January 17, 2018

Dear friends,

Temperatures dipped here to the low 60s last weekend, so hearty cooking was on my mind. I know I won’t get much sympathy from friends back in Ohio, where half-inch-thick ice encased cars, porch steps and anyone foolish enough to stand still for long.

In Okeechobee, Fla., where Tony and I are camping, the cold snap meant wearing my Fiona the hippo sweatshirt in the mornings and foregoing the swimming pool for a couple of days. Tough life.

I warmed up our camper one day with a seasoned roast bubbling in the slow cooker. Later I shredded the meat and layered it in a casserole with cheese, black olives, green onions and salsa. I baked the casserole — actually, I had enough for two — and scooped the gooey, meaty mixture into warm flour tortillas.

Making the filling this way and having diners scoop and roll their own tortillas is an easy way to make burritos for a crowd. I baked one pan of filling and froze one for later, but you could assemble the casserole in an oblong cake pan for one big batch of burritos if you are feeding a crowd.

Sorry to write and run, but I gotta go — the pool is calling. Don’t hate.

 

FRESH BAKED
SHREDDED BEEF BURRITOS:
• 2 lbs. boneless chuck roast, trimmed of fat

• 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
• 1 tsp. ground cumin
• Salt, pepper

CASSEROLE:
• 1 can (15 oz.) fat-free refried beans
• 2/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
• 1 cup chopped green onion
• 1 can (5.5 oz.) sliced black olives, drained
• 2 cups (or to taste) chunky salsa
• 2 cups shredded Monterey Jack and Colby mixed cheese

For the beef, up to two days in advance: Place roast in a baking pan and rub all over with the cayenne, cumin, salt and pepper. Add enough water to come halfway up sides of roast. Cover tightly with foil. Bake in a preheated, 350-degree oven for about 3 hours, or until very tender.

 Remove foil and cool slightly, then shred meat with two forks. Season well with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

For the casserole: Spread 1/2 can of refried beans in the bottoms of two 9-inch-square baking pans. Top evenly with the feta cheese. Spread a half-cup chopped onion in each pan, then the black olives. Divide meat between the two pans. Top each with 1 cup of the salsa and 1 cup of the shredded cheese. Cover tightly with a double layer of foil.

Casseroles may be cooked immediately, refrigerated for up to two days, or frozen. If not frozen, bake uncovered at 400 degrees for 40 minutes or until heated through.

Or freeze one or both for up to 6 months. Bake frozen casserole at 400 degrees for 45 minutes, then uncover and bake 30 minutes longer or until hot all the way through.

To serve, scoop spoonfuls of the casserole into warm flour tortillas. Pass hot sauce at the table if desired. Each casserole makes 6 burritos.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Yellow rice with Cuban black beans, sausages and fried local peppers.

What I ate in restaurants last week:
Marinated, roasted and shredded Cuban pork, yellow rice and black beans, fried ripe plantains and yuca fries with garlic dipping sauce at El Cubanito in Port St. Lucie, Fla.; two hamburger Happy Meals with fries on two trips to McDonald’s; a great chicken and sautéed onion taco with cilantro at a food truck in Indiantown, Fla.; a breaded pork cutlet sandwich at Pogey’s Family Restaurant in Okeechobee, Fla.; liver and onions, mashed potatoes and gravy at Lakeside Family Restaurant in Okeechobee; a sausage-egg burrito and coffee at McDonald’s.

Note: McDonald’s is the only place near my campground where I can access wifi. Hence the breakfasts and Happy Meals. I did get a really cool pair of cartoon cat glasses with one Happy Meal, which made it all worthwhile.

THE MAILBAG

From Chris O., Charlotte, N.C.:
Regarding your search for Cuban food, I’ve always heard people rave about red beans and rice, but I’ve never had any. It sounds simple to make, but what makes Cuban red beans and rice so good? Are they different from New Orleans’ recipe?

 

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Dear Chris:
The seasonings are entirely different. In addition, New Orleans red beans and rice is spicy hot; the Cuban version is not. I like them both. My real fave, though, is Cuban black beans. They are long-cooked, deeply flavored, and dumped over white rice at the table.

BLACK BEANS AND RICE
• 1/2 lb. dried black beans
• 1 1/2 quarts water
• 2 large onions, chopped
• 1 green pepper, chopped
• 4 cloves garlic, chopped
• 1/2 cup olive oil
• 1 tbsp. salt
• 1 oz. bacon
• 1/4 lb. ham bone
• 2 tbsp. oregano
• 3 bay leaves
• 1/2 cup vinegar
• Cooked white or yellow rice
• Chopped onion for garnish (optional)

Wash and sort beans. Cover with water by 2 inches and soak overnight. Or bring to a boil, remove from heat and let stand 2 hours.

Drain beans. In a skillet, fry onion, green pepper and garlic in olive oil until tender. Add to beans along with the 1 1/2 quarts water, salt, bacon, ham bone, oregano and bay leaves. Cook over low heat until beans are tender and of a thick consistency, about 2 to 3 hours. Add vinegar a few minutes before serving. Serve over rice, topped with raw chopped onion.

From Pat S., Hudson:
Regarding popovers, when I lived in Great Britain I think I saw them add meat drippings to the muffin tin (at least a half inch), then heated the tin and then added the dough Maybe that’s why they didn’t stick. I’ve also seen Yorkshire pudding made in a large cast iron skillet; it looks like a Dutch baby when it’s done. Just some thoughts. Thanks for all your good info and recipes.

Dear Pat:
I’m getting the idea that the more fat, the better. My popovers released from the pan after I let them cool for about 5 minutes, but they still required a bit of prying. Maybe Anne K., below, has the answer.

From Anne K.:
I really have to disagree with most of what you wrote about popovers. I have been making them for 50 years. I would suggest watching the Barefoot Contessa’s popover video. She has it exactly right. Popovers fall out of the pans if properly greased.

Dear Anne:
I am far from an expert popover maker, and am glad for any help I can get. I watched the video you mentioned (others should Google “barefoot contessa popovers youtube”), and Ina Garten’s recipe and method are similar to the one I tried — and failed with — the first time. There are some differences. She says to heat the muffin or popover tin for exactly two minutes, and to bake the popovers at 425 degrees for exactly 30 minutes. She stirs the batter until smooth, unlike the stir-to-moisten technique I followed on my second,  more successful attempt. Her popovers turned out high and fluffy. I will try Garten’s recipe the next time.

Interesting fact I picked up while researching Garten’s method: Before switching careers and becoming the Barefoot Contessa, she was a nuclear policy analyst in the Nixon administration.

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January 10, 2018

Dear friends,

What the heck?! I have made gorgeous, puffy soufflés, cream puffs that rise like clouds and gougere that are crisp and hollow. I thought I knew a thing or two about pastries and air when I settled on soup and popovers for lunch with friends.

What a letdown when my popovers stubbornly refused to rise. We ate them anyway, although they were dense and eggy, and we had to pry them from the pan with knives and spoons. Ugh.

I couldn’t let popovers defeat me. In the coming days I read everything I could about the pastries, which are supposed to rise high above the pan until they’re crunchy outside and mostly hollow inside.

I had thought beating the batter well was the key. In fact, my recipe said to beat the batter until smooth. Not true. Popover batter should be treated like muffin or scone batter, and stirred gently just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Otherwise, it will not rise.

I picked up many other tips, too, such as warming the milk and heating the pan to encourage the rise. I also learned that popovers are not just muffin-shaped cream puffs, which was kind of what I imagined. They are the American cousins of British Yorkshire pudding, and are eggy and denser than cream puffs, and only partially hollow.

Here’s the gist of what I learned to make my popovers pop:

•  Warm the milk and have eggs at room temperature.
•  Heat the muffin tin before adding the batter.
•  Do not beat in flour until smooth. Stir it gently, just enough to moisten the flour but leaving some lumps.
• The popovers will stick to the pan no matter how well you grease it. Have patience. After they cool about five minutes, they are easier to remove from the pan.

Popovers are good warm or at room temperatures, plain or with butter or jam. Tony and I ate them with soup for supper and the next morning with marmalade and tea.

POPOVERS

Popovers

 

• 3 eggs, at room temperature
• 1 1/4 cups milk
• 1 1/4 cups flour
• 1/2 tsp. salt
• Neutral oil such as Canola

Place a 12-cup muffin tin in the oven while preheating to 450 degrees.

Beat eggs in a medium-size bowl, preferably one with a handle and spout. Warm milk in a microwave to about 100 degrees, not to a boil. Slowly whisk milk into eggs, beating well.

Combine flour and salt and add to egg mixture. With a spoon, stir just enough to moisten flour. Do not over mix. A few lumps are OK.

Remove muffin tin from oven and brush liberally with oil. Fill cups two-thirds full of batter. Bake at 450 degrees for 12 minutes. Without opening oven door, reduce heat to 350 and continue baking for 15 to 20 minutes, or until batter is puffed and beginning to brown.

Cool five minutes in pan before releasing the edges with a sharp knife and removing popovers. Eat plain, with butter or with jam. Makes 12.

HELP U COOK
Room-temperature or warm eggs are called for in many recipes  — often because egg whites whip to a greater volume when warmed. If you forget to remove eggs from the refrigerator in time to warm them to room temperature, just submerge the whole eggs in warm tap water until the shells feel warm. This will probably sound stupidly self-evident to some people, but others may have struggled for years until they learned this. Count me among the latter.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked at home last week:
Pan-grilled strip steaks, baked sweet potatoes.

What I ate out last week:
Hamburger station hamburger with onions, mustard and pickle, a few fries; half of a roast beef, baby Swiss and onion on ciabatta bread, cup of clam chowder from Shisler’s Cheese House in Copley;  wedding soup, salad and garlic bread at Marie’s in Wadsworth; chicken pot pie, a couple of bites of fried green tomato, bacon and Jack cheese sandwich at Tamarack: The Best of West Virginia near  Beckley, W.Va.; pulled pork sandwich and coleslaw at Sonny’s Barbecue in Brunswick, Ga.; Egg McMuffin and coffee at McDonald’s in Ft. Pierce, Fla.; conch chowder, a conch fritter and shrimp tostones — plantains smashed and fried, topped with Jack cheese, shrimp, chopped red onion, tomato, cilantro, avocado and a spicy white sauce — at Conchy Joe’s Seafood in Jensen Beach, Fla.

THE MAILBAG

No mail this week. Hey, I’m sending YOU mail from Florida. Poke your heads out of the blankets and snowsuits and drop me a line. I’m off in search of Cuban food today. I’ll report back next week.

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January 3, 2018

Dear friends,

When my husband gets homesick for Japan he has a nice, long conversation with his family in Hokkaido and then he starts cooking. With the temperature in the teens last weekend and a holiday in the offing, he made one of Japan’s iconic cold-weather celebration meals, shabu-shabu.

Tony tells me about eating the communal hot-pot meal around a kotatsu — a table with heavy blankets to cover laps, with a heater under the table. Diners are served platters of thin sliced meats and chunks of vegetables, which they cook at the table in seasoned dashi — dried bonito flake broth spiked with soy sauce. The food is removed from the bubbling broth with chopsticks and dunked in sauce. Tony likes sesame and ginger sauces, although ponzu sauce is also used.

The meal is healthful and delicious, and designed for entertaining. Although hot pot/shabu-shabu restaurants are popping up in the United States now, it is so easy and economical to make at home that there’s no reason to spend big bucks dining out.

Tony and I cooked our meals in a shabu-shabu nabe — a Japanese hot pot pan — that he bought in Japan. The stainless steel, lidded pan is about 9 inches in diameter with a center chimney for heating over an electric or gas hot plate. You can buy a nabe on Amazon for about $45, but there’s no need. Google the item, then choose one of your lidded pans that is close to that shape. The center chimney helps the broth heat faster, but it is not essential.

You will have to visit an Asian store to buy some of the items, such as dashi granules, for shabu-shabu. While you’re there, check out the produce, which often costs less than at supermarkets. Although the vegetables in shabu-shabu may be varied according to taste, do try to find a daikon radish to cube and add to the pot. It becomes sweet, soft and almost translucent when cooked.

 

SHABU-SHABU

 

Shabu Shabu

• 4 cup dashi (bonito soup stock made from instant granules (Tony uses Honashi brand)
• 2 tbsp. soy sauce
• Sesame dipping sauce (recipe follows)
• Ginger dipping sauce (recipe follows)
• 9 oz. thinly sliced pork, beef or chicken
• 4 oz. enoki mushrooms
• 4 oz. tofu, cut into cubes
• 2 handfuls bean sprouts
• 2 handfuls spinach leaves
• 1 cup napa cabbage leaves
• 2 cups 1-inch chunks of  daikon radish
• Sugar-snap  peas, green onions or other vegetables as desired

Make dashi according to package directions and stir in soy sauce. Make dipping sauces. Clean and cut vegetables and arrange on platters.

Pour enough of the hot dashi into a a hot pot pan or other shallow, lidded pan to come halfway up sides. Place on a heat source in the middle of the table and add a few pieces of the meat and each vegetable. Replace lid and simmer until food is cooked. Diners remove food with chopsticks and dip in sauces to eat, replenishing meat and vegetables in the broth as they are consumed. The daikon will take the longest to cook. It should be very tender when done.

SESAME SAUCE
• 2/3 cup soy sauce
• 1/3 cup mirin (Japanese sweet cooking wine)
• 3 tbsp. sugar
• 1/4 cup sesame oil
• 2 tbsp. sesame seeds

Combine ingredients in a small pan and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

GINGER SAUCE
• 1/2 cup soy sauce
• 1/4 cup mirin
• 2 tbsp. grated ginger
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• 2 tbsp. chopped green onion

Combine ingredients in a small pan and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
Lentil soup with ham; Parmesan popovers; pork chops, mashed potatoes and sauerkraut.

What I ate in restaurants last week:
Turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, roast cubed sweet potatoes and dried cranberries at Earth Fare; Hot Nashville Chicken with coleslaw at KFC in Wadsworth (way too sweet; won’t try it again); single hamburger with grilled onions, pickle and mustard at Five Guys.

THE MAILBAG
From Nancy S.:

I think since Brad P. and his wife are retired (see last week’s Mailbag), he and his wife should start a foodie group through you.

Dear Nancy:
Did you forget I’m retired, too? This newsletter is enough work for me, thanks. But Meetup is a good place to start a group, as several writers pointed out.

From Jan C.:
When you dry-brine, which I plan to try soon, can seasonings be added to the salt?

Dear Jan:
Yes, feel free to add any dry flavoring ingredients, from herbs and spices to grated citrus peel, to the salt rub.

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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.