmesan salad with balsamic vinaigrette, and Japanese sweet potatoes.

What I ate in restaurants last week:
Stir-fry bowl of quinoa, sauteed greens with garlic, and grilled chicken in red curry at Mustard Seed in Highland Square; pesto and chicken pizza at Pizza Fire in Montrose; pupusas, coconut curry, chatpati, tres leches cake and more at the Project Learn picnic; eggs, bacon, grits and toast at Tony’s favorite restaurant, Bob Evans.
THE MAILBAG

From Kathi: Re: Removing the back bone from the chicken when you spatchcock. I always cut up both sides with heavy-duty poultry shears, but I never discard it; it goes into the big resealable freezer bag that lives in the freezer, where I stash all the wing tips, necks and fat globs pulled off the cavity. When the bag is full, it becomes stock.

Dear Kathi: Geez, you’e organized. You have shamed me into starting my own frozen-chicken-parts bag.

From Debbie: You can get the Korean dish bi bim bap at Sung’s Restaurant at Playhouse Square in Cleveland. I think it’s $13. I always get the egg over easy so the yolk runs down into the rice. You can get it with chicken, beef or tofu.

From Tom: I just saw the tip about the Columbus restaurant offering dol sot bi bim bap. While I will be putting this place on my list for the next time I visit Columbus, I wanted to let you know there is a very good version of dol sot bi bim bap at Seoul Garden on State Road in Cuyahoga Falls. Actually, all of the Korean food is pretty darn tasty there.

By the way, the spicy “sauce” the gentleman mentioned that you drizzle onto your bi bim bap is usually a combination of gochujang, rice wine vinegar, and I’m guessing probably a little sugar. Happy eating!

Dear Debbie and Tom: Thanks for the closer-to-home recommendations. I am not crazy about many Korean dishes (I loathe kimchi), but I will give bi bim bap another try. Gochujang, for the uninitiated, is Korean fermented hot chili paste.

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June 1, 2017

Dear friends,

I am afflicted with food obsessions. I have written about my ongoing watermelon obsession, triggered by a contestant on Jeopardy! who told Alex she eats a watermelon a day (I do not approach her consumption level). I also used to have a peanut butter obsession that began when a doctor lamented in his newspaper health column that he ate too much peanut butter. “Heyyy,” my subconscious apparently thought, “here’s something I can get into.”

My new obsession is rosemary crackers. I thought I could tame the itch simply by avoiding Big Lots, where I discovered the phenomenal Sfiziosi Il Grano D’Oro Di Puglia — loosely translated, the golden wheat crackers of Puglia, the latter a region of Italy where the product is made.

The chubby little square crackers are made with semolina flour, white wine, olive oil, rosemary and other good stuff that produces a texture like no other — kind of sandy like shortbread, but with a satisfying crunch.

I had this obsession tamed by avoidance until I saw a bag of semolina flour at Acme. Then the rosemary I planted last month started shooting up like crazy. I had already read the list of ingredients on the bag of crackers. The recipe slowly came together in my mind.

I baked three batches of the crackers, tinkering with ingredient amounts to adjust the texture and intensify the rosemary flavor. The second batch tasted exactly like rosemary shortbread sans sugar, and I can see it as a crust for, say, quiche. Maybe later. The third batch was close, and that’s the recipe I am sharing. Although the crackers are delicious, I hope that consuming about 50 of them in two days(Tony ate the rest) has cured my rosemary-cracker obsession. Now onto Popsicles.

CHUBBY ROSEMARY CRACKERS
Chubby Rosemary Crackers.jpg
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup semolina flour
  • 1 tbsp. finely minced fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 6 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/4 cup (or more) white wine

Measure flours into the bowl of a food processor. Add rosemary and salt and pulse several times to mix. With the motor running, drizzle the olive oil into the feed tube. Begin adding the wine is a thin stream, stopping when the dough forms one big clump. You may not need all of the wine, or you may need more.

Pat dough evenly into a 9-inch-square baking pan lined with parchment paper. With a sharp knife, cut into six strips in each direction to produce squares. Do not cut through to the parchment paper. Prick each square once with a fork.

Bake at 400 degrees for about 35 minutes, or until the top begins to turn golden brown. Remove from oven and slide parchment and dough onto a cutting board. Cool 10 minutes, then remove paper and cut again to separate the squares. Cool completely before storing in a sealed plastic bag. Makes about 36 crackers.

 

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
Baked chicken and rotini with three cheeses in a creamy tomato sauce; Italian sausage sandwiches, asparagus in balsamic vinaigrette and fried ripe plantains, and rosemary crackers.

What I ate in restaurants last week:
A big salad with grilled chicken and spicy pineapple salsa at On Tap; sushi, a chicken stir fry and crystal shrimp at Katana’s Buffet in Jackson Township; a ham sub from Subway; California roll and tuna nigiri from the still-fabulous Sushi Katsu in Akron; chicken fattoush salad at Continental Cuisine in Fairlawn; 1/2 Coney dog and 1/2 pulled pork sandwich at Boss Frosty’s in Wadsworth (Tony ate the other halves plus a ham and plantain panini); thin-crust pepperoni pizza from Earth Fare, and ribs and hush puppies from Old Carolina Barbecue.

TIDBITS

These Gut Check lists are showing me that (1) I am just plain lazy and (2) I’m cheap, because none of my restaurant meals cost more than $20 last week. I have GOT to get out more. And cook more. Alas, I’ll probably never again have string of exciting meals in fancy restaurants because the expense account is gone. But I will try to add some variety.

As predicted, Tony dragged me to Katana’s again for the all-you-can-eat buffet.This time, the food was horrible. The sushi, which Tony liked last time, tasted like it had been left over from lunch or the evening before because the rice was so dry it was crunchy. The buffet items did not taste fresh, like last time. Even the custom stir-fried chicken and vegetables I had was dull and one-note. Dark-brown chopped garlic, soy sauce and hot pepper sauce were the only seasonings offered. “Do you have sesame oil?” I asked the chef. “What’s that?” he countered.
Nevermind.

Maybe the lesson is to go later in the evening on a busy night, after any leftovers are depleted and the steam tables are restocked with fresh items. Or just go down the street to Bombay Sitar.

THE MAILBAG

From Heidi:
I started to spatchcock chickens after indexing the Tony Rosenfeld book, 150 Things to Make with Roast Chicken (and 50 Ways to Roast It). His method is to sear the chicken skin side down in a hot pan and then pop the pan in the oven. But I have also grilled them. Such a satisfying way to cook a chicken!Dear Heidi: Yes, it is. And if you sear the chicken in a pan with weights on top (use a smaller lid and place a foil-wrapped brick or canned goods on the lid), you have the classic Italian Chicken Under a Brick. I forgot to mention that using poultry or kitchen scissors makes the job of cutting the chicken up the back very easy. Also, some cooks cut the chicken on both sides of the backbone and discard that bony piece before cooking.
From Mark:
We rendezvous with Columbus friends at Akai Hana for dinner or lunch on our weekend trips. I’m so happy to see the grocery (Tensuke) receive your high praise.Dear Mark: Tony and I haven’t tried the more upscale Akai Hana, which is part of the Japanese restaurant and retail collection, all in the same Columbus plaza and all jointly owned. There’s also a bakery I want to visit when my willpower is in peak form. The Japanese have a long tradition of making incredibly beautiful and delicious sweets.
From Mike:
I just read your newsletter about the Japanese market in Columbus. My daughter just graduated from The Ohio State University and still lives in Columbus for now. Often when we visit, we go to Japanese Oriental Restaurant on High Street a little north of campus. The name of the restaurant is a bit of a misnomer. I believe the owners are actually Korean and the menu has a majority of Korean items but also sushi and other Asian selections. But the best thing we have found is the Bi Bim Bap — particularly the one known as “Dol Sat.”A super-hot stone bowl arrives at the table with rice on the bottom and layers of meat and vegetables and a fried egg on top. You are given a hot sauce to add. All the items continue to cook and sizzle in the hot bowl. Everything is sort of stirred together but the best thing is leaving some of the rice at the bottom of the bowl because by the end it has become crispy and needs to be chipped off with a metal spoon given to you for that very purpose. It is awesome! The restaurant has a website, japaneseoriental.com, where the menu may be viewed.Dear Mike: I have had Korean Bi Bim Bap but not like this. I can’t wait to try it. Thank you so much for sharing your find.

 

Please note: If your email address changes, you must re-subscribe to my newsletter in order to continue receiving it. We are unable to change the address for you in  our email list. The procedure is easy. Just click on the “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of a newsletter. Then go to  www.janesnowtoday.com, to sign up under your new address. Thank you.

Please tell your friends about my blog site (https://janesnowtoday.wordpress.com/), where you can find not only each week’s newsletter but archives of past newsletters.