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.

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