September 29, 2017

Dear friends,

The first serious cookbook I bought was “The New York Times Cook Book” by Craig Claiborne. I still use it whenever I want to make paella, chicken satay, country pate or mushroom bisque.

None of those life-altering recipes made it into the latest Times cookbook, described by the publisher as “All the best recipes from 150 years of distinguished food journalism.” I’m a fan of the book anyway, as are many others — it won a James Beard Award after it was published in 2014.

Yes, I’m dishing up old news. I admit that here in my cozy retirement backwater of Copley, Ohio, I did not hear of the book until two weeks ago, when a discount-book service, BookBub, offered the e-book version for a couple of bucks.

The full name of the book is “The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century.” Editor Amanda Hesser, a former Times food writer, tested each of the 1,104 recipes in the book, along with many more that didn’t make the cut.
Unlike Claiborne’s Times cookbook, which covered just a decade, this one draws on recipes from 150 years.

This is not a food history book, although Hesser prefaces each chapter with a delightful timeline of a food’s progression through the newspaper’s pages. Hesser chose recipes that remain vibrant and enticing no matter the age. The recipe I tried, for Spicy New England Pot Roast, is from 1972, and it wears its age well. I can’t wait to try a legion of other recipes, from Hot Cheese Olives (baked olives in cheese pastry) to Pumpkin Black Bean Soup.

Although I already have a pot roast recipe I love, I will make this new recipe again because it is almost as delicious as mine. The spicy pot roast recipe has a strange list ingredients — cranberry sauce, horseradish, cloves, a cinnamon stick — that come together to produce a slightly sweet, richly-flavored gravy. Hesser writes, “I wouldn’t call this spicy — the horseradish mellows — but it’s certainly flush with candid warming flavors like bacon, cinnamon and cranberries.”

Well, I would call it spicy — not in the spicy-hot sense, but in the full-of-spices sense. It is fall-worthy and absolutely delicious.

SPICY NEW ENGLAND POT ROAST

  • 3 tbsp. flour
  • 2 tsp, salt
  • 1/4 tsp fresh-ground black pepper
  • 1 (4 lb.) boned and tied beef arm, blade or bottom round roast
  • 3 tbsp. bacon drippings or vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated horseradish or drained prepared horseradish (4-oz. jar)
  • 1 cup whole-berry cranberry sauce
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken in two
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 16 small white onions
  • 1 bunch carrots, peeled and cut into 3-inch lengths
Mix the flour with the salt and pepper. Dredge the meat in the flour, rubbing it into all surfaces.

Heat the drippings in a Dutch oven or other heavy casserole and brown the meat very well on all sides over high heat. Pour off the drippings into a skillet and reserve.

Mix together the horseradish, cranberry sauce, cinnamon, cloves and broth and add to the meat. Bring the mixture to a boil, cover tightly and simmer gently for about 2 hours, or until the meat is barely tender.

Meanwhile brown the onions in the reserved drippings in the skillet. Add the carrots and cook 2 minutes longer. Remove from heat. When the meat is barely tender, use a slotted spoon to add the onions and carrots. Cover and cook for about 15 minutes longer, or until the vegetables and meat are tender. Serves 8.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
Three batches of pesto; ricotta cheese, sliced tomato and a fried egg on wheat-nut toast; cherry tomato and goat cheese clafoutis; grilled sockeye salmon, oven-roasted peppers, eggplant, cherry tomatoes and zucchini tossed with baby kale, vinaigrette and sea salt.

What I ate out last week:
Cream of wheat and a hardboiled egg, two bites of meat loaf, desiccated fruit cup and tomato soup, and an egg salad sandwich and vegetable soup, all as a patient at St. Thomas Hospital in Akron; tuna salad plate with cottage cheese and hard-cooked egg at Village Gardens restaurant in Cuyahoga falls; an Italian sausage sandwich with onions, peppers and marinara sauce at the Mum Festival in Barberton.

Note: Tony cooked a lot last week while I recuperated from shoulder replacement surgery on the 18th.  He made a shrimp stir fry, grilled salmon, spicy shrimp rice bowl and an amazing miso chicken and vegetable soup. You’ll note that I cooked a good bit, too, which should tell you that the recovery is going great. This week I was gifted with three days of mail-order meal kits, which I am going to spring on Tony. We’ll see if he can restrain himself from adding soy sauce to everything. I’ll report back next week.

THE MAILBAG

From Dona:
This question is not a joke. How can you tell when buttermilk has gone bad, in other words, gone sour? I never seem to use the entire carton in a reasonable time.

Dear Dona: Good question. For the answer, I turned to the folks at Cook’s Illustrated, who once went to great lengths to figure that out for a magazine article. The short answer: Buttermilk is good for about three weeks after opening the carton. You’ll know you’ve passed the limit when the milk begins producing blue-green mold.

Buttermilk lasts longer than regular milk because it contains lactic acid, which acts as a preservative, according to Cook’s. The flavor becomes less buttery as it ages, although the tang remains and even intensifies. Luckily, buttermilk freezes well, so there’s no need to toss out your leftovers.

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September 20, 2017

Dear friends,

Imagine toasted butternut squash ravioli with a warm ricotta-Parmesan-sage dip. Keep on imagining, because I didn’t get around to creating that recipe last week. Maybe someday. I’ve been so busy (or lazy maybe) I instead splashed the ravioli with brown butter and topped them with frizzled prosciutto and fried sage.

You may already know how to make this classic dish, but I’m going to tell you anyway. For a dish so simple— it has just four ingredients — it sure tastes spectacular. Of course, you could turn it into a day-long project by roasting and pureeing the squash, making the pasta, and stuffing it with the butternut puree. But let’s not. I bought excellent butternut ravioli at Sam’s Club and spotted some the next day at Whole Foods. I’m sure Earth Fare carries them, too, and regular supermarkets may as well.

With that out of the way, all you have to do is brown some butter and fry some prosciutto and sage leaves. Seriously, this dinner almost qualifies as fast food.

A word about browning butter: You should barely sizzle it until the solids drop to the bottom of the pan and turn brown. The butter itself will look brown, but the toasted solids are what actually give it color. If you don’t pay attention, the solids will go from golden brown to black and the flavor will be ruined. Use a shiny pan so you can see the solids turning brown, and stand over the pan while the butter heats.

Frying fresh sage is easy; telling when it’s done is not. If the leaf turns brown, it is overcooked. You might have to sacrifice one or two leaves before you can tell just when to remove them from the oil. The leaves will shrink and ruffle a bit, but the centers will still look greenish and pliable. As they drain and cool on paper towels, they will crisp up.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH RAVIOLI WITH PROSCIUTTO AND SAGE

  • 10 tbsp. butter
  • 20 large sage leaves
  • 4 oz. paper-thin slices of prosciutto
  • 1 package (18 oz.) uncooked, refrigerated butternut squash ravioli
  • Coarse sea salt, fresh-ground pepper
Put a large pot of salted water on to boil.

In a medium skillet, heat 2 tablespoons butter until melted and sizzling. Fry sage leaves, a few at a time, over medium-high heat until they begin to shrink and look crisp. Transfer to paper towels. In same skillet, fry prosciutto slices in batches until they shrink slightly and begin to pucker. Drain on paper towels.

In a small shiny pan, melt remaining 8 tablespoons of butter over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally with a rubber spatula. Continue to heat and stir until the butter turns golden brown. Do not allow the solids that drop to the bottom of the pan to burn. Remove from heat.

Drop ravioli into boiling water and cook according to package directions, about 5 minutes for al dente. Drain. Divide ravioli among four shallow bowls. Pour brown butter over pasta and top with the sage and prosciutto. Season to taste with a pinch of the salt and some pepper. Makes 4 servings.

GUT CHECK

What I ate out last week:

Baked lemon chicken breast, mashed potatoes at St. Thomas Hospital cafeteria in Akron; wedge salad with white French dressing, filet mignon, sautéed spinach with garlic at Wise Guys in Akron; potato samosa, chicken vindaloo, curried chickpeas, basmati rice at Whole Foods 365 in Akron; thin-crust vegetable pizza from Earth Fare; cheeseburger Happy Meal from McDonald’s.

What I cooked at home last week:
Pressure-cooker venison pot roast (awful; first attempt at pressure cooking); Spicy New England Pot Roast with carrots and onions (great); chocolate pudding; raspberry sugar-free gelatin;  grilled t-bone steaks, baked potatoes.

 

TIDBITS

For my birthday Tony took me to Wise Guys restaurant in the North Hill area of Akron. A friend had recommended it for steak and I’m glad she did.

I had eaten there several times when the restaurant was Nick Anthe’s, the latest about eight years ago with a friend, Joe Crea, the former food editor of the Plain Dealer. He was reviewing, I was eating — an alternate universe kind of situation for me. Even then the restaurant was a throwback to another era of crystal chandeliers, thick carpeting, polished woodwork and a menu of steaks, chicken picatta, Caesar salad and the like.

After it closed, gunsmith Tom Procaccio drove by the empty restaurant for two years before he rescued the landmark from oblivion.

“I just couldn’t stand seeing it sit there empty,” Procaccio says.

For never having owned a restaurant before, Procaccio has done a commendable job. He freshened the restaurant while keeping the best elements of the grand old Akron restaurant tradition — the cushy decor, special-occasion menu and a kitchen that has a way with steaks.

While the small filet I had was fine, I hear the ribeye is the bomb. At 22 ounces it is way too large for me, but I’ll coax Tony into ordering it the next time we go. I loved a side dish of garlicky, almost creamy sautéed spinach, and the white French dressing on a wedge salad was spot on.

Check out the menu at  wiseguys.us. Then visit one evening after a trying day, when all you want to do is sink into a booth, snap open a snowy white napkin and immerse yourself in some culinary deja vu.

TIDBITS II

It’s autumn to most people, but to me it’s Asian pear season. I’ve already eaten a half dozen of the crisp fruit, and that’s only the beginning. I got a whole boxful last weekend at Weymouth Farms and Orchard in the southern reaches of Hinckley, the epicenter of Asian pear deliciousness as far as I’m concerned.

Brenda and Paul, the proprietors, have branched out (no pun intended) the last few years to apples and grapes for wine making, Paul’s latest passion, but the pears are what keep me coming back. Wow. They are crisp but unreasonably juicy. I will have no trouble polishing off that case.

The various varieties are ripening and selling quickly this year, Brenda notes, so if you want some, visit soon. For details, see www.weymouthfarms.com.

THE MAILBAG

Dear readers: Somehow I lost several of your emails. I remember the gist of one of them and will reconstruct it below. If you sent me an email question or comment that I haven’t printed or responded to, please send it again if you have time. Thanks.

Q: You used a “dry white wine” in a recipe recently. What kind of wine do you buy?

A: All kinds, but usually a brut Champagne. I don’t buy any wine specifically for cooking unless I’m making a dish such as boeuf Bourguignon that uses an entire bottle. I can rarely polish off a bottle myself anymore, so I usually have leftover wine on hand for cooking. When I used to drink every bottle to the dregs, I would keep a bottle of white vermouth in the cabinet for recipes that called for less than a cup of white wine. Vermouth is a fortified wine (sugar is added), so it keeps for a long time.

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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 click here to sign up under your new address. Thank you.

September 11, 2017

Dear friends,

I returned home from vacation to a garden that looks basically the same as before I left. The carrots are still an inch long. The eggplants are still barren. Two dainty yellow squash hide beneath the leaves of tidy little plants.

Guys, you had a “Home Alone” moment and you blew it? I was gone almost a month and nobody went wild?

The only bright spot was the tomatoes, which produced about 10 nice red and yellow globes ripe for eating. That’s not a great harvest for 12 plants, but it is more than Tony and I can eat before they spoil, so I had to get creative.

After a couple rounds of tomato sandwiches and sliced tomatoes with Japanese mayo and hot sauce (Tony’s idea), I tried to think of different ways to serve sliced tomatoes. The result of my brainstorming was a comforting casserole of tomato slices layered with garlic-Parmesan bread pudding. I added a scant bit of minced fresh rosemary because my potted specimen outperformed all the other herbs this year.

This casserole would be great to take to a pot luck because it looks enticing and actually improves in flavor and texture with standing. When hot from the oven it is a bit soupy. It firms up as it cools, and the flavors also mellow. I enjoyed it both at room temperature and cold. I served it as a side dish at dinner and the main event at lunch the next day. I even snuck a piece for breakfast, telling myself that eggs, bread and milk are proper morning foods.

Different colors of tomatoes make for a gorgeous casserole.

BAKED TOMATOES IN GARLIC-PARMESAN BREAD PUDDING

Image
  • 4 cups milk (I used skim)
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped garlic
  • 8 cups stale bread cubes, about 1-inch square
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 16 medium-large tomato slices, 1/4-inch thick
  • 1 tsp. minced fresh rosemary
Preheat oven to 375 degrees and oil a 9-by-13-inch pan with vegetable oil spray.

Combine milk and garlic in a 2-quart saucepan. Bring just to a boil. Remove from heat, cover and let steep for 30 minutes. Uncover and remove garlic with a slotted spoon or by straining. Cool milk to room temperature.

Place bread cubes in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, beat eggs with one-half cup Parmesan and salt. Whisk steeped milk into the egg mixture. Pour over bread cubes, pressing down with a spoon to soak all of the cubes. Let stand for 10 to 15 minutes.

Spread a single layer of soaked bread cubes in the prepared pan. Place 8 tomato slices over the bread. Sprinkle with half the rosemary. Top with remaining bread cubes and any milk mixture left in the bowl. Arrange remaining tomato slices on top. Sprinkle with the remaining rosemary and 2 tablespoons Parmesan.

Bake at 375 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes, until top just starts to puff. Remove from oven and cool to room temperature before cutting into squares. Makes 8 servings.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
Sliced tomatoes with homemade pesto; grilled steak salad, corn on the cob; sliced baked tomatoes with garlic-Parmesan bread pudding, mustard-glazed hamburgers with grilled onion slices.

What I ate out last week:
Pork tamales at a farmers’ market in Canon City, Colo.; cold ramen noodle salad with tempura shrimp at Tensuke Express in Columbus; Hawaiian pizza (yes, pineapple on pizza) from Rizzi’s Pizza in Copley; a hot dog with mustard and relish from a sidewalk vendor in Cleveland.

Note: Ham and pineapple pizza is Tony’s favorite (we alternate picks), but truthfully, I’ve come to like it.

THE MAILBAG

From Peggy Schaefer:
Ages ago (maybe 6 years?) you had a recipe for Crockpot Ribs. They were easy to make, no cleanup to speak of, and absolutely DELISH!!!! I have gone through all of my recipes and cannot find it. I’m hoping that you will be able to come up with this recipe.

Dear Peggy: I searched my past columns without success. It doesn’t sound like the kind of recipe I’d run, since I’m pretty much a barbecued rib purist (charcoal grill, low and slow). But if I did offer such a recipe, it would have come from my favorite slow cooker book, “Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook” by Beth Hensperger. Here is her honey barbecue version, which she calls “ridiculously simple and splendidly delicious.”

HONEY BARBECUE PORK RIBS

  • 4 lbs. pork spareribs or baby back ribs, cut into 3- or
  • 4-rib serving pieces
  • 1 yellow onion, sliced
  • 1 bottle (16 oz.) prepared barbecue sauce
  • 1/2 cup mild-flavored honey

Arrange ribs and onions in the slow cooker in alternating layers. Combine barbecue sauce and honey in a medium-size bowl and mix until smooth. Spoon over the ribs. If you have a round slow cooker, spoon the sauce between the layers, too. Cover and cook on low until tender and the meat starts to separate from the bone, 8 to 9 hours.

Transfer ribs to a platter. Serve any extra sauce remaining in the pot in a bowl on the side. Serves 4 to 6.

From Kelly:
I want to try a recipe for Spanish Style Ribs with Salsa Verde I got from the Beacon Journal. Any idea if the Spanish paprika mentioned is actually smoked paprika? The recipe wasn’t clear whether it was or not. I tried to do an Internet search and got nowhere.

Regarding your search for locally sourced meat, we belong to a CSA run by Jason Bindel of Bindel Farms in Spencer. We get chickens and eggs as part of our CSA share plus a turkey at Thanksgiving. It’s a bit of a drive but this fall will be the third hog we have gotten from Jason, who raises heritage bred Tamworth pigs. If you haven’t tried heritage pork, you need to. You won’t be buying any commercial pork anymore. That’s bland and full of who knows what compared to heritage bred pork. Giant Eagle Marketplace in Green and Cuyahoga Falls carry heritage Berkshire pork if you want to try it. Thats where I go if I run out before our Bindel pork is ready.

Also, this fall will be our third time getting a half a cow from Mark Roesner at Copley Feed & Supply. We’ve been very happy with the beef. There’s nothing better than having cows raised locally under humane conditions and almost organic. We’ve been healthier since we buy meat from local farmers.

Dear Kelly: I hope you don’t mind that I shared so much of your letter, but the information will be of interest to a lot of people. Regarding Spanish paprika, I’m pretty sure your recipe is calling for smoked paprika. The spice stores I called carry only smoked in the Spanish paprika. My research tells me that smoking is the standard way peppers for paprika are processed in Spain.

From Sue M.:
This is probably a stupid question and I’ve been cooking for more years than you’ve been alive BUT how long can you keep a cooked chicken in the fridge? I love to buy a whole chicken to roast and have leftovers for more meals. There are just the two of us. I know I can freeze the leftovers but I don’t always like the taste of frozen cooked meat. And we don’t seem to eat as much as we used to. So if I make chicken salad the day after the roast chicken, when should I toss it? I have a friend who keeps food forever and hasn’t killed anyone yet. I always think I toss it too quickly. So, you’re the expert, what do you do?

Dear Sue: The standard line from food-safety types is to keep cooked poultry for no longer than four days in the refrigerator. I sometimes fudge that by a day if the chicken still smells fresh. Providing the cooked chicken has been kept cold (below 40 degrees) at all times, the food-safety danger is not from bacteria but from spoilage — essentially, age. Scientists I’ve interviewed in the past have said rotting food, as unappetizing as that sounds, is not as much of a health hazard as bacteria-infected food.

In sum, if you want to be very safe (if a member of your household has a compromised immune system, for example), keep cooked poultry cold and pitch it after four days. Otherwise, rely on your nose and common sense.

From Sue W.:
Regarding your question on where to buy high-quality seafood: Earthfare has good, fresh seafood. It’s the only place I will buy it other than Bay Lobster.

From Sue B.:
Costco sells great fish — yes, in quantity but I separate, label and date the package.

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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 click here to sign up under your new address. Thank you.