December 28, 2018

Dear friends,
First came the Vietnamese noodle soup, pho. Then came the Japanese noodle soup, ramen. The two Asian soup trends steamrolled across the country, leaving pho and ramen restaurants in their wake. Except in the Akron-Canton area, where restaurants devoted to the slurpy, soul-warming ramen are scarce.

Oh, sure, you can find bowls of ersatz ramen on restaurant menus, but no restaurants devoted to the stuff until now. Ramen Katsu, a sister restaurant to my husband’s former restaurant, Sushi Katsu in Akron, has opened in Green with a menu absolutely brimming with ramen. There’s miso ramen, shoyu (soy sauce) ramen, vegetarian ramen and build-your-own ramen. A tiny problem: the broth is too sweet for my taste. The toppings and noodles are stellar, though.

But before you get to the main part of the menu, zero in on the appetizers — specifically, a version of edamame that is worth the trip alone. The green soy beans are usually served in their pods, salted and steamed. Diners peel off and discard the pods and eat the tender beans. At Ramen Katsu, you’ll want to linger over the pods awhile before discarding them. That’s because the pods are seasoned with plenty of chopped garlic, sesame seeds, chili pepper flakes and salt. Getting to the beans inside is a delicious journey.

The pods at Ramen Katsu are almost tender enough to eat, and I did chew on a few of them although they’re meant to be discarded. Either way, you’ll get enough of the seasoning to make your mouth sing.

I think the restaurant uses a homemade seasoning mixture with chili flakes. I used a more traditional Japanese seasoning called “shichimi togarashi,” which is a number of ground dried chili peppers mixed with other seasonings such as dried seaweed, black pepper and dried orange peel. It is sold in little shaker bottles in Asian food stores. I also added white sesame seeds, salt, Chinese chili oil and of course, garlic. Here’s my version:

SPICY GARLIC EDAMAME

1 package (12 oz.) frozen edamame (in their pods)
3 tbsp. vegetable oil
3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped (1 heaping tablespoon)
1 tsp. white sesame seeds
1 1/2 tsp. shichimi togarashi (available in Asian stores)
1 tsp. coarse salt (sea or kosher)
1 tsp. Chinese chili oil

Remove frozen edamame from wrapping and place in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high power for about 3 1/2 minutes, or until the beans are warm and completely thawed.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. When hot, add oil. When oil is hot, stir in garlic, sesame seeds, togarashi and salt. Cook and stir until garlic is golden and mixture is fragrant. Add beans and continue to cook, scooping and stirring, for 1 minute or until beans, oil and spices are thoroughly mixed.

Pour into a bowl and drizzle with chili oil, adding more or less to taste. Toss again and serve. Makes 3 to 4 servings (or 1 if you’re Tony).

Here’s a bonus recipe for a cookie so good I made it twice this month.

ORANGE BUTTER COOKIES

1 ¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 ⅔ cups cake flour or more all-purpose flour (cake flour gives a finer texture)
½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
2 packed tsp. freshly grated orange zest
1 large egg plus 2 large egg yolks, at room temperature

FOR THE ICING (Jane’s version):
1 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar
1 orange

Position two oven racks in top and bottom third of oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In a bowl, whisk flours, baking soda and salt together. In a mixer, cream together the sugar, butter and orange zest at medium speed until light and smooth, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of bowl frequently. Add egg and mix. Add one egg yolk and mix. Add remaining egg yolk and mix. Stir in dry ingredients just until combined.

Scoop heaping tablespoons of dough onto parchment, leaving about an inch between cookies. Press each one down lightly with 2 fingers to flatten to a thickness of 1/2 inch. Leave any ridges and valleys on top of cookie intact, but smooth the edges.

Bake about 15 minutes, rotating cookie sheets halfway through. Cookies should be pale but baked all the way through. Cool. From Julia Moskin in the New York Times.

For the icing: Place confectioner’s sugar in a small bowl. Grate the zest of the orange (just the colored part) into the bowl. Juice the orange and stir in 3 tablespoons until smooth. Add more juice if necessary to make a thin icing that slowly drips from a spoon. When cookies are cool, dip the tops of the cookies in the icing. Set aside to dry. Store in lidded containers at room temperature or freeze.

TIDBITS
Cookbooks I want to buy, from the Chicago Tribune’s annual best cookbooks books list:
• “The Flavor Matrix: The Art and Science of Pairing Common ingredients to Create Extraordinary Dishes” by James Briscione with Brook Parkhurst. This is no ordinary book about flavor mashups. IBM’s Watson supercomputer was used to compare chemical compounds in various foods and match ingredients that have similar traits — green beans with pineapple and olives with chocolate, for example. This is exciting stuff for a recipe developer.

• “Dorie’s Cookies” by Dorie Greenspan. This book, filled with luscious cookie recipes (the chocolatey World Peace Cookie is already famous) from the inimitable Greenspan, won the James Beard Award for Best Baking and Dessert Book this year.

• “The Adventures of Fat Rice” features 100 recipes from the “cult favorite” Chicago restaurant Fat Rice. I can’t wait to try Macau-inspired dishes such as minchi, a Macau meat hash, and Po Kok Gai, a Portuguese-Chinese mashup chicken curry with olives. This is flavorful cooking with an exclamation point.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Mexican eggnog; scrambled egg whites and avocado on toast; potato and spinach soup; pot roast with wine and thyme, sautéed cauliflower rice with vegetables; pancakes, bacon and eggs; pickled eggs; homemade tomato soup with grilled cheese croutons; mini microwave fruitcakes soaked in Grand Marnier; potato salad; no-knead bread; truffled risotto with pan-grilled shrimp and an antipasto platter; potato salad.

What I ate out last week:
A hamburger slider with onions from Hamburger Station in Akron; a California roll from Sushi Katsu in Akron; a pickle dog (beef hot dog with mustard, onion and grilled dill pickle spear) from the Stray Dog Cafe in Akron.

THE MAILBAG
From Beth B.:
Re: West Point Market alternative — I really like the Miles Farmers Market on Miles Road in Solon. Superior produce, great meat, pretty decent baked goods and prepared foods (not as nice as West Point Market, though), and lots of specialty items. I try to go there every time I’m up on the East Side for an appointment or errand. The Heinen’s stores in Hudson and especially in Brecksville are pretty swell, too. Wish I hadn’t donated my West Point cookbook during one of my purges.

Dear Beth:
Regretfully, I can’t find mine, either. I’m sure the University of Akron Press would be pleased to sell us copies. The Bookseller in Wallhaven probably has some used ones available, too.

From Jane S.:
You have to try coquito. It is a coconut version of a type of eggnog using cream of coconut, coconut milk, sweetened condensed milk and 151 rum. Generally it is made at home and is served in small glasses. There are several recipes on the internet and youtube. Ask any Puerto Rican friend about it.

Dear Jane:
Coconut cream AND sweetened condensed milk? Maybe I should just glug a bottle of Karo. Anyway, coquito sounds wonderful to this coconut lover, although far too sweet for me to try. Others may want to give it a go, though.

From Amy:
Are you sure your killer brownie recipe is correct? Both the West Point cookbook and the Beacon Journal say 2/3 cup evaporated milk.

Dear Amy:
The reader who questioned the cookbook and Beacon Journal recipe said the batter was so soupy it would not firm up. That is why I offered MY version, created before the cookbook came out and given to me in pieces-parts by the Vernons. I am sure my recipe works. Russ Vernon told me, in an interview promoting the book, that he didn’t want to give away TOO many secrets. Maybe the correct brownie recipe was one of them. Can anyone else comment on the Killer Brownie recipe in the “West Point Market Cookbook?”

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December 19, 2018

Dear friends,
I’ve heard of Appalachian old-timers who kept crocks of eggnog on their chilly porches in the weeks leading up to Christmas, replenishing the pot each time visitors sampled the libation. No wonder people used to “go visiting” at the holidays.

I love eggnog with a fierceness fueled by unfulfilled longing. I gave up the drink long ago when I spied the calorie count on a carton of Smith’s: 170 per half cup. This week’s recipe, homemade Mexican eggnog made with 2 percent milk and Splenda, whittles that down to 124 calories without the rum— still not diet food, but geez, it’s Christmas. And when I foam the eggnog and fill half the mug with hot coffee for an eggnog latte, it’s almost guilt free.

I stumbled across Mexican eggnog, or rompope, by accident while searching for Latin American Christmas traditions. I was curious last week after I enjoyed lunch at a newish Puerto Rican restaurant, Hayuya Puerto Rican Cuisine on Canton Road in Akron.

Before I could get to Puerto Rican Christmas recipes, up popped a bunch of recipes for rompope, a cinnamon-spiced eggnog that originated at a nunnery in Oaxaca. In essence, milk is steeped with cinnamon sticks and a selection of spices that changes according to the whim of the maker. Cloves, citrus peel, nutmeg, vanilla and almonds are some popular choices.

After steeping, egg yolks are whisked into the milk and cooked and stirred until thickened. Some recipes call for ground almonds to thicken the nog, but I found if you are patient and stir it over low heat, the eggs will thicken it sufficiently. Warning: Do not allow the egg-enriched mixture to come to a simmer or the eggs will scramble and clump.

Right about now, seasoned cooks are concluding that Mexican eggnog is basically creme anglaise or what the English call “pouring custard.” Maybe so, but who hasn’t wanted to drink custard? I still have some in the fridge if anyone wants to drop by.

ROMPOPE

4 cups milk (I used 2 percent)
1 cup sugar or 1/2 cup Splenda Granulated
1 pinch baking soda
2 sticks (3 inches long) cinnamon
1 whole clove
Zest of 1 orange, in strips, no white pith
1/4 tsp. fresh-grated nutmeg
8 egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup dark rum

Place milk, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, clove and orange zest in a saucepan. Watching carefully, bring to a simmer, lower heat, cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Do not walk away because you must adjust the heat after covering it, or it might boil over. Remove from heat, still covered, and steep for 30 minutes.

Uncover milk mixture and strain out cinnamon sticks, clove and orange peel. Stir in nutmeg. Allow to cool while separating eggs and placing yolks in the bowl of a mixer. Beat yolks until pale yellow and thick. Ladle in warm milk mixture in a thin stream while beating on medium-high speed to prevent eggs from cooking.

When all the milk has been added, return it to the saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the nog has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. Do not allow the mixture to come to a boil or even a simmer or the eggs will curdle.

Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and rum. Serve warm or, even better, chill overnight to allow the flavors to blend before serving. Dust the top of each serving with nutmeg if desired. Makes 8 half-cup servings.

This recipe is an amalgam of several recipes found on the Internet.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Pan-grilled, oven-finished sirloin steak (shared with our dog for his 12th birthday) sliced and served over cauliflower rice with vegetables; hot pepper crackers; skinless chicken thighs simmered with wine and sauerkraut; pork and bell pepper stir fry with five-spice Szechuan sauce and Szechuan peppercorns; scrambled eggs and orange sections with toast and sugar-free blackberry jelly.

What I ate in/from restaurants last week:
A stellar beef empanada, roast pork shoulder and fried ripe plantains at Hayuya Puerto Rican Cuisine on Canton Road in Akron; tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet) miso ramen with eggplant and mushrooms, spicy garlic edamame and two pieces of a California roll at Ramen Katsu in Green; Nashville hot chicken thigh and leg, mashed potatoes and a biscuit at KFC in Wadsworth.

TIDBIT
Judy James is looking for a sauerkraut ball recipe, but not just any sauerkraut ball recipe. She is avid to find the recipe for the iconic sauerkraut balls served at Brown Derby restaurants in years gone by.

James, a retired librarian, wants the recipe for her forthcoming book about the treasured recipes of Akron. She has collected quite a few recipes, but despite some serious research, the sauerkraut ball recipe continues to elude her. The recipe was shared by the Brown Derby and printed in the Beacon Journal’s Action Line column decades ago. According to a 1970 article, the newspaper mailed 550 copies of the recipe to readers, so someone in the Akron area is bound to have it, says Judy. If you have the recipe, or even a clue about where to find it, contact her at akronrecipeproject@gmail.com.

THE MAILBAG
From Cindy W.:
Yay! Thanks for today’s recipe (Shrimp ACC)… my Christmas Day appetizer! You have the greatest readers. For those who might recreate the dish, the Club served its signature appetizer in small individual ramekins finished in a salamander (broiler) with toast points on the side for dipping in the sauce…damn, I’m drooling again!

Dear Cindy:
I may have to try this. Alix, who sent the recipe, points out that despite my skepticism, the Akron General cookbook version really does specify just 1/2 teaspoon of Diablo Sauce and 1/2 teaspoon of chutney. I can’t imagine 1/2 teaspoon of either would add much flavor to 1 1/2 cups mayo and chili sauce. I suggest tasting and doctoring according to your own discretion.

From Kathleen C.:
With the closing of West Point Market, I tried making the Killer Brownies recipe the Beacon Journal published recently (https://www.ohio.com/akron/lifestyle/west-point-market-killer-brownies-how-you-can-make-them-at-home). It’s also the same one in (former owner) Russ Vernon’s cookbook that came out a few years ago.

The first part of the recipe is where I am having trouble, after mixing the batter and baking the first layer.

After it is in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, the consistency of the brownies is liquid. I’ve tried cooking them longer, which is almost an hour to get the batter firm. But then the top gets really hard and the rest of the brownies are hard when fully cooked. So what am I doing wrong? Anyone else have this problem?

Dear Kathleen:
That recipe was posted in September to the newspaper’s website, based on an article written in 2013. It is not my story, so I don’t know much about it. I could not access the 2013 recipe in the Beacon Journal’s database to determine if a mistake had been made in reprinting it in September, and I no longer have the West Point cookbook to compare.

However, in 2006, before West Point coughed up the recipe, I made a knock-off based on descriptions of the recipe and process from owner Russ Vernon and his son, Rick. The mix the Vernons used, Russ told me, is Betty Crocker Super Moist German Chocolate Cake Mix. The liquid is just few tablespoons, not 2/3 cup as in your recipe. The brownies are not baked until firm. The first layer becomes firm when frozen. These tips from my 2006 article may help you:

“… the brownies are baked in three steps. The bottom layer is briefly baked, rapped on the counter to make the batter fall, and baked a few minutes more. When cool, the partially baked layer is slathered with caramel, dotted with chocolate chips and frozen. When everything is rock hard, the top layer is added and the brownies are baked some more. Freezing keeps the caramel layer in place and prevents the bottom layer from over baking.

“Even so, the brownies must be removed from the oven before they appear to be done. My advice is to test your oven temperature for accuracy and then just trust the timing in the… recipe.”

JANE’S KILLER BROWNIES RECIPE
1 box (18.25 oz.) Betty Crocker Super Moist German Chocolate Cake Mix
12 tbsp. butter, melted
3 tbsp. cream
3/4 cup walnut pieces
2/3 cup caramel ice cream topping
2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Powdered sugar

Heat oven to 350 degrees. By hand or with a mixer, mix dry cake mix and butter. Beat in cream. Stir in walnuts by hand. Spread half of the dough in the bottom of a lightly buttered and floured, 9-inch-square baking pan. Bake 5 minutes. Remove from oven and bang on counter to make brownies fall. Bake 3 to 4 minutes longer. Remove from oven and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate until cold.

Spread caramel topping over brownie layer. Sprinkle with chocolate chips. Freeze until firm.

Crumble remaining dough and scatter evenly over frozen caramel layer. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 to 25 minutes, until top is dry. Cool completely, then refrigerate until firm. Cut into squares and dust with powdered sugar. Store in refrigerator or freeze. Bring to room temperature to serve.

From Peggy:
I read with alarm about your waning interest in Belgrade chicken. Twice our “to go” chicken from Belgrade was soggy, too — a new experience. Determined to continue my 60-plus-year affair with a childhood love, I immediately dumped the chicken out of the to-go bucket and into a basket at home. Voila! Sogginess gone.

So please don’t give up. Some things are worth a little loyalty despite changes in the kitchen. Keep the lard in your life!!

Dear Peggy:
Words to live by.

December 12, 2018

Dear friends,

My cracker epiphany can be your solution for a holiday pot luck. What could be easier or more on point than assembling a charcuterie board of high-quality salami, olives, cheeses and crackers?

If you’re known as a good cook, you probably don’t want to duck the kitchen completely. That’s where my cracker epiphany, parts one and two, come in.

About a decade ago I tasted homemade crackers at a book signing for a friend. They were so tender and delicious I had to restrain myself from gobbling them all up. Then later I bought an outrageously priced box of gourmet hot pepper crackers at West Point Market. That was epiphany part two, the one that sent me scurrying to the kitchen.

I remember developing the recipe for the hot-pepper crackers and printing it in Second Helpings, the online column I wrote for the Akron Beacon Journal. When the recipe miraculously surfaced last week, I made the crackers again. I timed myself, and the dough took 10 minutes to make in my food processor and 15 minutes to press into the bottom of two baking sheets — not a great investment of time considering the results.

The pressing part is kind of a pain and you may think you don’t have enough dough for two baking sheets, but keep going. The dough will be almost see-through, but must be that thin to become crispy.

The crackers are stinging hot due to the amount of hot pepper flakes mixed into the dough. They had just the right zing for Tony and me. If your tastes differ, eliminate some or all of the hot pepper. You could replace the pepper with spices such as cracked black pepper or herbs such as dried thyme or minced rosemary.

HOT-PEPPER CRACKERS

2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. (or less) crushed red pepper flakes
1 tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. garlic salt
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup warm water
1 egg white blended with 2 tsp. water
Coarse sea salt

Combine flour, baking powder, salt, pepper flakes, sugar and garlic salt in a food processor and pulse to mix. With motor running, pour oil and Worcestershire sauce through the feed tube, then add water in a thin stream until a soft dough forms and clumps into a ball. If necessary, add a few more drops of water. The dough should be supple, not stiff.

Divide dough in half and lightly oil two 11-by-17-inch jelly roll pans. Place a piece of dough on one pan and cover with plastic wrap. With your hands or a small rolling pin or dowel, spread dough evenly over bottom of baking sheet. the dough will be very thin. Repeat with remaining dough in other pan.

With a sharp knife dipped in water, cut dough into squares or diamonds. Pierce dough all over with a fork. Brush with the egg mixture and sprinkle lightly with sea salt. Bake at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes, until edges begin to brown. Cool in pans, then break into pieces. Store in an airtight container.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Szechuan pork stir fry with slivered Brussels sprouts, carrots and onion (bottom of the vegetable bin) over rice; orange butter cookies with orange icing; Italian sausage, onions and tomatoes over polenta; venison chili; baked pumpkin custard; roast pork, dill pickle, Swiss cheese and mustard sandwich.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
A hamburger with sautéed onions, mustard and pickle with fries at Five Guys; fried chicken (leg and thigh), hot rice, coleslaw at Belgrade Gardens in Barberton (soggy chicken; I’m over Barberton chicken, I think); blue cheese burger, sweet potato fries at Mustard Seed Market in Highland Square; grilled cheese sandwich, Macedonian bean soup, hot tea at Village Gardens in Cuyahoga Falls.

THE MAILBAG

From J.S.:
Good morning! I have been wondering if you or my fellow readers have any recommendations for a gourmet grocery store that is “like” West Point Market. Preferably in Summit, Stark, Medina or Portage counties but further north is OK, too. There is a void that needs filling!

Dear J.S.:
You could expand your search to the entire United States and would not find another store like West Point Market. While Russ Vernon ran it, West Point was the finest specialty grocery store in the country, with the awards to prove it.

I, too, have searched for alternatives for unusual ingredients or just upscale ingredients such as French fleur de sel and specific imported cheeses. I haven’t found any one store that satisfies all my needs. I have cobbled together a network that usually but not always produces results.

Earth Fare and Mustard Seed Markets have good delis and cheese sections. Mustard Seed and wine stores are good bets for wine. Krieger’s has some gourmet products you wouldn’t expect, along with a broader-than-average selection of top-quality produce; Kirbie’s in Stow and Sherman Provision in Norton have great meat. Chicken that has not been hard-chilled, which we non-government types call “frozen,” is available at DiFeo’s. Aldi’s has good, reasonably-priced imported chocolate (but nothing compares to Akron’s own Temo’s). For bread, I now recommend the Brimfield Bread Oven unless you want the best Italian bread you’ve ever had, which is Massoli’s, available at the bakery at 157 Brittain Rd. in Akron and at DeViti’s on Tallmadge Avenue, also in Akron.

I miss West Point too much to shop at Whole Foods 365 in the Wallhaven area of Akron, which is sitting atop West Point’s former property. You might try that, along with Trader Joe’s in Beachwood and any of the large-format Giant Eagle Marketplace stores. Did I miss any?

From Geoff H.:
William B. can find the nuts (in the shell) he is looking for at Dannemillers in Norton on Hametown Road. The phone is 330-825-7808.

Dear Geoff:
Thanks for the tip. I plan to visit soon for other purchases.

From Carol B.:
Regarding filberts and almonds in the shell, the Giant Eagle in Montrose has them in bulk.

Dear Carol:
Thanks. I imagine that means other Giant Eagle stores carry them as well.

From Cindy W:
To read that you never tasted the Akron City Club’s famous appetizer nearly brought me to tears! Being served Shrimp ACC was always the highlight of my meals there, whether as a child guest of a relative who belonged, or as one of the first handful of women admitted to membership.

But reminiscences aside, I seem to recall that recipe being sought and finally found and printed in the Beacon Journal eons ago. I hope you can help find it once again…it is a delicious reason to make and serve toast points once again.

Dear Cindy:
I don’t remember printing that recipe (but my memory often tricks me these days), and I couldn’t find it in a search of the Beacon Journal’s database. However, help is at hand. Read on.

From Alix W.:
Shrimp ACC was a fabulous dish but when I went to the Akron City Club I was afraid to order the most expensive thing on the menu. A lovely woman named Ruby served in the ladies’ dining room and passed out divine sticky buns, one to each guest.

The recipe for Shrimp ACC is in the Akron General Cook Book (published in 1961) along with their wonderful Crabmeat Ravigote. Unfortunately you can no longer purchase the Escoffier Diablo Sauce the recipe calls for but there is a recipe for it on the Internet.

SHRIMP ACC
1 lb. cooked shrimp, crab meat or lobster
1 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup chili sauce
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. chutney (I think this should be 1/2 cup)
Few grains of cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. Escoffier Diablo Sauce (see note) (Jane says: Maybe this should be 1/2 cup, too, or at least one tablespoon)
Grated Parmesan cheese
Melted butter
Place the seafood in a casserole dish. Combine remaining ingredients and pour over seafood. Sprinkle with Parmesan and a few tablespoons melted butter. Bake at 400 degrees until nicely browned. Serve over toast points.

Note: A-1 Sauce may be substituted for the discontinued Escoffier sauce. Or a copycat recipe can be found here: http://www.hungrybrowser.com/phaedrus/m0115M07.htm.

December 5, 2018

Dear friends,
Tony was out of town. The dog and I huddled indoors as sleet encrusted my car in a glaze of ice. We weren’t going anywhere. We needed an extra blanket and soup.

Luckily, I had thought ahead and bought a few ingredients with soup in mind. I didn’t have a recipe, just an idea: potato-mushroom soup. Maybe with bacon?

I hauled out a pot and the ingredients and placed my notepad and a pen on the counter. The way I work is to jot down a list of potential ingredients, in the order I envision using them. I leave space to the left for amounts. Then I measure and cook, measure and cook and, with sticky hands, note ingredient amounts and instructions. My finished written recipe usually has a lot of arrows, rub-outs and additions squeezed in. It’s a mess, but it works for me.

But back to the sleet, the dog and the soup. Oscar left the comfort of the blanket when he smelled bacon sizzling. By the time the soup was done, he was frantic with anticipation. I couldn’t deny him. I spooned a bit of the creamy broth and a few cubes of potato over his kibble, and crowned it with a shred of bacon. I took dog, kibble and a mug of the steaming soup back to the sofa, where we ate while watching “The Christmas Chronicles” on Netflix.

I had two bowls of the soup. Tony ate the rest of it when he returned the next day, proclaiming it the best soup he had ever eaten. I think he was just grateful he didn’t have to eat his hunting buddies’ cooking again.

But the soup was indeed good. After crisping the bacon, I sautéed chopped onions and sliced mushrooms in the bacon fat, added potatoes, sherry, seasonings and chicken broth, and simmered until the potatoes were tender. I finished the soup with a bit of cream to enrich the broth.

POTATO-MUSHROOM SOUP

4 slices bacon
1 lb. sliced mushrooms
1 cup chopped onion
2 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup dry sherry
6 cups chicken broth
2 lbs. white potatoes, peeled and cut in 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup cream

Fry bacon in a soup pot until crisp. Remove bacon and set aside. Fry mushrooms and onions in bacon drippings until onions are softened and mushrooms are cooked. Stir in thyme and salt. Add sherry and chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Add potatoes. Simmer, uncovered, for about 30 minutes, until potatoes are very tender and flavors are blended. Stir in cream and return to a simmer. Makes about 8 servings.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Sirloin steak salad with arugula, goat cheese, toasted walnuts, pear wedges, dried cranberries, roasted Brussels sprouts; frozen DiGiorno pizza; potato and mushroom soup; cornbread.

What I ate in/from restaurants last week:
Superfoods salad with chicken from Aladdin’s in Fairlawn (quinoa, dried cranberries, yellow squash, tomato, peas, walnuts, cucumber, lentils and crisp pita pieces with lemon vinaigrette — love it); spicy shrimp and grits and a glass of Malbec at The Merchant in Akron (really good); pulled pork, pot roast, a hush puppy, beets, mashed potatoes, a sugar-free chocolate cookie and sugar-free pistachio cake at Golden Corral in Green. Don’t judge. Some of the food is pretty good.

THE MAILBAG
From William B.:
Does anyone still sell unshelled nuts in bulk quantities? I’m looking to buy like 5 pounds each of filberts and almonds. Aldi’s has a seasonal bag of nuts for about $7 that has way too many walnuts and Brazil nuts for me. I remember grocery stores used to have bins of nuts in the produce department that you just scooped up.

Also, regarding the letter about rotisserie chicken, I get that unctuousness by roasting it in a clay pot, then seasoning it to taste. You won’t get a brown, crackly skin but it is good. I usually stuff a whole bird with two cut-up onions, a cut-up lemon, a couple cloves of garlic and sprigs of thyme, with the usual salt and pepper.

When I worked at East Side Mario’s our rotisserie chicken was in a marinade of soy sauce, garlic powder, pepper, olive oil, rosemary and lemon. We usually marinated 40 chickens at a time for at least 24 hours.

Dear William:
I remember those barrels of nuts, too, especially around Christmas. A bowl of nuts with nutcrackers and picks to offer to guests was standard in homes around the holidays when I was growing up. Now we all want our nuts shelled, roasted, salted, seasoned or smoked.

I checked a couple of stores and found that nuts in the shell are sold in bulk at Krieger’s in Cuyahoga Falls and Beiler’s Market in Uniontown. Probably other produce markets sell them, too. Beiler’s carries filberts, walnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts, pecans, mixed nuts and chestnuts, all $3.99 a pound in the shell except chestnuts, which are $7.49 a pound.

From Molly:
Regarding your Thanksgiving stuffing/dressing, we turned our leftover dressing into waffles. There are recipes for this online, but basically what we did was combine about 8 cups of stuffing with 3 eggs and enough vegetable stock to moisten. It wasn’t liquid-y enough to form a traditional waffle batter but it was wetter than the dressing alone.

We then coated the waffle wells with the stuff, pun intended, and cooked to about a level 5 until done to our liking. The texture of each waffle was semi-crisp. The cooked waffles waited in a low oven until we were finished with all of them. We piled turkey, gravy and homemade cranberry sauce on top. I opted out of the cranberry sauce and put Cheddar cheese on top instead. There were mashed potatoes to go on the side. Delicious. This is how we’ll eat Thanksgiving leftovers next year.

Dear Molly:
Wowzer. That’s how I want to eat Thanksgiving leftovers next year, too. I hope I remember, because it sounds spectacular.

From Karen:
The next time you are at Alexandri’s in Wadsworth, run over one street and check out the cookies at ToastHeads micro bakery at 122 Watrusa St. for the best cookies in the area. They are pricey but well worth every penny. Only place you will ever go after you try them. And they have gluten free for those who have a hard time finding treats.

Dear Karen:
Although I try not to eat sweets, I have pressed my nose to the window of ToastHeads many times. The cookies look and sound delicious. I have a hard time resisting the rotating roster of jumbo cookie flavors such as salted caramel and s’mores, not to mention the orange-cranberry and bacon-Cheddar breads.