May 30, 2018

Dear friends,

The weather is finally hot enough to complain about. A month ago I thought this day would never come. I feared the mean spring might stretch through summer, with chilly evenings and cloudy days setting great swaths of the population on edge.

Friends, we have fended off the cold-weather riots of 2018. Let us celebrate by sacrificing the last of the 2017 tomatoes in the freezer.

I just unearthed a cache of frozen tomatoes intended for chili and winter soups. If you have followed my annual recommendation to toss washed summer tomatoes into plastic bags and freeze them whole, you may have a similar cache. Otherwise, to make this week’s recipe you’ll have to wait a few weeks for summer tomatoes to ripen in your garden or appear in stores. Do not attempt the recipe with cottony shipped-in tomatoes. It requires real, ripe tomatoes for its brash, “summer’s here” flavor.

The recipe for cold tomato soup with warm mojo shrimp was inspired by my fondness for hot and cold temperatures in the same dish. The soup requires very little cooking. The whole tomatoes are thawed, the skins slipped off and the blossom scar cut away and discarded. The tomatoes and juice are pureed in a food processor with sautéed onions, garlic, vinegar, bread and green pepper. The flavor of the soup belies its simplicity.

I had planned to marinate and grill the shrimp but my sinuses started pounding and I wanted out of the kitchen and onto the couch. I just threw the shrimp into a hot skillet to sear, then added a sploosh of mojo criollo marinade, sold in bottles in the ethnic foods section of most supermarkets. The marinade sizzled and evaporated, leaving a glossy lick of flavor on each shrimp.

By this time the soup had chilled, so I poured some into two wide mugs and dangled the shrimp on the rims, like shrimp cocktails. I handed one to Tony as I sank into the sofa cushions with my cold soup and hot shrimp. Ahhhh.

COLD TOMATO SOUP WITH HOT MOJO SHRIMP

For the soup:

5 medium-large frozen whole tomatoes or skinned ripe tomatoes

2 tbsp. olive oil

1/2 cup minced onion

1/2 cup dry white wine

4 oz. chewy white bread such as ciabatta

1 medium green pepper, in chunks

3 large cloves garlic, peeled

6 tbsp. white wine vinegar

2 tsp. salt

Slip the skins from the whole tomatoes and pour the tomatoes and juice (or chopped ripe tomatoes) into the bowl of a food processor.

Heat oil in a medium skillet. Sauté onion until transparent over medium-high heat. Increase heat to high, add wine and boil until reduced by half. Scrape onions and wine into food processor bowl. Add bread, torn into chunks. Add green pepper, garlic, vinegar and salt. Puree until very smooth, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a lidded plastic container and refrigerate until chilled. Makes 4 to 5 servings.

For the shrimp:

16 large raw shrimp

2 tbsp. olive oil

1/4 cup mojo criollo marinade (sold in most supermarkets in the ethnic foods aisle)

Peel shrimp and pat dry with paper towels. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When oil begins to shimmer and pan almost starts to smoke, throw in shrimp and arrange in a single layer. After about 15 seconds, turn shrimp over with tongs. After 15 seconds, add marinade and stir shrimp until marinade evaporates, about 15 seconds.

To serve, pour cold soup into four mugs, stemmed wine glasses or martini glasses. Dangle four shrimp from the rim of each mug or glass. Makes 4 appetizer or light entree servings.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:

Two whole smoked chickens in Tony’s new salvaged outdoor oven; smoked chicken salad with green onions, pecans and dried cranberries; cold tomato soup and warm mojo shrimp; baked steak tacos with green onion, tomato and avocado salsa and chipotle sour cream; hummus.

What I ate in/from restaurants last week:

Salad with grilled chicken at Alexandris in Wadsworth; pulled pork, collard greens and hush puppies from City Barbeque in Fairlawn; salad with double barbacoa at Chipotle’s in Fairlawn.

THE MAILBAG

From Kristi P.:
Re: plain rhubarb jam, I have been making and selling straight rhubarb jam for a few years. It is in big demand. Not always very pretty, though.

Jane notes:
Kristi sells her homemade bread, jam and garden produce at the Saturday farmer’s market in Seville.

From Barbara H.:
In the (rhubarb) jam recipe, could stevia work? Lower the sugar…

Dear Barbara:
Yes, but the preservation time for jams made with stevia is very short. The site sugarfreestevia.net recommends keeping the jam in the refrigerator for one week maximum or freezing it and using it quickly after it is thawed. The only stevia rhubarb jam recipe I could find was a hybrid rhubarb-blueberry jam that called for 1 teaspoon white stevia powder. You’ll need more stevia than that for a rhubarb-only jam.

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May 23, 2018

Dear friends,

I try to make my husband happy. That’s why I made Moroccan Chicken with Green Olives last week, and how he came to almost crush my foot on Sunday.

The foot crush was an unanticipated byproduct of his latest craze, giving me a massage. Lest you think this is about him making ME happy, I’ll describe it: I lay face-down on a blanket on the floor while he “massages” my back vigorously with his fingertips, which makes me laugh until I cry, and in turn gives him belly laughs.

“Laughing is good exercise,” Tony explains when I ask him to use the palms of his hands so it won’t tickle. The foot crush was an extra he thought of on the spur of the moment, recalling the rough massage techniques of the high school for athletes he attended in Japan. The technique: He stepped on the bottom of my foot as I lay face-down on the floor. Ow.

So I do what I can for my marriage. Last Wednesday it was making luscious Moroccan chicken. It looked so pretty Tony snapped a couple of photos of it on his iPad and showed them to a Moroccan woman in an English class he takes through Project Learn. She makes the dish with regular couscous, not large-pearl Israeli couscous, Tony reported. Otherwise, mine looked authentic, she said.

That’s nice to know but not essential for me to love a recipe. I am more interested in whether it tastes good, and Mark Bittman’s Chicken With Green Olives does indeed. The recipe is from his book, “The Best Recipes in the World,” a compendium of Bittman’s global favorites. Cook this when you want to make someone happy.

CHICKEN WITH GREEN OLIVES

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2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
3 to 4 lbs. chicken leg-thigh pieces (I used all thighs), legs and thighs separated, trimmed of excess fat
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 large onion, chopped
2 tsp. peeled and minced fresh ginger
About 1 inch cinnamon stick or ¼ tsp. ground
A few saffron threads or ½ tsp. ground turmeric
1 tbsp. minced garlic
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. paprika
Pinch of cayenne, or to taste
2 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
2 cups good-quality green olives, pitted
Fresh lemon juice to taste, at least 2 tbsp.
Chopped fresh cilantro leaves for garnish

Put the oil in a deep skillet or flameproof casserole, preferably nonstick, over medium-high heat. After a minute or so, when the oil is hot, add the chicken, skin side down, and brown it well, rotating and turning the pieces as necessary and sprinkling them with salt and pepper as they cook, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate and pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the onion, ginger, ½ teaspoon or more pepper, the cinnamon, saffron, garlic, bay leaf, cumin, paprika, cayenne, and some salt and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, until the onion softens. Add the stock and raise the heat to medium-high. Return the chicken to the pan, skin side up, and cook at a lively simmer while you prepare the olives.

Put the olives in a small saucepan and cover with water; bring to a boil, drain, and repeat. Add the drained olives to the chicken. Cook until the chicken is done, about 15 minutes from the time you returned it to the pan. Add lemon juice, then taste and adjust the seasoning—it’s unlikely, but not impossible, that the mixture will need some salt. Garnish and serve. (I served it over Israeli couscous.) Serves 4.

From “The Best Recipes in the World” by Mark Bittman.

TIDBIT

Corelife Eatery opens today in Fairlawn, and I plan to be one of the first in line. I’ve had my eye on this healthful-eating concept since the Strongsville location opened. The menu features salads, grain bowls and broth bowls with vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options, as well as choices for the way I like to eat — a bowl of protein and vegetables with maybe a smidgen of whole grains. (Actually, I’d prefer foie gras and creme brûlée but those eat-anything-days are long gone.)

Some menu choices: Spicy Thai Chicken & Rice Noodles, 450 calories with Thai cashew dressing; Spicy Ginger Steak Salad (shredded kale, arugula, steak, bell peppers, ginger, Sriracha), 370 calories with miso sesame dressing; and Grilled Chicken Tortilla Bone Broth Bowl (broth, chicken, shredded kale, napa cabbage, tortilla strips, jalapeno, black beans, cilantro, lime), 630 calories. No prices are listed on the restaurant’s Internet site.

The Fairlawn restaurant is the eighth in Ohio for the chain, which began three years ago in Syracuse, N.Y., and has quickly spread to eight other states. Find out more at corelifeeatery.com.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
Chicken With Green Olives over Israeli couscous; grilled strip steaks, asparagus with butter and lemon; ham and cheese omelet, sautéed mushrooms with feta cheese; spaghetti sauce with venison and bison; spaghetti sauce over melted feta cheese, steamed asparagus; scrambled eggs over melted feta cheese, grapefruit sections; seared peppered tuna steaks drizzled with sesame oil and soy sauce, charred whole scallions, pickled shaved carrots and radishes. (I bought the BIG container of feta cheese.)

What I ate in restaurants last week:
Cobb salad with grilled chicken at Alexandri’s in Wadsworth; egg roll, pad Thai and grilled chicken skewers at the Asian Festival in Cleveland; fried lake perch, cottage cheese and coleslaw at Wil’s Grille & Pub in Coventry Township.

THE MAILBAG

From Jim S.:
I assume you know this but just in case, since you are enjoying your asparagus patch, asparagus is properly eaten with the fingers. What better source than Miss Manners herself?

Dear Jim:
Thanks for attaching Miss Manners’ written explanation that it’s OK to eat asparagus with one’s fingers. She writes in her column, “Asparagus is, indeed, correctly eaten with the fingers, in a very old tradition of which few modern people seem aware.”

I would add that, should the spears be draped with Hollandaise or another sauce, utensils may still be your best bet. However, at home when no one is watching, I have managed to eat even sauced asparagus with my fingers. It’s tricky but entirely possible.

From Maria M.:
I absolutely love rhubarb and have been looking for a rhubarb jam recipe for years. I cannot find one that does not include other fruit/berries or gelatin. Do you happen to have a recipe? Or do you think I could take a strawberry-rhubarb jam recipe and substitute an equal amount of rhubarb for the strawberries? Thank you so much.

Dear Maria:
There’s no reason you cannot make jam or jelly with rhubarb alone, as long as you add pectin, according to information I found at the the University of Georgia’s National Center for Home Preservation site. You should process the jam or jelly in a boiling water bath. More canning safety information can be found at https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_07/jam_jelly_with_pectin.html.

That said, I could not find a recipe for straight rhubarb jam or jelly on the home preservation site, the Ball canning jar site or even the Washington Rhubarb Growers Association site. I finally located the recipe at Kraft Foods’ Sure.Jell site. Here it is:

RHUBARB JAM
2 1/2 lbs. fully ripe rhubarb
1 cup water
1 package Sure-Jell Fruit Pectin
1/2 tsp. butter
6 1/2 cups sugar, measured into a separate bowl

Bring a boiling water canner, half full of water, to a simmer. Wash 8 1-cup jars and screw bands in hot soapy water; rinse with warm water. Pour boiling water over flat lids in a saucepan off the heat. Let stand in hot water until ready to use. Drain jars well before filling.

Chop unpeeled rhubarb finely. Place rhubarb and water in a 4-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil on high heat. Reduce heat to medium; simmer 2 minutes or until rhubarb is tender. Measure exactly 4 1/2 cups prepared rhubarb into a 6- or 8-quart sauce pot.

Stir pectin into prepared rhubarb. Add butter to reduce foaming. Bring to a full rolling boil (a boil that doesn’t stop bubbling when stirred) on high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in sugar. Return to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Boil exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim off any foam with a metal spoon.

Ladle immediately into prepared jars, filling to within 1/4-inch of tops. Wipe jar rims and threads. Cover with two-piece lids. Screw bands tightly. Place jars on elevated rack in canner. Lower rack into canner. Water must cover jars by 1 to 2 inches; add boiling water if necessary.

Cover canner with lid and bring water to a gentle boil. Process 10 minutes. Remove jars and place upright on a towel to cool completely. After jars cool, check seals by pressing middles of lids with a finger. If a lid springs back, lid is not sealed and refrigeration of that jar necessary. Makes 8 1-cup jars.

 

May 15, 2018

Dear friends,

Planting a bed of asparagus will try your patience. You must wait three years before you harvest a spear, to give the plants time to strengthen and grow. This is my new bed’s third year, and I’m whacking down fat spears like Achilles slaying Trojans.

What’s for dinner? Most nights, asparagus. I steam and plate them with sea salt and lemon. I pan-grill them with olive oil, sea salt and lemon and serve them with poached eggs. I eat them raw as a snack. And one evening, I roasted them with potatoes, peppers, salmon and olive oil on a sheet pan. The salmon sheet pan supper is my favorite way to prepare asparagus so far.

Cooking an entire meal on a baking sheet is enjoying a wave of popularity. I like the idea because roasted vegetables taste great, and using just one pan makes cleanup easy. What I don’t like is cooking everything at once, for the same amount of time. The solution is to add ingredients in stages, according to how long they will take to cook.

That’s what I did with my sheet pan salmon. I also cut the vegetables into small dice so they would cook evenly and quickly. The potatoes and peppers, which take longer to roast than asparagus, were cut into 1/4-inch and 1/2-inch pieces, respectively. The asparagus was cut into 1 1/2-inch lengths on the bias. They all went into the oven at the same time, glossed with olive oil and spread on a sheet pan.

When the vegetables were almost done, I nudged them into a pile about the size and shape of my salmon fillet. The fish went on top of the vegetables and everything was returned to the oven for 10 more minutes, until the fish was barely translucent in the center.

Fish should not be cooked until completely opaque all the way through, because it continues to cook off the heat. Leaving a bit of rawness in the center will result in a perfectly cooked fish at the table.

To amp up the flavor of the meal, I squeezed fresh lemon juice over the vegetables before serving, and slathered the fish with lemon-dill mayonnaise before roasting. The mayo mixture puffed and browned in the oven, providing just enough creamy sauce and bright flavor to complement the fish.

I used a large salmon fillet for this recipe, but individual fillets of salmon or even cod would work, too. I’ll probably even make the dish with boneless, pounded chicken breasts before spring is over. That asparagus just keeps on coming.

ROAST LEMON-DILL SALMON AND ASPARAGUS

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1 1/4 lb. salmon fillet (1 large or 4 individual)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
3 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh dill
1 red bell pepper, cut in 1/2-inch cubes
2 medium potatoes, cut in 1/4-inch cubes (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 to 3/4 lb. asparagus, trimmed and cut on the bias into 1 1/2-inch lengths
Olive oil
1 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Pat salmon dry and set aside. In a small bowl or custard cup, beat together mayonnaise, lemon zest, 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice and dill. Set aside.

Combine bell pepper, potatoes and asparagus on a baking sheet. Toss with enough olive oil to gloss the vegetables and oil the pan. Season with salt. Spread in a single layer and bake uncovered at 425 degrees for about 25 minutes, until tender and edges are beginning to brown, stirring once. Remove from oven and nudge vegetables into a mound about the shape of the fish fillet.

Place fish on top of vegetables, skin side down. Spread mayonnaise mixture over fish. Return to oven and bake 10 to 12 minutes, until salmon is almost cooked through. Test the fish by cutting into the thickest part with the point of a knife.

Place fish on a platter or divide among four dinner plates. Toss vegetables with remaining 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Surround fish with vegetables. Makes 4 servings.

TIDBIT

Long, slow smoking and a vinegar-based swab make City Barbeque’s pulled pork some of the best I’ve had. The new eatery at 2870 W. Market St. in Fairlawn also had great sides when Tony and I visited. Can corn pudding get any creamier, or hush puppies crisper? I doubt it.

Then again, we dined on VIP night, before the restaurant was officially open. On our way elsewhere last Saturday, we saw the lights and cars, pulled in, and on our way to the door two exiting diners jammed some invitations into our hands. The free VIP night was held not only to get the word out but to serve as a dress rehearsal for the new staff. You can bet everything was fresh and well prepared, with all the bosses riding herd that night. Will the food be as good on a normal day? We’ll find out.

The Fairlawn restaurant is the latest location of a fast-growing chain that began in Columbus in 1999. For a barbecue joint it is fairly large, with dozens of seats indoors as well as on a patio. Patrons order at one end of a long counter and pick up their trays at the other end. The decor is all steel and wood, with clean lines and few frills. It’s kind of an uptown roll-of-paper-towels-on-the-table place.

The two big smokers built into a back wall handle pork roasts, pork ribs, chicken, beef brisket, sausage and turkey. They are served straight up with two sides, in sandwiches, and the turkey also comes in a salad. I like the generous selection of sides: fresh-cut fries, potato salad, mac and cheese, lettuce salad, green beans with bacon, coleslaw, tender collard greens deeply flavored and studded with chunks of pork (my favorite), baked beans with pieces of brisket, cornbread, and the corn pudding and hush puppies mentioned above.

Prices are about average for local barbecue. The pulled pork dinner is $7.29. A half slab of ribs is $12.99. Brisket with peppers and onions, smoked provolone and horseradish sauce on grilled Texas toast is $8.29.

I think I need one of those brisket sandwiches real soon. For hours and other info, go to www.citybbq.com.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
Baked salmon with lemon-dill sauce, roast cubed potatoes, red bell pepper and asparagus; soft-scrambled eggs with dill and avocado; steamed asparagus with lemon and sea salt.

What I ate in restaurants last week:
Queso fundido with chips and pork tacos al pastore at Nuevo Modern Mexican in downtown Akron; pulled pork topped with slaw, hush puppies, collard greens, corn pudding at City Barbeque in Fairlawn; an egg roll and Mussaman curry with chicken at Thai Pattaya Restaurant in the Portage Lakes area of Akron; strawberry and coffee sugar-free frozen yogurt from Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt in Fairlawn (a Mother’s Day treat from Tony that he bought and hid in the basement freezer).

THE MAILBAG

From C.W.:
Thank you for calling attention to a favorite of mine, the California Long White potato. I discovered it while at the University of Idaho in the early ‘70s. Raised in Akron on Ramsayer potatoes from Wooster, I hated cooking with Idaho’s dry russets, so different in every way. The Long Whites were so similar to Ohio’s, save only for their very thin skins, that I was again able to cook the dishes I loved.

I have only recently been able to find the California Long Whites identified as such during their season, in Kreiger’s and at Szalay’s. Do you know of other sources you can share?

Dear C.W.:
I think I have gotten them at Acme, although I’m not sure they were labeled as such. And I am pretty sure you can find them at West Side Market in Cleveland. The label isn’t essential if you know what you’re looking for — good-sized beige potatoes with a skin so thin it curls away in places, like a peeling suntan.

 

May 9, 2018

Dear friends,

Small, red new potatoes taste so earthy and sweet at this time of year that I buy them exclusively for a couple of months. I’ll segue into California long whites when they hit the market in June, and then play the field with whatever kind of potato looks freshest for the rest of the summer. For now, though, red potatoes are my favorite.

At cookouts I have roasted them in foil and smashed, marinated and grilled them a la Roger Thomas, but gave up finding any other way to cook red potatoes — or any potatoes — outdoors. Then my friend, Michele Sandridge, served some really great, super-easy mustard potatoes at a gathering. She roasted them in the oven, but I immediately realized they could be skewered and grilled over coals.

The tangy flavor belies their simplicity. The recipe (from a Barefoot Contessa cookbook) calls for cutting the potatoes into large chunks and tossing them with chunks of onion and olive oil, whole-grain mustard, salt and pepper. They are spread on a sheet pan and baked until tender. Really, you won’t believe how good these simple potatoes are.

For my next cookout I plan to slather the potato and onion chunks with the mustard-oil mixture, thread the chunks on skewers and grill them over a wood fire. Smoke can only enhance an already delicious side dish.

Fellow fire-lovers should follow my lead while others can bake the potatoes in the oven, as Ina Garten intended. Either way, I think they will be a winner.

MUSTARD POTATOES

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2 1/2 lbs. small red potatoes
2 yellow onions
3 tbsp. good olive oil
2 tbsp. whole-grain mustard
Kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Cut the potatoes in halves or quarters, depending on their size, and place on a sheet pan. Remove the ends of the onions and peel them and cut them in half. Slice them crosswise into inch-thick slices to make half-rounds. Toss the onions and potatoes together on the sheet pan. Add the olive oil, mustard, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and pepper and toss together.

Bake 50 minutes to 1 hour, until the potatoes are lightly browned outside and tender inside. Toss the potatoes from time to time with a metal spatula so they brown evenly. Serve hot, sprinkled with the chopped parsley and little salt. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

From “The Contessa at Home” by Ina Garten.

HELP U COOK

Although my recipe this week is made with red potatoes, I mention California long whites in my introduction. Potato buffs (yes, there is such a thing) are no doubt already familiar with this variety, and as a buff myself, I like to spread the word.

California long whites, technically the White Rose hybrid, are among my favorite potatoes. You can recognize the potato by the tissue-paper-thin skin (light brown) and the tiny, barely dimpled eyes. The flesh is waxy and holds its shape when cooked, which makes it a good choice for potato salad and scalloped potatoes. I just like the thin skin and the flavor.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
Eggs scrambled in butter with feta cheese and avocado; mojo-marinated grilled chicken skewers, potatoes roasted in a campfire.

What I ate in restaurants/ at a friend’s house last week:
Black and blue burger (mushrooms, blue cheese, grilled onions) and grilled asparagus at Wolf Creek Tavern in Norton; tomato soup and half of a steak and arugula sandwich at Panera in Montrose; baked chicken marsala and wilted spinach in portobello mushroom caps, crisp salad with homemade green goddess dressing, mustard roast potatoes at my friend Michele’s house; Spanish omelet and melon at Alexandri’s in Wadsworth; edamame, a creamy baked mussel, a Jane roll and an Amy roll at Sushi Katsu in Akron; two chili dogs at the Hot Dog Shoppe in East Liverpool; a crisp lettuce and cucumber salad, meat loaf and a baked sweet potato at the Riverside Roadhouse in Wellsville; half of a ham sub from Subway.

THE MAILBAG

From Lucinda:
I have a question about your microwave desserts. Since I often entertain just one or two and baking a traditional-size version of desserts is a recipe for overindulging, I’d love to offer these individual treats in more decorative vessels than my dollar-store plain, white coffee mugs.

My question is, then, have you found the shape and diameter of the mug affect the preparation process and outcome of your recipes? I have some lovely stoneware and ceramic mugs by artists who show at Ohio Mart and the Akron Arts Expo, but they tend to be wider, and some a bit shorter, than the ones I have been using.

Dear Lucinda:
Great question. Yes, the shape, size and material of the mug very much influences the timing. I tested all of my microwave mug dessert recipes in 12-ounce ceramic Fiesta ware mugs. You can use other sizes and shapes but you will have to gauge doneness by looks, which I have tried to describe for each recipe.

One reason the book has taken me so long to write is that I keep retesting recipes to take into account yet more variables. The wattage of the oven affects baking time, as does the physical size of the oven and even where on the turntable the mug is placed (never place it directly in the center, where the microwaves meet). I am amazed at microwave mug cookbook authors who tell readers to just bake the batter in any old mug, put it in any old microwave and bake it for an exact number of minutes. Really??

From Ms. O.:
Use your phone or camera to snap a pic of those solitary recipes that are keeping you from selling cookbooks!

From Michele B.:
The last time I got rid of some cookbooks, I took pictures of the few recipes I used and saved them with other recipes I have only in electronic form.

Dear O. and Michele:
Thanks for the suggestion, which had not occurred to me.

 

 

 

May 2, 2018

Dear friends,

My floor-to-ceiling wall of cookbooks is undergoing a severe pruning as I prepare for a yard sale this month. Should I keep Time-Life’s “Great Cooking,” even though the only recipe I use semi-regularly is for crepes stuffed with lemon soufflé? Maybe. Should I sell my two thick books on charcuterie even though I’ve never gotten around to making prosciutto. No. Some dreams die hard.

However, I have packed up dozens of books to sell, even when I invariably find a recipe I overlooked and just have to make. The salad recipe I offer today is a case in point.

Couscous Salad with Chicken, Avocado and Mango started life as a rice salad in an old “Food & Wine Magazine’s Quick from Scratch Herbs & Spices Cookbook.” I was looking for inspiration for using the first of the season’s chives. Instead I found a refreshing, deeply flavored salad that will taste as good in mid summer as it does now.

I changed some ingredients, added some and tinkered with the proportions to come up with the recipe that follows. I’m still going to sell the cookbook, but maybe not before I try the chocolate pudding with fennel and the grilled Fontina, mushroom and sage sandwiches. Among others.

COUSCOUS SALAD WITH CHICKEN, MANGO AND AVOCADO

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1 cup uncooked Israeli couscous (large pearls)
2 1/2 cups cubed boneless, skinless rotisserie chicken (1/2-inch cubes)
1/2 cup diced red onion
1 mango, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 avocados, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. fresh-ground pepper
1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves

Cook couscous in water according to package directions. Drain, refresh with cold water and drain thoroughly. Place in a large bowl with the chicken, onion, mango and avocado.

In a lidded jar combine lemon juice, olive oil, sugar, salt and pepper. Shake well. Pour over salad. Add cilantro and toss gently but thoroughly. Make 4 entree-sized servings.

MICROWAVE DESSERT

I have resumed working on my microwave mug dessert book, which at this rate will be finished when microwave ovens are obsolete. When I started the book just a couple of awful microwave mug recipes were floating around the Internet. Now there are thousands of recipes, but I’ll keep going because I think my techniques are unique and produce better-quality desserts.

Here is an example from my chapter on bread puddings. If you try the recipe, let me know what you think. Read the entire recipe before starting.

MICROWAVE MUG CINNAMON-RAISIN BREAD PUDDING

1 tbsp. butter
1 1/2 tbsp. sugar
3 tbsp. milk
1 large egg white
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
1 cup gently packed white sandwich bread in 1/2-inch cubes (about 1 1/4 slices)
1 tbsp. raisins

Place butter in a 12-ounce pottery mug and microwave on high power until melted, about 20 seconds. Stir in sugar and milk. Add egg white, vanilla, cinnamon and salt. Beat with a fork until the egg white is thoroughly incorporated. Add half of the bread cubes and half of the raisins, pushing to gently submerge. Add remaining bread cubes and raisins. Push into the custard mixture, gently stirring once or twice to distribute raisins.

Microwave at 50 percent power for about 2 minutes 30 seconds for 1,000-watt ovens or 2 minutes for 1,000- and 1,200-watt ovens, adjusting time up or down for lower- or higher-watt ovens.

The pudding is done when the top is set but still moist and the sides of the pudding look set when a knife is inserted between the pudding and the mug. Eat from the mug or, if desired, let stand two minutes, loosen edges with a knife and invert onto a plate. Enjoy warm or at room temperature.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
Al dente asparagus with fresh lemon juice and two poached eggs; chicken couscous salad with mango and avocado; meatloaf with cognac, baked sweet potatoes; hamburger, oven fries, roasted bell peppers; chopped Asian salad and Japanese Genghis Khan (thin-sliced marinated lamb pan-grilled over high heat, served over rice with stir-fried onions and asparagus).

What I ate last week in/from restaurants:
Hummus and beef plate at Aladdin’s in Montrose; a la carte scrambled eggs and bacon at Cracker Barrel in Montrose; a gyro salad at Arby’s in Wadsworth; marinated, grilled chicken with onions, peppers and salad greens at Village Gardens Restaurant in Cuyahoga Falls.

THE MAILBAG

From Geoff:
Re: food processors — Since I prepare quite a few Cajun dishes I need to make the trinity, a mix of onions, peppers and celery, fairly often. This is very easily done in the food processor by simply tossing in medium chunks of all three ingredients and pulsing several times until the correct size chop is reached. It’s much quicker than finely chopping by hand even if your knife skills are good.

Dear Geoff:
I will point out for my niece’s benefit that your Breville processor does a better job of evenly dicing ingredients than her Cuisinart. Still, if the chunks are a uniform size going into the processor, and the chopping is accomplished in brief pulses rather than a steady whirl, the vegetables will be fairly evenly chopped. I chopped an onion in my Cuisinart Sunday evening for a meatloaf, and it came out fine.

From Cindi S.:
I, too, consider my food processor indispensable. I finally got one around four years ago and immediately wondered what took me so long (I’m 45!). I use the shred blade to shred cheese maybe more than anything else. I find pre-shredded cheese has too much cornstarch or whatever non-clumping agent they use these days.

Whole blocks of cheese are far less expensive and the cheese tastes so much better than pre-shredded. I like blends of cheese, too, so I just get blocks of each kind (Cheddar and Monterey jack or Colby and Monterey jack or mozzarella and Cheddar or a favorite…Cheddar and Swiss) and feed slabs of them alternately through the tube, then give them a toss to further mix. I find they really don’t clump once shredded, either.

Dear Cindi:
I forgot about cheese. I use my processor to finely grate (well, chop) the Parmesan I buy in blocks. I freeze the whole blocks, hack off a hunk and grate it as needed for fresh-cheese flavor.

From Carol P.:
I use my food processor for slicing mostly. Do you ever make radish chips? They will never replace potato chips, but I like to keep them on hand. Celery, onions (with a small fan blowing the fumes away), carrot. Also anything I would drag out my mixer for. Really, it’s an all-purpose tool.

Dear Carol:
Radish chips? Do you eat them fresh or bake them? Do tell.