March 27, 2018

Dear friends,

I do not dye eggs and decorate my home with china bunnies. I say that with regret. I admire the zest of elderly women in senior apartments who put spring wreaths on their doors and whip up a celebration, no matter how small. I wish I could join them but I can’t.

I’m not world-weary; I’m simply incapable of summoning enthusiasm for a spring fete that does not include chocolate. No chocolate bunnies. No chocolate-marshmallow eggs. No Cadbury eggs with caramel centers. No sugar, period.

Ah, well. If I can’t have chocolate I’ll say it with biscuits. I found a recipe for biscuits that are so tall and fluffy they’re almost cause for celebration themselves. If you plan to have friends and relatives over for Easter dinner, these biscuits will make your day. They rise to ridiculous heights in tender layers that puff upward like an accordion.

I found the recipe in my friend Kathleen Purvis’ blog, I’ll Bite (www.charlotteobserver.com/living/food-drink/ill-bite-blog). A few years ago a reader sent her a photo of the biscuits she perfected, and Kathi nailed down the recipe and technique. When I made the biscuits Sunday, I added a clarification or two to the recipe to help ensure consistent results.

The biscuits employ cold butter and a folding technique similar to that of puff pastry. The cold butter is grated into self-rising flour, enough buttermilk is added to produce a dough, and the dough is rolled and folded six times. The folding and rolling distributes the butter through the flour in layers that become air pockets when the butter melts in the oven. Ta da! — tall, flaky biscuits.

The butter must not melt before the biscuits go into the oven, so everything — flour, rolling pin, bowl, grater — is refrigerated before using. The butter itself is frozen.

You’ll need a 2 to 3-inch biscuit cutter or glass with a thin rim of the same circumference. Don’t twist the cutter into the dough or the biscuits won’t rise properly; press the cutter straight down.

I am munching a biscuit as I write this. It isn’t chocolate and I’m not belting out “Here Comes Peter Cottontail,” but for a biscuit it’s pretty good.

TALL FLAKY BISCUITS

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1/2 cup (1 stick) frozen butter
2 1/2 cups self-rising flour, preferably White Lily, plus more for dusting work surface
1 cup buttermilk
1 to 2 tbsp. salted butter

Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Place butter in freezer. Place flour in a mixing bowl and the mixing bowl in the freezer. Chill a rolling pin (preferably marble) and a box grater.

When the butter is frozen, grate it with the large holes of a box grater into the bowl of chilled flour, tossing with flour every few minutes.

Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in the buttermilk. Starting slowly with a wooden spoon, toss flour from the edge into the pool of buttermilk, then continue gently mixing until all the buttermilk is mixed in. All of the flour should be moistened enough to stick together. If not, gently stir in enough milk to produce a soft dough. Do not mix more than necessary. Place in the freezer to rest for 10 minutes.

Scrape the dough onto a floured work surface. Pat and press the dough gently to form a mound. Using a cold, floured rolling pin, roll in one direction to flatten slightly, then fold the dough in thirds like an envelope and make a quarter turn. Repeat five times to form a rectangle of dough that’s about 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick.

Using a round biscuit cutter dipped in flour, press straight down without twisting. Place the biscuits on a parchment-lined baking sheet slightly touching. Pull the scraps together, reroll and continue cutting out biscuits until you have 12.

Bake 12 to 15 minutes, until tops are golden brown. Watch carefully so the biscuits don’t burn. Remove from oven and immediately brush with melted salted butter. Serve warm.

Yield: 12 biscuits.

Note: Biscuits are best when eaten fresh from the oven.

 

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
Greek lemon-egg soup; chicken salad with dried cherries and pecans; tall, flaky biscuits; pan-grilled sockeye salmon with lemon-cilantro sauce, fried potato nuggets, asparagus with butter.

What I ate last week in and from restaurants:
Bacon and egg on English muffin at Alexandri’s in Wadsworth; salmon roe on sushi rice from Sushi Katsu in Akron; sloppy Joe at Mrs. J’s Restaurant in Orrville; fried lake perch, coleslaw (with horseradish, I think), a bite of mac and cheese, oven-fried potatoes at St. Thomas Eastern Orthodox Church in Copley (catered by Totally Cooked); a hamburger and onion rings from Hamburger Station.

THE MAILBAG  

From Mike:
After last week’s post, we found out that Southern Gardens is actually still open. They did away with the weird Southern food portion of the menu, kept the Asian and the spot is called Thai Pattaya. Same great Asian dishes including, of course, the pho. We went there last Friday. It was busy. I tried the red curry soup for a change and it was great, too.

Dear Mike:
Thank you and also Sally O. who notes the restaurant is alive and thriving at 497 Portage Lakes Drive in Coventry Twp.

The website is thai-pattaya-restaurant.business.site.

From Rachel:
Tell me more about sweet soy sauce for your lemon fettuccine and shrimp recipe. I use regular ol’ Kikkoman for most of my soy-based marinades; would it work here? What if I’m trying to cut sugars wherever possible? And would you recommend fresh or dried pasta for this one?

Dear Rachel:
Sweet soy sauce, called exactly that in Asian stores, is thick and sweet. It makes a nice glaze for grilled meats and vegetables. In this case, you could substitute regular soy sauce without much flavor difference. I used the sweet because it helps the coating to caramelize on the shrimp in the pan. I used fresh pasta for the recipe; either fresh or dried will work fine.

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March 20, 2018

Dear friends,

I have been hungry for lemons ever since I swiped one last month from under a lemon tree beside a gas station in Florida. I thought the fruit was a lime when I tossed it into the door pocket of our pickup for the trip home. It gradually ripened to a soft yellow and then a dark yellow. When I cut into it, the deep yellow interior and sweet taste told me it was a Meyer lemon. I ate it unadorned, right from the rind.

Meyer lemons are all the rage and in season right now but I prefer regular old puckery lemons for cooking. They have a more pronounced lemon flavor than Meyers, which are thought to be a cross between a lemon and a mandarin.

I had a yen for lemon bars and lemon cake and lemon mousse last week but because I’m avoiding sugar, I channeled the urge into a savory dish. Tony and I dreamed it up together in the car and I jotted down the ingredients on an envelope in my purse — lemony fettuccine with chili-rubbed shrimp, crushed peanuts and cilantro. All I had to do was fill in the details when we got home.

I marinated fat shrimp in a rub of Szechuan chili oil and soy sauce, and started the pasta sauce while the pasta water heated. Tony crushed the peanuts, chopped the onions and minced the cilantro while I skewered and pan-grilled the shrimp, finished the sauce and boiled the pasta.

The dish tasted just as I imagined — the slippery, lemony pasta a counterpoint to the spicy, rich shrimp. It put me in such a good mood I didn’t even grouse when Tony dumped tons more chili oil on his pasta to spice it up. His boorish tastebuds, I decided, are not my problem.

LEMON FETTUCCINE WITH CHILI-RUBBED SHRIMP

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For the shrimp:

1 lb. large raw shrimp
1 tbsp sweet soy sauce
1 tbsp. Szechuan chili oil
8 6-inch wooden skewers
2 tbsp. vegetable oil

For the pasta:

3 tbsp. vegetable oil
3 quarter-size pieces of fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup seafood stock or broth
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
Grated zest of 2 medium lemons
8 tbsp. cold butter, in small pieces
2 chopped scallions, green part only
1/3 cup chopped peanuts
1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves

For the shrimp:
Peel and place in a zipper-lock plastic bag with the sweet soy sauce and Szechuan chili oil. Close tightly and rub the shrimp with the marinade to cover completely. Refrigerate until needed. Soak skewers in water.

For the pasta:
Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta and add about a tablespoon of salt. Meanwhile, heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the three tablespoons oil and when hot, add the ginger, pressing and turning to flavor the oil. Add the garlic and sauté for about 30 seconds. Add the seafood broth, increase heat to high and simmer until reduced to about 2 cups. Add the lemon and lemon zest. Set aside.

Thread shrimp on skewers. Heat the 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet or grill pan. Cook the shrimp just until done.

While the shrimp cooks, place pasta in the boiling, salted water. Cook until al dente. While the pasta cooks, place lemon-broth over medium heat and when warm, begin whisking in the butter, a small piece at a time. Continue until all butter has been used.

When pasta is done, drain and return to empty pot. Shake over low heat to remove remaining moisture. Pour sauce over pasta and gently toss. Transfer pasta to four dinner plates or shallow pasta bowls. Scatter chopped green onions over pasta. Place shrimp skewers on pasta. Garnish with chopped peanuts and cilantro. Makes 4 servings.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:

Colorado sloppers (open-faced hamburgers on bun halves, topped with Colorado green chili and melted cheese); Cuban pork roast slow-cooked with criollo mojo marinade and green olives, with black beans and rice; lemon fettuccine with chili-spiced shrimp; Cuban pork, olive and avocado sandwich; pan-grilled strip steaks, oven-roasted cubed potatoes, cauliflower and red bell pepper with olive oil and herbes de Provence.

What I ate in restaurants last week:

Hummus with pita bread and Mediterranean pizza at Continental Cuisine in Fairlawn; a cheeseburger from Wendy’s; a spicy California roll and mini shrimp tempura donburi (two battered, deep-fried shrimp in a bowl of rice with teriyaki sauce) at Tensuke Express next to Tensuke Market in Columbus; two eggs over easy and grits at Eli’s Kitchen in Medina.

THE MAILBAG

From Mike:
We really liked the pho at Southern Gardens. The closing is sad. We also like the pho at Taste of Bangkok on East Exchange Street in the Akron U area. It looks like a hole in the wall from the outside but is actually nice inside. And it will save you the trip to Cleveland when you don’t feel like driving so far.

From Jill:
Carol B., my first pho was at Southern Gardens in Portage Lakes, too. Sorry to hear it didn’t make it. But fear not. Lemongrass in Munroe Falls is everything you would want from amazing Thai food to the best soup on the planet. Everything there is completely addictive and the service is really good there as well. I highly recommend it.
There is also Papaya Salad in Cuyahoga Falls. They do a very good job, too. Hope this helps.

Dear Jill and Mike:
Thanks for the recommendations. I guess we’ll have to make do with Thai “pho” until a Vietnamese restaurant opens in our area.

From Marty L.:
The next time you need to get mayo, pick up a jar of Duke’s mayonnaise. I tried it while visiting my daughter, Jen, in the South. It is so good that I pack some to bring home every time I visit. But now I found out that both Acme and Walmart are stocking it, so I will have a ready supply. Try it in your egg salad next time and you will notice the difference.

Dear Marty:
Y’all switched to Southern mayo? I’ve tried both Duke’s and Hellman’s (known as Best Foods Mayonnaise in some areas of the West) and have preferred Hellman’s for years. But now I can’t remember what Duke’s tastes like so I’ll try it again on your recommendation. Sometimes a senior moment is a good thing.

 

March 13, 2018

Dear friends,

Out of the blue, Tony whipped up an appetizer last week of cold, juicy cylinders of spinach draped with a rich sesame sauce that tasted like sophisticated peanut butter. Where did that come from? And why has he been hiding it from me for the 12 years I’ve known him?

“Hatsuhana,” Tony said. “I learned to make it when I worked at their sushi bar in New York City.”

Well, it’s about time Tony dragged those recipes out of his memory. He was recruited by the chain of very upscale U.S. sushi bars when he was a young hotshot sushi chef in Tokyo (he won a city-wide contest for making sushi the fastest with the fewest mistakes.) Tony was brought first to Hawaii, then New York, then Chicago to work in Hatsuhana restaurants before he struck out on his own.

After visiting the New York location with Tony, I wondered whether any of the luxe recipes were lodged in his memory banks. Finally the wonderful spinach rolls surfaced. Are there more recipes screaming to get out? Only time will tell. Tony will not be hurried.

Last week I convinced Tony to make the spinach rolls again. I stood at his elbow measuring each ingredient and jotting notes about his spinach-rolling technique. The man is infuriating when he cooks. He shares knowledge grudgingly. We usually argue “like the chefs on ‘Top Chef’ during restaurant wars,” he says. Two cooks are not meant to share a kitchen, he believes. I say he is just contrary and bossy.

Anyway, I got the recipe. It is so terrific and so simple. Spinach leaves are cooked briefly in boiling water, refreshed with cold water and gently squeezed into a cylinder that is about 1 inch in diameter. Squeezing too tightly will cause the spinach “rope” to fall apart. Squeezing not enough will result in watery rolls and they, too, will fall apart.

The spinach rope is wrapped snugly in plastic wrap and refrigerated. After a while (“when it’s ready,” is Tony’s unhelpful instruction), the spinach roll is placed on a cutting board and sliced into about 1 1/2-inch lengths. The pieces are arranged on end, on little plates, and the sauce is spooned over.

Tony makes the sauce with toasted sesame seeds that he crushes to a powder with a pestle and mortar. Sorry, but a blender won’t do the job. If you lack the tool, check out the inexpensive ones sold in Asian food stores.

Sugar, sesame oil, white miso and soy sauce are added to the crushed seeds. The sauce is thinned with water. The sauce in my photo is a bit thick. The next time Tony made it, he thinned the sauce until it flowed easily from a spoon.

Minus the mortar and pestle chore, this dish is ridiculously easy to make. It would be an elegant, refreshing appetizer for a spring or summer gathering.

OSHITASHI (Spinach rolls with sesame sauce)

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10 oz. spinach leaves (approximately)
1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp. toasted white sesame seeds
2 tbsp. sugar
3/4 cup white miso paste
2 tbsp. soy sauce
Pinch of salt
Water to thin
Toasted sesame seeds for garnish

Steam or boil spinach just until wilted and stems are tender. Drain and place in a pot or big bowl with very cold water. When the color brightens and the leaves are cool, drain in a mesh strainer. Do not press at this point.

Gather the wet spinach leaves in your hands and begin gently pressing while elongating the pressed leaves into a rope about 1 inch in diameter. Do this by gently squeezing handfuls of leaves in a downward motion, as if you are milking a cow. Some moisture will remain in the spinach. Squeeze out just enough water so that the rope holds together.

Place the spinach rope on a piece of plastic wrap slightly longer than the rope. Wrap it tightly but do not squeeze it. Tuck the ends of the plastic wrap under to seal. Refrigerate, being careful not to bend the rope.

While the spinach chills, grind the sesame seeds to a powder with a mortar and pestle, in batches if necessary. Transfer to a bowl and stir in sugar, sesame oil, miso and salt. Continue stirring until smooth. Stir in enough water to make a thick dressing that flows off a spoon.

Place the plastic-wrapped spinach on a cutting board. Without unwrapping, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces. Unwrap each piece and group three pieces, standing on ends, on a plate or in a small bowl. Drape with some of the sesame dressing. Makes 3 to 4 servings.

GUT CHECK

 What I cooked last week:
Thai potato and spinach soup with coconut milk; chocolate pudding; fusilli lasagne; chicken salad with dried cranberries and pecans; stubby Italian sausages from West Side Market roasted with chunks of kabocha squash and cauliflower; Cuban bread; pan-grilled steak with roast sweet and red potatoes, grape tomatoes, green beans and feta cheese with olive oil and herbes de Provence.

What I ate in restaurants last week:
Half of a steak and arugula sandwich and a cup of tomato soup at Panera Bread; cafe con leche, a Cuban sandwich and fried ripe plantains at Sabor Miami Cafe in Cleveland; a fish sandwich minus the bun and some cottage cheese at Alexandri’s in Wadsworth.

 TIDBIT
The Sabor Miami Cafe, a comfy, homespun restaurant hidden in a small shopping strip in Old Brooklyn, was plenty good enough to satisfy my itch for Cuban food. I give my Cuban sandwich a B plus. The people who cook, take your order and ring up sales get an A plus in warmth and hospitality. Combined, that should be enough to make the place a big hit. Too bad it’s so hard to find.

When Tony and I visited, the sign was propped up on the ground, hidden behind parked cars. If not for the pastel stripes running like piano keys across the top of the building, which I associated with deco Miami Beach, we would have given up and returned home.

That would have been a shame. The rich cafe con leche, served in big mugs, is reason enough to drive up and down Broadview Road a half-dozen times searching for the cafe. We sipped and surveyed the funky decor while waiting for my Cuban sandwich and Tony’s palomilla steak sandwich to arrive. There was a lot to look at, from the mismatched tables and chairs to the burlap coffee bags doubling as art, to rustic portraits of Frida Kahlo to a 3 1/2-foot-tall plush pink flamingo posed in a rattan chair. Half the room is given over to thrift-shop wares. Is the stuff for sale? Who knows.

My pressed Cuban sandwich, on real Cuban bread, was about 8 inches of deeply marinated chopped pork, Swiss cheese, ham, mustard, mayo and, oddly, sweet pickles instead of dill. It was almost perfect, and plenty big enough for two meals. I also bought a fabulous beef and potato empanada for later. Tony loved his sandwich of shredded, marinated steak topped with lettuce and fried potato sticks. He also had serviceable black beans and yellow rice and we shared some maduros — fried sweet plantains. All of the food is made by owner Mariela Paz, who is from Nicaragua but lived in Miami, where she came to love Cuban food.

As good as the food was, the information we gleaned was the lagniappe. The bread, we learned, comes from Caribe Bake Shop, which sells the heavenly stuff — along with Cuban sandwiches and a range of eat-in and takeout Caribbean foods — at 2906 Fulton Rd. in Cleveland. Can’t wait to visit.

Sabor Miami Cafe is at 4848 Broadview Rd. in the Old Brooklyn area of Cleveland. The restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch. The phone is 440-714-0202.

THE MAILBAG

From Jan S.:
I have made egg salad for many years and never had a problem with it the next day until about two years ago. I use Miracle Whip and sweet pickle relish. That’s it; no salt, no pepper. It is fine when I make it and use it immediately, but if it sits in the fridge, the next day it is runny. Any idea as to why this is happening?

Dear Jan:
Interesting! This happened to me two weeks ago. For the first time in 30-some years I used Miracle Whip that Tony had bought. I was tempted to blame that product until I read about similar complaints from those who used light mayonnaise.

So-called experts on the Internet blame watery additions such as celery and onions, undrained relish, or smashing the eggs too finely. I don’t buy any of that. I don’t use celery, onions or relish, and those who do had no problem for years and years. I think the culprit is fat. Low-fat mayo turns runny. After some digging, I learned that Miracle Whip was de-fatted in 2006 when some of the soy oil was replaced with water in a move to economize on ingredients. It, too, is now low-fat. To avoid runny next-day egg, chicken and potato salads, stick with full-fat mayonnaise.

From Randy:
You have mentioned several times Tony’s ramen noodles. Does he use the ramen that is sold in bricks everywhere or is there a fresh or frozen noodle that is superior? Thanks so much. I so enjoy your blog.

Dear Randy:
Thanks. Tony uses both dried and frozen ramen. I was surprised to see in Japan that those bricks with the seasoning packet are widely used there, too (not in restaurants but at home as snacks). Many brands of frozen ramen come with the seasoning packet, too.

Tony’s favorite brand of dried ramen is Maruchan, either in the block or bowl. He prefers chicken or beef flavors. He adds a splash of soy sauce, whatever meat is left over in the refrigerator, green onions if we have them, and usually cracks a beaten egg into the simmering soup. He does not like my homemade ramen broth, laboriously made with pounds of pork bones, so I don’t know if you want to trust his judgment.

From Carol B.:
I am so disappointed that Southern Gardens in Portage Lakes has closed. They had the best pho that I’ve ever tasted. Do you know of any restaurants in this area that are known for this dish? Also, do you know whether the former owner plans to open another restaurant?

Dear Carol:
I’m sorry I didn’t visit Southern Gardens before it closed. I heard good things about it. I think the owner sold the restaurant to her niece and the niece apparently couldn’t make a go of it.

I have not heard that the family opened elsewhere. When we’re in the mood for pho, Tony and I go to Pho Hoa or Superior Pho in Cleveland. Any other recommendations?

From Beth B.:
Regarding poaching (last week’s newsletter), here is how i always poach chicken, a lazy technique that has resulted in perfection every time I’ve done it:

For 1 1/2 pounds chicken breasts, skin and bones removed (about 3 large breasts), bring 2 quarts of water to a rapid boil. Add the chicken, cover and turn off the heat. Let stand for 2 hours. The chicken will be moist and just done.

The technique is from “Summer on a Plate” by the late Anna Pump, who had the Loaves & Fishes store in the Hamptons. I love this cookbook, not just for the name of it, but because every recipe I’ve tried has been delicious.

Dear Beth:
What a no-brainer way to poach chicken! I’ll try it the next time I need some juicy chicken for a recipe.

From Janet C.:
I was hunting something different, but easy and quick, to make for a St. Patrick’s Day treat to take to friends. My dearest Aunt Bobby, who died in December, made these many years ago:

OREO TREATS
Coating chocolate (I use half milk, half dark melted together)
1 or 2 packages of Oreos (I prefer Oreo thins. The mint variety would be good for St. Pat’s.)
Peanut butter

Melt the coating chocolate. I used the low setting of my slow cooker and it worked perfectly. Open each sandwich cookie and spread with peanut butter. Put the cookies together again and chill for several hours. Using 1 or 2 forks, dip each cookie in the chocolate. Shake off excess and set to cool on a rack over waxed paper to catch the drips. Decorate with green sprinkles if desired. Store in refrigerator or a cool place.

Dear Janet:
Thanks for sharing your aunt’s recipe. I bet your friends love you.

 

 

March 6, 2018

Dear friends,

When Giuliana Rancic bit into that chocolate Oscar and the passionfruit filling dribbled down her dress, I had serious food envy. She was interviewing chef Wolfgang Puck Sunday on E! before the Oscars. Later at the Governor’s Ball he would offer the stars Waygu beef sliders, truffled mac and cheese, lobster corn dogs, baby potatoes with caviar, gold-dusted popcorn and those chocolate-passionfruit Oscars.

Poor me. Here I was in my cozy pajamas with a fluffy dog, a handsome man and a big salad of spinach, toasted coconut, cashews, poached chicken, quinoa, raisins and a creamy curried yogurt dressing. Wait a minute. Maybe Giuliana should be envying me.

I made the big salad for our annual Oscar watch, which is exciting only to me and possibly our dog Oscar, who was named while we watched the awards show 10 years ago. The salad provided all the excitement for Tony. While photographing it in the kitchen, I wondered whether it would serve three or four. Tony gave me the answer after I scooped about a fourth of the salad into a bowl for myself. He grabbed a fork and carried the salad that was left, in its serving bowl, to the living room where we were camped out.

Shoot, no leftovers.

The salad was as good as I remembered, and the creamy curry dressing was, too. I first tasted it last month in Florida, where it was a carryout special in a supermarket deli.  I jotted down the ingredients, arranged in swaths over a bed of spinach. The toasted coconut, nuts and curry dressing gave it an Indian vibe. The dressing was delicious. It just hinted at curry, and had fruity undertones I couldn’t nail down.

Luckily, I found several versions of yogurt curry dressing on the Internet. I bought a quart of plain yogurt to experiment with, but by luck cracked the recipe on the first try. Surprisingly, lemon juice is what provided the fruity note. I needn’t have opened the bottle of mango chutney I was going to puree for my second attempt.

I hope I don’t file and forget this salad recipe, as I do with many of my creations. I’m always thinking ahead, not behind. This salad, though, is too good to forget, and healthful enough that I’ll want to eat it year-round.

But I still want one of those chocolate Oscars.

MADRAS SALAD WITH CURRY YOGURT DRESSING

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4 cups packed spinach leaves, any long stems removed
1 cup cubed rotisserie or poached chicken
1/2 cup cooked and cooled quinoa, seasoned with salt
1/2 cup roasted, salted cashews
1/2 cup toasted coconut
1/4 cup raisins
Curry yogurt dressing (recipe follows)

Wash spinach and roll in paper towels to dry. Arrange in the bottom of a wide, shallow serving bowl. Arrange chicken in an inch-wide strip down the center of the salad. Arrange quinoa, cashews, coconut and raisins in strips on either side of chicken. Pass the dressing at the table. Serves two to three.

CURRY YOGURT DRESSING

1/2 cup plain nonfat yogurt
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp. curry powder
1/2 tsp. turmeric powder
2 tsp. honey
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. salt
Water

Combine yogurt and mayonnaise and stir until smooth. Add curry powder, turmeric, honey, lemon juice and salt and beat until thoroughly incorporated. Taste and correct seasonings if necessary. Thin to pouring consistency with water. Makes about 1 cup.

HELP YOU COOK

Is poaching becoming a lost art? With the advent of rotisserie chicken and deli salmon, and the emphasis on pan-grilling and saucing, the classic French technique isn’t used much, at least at my house.

When shopping for my salad, I found chicken tenders on sale and no rotisserie chicken at the store I visited. So I bought the tenders and poached them. I had forgotten how tender and juicy poached chicken is.

To make basic poached chicken, place the chicken pieces (boneless or bone-in, with or without skin) in a pan large enough to fit the chicken in a single layer and deep enough to cover with water. Cover the chicken with cool water by about a half inch. Partially cover with lid and bring to a simmer. When the first bubbles break the surface, adjust the heat so the water barely simmers. A single bubble at a time should rise to the surface and lazily pop. Poach until the chicken is just cooked through, which will take less time for boneless than bone-in, and less for smaller pieces (thighs) than large (whole breasts). Generally, chicken pieces will be done in about 15 to 20 minutes.

Don’t throw away the poaching liquid. Drink it as a pick-me-up or freeze it to add to soups.

GUT CHECK

I haven’t kept up with my cooking/dining diary because I was tending to my ill cat, Mia, who died last week. Tony and I will miss her. Life has somewhat returned to normal, so I will be able to chronicle my eating habits next week. I like this feature because it compels me to try new restaurants. I hope you like it, too.

THE MAILBAG

From Joy:
Just a thought but I wonder if the citron spicy chili pork wontons you enjoyed at House of Hunan in Fairlawn might be the same as Dan Dan Pork Wontons but with a possible addition of yuzu kosha (citrus chili paste), which would explain the citrus taste you mentioned.

I have a cookbook, “Dumplings All Day Wong,” which has a recipe for Dan Dan Pork Wontons and the description in the book (and some of the ingredients) seems pretty close to the description on the House of Hunan website for their Spicy Chili Pork Wontons. Check out the book if you haven’t as yet, it’s a great cookbook.

Also, even though I’m sure you and Tony know this recipe in and out, here’s a link to a recipe for yuzu kosha (citrus chili paste) that you might want to give a go as it might be a nice addition to your next chili pork wonton cloning experiment: https://cookpad.com/us/recipes/172813-homemade-yuzu-kosho-citrus-chili-paste.

Dear Joy:
Your note struck a chord. When I had the wontons in the restaurant, the flavor immediately reminded me of dan dan noodles. I think that will be my departure point the next time I make the dish, and I will definitely add some of the yuzu kosha, which I had never heard of. Thanks for the link.

From Susan P.:
When I crave Asian food, I make the 30-minute drive to Cleveland’s Payne Avenue area. One of my favorite spots is Szechuan Gourmet next to Tink Hol grocery. The wonton in spicy sauce as well as the dan dan noodles are addictive.

I will definitely have to try House of Hunan’s and save myself the almost weekly trip to Cleveland. I’ll let you know how they compare…but do make the trip to Szechuan Gourmet if you haven’t already. They have an extensive menu of foods not available in this area.

One item I don’t see in your recipe is bits of actual Szechuan peppercorns. You might try toasting and then crushing some and adding them to your sauce. I think it gives a greater depth of flavor than just the chili oil.

Dear Susan:
I will return to Szechuan Gourmet now that I know the spicy dumplings are on the menu. Thanks for the tip about the peppercorns. I have a bag of them to use up.

From Dorothy G.:
The recipe for pork roast (last week’s newsletter) looks good, but I do not like rosemary at all. What could I use instead?

Dear Dorothy:
Sprigs of thyme would be a good substitute. Fresh sage leaves would work, also.

From Jan and Bob P., Tallmadge:
We’re excited to see the new Uzbek carryout place on State Road in Cuyahoga Falls. We ate at an Uzbek restaurant called “Silk Road” while snow birding in the Ft. Myers area. It was delicious! You should try it next time you’re down that way.

Dear Jan and Bob:
I did get to the Ft. Myers area last trip. If I swing that way next January, I’ll search out Silk Road. Thanks — I love restaurant tips.

From Mitch:
In your newsletter you mentioned an African peanut soup. My wife used to love the one they served occasionally at West Side Bakery in Fairlawn (not sure if they still do). Anyway, can you hook me up with a good recipe for one?

Dear Mitch:
I couldn’t get the bakery’s recipe, but I found perhaps the next-best thing. The peanut soup recipe in the classic “Sunday’s at Moosewood” is one of the most popular recipes in the book, according to the Washington Post. It sounds delicious.

WEST AFRICAN PEANUT SOUP

1 tbsp. oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 small celery rib, chopped
1/2 tsp. sea salt, plus more to taste
1 tbsp. peeled, grated fresh ginger
1 1/2 tsp. Tabasco or other hot pepper sauce, plus more to taste
12 oz. sweet potatoes, peeled and cut in 1/2-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups tomato juice, preferably low sodium
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
2 tbsp. chopped cilantro, plus more leaves for garnish
1 scallion, white and green parts, sliced thin, for garnish

Heat the oil in a medium soup pot over medium heat. Sauté the onion and celery with the salt until softened. Stir in the ginger and Tabasco. Add the sweet potatoes and water. Increase heat, bring to a boil, then reduce heat so the liquid is barely bubbling around the edges. Cover and cook until vegetables are tender, 15 to 20 minutes.

Add the tomato juice and peanut butter. Use a stick immersion blender to create a creamy, pureed soup, or puree in batches in a blender. Stir in the chopped cilantro and warm through. Taste and add salt and/or hot sauce as needed.

Divide among bowls and top with the scallions and cilantro leaves. Serve hot. Makes        4 1/2 to 5 cups.