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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