April 25, 2018

Dear friends,

Sometimes you have to look a gift horse in the mouth. Especially if the gift is a food processor and the horse creates recipes for a living.

For Christmas 2016 I gave my niece, Heidi, a Cuisinart. She is a very good cook and owns a batterie of cookware but at that point, not a food processor. I would swap anything in my kitchen for a food processor. I consider it indispensable.

Last week I was moving my food processor while cleaning the countertop and wondered what Heidi had used her processor for in the last 16 months. I haven’t heard a peep, so I’m guessing the answer is “nothing.” I know she has been ridiculously busy, so I’ll help her figure out this new appliance. For starters, here is a list of the tasks I use my processor for the most, in no particular order:

TOP 10 THINGS I DO WITH MY FOOD PROCESSOR

  1. Make pesto
  2. Make fresh bread crumbs for meatloaf, etc.
  3. Puree soups
  4. Finely chop nuts
  5. Make frozen blueberry ice cream (a couple handfuls frozen blueberries, a carton of vanilla yogurt, pulse and voila!)
  6. Make smooth sauces such as chimichurri and mole
  7. Make sorbet bases
  8. Make pasta dough
  9. Make peanut sauce for noodles or sate
  10. Make hummus

I don’t use the extra blades much, other than for making julienned carrots occasionally. I used to thin-slice potatoes with another blade, but I don’t cook white potatoes often anymore. For scalloped potatoes, though, that processor blade can’t be beat.

In honor of Heidi, I came up with a recipe last week for Thai pork chops in a sauce made in a food processor. Instead of cutting and combining each ingredient by hand, I dumped everything in the food processor and pureed them. The result was a coconut milk-lime-curry sauce easy enough for a weeknight dinner.

How do you use your food processor?

THAI COCONUT CURRY PORK CHOPS

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1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 can (13.5 oz.) coconut milk
1 tbsp. Thai chili paste
Grated zest of 1/2 lime
Juice of 1 lime
1 tsp. nam pla (fish sauce)
4 boneless pork chops, about 3/4 inch thick
8 cups cabbage in 1-inch pieces, layers separated
Salt, pepper
1/2 cup flour
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
Chopped cilantro (optional)

Cut ginger in half and, one at a time, drop each piece through the feed tube of the food processor with the motor running. The blade will chop the ginger into bits. Repeat with the garlic. Remove lid of processor and add coconut milk, chili paste, lime zest, lime juice and nam pla. Replace the lid and process until smooth.

Place chops in a 1-gallon zipper-lock plastic bag. Add one-half cup of the coconut-milk sauce. Close the bag and massage to moisten all surfaces of the chops. Refrigerate for at least one hour or all day while you are out or at work.

About 45 minutes before dinner, place cabbage in a 9-by-12-inch baking pan. Pour 3/4 cup of the coconut sauce over the cabbage and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover tightly with foil and bake at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes, or until soft and silky.

Meanwhile, 15 minutes before cabbage is done, remove chops from marinade and pat dry (discard marinade). Season chops on both sides with salt and pepper and dust with flour. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook until the edges on each side just begin to brown. Reduce heat to medium and continue cooking until meat is just slightly pink in the center, about 5 minutes. It will continue cooking off the heat.

Remove cabbage from oven, stir and spread on a platter. Arrange chops over cabbage. Pour remaining coconut sauce into hot skillet and boil over high heat until it reduces by about half and thickens slightly. Pour over chops. Scatter chopped cilantro over all. Makes 4 servings.

Note: Swap Thai curry paste for the chili paste if desired, and another vegetable for the cabbage, which I used because I had excess on hand.

GUT CHECK 

What I cooked last week:

A sliced chicken, pesto and avocado open-faced sandwich; chili; chicken salad with apples, dried cranberries and pecans; cabbage baked in Thai sauce and coconut-curry pork chops; microwave cinnamon-raisin bread pudding; pan-grilled chicken breasts with horseradish-mayo topping and a chopped kale salad with sweet and sour dressing; pan-grilled strip steaks with tarragon wine sauce, buttered lima beans, smoked sweet potatoes.

What I ate in restaurants last week:

A grilled chicken salad at Alexandri’s in Wadsworth; half of an Asian salad with chicken and a hunk of baguette at Panera.

THE MAILBAG

From Cheryl:
The bay laurels are in stock now at Donzell’s. Make sure you have enough room when you plant them.

Dear Cheryl:
I am sharing your tip, although I admit I waited until I snagged a plant to do so. Until the weather warms up, I am keeping my bay-leaf seedling near a grow light on my kitchen counter.

When I visited, Donzell’s Garden Center on Waterloo Road in Akron had almost a dozen plants. They are in the herbs section, in case your query for directions, like mine, is met with blank stares.

In case you missed my earlier post, I have wanted to find a bay laurel bush for years, ever since I tasted a blanc mange flavored with fresh bay leaves. FYI, bay laurel is a Mediterranean bush that is too tender for harsh Northern Ohio winters, so your best bet is to use a planter and bring it indoors before the snow flies.

From Mary D.:
I found a new place for you, on the Baldwin-Wallace campus … the Campus Grill: http://www.thecampusgrille.com.

Dear Mary:
You are a doll for sending me this link. I read the Latin menu and am itching to try it. Tony is balking at more Cuban and Caribbean food right now, so I’ll have to wait. Meanwhile, I hope anyone who visits will send me a report.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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April 17, 2018

Dear friends,

I am sorry to beat you over the head with Cuban cuisine again, but I can’t get that bewitching bread out of my mind. Since I returned from Florida, I have been trying to make a decent loaf of Cuban bread with middling success until I stumbled across the secret: lard. Who knew?

Three Guys From Miami knew. That’s the name of a blog written by a trio of laid-back Florida guys who like to cook Cuban food. How laid back? Their Cuban bread recipe includes a break for beer on the patio while the bread rises and one carps, “Why didn’t we just pick up a loaf of bread at the bakery?” For all their humble charm, the guys aren’t just casual cooks — they have a TV show and cookbooks as well as the website icubano.com.

The Cuban loaf produced with their recipe has a delicately crisp crust, more fragile than a French baguette, and a soft, very slightly sweet crumb. It’s the Cuban bread I remember from Florida.

I am reproducing their short recipe and long, explanatory instructions with just a few edits for conciseness. I found their ramblings helpful. I have put my deviations in parentheses.

PAN CUBANO

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1 tbsp. active dry yeast
2 tsp. sugar
1 1/4 cups warm water
2 cups bread flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup lard
2 tbsp. warm water to brush on loaves before baking

Grease a large bowl and set aside. In a small bowl dissolve the yeast and sugar in 1/4 cup of warm water (110 degrees on an instant-read thermometer). (I proofed the yeast right in the bowl of the stand mixer). Place the bowl in a warm place and let it stand until it starts to foam and double in volume, about 10 minutes. If it doesn’t foam and bubble, you have some bad yeast.

Meanwhile, place the lard in a Pyrex measuring cup or other suitable container. Heat in the microwave on high for about (1 minute) 90 seconds or until melted.

Place the water/yeast/sugar mixture in the mixing bowl of a stand mixer. Add the rest of the warm water (110 degrees) and the salt. Using the dough hook, mix on low speed until blended.

Take your measuring cup and dig in to the flour bag, scooping out two whole cups of each flour. Now the important part: in a separate bowl, sift together the two flours. Sifted flour has more volume than un-sifted flour, so you will use about 3 1/4 cups of sifted flour in the following steps.

Gradually add the flour mixture, a little at a time, to the wet ingredients in your mixer, mixing constantly. At the same time you are adding flour, gradually pour in the melted lard. Keep adding a little flour and a little lard until all of the lard is added. (I had to stop the mixer several times to scrape down sides).

Continue adding more flour — A LITTLE AT A TIME — until you make a smooth and pliable dough. Try to add just enough flour to make the dough elastic — just as much as necessary so that the dough hook barely cleans the sides of the bowl. Too much flour and your bread will be too dense. (Too little and it will spread too much). You will use about 3 1/4 cups of sifted flour to bring the dough to this point — more or less, this is where the art of baking comes in. Save any leftover flour mixture for rolling out the dough.

Set the mixer on a low speed and knead with the dough hook for about 3 to 4 minutes, no more. Your dough will be fairly sticky at this point.

NOTE: If you don’t have a mixer with a dough hook, you can also do this the old fashioned way. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Pound the dough ball down and knead by hand until the dough is smooth and elastic, about ten minutes.

Shape the dough into a ball and place it into the greased bowl, turning to grease all sides of the dough. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and place in a warm place. (We pre-heat our oven to 160 degrees and then turn it off, creating a perfect environment for our rising bread.) Let the dough rise until it doubles in size, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board, using the leftover flour in the bowl. Sprinkle some flour on the dough and use a rolling pin to roll it out to fit diagonally on your largest baking sheet — usually 20 inches long. Roll dough to a 12-by-20-inch rectangle. Sprinkle more flour on the dough and turn it over a few times as you roll to keep it from sticking to the rolling pin. The added flour at this stage should take care of most of the stickiness.

Starting at a long edge, roll the dough into a tight cylinder, with a slight taper at both ends. Wet your fingers and pinch the loose flap of the rolled dough into the loaf, making a tight seam.

Grease a baking sheet and sprinkle lightly with cornmeal. (I used parchment paper instead.) Place the loaf diagonally onto the baking sheet, seam side down. Dust the top with a little extra flour and cover very loosely with plastic wrap. (You don’t want the rising dough to dry out or stick to the plastic wrap.)

Place in a warm spot and let rise until about 2 1/2 times it’s original size, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Cuban bread is wider than French bread, so expect your loaf to spread out quite a bit as it rises. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place a pan of water on the lowest oven rack.

Use a sharp knife (I used scissors) to cut a shallow seam down the middle of the top of the bread, leaving about two inches uncut on each end. Brush the top of the loaf with water (I soaked the brush with water and flicked it onto the bread instead of brushing and potentially deflating the bread). Place on the middle oven shelf. After about 5 minutes of baking, brush some more water on top of the bread.

Bake the loaf until it is light brown and crusty, about 12 to 18 minutes total baking time. (Don’t cut into loaf until it cools.) Makes 1 loaf.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
A broth bowl with chicken, asparagus, cubed sweet potato and wilted spinach in chicken-ginger broth; sausage and cauliflower soup with spinach; hot dogs in buns, chopped salad with ginger dressing; scrambled eggs with roasted red peppers and sour cream; slow-cooker roast beef in red wine with Italian spices; sautéed cod loin, sautéed garlic and spinach.

What I ate in/from restaurants, etc.:
Pepperoni pizza from Rizzi’s in Copley; Waterloo salad with grilled chicken and pita wedges at Waterloo Restaurant in Akron; Thai chicken taco with peanut sauce, cochinita pork taco with pickled onions, lime and cilantro from Funky Truckeria in Norton; breaded chicken stuffed with cheese and broccoli, mixed vegetables at St. George church social hall in Copley.

TIDBIT

The paleo and low-carb diet fads have elevated the status of once-lowly cauliflower, which is being used now as a stand-in for rice (cauliflower risotto) and potatoes (mashed cauliflower), among other starches. I have even seen teensy flecks of it masquerading as quinoa.

I often make mashed cauliflower, and last week found a great new way to use it: as a sub for potatoes in one of my favorite soups, potato and greens soup. The use isn’t revolutionary, but I’m glad I thought of it.

For the soup, brown 1 pound of seasoned bulk sausage (such as Bob Evans in the tube) in a skillet. Meanwhile, in a covered soup pot, simmer about a half head of cauliflower, broken into florets, in a carton (32 ounces) of chicken broth until the cauliflower is mushy-soft. Remove the pot from the heat and puree the cauliflower in the pot with a stick blender. Add the browned sausage and a splash of half and half (optional) and return to a simmer. Add a couple of big handfuls of fresh spinach, cover and simmer until the spinach is wilted. Makes about 6 servings.

THE MAILBAG

From Pat S.:
All that brutal stirring to create delicious gougere isn’t necessary if one owns a mixer. When it comes time to add the eggs, remove the pan from the heat as directed. Dump the batter into a the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Follow the recipe as written, beating in eggs one at a time, then cheese, on medium speed.

Dear Pat:
NOW you tell me. Seriously, thank you for letting me know. I will make gougere more often now, and may even experiment with sugar-free eclairs, which Tony has been asking me for years to make. I might note that by “mixer,” you mean a stand mixer. Hand mixers aren’t powerful enough for the dense puff paste dough.

From Stephanie F.:
Hi Jane. I had to laugh when I read about the Jell-O salad. My mom would make this to try to hide veggies when my sisters were little. I liked veggies but they did not. They referred to it as “Grass Salad.” Occasionally now we will make it for family get-togethers in memory of our mom. Good memories. Thanks!

Dear Stephanie:
Oh, good, I get to kid my brother about Grass Salad now. Speaking of memories, one of my presents for my brother was the letters from basic training and Vietnam he sent me in 1971 that I had saved. I mention this for anyone else of a certain age who is a pack rat and looking for gift ideas for older family members. Rob was very happy to get them.

From Dawn C.:
My oh my! That celebration dinner sounds divine! Lucky husband and brother.
The chocolate-lime-coconut cake entices me to want to know more. And sugar-free, no less. Could you share the recipe with us? And how about the pineapple-mayo dressing? I’ve never had such a thing. Recipe, please! I’m drooling with anticipation.

Dear Dawn:
Don’t get too excited. The pineapple-mayo dressing was merely a cup of mayonnaise combined with about one-fourth cup crushed pineapple and enough of the pineapple juice to thin it to pouring consistency. That’s how my mother did it.

The cake was a cheater, too, but was surprisingly delicious. I started with a sugar-free Betty Crocker yellow cake mix. I replaced part of the liquid in the recipe with the juice of two limes, and added the grated zest of the two limes to the batter. This gave the cake a pronounced lime flavor.

The chocolate part is complicated. I only did it because Tony insisted on some chocolate. I sandwiched the two 9-inch cake layers with chocolate frosting made by beating a can of Betty Crocker sugar-free chocolate frosting with 4 ounces of softened cream cheese and about 3 tablespoons butter. I also added a teaspoon of vanilla to bump the flavor even more. The frosting straight from the can is kind of yucky and I haven’t found a homemade sugar-free frosting recipe that is worth the effort.

The sides and top of the cake were frosted with a thick layer of Lite Cool Whip. It’s not sugar-free, but it’s fairly low in sugar and holds up better than real whipped cream. From my days in the photo studio, I can tell you it holds up for so long it’s scary. To finish the cake, again at Tony’s request, I gently tamped shredded coconut onto the sides. No, the coconut wasn’t sugar free, but I didn’t use a lot of it. Everyone was crazy about this cake. FYI, Tony also wanted almonds in there somewhere, but I put my foot down.

From Isabelle G.:
Jane, I can’t believe the addition of Jell-O to your delicious meal. My granddaughters couldn’t believe that anyone would put cabbage in Jell-O when I made it for Easter. They only know about Jell-O shots. I would like an actual recipe as I made mine up from memory. I may have put too much cabbage in it. I am sending your column to all my granddaughters to prove I am not the only one who likes Jell-O. That salad was a regular in my childhood home. Thanks for the enlightenment.

Dear Isabelle:
The recipe I used calls for 2 small boxes of orange Jell-O, prepared according to package directions, to which I added 1 1/2 cups finely shredded cabbage and 1 cup drained crushed pineapple. I skipped the half-cup or so of sliced celery in my mother’s recipe. The “salad” is poured into an oblong baking pan and refrigerated until set. Variations abound on the Internet, and in fact the original was made with Knox gelatin, not Jell-O. My mother used orange Jell-O because that was my father’s favorite.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 10, 2018

Dear friends,

The cream-puff dough almost did me in. Beating in the eggs one at a time with my six-month-old titanium shoulder was brutal. Tony had to step in to spell me. Who knew cooking would become a matter of stamina as I age?

The pate a choux dough was for French gougere, light-as-air unfilled puffs that were a cocktail snack at a family gathering last weekend. I made the hors d’oeuvre followed by a special meal to mark two important birthdays — Tony’s 60th and my brother’s 70th.

I went all out. The guys wanted steak, so I rubbed inch-thick strips with a homemade seasoning mix (coarse sea salt, fresh-ground pepper, a bit of sugar and herbes de Provence) and grilled them over charcoal. My brother-in-law watched the meat while I made béarnaise sauce with fresh tarragon and plated fat roast asparagus and small new potatoes roasted with olive oil and coarse salt.

I also served my brother’s childhood favorite, Perfection Salad — orange Jell-O with crushed pineapple and shredded cabbage and carrots, with pineapple mayo dressing on the side.

Dessert was two sugar-free layer cakes — one chocolate with chocolate icing and sliced almonds clinging to the sides, and the other — Tony’s request — lime with chocolate filling, whipped cream frosting and coconut.

That was Saturday. On Sunday I slept.

Back in the day, this would have been a quick-fix meal I would have been slightly embarrassed to serve to friends. Back then I could complicate even a salad course with, say, Roquefort beignets. And of course the baguettes with the cheese course would have been homemade. Now my idea of going the extra mile is serving a carousel of sour cream, crumbled bacon, butter and sea salt with the roasted new potatoes.

Dang, I miss those fabulous meals.

The gougere provided a taste of my decadent past without a lot of work if you don’t count that incessant beating. They can be made ahead and frozen, and reheated briefly at the last minute. The prep involves combining flour with melted butter and water and heating while stirring until the dough comes together in a big, springy ball. Then off the heat, four eggs are beaten in one at a time until each egg is absorbed by the flour mixture.

With this dough you can make cream puffs and eclairs, or beat in shredded cheese for gougere. The airy, crisp puffs are often served in wine cellars in France to customers who look like they’ll buy a case or two.

GOUGERE

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1 cup water
6 tbsp. butter, cut in small pieces
1 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
3/4 cup flour
4 eggs
1 cup grated cheese (gruyere, Parmesan or Cheddar)

Bring water, butter, salt, pepper and nutmeg to a boil in a heavy, 1 1/2-quart saucepan. Remove from heat and pour in the flour all at once. Beat vigorously with a wooden spoon to blend. Then beat over medium-high heat for 1 to 2 minutes or until the mixture leaves the sides of the pan, forms a mass, and begins to film the bottom of the pan.

Remove pan from the heat and make a well in the center of the paste with your spoon. Immediately break an egg into the well and beat it into the paste until it has been absorbed. Continue with remaining eggs, beating them in one at a time. Beat in the grated cheese.

Drop the dough by rounded tablespoons onto parchment-lined baking sheets, leaving 2 inches between mounds. Brush the tops of the mounds with an egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water) if desired, being careful that drips do not hit the parchment.

Place the baking sheets in the lower third and upper third of an oven preheated to 425 degrees. Bake for 20 minutes. The puffs are done when they have doubled in size and are golden brown.

Remove from the oven and puncture the side of each puff with the tip of a sharp knife. Return to the oven, heat off and door ajar for 10 minutes to dry out the insides. Serve warm or at room temperature.

To freeze, cool completely and place in a zipper-lock bag, cushioned in paper towels. Reheat on parchment-lined baking sheets at 425 degrees for 3 to 4 minutes.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
Boiled knockwurst with mustard on buns; oven-cooked bacon; Cheddar gougere; sugar-free chocolate-lime-coconut cake, sugar-free chocolate cake with almonds; Jell-O salad with pineapple-mayonnaise dressing; spice-rubbed, charcoal-grilled strip steaks, béarnaise sauce, roast asparagus with butter and sea salt, roasted new potatoes with sour cream, bacon, butter and sea salt; Japanese curry with chicken.

What I ate in (or from) restaurants:
The low-cal plate — a deliciously seasoned hamburger patty, cottage cheese, tomato slices, hard-cooked egg and applesauce — at Village Gardens in Cuyahoga Falls; spicy chili pork wontons and spicy eggplant at House of Hunan in Fairlawn.

THE MAILBAG

From Stephanie C.:
What is “poke” and how is it pronounced? I see it on menus everywhere.

Dear Stephanie:
Poke is pronounced poe-kay, according to my husband, who made it when he worked in a Hawaii sushi bar years ago. Poke is a Hawaiian raw fish salad that is usually served in a bowl. Bite-sized pieces of seafood — classically, ahi tuna — are seasoned and tossed with green onions and eaten as is, over rice, or on leaves of lettuce. One recipe from the Hawaiian Fish Co. blog (honolulufishmarket.com) calls for chili pepper flakes, sesame oil, green onions, salt and sesame seeds.

A fast-casual restaurant devoted to the dish has opened in the Whole Foods plaza in the Wallhaven area of Akron. Poke Fresh is set up like Chipotle, with customers queueing up to choose a base (rice, greens, grains), a protein (tuna, salmon, chicken, tofu) and toppings. The website is eatpokefresh.com.

I had a delicious version of poke at Sushi Katsu in the Merriman Valley. That’s the place Tony owned until he retired. The new chef, Tin, makes great poke and sushi.

From Heidi:
For the man who wanted the recipe for African peanut soup, here is the one I use. I’ve made it several times and think it’s good. I’ve never had the version West Side Bakery makes so I can’t compare.

AFRICAN PEANUT STEW

1 tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped red onion
1 1/4 cups finely chopped green bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped carrot
1/2 cup chopped celery
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp. peeled, minced fresh ginger
1 tbsp. curry powder
1 can (14 oz.) diced tomatoes, drained
1 bay leaf
4 cups reduced-sodium vegetable broth
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups shelled edamame
1/4 cup creamy or crunchy peanut or almond butter
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 bag (6 oz.) baby spinach, torn in bite-size pieces
1/2 tsp. salt
Coarse-ground black pepper

Heat oil in a 4-quart saucepan. Sauté onion, bell pepper, carrot and celery until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, ginger and curry powder and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes and bay leaf and cook, uncovered, until tomatoes are slightly reduced, about 3 minutes.

Add broth and sweet potatoes; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 8 minutes. Add edamame and peanut butter; stir to combine. Add cilantro and spinach and cook until throughly heated and spinach wilts, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Makes 8 servings.

Recipe by Cheryl Forberg in “Relish the Healthy Table.”

Dear Heidi:
I know Cheryl Forberg, the recipe’s creator and former nutritionist for “The Biggest Loser” TV show. You can’t go wrong with one of her recipes. She specializes in healthful food that tastes great. My favorite baked taco recipe is from Cheryl.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 3, 2018

Dear friends,

For a while there, all my buddies were longing for Greek lemon and egg soup. It was like a virus that was going around. I didn’t catch the bug until much later. A year went by before I felt the urge to make the soup. What else was I going to do with the sack of lemons in my fridge?

The soup was a revelation. I had no idea it was so lemony and creamy. I may have had avgolemono — Greek lemon-egg soup — once long ago at Gus’s on Tallmadge Avenue in Akron, but the memory is dim. The soup I made recently was either way better or prepared in a different style. Probably both, because I think I would have remembered something this good.

This classic soup can be made with rice, bulgur or orzo pasta, or with rice served on the side. The lemon juice must be fresh, but many recipes start with canned chicken broth instead of homemade. The surprise for me was that the eggs are added not in ribbons, as with egg drop soup, but are slowly tempered so they enrich and thicken the broth without leaving so much as a trace.

The recipe I found and followed in “The Good Egg” by Marie Simmons starts with a whole frying chicken slow-simmered to produce a broth, which is then stocked with the cooked, shredded meat along with rice, fresh lemon juice and eggs. It’s just the thing for a drizzly spring day.

AVGOLEMONO SOUP

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1 whole chicken (3 to 4 lbs.), rinsed in salted water and drained
10 cups cold water
1 large onion, unpeeled, studded with 2 whole cloves
Kosher salt
1 cup long-grain white rice
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup strained fresh lemon juice
Fresh-ground black pepper

In a large pot, combine the chicken, water and onion and bring to a simmer. Skim off and discard the foam. Add salt to taste and simmer, covered, until the chicken is falling off the bones, 2 to 3 hours.

Remove from the heat and, using 2 large spoons, transfer the chicken to a platter to cool slightly. Remove and discard the onion from the broth.

Remove the meat from the chicken and shred or chop and return it to the pot, discarding the skin and bones. Taste the broth and add salt if needed. Stir in the rice and simmer uncovered until tender, about 15 minutes.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs and lemon juice until frothy. Slowly ladle in about 1 cup of the hot broth, whisking constantly to prevent the eggs from curdling. Turn off the heat under the pot and slowly whisk the egg mixture into the soup.

Serve the soup immediately . Pass the pepper mill at the table. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Note: I continued to cook the soup without simmering for several minutes after adding the eggs. The recipe is from “The Good Egg” by Marie Simmons.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
Fried corn meal mush sprinkled with Splenda, fried German bologna; stuffed cabbage soup; Japanese Genghis Khan — marinated and grilled thin-sliced lamb with sautéed onions and carrots over rice; sugar-free brownies.

What I ate in and from restaurants last week:
Cuban sandwich, salad with mozzarella and strawberries at Pub Bricco on Merriman Road in Akron; crispy spring roll, red curry noodles soup with beef at Thai Pattaya in the Portage Lakes; wontons in spicy sauce, scallion pancakes at Szechuan Gourmet in Cleveland; poutine with pulled pork at The Merchant Tavern on Merriman Road in Akron; a thin-crust veggie pizza from Earth Fare.

TIDBITS
This is a tale of two Asian restaurants, one meh and one potentially great. Szechuan Gourmet next to Tink Hol Asian grocery store in Cleveland has been lauded by several diners whose palates I trust. Thai Pattaya in Akron’s Portage Lakes area also has fans but is such a sleeper that some readers thought it had closed.

Guess which one I loved?

I tried to love Szechuan Gourmet when Tony and I visited last week on a sliced-lamb run to Park To Shop, another Asian grocery store near Tink Hol. Do not confuse the awful Szechuan Cafe next to Park to Shop with the Tink Hol Szechuan restaurant, which is much better. Still, the latter, which I had visited once before and thought lackluster, again failed to impress.

It wasn’t awful, but the six small pork wontons in spicy sauce I ordered were smushed together in a cereal bowl with a mere spoonful or so of sauce (itself nothing special), and a $14 octopus stir fry was served in a Pyrex pie plate. The baby octopuses were plentiful but the kitchen forgot (or didn’t know) to remove their beaks. Add in careless, neglectful service and it adds up to a disappointing meal.

Am I not ordering the right dishes? Visiting on off days? Whatever the answer, the spicy wontons a friend recommended couldn’t hold a candle to the ones I had at House of Hunan in Fairlawn.

In contrast, Tony and I visited Thai Pattaya with modest expectations a couple of days later and were blown away. I have been daydreaming about their luscious Red Curry Noodles Soup with beef ever since. The broth was stunning — gingery, maybe a hint of coconut, notes of lime and, of course, red curry paste. The soulful soup was stocked with round wheat noodles, chunks of roast beef caramelized on the edges and bamboo shoots. A platter of bean sprouts, julienned carrots and radish, sprigs of cilantro and lime wedges was served alongside, to add to the soup according to taste.

The restaurant is spacious and clean, and the service the evening we visited was attentive. I don’t know how the service would hold up during a rush because we arrived late and were the only customers. I can’t wait to return.

Thai Pattaya is at 497 Portage Lakes Drive in Coventry Township. The hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. The phone is 330-644-8363.

THE MAILBAG

From Carol:
Because of your comment a couple of weeks ago, I’m wondering what the difference is between Thai and Vietnamese pho.

Dear Carol:
I wrote that we would have to make do with Thai “pho” until a Vietnamese restaurant opens in the area. Pho is Vietnamese, not Thai. Some Thai and Chinese restaurants offer a noodle soup they call “pho” because the soup is very popular and they want the business, just as many Chinese, Thai and even American restaurants sell a bastardized form of sushi because sushi is all the rage. And everyone, it seems, has a pretend-Thai dish on the menu.

Although the faux sushi irks me the most because my husband is an itamae (sushi master) and I know the difference between salted raw and plain raw salmon, and vinegar-splashed air-dried rice and plain steamed rice, and properly trimmed tuna and tuna with the black streak intact, and a cheap sushi roll with a thick ring of rice and a well-made sushi roll with a fair portion of expensive seafood….well, I could go on and on. Sorry for the rant.

Anyway, a wise critic once told me that she judges restaurants not by how authentic they are but by how good the food tastes. That makes sense to me, too. So Thai “pho” could be delicious. (But not, I think, faux sushi.)