October 16, 2019

Dear friends,
It started with a mesh bag of ginger Tony found two weeks ago at Tink Holl Asian store in Cleveland. He held it up. I shook my head no. What would we do with a whole pound of ginger?

“But it’s only $1.50,” he pointed out.

Thus began out ginger fest. I put it in soups and stir frys. I sprinkled some on roast Delicata squash. The stash slowly dwindled. We still have slightly more than a half pound left, but I have a feeling a lot of that will get used in Mongolian beef sauce. Last weekend I made a batch of the sauce, marinated some beef ribs in half and used the rest as a glaze after grilling. Holy cow! Mongolian barbecued beef ribs!

Tony couldn’t get enough of them. Could I make more of the sauce, he asked, as he scraped the last spoonful from the pan into a custard cup. What did he plan to do with it? “This would taste good on anything,” he said.

I slathered the sauce on beef ribs because I wanted to riff on that Chinese restaurant staple, Mongolian beef. I found beef ribs in the new Meijer’s store in Stow, which I checked out for the first time last week. If you can’t find beef ribs, the sauce would taste just as good on pork ribs.

Mongolian beef stir fry, by the way, is probably an American invention. i couldn’t find a mention of it in any of my serious Chinese cookbooks, nor in an Internet search for foods of Mongolia. And anyway, the meat would probably be mutton in Mongolia, not beef.

No matter. Enterprising Chinese restaurant chefs in America came up with a winner when they combined soy sauce, brown sugar, plenty of garlic and lots of ginger to make the flavorful, sweet sauce. I added lemon juice to balance out the sugar a bit and amped the flavor with a splash of sherry.

The sauce recipe may be doubled or tripled and kept on hand to brush on….well, anything.

MONGOLIAN BARBECUED BEEF RIBS

1 tbsp. chopped ginger
1 tbsp. chopped garlic
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup water
2 tbsp. sherry
1 tsp. lemon juice
2 tbsp. packed brown sugar
2 lbs. beef ribs
1/4 cup plus 2 tsp. cornstarch

At least two hours before you plan to cook, in a very small saucepan, combine ginger, garlic, pepper flakes, soy sauce, water, sherry, lemon juice and brown sugar. Bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat and let steep at room temperature for at least an hour.

Place ribs in a large zipper-lock plastic bag. Pour half of the soy sauce mixture over the ribs and squish to distribute evenly. Seal bag, refrigerate and marinate for 45 minutes, turning once.

Drain ribs, discarding marinade. Pat ribs dry with paper towels and place on a rack to air dry for 15 minutes at room temperature. Build a medium fire in a charcoal or gas grill, or use an indoor electric grill, as I did.

While grill heats and ribs dry, heat remaining soy sauce mixture over medium heat. Place the 2 teaspoons cornstarch in a small bowl and stir in enough of the soy sauce mixture to produce a smooth slurry. When sauce in pan comes to a simmer, add cornstarch slurry, stirring rapidly until the sauce is smooth and thick. Set aside.

Place the remaining 1/4 cup cornstarch in a shallow bowl or on a plate. Roll the ribs in the cornstarch and tap off the excess. Grill over medium heat until the ribs are brown on all sides. You may have to press parts of the ribs into the grill. The cornstarch coating must come in contact with the grill to brown.

Remove ribs from direct heat (or turn to low heat if using electric), cover the grill and continue cooking until the ribs are done. This should take about 10 minutes, depending on desired degree of doneness.

Transfer meat to a platter and liberally brush all over with the thickened sauce. Serves 2 to 3.

TIDBITS
Wunderbar pickles
It’s Oktoberfest month at Aldi’s, which is a big deal for the German food retailer. For shoppers, too. The shelves are stocked with imported German goods that appear just once a year.

My favorite German Style Pickles are back, and I missed them so much I bought several jars. The pickles are slightly sweet and slightly spicy. Another find this month is jars of cornichons — the tiny pickles served with pate — at a laughably low price ($1.50 a jar). I bought four jars for hostess gifts.

Have you found anything great in stores this month?

Freekeh, bleh!
I finally checked out Meijer’s in Stow, primarily to buy some freekeh. I have been intrigued by descriptions of the Middle Eastern grain, which is green wheat whose bran has been burned off, imparting a smoky flavor.

Maybe I cooked it wrong. I followed the basic instructions on the box of Bob’s Red Mill and produced a pot of beige grain so bland Tony and I couldn’t eat it (the dog loved it, though).

Does anyone have tips for making this stuff taste better? I’m open to suggestions.

Meijer’s seemed to me like just another mega Wal-mart. Am I missing something?

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Sheet pan Moroccan chicken tenders with pomegranate molasses in a bowl of freekeh, sautéed kale and roast vegetables; creamy coconut-lime cauliflower soup with peanut-chile crumble; pan-seared shrimp with Criollo mojo marinade; grilled Mongolian beef ribs and roast Delicata squash; whole tandoori chicken roasted with carrots and peppers and chopped salad.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Half of a raisin pink-ribbon bagel at Panera.

THE MAILBAG
From Ron C.:
On your corn meal mush with sausage: Back home in the Altoona, Pa., area and farther east we call that “scrapple.” Yummy. Good with maple syrup.

Dear Ron:
My paternal grandfather, who was from Newcastle, Pa., made scrapple but I seem to remember it had objectionable pig parts in it. I was never brave enough to taste it. I WOULD like to taste goetta, that fried oatmeal and sausage loaf that’s popular in Cincinnati. Anyone know where I can find it around here?

From Stephanie:
I see you like Delicata squash. Where do you buy them in this area?

Dear Stephanie:
I bought a couple at Dunkler’s Farm Market in Copley. I also saw them at Mustard Seed Market. Check farm markets and upscale food stores.

From Marlene H.:
We had fried mush growing up, too. It was a family favorite. Our dilemma was we loved it two ways (both ways even for dinner): 1. Swimming in maple syrup. 2. Smothered in Mom’s homemade spaghetti sauce. Sometimes we’d have a plate of each. Thanks for reviving delicious memories!

Dear Marlene:
I never thought of having it with spaghetti sauce, although I do that with its cousin, polenta. Great idea. Maybe a sprinkling of Parmesan, too.

From Dorothy T.:
What fond memories of corn meal mush! Whatever would not fit in the bread pan, we would eat right away like cream of wheat while it was still hot, with lots of butter and maple syrup. The next morning my mother would slice it, dust it with flour and fry it in bacon fat. Again, we would have it with maple syrup. I am definitely making it this weekend. Thanks for the memories.

Dear Dorothy:
I wonder what today’s children will remember from their childhood dinner tables. I hope enough family recipes are slipped in among the taco nights and carryout pizza to keep the thread of memories going.

From Deb B.:
Another Noomer here! I love it and it works. Glad it works for you, too.

Dear Deb:
I got messages from both fellow Noom subscribers and those who want to sign up after I wrote about the diet plan. One reader pointed out that new members get 20 percent off the price if given a code by the user who recommended it. I checked it out and sent a code. If anyone else wants the discount, please email me.

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October 9, 2019

Dear friends,
The sultry apple tart was a no-show. It languishes on my kitchen counter, all dressed up with no place to go.

I don’t eat desserts and considered disobeying instructions and taking an appetizer or a salad to a big Beacon Journal newsroom reunion Saturday but in the end I couldn’t resist making something gorgeous. Nothing is as fun to make as dessert, where frills and folderol aren’t just tolerated but expected.

I made an apple tart with a cinnamon-ginger filling pre-cooked and piled in a buttery tart crust. Pre-cooking prevents the filling from shrinking in the oven. I baked the tart shell for 10 minutes before spooning in the filling in order to prevent a soggy bottom crust.

Then I wove a lattice top crust and brushed it with egg wash, strictly for looks. After it baked, I made some caramel that I drizzled on the finished tart. It was a beaut.

Somewhere between peeling the apples and rolling out the dough, I got sick. By the time the caramel went on the top, I didn’t care whether anyone ever ate the dang thing. I snapped a photo and went to bed.

The reunion came and went. I looked at photos on Facebook of my far-flung friends and former colleagues — Beacon Journal legends such as Chuck Ayers, Andy Zajac, Charlene Nevada and Bill O’Connor. No one missed my tart, but I missed seeing those folks. The episode reminded me that people, not food, is the magic ingredient in any gathering. And the incredibly talented, witty people I worked with for so many years were indeed magic.

P.S.:
The tart was pretty good.

CARAMEL-APPLE TART

Dough:
3 1/3 cups flour
1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 1/2 sticks (20 tbsp.) unsalted butter
4 egg yolks
2 tsp. vanilla
4 tsp. ice water
Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water)

Apple Filling
5 large or 6 medium apples (Golden Delicious or Granny Smith)
2 tbsp. butter
3 tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. powdered ginger
3 tbsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. vanilla

Caramel:
1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk

Make each component before assembling and baking the tart.

For the dough:
Whisk flour, sugar and salt in a mixing bowl. Cut butter into small pieces and toss with flour. With a pastry blender, cut butter into flour mixture until the mixture resembles coarse meal. You may use your fingertips instead of a pastry blender, but do not knead the mixture.

Stir together egg yolks, vanilla and water. Blend into the flour mixture with a fork, adding more water if necessary for the dough to cling together when pinched. Shape two-thirds of dough into a ball, then flatten to a disk. Shape remaining dough into a disk. Wrap separately in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour.

On a floured surface, working with the larger piece of dough, break off fist-sized hunks of dough and smear away from you with the heel of your hand. When all of the dough has been smeared, gather again into a ball. Repeat with smaller piece of dough. Re-wrap and chill again for at least 1 hour.

Roll out larger piece of dough to a 12-inch circle between two sheets of plastic wrap. Line a 10-inch, removable-bottom tart pan with the dough, easing the dough into bottom and up the sides and tucking the excess between the side of the pan and the dough lining the sides. (You could make do with a 10-inch springform pan). Prick the tart shell all over with a fork. Chill for at least 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Bake tart shell for 10 minutes (chilling makes weighting the dough unnecessary). Remove from the oven and reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees.

Spread apple filling evenly in tart shell. Roll out remaining dough between two pieces of plastic wrap and cut into 1/4-inch wide strips. Make a lattice crust with the strips, trimming and tucking in the overhang. For ease, weave the strips only at the edges, not the middle of the tart.

Brush the lattice with the egg wash. Bake at 375 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes, until pastry is golden brown. Cool tart, then drizzle the warm caramel over the top by drizzling from a spoon in a back-and-forth sweeping motion. You will not need all of the caramel. Remove sides of tart pan to serve. Makes one 10-inch tart.

For the filling:
Peel, quarter and core apples. Cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in apples and lemon juice. Stir in sugar, cinnamon and ginger. Cover and cook about 6 minutes, stirring once or twice.

Uncover pan and sift in cornstarch, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to medium, cover and cook until apples are almost tender, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Set aside.

For the caramel:
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Scrape sweetened condensed milk into a pie pan, cover tightly with foil and place in a larger baking pan such as an oblong cake pan. Pour in enough simmering water to come halfway up the sides of pie pan. Do not allow foil to dip into the water. Bake on middle oven rack for 1 1/2 hours, adding more water halfway through if necessary. Remove from water, uncover and cool. Refrigerate if making the caramel in advance.

After apple tart has cooled, microwave a half cup of the caramel in 10-second intervals until it flows easily from a spoon. Drizzle the caramel in sweeping strokes over the tart. reserve remaining caramel for another use.

Note: If you have easy access to a Latin market, you can buy ready-made dulce de leche in a can.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Tuna salad; chicken and Delicata squash stir fry with cauliflower rice; fried mush and scrambled egg; sheet pan chicken tenders with roasted tomatoes, zucchini, onion and peppers; a caramel-apple tart.

What I ate in/from restaurants, etc.:
Chicken and roast vegetable paleo dinner from Earth Fare; chicken and rice soup and a turkey-bacon club sandwich at Magic City’s Remarkable Diner in Barberton; a double hamburger (the Laddie) with Parmesan-garlic fries at Wise Guys in Akron; a steak salad with Gorgonzola cheese at D’Agnese’s in Akron; a Thai chicken salad and baguette at Panera Bread; a ham and pineapple pizza from Rizzi’s Ristorante & Pizzeria in Copley.

THE MAILBAG
From Marlene M.:
Major kudos to Luis M. for the recommendation of Don Quijote restaurant near Belden Village. We tried it and he was spot on with the paella and shrimp in garlic sauce. Even my anti-garlic hubby loved the shrimp! The lemon in the sauce and golden, crispy garlic pieces were so good. And the texture of the shrimp was perfect. The paella was superb! The best calamari, mussels and clams — small and so tender — and the seasoning was addictive. The portion was huge.

We also tried the tetilla cheese and Tortilla Espanola — the famous Spanish dish of sliced potatoes and onions. The tortilla was delicious. It was a generous 3- to 4-inch-high wedge. The pitcher of sangria, lobster bisque, caramel flan and tres leches cake were all really good, too. Thanks again to Luis. We had a tasty time.

Dear Marlene:
Wow, great review. Now I can’t wait to go.

From Theresa K.:
Your corn meal mush recipe sounds wonderful and I plan to try it when things cool off a bit here in North Carolina. My mother loved fried mush. She grew up on it in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. Her grandmother made it for her. One thing her grandmother made that we always enjoyed were “scratchbacks,” or corn pone. Mother would make a stiff dough out of white corn meal, salt, bacon drippings and hot water. She would plop it by large spoonfuls onto a greased sheet pan (with more bacon drippings) and bake in a hot oven at 425 degrees until crispy on the outside. They would be soft inside and we would slather them with butter. Oh, my! They were good, especially with fried apples and ham.

Dear Theresa:
You just gave us a lovely little piece of regional culinary history. Thank you for sharing your memories.

From Jim Switzer:
It’s almost time for Friends of the Main Library Big Book Sale. I mention it to you because we will have hundreds of cookbooks available at really good prices (a dollar or two for many). There will be thousands of other books, of course.

The sale is Thursday, Oct. 17 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday, Oct. 18 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday, Oct. 19 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the lobby and bookstore at the Akron-Summit County Public Library’s main library. There’s free parking (an hour on Thursday and Friday, all day on Saturday) in the city garage at the corner of High and Market streets in downtown Akron. Even if you have sworn off cookbooks, stop by for a mystery or two — or 10 — or beach reads for the next time you head to Florida.

Dear Jim:
What a sale! I may have gotten rid of a bunch of cookbooks, but I have been steadily buying replacements. I can’t help myself. See you next week.

October 2, 2019

Dear friends,
I grew up eating polenta, darling. Only we called it corn meal mush.

In my little corner of Appalachia, fried mush was as emblematic an autumn food as apples and pumpkin pie. When the evenings turned crisp, my father would get out the box of Quaker’s yellow corn meal, stir some into boiling water, and pour the thick sludge into bread pans. The next morning there would be fried mush for breakfast, crisp on the edges and dripping with butter and maple syrup (although sometimes I mainlined the calories by skipping the syrup and sprinkling the buttery slabs with sugar).

“Here’s to your mom,” Tony said after I served him a plateful last week. It brought tears to my eyes. He remembered that she had ordered fried mush the last time we took her to Bob Evans Restaurant, her favorite.

The mush I made was no Bob Evans, though. Mine was scented with sage and studded with crumbled sausage and chunks of apples. It was altogether a fancier dish. I envisioned frying slices in butter and serving them as a cushion for cider-braised pork roast, or alongside some grilled bratwurst.

Tony couldn’t wait. Before I could up the ante, the mush was gone. No matter. It was so delicious, I will surely make more before spring.

For a big loaf of mush, I roasted one chopped apple until the pieces were pliable but no longer juicy. I folded those into the hot mush along with half a pound of browned sausage and a teaspoon of crumbled dried sage from my garden. If, like my mother, you can’t abide sage, use thyme.

After pouring the mush into a buttered loaf pan, I chilled it for a couple of hours before Tony demanded a taste. It sliced OK with a warm, wet knife, but even better after it was chilled overnight.

Tony loved this with maple syrup. I recommend serving it with roast pork. Either way, it tastes like fall.

SAUSAGE & APPLE CORN MEAL MUSH

1 large firm apple (I used Jonagold)
1/2 lb. bulk breakfast sausage
4 cups water
1 cup yellow corn meal
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. crumbled sage

Line a baking sheet with foil and coat with vegetable oil spray. Peel and core the apple. Cut lengthwise into quarters and cut crosswise into pieces about 1/4-inch thick and 1 inch long. Spread on the baking sheet and bake at 300 degrees for about 40 minutes, until pliable but no longer juicy. Set aside.

While the apples bake, crumble sausage into a skillet filmed with oil and brown over medium-high heat. Drain, then blot dry with paper towels. Set aside.

Bring 3 cups of the water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Stir the corn meal and salt into the remaining 1 cup water. Whisk mixture into the boiling water. Stir until thick and smooth. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 5 minutes.

Uncover and stir in sage. Let cool for 10 minutes. Stir. Fold in the apples and sausage. Spoon into a buttered, medium-size (4-by-7-inches) loaf pan. Smooth top. Chill several hours or overnight.

Cut mush into 1/2-inch slices with a sharp knife dipped in hot water. Fry on both sides in butter in a skillet over medium-high heat until the edges begin to brown. Serve with syrup for breakfast or without syrup for a side dish. Makes about 6 servings.

TIDBITS
Commercial weight-loss plans never worked for me. Because I wrote about nutrition, I could see right through the claims of many diets. The few that were scientifically sound were unusable because so many of the foods I ate in the line of duty were not in the diet’s database (Indonesian sate? sea urchins? ha!).

I gave up dieting years ago in favor of low-carb moderation. That worked until I fell off the wagon last fall in France and kept on eating desserts, bread and European butter right through spring. I gained 10 pounds.

Then in April my legs started to give out and I ended up in braces after a lifetime of beating the after-effects of polio. Suddenly, I had to lose not 10 but 30 pounds to give my legs a break.

OK, too much information. But I wanted you to know why I am doing something as silly as dieting at age 70. And how I found a diet plan that actually works.

I have subscribed to the Noom online diet program for 5 months now and have lost 24 pounds. I heard about it through a friend. It is psychology-based and is conducted entirely through an app online, with a daily weigh-in, psych lessons to read, a coach to help set goals and even a support group. Meals are entered and calories automatically calculated. A sensible daily intake of 1,200 calories is prescribed.

The daily lessons and support group are what keep me going. Just when I think I’ve had enough, I’ll read about something like “bundling” and off I’ll go again. Bundling, by the way, is pairing something you don’t want to do with a treat. So now I use my exercise bike almost daily while watching Miss Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries on Acorn TV.

Noom was founded in 2008 by Ukrainian-born tech genius Artem Petakov and Korean-born entrepreneur Saeju Jeong. It is headquartered in New York City and has grown to more than 1000 employees and 47 million users. A 5-month subscription that may be renewed is $137. Noom is accessed by downloading the app.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Pork and miso soup; baked spaghetti squash stuffed with ricotta cheese and venison spaghetti sauce; tomato and prosciutto on toast; pan-grilled pork loin chops with lemon-caper sauce and a chopped Asian salad; tomato, anchovy, mozzarella and shredded Asiago open-face sandwich; blackberry jelly, thin-sliced Asian pear and rotisserie chicken on whole wheat toast; whipped cream cheese, crumbled sage, sliced Asian pear and chicken on whole-wheat toast; corn meal mush with apples, sausage and sage.

What I ate out:
Paella with chicken, sausage and shrimp, Argentinian red wine at the home of my friends, James and Terry; chicken and cabbage salad, chicken pho and tea at Superior Pho in Cleveland; house salad with grilled salmon at Leo’s Italian Social in Cuyahoga Falls

THE MAILBAG
Nada. You apparently were busy.