May 22, 2019

Dear friends,

I don’t think I’m the only one who has faced the conundrum of how to sauce a grilled steak. An unadorned, charcoal-grilled strip or ribeye is fancy enough for Tony and me most of the time. But when company calls or when we are celebrating a birthday or anniversary, grilled steak could use a frill or two.

In the past I have minimally solved the problem with a sprinkling of crumbled blue cheese or, for grill-smoked prime rib or cowboy steak, a simple horseradish sauce made by stirring prepared horseradish into thinned mayonnaise. But now I can do better. Now I can lavish the steaks with a voluptuous blue cheese and port wine sauce.

I devised this pan-sauce-without-fond a few months ago but thought it was too simple to share. Now that grilling season is here, I have pulled out the recipe and used it myself, a clue that others probably need just such a sauce, also. So here goes.

A “fond,” by the way, is the meat drippings that stick to the bottom of a pan after cooking. It is the basis of a good sauce. When you grill, you have no pan and therefore no fond. No fond, no sauce.

In its absence, I built layers of flavor by sautéing garlic and onion — just a bit of each — in plenty of butter, then adding beef broth and reducing it to a couple of spoonfuls. I then added port wine and reduced that. Then I added a cup of crumbled blue cheese and stirred until it melted into the wine reduction, producing a deeply flavored, satin-textured sauce. I used port because it goes well with beef and is a fortified wine that can be kept for months, opened, in your cupboard.

The techniques I used to make this delicious blue cheese-port wine sauce are known to any good cook, so anyone could have figured this out. But I didn’t until recently, so I figured maybe you didn’t, either.

A big selling point of the sauce, for me, is that it can be made in the time you rest the steaks before serving. That should be about ten minutes. If you have all your sauce ingredients measured and ready to go, you can beat that time by half, giving you breathing room to finish your pre-dinner cocktail.

BLUE CHEESE-PORT WINE SAUCE FOR GRILLED STEAKS

2 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. minced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup beef broth
3/4 cup port wine
1 cup crumbled blue cheese plus more for garnish if desired

Heat a medium skillet (7- to 8-inch diameter) over medium heat. Melt butter in skillet. Sauté onion and garlic until softened. The garlic should not taste raw, but do not brown.

Pour beef broth into pan, increase heat to high and boil until reduced by half. Pour in wine, stir well and boil over high heat until reduced to about 1/2 cup. Reduce heat to medium, add cheese and stir until melted.

Immediately spoon sauce over steaks and top with a sprinkling of crumbled blue cheese if desired. Makes enough sauce for 4 steaks, about 2 tablespoons per steak. The recipe may be doubled if you like a lot of sauce, but the sauce is rich and you really don’t need much.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Pineapple mousse pie for my brother; Japanese pork curry over rice; pan-grilled boneless pork chop with a sweet soy sauce glaze, steamed asparagus with balsamic vinegar and coarse sea salt; grilled steaks (filet and strip) with blue cheese-port wine sauce, fava beans with chopped fresh tarragon and olive oil, pan-grilled bell pepper strips.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Marinated, grilled chicken, beef and kefta, baba ghanouj, pita bread, tabbouli, hummus and kibbee from Mediterranean Bakery & Grill on Graham Road in Cuyahoga Falls; tossed salad topped with grilled chicken and raspberry dressing, iced tea at Hot Shots Bar & Grill in East Liverpool; chicken kabobs, green papaya salad and a hot chili wonton at the Cleveland Asian Festival; a quarter of a ham and provolone sub from Subway; a chicken burrito bowl sans rice from Chipotle.

TIDBITS
I was blown away last week during an odyssey in search of my favorite Ahmad Ceylon tea. I found it at two Middle Eastern stores off Graham Road in Cuyahoga Falls — one that I’ve been to before but that has expanded, and another that is new to me but that I’ll return to often.

The big news: I finally found fresh fava beans. They are sold in Middle Eastern stores. Who knew?

I also found what may be the best $40 meal around. It is gigantic, delicious and it feeds four. It’s the combination dinner (actually, $39.99) at Falls Mediterranean Bakery & Grill at 526 Graham Road in the plaza where Kifli’s used to be.

Call ahead (330-923-7777) or be prepared to wait for 30 minutes. Either way, it’s worth it. You can shop the wide selection of Middle Eastern foods or watch the friendly guys behind the counter prepare food in a brick oven and wait on a steady stream of hijab-clad customers.

Food is carryout only, so we didn’t know what we had until we unpacked the two bags at home. It was a feast. In one bag was a foil pan heaped with jasmine rice and topped with grilled, marinated boneless chicken, beef and the gorgeously seasoned ground lamb and beef fingers called “kefta.” The chicken was tender. The beef, not so much.

In the other bag were plastic one-pound tubs of hummus, tabbouleh and some of the best baba ghanouj I’ve had, with big, soft pitas to scoop it up. Two small, tapered, meat-filled kibbee were inhaled on the way to the table.

I didn’t try the store’s meat pies because I already had a bag of the terrific fatayer I bought at Fuad Khayyat’s Vine Valley in Akron’s Merriman Valley (https://vinevalleyfoods.com/). I skipped the Ahmad tea and fresh and frozen (!) fava beans, too, because I had just loaded up on them at East Market, 3464 Hudson Drive in Cuyahoga Falls. That store, by the way, has moved to a plaza across Hudson Drive from its previous location behind Starbuck’s.

Are there other local Middle Eastern stores or restaurants that I haven’t heard of? Let me know. Meanwhile, try some Ahmad Ceylon tea. It’s great, and just finding it can be an adventure.

THE MAILBAG

From Rob S.:
Regarding various types/brands of salt, Cooks Illustrated published the following set of equivalencies some time back: 1 teaspoon table salt = 1 1/2 teaspoons Morton’s kosher salt = 2 teaspoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt.

Diamond Crystal, with its light, flaky crystals, is less salty by volume than Morton’s, and both are less salty by volume than table salt. The finer the crystals, the tighter the salt packs into a given volume (e.g., a teaspoon) and the saltier it will make your dish. Of course, all are equally salty when measuring by weight instead of volume.

Best is when a recipe clearly states what type of salt they are referring to and, if kosher salt, which brand (Cooks Illustrated, for example, always uses Diamond Crystal in its recipes). You can easily convert with the formula above if you don’t have the type specified. If the recipe gives the amount of salt by weight (and you have a kitchen scale) that works equally well.

Dear Rob:
Thank you for the last word on the salt question. I might add that even salts with the same flakiness and weight can vary in flavor because of the mineral content. I once tasted every brand of sea salt sold at West Point Market, from Maldon to some chunky stuff from Maine — almost a dozen in all — and the saltiness and
flavor varied widely.

From Pat S.:
Hi, Jane. This may seem a minor concern in the world of foodies but I have wondered nonetheless. When watching expert TV cooks in food prep I notice most do not fully scrape out the container of liquid ingredients with a silicone spatula when incorporating beaten eggs and oil into cakes mixes, etc. Doesn’t scraping out the residue of liquid ingredients matter in the outcome of a recipe, especially in baking? I always do it.

Dear Pat:
Yes, it matters! TV cooks are more interested in the camera and their script than in the details of cooking because the ingredients they stir up in front of the camera almost never actually get cooked/baked/grilled. There isn’t time. The mixtures made on camera are usually thrown away and a finished version made earlier (often by someone else) is pulled from the oven/stove/grill. Been there, done that.

Also, not much camera time is allotted to the assembly part we see, so TV cooks often just quickly dump premeasured ingredients into the pan or bowl. But you should keep scraping.

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May 15, 2019

Dear friends,

Between Marie Kondo and my college roommate, I finally cleaned the house. I mean really cleaned, as in waxing the shower and donating all of the clothes that no longer fit. Well, most of them. I’m still hanging onto the high school majorette uniform my mom made and an expensive purple velveteen pantsuit I bought at Macy’s in 2005 and wore twice.

My drawers now are so beautiful I want to haul people in off the street for viewings. Crew socks are neatly rolled and lined up in a long, slim box. Ankle socks nestle in another box, separated by color.

My sweaters are put away for the season, all the floors are vacuumed, shampooed or scrubbed, the windows sparkle and wood furniture glistens. Most of this frenzy was sparked by a visit from a college roommate I hadn’t seen in 50 years. Once I began cleaning, I couldn’t stop. I even dragged poor Tony into the project.

The week involved a lot of cooking, too. The fanciest meal was cioppino over polenta, which Manda had requested after she saw the photo I took for this newsletter a few months ago. We invited her friend from Cleveland and the four of us had a long, leisurely meal. I had intended to serve a puffy strawberry pavlova for dessert, but by that point I was cooked out. Whew.

The day after I put Manda on her plane home, I eyed the extra eggs and strawberries in the refrigerator. I would make that Pavlova just for Tony and me. A Pavlova, for the uninitiated, is a meringue baked in the shape of a cake and topped with fruit. The meringue is crisp outside but soft and marshmallow-like inside. I had no guests to please, so I would make the normally sugar-intensive Pavlova without sugar. Could it be done?

Yes, it can. When you sub Splenda for sugar in a Pavlova recipe and add a bit of cornstarch for stiffening, you end up with a healthful dessert of basically baked egg whites and sliced strawberries. The Splenda must be liquefied over heat with water and lemon juice before adding it to the egg whites, but the process is easy. I am smitten, and intend to make this beauty all summer.

If you have no need to limit sugar or avoid Splenda for some reason, find another recipe. This is for those of us who hunger for something sweet but must avoid sugar. The splash of balsamic vinegar on the strawberries intensifies their flavor.

The recipe serves four, but I’m kind of glad Tony and I had this dessert all to ourselves.

SUGAR-FREE STRAWBERRY PAVLOVA

For the Pavlova:
6 egg whites
1/2 cup Splenda granular
4 tbsp. water
1 tsp. lemon juice
4 tsp. cornstarch

For the topping:
3 cups halved medium-sized strawberries (about 1 lb.)
2 tbsp Splenda granular or to taste
1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
Sugar-free whipped topping, optional

Heat oven to 225 degrees. Begin to whip egg whites on low speed. Meanwhile, combine Splenda, water and lemon juice in a very small stainless steel saucepan. Heat to 175 on an instant-read thermometer or until the liquid has almost reduced and begins to look sticky.

The egg whites should be at the soft peak stage at this point. If not, increase the speed of the mixer and whip until foamy. Slowly add Splenda mixture while whipping. Stop mixer and sift in the cornstarch. Increase speed to high and beat to the stiff peak stage. Do not over beat.

Fit a piece of parchment paper to a baking sheet. With a pencil, trace a 10-inch circle on the parchment (use a plate). Turn the pencil side down. You should still be able to see the circle through the parchment. Using the circle as a guide, dollop egg whites onto the parchment in a circle to make cake-like structure. Slightly indent top with the back of a spoon, so it can serve as a bowl for the berries.

Bake at 250 degrees for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until it just begins to color. Turn off oven, open door and let meringue sit until it is cool.

While meringue cools, combine strawberries, Splenda and balsamic vinegar in a bowl. Let stand at room temperature or chill until ready to serve. Just before serving, spoon some whipped topping, if using, into the indentation of the meringue and top with strawberries and their juices. Cut like a cake to serve. Makes 4 large or 6 medium servings.

TIDBIT
Now I know what all the fuss is about. I finally visited Cafe Arnone in Fairlawn and I am a believer. It is as close as you’ll come to an Italian espresso bar outside Italy.

About eight jewel-like colors of house-made gelato beckon from a glass-fronted case when you walk through the rest of the space and a terrace outdoors. We sat at the counter where I could watch coffee being brewed by a number of methods. There are drip pots, French presses, an impressive bank of sleek espresso machines, and baristas hand-pouring steaming water over coffee by the cup and the pot. Take your pick. I had just a regular cup of dark-roast coffee (drip coffee, $1.75) and it was superb.

The sandwiches on crisp flatbread taste fresh, not pre-assembled. I had the chicken piadina — chicken breast chunks with mixed greens and a film of melted Cheddar and Jack cheeses lacquering the inside of the flatbread. A couple of soups and salads also are available. In another life I will return and chow down on the breakfasts toasts. For now, I’ll just dream of craggy toast topped with bananas, strawberries, Nutella and powdered sugar. Or fresh bananas, almond butter, cinnamon and honey. Sigh.

Cafe Arnone is at 2840 W. Market St. in Fairlawn. The website is cafearnone.com.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
Avocado and feta salad with fresh tarragon and vinaigrette dressing; sugar-free Pavlova with balsamic strawberries; coconut-ginger chickpea soup, steamed asparagus with balsamic vinegar; pan-roasted steelhead trout with roasted carrots, bell pepper, grape tomatoes and Kalamata olives, and steamed asparagus with balsamic vinegar; avocado toast, morels fried in butter; steamed asparagus with lemon juice and coarse sea salt; tuna couscous salad; baked spaghetti squash with ricotta cheese and meat sauce; steamed asparagus topped with a poached egg, lemon juice and sea salt. (My two asparagus patches are going crazy).

What I ate out:
A cup of vegetable soup and half of a spicy Thai salad with chicken at Panera; orichette with tomato-meat sauce, arugula and avocado salad, garlic bread, fresh fruit at a friend’s house; pad Thai at the Giant Eagle in Green; Cobb salad with two warm pita triangles and coffee at Alexandri’s in Wadsworth; small popcorn, no butter at Regal Cinema; chicken piadina (flatbread sandwich) and coffee at Cafe Arnone in Fairlawn; sugar-free vanilla frozen yogurt at Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt in Fairlawn.

THE MAILBAG

From Joy, Vancouver, Canada:
Sorry to hear about Geoff Hewitt’s passing. I thought you might be interested in the fresh tomato soup recipe served at Vikram Vij’s Indian cuisine restaurants in Vancouver. I have his cookbooks, one of which has the tomato soup, but have not tried the recipe myself as yet. Vij mentions in his cookbook that they serve the soup (as a light lunch) over pakoras (cauliflower and potato fritters) at Vij’s and Rangli in Vancouver.

The soup consists of 5 or 6 pakoras in a bowl, then the tomato soup is poured over the fritters and garnished with cilantro. You’ll notice in the recipe instructions they either use ginger or garlic but never both at the same time. Here’s the link to the recipe:
https://www.alive.com/recipe/tomato-coriander-and-ginger-soup/.

From Jenny K:
In terms of baking and/or savory cooking, what kind of kosher salt should be used when a recipe specifically calls for that type? Morton’s is a much coarser salt than Diamond Crystal Kosher. I assume they must not measure the same. Thanks!

Dear Jenny:
You ask the tough questions. I have always assumed recipes that called for kosher salt meant the coarse kind. That may be because that’s what I always mean when I write recipes. Or it may be because Morton’s is the only kind of kosher salt I remember seeing in grocery stores.

I tried to find out whether, as I suspect, Morton’s is the top dog in the kosher salt market. Failing that, I’m just going to go with my gut and guess that recipes that call for kosher salt mean the coarse kind. If the recipe specifies “flaked,” add a few extra grains of coarse salt to make up for it.

In any case, unless your recipe calls for gobs of salt, the difference will not be so great that you can’t adjust the seasoning after tasting. If using Diamond Crystal, go light on the salt before tasting.

May 8, 2019

Dear friends,
And I use that salutation sincerely. I have corresponded with so many of you for so long that I do feel you are my friends. Losing one of you is painful, as it was when long-time reader Geoff Hewitt died on April 26.

Geoff had been in failing health, said Sherrie W., a close friend of Geoff’s who let me know.

I had no idea. Geoff and I traded emails about his favorite Cleveland Asian restaurants just two weeks before he died. His picks: Siam Cafe, Won Ton Gourmet, Szechuan Cafe and for dim sum, Bo Loong.

Over the years we discussed many food issues, from the price of produce at farmers’ markets (he was in favor of paying top dollar to support local farmers) to the best restaurants in Florida.

I met Geoff just twice. The first time was years ago when I interviewed him for an In the Kitchen column for the Beacon Journal. I learned he was a professional photographer who specialized in auto racing. He loved to cook almost as much as he loved to dine out. He shared his recipe for bread pudding with coconut and pecans, which is in my cookbook and which I reprinted in this newsletter a month or so ago.

The second time was at my yard sale last summer. Geoff dropped by just to visit. We sat in lawn chairs under an awning and talked for at least an hour. He told me he learned to make the bread pudding in a cooking class in New Orleans. He traveled the country for his job, and often made time for culinary detours. His knowledge of restaurants was extensive. He could have written a restaurant guidebook for all 50 states.

Before Geoff died, he wanted to know if any of my newsletter readers could figure out the ingredients in the tomato soup at Bombay Grill in Fairlawn. I printed his request, but got no answers.

Generous to the end, Geoff sent me his version of the soup. It isn’t quite the same as the restaurant’s but it’s pretty good, said. I know he would be pleased that I’m sharing it with you.

So long, Geoff. You made my life a bit more delicious.

GEOFF’S INDIAN TOMATO SOUP
2 tbsp. butter or ghee
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1 1/2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2 cans (28 oz. each) crushed tomatoes
1 small can tomato paste
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground black mustard seeds (preferred) or yellow mustard seeds or mustard powder
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. paprika
2 tsp. curry powder
2 tbsp. sugar
4 cloves chopped garlic
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

In a large saucepan or saucier, melt the butter over medium heat and sauté
the onion for about 10 minutes until lightly browned. Add the ginger and cook two more minutes. Add the tomatoes and all the ingredients down to and including the sugar. Cover and cook for about two hours at a low simmer.

Stir in garlic and salt. Use an immersion blender to make a finely chopped puree. Alternately, puree in batches in a blender or food processor. As a last resort you could get by with a potato masher but this wouldn’t make the soup thin enough.

Add the cream, stir and add the cilantro. Taste and adjust any seasonings as necessary.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Meat sauce baked in spaghetti squash halves; chicken and rice salad with pineapple and dates; steak salad with roast butternut squash and sizzled asparagus; microwave-scrambled egg and ricotta with hot sauce and toast; pineapple mousse pie; cioppino (Italian shellfish stew) over polenta.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Chocolate chunk croissant from the Blue Door in Cuyahoga Falls; steamed edamame, octopus carpaccio, salmon nigiri, tamago nigiri at Sushi Katsu in Akron; fried pickle burger, french fries and coffee at Wally Waffle in Bath (Montrose) (majorly delicious); Korean barbecued beef taco, a Thai chicken with peanut sauce taco and a Modelo beer at Funky Truckeria in Norton.

TIDBIT
My favorite food festival of the year, the Cleveland Asian Festival, is coming up. Clear some time on Saturday, May 18 or Sunday, May 19 to eat your way through a United Nations of Asian cuisine and watch some quality entertainment (singing, dancing) by various Northeast Ohio Asian groups.

The festival sprawls along Payne Avenue around 27th Street, with a World Marketplace, social and service club exhibits, and two entertainment tents in addition to the Asian food court area, which is filled with edibles from local Filipino, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, Indian and Nepali restaurants. Did I miss any?

Festival hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Don’t bring your dog (we tried last year). Check out the website at clevelandasianfestival.org.

THE MAILBAG
From Mary D.:
I found an unfiltered extra virgin olive oil at Marc’s — Carapelli.

Dear Mary:
I rushed right out and bought a bottle. The olive flavor is pronounced and, as you mentioned in a follow-up email, grassy. It is delicious. I will save it for salad dressings and other uncooked applications in which the flavor can shine. I am glad to see that Carapelli is on the list of certified extra-virgin oils. Thanks for the tip.

From Michele Sandridge:
Clamato is sold everywhere — Marc’s, Acme, etc. Look in the fruit juice aisle.

Dear Michele:
I’m embarrassed. Thanks for setting me straight. As Ken Stewart’s bartender (and my frequent partner in crime), you should know.