November 28, 2018

Dear friends,
A couple of husbands ago, I baked 11 dozen cookies for my first married Christmas. I worried it wasn’t enough because my mother made many, many more cookies each holiday season. She also had many, many more visitors, a fact I ignored. I ended up eating at least half of those11 dozen cookies myself.

Now, all these years later, I still have no reason to bake Christmas cookies. I have sworn off sugar, my husband is diabetic and my handful of relatives will visit next month maybe once. I still like to bake cookies, though, so I think up reasons to crank up the oven in December.

This year the first batch went to a neighborhood barn dance. The cookies were a triple-ginger with a lemon drizzle. I was trying to duplicate the ginger cookies sold at the late, great West Point Market, but those were soft and mine were as crunchy as ginger snaps. They were delicious.

I made a second batch of cookies Monday because I’ve been itching to duplicate the Almond Cloud Cookie I bought at the Brimfield Bread Oven. Finding the recipe wasn’t hard. Baker Genevieve Smith studied pastry-making at the King Arthur Flour Baking School in Vermont, and King Arthur has the recipe on its website.

The cloud cookie looks like its name. It is about a 3-inch round, puffy white cookie with a delicate, crackly exterior and soft interior that tastes like marzipan. We used to make smaller versions of these things and call them macaroons, but that was before French macarons wiped the very idea of clunky American macaroons from the face of the earth. So now we are rediscovering American macaroons as “Almond Cloud Cookies.”

Whatever. They are really sweet but good. So far I have eaten two cookies and am frantically looking for a recipient for the remaining 20. Maybe the Copley cops. I once took them a loaf of warm, yeasty fruit bread around Christmas, but I think they could make do this year with cookies that taste like almond clouds.

TRIPLE GINGER COOKIES WITH LEMON DRIZZLE

2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup solid vegetable shortening
1/4 cup light molasses
1 egg
2 tsp. minced peeled fresh ginger
1/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger
Lemon drizzle:
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tbsp. lemon juice
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment. Whisk first five ingredients and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat sugar and shortening in a large bowl until fluffy. Beat in molasses, egg and fresh ginger. On low speed, beat in crystallized ginger and the dry ingredients.

Scoop out rounded tablespoons of dough and shape into balls. Arrange 2 inches apart on the baking sheets. Bake at 350 degrees until golden and dry-looking, about 15 minutes. Slip parchment with cookies off the baking sheets and cool, continuing with more batches until dough is used up.

Beat the glaze ingredients together until smooth. The icing should be just thin enough to drip off the tines of a fork. Dip a fork in the glaze and wave back and forth over cookies, repeating until each cookie is streaked with glaze. Makes about 3 dozen.
Adapted from a recipe in Bon Appetit magazine.

ALMOND CLOUD COOKIES

1 3/4 cups (16 oz.) almond paste (I used Solo brand)
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
2 large egg whites, lightly beaten
1 tsp. almond extract (or less; it is pretty intense)
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Lightly grease two baking sheets, or line with parchment. In the bowl of a stand mixer,
blend the almond paste, sugar, and salt until the mixture is uniformly crumbly. Add the
egg whites one at a time, mixing to make a smooth paste. Stir in the almond extract.

Scoop the dough by heaping tablespoons onto the prepared pans.
Dust the cookies generously with confectioners’ sugar, then use three fingers to press
an indentation into the center of each cookie. Refrigerate the shaped cookies,
uncovered, for at least 2 hours or as long as overnight.

When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Bake the cookies for 20 to 25 minutes, just until they’re brown around the edges.

Remove from the oven and let cool on the pan on a rack.

Store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 10 days; freeze for longer storage.

TIDBITS

Finally, a commercial rental kitchen:
Small Akron-area food businesses will soon have a shared-kitchen space available to rent by the hour in The Well building (a former church) on East Market Street in Akron.

Grants from the USDA and several local organizations are paying for the remodeling project, which will include refrigeration and freezer areas, and room for more than one entrepreneur to work at a time, according to Crain’s Cleveland Business.

The rental kitchen, which will be known as Akron Food Works, will be a boon to small caterers, food-truck owners and farmers’ market purveyors who do not have a professional, inspected facility of their own. The kitchen should be up and running by late spring.

Stuffing epiphany:
I ate the last of the Thanksgiving stuffing on Sunday and I’m still licking my chops. This year I made the usual cornbread and sausage stuffing — dressing to you Southerners — and piled it into a casserole for baking. Then I had an inspiration: Wouldn’t this taste even better as a custard? I envisioned a sort of a cross between stuffing and bread pudding.

I moistened the stuffing lightly with turkey broth, then beat a couple of eggs into 1 1/2 cups of milk, which I poured evenly over the stuffing. Into the oven it went (350 degrees for about 30 to 40 minutes). Yeow. The stuffing was set and slightly puffed. The texture was mostly stuffing-like, but laced with enough egg custard to make it moist and faintly pudding-ish.

I will dream of this stuffing until next Thanksgiving.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Hamburger sliders on egg buns; meatloaf, oven-roasted cubed potatoes with olive oil and garlic; pineapple mousse pie, pumpkin pie, cornbread; brined, grill-smoked turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, whipped sweet potatoes with bourbon, cornbread and sausage custard stuffing, sugar-free whole cranberry sauce with dried apricots and toasted pecans.

What I had in/from restaurants:
Greek lemon-orzo soup and a mushroom burger at Alexandri’s in Wadsworth; pulled pork, coleslaw and a corn muffin at Old Carolina Barbecue in Fairlawn.

THE MAILBAG
From Janet C.:
I also read the New York Times article about not brining. What a crock. I did a large brined turkey breast and several thighs last year for my niece and her adult family. Everyone could not get enough of the turkey. I will continue to brine. Some things simply work. Some traditions are really just bad habits. Others are truly the result of trial and error and should be used and treasured.

Dear Janet:
Yes! Tony and I loved the turkey I brined last week and roasted over charcoal on my Weber. I brine pork chops, too, with great results.

From R.P., Raleigh, N.C.:
I grew up in Akron and occasionally we went to the Akron City Club downtown for special meals. They served a very rich shrimp dish called Shrimp ACC. It was served over toast points or very thin shoestring potatoes. Do you happen to have this recipe to share?

Dear R.P.:
I remember dining at the City Club but never had the shrimp, nor do I have the recipe. I tried to contact the former chef, Ed Valente, but discovered that he died in 2015 in Lexington, Ky., where he had relocated after leaving Akron. Ed was a dear man.

Maybe someone who worked at the club back then is reading this and has the recipe. If so, would you please share?

From Mark:
The fall-off-the-bone juiciness of supermarket rotisserie chicken, even more than the convenience/cost ratio, has meant that I haven’t roasted a whole chicken for years. Can a home oven mimic the rotisserie effect without continuous rotation? Would one just extend roasting time or seek a higher end temperature to achieve fall-off-the-bone juiciness?

Dear Mark:
Chefs love to hate on supermarket rotisserie chicken. What you call “fall-off-the bone” tenderness they call “mushy.” I once tried to duplicate supermarket rotisserie chicken at home, but I concentrated on the seasoning. Brining a chicken will produce juiciness, and seasoning the skin will produce flavor, but neither will provide the texture you want.

I think that texture is the result of not just turning the chicken over a heat source, but doing so in a confined, tightly closed space. In other words, kind of steaming it. Do not simply roast your chicken longer and/or bring it to a higher internal temperature. That will produce dry, stringy chicken — the opposite of your goal. I suggest you brine, season the skin, and roast in the classic fashion. Then compare. Maybe — and I write this with zero snark — maybe you have forgotten what a great roast chicken tastes like.

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November 20, 2018

Dear friends,
Kim, Kim, Kim. Why are you trying to ruin my Thanksgiving?

In the New York Times Food section last week, the otherwise awesome Kim Severson wrote that turkey brining is passe. She quoted a handful of chefs and writers who are “so over it.” Frankly, they all sounded like turkey haters to me.

Kim came too late to food writing to remember this, but turkey brining was not introduced to the public in 1999 by Alton Brown on the Food Network, as she claims. The year was 1996, and the seminal event was a gala pre-Thanksgiving dinner for a group of food writers at the historic Stag’s Leap Winery in California’s Napa Valley. I was there, and was among the many who that year printed winery chef Jeffrey Starr’s recipe for orange marinated brined smoked turkey. That bird was a revelation. It was and remains the best turkey I’ve ever eaten, and I still make a version of it almost every year.

No, the meat does not taste “watery.” No, the texture is not like “lunch meat.” And no, we did not start brining way back then because low-quality frozen turkeys were the only ones available. We had already discovered fresh heirloom turkeys in a big way. We brined for the same reason most of us still do: Brined turkey (and chicken and pork) is juicy and tastes great. Dry brining, I’ll admit, works OK, too. But I love wet brining. I am so not over it.

Kim cites food sleuths who prepared turkey several ways and compared the results. Dry-brining was preferred in a blind taste test. I, too, have prepared turkey several ways and compared results, although dry-brining was not included. My hands-down favorite method is brined turkey smoke-roasted on a covered grill.

No, turkey brining is not dead, no matter what millions of people read in the New York TImes last week. I think the method still produces the juiciest, most flavorful turkey, and I will brine a turkey this week as I always do. My recipe has changed a bit over the years. I don’t use as much salt now — one-half cup per gallon of liquid is plenty, according to the Morton Salt folks. I don’t brine for days, either. Overnight, I’ve found, will do it. I usually don’t add wine, juice and herbs, either. They don’t penetrate the skin enough to flavor the meat, as Kim pointed out in her article. But yes, I will brine.

It’s not too late for you to brine, either. If you have a stock pot big enough to hold your turkey on end and is small enough to fit in your refrigerator, use that. If not, use a leak-proof plastic food bag or even a spanking-clean cooler. Mix two gallons of water with one cup of salt and pour over the bird. Add more water if needed to completely cover the turkey. Chill (add ice if using a cooler) overnight. Rinse the turkey inside and out and pat dry before roasting.

My favorite way to cook turkey is on a covered grill. When I cook it inside, I use the high-heat method. Here are directions:

GRILL-SMOKED TURKEY

Build a large charcoal fire (about 30 briquettes) in the bottom of one side a lidded grill, and place a 9-by-12-inch foil pan in the bottom of the other half. Remove turkey from brine and pat dry. Rub or spray the unstuffed turkey all over with oil or butter. Place on the grill over the pan. Close lid, leaving vents wide open. Grill for 2 to 3 hours for a 10 to 18-pound turkey. Note that the air temperature and wind can lengthen cooking time.

While roasting, add 6 to 8 charcoal briquettes every 45 minutes, and turn turkey quickly at the same time to rotate the side closest to the coals. Otherwise, do not open lid or heat will escape. Cook turkey until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh registers 175 to180 degrees.

Transfer to a platter, wrap tightly with foil and let rest for about 30 minutes before carving.

QUICK ROAST TURKEY
1 whole turkey, about 18 lbs.
Vegetable oil, such as canola
Water
Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Remove giblets and neck from turkey cavities and wash the bird inside and out under cool running water. Pat dry. Or use a brined bird. Remove any pads of fat from the edge of the body cavity. Insert a meat thermometer at an angle into the thickest part of the breast, touching the breast bone. Lightly oil the skin all over.

Place a wire rack in a large, shallow roasting pan. Place the turkey on the rack, breast side up. The turkey must not hang outside the pan. Pour about 1/2 inch of water into the pan. Place on a rack in the lower third of the oven and roast uncovered until the thermometer registers 160 degrees — about 1 3/4 hours for an 18-pound turkey or 2 hours for a 22-pound turkey. If the turkey weighs less than 18 pounds, check the temperature after an hour. If the turkey begins to brown too much, tent loosely with foil.

When done, remove from oven, transfer to a platter and cover tightly with foil. Let rest for 30 to 45 minutes before carving. Serves 12.

CLASSIC ROAST TURKEY
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Remove turkey from brine and pat dry. Stuff or not, as you choose. Place in a shallow pan (no more than 2 or 3 inches deep) and rub the skin all over with butter or margarine.

Do not cover with a lid or foil, which will steam the meat. Roast uncovered at 325 degrees until brown. Then cover loosely with foil and continue roasting until done (see roasting times below). Basting is not necessary because the juices do not penetrate the skin. Transfer to a platter, cover with foil and let rest for about 30 minutes before carving.

Roasting times at 325 degrees:
10 to 18 lb. turkey — 3 to 3 1/2 hours unstuffed, 3 3/4 to 4 1/2 hours stuffed
18 to 22 lbs. — 3 1/2 to 4 hours unstuffed, 4 1/2 to 5 hours stuffed
22 to 24 lbs. — 4 to 4 1/2 hours unstuffed, 5 to 5 1/2 hours stuffed

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week;
Pan-grilled filet mignon, fried potato cakes, roasted Brussels sprouts with caramelized apple dressing; ginger cookies with lemon drizzle; potato and greens soup; cubed Spam and black beans in Coney sauce (yuck).

What I ate in/from restaurants, etc., last week:
Yaki soba chicken at Kasai in Wadsworth; chicken pot pie from Giant Eagle’s deli; Korean pork belly taco and an al pastor (chicken and pineapple) taco from Funky Truckeria in Norton; egg and shrimp bites, won ton soup, spicy prawns, Peking duck in pancakes and egg tarts for dim sum at Li Wah in Cleveland.

THANKSGIVING SIDES
The Mailbag will be replaced this week with a couple of recipes that I think would taste good at Thanksgiving dinner, along with directions for killer pie crust. Happy holidays, friends.

QUINOA SALAD WITH DATES AND BLOOD ORANGES
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped dates
2 blood or cara-cara oranges

Dressing:
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 tsp. each salt, cinnamon, ground ginger, ground cumin
2 tsp. honey or Splenda to taste

Rinse quinoa well in cold water. Drain in a sieve. Place in a medium saucepan with water. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat and cover. Simmer for about 15 minutes or until grains are al dente. Do not overcook. Drain any excess water.

While quinoa cooks, place onion and dates in a medium-size serving bowl. Make the dressing by combining the vinegar, oil, spices and honey or Splenda in a small jar and shaking well. Place the warm quinoa in the bowl and toss with the dressing, onion and dates.

Cut a thin slice from both the blossom and stem ends of the oranges. Place on a cutting board, one of the cut ends down. With a sharp knife, slice off the skin and white pith all the way around, following the shape of the orange. Then one at a time, slice next to one membrane and flick the bare orange section into the bowl. Do this over the bowl with the quinoa to catch any juices. Continue with second orange. Gently toss to distribute the orange sections.

Cover and chill salad. Toss again before serving. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Note: Pomegranate arils may be substituted for the blood oranges.
This is my original recipe.

GREEN BEANS WITH GORGONZOLA
2 lbs. fresh green beans
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
Salt to taste
1/2 lb. Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

Rinse and dry the beans and trim off both ends. Place a large skillet over medium heat. Pour in the oil and toss in the garlic. Cook 4 to 5 minutes, until garlic has just lightly colored.

Put beans in the pan and shake to spread them out. Pour in 1/4 cup water. Cover, lower heat and cook for about 15 minutes, shaking pan occasionally, until the beans are tender to the bite and lightly caramelized.

Salt beans lightly. Raise the heat and drop bits of cheese into the beans. Cook uncovered, tossing and stirring with a spatula or tongs while the cheese melts, about 1 1/2 minutes. Spoon into a bowl and serve immediately. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

From “Lidia’s Family Table” by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich

MY BEST PIE DOUGH
2 cups all-purpose or 2 cups plus 2 tbsp. pastry flour
1 tsp. salt
2/3 cup (about 10 tbsp.) chilled lard or vegetable shortening
7 to 8 tbsp. cold water

Whisk together flour and salt in a medium bowl. Add lard in small pieces. With a pastry blender, cut the lard into the flour-salt mixture until the pieces of lard are about the size of peas. Use a knife to clean off the blades of the pastry blender occasionally.
Sprinkle the water over the mixture one tablespoon at a time, tossing with a fork to mix. Do not mix with your hands. After 7 tablespoons, pinch a bit of the mixture to see if it will stick together. If not, add remaining one tablespoon of water.

Working quickly so the heat from your hands does not melt the fat, gather the mixture into a ball. Do not knead. Divide in half and flatten each ball slightly. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill an hour or more if possible.

Remove from refrigerator and warm to cool room temperature, until dough is pliable enough to roll. Flour each disk and place on a floured surface or between two pieces of plastic wrap. Roll each disk with rolling pin in strokes from the center to the edges to form a 9- or 10-inch circle. After dough is fitted into pie pan and crimped or filled, bake immediately. Unfilled pie shells may be wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated for baking later. Makes enough for 2 pie shells or 1 double-crust pie.

November 14, 2018

Dear friends,
I saw a bumper sticker last week that I have GOT to get. It said, “I used to be cool.” In truth, though, cool was never my style. I’ve always been one beat too early or too late.

I first visited New York City in the early 70s, when it was horrifyingly filthy and Times Square was a sea of sex shops. Not cool.

I knew South Beach in Miami Beach as an ultra-cheap place to stay while on union business until it was slowly transformed into an ultra-hip location for fashion shoots. By the time my $60 room at the Edison Hotel soared to $250 a night, I was gone.

On the other hand, remember the fascination with Tuscany, which was ragingly hip in the 1990s. I finally got there in 2000.

The only good thing about this trend is that I still hold out hope of getting my hands on a cronut.

With food, I’ve usually been ahead of the curve. I had to be a trend-sniffer in my job, and it was easy when word of almost every new cookbook, menu item and grocery store product landed on my desk.

People are still discovering warm goat cheese salads, for example. I see it on restaurant menus and in magazine food features. I printed a recipe for Alice Waters’ original version in about 1985.The salad is one of the few dishes I didn’t passionately embrace and then discard. It shows up on menus today because it is still cool.

It is also delicious, with just the right heft to ease you into a multi-course dinner. I made the salad for my brother and his wife on Sunday, followed by roast beef with sour cream gravy and my perennially cool sugar-free pumpkin pie for dessert.

Classically, the salad is a lush plate of baby greens centered with a marinated, crumbed disk of goat cheese that has been baked just until it begins to slump. Crisp, thin croutes are served alongside. The warm cheese is spread on the croutes and eaten in rich, alternating bites with the palate-cleansing greens.

Of course, I updated the recipe. From laziness (and because it never seemed to matter), I skipped marinating the inch-thick disks of cheese. I didn’t roll them in crumbs, either. Nor did I dress the greens with French vinaigrette. I subbed a lip-smacking caramelized apple vinaigrette that was as good as it sounds, and scattered toasted walnuts and crumbled bacon over the greens. The vinaigrette was a happy discovery in “The Food52 Cookbook, Volume 2” by Amanda Hesser.

Like the classic warm goat cheese salad, my autumn version is timeless. Still, if I see it on a restaurant menu in 10 years, I’ll scream.

WARM AUTUMN GOAT CHEESE SALAD

6 cups mixed baby salad greens
1/2 of a French baguette, sliced thin
Butter
4 1-inch-thick rounds of chèvre cheese, about 6 oz.
Caramelized apple vinaigrette (recipe follows)
4 strips crisp bacon, crumbled
1/4 cup toasted walnut pieces

Gently wash greens, roll up in a clean kitchen towel and return to refrigerator.
Spread both sides of bread slices with a scant amount of butter. Place on a baking sheet and toast in a 400-degree oven until edges begin to brown and bread is hard. Remove from oven and set aside.

Place cheese rounds on a baking sheet covered with parchment. Bake at 400 degrees just until cheese starts to slump, 3 to 4 minutes. Meanwhile, transfer greens to a medium-sized bowl and toss with just enough of the dressing to gloss the leaves. Divide among four salad plates. With a thin spatula, transfer cheese rounds from the baking sheet to the center of each plate of greens. Scatter bacon and walnut pieces over salads. Place 3 or 4 baguette croutes on each plate. Makes 4 salads.

CARAMELIZED APPLE VINAIGRETTE
(From “The Food52 Cookbook, Volume II”)
½ cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 Gala apple, peeled, cored, and cut into ¼-inch dice
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
Juice of ½ lemon
Salt
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup canola oil

Combine ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons of the vinegar and the brown sugar in a small skillet and cook over medium heat. Stir and cook until the mixture turns a dark caramel color and begins to thicken. You will start to see big foamy bubbles on the surface. Add the apples and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples are tender, about 5 minutes.

Remove from the heat and put in a blender, along with the remaining 2 tablespoons vinegar, the thyme, lemon juice, and a pinch of salt. Whoosh until blended. Then, with the motor running, slowly add the oil, blending until the dressing is emulsified. Taste and season with salt and perhaps a splash more vinegar. Refrigerate unused dressing.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Pan-grilled strip steaks with crushed pepper, butter-roasted baby potato halves, roasted dumpling squash wedges dusted with Parmesan; Szechuan stir fry with tofu, green beans, carrots, bell pepper and scallions over rice; roast chicken thighs withTony’s homemade hot sauce, roast baby potatoes, sautéed broccoli rabe with garlic; warm goat cheese salad, roast beef with sour cream gravy, mashed potatoes, baked butternut squash chunks with dried cranberries and butter, sugar-free pumpkin pies.

What I ate in/from restaurants this week:
A grilled Thanksgiving sandwich of turkey, munster cheese, cranberry sauce, stuffing and pureed butternut squash at Melt in the Montrose area of Bath Township; crispy chicken and bacon salad with warm pita wedges at Alexandris in Wadsworth; pineapple and ham pizza from Rizzi’s in Copley; Greek souvlaki (marinated pork skewers), rice pilaf, coleslaw and half of a pumpkin cookie at Farmer Boy Restaurant in Springfield Township.

THE MAILBAG
From Beth B.:
Brimfield Bread Oven (mentioned last week) also has a stand at the new Countryside Public Market in the Northside Lofts building on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. I’ve enjoyed traveling vicariously with you through France!

Dear Beth:
Thanks. That’s just the push I need to check out the new Akron farmers’ market. More information can be found at http://www.cvcountryside.org/announcements/countryside-public-market-is-now-open.

From Pennie:
Regarding grits/polenta, they are some of my favorite foods. I have had much success with reheating solidified grits and polenta in the microwave. Amazingly, the original texture comes back. One of my current favorite restaurant dishes is the three ginormous meatballs on a bed of cheese polenta at Bravo! in Summit Mall in Fairlawn. Because eating that would use up pretty much my whole day’s calorie allowance, I just have half and bring the rest home for later. Reheats beautifully.

Regarding Stouffer’s restaurants, I have fond memories a homecoming dinner at Top of the Town in the new Erieview Plaza on East Ninth Street in Cleveland, near where the Galleria is today. The wind and rain dragged us by our umbrellas across that large, open plaza. Later, when I worked in downtown Cleveland, the restaurant was a spot for a very special occasion. Stouffer had another location in the same office building — a bustling basement cafeteria with good-quality, reasonably priced food.

When I moved to Richfield, one of the most beautiful spots was the Stouffer farm at the corner of Broadview (Wheatley Road) and Brecksville Road.This was where the family lived and made their butter. The view from the farmhouse was as idyllic as the picture on the menu you posted. Overlooking the Cuyahoga Valley, there were apple orchards, a picturesque lake and a barn. The orchards are now overgrown, the buildings are gone and the property is now filled with a large office park. The sweeping view of the valley remains. I could never understand why Stouffer didn’t preserve it, as something like Bob Evans’ Farm in southern Ohio.

Ah, well. Thanks for the memories.

Dear Pennie:
No, thank you.

From Dorothy:
Years ago I worked in the Federal Building in downtown Cleveland. We would go to Stouffer’s in Erieview for special birthdays, etc. It had good food and atmosphere. Also, about 65 years ago my sister-in-law and husband had a small wedding dinner at Stouffer’s on the Square. The service and food were very good. I miss Stouffer’s restaurants.

Dear Dorothy:
Thanks for sharing your memories of an era long gone.

November 7, 2018

Dear friends,
The aroma made me nuts. That’s the only explanation I can think of for buying $16 worth of bread for two people Friday. Two carb-restricted people.

I can’t remember how I found The Brimfield Bread Oven on my iPad, but when I showed Tony a photo of the bakery’s brick oven, he reached for his coat. We were off to Brimfield. The last time we had crusty, brick-oven bread was in September in France. That oven was 200 years old. The Portage County oven was built just a couple of years ago, but it is no less effective.

The Brimfield Bread Oven looks like a French boulangerie. Burnished, brown loaves in a variety of shapes are stacked higher than your head on wire racks that face you as enter. There are batards, baguettes, boules and substantial, crisp loaves studded with black olives. There are loaves crusted with seeds and soft Pullman loaves and sandwich buns in plastic sleeves.

Genevieve and Jud Smith raised more than $20,000 on Kickstarter to help open the bakery — why did no one tell me?! — in 2016. Jud learned serious baking techniques at The Great Lakes Baking Co. in Hudson and the King Arthur Flour Bakery in Vermont, where Genevieve joined him to study pastries.

I bought a croissant for Tony, a cookie for me, a big loaf of sourdough Kalamata olive bread (made only on Fridays) and an equally big loaf of white sourdough with a killer crust. The breads were $6 and $5 respectively and tasted incredible.

The Smiths advise patrons to call ahead to reserve favorites. The breads and pastries on hand vary throughout the day as the brick oven cools. High-temperature items are baked first and cool-temperature items last. There are a few tables in a connecting room where customers can sip coffee, tea, beer or wine and nibble croissants, scones and cookies. Pizzas are available from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

We did our best, but the olive bread alone took us three days of toast, sandwiches and snacks to polish off. On day two when we hadn’t touched the other loaf, I knew I had to use it or lose it. Because it was slightly stale at that point (criminal, I know), I turned it into bread soup — really, really good bread soup.

My soup, variations of which are common in many cultures, is a comforting winter bowlful of chicken, mushrooms, onions and provolone cheese cushioned with pillowy-soft slices of bread. Everything is drenched in chicken broth. It is like a savory bread pudding, and — maybe this is the carbs talking — is one of my favorite things in the world to eat.

The preparation is so easy that the soup almost qualifies as fast food. If you use good-quality rotisserie chicken and canned broth, you can make the soup in minutes, simmer it for a while longer, and let it bake while you do other things.

Save these directions. If you visit Brimfield Bread Oven (www.brimfieldbreadoven.com), you’ll probably leave with too much bread, too.

CHICKEN-MUSHROOM BREAD SOUP

6 tbsp. butter
1 1/2 cups rough-chopped onions
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
Pinch of grated nutmeg
1/2 cup dry white wine
Salt, fresh-ground pepper
6 cups chicken stock or broth
2 cup cubed cooked chicken
6 thick slices (at least 1 inch thick) crusty bread
6 oz. chopped provolone cheese

Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a large, deep skillet. Sauté onions and mushrooms over medium-high heat until both have softened. Add nutmeg and white wine, crank heat to high and boil until reduced by half.

Season mushroom mixture with salt and pepper. Stir in chicken stock, partially cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in chicken and simmer 5 minutes longer.

After adding chicken, toast the bread in a toaster and butter one side of each slice with the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Arrange three slices in the bottom of a deep (4 to 5 inches) casserole dish large enough for the three slices to fit in a single layer. With a slotted spoon, transfer all of the onions, mushrooms and chicken from the broth to the casserole, covering the bread evenly. Scatter half of the cheese cubes on top. Top with remaining three slices of toast and the rest of the cheese.

Ladle the broth over the layers in the casserole dish. The broth should barely cover the top layer. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, until the bread is swollen and puffy and the top is golden brown. To serve, scoop out with a large spoon. Makes 4 servings.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
French onion soup; chicken fricassee with white wine, apples, potatoes and shredded cabbage; sugar-free pumpkin pie; Szechuan stir-fry sauce; chicken and mushroom bread soup.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Cheese panini with peppers and onions at the Eye Opener in Akron; Nashville hot chicken and coleslaw at the Parkview Nite Club in Cleveland; chicken shawarma sandwich and hot tea at Continental Cuisine in Fairlawn; a Jane roll and edamame from Sushi Katsu in Akron; and an egg roll and beef with tangerine peel at Szechuan Gourmet in Kent.

THE MAILBAG
From Susan R.:
(Regarding last week’s newsletter), the easiest way to cook polenta is Paula Wolfert’s oven method at https://www.finecooking.com/recipe/oven-roasted-polenta. Thanks for your newsletter. I always enjoy it.

Dear Susan:
What could be easier than combining corn meal and water in a pan and shoving it into the oven? No stirring! Thanks for bringing this recipe to my attention.

From Martha K.:
I’m pretty confident you subscribe to Epicurious newsletters, but in case you missed it, here’s a nifty polenta recipe and easy prep method. Google: oven polenta with roasted mushrooms and thyme.

Dear friend:
No, I don’’t subscribe to the Epicurious newsletter. I’m afraid if I read any more recipes or food tips my head will explode. Only partly kidding. Thank you, though, for this baked polenta recipe, which Epicurious got from the October issue of Bon Appetit magazine. I like the lagniappe: “…if you’re feeling indulgent, top with a little heavy cream mixed with a finely grated small garlic clove.” Oh, yeah.

From Alix:
Your dinner party experience reminded me of what I did last year. I called a friend and said, “Let’s have a dinner party.” We were on! We are two widows, 60- and 70-ish. We ordered beautiful invitations, a lovely centerpiece and dry cleaned the gorgeous tablecloth. We had 12 guests that had all been friends for at least 40 years. There was PLENTY of conversation. So glad we went through with it.

I still love to entertain and am actually planning a Christmas cocktail party for my neighbors. One of my guests jumped on the train and had a really lovely dinner party on a winter night. Maybe this kind of entertaining will come back but I doubt it.

Dear Alix:
I think the younger generation, with their energy and stamina, are the only ones who can save this kind of entertaining. I won’t hold my breath.

From John, Norton:
I am retired and I never, never recall ever going to a dinner party. Would not be interested at all.

I never recall my parents going through this to have a dinner party. Ok, relatives very very rarely came over for a turkey dinner but that is it.

My aunt told me years ago that slaving in a kitchen to fill others’ mouths is slavery. Plus they are often not grateful. I am a bachelor and would never be interested in a dinner party. Some of my aunts, after years of kitchen slavery, told me decades ago that company are people with nothing to do, and they come over to your house and do it, for long hours. My aunts tried to eliminate it as best they could. And they did.

Dear John:
Well, alrighty.