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.

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