September 18, 2019

Dear friends,
I didn’t think I would get quite as much cooking done Sunday as I did. Tony was sick. I figured I’d spend most of my time making cups of tea with honey and delivering tissues and aspirin.

Instead, after a breakfast of tea and toast, Tony went back to bed and stayed there. The hours passed. I made chicken soup. I make eggplant lasagne. I read a novel. I watched sumo on TV. I started to worry. Tony is never sick. What if he was dying upstairs? I had told him to take Tylenol every 4 hours, but the pills were downstairs and he was upstairs, possibly comatose and unable to call out.

Finally at 5 p.m.I delivered hot tea, a bowl of chicken soup and a Tylenol on a tray. Tony, incredibly groggy, said didn’t need the pill. He had been taking the ones in the upstairs bathroom every four hours, just like I said. He showed me the packet. They were Nyquil tablets. He had been taking Nyquil. All day.

When Tony finally snapped out of his drug-induced haze, he wandered downstairs and zeroed in on the bubbling pan of cheesy, tomato-ey eggplant. He scarfed down half the casserole and settled in to watch sumo with me (we get a Japanese TV station and I’ve become addicted to sumo tournaments).

I began making this no-recipe eggplant casserole one September to use up a bumper crop of Chinese eggplant from my garden. I wanted eggplant Parmesan but not the calories that go with breading and frying. So I cut the eggplant in halves lengthwise, roasted them on a cookie sheet, then topped them with spaghetti sauce and low-fat mozzarella cheese. The next time I made my no-fry Parmesan, I upped the deliciousness by sandwiching the eggplant halves with low-fat ricotta. That’s the version I’ve been making ever since.

Eventually it occurred to me that this dish is closer to lasagne than Parmesan. Whatever it is, it’s stupid-easy and delicious enough to make an extra casserole for the freezer. Which I did.

EGGPLANT LASAGNE

Eggplants (3 large or 6 to 8 slender Chinese)
Olive oil spray
1 cup low-fat ricotta cheese
3/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg
1/4 cup minced fresh basil (optional)
3 cups spaghetti sauce with meat
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

If using large globe eggplants, peel them and cut into 1-inch-thick slices. If using Chinese, trim off the stem and cut in halves lengthwise without peeling. Place on foil-lined baking sheets that have been coated with olive oil spray. Lightly spray eggplants. Roast in a preheated, 400-degree oven for about 45 minutes for the thick slices or 30 minutes for the slender eggplants, until the eggplants have softened but are not mushy.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl beat together the ricotta, 1/2 cup of the Parmesan,
salt and egg. Stir in the basil.

Spread about 1/2 cup of the sauce in the bottom of a 9-inch-square baking pan. Arrange a single layer of eggplant slices over the sauce, fitting together tightly. Spread the ricotta mixture over the eggplant. Top with more eggplant slices. You may have some eggplant left over. Save it for another use.

Spoon the remaining tomato sauce over the eggplant. Top with the mozzarella and remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes, until the cheeses have melted and the sauce is bubbly. Makes 4 servings.

TIDBITS
Half of my friends seem to be down with the September scourge, which is either strep throat or a sore throat, depending on the teller. Chicken soup is in order, but a quick one because no one wants to cook when they’re sick.

While making a thrown-together but delicious chicken soup on Sunday, I wondered how others meet this challenge. If I tell you about my quick chicken soup, will you tell me about yours?

I made a double-strength chicken stock with three boxes (32 ounces each) of store-bought chicken broth in which I simmered some chicken on the bone (I used 8 legs), covered, for an hour or so. I also added a chunked up carrot, half of an onion (not chopped) and a branch of thyme from my herb garden.

I removed the chicken and vegetables with a slotted spoon, picked the meat from the bones and returned the meat to the rich broth along with a half-cup of large-pearl couscous, a handful of baby carrots and half a bag of frozen chopped kale (about 1 1/2 cups). I also added salt to taste. In a half hour, I had soup.

I have a feeling I’m going to need more chicken soup, but I don’t want to repeat myself. Will anyone share their version?

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Toast with cream cheese and thin-sliced Asian pear; grilled top sirloin steak, sliced tomatoes with chunky sea salt and microwaved corn on the cob; bagged chopped Southwest salad with microwaved frozen chimichurri chicken breast; cream cheese, tomato and lox on toast; stir-fried beef, roasted tomatoes and peppers over baby salad greens with sesame-soy dressing; pan-grilled hamburger with steamed green beans; egg, bacon and tomato sandwiches; egg salad; chicken soup with couscous and kale; eggplant lasagne.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Seared sea scallops over crispy crab hash, oat-crusted swordfish over bacon risotto with asparagus, and pho from chef Louis Prpich at the Chowder House in Cuyahoga Falls; half of a ham sub from Subway; wedding soup from Acme; a chili dog at the Sharon Township Fall Fest.

THE MAILBAG
From Francie L.:
Loved your suggestions for tomato sandwiches, they sound delicious! Our favorite tomato sandwich recipe is from Serious Eats https://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2013/04/anchovy-tomato-basil-aioli-sandwich-recipe.html It’s so easy and the perfect weeknight dinner. I get that the idea of anchovies and capers might seem like salt overload but for some reason it works.

Dear Francie:
Homemade aioli, fresh basil, anchovies — what’s not to like? I want to try this. Thanks for sharing.

From Lois S.:
The funniest time I saw a person repack fruit was in Marc’s. She had several containers of strawberries open picking out the perfect ones to make her container complete! OMG!!!

Dear Lois:
The cretins are everywhere!

From Linda C.:
I saw freekeh at Meijer’s today. Not sure if you have one near you.

Dear Linda:
Not near, but I haven’t visited the new Meijer’s in Stow yet. This will give me a good reason.

From Jan in Tallahassee, Fla.:
Google came up with an ad for Bob’s Red Mill freekeh available on the Vitamin Shoppe website. Maybe they carry it in the store, too?

It looks like they’ve opened a store on Main Street in Cuyahoga Falls, across from Sheetz where the JD Byrider used car dealer was. Yeah, that’s on the outskirts of the messed-up Howe Avenue zone but it’s a thought if you’re really freakin’ for freekeh…

Dear Jan:
Thanks for the long-distance sleuthing

From Linda C.:
You can order freekeh from Vitacost. I love it and I look forward to your recipe.

From Mary B., Christine and others:
You can buy freekeh from Amazon.

Dear Jan, Mary et.al.:
I guess I’m still not used to the magic of Jeff Bezos, because Amazon had not occurred to me. Still, when possible, I like to buy locally.

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September 11, 2019

Dear friends,

Summer is not over; it has just reached it peak on the tomato meter. September, not July or August, is when the tomato onslaught hits.

I made the most of it last week with my own little tomato sandwich festival. I had made a few BLTs earlier in the summer but with the kitchen counter heaped with heirlooms, I vowed to make the best tomato sandwich in existence.

Sparking the project was the memory of tomato toast from long ago on a car trip across northern Italy. At a modest roadside restaurant I ordered a tomato sandwich and was served a thick piece of toast that had been rubbed with the cut side of a ripe tomato.
It was simple and simply perfect.

Research led me to Food 52, the New York Times, Serious Eats, Saveur and other Internet food sites. I consulted Patricia Wells, Craig Claiborne and Kenji Lopez-Alt. Tony and I ate a lot of tomato sandwiches.

Ultimately, I chose three sandwiches worthy of the miracle that is a dead-ripe summer tomato:
1. Melissa Clark’s version of my Italian rubbed-tomato toast, taken to the extreme. Craggy toast is rubbed with a cut clove of garlic, then with a cut tomato to release all the juice into the bread. The toast is spread with mayonnaise and topped with a thick slice of tomato, thinly sliced onion, bacon and the other piece of tomato-rubbed toast. This is an elevated version of the classic tomato-bacon sandwich.

2. Craig Claiborne’s 1964 open-faced version featuring a thick hunk of bread topped with fresh mozzarella, a thick slice of tomato, a couple of salty anchovies and a sprinkling of grated Parmesan. The tartine is then broiled until blistered and bubbly. The salty anchovies cuts through the richness of the cheese, producing cheesy tomato heaven. This was my favorite because: cheese.

3. A mash-up of Kenji Lopez-Alt’s sandwich bread skillet-toasted in bacon fat, spread with the ambrosial smoked-corn mayonnaise I heard about in a PBS episode of “A Chef’s Life,” and filled with crisp bacon and a slice of heirloom tomato. I kind of winged the recipe for smoked corn mayonnaise and thought it was just OK considering the work involved. Then I let it chill for a few hours. Whoa. Then I tasted it again after an overnight in the refrigerator. My gawd, get me a spoon. This sandwich was Tony’s favorite. The smoked tomato mayo may be my favorite substance, ever.

MELISSA CLARK’S TOMATO SANDWICH

4 slices crusty country bread
1 fat garlic clove, halved crosswise
1 ripe and soft tomato, halved
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Flaky sea salt
Mayonnaise, as needed
1 ripe but firm tomato, sliced
Thinly sliced white onion
4 slices cooked bacon (optional)

Toast the bread. Take each slice and rub one side all over with the cut side of the garlic clove. (The clove should start to disintegrate into the bread.) Rub each slice with the cut sides of the soft halved tomato, pressing so the tomato flesh sticks to the bread. Drizzle bread with oil, then sprinkle with salt.

Spread mayonnaise over the tomato pulp. Place the sliced tomatoes on top of 2 pieces of the bread. Cover tomato slices with onions and sprinkle with salt. Top with bacon if using, then use the other 2 slices of tomato-rubbed bread to make sandwiches. Eat over the sink. Makes 2 sandwiches.

From The New York Times.

OPEN-FACED TOMATO SANDWICH

6 slices firm-textured sandwich bread (I used thick crusty bread instead)
Unsalted butter, softened
1 ball fresh mozzarella (about 1 lb.), thinly sliced
2 large firm but ripe tomatoes
1/2 tsp. crumbled oregano
1/8 tsp. fresh-ground pepper
1 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
Salt
18 anchovy fillets
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 1/2 cups)
Chopped flat-leaf parsley (optional)

Heat broiler. Spread one side of each slice of bread with softened butter. Cover each with the sliced mozzarella cheese, 3 to 4 slices for each piece of bread. Cut the tomatoes into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Place 1 of the largest slices on each sandwich.

Combine the oregano, pepper and butter. Brush over the tomato slices. Sprinkle with salt and drape 3 anchovy fillets on each sandwich. Cover with grated Parmesan, about 3 to 4 tablespoons per sandwich.

Place under the broiler, about 6 inches from the heating element, until the cheese has melted and is bubbly, 3 to 5 minutes Serve hot, garnished with parsley if desired.Makes 6.

By Craig Claiborne in “The Essential New York Times Cookbook” by Amanda Hesser.

TOMATO AND BACON SANDWICH WITH SMOKED CORN MAYO

4 slices bacon
4 slices fine-grained white sandwich bread (I used Sarah Jane’s)
Smoked corn mayo (recipe follows)
2 large, thick slices heirloom tomato
Coarse sea salt, black pepper

Slowly cook the bacon in a large, heavy skillet until crisp. Remove and drain on paper towels. Pour all but about 1 tablespoon bacon fat into a custard cup and set aside. In the same skillet over medium-high heat, place two slices of the bread and weight with a slightly smaller skillet. Cook until golden brown. Remove from pan, add more bacon fat and repeat with other side of the bread you just toasted. Continue with remaining bacon fat and two slices of bread. You may not need all of the bacon fat. Then again…

Slather a thick layer of smoked corn mayo on one side of each slice of bread. Place a tomato slice on two pieces of bread. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Top each with two pieces of bacon. Top with other slices of bacon-grilled, mayo-slathered bread. Makes 2 sandwiches.

SMOKED CORN MAYO
3 ears corn, shucked
2 large cloves garlic
2 tsp. red wine vinegar
1/2 cup loosely packed basil leaves
1/4 tsp. hot pepper sauce
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 tsp. salt

Grill corn over a medium-hot charcoal fire or on a gas grill until the kernels on one side begin to brown. Turn corn over, sprinkle a few wood chips onto the coals and cover grill, leaving the vents wide open. Continue to grill until the bottom side of the corn begins to brown. Remove and cool.

Drop garlic cloves through the feed tube of a food processor with the motor running until minced. Cut corn kernels from the cobs and add to the bowl of the processor. Process until the corn is pureed.

Add vinegar, basil and hot pepper sauce and puree. Add mayonnaise and salt and process until very smooth. Transfer to a bowl, cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours or ideally overnight. Makes about 2 cups.

The leftover mayo is excellent on sliced ripe tomatoes, stir fried or steamed vegetables or, frankly, just about anything.

TIDBITS
Pears, Grapes and Wine:
The luscious, juicy Asian pears are back in season at Weymouth Farms in Hinckley. But that’s not all the boutique operation is offering this year. Wait until you taste Paul O’Neill’s grapes. Not Concord and Niagara. Several years ago O’Neill planted a number of unusual table grape varieties rarely seen at local farms and almost never in stores.

These grapes, with thin skins and tons of fruit flavor, go by such names as Himrod, Reliance and Jupiter. They are pick your own. My favorite is the purple Jupiter, a muscat-type grape with floral notes.

The primary reason O’Neill planted grapes was that he wanted to make wine. The wine-grape varieties he planted, in consultation with the experts at Cornell University, are not the usual suspects. They are sophisticated hybrids such as Chardonelle and Noiret, which can be rooted rather than grafted, as European vinifera varieties must be. O’Neill learned how to turn the grapes into wine in a course from the University of California at Davis, the epicenter of winemaking education.

The wines already have won a bunch of awards and are sold at the farm. Try the The New Black, a red released this year that already has won gold at the Ohio and the Finger Lakes wine competitions. Even more impressive, Paul’s Asian Pear Wine won gold last year at the International Wine Competition in California, where his late-harvest Apple Ice Wine took silver.

Weymouth Farms is at 2398 Weymouth Road (Route 606) in Hinckley, near I-71 exit 222 or I-271 exit 3. It is open from noon to 5 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays. Pick-your-own grapes are Saturday and Sunday only. The phone is 216-534-9600. The website is http://www.weymouthfarms.com.

Just Stop It:
So far I have limited myself to a restrained but sarcastic “Really?” when I pass someone snacking on or rearranging the produce at Aldi’s. My patience is wearing thin, though.

When you pluck and eat a grape or snatch a bing cherry, you are stealing. At by-the-bag places, you are stealing from the shopper who buys that bag. At by-the-pound places, you are stealing from the supermarket and, ultimately, the customer who pays in higher prices to make up for what the industry calls “shrinkage.”

My severest scorn, though, is for the Aldi’s customers who unpack and repack the plastic containers of cherries, grapes or strawberries with the choicest selection from the bags on display. This happens almost every time I’m there. A shopper will brazenly set herself up in front of the fruit and begin sorting and rejecting as if she’s doing the laundry.

These miscreants aren’t just selfishly picking and packing the best selections for themselves. They are pawing through the fruit that the next poor shopper will buy. Their fingers are all over those grapes and cherries.

Join me in giving these jerks the evil eye. And maybe a sarcastic “Really?”.

Freaking Out:
Where the freek can I buy some freakin’ freekeh? The Middle Eastern grain is trending hard but I can’t find it in local stores. I have tried Earth Fare, Aldi, Acme and Giant Eagle. (Not Whole Foods because I can’t bring myself to shop in the air space once inhabited by West Point Market.)

The grain has more protein than quinoa and sounds delicious. It is unripe green wheat that is toasted over wood fires to remove the husk, resulting in a nutty, smoky flavor. Sign me up. But where?

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Hard-cooked egg sandwich with bacon, tomato and pesto on toast; baked bell peppers with a venison-corn stuffing; prosciutto and melon; tomato sandwich with bacon and onions; open-faced tomato sandwich with anchovies, mozzarella and Parmesan cheese; tomato, bacon and mozzarella on toast; chicken stir fry with cauliflower rice; bacon and tomato sandwich with smoked corn mayonnaise.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Spicy kefta rolled sandwich and salad with feta cheese at Aladdin’s in Montrose; blueberry sugar-free frozen yogurt at Menchie’s; California roll and barbecued chicken wings from Earth Fare; Madras chicken, basmati rice, naan and masala tea at Singh Biryani in Cuyahoga Falls.

THE MAILBAG
From Mark:
A recent New York Times recipe for okonomiyaki — a sort of Japanese chopped cabbage pancake — caught my eye. Then I discovered in a Chicago restaurant an adaptation of okonomiyaki served on (rather than incorporating) a bed of shredded cabbage. My question to you and Tony: Are variations of okonomiyaki common? Are there okonomiyaki restaurants in Japan?

Dear Mark:
Tony says shredded cabbage and eggs are the base to which “chicken or beef or shrimp or octopus are added. So many kinds.” Yes. there are many restaurants devoted to the dish, which is very popular in Japan. It’s like the taco of Japan, he says. Foreign visitors, especially, like it.

September 4, 2019

Dear friends,
Very few recipes earn a spot in my regular rotation. Baked tacos are one of them.

I like this recipe because the tacos taste great and the filling can be whatever is in the fridge. Feta cheese? Fine. Green peppers? Throw ‘em in.

Last week I had those plus corn on the cob, so I made a roasted vegetable salsa to go with a steak I planned to pan-grill. I made the salsa in the morning, quickly cooked the steak at dinner time, and married them on a flour tortilla in the oven for 10 minutes.

I love the way flour tortillas crisp and warm in the oven, yet remain pliable enough to fold over the filling. The window of opportunity is brief, though. If you don’t fold as soon as the tortilla comes from the oven, it will be too late.

I think flour tortillas, in particular, taste best when thoroughly cooked. They taste raw to me when they’re merely warmed in a skillet or a microwave. Heating them on a cookie sheet for 10 minutes makes a world of difference in flavor.

Consider my roasted vegetable salsa recipe merely a suggestion. Roast and add whatever vegetables you like to the mix, including cubed summer squash, charred onions and mushrooms.

BAKED STEAK TACOS WITH ROASTED VEGETABLE SALSA

For the salsa:
8 bell and medium-hot peppers mixed, or enough to fill a baking sheet when halved
12 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 ear corn
1/8 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. oregano
Coarse sea salt to taste
2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lime
1/4 cup chopped cilantro (optional)

Wash and halve the peppers lengthwise. Remove and discard the ribs, stems and seeds. Place peppers in a single layer on a lightly oiled baking sheet.

Cut tomatoes in halves and place cut-sides up on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for about 30 to 40 minutes for the peppers and 1 hour for the tomatoes. The tomatoes should be slumped but still juicy.

Shuck corn, spray with olive oil spray and toast over a gas burner, turning with tongs, until singed in spots. Or singe on a grill. It does not have to be fully cooked.

Cut corn from cob and place in a medium bowl. Cut peppers into 3/4-inch pieces and add to the bowl along with the tomatoes. Stir in cumin, oregano and salt. Stir in olive oil, lime juice and cilantro if using. Cover and refrigerate if making in advance.

For the tacos:
1 lb. boneless top sirloin steak, trimmed of fat
Salt, pepper
6 large flour tortillas
3/4 cup crumbled feta or shredded cheese (Cheddar, Monterey Jack, provolone…)

Season steak on both sides with plenty of salt and pepper. Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Coat skillet with olive oil spray or a film of vegetable oil. Sear steak in hot skillet until brown on one side. Turn and reduce heat to medium. Continue to cook to the desired degree of doneness. The time will vary depending on the thickness of the steak, but shouldn’t take longer than 5 minutes total.

Let steak rest for 10 minutes if possible. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with olive oil spray or lightly film with vegetable oil. Cut rested steak across the grain into 1/4-inch-thick slices.

Place two flour tortillas on the baking sheet. Arrange some of the steak and some of the salsa off-center on each of the tortillas. Sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of the cheese over the filling.

Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes or until the edges start to crisp and brown. Remove from oven and with tongs, immediately fold the tortillas over the filling. Transfer to plates. Continue with remaining tortillas and fillings. Makes 6 large tacos.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked/assembled last week:
Egg, chorizo and green pepper scramble with salsa on whole-wheat toast; baked steak tacos with roasted vegetable salsa; stuffed baked poblano peppers with sour cream and salsa; muskmelon and prosciutto.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Chicken shawarma wrap at Continental Cuisine in Fairlawn; tuna tataki, octopus sashimi, tamago (omelet), salmon roe and a tuna roll at Sushi Katsu in Akron; combo dinner (marinated grilled beef, chicken and kefta, kibbee, rice pilaf, baba ganoush, hummus, tabbouli and pita bread) from Mediterranean Market and Grill in Cuyahoga Falls; a corn dog and sugar-free lemonade at the Great Geauga County Fair in Burton.

THE MAILBAG
From Luis M.:
Re: your paella — Last February a Spanish restaurant, Don Quijote, opened in the Belden Village area. My wife and I tried their paella repeatedly and found it to be outstanding — much better-tasting than the ones in the Cleveland area.

For tapas try the shrimp in garlic sauce, “gambas al ajillo”

Dear Luis:
Thanks for the recommendation. I thought you had misspelled “Quixote,” but in fact the restaurant is “Don Quijote.” It is at 4695 Dressler Rd. N.W. Those who are interested can check out the website at donquijotecanton.com. The menu is enticing. The kitchen uses authentic Spanish ingredients such as serrano ham and manchego cheese, and offers typical Spanish dishes such as grilled sardines, grilled octopus and caramel flan.