October 12, 2017

Dear friends,

One of my favorite fall dishes is a skillet ragout of chicken and sauerkraut simmered with onions and apple cider. What if I turned the ingredients into a soup, I mused last week?

Yes, it can be done and the result is delicious. I like the slightly sour edge to this soup, which I ate for lunch, dinner and even one day for breakfast.

You’ll notice that the soup is a lovely golden yellow, due to the totally unnecessary turmeric I added for its anti-inflammatory properties. Turmeric doesn’t impart much flavor, so if you’re young and vigorous or you just don’t give a darn, you can leave it out.

By the way, you can buy big pouches of turmeric at bargain prices in the many Nepalese grocery stores that dot the North Hill area of Akron. I frequent Family Groceries at 768 N. Main St.

If you have sour cream on hand, add a dollop to each portion before serving.

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CHICKEN AND SAUERKRAUT SOUP

  • 4 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • Salt, pepper
  • 1 1/2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, in 1-inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup thin-sliced onions (halve lengthwise before slicing)
  • 2 cups apple slices
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp. turmeric
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 24 oz. sauerkraut
  • 1 lb. potatoes in 1-inch cubes (2 large potatoes)
  • 2 boxes (32 oz. each) chicken broth

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a soup pot. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Brown in oil on all sides. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil. When hot, sauté onions and apple slices over medium heat until the edges begin to brown.

Return chicken to pot. Add paprika and turmeric and stir and cook 1 minute. Add vinegar and bring to a boil. Stir in sauerkraut. Add potatoes and broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 30 to 45 minutes. Makes 8 servings.

Note: If the soup is too tart for your taste, stir in 1 tablespoon brown sugar.

 

TIDBITS

And the winner is….Hello Fresh. I haven’t tried every meal delivery kit on the market, but of the two I tried this month, I prefer Hello Fresh.

Two different friends signed me up for free three-day trials of Blue Apron, the industry leader, and Hello Fresh, and Tony and I had fun trying them out. For those who have been living under a rock, meal delivery kits are three or four day’s worth of ingredients and recipes shipped in a big box to your door. Everything is included, from tiny bottles of sesame oil to well-iced packages of fish, chicken and beef. All you have to do is follow the easy-to-use instructions for making the meals, none of which takes more than 30 minutes to assemble.

Customers may choose among offerings that change weekly. My Hello Fresh meals were spicy ground beef tacos with quick-pickled vegetables; creamy Dijon chicken with roasted green beans and oven-fried potatoes; and sesame shrimp stir fry with ginger rice and roasted green beans.

The Blue Apron meals comprised penne pasta Bolognese, crispy buttermilk catfish with sautéed kale and roast delicata squash, and chicken breasts with sweet pepper puree over ditalini with spinach and mascarpone cheese.

The meals cost about $9 per person — about $55 to $60 for three days’ worth of meals for two. Family-size subscriptions also are available. The portion sizes of both brands were more than adequate although Tony, the human anaconda, topped most of his dinners with a big bowl of ramen. I would have added more seasoning to some of the dishes, and the cooking processes  of the Blue Apron dishes seemed clunky and messy. Overall, the Hello Fresh meals seemed to be better thought out, the food better seasoned, and the recipes more interesting to my palate.

Meal kit companies are multiplying exponentially right now, leading me to wonder why local supermarkets don’t jump on the trend. The popularity of the kits proves what I’ve thought for a long time — more people would cook after work if they just had the ingredients and a recipe on hand. That’s the fun part. The hard part is figuring out what to cook, finding a recipe and drawing up a shopping list.

I’m interested in other meal-kit companies. Do you subscribe to one? If so, drop me an email.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked at home last week:
Pan-browned, oven-finished glazed pork chops with sweet soy sauce, roast eggplant with pesto, roast delicata squash and fried ripe tomato slices; peanut butter and sliced tomato on toast; egg salad; chicken and sauerkraut soup; crispy buttermilk catfish with sautéed kale and roasted delicata squash from a Blue Apron meal kit; penne pasta with beef Bolognese sauce from Blue Apron.

What I ate out last week:
Baked chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, beets and a yeast roll at the Amish Door in Wilmot; homemade potato chips, a mini shredded beef hand pie, and a coney dog with mustard and relish at Stray Dog City Tavern in Akron; dried tomato and goat cheese canapés with figs, creamy clam chowder, ham tetrazzini and sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream (wow) at my friend Joan’s; cheeseburger and fries at Five Guys.

Note: I came across Stray Dog City Tavern when I was searching for a local coney dog restaurant. It is a real find, although owner Charlie Murphy says he has owned the restaurant for a year. Before that he operated the cafe in the main Akron-Summit County Public Library in downtown Akron. He started out eight years ago with a hot dog cart, and still operates three Stray Dog carts in the area.

The restaurant is in a hip, updated space near Temple Square. The menu is pretty hip, too, with items such as scallop tacos, mussels with Guinness stout and hot dogs topped with crawfish, slaw, and Sriracha mayo. The big, all-beef dogs come a variety of ways, although none of the variations are on the menu. You have to ask.

“We make up new stuff every weekend,” Murphy says.

Two of his burgers, including his Punch In the Mouth Burger, took prizes at this year’s National Hamburger Festival downtown. Punch In the Mouth burger is topped with Cheetos, pickled jalapeños and Wrath of Dog sauce. All of Musrphy’s food, from the hot sauce to the potato chips and onion dip, is made from scratch. Check out the menu at akroncitytavern.com.

THE MAILBAG

From Susan Rainey:
No! Don’t use your Instant Pot for canning. Very bad idea.

See instantpot.com/portfolio-item/before-you-buy/

Dear Susan: Thanks so much for setting us straight. In fact, the Instant Pot may be used for boiling water bath canning but not for pressure canning, in which the pressure must reach 15 psi and the temperature must be maintained at 240 to 250 degrees. Pressure canning is mandated for low-acid foods such as meat, poultry and vegetables.

The problem is that the Instant Pot is regulated by a pressure sensor instead of a thermometer. Elevation above sea level can affect the temperature of food under pressure, so the exact temperature of the food inside the pot cannot be determined. The caution applies to other brands of pressure cookers, also.

From Deb B.:
Thanks for the interesting and helpful recipes. Would you share your recipe for apple dumplings?

Dear Deb: The apple dumplings my family makes are actually apple turnovers. If you are craving a real apple dumpling, you’d be disappointed. I have made plenty of other apple dumplings over the years for articles, though. A favorite of newsroom tasters was a pinwheel apple dumpling in a bubbling sugar syrup, an entry in a state-wide apple cooking contest. To introduce that recipe in 2003 I wrote:

“Thousands of blushing, naked apples are heaped in Ohio’s roadside markets this week, just waiting to snuggle into a warm blanket of pastry.

Have pity. Make a dumpling.”

Geez, I wish I could still write like that.

APPLE PINWHEEL DUMPLINGS

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 2/3 cup solid vegetable shortening, chilled
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 1/2 cups chopped apples

Make a syrup by combining sugar, water, cinnamon, nutmeg and butter in a saucepan. Cook and stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Set aside.

In a food processor, combine salt, flour and baking powder; pulse to mix. Cut shortening into bits and add to the flour mixture, pulsing until bits of fat are the size of peas. Drizzle in enough milk, pulsing to form a soft dough. Dough also may be made by hand by cutting the shortening into the flour mixture with a pastry blender, and tossing with a fork while adding the milk in a drizzle. Gather dough into a ball and chill.

Roll or pat dough into an 11-by-15-inch rectangle. Spread apples over dough. Beginning at a long edge, roll up jelly-roll fashion. Pinch seams to seal.

Cut pastry log into 1-inch slices. Place in a buttered, 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Pour syrup over all. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, until browned and bubbly. Serve warm with whipped cream, if desired.

Makes 12 servings.

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