July 31, 2019

Dear friends,
What a difference four years make. In 2015 I was whining about wedging all of my garden produce in the refrigerator. This year, I have exactly one tomato that has been ripening for a month now and is still too green to pick.

Yes, I sent soil away for testing and added the recommended amendments. No, it didn’t help. The garden that once gave me so much pleasure now produces mostly grass and weeds.

This week I leave it all behind to travel to upstate New York and Maine, where I will eat someone else’s blueberries and tomatoes and console myself with lobsters and clams. To remind myself of the good old days. I’ve left behind this column from 2015:

We open the refrigerator gingerly at this time of year. It is so stuffed with produce that an errant breeze could dislodge a cantaloupe or trigger an avalanche of eggplants or send a quart of blackberries tumbling over the bacon.

My untamed but prolific garden produces on its own schedule and I must adjust. When the rains last weekend unleashed a deluge of yellow squash, green beans and bell peppers, I knew something in the fridge had to go. In order to make room for the new stuff, I had to sacrifice half of a watermelon. I thought about that watermelon all day Sunday. By the time Tony and I returned from the Medina County Fair, I had a rough recipe in my head.

“Let’s go out to dinner,” Tony suggested as we pulled into the drive. “No,” I snapped. “We have to eat a watermelon!”

He shrugged and wandered into the living room while I went to work, cutting the melon into 1 1/2-inch cubes. I added sliced green onions and crushed coriander seeds. I had bought some dark, robustly flavored buckwheat honey at the fair. I spooned some out and stirred in a sprinkling of coarse sea salt. In another bowl I made a dressing of fresh lime juice, olive oil and crushed red chili pepper flakes with just enough sugar to tame the acid.

I loaded the watermelon salad, chunks of feta cheese, pita bread and chicken burgers on a platter and carted everything into the living room where Tony was watching the Olympics. Just before dishing up the watermelon, I tossed the cubes with the chili-lime dressing and drizzled it with the salted honey.

“This is good,” Tony said, spearing another bite. “Really, really good.”

I noticed he was watching synchronized swimming. Two perky young women with sequined bathing suits and nose plugs were jerking their heads and slapping the water in unison. Tony thought they were really, really good, too. I hope I can trust his taste.

Flowers yes; vegetables, no.

WATERMELON SALAD WITH CHILI-LIME DRESSING AND SALTED HONEY DRIZZLE
Chili-lime dressing:
2 tbsp. fresh lime juice
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 to 1 tsp. crushed red chili pepper flakes
1/4 tsp. salt

Salad:
6 cups chilled watermelon in 1 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup sliced green onion
2 tbsp. minced mild or medium-hot fresh green chili pepper such as Anaheim
1/4 tsp. crushed coriander seeds
2 tbsp. buckwheat honey or other full-flavored honey
1/2 tsp. coarse sea salt

Combine the dressing ingredients, mix well and refrigerate. Just before serving combine the watermelon, onions, minced fresh chilies and coriander seeds in a medium bowl. In a custard cup or small container, stir together honey and sea salt. Pour chili-lime dressing over salad and gently but thoroughly toss. Drizzle salted honey over salad; do not toss. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Pan-fried cod with stir-fried vegetables in ginger-garlic sauce over steamed rice; hard-over egg and basil leaves on whole wheat toast, cucumber spears and blueberries; a detox smoothie; shrimp cocktail, tomato and cucumber salad with fresh dill; pan-grilled salmon with a sweet soy sauce glaze, tomato and cucumber salad, a glass of Champagne.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Egg drop soup and chicken in black bean sauce (very good) at Chin’s Place in Akron; a Taco Bell taco; popcorn at Regal Cinema; Chipotle barbacoa salad; Superfoods Salad at Aladdin’s in Montrose.

THE MAILBAG
From M.P.
Years ago we were at Lake Chautauqua for the week and I was frying potatoes and hot peppers for our fishermen husbands. I did not wear gloves and soon felt the effects of the pepper oil. It felt as if my hands were in the skillet!

I will forgo all the details but will tell you the pharmacist filled the script for the doctor-recommended salve but told us olive oil would work better and faster. We located the nearest grocery store and quickly grabbed a bottle. We had brought with us a large bowl of water that my hands had been in on our trip to the hospital. We tossed out the water and poured the oil over my burned hands. Oh, the relief.

God bless this man behind the counter in the town of Warren, Pa.

Dear M.P.:
Astounding! I did not know this about olive oil. You have helped many people today.

From Carol P.:
I wanted to tell you how I make jojo potatoes. It’s not original but I think it saves time. Wash russet potatoes and pierce with a fork. Place in microwave and cook until tender. Cut into fourth lengthwise. When cool, brush with mayo or ranch dressing. Roll in panko or regular bread crumbs. Fry in 1/4 inch of oil until brown on all sides. Remember, the potato is already cooked.

I think your garlic butter brushed on while the potatoes are hot would be yummy. Then sprinkle with Parmesan after frying.

Dear Carol:
Dino Reed at Wise Guys told me he roasts the baking potatoes before he cuts them lengthwise into quarters and fries them, so his method is similar to yours. He prepares them in advance to that point, then coats them with garlic butter and Parmesan and warms them in the oven.

From Rachel A.:
My first job was in the farm market at Graf Growers in Akron, and I am still a corn snob about it. The corn I get there always tastes best to me. Apparently, nostalgia tastes like sweet corn.

Try this corn salad, too. I made it for my husband and mother-in-law last week and both of them raved about the flavors. The contrast between the warm roasted corn and the cool, creamy sauce is awesome; the tang from the quick-pickled onions adds a lovely little bite. It’s absolutely delicious: https://smittenkitchen.com/2019/07/corn-salad-with-chile-and-lime/.

Dear Rachel:
I like Graf corn, too. I intend to try your corn salad recipe, which author Deb Perelman says is modeled on the popular Mexican-style street corn. Thanks for the link.

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July 24, 2019

Dear friends,
I jumped out of bed Saturday, fully alert. It was corn day. I had waited all year. Seiberling Corn Farm in Norton would open at 9 a.m. for the season.

At 9:40 I snagged the last parking spot in front of the farm house. A slew of people already were digging through a pile of corn under a canopy. When an an older guy on a tractor putted up with another load, I wanted to hug him. I resisted.

To me, fresh corn on the cob is the essence of summer. It would be on my bucket-list last meal. I love it so much that I think I talked Northeast Ohio into making it the symbol of summer, too. A new managing editor imported from Miami once expressed surprise that my “corn is here” story appeared on the newspaper’s front page. On reflection, he decided that in Ohio, the opening of corn season probably was big news.

No. In all modesty, I think I made it big news by writing so enthusiastically about corn year after year after year. I wrote about Szalay’s vs. Graf vs. Rufener’s. I gave ridiculously detailed directions for cooking it in the microwave, on the grill, and in boiling water. One year I set up a pan of boiling water on a camp stove in the middle of a corn field and cooked an ear seconds after picking, then judged it against ears picked an hour, two hours and four hours earlier, some refrigerated and some not.

Sure, everybody around here already liked corn. But I was nuts about it, and I think my mania rubbed off.

I’m still nuts about it, and was distraught when the wet weather impacted planting last spring. Would there be corn?

I actually was happy when Szalay’s and Graf started bringing in corn from central and southern Ohio to keep the corn-hungry hordes at bay. In past years I disdained the out-of-town stuff. Then on Saturday, the real thing arrived.

Although there are only two of us, I got caught up in the corn-shucking frenzy at Seiberling’s. I stripped a dozen ears naked and, back in the car, dug one out of the bag and took a huge bite, typewriter style. I looked up, cob still to my lips, and locked eyes with an elderly woman. She gave me a thumbs up.

I found this recipe for corn salad in the “Food 52 Cookbook, Volume 2.” The original uses pancetta, cilantro and more olive oil than mine, which allowed the onions to be cooked longer. I sacrificed complete caramelization for calories, cutting the olive oil in half.

The beauty of the salad is the onions, which sweeten and also take on a bit of tartness from the vinegar, forming a built-in dressing for the corn. It is one of the best corn salads I’ve tasted. There’s no reason the salad couldn’t be served warm as a side dish, either.

And of course, you could forego the salad altogether and eat your corn raw, out of hand, in the car.

CORN AND CARAMELIZED ONION SALAD

4 slices bacon
Kernels from 6 ears of corn
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 large red onion, chopped
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
Dash of salt
8 to 10 medium basil leaves

Fry the bacon in a large, heavy skillet until crisp; drain on paper towels. Pour off and reserve all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat. Sauté the corn kernels in the skillet over medium-high heat, stirring and turning, for 1 minute. Transfer corn to a serving bowl.

Return skillet to the burner over medium-low heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the reserved bacon fat and the olive oil. Stir in onions, vinegar, sugar and salt. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 15 to 20 minutes, until onions are soft and beginning to caramelize. Stir onions into the corn.

Cool salad to room temperature. Stir in chopped basil, crumbled bacon and sea salt to taste. Makes 6 servings.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Kung bao chicken, steamed rice; beet, dill and goat cheese salad; eggplant, garlic and basil salad; corn and caramelized onion salad and roast mustard-glazed pork tenderloin.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Salad with raw tuna, edamame, cucumbers, peppers, pickled turnips and ginger and ponzu dressing from Tensuke Market in Columbus; Cobb salad from Sam’s Club; cauliflower-crust pizza with steak and mushrooms, Bud Light at Pavona’s Pizza Joint on Sand Run Road in Akron (a new place); the Laddie Burger and garlic-Parmesan Jo-Jo potatoes at Wise Guys in Akron; baba ganoush, hummus, pita bread, kibbee, marinated grilled chicken, marinated grilled beef and kefta from Mediterranean Market & Grill in Cuyahoga Falls.

TIDBIT
Are you kidding me?? A juicy, double 3-inch-high cheeseburger that’s a contender for the best in Akron, PLUS the ultimate Jo-Jos rolled in garlic butter and dusted with Parmesan, at a fast-food price? Seriously. It’s $7 on Thursdays in the bar at Wise Guys Lounge & Grill in the North Hill area of Akron.

Kathy C. told me a year or more ago about the Thursday special. She didn’t tell me the colossal hamburger is on the menu the rest of the week at just $10 or I probably would have eaten one by now. The thing must weigh 1 pound and chef Dino Reed and his crew have the skill to cook it perfectly. If you want medium-rare, that’s what you get.

You also get real cloth napkins, soft music and upscale Rat Pack decor. I already loved this place for the beautifully prepared steaks and lamb chops at moderate prices. Now I am obsessed with it for the cheeseburger. See you Thursday.

Check out the full menu at wiseguys.us.

BYE BYE BLENDER
I can finally get rid of my bozo Hamilton Beach blender. I bought it for recipe testing. I wanted equipment most people would have, which ruled out a $450 Vitamix.

Now that I’m retired my budget rules out a Vitamix. So I was thrilled but skeptical when I found a like-new smoothie maker for $8 at a second-hand store. It turned out to be a $160 Smoothie Elite that chomps through pineapple and liquefies kale like a champ. It is a powerful machine.

I am telling you this in case you, too, get hooked on the 180-calorie detox smoothie from Tropical Smoothie Cafe (the one near Belden Village is now open). Making them at home with a Smoothie Elite is the way to go. If you lost the recipe, it’s on my blog site at janesnowtoday.com. The search button is above my photo.

THE MAILBAG
From Carol B.:
Regarding your hot pepper incident, I fixed a Pakistani chicken dish for my Dining for Women meeting last week. I had the most beautiful peppers from Kreiger’s on Graham Road in Cuyahoga Falls — plump, smooth, large, crunchy. I stupidly did not use gloves when I minced them. I woke up in the middle of the night with burning hands and I couldn’t get back to sleep. I got a gel pack from the freezer, went back to bed and wrapped my hands in it. It worked! I woke up in the morning with no stinging hands!

P.S.: If you’ve never heard of Dining for Women, check it out at diningforwomen.org. They do wonderful things to empower women around the world.

Dear Carol:
Boy, you must have gotten a hot batch of jalapeños. I never use gloves for them, although I do for peppers higher on the Scoville scale. Thank you for bringing Dining for Women to my attention. I encourage others to click on the link and check out this wonderful organization.

From Chris D.:
For some weeks there was a sign in a tiny storefront between the Indian grocery and Strickland’s on Bailey Road in Cuyahoga Falls saying “Coming soon Singh Biryani, healthy Indian carry out food.” It finally opened on July 19! I’m leaving on vacation, will visit the restaurant when I get back. I wish them success!

Dear Chris:
Thank you for the great tip. I hope to get there soon.

July 17, 2019

Dear friends,

Sheesh. What a big baby. Tony, coughing and hacking nonstop, poked his head into the kitchen (twice!) and whined, “What are you DOING in here?” I was coughing, too, but you didn’t hear me complaining. Eyes streaming, I just kept stir-frying those dried Sichuan peppers.

Then I heard the dog cough. Uh oh. The kung bao chicken was cooked and photographed by then. I grabbed Oscar, a wad of Kleenex and headed outside.

So fair warning: If you make the recipe below, turn on the range hood fan, position rotating fans throughout adjoining rooms, and sequester your pets on the porch.

I had forgotten how pungent the aroma of frying hot peppers can be. Later, I remembered that this is the recipe my friend Elizabeth still talks about from a cooking session in her kitchen 35 years ago. We cleared the house that time.

Well, not quite this recipe. The one Elizabeth and I made was from the little cookbook I mentioned two weeks ago. I made that kung bao recipe a few days ago and it was just OK. In 1984 or ’85, I thought it was the bomb. After a few decades of eating kung bao, I knew it could be better.

I got a few requests for the kung bao recipe after I mentioned it, but I didn’t want to drop that so-so version on you. So I turned to the most authoritative Sichuan recipe source I know, “Land of Plenty” by Fuchsia Dunlop. I bought fresh dried chili peppers and hauled out the black Chinese vinegar and Sichuan peppercorns, ingredients unheard of by home cooks when the old cookbook was written. Also unheard of was traveling to China’s Sichuan province and quizzing the chefs, as Dunlop did.

So how is her recipe? The stir fry was delicious — sweet, tart, salty and crunchy all at once. The dried peppers (carefully picked out at the table) provided an insistent but not overwhelming heat, complemented by the numbing sting of the Sichuan peppercorns. All of the Chinese ingredients in the recipe are readily available now in Asian food stores.

“It’s hot, but a good hot,” Tony said after inhaling all but my one little portion. Meaning it’s hot enough to notice but not hot enough to drown out the flavor.

The dog sat this one out.

KUNG PAO CHICKEN WITH PEANUTS

2 boneless chicken breasts, 2/3 lb. total (about 11 ounces)
3 cloves garlic and an equivalent amount of fresh ginger
5 scallions, white parts only
2 tbsp. peanut oil
A generous handful of dried Sichuan chilies (at least 10)
1 tsp. whole Sichuan peppercorns
2/3 cup roasted unsalted peanuts

Marinade:
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. light soy sauce
1 tsp. Shaoxing rice wine or medium-dry sherry
1 1/2 tsp. potato flour or 2 1/4 tsp. cornstarch
1 tbsp. water

Sauce:
3 tsp. sugar
3/4 tsp. potato flour or 1 1/8 tsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. dark soy sauce
1 tsp. light soy sauce
3 tsp. Chinkiang or black Chinese vinegar
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 tbsp. chicken stock or water

Cut the chicken as evenly as possible into 1/2-inch strips and then cut these into small cubes. Place in a small bowl and mix in the marinade ingredients. Marinate for 30 minutes if possible.

Peel and thinly slice the garlic and ginger. Chop the scallions into chunks as long as their diameter (to match the chicken cubes). Snip the chilies in half or into 2-inch sections. Wearing rubber gloves, discard as many seeds as possible.

Combine the sauce ingredients in a small bowl — if you dip your finger in, you can taste the sweet-sour base of the kung bao flavor.

Turn on the range exhaust fan. Heat a wok or deep, heavy skillet over high heat. Add 2 tablespoons peanut oil. When it is hot but not yet smoking, add the dried chilies and Sichuan peppercorns and stir-fry briefly until they are crisp and the oil is spicy and fragrant. Do not burn.

Quickly add the chicken and stir-fry over high heat. As soon as the chicken cubes have separated, add the ginger, garlic and scallions and continue to stir fry for a few minutes until they are fragrant and the chicken is cooked through.

Give the sauce a stir and add to the pan, stirring and tossing. When the sauce becomes thick and shiny, stir in the peanuts and serve. Serves 2 as a main dish, 4 as part of a Chinese meal with 3 other dishes.

From “Land of Plenty” by Fuchsia Dunlop.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
Mushroom skillet soufflé; barbecued ribs, romaine salad with mushrooms and radish and a vodka martini.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
An Olympia scramble (eggs, potatoes, beets, radish hash, etc.) at the Blue Door in Cuyahoga Falls; Sichuan stir-fried yellow squash; half a berry salad from the Rock ’n Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland; a Chipotle salad with chicken; a bowl of Cincinnati chili, hold the spaghetti, from Dixie Chili in Erlanger, Ky.; hard-fried eggs, melted cheese and ripped tortillas (chilaquiles) with grilled chicken and salsa, two slices of fried ripe plantain and a Diet Coke from El Valle Verde in Erlanger, Ky.; beef in wine sauce, mashed potatoes, a roll, Chardonnay, Champagne and half of a lemon macaron at a wedding in Covington, Ky.

THE MAILBAG

From Mickey S.:
The Smithville Inn has closed. We always enjoyed going there. We would like to have a copy of their recipe for Creamy Noodle Casserole. Do you think you could find it?

Also, I have their recipe for Sour Cream Peach Crunch Pie. It is to die for if you love peaches. They gave it out several years ago.

SOUR CREAM PEACH CRUNCH PIE
(Smithville Inn)
1 9-inch deep-dish unbaked pie shell
2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp. flour
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream
2 cups fresh or canned peach slices

Topping:
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
4 tbsp. cup cold butter

Make the unbaked pie shell and set aside. Blend together eggs, sugar, flour and vanilla. Beat in sour cream. Stir in peaches. Pour into pie shell. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Combine sugar and flour for topping in a bowl. Cut in butter until the crumbs are the size of peas. Sprinkle on top of pie and bake 30 minutes longer or until set. Cool.

Dear Mickey:
Wow, does that sound good. Although I won’t indulge, I bet many others will.

I’m sorry I don’t have the recipe for the restaurant’s famous chicken and noodles, which I tasted when I reviewed the Smithville Inn many years ago, and again more recently with Tony. If someone who has the recipe sees this and is kind enough to send it, I’ll make sure you get a copy. It’s the least we can do for sharing the recipe for that pie.

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.

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.