January 22, 2020

Dear friends,
Here is something to cheer you up when winter gives you an icy slap: Chicken in a sunny marinade with grilled pineapple, peppers and oranges. Can you feel the tropical breezes already?

Probably not. But I can here in Florida, so I thought I’d export a bit of my good fortune to my buddies up North. I have oranges. I have pineapple. I have bell peppers. I have mojo marinade. You do, too, no matter where you live, so let’s get cooking.

To make this easy dish, I skinned some chicken thighs and soaked them for an hour in mojo marinade, a luscious garlic/sour orange substance sold in bottles in Latin stores and even supermarkets now. Ideally, if the weather were nicer or if you’re hardy, you could then grill the chicken et al. outdoors. Or if you have an indoor electric grill, now’s the time to use it.

My fallback position is to pan-sear the chicken, fruit and peppers and finish them at high heat in the oven. This takes practically no time. Then jumble everything together in a bowl with more mojo and cilantro if you want. Heap it onto a platter and let the sun shine.

TROPICAL MOJO CHICKEN AND PINEAPPLE

4 bone-in chicken thighs, skinned
1 1/2 cups bottled mojo marinade
1 pineapple
1 orange
1 large red or yellow bell pepper
Vegetable oil
Sea salt
2 tbsp. chopped cilantro (optional)

Place chicken and half of the marinade in a zipper-lock plastic bag. Seal and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, peel pineapple, cut lengthwise into fourths and cut away core. Cut each fourth in half lengthwise. This is a lot of pineapple for two people so you may want to use just half. Tony and I love pineapple and ate all of it.

Wash orange and cut in quarters lengthwise. Wash and trim pepper and cut into fat strips. Heat a large skillet (preferably cast iron) or ridged skillet grill over high heat. Coat lightly with oil. Sear fruit and pepper strips until softened and charred on the edges. Transfer to a foil-lined baking sheet and set aside.

After an hour, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Drain chicken and pat dry. Discard marinade. In same oiled skillet or grill pan, sear chicken over high heat until light brown on both sides. Place pan with chicken on lowest oven rack. Place baking sheet with fruit and peppers on a higher oven rack. Roast for about 20 to 30 minutes or until juices of the chicken run clear. The timing will vary with the meatiness of the chicken thighs.

Transfer chicken, fruit and pepper strips to a bowl. Add remaining mojo marinade and toss to coat. Heap everything on a platter, sprinkle with salt (if necessary after tasting) and decorate with chopped cilantro if desired. Serves 2.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Grilled mojo chicken with pineapple, oranges and peppers; a bloody Mary bar for our Canadian snowbird friends with shrimp, celery and olives (thanks for the idea, Craig and Blase); stir-fried spaghetti squash with venison spaghetti sauce.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Chicken tacos with grilled onions and cilantro from Taqueria Solaviano food truck in Hobe Sound; a bunless hamburger with grilled mushrooms, onions and peppers, a fruit cup and Diet Coke at Harry and the Natives in Hobe Sound; cafe con leche and a Cuban sandwich at Wow Cuban Cafe in Hobe Sound; coffee and a McMuffin from McDonald’s (breakfast on the beach); kung bao chicken, pork with garlic sauce, rice and a fortune cookie, awful takeout from Man Li in Hobe sound.

THE MAILBAG
Note:I usually don’t pass along flattering emails because I don’t want to look like a self-serving jerk, but today I make an exception. I so enjoyed hearing from far-flung readers, at my request, that I’m sharing an unedited batch of emails in hopes you will enjoy them, too.

From Alice B., Tokyo, Japan:
I grew up in Akron but moved away after graduating from Akron U. My Mom got me hooked on your newsletter. I’ve spent most of my after-Akron life in Texas but am now in Tokyo for a couple of years.

From Sue M., Hilton Head, S.C.:
Sue M. here in Hilton Head. Stop by on your way South. We sure still get Belgrade’s cravings. Lard must be in our blood. I very much enjoy your blog. We have no regular food page here.

From Jim S., Estero, Fla.:
I’m an Akron snowbird now in Estero, Florida.

From Karen Haram, San Antonio, Texas:
I subscribe and look forward to your newsletter. I plan to try the noodle stir-fry recipe but with whole-wheat pasta and ground turkey (super WW-friendly on the purple plan I am on). We shall see!

Note from Jane: Karen is the retired food editor extraordinaire of the San Antonio Express-News. I’ve shared a few of her terrific recipes over the years. I am flattered she follows my newsletter. Remember the See Chuck Cook series? Karen is the one who surged me to teach Chuck how to cook Thanksgiving dinner, resulting in another hilarious Klosterman column.

From Karen C., Greenville, S.C.:
We were born and bred Akronites until Michelin bought BFGoodrich and moved us to corporate headquarters here in Greenville 24 years ago. I look forward to your emails and a “taste” of home!

From Barbara N., Media, Pa.:
A friend, then living in Akron, put me onto your e-newsletter nearly a decade ago. I have subscribed to and greatly enjoyed it ever since. Thanks for all the great recipes as well as the various culinary tips. Happy New Year from a fellow carb-watcher in the Philadelphia area!

From Lana B., Monterey, Calif.:
Thanks for a fine and funny newsletter! I grew up in Akron.

From Darren B., Aurora, Ill.:
Just responding to your request for where people read your newsletter. I do return often as my mom still lives in Akron. It was a difficult day when West Point Market closed and my sauerkraut ball connection vanished. I was shopping at Acme in Montrose and noticed they had a hefty supply — figured they were worth a try since we like to serve them on Christmas Eve. They did not disappoint! There was another shopper at the same display that advised that Papa Joe’s in the valley also is a great alternative. I will be trying those on my next trip. Keep up the great work and keeping me involved in my hometown.

From Nancy W., Tempe, Ariz.:
I signed up to get your wonderful recipes when a high school friend recommended it. Linda and I are part of a group of gals who were in a high school club. We kept in touch as our lives went through phases. At our 40th high school reunion we exchanged emails. That started a yearly reunion at first in Lakeside, Ohio, but later changed to Florida in October each year. Linda suggested your column and I forward it to them! We range in location from California, Washington State, Georgia and Florida to, of course, Ohio.

From Rhonda R., Bluffton, S.C.:
I live in Bluffton, S.C., and enjoy reading your weekly emails. I used to live in Richfield, Ohio and I am friends with a friend of yours, Linda A. of Homps, France. I especially enjoy reading about your adventures when you are visiting her in France. I am hoping to get there to visit her sometime soon. Would love to meet you in person some day. Any friend of Linda is a friend of mine! Happy New Year.

From Cindy W., St. Augustine, Fla.:
Greetings from St. Augustine! You asked, I reply. Happy New Year!

From Scott H., Arkansas:
My wife and I have been reading your column for more than a decade, I think. I lived in Akron almost my entire life. But when we moved to Arkansas to be with our daughters and watch our six grandchildren grow up, we continued reading. That move was six years ago, and we are still faithful readers. Thank you!

From Tracy C., Raleigh, N.C.:
Thanks so much for your newsletter! I look forward to it every week.

From Leslie K., Christianburg, Va.:
I used to live in Akron where I was a reader of your column in the Beacon Journal but now we live in Christiansburg, Va. I often forward your column to a friend near Nashville, a friend in Milwaukee, and my daughters in Los Angeles and Columbia, S.C. — so it gets around!! Thanks for your many years of sharing recipes .

From Melinda B., Leesburg, Fla.:
I read your articles in the Beacon Journal when I visited my sister-in-law and brother-in-law in Akron. We lived in Indianapolis at the time but have since movedto Leesburg, Fla. I always look forward to your weekly email.

From Barbara S., Hilton Head, S.C.:
I started following you when you were the food editor at the Beacon Journal and we were living in Akron. We retired to Hilton Head Island, S.C., in 2005. I have enjoyed your blog and look forward to your weekly emails!

From Joette W., Akron:
Twenty years? It doesn’t seem possible. I’ve been reading your work since the days of Second Helpings and I look forward to reading See Jane Cook each week. After reading the latest newsletter this morning, I knew I, too, wanted to thank you for sharing so many delicious recipes, tidbits, gut checks, and slices of your life with all of us. I learn something new every week from you and your other readers.

Dear friends:
Thank you to everyone who wrote. I hope I didn’t leave anyone out. I enjoyed reading your notes, and was surprised to learn that my newsletter appeals not just to food lovers but to those nostalgic for Akron. So I feel justified passing on a terrific link to historic Akron photos from Joy in British Columbia, Canada. These photos are a treasure. Be sure to click on all three pages. I especially liked the photo of the Beacon Journal newsroom the day Pearl Harbor was bombed: http://mredinjection.blogspot.com/.

January 15, 2020

Dear friends,
On the way out of Tensuke Express in Columbus I spotted it: A fluffy, plate-size pancake showered with curls of bonito and pickled ginger. It was an inch thick and creamy at the edges. It looked glorious. A diner in the booth by the door was just cutting into it.

When I had ordered one 45 minutes earlier, I was told they were sold out. I had driven two hours for one of those Japanese pancakes. I was robbed!

Tony tried logic on the way home. It takes a while to make the batter for okonomiyaki pancakes. The cooks must have been between batches when I was forced to settle for ramen. I wasn’t buying it. This was a plot to keep me from trying okonomiyaki, and it wouldn’t work.

At home I spent days researching the recipe. I discarded directions from food magazines, cookbooks and most internet sites, which treated the iconic Japanese street food as a big omelet. No, I wanted that creamy interior, and I knew eggs and cabbage alone wouldn’t do it.

The secret, I finally learned, is the Japanese mountain yam. On its own, the tuber is slimy and unappetizing. When mixed with eggs, flour and cabbage, it becomes creamy. I combined techniques from justonecookbook.com and proportions from seriouseats.com to produce a recipe.

First I had to find the yam. I struck out at Oriental Market in Cuyahoga Falls, but found it at Family Grocery, a Nepalese store, on North Main Street in the North Hill area of Akron. You will have to visit an Asian store — maybe more than one — to find this unusual yam. If you’re not willing, don’t make the recipe.

The Japanese mountain yam is dirty white and about 3 inches in diameter. It is commonly sold in Asian stores in sections hacked from the whole, which apparently is very long. I bought a 4-inch-long section and used about a third of it for the pancake recipe. Look for a whitish root-like vegetable and try to find the name of the item on the box, as I did. In Japan it is called “yamaimo” or “nagaimo.” You may have to ask.

Buy a flat-ish, Savoy-type head of cabbage while you’re there. Regular cabbage will work, but the flat kind is what you really want.

Don’t start making the pancake when you’re hungry. It takes some time to prep the ingredients and then the batter must rest at least 30 minutes to build the airiness. I chopped everything one day and made the pancake the next. Tony grated the yam into a little boxed gizmo grater he uses for wasabi. It was perfect for the yam, which turns into a puddle of goo when grated. Or just use the tiniest holes of a regular box grater set over a bowl.

Okonomiyaki may not be on your hit list right now, but I bet at some point you’re going to want one of these bad boys. They are very popular in Japan and, if you watch the Tokyo Olympics this summer, I bet you’ll see one. Then it’s just short hop to craving one. Thanks to this recipe, you’ll be prepared.

OKONOMIYAKI

(Japanese savory pancake)
4 cups chopped cabbage (in 1/2- to 1-inch squares), packed
3/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking powder
4 oz. Japanese mountain yam (yamaimo or nagaimo), about a 2-inch-long piece
1/2 cup dashi or cold water
2 eggs
1/4 cup slivered pickled ginger
3 green onions, trimmed and sliced, green and white parts separate
3 slices bacon, cut in half
Vegetable oil
Kewpie mayonnaise (available in Asian stores)
Okonomiyaki sauce (recipe follows)
Bonito shavings (optional)

Roll chopped cabbage in a clean dish towel to eliminate any moisture. Refrigerate until needed. In a large bowl, combine flour, salt and baking powder. Set aside.

Wearing latex gloves, peel the yam and grate into a small bowl using the smallest holes of a box grater (the yam causes a rash in some people). Stir the now-liquid yam and the dashi or water into the flour mixture, beating until creamy. Cover and refrigerate 30 to 60 minutes.

Beat the eggs, half of the pickled ginger and the white part of the onions into the batter. Stir in the cabbage a cup at a time, mixing very well.

Heat a 10-inch skillet over medium heat (I used cast iron). When hot, coat bottom of pan with about one-eighth inch oil. Spoon all of the batter into the hot skillet in a circle about 3/4-inch thick. The pancake won’t quite reach the sides of the skillet. Arrange the bacon on top. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, lowering heat if necessary to prevent the bottom from burning.

When the bottom of the pancake is dark brown, shake pan and loosen cake with a spatula. Slide it onto the lid, raw side up. Flip it into the skillet, raw side down. Cover and continue to cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until the bottom is brown and the bacon is crisp.

Invert the pancake onto a platter. Streak the top liberally with Kewpie mayonnaise. Pour the Okonomiyaki sauce into a snack-size plastic bag. Snip a corner of the bag and decorate the top of the pancake with the sauce. Scatter remaining pickled ginger and the green part of the onions over all. Traditionally, bonito shavings are piled on top, too, but I skipped them. Cut into four wedges to serve. Serves two very liberally.

OKONOMIYAKI SAUCE
2 tbsp. ketchup
2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. oyster sauce
1 tsp. honey

Combine in a small bowl and stir well.

TIDBITS

Pantry Project:
I used two items from my overstocked pantry in this week’s recipe: oyster sauce and pickled ginger. But dang, now the bottle and jar are in my refrigerator so I guess that’s zero net gain.

When I return home from my two-month sojourn in Florida, I’ll resume the challenge. Meanwhile, you might want to try a recipe for sweet potato and red lentil soup from Noreen S., who also took up the challenge.

“I used the red lentils that have been sitting way too long in my cupboard. I found the recipe on allrecipes.com. I had a few tomatoes that were on their way out so I added those, too. It was very tasty and perfect for a dreary day,” Noreen wrote.

There are several recipes for lentil and sweet potato soup on allrecipes.com. I’ m going to try the Indian version.

GUT CHECK
What we cooked last week:
Tuna sashimi and vinegared rice (Tony made it); grilled open-face hamburger on Cuban bread with onions, sliced tomatoes and Kewpie mayo, grilled corn on the cob and Champagne.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Grilled teriyaki chicken skewer, a fried chicken leg and a fortune cookie from Shang Hai in Statesville, N.C. (not great, but the parking lot was big enough for our camper); Egg McMuffin and coffee from McDonald’s; pulled pork sandwich somewhere in northern Florida; a Cuban sandwich, fried sweet plantains and cafe con leche from Wow Cuban Cafe in Hobe Sound, Fla.; fresh, hand-battered fried shrimp, a tossed salad and a Bud Light at Catfish House in Hobe Sound (great!); cheese arepa at the B&A Flea Market in Stuart, Fla.; Grilled grouper tacos and a Diet Coke at Harry and the Natives in Hobe Sound; a mushroom and cheese omelet and wheat toast at the Old Dixie Cafe in Hobe Sound.

THE MAILBAG
From Sandy D.:
Those Bisquick pies make me think of my dear mom. She made them when they were popular back in, oh I guess, the 70s? Make no mistake though, she made killer pies from scratch. I still try to replicate her pie dough and can’t.

Dear Sandy:
My sister still talks about the cheeseburger Bisquick pie I made for her when I was about 25 and she was 10. I experimented on the poor kid and only once found something she liked. Yes, it was the 1970s.

From D.B.:
My girlfriend made that coconut pie for my husband about 30 years ago. He loves coconut. I just baked two of the pies — one for my husband and one for my neighbor. Thanks for the inspiration.

From Dorothy B.:
To clean the edges of cookbooks (mentioned in a previous newsletter), try wallpaper cleaner.

Dear Dorothy:
Brilliant idea. Thanks.

January 8, 2020

Dear friends,
Geez, was I on a holiday sugar high. After losing 30 pounds this year, I broke my no-sugar rule and ate ginger cookies, butter cookies, fudge, jam-topped baked Brie, sugared nuts, Japanese strawberry Christmas cake, chocolate-covered raisins and oozy chocolate-covered caramels.

Yikes.

Thankfully I gained just two pounds during my two-week splurge, but now I’m left with a fierce sugar craving. I tried to go cold turkey. Want to know how that’s working for me? I saw a recipe for coconut pie — one of those hokey impossible pies, no less — and before I knew what happened, I was in the kitchen pulling the thing out of the oven.

I won’t be shamed. I ate the damned pie (or the hunk Tony left me) and now I’m passing this burden on to you. It takes five minutes to mix and a half hour to bake. Resist it if you can.

IMPOSSIBLE COCONUT PIE

1 cup shredded sweetened coconut
3/4 cup sugar or 1/2 cup Splenda granular
1/2 cup biscuit mix such as Bisquick
1 tbsp. softened butter
2 cups milk
1 tsp. vanilla
4 eggs
Extra coconut for garnish, if desired

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine coconut, sugar and biscuit mix in a bowl and whisk to blend. Stir in butter. In another bowl or 4-cup measure, combine milk, vanilla and eggs and whisk to combine. Stir into the dry ingredients, mixing well.

Pour into a 10-inch pie plate coated with vegetable oil spray. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes or until the edges are brown and the center is set. Cool slightly before cutting into wedges to serve. Garnish with more coconut, if desired.

TIDBITS
I’ve been living a lie. For years I thought of myself as someone who rarely uses canned foods. If that’s true, I mused recently, then why do I have a floor-to-ceiling kitchen pantry crammed with the stuff?

True, the pantry is narrow and packages of noodles and rice share it with the cans. But that still leaves a lot of room for cans and jars on the shelves. In a quick survey I found Ro-tel tomatoes, refried beans, broths, mojo marinade, chili sauce, pumpkin, oyster sauce, lima beans, tomato soup, evaporated milk, pickled ginger, fig jam, mango chutney, coconut milk, harissa, chopped green chilies, Thai curry paste, ground espresso, dried tiny fish (Tony’s), pickled garlic (Tony’s) and a 5-year-old jar of Louisiana-style roux.

The roux is now in the garbage. The rest is in play in my mind as I try to dream up ways to use the more esoteric stuff. I should include the dried noodles, grains, beans and pulses in my list. There are an awful lot of them in an astounding variety, from buckwheat soba noodles to orange lentils. This is ridiculous. It’s time for a challenge, because I bet many of you have an unruly pantry, too.

For next week’s recipe I promise to use at least two long-overlooked items from my pantry in a recipe for See Jane Cook. In return, if you’re game, scrounge up a recipe for a pantry item or two that has been hanging around way too long. Report back. Then we’ll do it again. If we are persistent, we can whittle down the canned, bottled and packaged goods to a normal-sized stash.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Ham and lima bean soup; shrimp tempura with soba in broth (I helped Tony); strip steaks in wine sauce with baked potatoes; pork miso stew (with Tony); Mongolian barbecue sauce; ground venison with ginger and garlic for lettuce wraps; spaghetti sauce; coconut pie; egg salad; okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake).

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Steak tacos, rice, black beans and sopapillas at Casa del Rio in Fairlawn; a hamburger with onions, pickles and mustard, french fries and a Diet Coke at Bob’s Hamburg in Akron.

THE MAILBAG
From Connie D.:
I just came across your Tidbits column from the Sept. 20, 1992 Beacon Journal.
The headline was “Lest we forget, they gave us Rice-A-Roni.” You wrote a tongue-in-cheek list of “10 things Northeast Ohio has, food-wise, that San Francisco doesn’t.” I enjoyed the trip back in time, but number ten was Bil-Jac Dog Food?? Maybe it would be fun to update in your online work.

I am thinking sauerkraut balls, pierogi, and the wonderful bean salad, best made with some sort of kidney beans. I think San Francisco may have finally discovered pierogi, but only because of certain visiting politicians. Of course, I need some recipes!

Also of interest in that food section are the food store ads, one for Aldi and one for Carl’s. Do you remember Carls? Neither my spouse nor I do and an address on West Market Street rings no bells. Could it have been where Fazio’s was for years?

I had no clue there was an Aldi’s in the Akron area. What a joy to shop one in Montrose these days. Looking at the food prices back in 1992 is interesting. Things made with flour seem to have skyrocketed, while other items not so much. I now understand why some food producers can no longer make a living or are barely hanging on.

Just thought I would share my find. I enjoy your work and even try some of the recipes, when I feel brave.

Dear Connie:
Thanks for the fun email. I wrote that tongue-in-cheek list after going to a food writers’ conference in San Francisco and seeing a snarky ad for the Chronicle’s food section. It featured a picture of a Jell-O mold and compared the yokel foodies in Cleveland with the sophisticated readers of the San Francisco paper. My list, Bil-Jack and all, was a good-natured raspberry.

I used to survey food prices quarterly in three stores, including Carl’s, which became Fazio’s and then merged with another chain whose name I can’t recall. What a lot of work that ongoing project was. I had to find out why prices went up or down, which meant calling beef experts in Kansas, chicken farmers in Georgia, milk producers in Wisconsin, lettuce farmers in California’s Imperial Valley and the one guy who tracked the supply of bananas for the economists at the USDA.

It’s too bad such in-depth reporting is no longer underwritten in our area because of declining circulation. And that is just a tiny piece of the information we’ve lost.

As for that list of local foods, I wrote about that, too. Some may remember the vote we took to name Akron’s iconic food. The sauerkraut ball won. The kidney bean salad, most closely associated with Anthe’s restaurants, was in the top ten. You can find those recipes in the Akron Beacon Journal database at the Akron-Summit County Public Library, available online with a library card or through a subscription to newspapers.com.