September 26, 2018

Dear friends,
On my first day in France, I dined sumptuously on winey lamb shanks and a platter of to-kill-for cheeses at the home of a friend. The next morning we sipped coffee and nibbled brioche at a boulangerie where the loaves are baked in a 200-year-old brick oven. My vacation was off to a good start.

Tony and I are wallowing in the good life in Southwest France where we came to visit our friend, Linda. Later we will cap our trip with a few days in Paris before returning home. But I’ll hate to leave this place even for Paris.

Our friend, a great cook, lives in a restored historic home in the ancient village of Homps, just South of cassoulet central and smack in the middle of rose wine, aligot, foie gras, truffle and wild mushroom country.

The pace of life is slow. Mealtime is given its due. The least we could do, we figured, was try to fit in.

The best way to describe what we’ve been up to is with a gut check. Because, frankly, we haven‘t done much besides eat.

ALIGOT, GRILL-SMOKED TURKEY ROAST AND SAUTEED VEGETABLES

What I cooked last week:
Carrot-leek soup with lardons, thyme and cream; sauteed zucchini, onions and sweet red peppers with garlic and herbs de Provence.

What Linda cooked last week:
A rolled turkey thigh roast rubbed with mashed garlic and spices and grill-smoked until juicy-crisp; a magret duck breast rubbed with five-spice powder and pan-grilled to medium-rare, with salad, magnificent cheeses and my soup, above; spaghetti Bolognese and garlic bread.

What I ate in restaurants, cafes and bakeries:
Brioche and coffee at Boulangerie au Marche du Herbes in Olanzac, France; Luque olives, gazpacho with crab profiteroles, coquelet (baby chicken), roasted, over mashed potatoes with olive oil and black olives, vegetable (eggplant?) crisps, grapefruit sorbet with lemon and vodka and panna cotta with raspberry coulis and diced cantaloupe compote at En Bonne Compagnie in Homps; pate on a baguette with cornichons at Le Grande Fontaine in Caunes-Minervois; steamed mussels in Roquefort sauce and frites at a place whose name I can’t remember in St.- Pierre-la-Mer; buckwheat crepe stuffed with ratatouille and chevre cheese at Ty-‘Zac Restaurant in Olonzac; hamburger a point with sauteed mushrooms on a toasted bun at Ty-‘Zac; pork and duck cassoulet at La Girouette in Carcassonne.

TIDBIT
Here are five regional food items of the Aude in Southwest France I wish I could buy in Ohio:
1. Dark chocolate studded with candied violets (violets are a specialty of Toulouse);
2. Truffle salt with bits of real truffle;
3. Prunes d,Agen (the famous plump, juicy local dried plums);
4. Aligot, mashed potatoes beaten with so much local Tomme cheese that it drips in strings from a spoon;
5. Grand Fermage Sel de Mer Butter studded with grains of coarse sea salt. I could eat it with a spoon.

Five things I spotted in French supermarkets that I doubt I will ever see in Acme or Giant Eagle:
1. Vol au vent (puff pastry shell) filled with sweetbreads, in the deli case;
2. Three-pound cans of foie gras;
3. Frozen gougeres;
4.An intact, whole cured jambon cru, the French version of prosciutto;
5. Canned coq au vin.

THE MAILBAG
From Carol B.:
My husband and I were both raised on Miracle Whip and we passed it along to our kids. I still much prefer it over mayo because I like its tangy flavor. The lady who wrote to you last week reminded me that both my mother-in-law and mother used Miracle Whip because they couldn’t afford mayonnaise in the ‘40s and ‘50s.

It would be interesting to do a little survey of people’s preference, which I imagine is tied to their ages. My husband and I are in our 70s. Maybe younger people prefer mayonnaise because they grew up with it. Just sayin’.

Dear Carol:
I bet a lot of food lovers, both younger and older, prefer mayonnaise — specifically Hellman’s — because the popular cookbook authors of the 1980s told us to use it. If you ever cooked from the “Silver Palate Cookbook,” you were converted. I grew up on Miracle Whip but didn’t have it in my house from about 1982 until this year, when Tony snuck a jar into the refrigerator. If you like the flavor of Miracle Whip but not the second-day watery problem, just add some vinegar and sugar to mayo.

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September 19, 2018

Dear friends,
Imagine an America where the epitome of fine cooking could be found at county fairs, and almost every fancy restaurant was “Continental.” That’s the foodscape I waded into at the beginning of my food-writing career.

Oh, murmurs of raddichio and reduction sauces could be heard along the coasts, but the Midwest where I teethed as a restaurant critic was still the land of Jell-O and meatloaf. That was beginning to change in 1982 when I began making my daily bread by eating it. Travelled and savvy home cooks wanted more glamor than a pot roast could provide, and that’s where I came in.

Those were the days of duck ala orange, roast cornish hens, boeuf Bourguignonne and fettuccine Alfredo. Men seemed to be the early experimenters.

In a typical day, a male ad rep would corner me in the newspaper cafeteria to talk paella pans or a circulation manager would hunt me to ground at my desk to give me his recipe for caviar dip. They all followed Julia Child and they all made Caesar salad tableside, with much ceremony, for their friends.

Caesar salad was a litmus test back then. Did you coddle your egg for exactly one minute? Did your rub the bowl with garlic, which you then tossed out? Did you use anchovies or did you chicken out? Men who considered themselves serious amateur cooks had large, maitre’d sized wooden bowls they bought expressly for this purpose.

The pretentious rigamarole eventually dampened my enthusiasm for Caesar salad, and the raw egg scare killed it off. Remember in 1984 when scientists reported eggs in utero could be contaminated with salmonella right through the shell? No one, least of all me, wanted to look at another Caesar.

Then last month Jan C. mentioned ordering Caesar salad at Ken Stewart’s Lodge on her birthday. Remember that Mailbag item? I had to have some. Absence had made my heart grow fonder.

I frantically searched for the right recipe. I looked in all my Julia Childs, James Beards, a James Villas and my New York Times Cookbook. The old classics failed me. Craig Claiborne’s recipe sounded almost right, so I had to use that as a template and jazz-cook my way to a genuine, pre-contemporary American cuisine Caesar salad.

It was just as good as I remembered. Here you go.

(Yes, salmonella in eggs is still a concern, but the odds are said to be 1 in 10,000. If any of your diners are elderly, a child or have a compromised immune system, add a tablespoon of mayonnaise to the oil mixture and leave out the egg.)

CAESAR SALAD

1 tsp. salt
1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 tbsp. lemon juice
Dash of Tabasco sauce
4 canned anchovy fillets
3 tbsp. olive oil
3 bunches romaine lettuce
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg, boiled for 60 seconds
2 or 3 cups homemade 1-inch-square croutons (recipe follows)

Sprinkle the salt in the bottom of a salad bowl — preferably wood — and rub it with the garlic, pressing it into the salt and all over the inside of the bowl. When most of the flavor has been pressed out, discard the garlic. Stir in mustard, lemon juice and Tabasco with a fork. Add anchovies and mash very well. Drizzle in olive oil, beating until the salt has dissolved and the mixture is blended.

With your hands, wring off the top tired inch or so of the romaine leaves. Separate leaves, wash and line up on dish towels. Roll up the towels like a burrito. Refrigerate until needed.

When ready to dine, tear leaves into bite-sized pieces and add to the salad bowl. Sprinkle with Parmesan and break the egg over the salad. Toss very well. Scatter croutons over the salad and serve. Makes 6 servings.

HOMEMADE CROUTONS
3 oz. thick-cut ciabatta or other sturdy white bread (2 1/2 ciabatta buns)
Olive oil

Cut bread or buns into 1-inch pieces, slicing off a very thin layer of the top and bottom crust if using buns. Brush the cut surfaces with olive oil. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake in a preheated, 400-degree oven until golden brown. Makes about 36 croutons. Store any unused croutons in a zipper-lock plastic bag.

GUT CHECK
Life is good. Last week started with a new sumo tournament on Japanese TV (I’m hooked on the sport) and ended in the South of France. Along the way I spent an evening in the great Chinatown of Flushing (Queens), N.Y. I’ll write more about my trip next week. Meanwhile, here’s a taste, along with some of the hasty meals I had last week while preparing for the trip:

What I cooked last week:
Frozen pizza (my birthday dinner), sugar-free brownies; chicken thighs in white wine roasted atop green onions, carrots and thyme branches with white wine, roasted beets.

What I ate out last week:
A dry hamburger and frozen-tasting french fries at Beef O’Brady’s in Wadsworth; a Superfoods Salad (lentils, quinoa, walnuts, squash, dried cranberries, tomatoes) at Aladdin’s in Montrose; fried rice with chicken, pork and shrimp from Chin’s in Akron; another Superfoods Salad (loved it) and spicy beef kafta roll (loved that, too) at Aladdin’s; pickled daikon radish, warm redskin peanuts, a mounded platter of Hunan fried chicken (bite-sized pieces of crisp, juicy meat showered with sliced fresh Szechuan peppers and cracked Szechuan peppercorns), Hunan lamb (bone-in chunks of lamb with translucent cooked daikon radish, seasoned with cumin and five-spice powder, from Mingle restaurant in Flushing, N.Y.’s Chinatown; a Western omelet and coffee at Magna restaurant in Flushing; chicken breast over polenta with balsamic cream sauce, lentil salad with dried cranberries, French roll and cheese, mango cheesecake and Champagne aboard an AirFrance flight; a Camembert and ham sandwich at Gare de Lyon in Paris; a fennel salad and warm pastry-wrapped Camembert cheese, lamb shanks and sweet carrots braised in red wine, boiled baby potatoes, and a platter of cheeses (Morbier, tomme, Ste. Marcelin, Cantal jeune) with a local red wine at my friend Linda’s house in Homps, France.

THE MAILBAG
From Jeff M.:
I was just reading your newsletter about green bean recipes. Not sure if you have a palate for S.E. Asian flavors, but one can easily substitute green beans for wing beans in this recipe for an entirely new way to eat green beans.

Substituting green beans (or cucumber) for green papaya in the classic som tam salad recipe is also very common at food stalls here in Bangkok.

THAI WING BEAN SALAD WITH PRAWNS
1/4 cup toasted fresh coconut (optional)
2 tbsp. chopped shallots
2 tsp. roasted unsalted peanuts
Vegetable oil
3-4 small dried chilies
2 hard boiled eggs
2 cups wing beans or green beans
3/4 cup coconut milk
1 tbsp. lime juice
2 tbsp. Thai roasted chili paste
2 tbsp. unsweetened tamarind paste
1 1/2 tsp. fish sauce
1 tsp. palm sugar
A handful of medium sized prawns, shell and head off, tail on

If using fresh coconut flesh, cut it into strips and dry roast in a pan until golden brown, turning frequently. Slice the shallots very finely. Roughly crush or chop the roasted peanuts — you are aiming for crunch so do not chop too finely.

Heat the vegetable oil in a skillet over medium heat and fry the shallot slices until golden brown and slightly crispy. Remove from the oil and drain on kitchen paper.

Fry the chilies in the oil until dark. Drain on kitchen paper. Cut the peeled boiled eggs into quarters, lengthwise. Remove the veins from the prawns.

Cut the ends off the beans, then blanche whole in salted boiling water for 30 seconds. Immediately plunge the beans into an ice-cold water bath. When completely cool, slice width-wise into 1/4-inch lengths.

Heat the coconut milk in a frying pan until boiling. Add the prawns and cook until pink. Remove from the heat and add the tamarind paste, palm sugar, roasted chili paste, lime juice, fish sauce, peanuts (and roasted coconut flesh, if using.) Mix well. Now add the wing bean slices and mix again.

Plate up and garnish with the egg slices, fried shallots and roasted whole chilies. Enjoy with plain steamed jasmine rice and a variety of other dishes.

Pork or Chicken Wing Bean Salad: This dish may also be made with minced pork or chicken, using the pork or chicken either to complement the prawns or as a substitute for them.

September 12, 2018

Dear friends,
Tony’s green beans may be done for the season, but we’re not done with green beans. We won’t be for a long time, either. It’s one of the few vegetables that is reliably available throughout the year.

Before the corn is finished, though, you will want to make one more green bean salad. I found the recipe in a Rick Bayless book. He’s the lauded chef of Chicago’s Frontera Grill and Topolobampo modern Mexican restaurants, and he’s never steered me wrong.

I thought this may be the first time, though, when I made his green bean salad. It was OK. Nothing special. None of the explosive flavors Bayless is noted for. Then I tasted the salad after a night in the fridge. Whoa. The unassuming little green bean salad had gone gonzo. The flavor was amped in all the right ways. I ate some for breakfast. Yum.

The recipe that follows is mostly Bayless’s, although I added corn kernels because ’tis the season, and crumbled feta for a counterpoint of creaminess. I also swapped sweet onion for red because that’s what I had on hand. If you have any potlucks coming up, make this a day in advance and treat your friends.

GREEN BEAN SALAD WITH CORN, FETA AND TOMATILLO DRESSING

Salad:
3/4 lb. fresh green beans
1 cup thinly sliced sweet onion
1 ear corn, kernels sliced off
1/2 cup crumbled feta
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Dressing:
3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup good-quality green tomatillo salsa
2 tbsp. fresh lime juice
1/2 tsp. salt

For the salad, cook green beans in boiling water just until tender, about 5 minutes; drain and refresh under cold running water to stop the cooking. Drain well and transfer to a serving bowl. Add onion, corn and feta and gently toss.

For the dressing, combine the oil, salsa, lime juice and salt in a lidded jar and shake well and add more salt if necessary. Drizzle about 1/3 cup over the salad and toss well. Refrigerate the remaining dressing for another use.

Scatter cilantro over salad, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour, preferably overnight. The flavor continues to develop as it sits. Toss again before serving. Makes about 4 servings.

From “Mexican Everyday” by Rick Bayless.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Cuban roast mojo pork shoulder and baked sweet potatoes; open-faced sandwich of Cuban roast pork, pickled red peppers, pesto and avocado on toasted seeded bread; roast chicken thighs over carrots, green onions and branches of thyme with white wine and roasted beets.

What I ate in/from restaurants last week:
Chipotle burrito bowl with double carnitas; salad with grilled chicken and pita wedges at Alexandris Restaurant in Wadsworth; small spicy Thai salad with chicken, baguette and iced coffee at Panera.

THE MAILBAG
From Anne:
On the topic of mayo vs. salad dressing, I grew up with Miracle Whip and have never really been able to choke down mayo unless it’s well-disguised with Hidden Valley Ranch. I think it’s the eggy-blandness texture I couldn’t get past. I had aways used Miracle whip on sandwiches and in macaroni and egg salads. My mother, who raised me on Miracle Whip, now reports that she has always liked mayo better but salad dressing was cheaper to feed a family.

Over the years I have also noticed that my egg and mac salads seemed to deteriorate on day two, and over time would turn into a watery mess. Imagine reading your discovery of my issues and to know I wasn’t the only one with these problems! Then I remembered Mom sometimes bought Spin Blend salad dressing… When I looked, no Spin Blend at Acme or Giant Eagle but I found it at 2 for $6 at Marc’s. Just a heads up for anyone looking for it.

Dear Anne:
Spin Blend! I haven’t thought of that brand in years. When I was little we were a Miracle Whip family. But I bet a lot of people are switching since Kraft reduced the fat, causing Miracle Whip to become watery in salads over time.

September 5, 2018

Dear friends,
My harvest last week was a bunch of tomatoes, five gnarly carrots, one fat 6-inch yellow squash, four small beets and two Chinese eggplants. If you don’t count the tomatoes, that’s a pitiful pile of vegetables. I couldn’t have been prouder.

Baby beets fresh from the ground! Slender eggplants still warm from the sun! To me, every bite I grow is a mini miracle. I grew THAT?

Actually, more carrots and beets nestle under the soil and I have hopes that more eggplants and squash are on the way. Not many, but a few. Last week I harvested just enough for one big roasting-pan meal. Hoo-boy!

I thawed some chicken thighs and got to work. First I made the flavoring — lemon juice, crushed garlic and salt and pepper left to steep in a bowl. Rather than pile the chicken and vegetables on a baking sheet and slide it into the oven, I took the time to brown the skinless chicken first on the stove. I used a roasting pan and afterward added all the vegetables, the lemon-garlic mixture, fresh rosemary and lemon slices.

For not much work, Tony and I had a fragrant, deeply flavored all-in-one dinner with enough leftovers for lunch and dinner the next day. Yum.

LEMON-ROSEMARY CHICKEN THIGHS AND VEGETABLES

Juice of 1 lemon
1/3 cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, smashed
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. coarse-ground black pepper
3 to 4 tbsp. olive oil
8 skinless chicken thighs
4 small new potatoes (golf-ball size), halved
4 carrots, cut in 2-inch pieces
4 small fresh beets, leaves and stalks trimmed
Other fresh vegetables such as Chinese eggplant, zucchini or bell pepper, if desired
2 6-inch branches of fresh rosemary, cut in 2-inch pieces
2 lemons, sliced

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, 1/3 cup olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Heat the 3 tablespoons olive oil in a roasting pan over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper and brown in oil. Remove from heat. Scatter vegetables in pan. Pour lemon juice mixture over all. Top with rosemary and lemons.

Roast uncovered at 450 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes, until chicken is done and vegetables are tender. Serve with lemony pan juices. Makes 4 servings.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Roast chicken thighs and vegetables with lemon and rosemary; green bean salad with onions, feta and tomatillo dressing, grilled rib steaks rubbed with smashed green and black peppercorns, baked sweet potatoes; open-faced sandwich of tomato, avocado and feta cheese with pesto on seeded bread; grill-roasted whole ancho-rubbed chicken, grilled corn on the cob and fresh sliced peaches with whipped topping.

What I ate in restaurants last week:
Pulled pork plate with half of a corn muffin and green beans at Old Carolina Barbecue in Fairlawn; fajita chicken strips, lettuce, sautéed onions and green peppers at Rockne’s in Fairlawn; an egg over easy, a turkey sausage, a biscuit, grits and coffee at Bob Evans.

TIDBITS
Hanging from a crossbeam in my kitchen this week are big bunches of tarragon, fennel leaves, thyme, rosemary and sage. I cut the stalks of each variety the same length and tied them with thread. When dry, I’ll transfer the herbs to zipper-lock plastic bags and store them in my spice cabinet. I may strip the tarragon from the stalks and store it in bottles this year, but plastic bags really are good enough for me.

That’s about it for my herb harvest this year, besides the pesto in the freezer and a few leaves from my potted bay laurel that are drying on a counter in case the bush doesn’t make it through the winter indoors.

I grow other herbs but I don’t preserve them. Dried parsley and chives have no flavor, so why bother? Minty-weird dried basil tastes like a mistake compared to fresh. Dried cilantro leaves don’t excite me (although if you let cilantro go to seed, you can harvest and grind that fragrant form).

In my opinion, not all herbs are worth drying. But you CAN have the flavor of fresh herbs in the winter without paying off-season prices for tiny bunches of wilted leaves. If you want the flavor of fresh basil, cilantro, parsley and chives in the winter, I suggest you puree the leaves with enough oil to form a dense sludge, freeze it in ice cube trays, transfer to zipper-lock bags and freeze. The flavor will remain fresh.

THE MAILBAG
From Sandy B.:
If you are near Seville, home of the Bates Giants AND giant zucchinis, in the near future, stop by Geig’s Orchard just north of town on Rte. 3 for their “bubblegum” plums. Even though you have your own stash of the fruits, these are super-sweet, little round plums that are just plain fun. The peaches are pretty wonderful, too.

Dear Sandy:
The plums are still available according to the website. I hope to make it there before plum season segues into pear season. Thanks for the tip.

From Dorothy G.:
One of your readers mentioned Rumford Baking Powder as the secret to her light pancakes. I thought all baking powders were made with the same ingredients. Am I wrong?

Dear Dorothy:
They all contain sodium bicarbonate but the add-ins — one or more weak acids and cornstarch— can vary. The proportions can, too. I haven’t noticed a difference in brands of baking powder, but when I used an off brand of baking soda once, it affected the flavor of my biscuits. This is odd, because baking soda is 100 percent sodium bicarbonate with no fillers.