July 10, 2019

Dear friends,
The mushrooms were golden and a bit fuzzy, like button mushrooms from an alternate reality. I can’t remember their name. I remember the flavor, though — a bit more pronounced than regular white mushrooms, with earthy, woodland notes.

I bought a small sack of the mushrooms at the Countryside Farmers Market Saturday — just enough to flavor a soufflé if I wanted to spend that much time in my sweltering kitchen. I didn’t.

I sure wanted that soufflé, though, so I made a down and dirty version in a skillet. No cooked white sauce. No buttered soufflé dish. Just a bowl in which to beat the eggs and a skillet to sauté the mushrooms and bake the soufflé in, too.

I found a recipe for a lemon skillet soufflé (just Google “lemon skillet soufflé”) and riffed on that. The original was from the Cook’s magazine folks. I changed almost all of the ingredients except the eggs, and borrowed the technique of beating the soufflé base rather than cooking it. It worked pretty good, although a dessert soufflé made in this manner would probably rise higher than my mushroom-laden one.

A reader asked me this week about the difference between my crustless quiche of a few weeks ago and a frittata. This mushroom soufflé further muddies the waters. All of them are similar, although the frittata is much more eggy and the soufflé is puffier.

Basically, a frittata is an unfolded omelet with the filling ingredients mixed right into the eggs. It can be cooked on the stove or in the oven. A quiche usually is a custard base (eggs and milk) to which lots of cheese is added. My crustless quiche skips the milk in the custard base and uses cottage cheese as the dairy. It’s not a true quiche, but the cottage cheese disqualifies it as a frittata. A soufflé is a custard base made with just the yolks, to which beaten whites are added.

None of this matters. What’s important is whether it tastes good, and Tony gave the mushroom skillet soufflé a big thumbs up. The flavor of the mushrooms was enhanced with finely chopped sage and thyme from my herb garden. Chives and rosemary would complement the mushrooms, too.

When the local corn finally ripens I’ll sub a cup of sautéed kernels for the mushrooms (it won’t be long — I hear the corn is starting to tassel this week) and use basil for the herb. Until then, some strange-delicious mushrooms will do.

This airy soufflé and a salad make a great, light dinner on a sizzling summer night. One-fourth of the soufflé — a big, big hunk — has just 198 calories.

MUSHROOM SKILLET SOUFFLE

5 eggs
2 tbsp. butter
6 oz. mushrooms (any variety), diced to 1/4-inch pieces
1/4 cup diced onion
1 clove garlic, diced
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. minced fresh sage
1 tsp. minced fresh thyme leaves
1/2 cup milk
3 tbsp. flour
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Separate the eggs, placing the whites in the bowl of a mixer and the yolks in a custard cup. Make sure no speck of yolk contaminates the whites (to be safe, separate each white into a custard cup before pouring one at a time into the mixer bowl).

Melt butter in a 10-inch oven-proof skillet. Sauté mushrooms, onions and garlic over medium heat until vegetables are softened and mushrooms are golden brown. If the mushrooms give off moisture, turn up the heat to evaporate the moisture. Remove from heat and stir in salt and herbs.

Arrange oven rack in middle of oven and preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Beat whites on medium-low speed until frothy. Increase speed to high and continue to beat until whites are stiff and glossy. Scrape whites into another bowl.

In the same mixer bowl (no need to wash) beat yolks on high speed until thickened and light yellow, at least 1 minute. Beat in milk, then flour and cheese. Stir in mushroom mixture.

Return skillet (without washing) to medium-low heat. Stir and fold one-fourth of the egg whites into the yolk mixture until barely a trace of the whites remain. Gently fold remaining whites into the yolk mixture, scraping bottom of bowl to incorporate all of the mushrooms and yolks.

Pour soufflé mixture into warm skillet and cook for 2 minutes over medium-low heat. Place skillet on middle rack in a 375-degree oven and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until top is puffy and golden and center is almost set. Serve immediately. Makes 4 large servings at 198 calories each.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Venison spaghetti sauce and Parmesan cheese baked in a spaghetti squash half; a turkey burger and sugar-free ice cream soda; grill-smoked thick, bone-in rib steak (tomahawk) with horseradish sauce and grilled vegetables with sesame-ginger dressing; black raspberry galette; marinated roast pork tenderloin, buttered corn on the cob; wilted spinach and fried egg on toast; grilled ribeye steaks, corn on the cob, sliced tomatoes with olive oil, sea salt and chopped basil; kung pao chicken over rice; another wilted spinach and fried egg on toast.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Half of a spicy Thai salad, an apple and iced coffee at Panera; half of a chicken teriyaki sub at Subway; popcorn, no butter at Regal Cinema; half of a Subway ham and Swiss; half of a pulled pork sandwich from Showcase Meats in Akron.

THE MAILBAG
From Martha K.:
This recipe is a throwback to your crustless quiche. I make egg muffins often. They’re good hot, cold or slightly warmed, alone or on a bed of arugula topped with a squeeze of lemon and a grating of pecorino Romano cheese.

I make them when I need to watch my calorie intake or when I know I’m going to be very busy. They pack easily. They’re great for a road trip. I usually have plenty of vegetables at home but when I’m in a hurry, I grab a small amount of carrots, peas, scallions, broccoli, peppers and whatever looks good from a salad bar at a grocery store.

EGG MUFFINS
9 eggs
Scant 1/4 cup milk
Pinch of cream of tartar
Pinch of salt
Crank or two of pepper

Filler:
Any combination of finely chopped fresh vegetables
Romano, Cheddar, low-moisture mozzarella or any shredded cheese
Cubed ham, crumbled bacon, shredded chicken, chopped steak

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat a 12-cup muffin tin with vegetable oil spray or butter.

In a 4-cup measuring cup, whisk together the eggs, milk, cream of tartar, salt and pepper. Arrange any combination of fillers in each muffin cup. Do not fill more than halfway.

Pour egg mixture into each muffin cup, filling no more than three-fourths full. Mixture will puff in oven. Bake at 375 degrees for about 18 minutes. Eggs are ready when the edges begin to brown.

Let cool in pan. Run a knife around edges of muffins and remove from tin. Eat immediately or refrigerate in a sealed container for up to 5 days. Makes 12.

Dear Martha,
I love this idea. Tony and I are getting ready for a road trip with our camper. I’ll definitely take some of these along. Thanks!

From Pat S.:
Hi Jane. I have been seeing a range of Hasselback recipes. The baked potatoes are excellent and the sweet potato version looks awesome. I’m now seeing the technique used on baked chicken breasts, Caprese and fajita styles. I think the combinations are endless. These are oven-bake recipes, but I’m thinking the chicken could be grilled as well, making it an easy, quick summer meal. And very good when we have so much fresh produce and herbs in season. Do you have thoughts on this method and its versatility?

Dear Pat,
I think “Hasselback” is almost as much fun to say as “spatchcock.” Remember a couple of summers ago when we were spatchcocking our brains out? Seriously, I think that’s why “Hasselback” is having a moment — it’s fun to say.

Fun aside, the technique of slicing something almost but not quite through and stuffing the crevices (or not stuffing, as in the original version of Hasselback potatoes) is an interesting way to present food. If you stuff, you’ll want to make sure the stuffing and encasing food roast at the same speed. In other words, no potato stuffed with seafood. Otherwise, this is a visually exciting way to dress up dinner.
If you grill the chicken, I would slice it and stuff it after cooking to prevent the chicken from drying out. Send me your favorite Hasselback recipe! I want to play, too.

FYI, Hasselback potatoes were named after Restaurant Hasselbacken in Stockholm, Sweden, where they were invented.

Advertisements

July 3, 2019

Dear friends,
I have an old, slim, tattered Szechuan cookbook from 1982 that I burned the back cover from when I set it on an electric burner eons ago. The paperback, “Szechwan & Northern Cooking: From Hot to Cold,” was written by Rhonda Yee. It has survived four moves and a Marie Kondo-style cleansing.

Every few years the book gets buried in the basement or pushed to the back of a bookshelf and I forget about it. A few years later I find it, consider tossing out the poor, charred little thing, but instead hang onto it. On the rare occasions I crack open the book, I’m glad I did. The sauce recipes are extraordinary.

When I found the book on my shelf last weekend, it was the culinary equivalent of a letter from my youth. I remember making recipes from the book in the early days of my career as a food writer. I paged through the book, encountering my penciled-in annotations from the past.

The most exciting moment is when I found my favorite recipe for kung pao chicken, which I thought I had lost. Tony is a kung pao fanatic, but I keep telling him the pallid versions he gets in restaurants can’t compare to the one I would make if only I could find my recipe. I will wow him with this superior version this week.

But I had a sirloin steak, not chicken, in the fridge last weekend, so I improvised with the ingredients on hand and a couple of Yee’s sauces. I’ll tell you straight up that her salad dressing recipe, reprinted below, should be made by the gallon and kept in your refrigerator at all times. It is luscious. I’m going to use the leftovers all week on roasted vegetables.

I marinated the steak, grilled it and sliced it. I tossed it with romaine lettuce, sliced scallions and Yee’s lip-licking dressing. Rice sticks and peanuts provided the crunch.

Filament-like rice sticks can be found in Asian stores and some supermarkets. They are usually coiled into nests. For this recipe, the strands are teased apart and dropped into very hot oil, which puffs them dramatically. With the weather we’ve been having, I wouldn’t blame you if you used packaged chow mein noodles instead. The salad will still taste great.

CRUNCHY SZECHUAN BEEF SALAD

Marinade:
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. hoisin sauce
1 tbsp. black bean garlic sauce
1 tsp. sugar

Dressing:
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
2 tbsp. sesame oil
2 tbsp. rice vinegar
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. sugar
1 tbsp. hoisin sauce
1 tsp. Szechuan chili oil

Salad:
1 lb. top sirloin or flatiron steak, trimmed of fat and gristle
1 oz. very thin rice sticks or 2 cups chow mein noodles
Oil for frying (if using rice sticks)
Salt
4 to 6 cups chopped romain lettuce
4 scallions, sliced
1/2 cup coarsely crushed dry-roasted peanuts

Combine marinade ingredients in a custard cup. Slather on both sides of steak. Place on a plate, cover and marinate in refrigerator for at least 1 hour or up to 4 hours.

Combine dressing ingredients in a lidded jar and shake well. Set aside.

If using rice sticks, separate the strands over a bowl to catch the pieces. The filaments should be separated and broken into pieces but not crushed. Heat about 1 inch of vegetable oil in a heavy, wide skillet. The oil should be very hot. Test it by dropping a strand of rice stick into the oil. It should immediately puff up. Scatter a handful at a time in the oil, turning over with tongs as soon as they puff, and removing from the oil as soon as the other side has puffed. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt.

Remove steak from marinade and grill over hot coals to desired degree of doneness. Let rest off the heat for 10 minutes, then slice across the grain into 1/4-inch-wide strips. Cut the strips into 1 1/2-inch lengths.

Just before serving, place chopped romaine in a very large bowl. Add scallions and all but 2 tablespoons of the peanuts. Toss with half the dressing. Add the beef strips and toss again, adding more dressing if necessary. Add all but a handful of the rice sticks or chow mein noodles and salt to taste; toss. Mound on a platter. Drizzle with a bit more dressing. Garnish with remaining peanuts and rice sticks. Makes 4 large servings.

Note: Refrigerate the delicious leftover dressing and drizzle over cooked vegetables or salads.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
A crustless tomato quiche; roast carrots, bell peppers and zucchini; a crunchy Szechuan beef salad.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Thai chicken curry with chopped peanuts at Basil Asian Bistro in Wooster; half of a ham and cheese sub from Subway; edamame, a California roll, Tony’s Mussels and a Bud Light at Sushi Katsu in Akron; sugar-free coffee frozen yogurt at Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt; marinated grilled chicken and beef, grilled kefta, kibbee, tabbouli and baba ganoush from Falls Mediterranean Market & Grill in Cuyahoga Falls; small popcorn, no butter at Regal Cinema; samosa, corn salad, bahn mi and watermelon at the Project Learn picnic in Akron.

THE MAILBAG
From Maria M.:
I have quite a bit of zucchini from last year’s garden that I partially blanched and froze last year. They are in slices and half slices. How do you recommend using them? I know I can drop them frozen into soup such as minestrone but this is definitely not soup weather! I’m always uncertain as to whether or not I should thaw the zucchini before using it in a recipe or leave it frozen. Any recipe suggestions would be helpful and appreciated.

Dear Maria:
Zucchini is one of the few vegetables I would never freeze. Because of its high water content, it becomes beyond mushy when thawed. A lot of people do freeze zucchini, though. Unless you use it in soup or stew, you should thaw the zucchini and drain it well before using. You might even want to squeeze it dry.

Many people who freeze zucchini shred it first for use in baked goods such as zucchini bread. Since you didn’t do that, I would forget about baked goods and instead sneak it into meatloaf, spaghetti sauce and smoothies. You could try stir frying it, but be prepared for some splatters when the moisture in the zucchini meets the hot fat.

This year, pick them small — 6 inches or less — and eat ‘em up.

From Mary:
Jane, your couscous salad was delicious! We had fresh salmon I baked and the salad with it was just so good. Thanks for the recipe. It was awesome.

Dear Mary:
I love when I hear that one of my recipes was made and enjoyed. Thanks for writing.

From Linda C.:
This vegan loves your couscous salad recipe. I love roasting veggies. The large pearl couscous is a great texture change. I’m experimenting with different grains. We love farro and freekeh. Tef was a wonderful change as a breakfast grain, too.

Thanks for your continued flavor combinations and great food advice.

Dear Linda:
Tef, eh? That is one I haven’t tried. Thanks for the suggestion.