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.

 

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