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.

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