June 12, 2018

Dear friends,

Peaches and blue cheese: The idea is intriguing. That’s what I thought when I saw a recipe for peach and blue cheese salad in “Michael Symon’s Carnivore.” I imagined the crunch of the raw Marcona almonds contrasted with the soft sweetness of the peaches, reined in with the bite of vinaigrette and pungent blue cheese.

The reality was less than ideal because of a couple of hiccups in the recipe, but ultimately I turned it into a pretty interesting side dish for a grilled steak. In his cookbook, Symon writes that he spoons the salad right on top of rib steaks. I dunno about that (the peach chunks alone would obliterate the steak), but served alongside it was pretty good.

I had to seriously decrease the amount of dressing on the salad (Symon called for using the entire batch) because of the juiciness of the warmed peaches. I also gave up on warming the peaches on a grill, because the natural sugars in the fruit caused them to stick like crazy to the metal. I think the oven temp of 250 for the alternate peach-cooking method was a mistake, so I have upped it to 450 degrees for the two minutes of warming. Other than that…

Seriously, other than that, the salad is a winner. But next time, the Cleveland chef might want to try the recipes he sells under his name.

PEACH & BLUE CHEESE SALAD

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1 garlic clove, minced

¼ cup red wine vinegar

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

1 tsp. honey

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing

6 firm peaches, pitted and quartered

½ cup raw Marcona almonds

2 cups arugula

1 cup crumbled blue cheese

Kosher salt

Heat a charcoal or gas grill to high or preheat the oven to 450 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic, vinegar, mustard, honey, and the ¼ cup olive oil. Brush the peach quarters with olive oil. Grill on a well-oiled grid for 1 minute per side, or warm them in the oven for 2 minutes.

Gently combine the warm peaches, almonds, arugula, and blue cheese in a large bowl. Add just enough dressing to moisten; toss to combine. Season with salt to taste. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

From “Michael Symon’s Carnivore: 120 Recipes for Meat Lovers” by Michael Symon and Douglas Trattner.

HELP U COOK

Regular whole raw almonds may be substituted for the Marcona almonds in the salad recipe above. But if you like almonds, Marconas are worth seeking out. The first time I tasted them was at a farmer’s market in Spain. I didn’t know they were special when I bought a bag of the fat, skinless almonds.

Over the next few days, I became addicted to the almonds. They have the sharp, clean crunch of a macadamia and a ripe, full almond flavor. They are one of the few nuts I’ve had that are delicious raw.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:

Meatloaf, baked sweet potatoes; poke salad with grilled mahi mahi, bell pepper, green onions, avocado, pineapple and sesame vinaigrette; chocolate pudding; hamburgers; spaghetti squash with venison spaghetti meat sauce.

What I ate last week in/from restaurants:

Thai curry noodles with chicken at CoreLife in Fairlawn; spanakopita at Countryside Farmer’s Market in Highland Square; steak sandwich at Dontino’s La Vita Gardens in Akron.

THE MAILBAG 

From Sandy D.:

My hummus recipe is similar to yours and I like it, but have you not heard of or tried gas station hummus? When I first heard about it I thought, “It’s hummus — how much better than mine can it be?” Well, I’m not sure what the magic is but holy smokes, it is the most creamy, smooth, flavorful stuff ever!

You can get it at the Sunoco station in Olmsted Falls at the corner of Columbia and Sprague Roads or the Sunoco in Willoughby at Lost Nation and Lakeshore Boulevard. Call ahead, though — it is so popular it sells out quickly.

As far as your list of questions, I can only answer one. I read a couple of food blogs each week on a regular basis, but there are many out there that are very run-of-the-mill. Seems they are more focused on being cute and stylish than offering me any helpful info about cooking.

At any rate, if you haven’t had gas station hummus yet, please try it. I’d love to hear what you think of it.

Sandy, Sandy, Sandy:

Just the phrase “gas station hummus” sends me into paroxysms of rapture. Hummus from a gas station! I haven’t tasted it and already I’m a believer. I once had barbecued ribs at a gas station in Kansas City and the place is now on everybody’s “best ribs” list, so why not hummus?

It turns out that your gas station hummus has been an underground hit among Cleveland foodies for about a year. It is actually available at three gas stations — the two you mentioned and Ohio City Gas at Lorain Avenue and Fulton Road in the Ohio City area of Cleveland. Muntaha Dari makes the hummus at her gas station in Willoughby and her sister, Khalil, uses the same recipe at the station in Olmsted Falls that she owns with her parents. Their brother owns the Ohio City station, where the hummus is made by his wife, Nazek Allan, from a recipe taught to her by the Dari’s mother. I can’t wait to try it.

From Maryann:

How do you know if meat, chicken, seafood, etc., bought “unfrozen” in a grocery store hasn’t been previously frozen? Sometimes the package seems to have little crystals like just-thawed meat. Usually I repackage family-size items into smaller servings to freeze. Is it safe to do this even if I’m not sure if the item has been previously frozen in storage?

If a product label says “fresh” does it mean never frozen or just not frozen now? If I thaw something that I froze but change my mind about cooking it, can I refreeze it?

Dear Maryann:

If a food is labeled “fresh,” it means by law that it has never been frozen. But the government’s definition of “never frozen” is wacky. It allows processors and shippers to call a food “fresh” if it has been “hard chilled” to 27 degrees. To me, 27 degrees is frozen. A consumers’ group once protested the nonsensical rule by bowling “hard chilled” turkeys down the streets of Washington, D.C.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that if you see ice crystals in a food, it is safe to refreeze. Food safety experts tell us not to refreeze food that has been completely thawed, but frankly, I do it all the time. The safety folks are acting out of an abundance of caution. They fear that if your frozen food has been thawed, you may have allowed it to warm up past 40 degrees for two hours, the point and time at which bacteria can grow enough to hurt you. But if you have sense enough to keep your thawed food cold, you can safely refreeze it. Thawing and refreezing won’t do any favors for the texture or juiciness of the product, but it won’t kill you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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June 6, 2018

Dear friends,

With the price of hummus hovering at $5 for a little bitty saucer’s worth, I needed to make a change. First I found the same quality of hummus in the same amount (10 ounces) at Aldi for $1.99. But then I realized that it’s still just a handful of pureed beans. Why aren’t I making it myself?

I’ve made hummus in the past and many of you probably have, too. Why did we stop? At its most basic, it is merely chickpeas, tahini (sesame seed paste), garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. About 10 minutes in the kitchen gets you a velvety yet substantial dip that is low in carbohydrates and moderately rich in protein. How low, how rich? One-fourth cup of hummus has about 100 calories, 8.5 grams of carbohydrates and 4.8 grams of protein.

In this country hummus is considered a party or snack dip but that hasn’t stopped me from eating it for breakfast lately. I’m not alone, I discovered when I read a J.M. Hirsch article in Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street Magazine, which won the James Beard Award for dining and travel journalism this year. In Israel, Hirsch says, hummus is a breakfast food. Period.

“This is no tub of American grocery store hummus,” he writes. “It is light, ethereally smooth. The flavor is at once boldly nutty with tahini yet also subtle. None of the harsh garlic and lemon I expect. Is there even any garlic in it? Most shocking: It is deliciously warm. Who knew you could eat hummus warm?”

The hummus the writer learns to make in Jerusalem starts with dried chickpeas, cooked until soft and pureed with some of the cooking liquid while warm. Then tahini, lemon and salt are added. Nothing else.

Someday I may become a hummus purist and use dried chickpeas (the smaller the better), but for ease of preparation I’ll still mostly reach for canned. Although many American recipes suggest laboriously removing the skins from the cooked chickpeas, Hirsch’s Israeli version just processes the heck out of them — four minutes total.

Using warm chickpeas is essential, so I heated up my canned beans and liquid before processing. Then I added the tahini, lemon juice, garlic and salt. I like garlic, so sue me.

Olive oil is drizzled over the hummus after it is in the serving bowl.

You can see how Hirsch and the magazine staff make their hummus by Googling “JBF journalism nominees,” clicking on “Read All of the 2018 Journalism Nominees Here,” scrolling down to Hirsch’s hummus article and clicking on it. Sorry the process is so convoluted, but many of the nominated articles are no longer available to the public in any other way. Or could go directly to my streamlined, quick recipe for hummus.

Whichever version you prefer, remember it’s not just for parties anymore.

QUICK VELVETY HUMMUS

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1 can (about 15 oz.) chickpeas (garbanzo beans)

1/3 cup tahini (preferably imported)

2 tbsp. lemon juice

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 tsp. sea salt

2 tbsp. olive oil

Pour chickpeas and their liquid into a small saucepan and heat almost to a simmer. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the liquid. Puree beans in a food processor for 2 minutes, until very smooth. Add tahini, lemon juice, garlic and sea salt. Puree 2 minutes longer. With the motor running, pour in the 1/4 cup cooking liquid and process until smooth and whipped. Pour into bowls and drizzle with olive oil. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:

Summer rolls with shrimp, crispy rice sticks, carrot and cucumber slaw, crushed peanuts and fresh mint; grilled sausage links; a salad of grilled peaches, arugula, blue cheese and almonds; asparagus, walnut and feta salad; hot dogs over a campfire.

What I ate in/from restaurants last week:

A steak, sweet potato and arugula bowl from CoreLife in Fairlawn; half of a steak and arugula sandwich on a baguette from Panera Bread; two coney dogs with mustard and onion from Netty’s Famous Chili Dogs near Marblehead; scrambled eggs, bacon and toast at Big Boppers near Marblehead; a spinach, tomato and Swiss omelet at Big Boppers.

THE MAILBAG

No letters, no Mailbag. So this week I will turn the tables and ask YOU a few questions that have been on my mind.

  • Why did my truffle oil lose its truffle aroma and flavor after a few months?
  • Why is some cornstarch pudding watery the next day?
  • Who buys all those jumbo and extra-large eggs in grocery stores, when every recipe I’ve ever seen calls for large?
  • How many food blogs do you read each week, and why did so many people suddenly decide to do my job? Everybody and their grandmother is a food writer now. I cannot keep up with the output of just Akron food bloggers, let alone a sampling of food blogs from elsewhere. Are there readers for these things?
  • Where is a good place to eat lunch in the Akron area, and what do you order?

* Why not drop me a line?