September 19, 2018

Dear friends,
Imagine an America where the epitome of fine cooking could be found at county fairs, and almost every fancy restaurant was “Continental.” That’s the foodscape I waded into at the beginning of my food-writing career.

Oh, murmurs of raddichio and reduction sauces could be heard along the coasts, but the Midwest where I teethed as a restaurant critic was still the land of Jell-O and meatloaf. That was beginning to change in 1982 when I began making my daily bread by eating it. Travelled and savvy home cooks wanted more glamor than a pot roast could provide, and that’s where I came in.

Those were the days of duck ala orange, roast cornish hens, boeuf Bourguignonne and fettuccine Alfredo. Men seemed to be the early experimenters.

In a typical day, a male ad rep would corner me in the newspaper cafeteria to talk paella pans or a circulation manager would hunt me to ground at my desk to give me his recipe for caviar dip. They all followed Julia Child and they all made Caesar salad tableside, with much ceremony, for their friends.

Caesar salad was a litmus test back then. Did you coddle your egg for exactly one minute? Did your rub the bowl with garlic, which you then tossed out? Did you use anchovies or did you chicken out? Men who considered themselves serious amateur cooks had large, maitre’d sized wooden bowls they bought expressly for this purpose.

The pretentious rigamarole eventually dampened my enthusiasm for Caesar salad, and the raw egg scare killed it off. Remember in 1984 when scientists reported eggs in utero could be contaminated with salmonella right through the shell? No one, least of all me, wanted to look at another Caesar.

Then last month Jan C. mentioned ordering Caesar salad at Ken Stewart’s Lodge on her birthday. Remember that Mailbag item? I had to have some. Absence had made my heart grow fonder.

I frantically searched for the right recipe. I looked in all my Julia Childs, James Beards, a James Villas and my New York Times Cookbook. The old classics failed me. Craig Claiborne’s recipe sounded almost right, so I had to use that as a template and jazz-cook my way to a genuine, pre-contemporary American cuisine Caesar salad.

It was just as good as I remembered. Here you go.

(Yes, salmonella in eggs is still a concern, but the odds are said to be 1 in 10,000. If any of your diners are elderly, a child or have a compromised immune system, add a tablespoon of mayonnaise to the oil mixture and leave out the egg.)

CAESAR SALAD

1 tsp. salt
1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 tbsp. lemon juice
Dash of Tabasco sauce
4 canned anchovy fillets
3 tbsp. olive oil
3 bunches romaine lettuce
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg, boiled for 60 seconds
2 or 3 cups homemade 1-inch-square croutons (recipe follows)

Sprinkle the salt in the bottom of a salad bowl — preferably wood — and rub it with the garlic, pressing it into the salt and all over the inside of the bowl. When most of the flavor has been pressed out, discard the garlic. Stir in mustard, lemon juice and Tabasco with a fork. Add anchovies and mash very well. Drizzle in olive oil, beating until the salt has dissolved and the mixture is blended.

With your hands, wring off the top tired inch or so of the romaine leaves. Separate leaves, wash and line up on dish towels. Roll up the towels like a burrito. Refrigerate until needed.

When ready to dine, tear leaves into bite-sized pieces and add to the salad bowl. Sprinkle with Parmesan and break the egg over the salad. Toss very well. Scatter croutons over the salad and serve. Makes 6 servings.

HOMEMADE CROUTONS
3 oz. thick-cut ciabatta or other sturdy white bread (2 1/2 ciabatta buns)
Olive oil

Cut bread or buns into 1-inch pieces, slicing off a very thin layer of the top and bottom crust if using buns. Brush the cut surfaces with olive oil. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake in a preheated, 400-degree oven until golden brown. Makes about 36 croutons. Store any unused croutons in a zipper-lock plastic bag.

GUT CHECK
Life is good. Last week started with a new sumo tournament on Japanese TV (I’m hooked on the sport) and ended in the South of France. Along the way I spent an evening in the great Chinatown of Flushing (Queens), N.Y. I’ll write more about my trip next week. Meanwhile, here’s a taste, along with some of the hasty meals I had last week while preparing for the trip:

What I cooked last week:
Frozen pizza (my birthday dinner), sugar-free brownies; chicken thighs in white wine roasted atop green onions, carrots and thyme branches with white wine, roasted beets.

What I ate out last week:
A dry hamburger and frozen-tasting french fries at Beef O’Brady’s in Wadsworth; a Superfoods Salad (lentils, quinoa, walnuts, squash, dried cranberries, tomatoes) at Aladdin’s in Montrose; fried rice with chicken, pork and shrimp from Chin’s in Akron; another Superfoods Salad (loved it) and spicy beef kafta roll (loved that, too) at Aladdin’s; pickled daikon radish, warm redskin peanuts, a mounded platter of Hunan fried chicken (bite-sized pieces of crisp, juicy meat showered with sliced fresh Szechuan peppers and cracked Szechuan peppercorns), Hunan lamb (bone-in chunks of lamb with translucent cooked daikon radish, seasoned with cumin and five-spice powder, from Mingle restaurant in Flushing, N.Y.’s Chinatown; a Western omelet and coffee at Magna restaurant in Flushing; chicken breast over polenta with balsamic cream sauce, lentil salad with dried cranberries, French roll and cheese, mango cheesecake and Champagne aboard an AirFrance flight; a Camembert and ham sandwich at Gare de Lyon in Paris; a fennel salad and warm pastry-wrapped Camembert cheese, lamb shanks and sweet carrots braised in red wine, boiled baby potatoes, and a platter of cheeses (Morbier, tomme, Ste. Marcelin, Cantal jeune) with a local red wine at my friend Linda’s house in Homps, France.

THE MAILBAG
From Jeff M.:
I was just reading your newsletter about green bean recipes. Not sure if you have a palate for S.E. Asian flavors, but one can easily substitute green beans for wing beans in this recipe for an entirely new way to eat green beans.

Substituting green beans (or cucumber) for green papaya in the classic som tam salad recipe is also very common at food stalls here in Bangkok.

THAI WING BEAN SALAD WITH PRAWNS
1/4 cup toasted fresh coconut (optional)
2 tbsp. chopped shallots
2 tsp. roasted unsalted peanuts
Vegetable oil
3-4 small dried chilies
2 hard boiled eggs
2 cups wing beans or green beans
3/4 cup coconut milk
1 tbsp. lime juice
2 tbsp. Thai roasted chili paste
2 tbsp. unsweetened tamarind paste
1 1/2 tsp. fish sauce
1 tsp. palm sugar
A handful of medium sized prawns, shell and head off, tail on

If using fresh coconut flesh, cut it into strips and dry roast in a pan until golden brown, turning frequently. Slice the shallots very finely. Roughly crush or chop the roasted peanuts — you are aiming for crunch so do not chop too finely.

Heat the vegetable oil in a skillet over medium heat and fry the shallot slices until golden brown and slightly crispy. Remove from the oil and drain on kitchen paper.

Fry the chilies in the oil until dark. Drain on kitchen paper. Cut the peeled boiled eggs into quarters, lengthwise. Remove the veins from the prawns.

Cut the ends off the beans, then blanche whole in salted boiling water for 30 seconds. Immediately plunge the beans into an ice-cold water bath. When completely cool, slice width-wise into 1/4-inch lengths.

Heat the coconut milk in a frying pan until boiling. Add the prawns and cook until pink. Remove from the heat and add the tamarind paste, palm sugar, roasted chili paste, lime juice, fish sauce, peanuts (and roasted coconut flesh, if using.) Mix well. Now add the wing bean slices and mix again.

Plate up and garnish with the egg slices, fried shallots and roasted whole chilies. Enjoy with plain steamed jasmine rice and a variety of other dishes.

Pork or Chicken Wing Bean Salad: This dish may also be made with minced pork or chicken, using the pork or chicken either to complement the prawns or as a substitute for them.

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September 12, 2018

Dear friends,
Tony’s green beans may be done for the season, but we’re not done with green beans. We won’t be for a long time, either. It’s one of the few vegetables that is reliably available throughout the year.

Before the corn is finished, though, you will want to make one more green bean salad. I found the recipe in a Rick Bayless book. He’s the lauded chef of Chicago’s Frontera Grill and Topolobampo modern Mexican restaurants, and he’s never steered me wrong.

I thought this may be the first time, though, when I made his green bean salad. It was OK. Nothing special. None of the explosive flavors Bayless is noted for. Then I tasted the salad after a night in the fridge. Whoa. The unassuming little green bean salad had gone gonzo. The flavor was amped in all the right ways. I ate some for breakfast. Yum.

The recipe that follows is mostly Bayless’s, although I added corn kernels because ’tis the season, and crumbled feta for a counterpoint of creaminess. I also swapped sweet onion for red because that’s what I had on hand. If you have any potlucks coming up, make this a day in advance and treat your friends.

GREEN BEAN SALAD WITH CORN, FETA AND TOMATILLO DRESSING

Salad:
3/4 lb. fresh green beans
1 cup thinly sliced sweet onion
1 ear corn, kernels sliced off
1/2 cup crumbled feta
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Dressing:
3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup good-quality green tomatillo salsa
2 tbsp. fresh lime juice
1/2 tsp. salt

For the salad, cook green beans in boiling water just until tender, about 5 minutes; drain and refresh under cold running water to stop the cooking. Drain well and transfer to a serving bowl. Add onion, corn and feta and gently toss.

For the dressing, combine the oil, salsa, lime juice and salt in a lidded jar and shake well and add more salt if necessary. Drizzle about 1/3 cup over the salad and toss well. Refrigerate the remaining dressing for another use.

Scatter cilantro over salad, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour, preferably overnight. The flavor continues to develop as it sits. Toss again before serving. Makes about 4 servings.

From “Mexican Everyday” by Rick Bayless.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Cuban roast mojo pork shoulder and baked sweet potatoes; open-faced sandwich of Cuban roast pork, pickled red peppers, pesto and avocado on toasted seeded bread; roast chicken thighs over carrots, green onions and branches of thyme with white wine and roasted beets.

What I ate in/from restaurants last week:
Chipotle burrito bowl with double carnitas; salad with grilled chicken and pita wedges at Alexandris Restaurant in Wadsworth; small spicy Thai salad with chicken, baguette and iced coffee at Panera.

THE MAILBAG
From Anne:
On the topic of mayo vs. salad dressing, I grew up with Miracle Whip and have never really been able to choke down mayo unless it’s well-disguised with Hidden Valley Ranch. I think it’s the eggy-blandness texture I couldn’t get past. I had aways used Miracle whip on sandwiches and in macaroni and egg salads. My mother, who raised me on Miracle Whip, now reports that she has always liked mayo better but salad dressing was cheaper to feed a family.

Over the years I have also noticed that my egg and mac salads seemed to deteriorate on day two, and over time would turn into a watery mess. Imagine reading your discovery of my issues and to know I wasn’t the only one with these problems! Then I remembered Mom sometimes bought Spin Blend salad dressing… When I looked, no Spin Blend at Acme or Giant Eagle but I found it at 2 for $6 at Marc’s. Just a heads up for anyone looking for it.

Dear Anne:
Spin Blend! I haven’t thought of that brand in years. When I was little we were a Miracle Whip family. But I bet a lot of people are switching since Kraft reduced the fat, causing Miracle Whip to become watery in salads over time.

September 5, 2018

Dear friends,
My harvest last week was a bunch of tomatoes, five gnarly carrots, one fat 6-inch yellow squash, four small beets and two Chinese eggplants. If you don’t count the tomatoes, that’s a pitiful pile of vegetables. I couldn’t have been prouder.

Baby beets fresh from the ground! Slender eggplants still warm from the sun! To me, every bite I grow is a mini miracle. I grew THAT?

Actually, more carrots and beets nestle under the soil and I have hopes that more eggplants and squash are on the way. Not many, but a few. Last week I harvested just enough for one big roasting-pan meal. Hoo-boy!

I thawed some chicken thighs and got to work. First I made the flavoring — lemon juice, crushed garlic and salt and pepper left to steep in a bowl. Rather than pile the chicken and vegetables on a baking sheet and slide it into the oven, I took the time to brown the skinless chicken first on the stove. I used a roasting pan and afterward added all the vegetables, the lemon-garlic mixture, fresh rosemary and lemon slices.

For not much work, Tony and I had a fragrant, deeply flavored all-in-one dinner with enough leftovers for lunch and dinner the next day. Yum.

LEMON-ROSEMARY CHICKEN THIGHS AND VEGETABLES

Juice of 1 lemon
1/3 cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, smashed
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. coarse-ground black pepper
3 to 4 tbsp. olive oil
8 skinless chicken thighs
4 small new potatoes (golf-ball size), halved
4 carrots, cut in 2-inch pieces
4 small fresh beets, leaves and stalks trimmed
Other fresh vegetables such as Chinese eggplant, zucchini or bell pepper, if desired
2 6-inch branches of fresh rosemary, cut in 2-inch pieces
2 lemons, sliced

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, 1/3 cup olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Heat the 3 tablespoons olive oil in a roasting pan over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper and brown in oil. Remove from heat. Scatter vegetables in pan. Pour lemon juice mixture over all. Top with rosemary and lemons.

Roast uncovered at 450 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes, until chicken is done and vegetables are tender. Serve with lemony pan juices. Makes 4 servings.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Roast chicken thighs and vegetables with lemon and rosemary; green bean salad with onions, feta and tomatillo dressing, grilled rib steaks rubbed with smashed green and black peppercorns, baked sweet potatoes; open-faced sandwich of tomato, avocado and feta cheese with pesto on seeded bread; grill-roasted whole ancho-rubbed chicken, grilled corn on the cob and fresh sliced peaches with whipped topping.

What I ate in restaurants last week:
Pulled pork plate with half of a corn muffin and green beans at Old Carolina Barbecue in Fairlawn; fajita chicken strips, lettuce, sautéed onions and green peppers at Rockne’s in Fairlawn; an egg over easy, a turkey sausage, a biscuit, grits and coffee at Bob Evans.

TIDBITS
Hanging from a crossbeam in my kitchen this week are big bunches of tarragon, fennel leaves, thyme, rosemary and sage. I cut the stalks of each variety the same length and tied them with thread. When dry, I’ll transfer the herbs to zipper-lock plastic bags and store them in my spice cabinet. I may strip the tarragon from the stalks and store it in bottles this year, but plastic bags really are good enough for me.

That’s about it for my herb harvest this year, besides the pesto in the freezer and a few leaves from my potted bay laurel that are drying on a counter in case the bush doesn’t make it through the winter indoors.

I grow other herbs but I don’t preserve them. Dried parsley and chives have no flavor, so why bother? Minty-weird dried basil tastes like a mistake compared to fresh. Dried cilantro leaves don’t excite me (although if you let cilantro go to seed, you can harvest and grind that fragrant form).

In my opinion, not all herbs are worth drying. But you CAN have the flavor of fresh herbs in the winter without paying off-season prices for tiny bunches of wilted leaves. If you want the flavor of fresh basil, cilantro, parsley and chives in the winter, I suggest you puree the leaves with enough oil to form a dense sludge, freeze it in ice cube trays, transfer to zipper-lock bags and freeze. The flavor will remain fresh.

THE MAILBAG
From Sandy B.:
If you are near Seville, home of the Bates Giants AND giant zucchinis, in the near future, stop by Geig’s Orchard just north of town on Rte. 3 for their “bubblegum” plums. Even though you have your own stash of the fruits, these are super-sweet, little round plums that are just plain fun. The peaches are pretty wonderful, too.

Dear Sandy:
The plums are still available according to the website. I hope to make it there before plum season segues into pear season. Thanks for the tip.

From Dorothy G.:
One of your readers mentioned Rumford Baking Powder as the secret to her light pancakes. I thought all baking powders were made with the same ingredients. Am I wrong?

Dear Dorothy:
They all contain sodium bicarbonate but the add-ins — one or more weak acids and cornstarch— can vary. The proportions can, too. I haven’t noticed a difference in brands of baking powder, but when I used an off brand of baking soda once, it affected the flavor of my biscuits. This is odd, because baking soda is 100 percent sodium bicarbonate with no fillers.

August 29, 2018

Dear friends,
Zucchini brings out the curmudgeon in me. I have opinions. I have likes and dislikes.
I don’t like the floppy fried zucchini rounds, unbreaded and dripping with oil, that my mother served us growing up. I kind of sneer at zucchini breads and muffins because what’s the point if you can’t taste the zucchini? And I am anti any zucchini that is more than about 8 inches long. The skin is tough and the seeds become tiddlywinks.

I like just about everything else about this summer squash, which, chameleon-like, soaks up any flavor it touches. I like it stuffed and baked, layered with tomatoes in summer casseroles, cut into batons and tossed in pasta salads, even used as a stand-in for tofu in ma po bean curd.

So I was excited to see what contestants would come up with in the Seville Farm Market’s annual Zucchini Smackdown recently. I got to judge the fun contest this year. I came away with a terrific recipe for zucchini relish. It is sweet, tart and crunchy-good on a cracker smeared with cream cheese. If only I could grow zucchini, I’d made a ton of it.

The recipe was submitted by Laurie Racco of Medina. The winning sample was a family affair, she said, with plenty of spoons in the pot. Racco kindly forked over the recipe. But because gardeners probably have a lot more zucchini than recipes right now, I’m also sharing a recipe for bacon-studded zucchini slaw from my own files.

ZUCCHINI RELISH

5 cups finely chopped zucchini
1 ½ cups finely chopped onion
¾ cup finely chopped green bell pepper
¾ cup finely chopped red bell pepper
¼ cup pickling salt
1 ¾ cups sugar
1 ½ cups white vinegar
¼ cup water
1 tsp. celery seeds
1 tsp. turmeric
½ tsp. mustard seeds
1 or 2 drops green food coloring (optional)

In an extra-large nonmetal bowl, combine zucchini, onion and bell peppers. Sprinkle with pickling salt; toss gently to coat. Add enough cold water to cover vegetables. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to stand at room temperature for 3 hours.

Transfer vegetable mixture to a large colander set in sink. Rinse with cold water; drain.
In an 8- to10-quart stainless steel, enamel, or nonstick pot, combine sugar, vinegar, ¼ cup water, celery seeds, turmeric and mustard seeds. Bring to boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 3 minutes. Add drained zucchini mixture (and food coloring if desired). Return to boiling, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Ladle hot relish into hot, sterilized half-pint jars, leaving ½-inch head space. Process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes after water returns to boil. Remove jars from canner, cool and rack. Yields 5 half-pint jars.

SWEET AND SOUR ZUCCHINI SLAW
4 slices bacon
2 medium zucchini (8 to 10 oz. each)
Salt
2 tbsp. sugar
1/3 cup cider vinegar
1/2 tsp. caraway seeds

Fry bacon in a 10-inch skillet until crisp. Meanwhile, shred zucchini with a hand grater or a food processor.

Remove bacon from skillet and drain on paper towels. Add shredded zucchini to bacon fat in skillet. Season with salt and stir-fry 2 to 3 minutes, until glossy but still crisp.

Sprinkle sugar over zucchini, add vinegar and stir well. Turn heat to high and boil rapidly until vinegar is almost evaporated. Zucchini should still be fairly crunchy.

Transfer zucchini and any liquid remaining in pan to a bowl. Crumble bacon and stir into zucchini. Stir in caraway seeds. Cool. Serve at room temperature. Makes 4 servings.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Ciabatta pizza with chopped tomatoes, basil, garlic, pesto, mozzarella, feta and Parmesan cheeses; grilled American, feta and fresh mozzarella cheeses on seeded brown bread with pesto, tomato and avocado; Szechuan stir-fry pork with eggplant, yellow squash, carrots, onion and pepper; spaghetti and meat sauce with walnuts.

What I ate in (from) restaurants last week:
Pulled pork, green beans, vinegar slaw and corn muffin from Old Carolina Barbecue in Fairlawn; a California roll, karaage (fried) chicken and salad at Tensuke Market in Columbus; thick lamb chops, garlic mashed potatoes and pan-grilled rainbow carrots at Wise Guys in Akron.

THE MAILBAG
From Maryann:
I have been inspired to work at making my own vanilla extract, as it appears most of the work is putting the vanilla beans into a clean jar with a tight seal and covering it with vodka. I guess I’m a vanilla bean snob, as I really can taste the difference when it is real vanilla, and I use it often.

The question is, where and how do I purchase bulk vanilla beans, how do I know which is the good stuff, and how do I avoid being part of the problem of Americans who, I am told, are decimating the vanilla planters’ business because we want too much vanilla?

Dear Maryann:
Unless you’re planning on going into business, you won’t need to buy vanilla beans in bulk; a big jar of homemade extract requires just five beans. That should simplify your search.

If possible, buy vanilla planifolia beans, also called Bourbon vanilla, which are considered superior to vanilla tahitensis. Most planifolia beans are grown now in Madagascar; and tahitensis in Papua New Guinea, although the orchids that produce both kinds of beans have been planted as far afield as Uganda and even, lately, in California.

Demand for vanilla is very high, and the “decimation” you mention is the result of growers (especially in Madagascar) skipping steps and hurrying beans to market. That has affected the quality of some of the beans. This year’s harvest, which began in July in Madagascar, the premier producer, is expected to be large, which may bring down prices and temper the greed of producers, according to market reports.

Your best bet is to buy from a reputable source, such as West Point Market or vanilla expert Patricia Rain at vanillaqueen.com.

HOMEMADE VANILLA EXTRACT
5 vanilla beans, sliced open lengthwise
2 cups vodka

Place the beans and alcohol in a lidded jar, cover tightly and store in a cool, dark place, shaking once a week. The longer the beans steep, the stronger the vanilla will be. Steep for several months to a year for the best flavor. Pour into decorative bottles if desired, including a piece of vanilla bean in each one. Cap tightly.

August 22, 2018

Dear friends,
Once upon a time we planted a plum tree. I wanted a Mirabelle plum like the perfumed yellow plums I tasted in Paris in 1997. Tony wanted a Japanese plum and he’s the one with a shovel, so we bought a Satsuma.

That was 10 years ago. It took us two years to discover we must plant two plum trees — and both had to be Japanese — if we wanted fruit. We planted a second Satsuma and waited for them to get busy.

We don’t know who’s to blame for being coy. We do know it took eight long years for the sparks to fly between the plums. When it did happen, it must have been like Angelina and Brad in that secluded bungalow in Tahiti, because the result was hundreds and hundreds of little plums. I mean a lot. So many that the limbs of the plum trees are cracking under the weight.

The plums are about the size of a walnut, with purple skins and a deep magenta interior. They are tart-sweet, with a flavor not as complex as that of a Mirabelle but still delicious.

Remember Leave a Zucchini on Your Neighbor’s Porch Day? Tony has been leaving boxes of plums. If you want some, give us a call. Meanwhile, I have been preserving plums. I made a roasting pan full of baked plum confiture to package and freeze and one tray of prunes. I will not dry more plums, even though they’re delicious, because removing the pits is god-awful. It takes forever, and a week later, my cuticles are still purple.

Baked plums are the way to go. Even if you don’t have a couple of profligate plum trees, you may want to buy some prune plums for this recipe. It involves minimal work. I simply washed the plums, removed any stems or blemishes and dumped them into the pan I use for roasting turkeys.

The plums baked down to a thick compote that can be spread on toast, spooned over yogurt, used as a glaze for roast pork or turned into an ice cream topping. The skins dissolve into the fruit. The seeds may be removed before storing, or just spit them out when you encounter them (warn your friends so they don’t break a tooth).

My roasting pan was 10- by 14 inches and I used 1 1/2 lbs. of fruit. But you may use any size roasting pan and fill it with at least one packed layer of whole small plums such as prune plums. I filled my pan with about a layer and a half. The plum confiture may be frozen in rigid containers or freezer bags.

ROASTED PLUM CONFITURE

1 1/2 lbs. small plums such as prune plums or Satsumas
(or as many as needed to at least cover the bottom of your roasting pan)
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup sugar or to taste
(Flavorings such as a vanilla bean, cinnamon stick or star anise if desired)

Wash plums, removing bits of stems and blemishes. Place whole plums with pits in a roasting pan. The plums should at least cover the bottom of the pan. Add water. Place in a preheated, 350-degree oven and roast uncovered for 2 hours.

Stir in sugar (and flavoring if using). Continue roasting about one hour longer, or until the plums have melted into a thick mass. If necessary, add more water during cooking to prevent the plums from sticking to the bottom of the pan and burning. Makes about 1 1/2 quarts confiture. Cool, then refrigerate some to use now and freeze the rest.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Dried plums; plum confiture; cherry tomato, fresh mozzarella and pesto salad; avocado toast; egg salad; pan-fried German sausage sandwiches with fried onions and peppers, Silver Queen corn on the cob (from Seiberling Farm in Norton) and watermelon.

What I ate in restaurants last week:
Tandoori chicken, rice pilaf and potato-stuffed naan at Jaipur Junction in Hudson; half of a spicy Italian sub from Subway; two chili-cheese dogs and a couple of fries at The Hot Dog Shoppe in East Liverpool; grits, one over-easy egg and one biscuit at Bob Evans; a sausage sandwich with onions and peppers at the Rogers Community Auction and Flea Market in Rogers, Ohio; a plain cake doughnut from L&B Donuts in East Liverpool; two more chili dogs and fries at The Hot Dog Shoppe; a ribeye steak, plain baked potato and buttered green beans at Pondi’s in Lisbon.

THE MAILBAG
From Molly:
I just read your blog and in response to finding burrata, Heinen’s carries it for those readers who fancy a drive. Pretty sure that a few dairy stands at West Side Market have it too, but again, there’s that drive. Penzey’s is across the street from the market, though, so that’d be a good second stop for those who venture north.

As for Caribe, some years back I bought a whole pig from Whittaker’s stand at West Side Market and dropped it off at Caribe. They cooked it and I served the delicious meat at a party. I don’t remember what Caribe charged to roast the pork but I remember it being reasonably priced. It was superb.

Dear Molly:
An entire roast pig from Caribe! That would be heaven.

From David F.:
I would recommend Sherman Provision in Norton for lamb, but you might need to call ahead and order what you need. One of my earlier visits to this butcher shop was over the Greek Orthodox Christmas, and I opened the door to allow a customer to leave the store with a whole lamb — not something I was used to seeing walking into a chain grocery store!

Sherman’s is old-school. It’s family-run, with people behind the counter who actually know the meats cuts, and can offer advice on preparation. They are also some of the nicest folks you’d want to meet.

Dear David:
You aren’t the only one to recommend Sherman Provision for lamb. And I agree that Michael and Mauri OBrodo and their employees are the best. The business can be found on the Internet at shermanprovision.com.

From Susan B.:
Regarding your question of where to buy lamb — the great West Side Market in Cleveland. Definitely there are a few vendors selling fresh lamb. I bought my veal there for years.

At various holidays, especially Easter and Christmas, lamb is featured. My Old Country family from Yugoslavia, Germany and Austria, which immigrated to Cleveland and Akron in the 1950s, shopped at the market weekly. My mother-in-law made the best weiner schnitzel, always with veal pounded thin. It was a tradition to serve it at Christmas with homemade spaetzle and her delicious cucumber salad. West Side Market has Old World food!

From Sharene:
I used to buy my lamb from the West Side Market at a lesser price than the supermarkets. However, it’s been over a year now so I cannot be certain of the prices these days. Good luck!

Dear Sharene, Susan and David:
I will try both Sherman Provision and West Side Market for lamb at reasonable prices. I guess I was hoping to luck into a situation like a few years ago, when a friend and I split a lamb from a farm her friend owned. The lamb was tender and delicate and the price was just about wholesale. That’s a once-in-a-lifetime steal.

August 15, 2018

Dear friends,
If you’re anything like me, you’ve waited all year for tomato season. You gave winter tomatoes the cold shoulder in the depths of January and maybe succumbed to just one or two packages of grape tomatoes in March, immediately ruing the purchase of those red herrings that look like the real thing but taste as if they were grown on Mars.

I get it. I do not eat off-season tomatoes, either. I never have. I remember picking around them in the salad bowl as a child. So when July and August roll around, I am absolutely avid to eat my way through the garden.

As I write this I’m snacking on purple Cherokee cherry tomatoes. Big yellow and pink-streaked tomatoes are lined up on the kitchen counter. The vines out back sag under the weight of the harvest. I love them all, but how will I use them up?

I froze a peck of the large tomatoes whole to use in chili and soups next winter. About four big tomatoes or five medium take the place of a large can of peeled plum tomatoes. The skins slip off in the kettle as the tomatoes thaw and slump, and I remove the skins with tongs.

I have made a couple of salads of halved cherry tomatoes tossed with pesto. I dispatched a few tomatoes in BLTs. Tony has eaten a few sliced, salted and topped with Kewpie mayonnaise. And still they come.

So I dreamed up a new side dish last week to showcase summer tomatoes in all their evanescent glory. It’s a kind of roasted Caprese salad of lightly baked sliced tomatoes in all sizes and colors, arranged on a platter with roasted red onion.

This colorful still life is strewn with baby (or chopped) basil leaves, coarse sea salt and cracked black pepper. Two globes of burrata cheese are nestled among the tomatoes. When the cheeses are cut into, the cream flows.

You may have a hard time finding burrata, a fresh mozzarella cheese shaped into a bubble with cream and bits of mozzarella inside. Although it is on every trendy restaurant’s menu, few supermarkets here carry it yet. I found it at West Point Market in Fairlawn. You could substitute balls of fresh mozzarella cheese if desired.

I served this side dish on a white turkey platter, and it looked stunning. It used up a lot of tomatoes, too.

ROASTED TOMATOES AND RED ONIONS WITH BASIL AND BURRATA CHEESE

Olive oil
1/2 of a large red onion
32 cherry tomatoes, different colors if possible
2 medium-size tomatoes, different colors
Coarse sea salt
Cracked black pepper
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup tiny basil leaves or shredded basil
2 4-oz. globes of burrata cheese

Line two baking sheets with foil. Film the foil with olive oil. Cut onion into 1/4-inch slices and arrange on a sheet. Cut the cherry tomatoes in halves and arrange on sheets, cut sides up. Cut the medium tomatoes in 1/4-inch-thick slices and arrange on sheet. Drizzle everything with olive oil. Roast in a 400-degree oven for about 25 minutes, until the cut sides of the cherry tomatoes just begin to puff and the onions are soft. Cool to room temperature.

While the tomatoes and onion bake, bring cheese to room temperature. When the vegetables are room temperature, arrange on a platter, separating the onion slices into rings. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with vinegar. Scatter basil over all. Place cheeses on the platter and cut into the globes at the table, spilling the cream over the tomatoes. Makes 4 servings.

TIDBITS
GOT MY MOJO GOING:
If only Caribe Bakery were easier to get to from my home in Copley. If only the 40-minute drive didn’t involve a boatload of traffic, potholed streets, several turns, getting lost (once) and a confusing exit off I-71 (the “off ramp” mentioned on MapQuest is a couple of miles long).

Sigh.

Still, when the memory of the hot, annoying drive fades, I’ll probably try to talk Tony or a friend into giving the restaurant another go. It is simply splendid.

The Cuban-Puerto Rican food at Caribe is as good as any I’ve had anywhere. The succulent roast pork is falling apart and dripping with juices. It is dished up in big chunks, with the occasional piece of rind honeycombed to a crisp. Piles of black beans and rice and fried sweet plantains are scooped into pressed-foam containers. They are just two of the many side dishes possible with dinners.

Ah, but those empanadas and Cuban sandwiches. They are impeccable. The deep-fried empanadas feature a world-class crust and a spicy ground beef filling folded into mashed potatoes. The Cubanos are classic hot sandwiches of Cuban bread made on the premises and filled with sliced ham, that incredible roast pork, white cheese, dill pickles and mustard, welded together in a sandwich press. The $16 full sandwich we ordered (small and medium also are available) came in four pieces, each about 7 inches long and individually wrapped. That was four hefty sandwiches, for cripes sakes.

The “bakery” is beyond down home. Customers line up at one corner of a big U-shaped counter, steam tables on two sides and bakery cases on the other. The number of choices is staggering and look drop-dead delicious lined up on the steam tables behind glass. There are reddish stews and skewers and roasts and all manner of pork, chicken and beef preparations sending out tendrils of aroma that mingle above the cases and draw the diners forward.

The menu on the wall is in Spanish. Even if you’re fluent, you may have to ask an English-speaking server for help.

Everything is served cafeteria-style in to-go containers that you can take next door to a spacious room of utilitarian tables and chairs. The utensils are plastic, the napkins are paper and you may have to wipe off a table before you sit down. Who cares?

Caribe Bake Shop is at 2906 Fulton Rd. on the West Side of Cleveland not far from Ohio City. The phone is 216-281-8194. Hours are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. The bakery-restaurant has a bare-bones site on Facebook.

MAKIN’ BACON: We’re deep into BLT season at my house, which no longer is messy since I began cooking bacon in the oven instead of in a frying pan. A brush-up may be in order.

To cook bacon to a lovely, straight, almost grease-free crisp, line a couple of rimmed baking sheets with a double thickness of paper towels. Arrange raw bacon strips close together in a single layer on the sheets. A pound of bacon will cover about 1 1/2 baking sheets. Bake in a preheated, 350-degree oven until the bacon is brown and looks crisp, 30 minutes or so depending on the thickness of the bacon. Don’t worry if the bacon strips are still bendy; they will become crisper as they cool slightly.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Roasted eggplant Parmesan; blackberry frozen yogurt (yuck); cantaloupe and prosciutto, and roast tomato and red onion salad with burrata cheese; grilled sockeye salmon with cucumber-dill sauce, sautéed yellow squash and cherry tomatoes with sea salt; BLTs and corn on the cob; sugar-free blackberry pie; purple Cherokee cherry tomato and pesto salad, roast pork with mojo seasonings, just-dug thin-skin baby potatoes halved and roasted with olive oil and coarse salt; pesto; roast plum confiture; high-protein chocolate ice cream.

What I ate out last week:
Spicy Thai salad (half) with chicken at Panera; a beef empanada, Cuban sandwich, yuca (baked?) with onions, fried sweet plantains and Cuban roast pork at Caribe Bake Shop in Cleveland; nine sweet and savory zucchini dishes, including zucchini relish and chocolate zucchini bread, as a judge at the Zucchini Smackdown at the Seville Farmers Market; sugar-free vanilla yogurt with chopped peanuts at Menchie’s.

THE MAILBAG
From Marty L.:
I loved reading the note from your fan in the U.K. It brought back memories of when we lived in Scotland in the military in 1973. I was surprised that their meat markets had poultry just hanging in the windows, and other meats just sitting out on the counter. The butcher had a beef hind quarter there that he would slice off whatever size piece you ordered. They also had fresh eggs sitting there without refrigeration. The temps in Scotland were never that hot, but the practices never changed for the summer months. We just made a return trip to Scotland this July and I was amused that they still leave the eggs out on the shelf without refrigeration. Why is that safe there and we are so obsessive about refrigerating our eggs in the U.S.?

Dear Marty:
The reason is a strain of bacteria that arose in the early 1980s in U.S. chicken breeding flocks, but has not yet traveled abroad. Salmonella entideritis is capable of infecting eggs in the shell, transmitted directly from the mother hen. Until this new bacteria mutated, unbroken eggs were thought to be incapable of harboring bacteria. That is still the case in Europe and Japan, where I’ve seen cartons of eggs stacked on the floors of supermarkets. So it’s still safe to eat raw eggs and store them at room temperature in Europe and Japan, but chancy here.

August 8, 2018

Dear friends,
It’s peach season, that time of year when I used to feel like Forest Gump with a box of chocolates. With peaches, I never knew what I was getting. They could be candy-sweet and dripping with juice or as dry and tasteless as cotton.

Then I wised up. Here’s how to buy a juicy, sweet peach rather than a dry, flavorless one: Check its provenance. The closer to home the peach was grown, the better the chance it’s a good one. That’s because peaches soften but do not ripen after they are picked. Fruit that has far to travel usually is picked while still firm and unripe, to cut down on bruising on the journey.

There are exceptions. Some California growers are shipping a relatively new hybrid developed there that arrives as sweet and juicy as peaches grown down the street. Many growers aren’t, though, so if my only option is a California peach, I usually buy one to test before committing.

If the peaches in the store are firm but from Georgia, North Carolina or even closer states, I will buy some and soften them on my kitchen counter. I am usually rewarded with juicy, sweet peaches. Of course, the best peaches are the ones from a nearby orchard, but the season is brief here in Ohio and we must make do.

This summer I have eaten my share of South Carolina and Georgia peaches while waiting for Ohio’s crop to ripen, which it is doing right now. I rarely make peach pies because of my promise to stay away from sugar, but this summer I yearned for one so badly that I caved — in a tiny sort of way. Instead of an entire, glorious pie I made muffin-sized peach-caramel upside-down pies.

I melted some sugar in a 4-inch skillet, stirred in cold butter and transferred two teaspoons to each of six muffin-tin cups. I arranged three peach slices over the caramel and topped them with rounds of puff pastry dough cut slightly larger than the holes of the muffin tins.

The pastry puffed and browned in the oven, while the peaches slumped into the caramel. When done, I inverted the baked tarts onto a tray, pounding on the muffin tin to loosen the pastry and caramel.

By the end of the day I had eaten three of them — not a whole pie, but still. Luckily, Tony ate the rest.

CARAMEL-PEACH UPSIDE-DOWN TARTS

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
2 peaches
1/2 cup sugar
1 tbsp. cold butter, in pieces

Butter a muffin tin with six cups. Roll pastry on a lightly floured surface to smooth out creases and enlarge the pastry slightly. With a biscuit cutter or drinking glass slightly larger than the muffin cups, cut out six rounds. Set aside.

Over medium-low heat, melt sugar in a small (preferably 4-inch) skillet or saucepan., stirring often. Do not allow sugar to burn. When the melted sugar is a rich amber color, stir in the cold butter bit by bit. Remove from heat. With a measuring spoon, place 2 teaspoons of the caramel in the bottom of each muffin tin cup.

Peel the peaches and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices Arrange 3 slices over the caramel in each cup. Place a pastry round over each cup, tucking in edges.

Bake at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown. Cool 2 or 4 minutes, then invert the muffin tin onto a tray or cookie sheet, pounding the muffin cups to release the tarts. Transfer to dessert plates with a spatula. If desired, reheat remaining caramel and spoon more over the tarts. Makes 6 servings.

TIDBITS
Question of the month:
Does anyone know where lamb can be bought at a reasonable price? Lamb is my favorite meat, but supermarket prices have soared. I would even consider buying a half or whole lamb from a farm (butchered and wrapped) if the price isn’t too ridiculous (often the case at boutique farms). Thanks for any advice.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Skinny eggplants roasted with sweet soy sauce; pan-grilled strip steak with blue cheese crumbles, French potato salad with garlic and mint; cantaloupe with prosciutto, cherry tomato clafoutis; lettuce-wrap chicken tacos with avocado and cucumber; beef stir fry with zucchini and yellow peppers; caramel peach upside-down tarts.

What I ate in/from restaurants last week:
Curry noodles with chicken and vegetables at House of Hunan; chili dogs with mustard and onion from the Sassy Dog cart at Copley Circle; a beef turnover (fatayer), kibbee with homemade yogurt and mujadara (lentils and caramelized onions) at the Lebanese Festival at Our Lady of the Cedars Maronite Catholic Church in Fairlawn; an appetizer sampler of beef samosa, vegetable pakoras, sliced sausage and chicken skewers, and potato-stuffed naan bread at Jaipur Junction in Hudson (excellent).

THE MAILBAG
From Trudy J.:
My grandmother used to make bean soup. She added summer savory to the pot and a big dollop of sour cream at the end. Delicious!

Dear Trudy:
A friend of Hungarian heritage also adds sour cream to her bean soup. It is indeed delicious.

From Janet B.:
I am looking forward to trying your recipe for green bean and potato soup because we have a lot of beans from our garden. But how many pounds (approximately) is 2 quarts of beans? Thanks very much.

Dear Janet:
One quart of green beans equals about one pound. While looking up the answer in my well-thumbed copy of “The Victory Garden Cookbook” by Marian Morash, I saw that she has a recipe for shell bean and green bean soup with pistou. So I guess I didn’t invent THAT idea, either.

From Pat S.:
I’ve been following your laments about an over-abundance of garden green beans. I have the same dilemma in summer. Here’s a very tasty and healthy recipe originally from Food Network Kitchen. I’ve adapted it by adding ginger and scallions.

SPICY TURKEY AND GREEN BEAN STIR FRY
1 1/2 cups basmati rice
1 1/2 lbs. green beans, trimmed
4 scallions, cut in 2-inch pieces
3 tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 tsp. sugar
1 lb. lean ground turkey
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 small half-sour pickle, finely chopped
2 tsp. Asian chili paste such as sambal oelek
2 tsp,. grated fresh ginger
1 cup low-sodium, fat-free chicken broth
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. dry sherry or rice vinegar
2 tsp. cornstarch

Cook rice according to package directions. Keep warm.

Meanwhile, preheat broiler. Toss beans with 1 1/2 tbsp. of the oil and the sugar on a rimmed baking sheet. Broil 4 minutes. Stir, adding in scallions. Continue to broil for 4 to 5 minutes, until beans are tender and charred.

Heat remaining 1 1/2 tbsp. oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add turkey and cook, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, until browned, about 3 minutes Add garlic, pickle, chili paste and ginger and cook about 3 minutes more.

Whisk chicken broth with soy sauce, sherry and cornstarch in a small bowl. Add the beans and scallions to the skillet with the turkey, stirring 1 minute. Add the soy sauce mixture and cook, stirring until the sauce thickens, about 2 minutes. Serve with the rice. Makes 4 servings.

Dear Pat:
Thanks. This should use up Tony’s remaining crop of green beans.

From Michele B.:
I will definitely try the ham and bean soup with pesto. It looks delicious. My grandmother made a ham and bean soup with “dumplings” — basically dough boiled in the broth. We called it “pot pie.” Someone once told me it was a Pennsylvania Dutch recipe. I’ve only tried it twice. Her recipe gave no amounts and no recipe for the dumplings. I came close the second time. I don’t understand when people won’t share their recipes.

Dear Michele:
I can help with that recipe. My grandmother was Pennsylvania Dutch and made “pot pie” often. I once printed directions in Recipe Roundup in the Beacon Journal. Readers said the soup part was made with chicken or ham hocks, potatoes and onions, but there’s no reason the noodles wouldn’t work in green bean soup.

“POT PIE” NOODLES
4 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
2 tbsp. butter
1 egg
1 1/2 to 2 cups milk

Combine flour, salt and baking powder in a large bowl. Cut in butter. Make a well (depression) in the flour and break the egg into the well. With a fork, stir flour into the egg a little at a time while gradually adding enough milk to make a soft dough.

Dust dough with flour and roll out as thin as possible. With a sharp knife, cut into 1 1/2-inch squares. Drop the dough squares into soup one by one and stir to prevent them from sticking together. Simmer 12 to 15 minutes or until noodles are tender.

August 1, 2018

Dear friends,
The summer soup I made last week was no big deal but it was everything. It was good old green bean and potato soup, but elevated to the sublime.

In the summers of my childhood and probably yours, too, the big soup pot came out when green beans were in season. They were called string beans or snap beans then, and they were the basis of at least one gigantic, cheap meal in mid summer. My mother would toss a ham bone, handfulls of green beans and cubed potatoes into a pot and boil everything until the meagre shreds of ham fell from the bone and the vegetables were soft. Really soft. We ate the soup with buttered bread.

I was reminded of the meal after I asked for ways to use up the boatload of green beans Tony grew. I got a few recipes for bean salads and side dishes, a recommendation to roast the beans (which I do) and two huzzahs for canned dilly beans. But the suggestion that stuck with me was the one for green beans, potatoes and ham. Could I elevate it enough to appeal to more sophisticated tastes?

I started by making a rich stock with a meaty ham bone (I got mine at Honey Baked Ham). I simmered the bone for about three hours, until the broth had lots of flavor. Already I was way ahead of my mother’s soup. Then I cut the beans and potatoes into smaller pieces than Mom did, added salt, and gently simmered them in the stock just until the potatoes were tender — about an hour less than my mother did.

The soup already tasted pretty good, but the capper was a spoonful of pesto stirred into each bowlful. This is how the French amp up the flavor of their Provencal vegetable soup, pistou. The French version of pesto does not include Parmesan cheese, but I like the umami undertone the cheese contributes. The garlic, basil and olive oil in the pesto melt into the soup and infuse every spoonful with bright Mediterranean flavors.

Those who have made green bean and potato soup before won’t need a recipe, although I measured ingredients in order to provide one. If you intend to wing it remember three things:
1. Buy a really meaty ham bone. Mine had plenty of meat on it after I sliced off at least a pound for sandwiches and to add to the soup at the end.
2. Simmer the meaty bone a long time (about 3 hours) to make a rich stock for the soup.
3. Cut the vegetables into fairly uniform 1- to 1 1/2-inch pieces and use enough to provide a good ratio of vegetables to broth — in other words, more vegetables than our moms used.

This is what I call a great way to use up green beans.

SUMMER GREEN BEAN SOUP WITH PESTO

1 very meaty ham bone
1 medium onion, diced
1 1/2 lbs. peeled potatoes, diced in 1- to 1 1/2-inch pieces
2 quarts (about) fresh green beans, washed, trimmed and cut into 1- to 1 1/2-inch pieces
1 tsp. salt
Basil pesto (preferably homemade)

Cut excess meat from ham bone, leaving at least a cup or two on the bone to flavor the broth (just eyeball it). Dice enough of the ham cut from the bone to equal 1 1/2 cups, reserving remaining ham for other uses.

Place meaty ham bone in a 2-gallon soup pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, partially cover and adjust heat until it gently simmers. Simmer for about 3 hours, adding a quart of water midway through if necessary, to keep pot about three-fourths full. Taste broth for richess after three hours and if satisfied, remove ham bone. You should have about 3 quarts of broth (a 2-gallon pot will be not quite half full).

Add potatoes to pot and simmer for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, remove meat from the ham bone. Add beans and salt to the soup. Return ham-bone meat to the pot. Stir in reserved cubed ham. Simmer until the beans are tender and the flavors have blended, about 10 to 15 minutes. Taste and add more salt if necessary.

Ladle soup into bowls. Stir a rounded teaspoon of pesto into each bowlful. Makes about 10 servings.

MORE GREEN BEAN IDEAS
From Nancy B.:
I have had a plethora of green beans in years past. I mean garbage bags of them. I donated them to the Food Bank and/or Good Samaritan Hunger Center.

From Fran S.:
Dilled green beans are easy to put up and last a long time. Occasionally I will use them as appetizers with cream cheese and dried beef. Roll them up and slice. Everyone loves them.

From Chris M.:
I like green beans roasted with halved garlic cloves and lemon slices, or simply with a handful of fresh-grated Parmesan cheese tossed on at the end of roasting. And I still enjoy green beans almandine.

From William B.:
For about a peck of green beans, saute about 2 cups of diced onion in about 1/2 cup olive oil until wilted. Stir in 3 or 4 cloves of finely chopped garlic, about 3 cups chopped fresh super-ripe tomatoes and about 1/2 bunch chopped parsley. Cook until the tomatoes start to soften. Dump in your washed and snapped green beans and stir well. Cover, reduce heat to low and cook until very tender (maybe 1 to 2 hours). Salt and pepper to taste. Great way to use up beans you already cooked and have leftover. Dress beans with a final drizzle of olive oil before serving.

From Kathy:
I make a Caprese-style salad with tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, balsamic vinaigrette, basil and green beans cooked until fork tender. You can eat it warm if you can’t wait but chilled is good, too.

From Joy:
I make Italian green beans with bacon, a fairlly quick recipe I got from “Better Homes & Gardens Farmers Market Cookbook.” Four slices of bacon are crisped in a skillet and most of the drippings are poured off. Butter is added along wth sliced carrots, cut and parboiled green beans and a clove of chopped garlic, and sauteed until the vegetables are al dente. Ground pepper and the reserved bacon, crumbled, are added to serve.

TIDBITS
Two miniature zucchinis have finally sprouted in my garden. Should I split and grill them with a lashing of sweet soy sauce or wait until they get bigger and stuff them?

If you have been luckier than I have, or know where to get an armload of the vegetables, you may want to bring a fabulous zucchini dish or two to the Seville Farm Market on Aug. 11. That’s when this year’s Zucchinni Smackdown will take place.

There’s no need to pre-register. Just take your sweet or savory zucchini dish, along with the recipe, to Maria Stanhope Park in Seville by 10 a.m. that Saturday. Please make it good, because I’ll be sampling the entries this year. Prizes will be awarded in three categories: best savory dish, best sweet dish, and biggest zucchini. Get cooking.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Butter-fried eggs with horseradish; cheeseburger patties on romaine leaves with horseradish pickles and a side of grapes; Genghis Khan (grilled Japanese thin-sliced marinated lamb), boiled corn on the cob, sweet potatoes; hummus with jicama dippers; salade Nicoise with gin and tonics; Caesar salad and shrimp cocktail; green beans, ham and potato soup with pistou; chocolate pudding.

What I ate out last week:
Just-picked corn, a gorgeous salad of home-grown lettuces, nasturtiums and other goodies, sliced cucumbers in a luscious creamy dill dressing and home-grown strawberries (!) at the home of friends, who harvested the vegetables and fruit just before we ate. Perfect.

THE MAILBAG
From V.H.:
I made a muffin microwave recipe in five mugs — three solid black, two mostly white, all of them the same size. I lined up the mugs and added all of the ingredients in each and microwaved them separately. The muffins in the white mugs were 1 1/2 inches taller than the ones in the black mugs. I didn’t realize the color of the mug would make such a difference.

Dear V.H.:
I doubt it was the color. The cups may be the same size but not the same thickness or composition. This was a maddening problem for me when writing my book. I finally used just one type of mug — a 12-ounce Fiesta. Then I discovered I had to account for WHERE in the oven I placed the mug. Center placement does not deliver the same cooking power as off-center placement does. And on and on. The bottom line is that microwaving is an inexact science.

July 25, 2018

Dear friends,
I turned on my oven during that god-awful sweat fest last week (I don’t have central air) and it turned out to be worth it. In my mid-summer hunger for all things corn, I came up with a recipe for tamale pie made with a Cuban picadillo filling and a jalapeno-spiked cornmeal crust that for once was more biscuit than cake.

I can still taste it, and that isn’t just the Tums talking. The casserole was seriously delicious, and walked that fine line between comforting and hip. Picadillo, as you may or may not know, is a spicy version of ground beef hash that’s practically the national dish of Cuba. It is usually served au naturale with black beans and rice. I gave it a twist by blanketing it with a jalapeno-cornmeal crust. The bare bones of the two recipes are from “A Taste of Cuba” by Linette Creen.

I thought about putting some first-of-the-season corn in the crust, but I had already scarfed down the half-dozen ears I bought at Seiberling Farm in Norton. You can add a half cup of kernels if you want. Likewise, you may use fresh or pickled jalapeños or omit them from the crust, but I would recommend buying green olives for the filling if you have none on hand. They add a salty acidity that cuts right through the fattiness of the meat.

This is a modest meal that can be assembled in 15 minutes. In the half-hour or so it took to bake, I repaired to the patio with a gin and tonic. You may substitute a mojito if you want.

JALAPENO TAMALE PIE

Picadillo:
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 packet Sazon Goya or 1 tsp. ground annatto (achiote) or turmeric
1 medium onion, diced
1 bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 1/4 lbs. lean ground beef
1 can (14.5 oz.) whole peeled tomatoes
1/2 cup halved pimiento-stuffed green olives
Salt, pepper to taste

Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add oil and when warm, stir in Sazon Goya, annatto or turmeric. When the oil is hot, add onion, bell pepper and garlic and sauté until onion is limp. Stir in cayenne and cumin.

Increase heat to medium-high. Add ground beef, breaking it up and cooking until it is no longer pink. Chop the canned tomatoes and add them along with the juice. Partially cover pan, reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes. Most of liquid should be gone. If not, simmer uncovered until about a half-cup of liquid remains. Stir in olives and season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and set aside.

Cornmeal crust:
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
2 tbsp. white all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp. milk
1 egg
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. minced fresh or pickled jalapeno

Stir together cornmeal, flour, salt, sugar and baking powder in a medium bowl. In a measuring cup, combine milk, egg and olive oil and beat with a fork. Pour over the cornmeal mixture and stir just until smooth. Stir in the jalapeños.

To assemble, spoon meat mixture into a lightly greased, 2-quart casserole. Spread cornmeal batter evenly over meat. Bake in a preheated, 350-degree oven for 30 to 35 minutes, until the edges begin to brown. Makes 4 servings.

TIDBIT
I didn’t know Jonathan Gold well, but I admired his writing tremendously. It was as intricate and delightful as a Mozart symphony, and made the rest of us look like hacks in comparison.

Gold, the only food critic to win the Pulitzer Prize, died Saturday after a lightning-swift bout of pancreatic cancer. He was just 57.

Gold’s restaurant reviews in the Los Angeles Times, Gourmet magazine and LA Weekly were poetic commentaries on life, class and culture as well as food. I reveled in the way he could turn a phrase or sum up a restaurant or a certain L.A. lifestyle in one or two sentences, like this:

“Most great cooking is about deliciousness. (Chef Jordan) Kahn’s is about the intersection of perception and space.”

and this:
“…Spago’s cooking flickers around the edges of memory and desire while never quite succumbing to them.”

and this:
“Lucques is what you might think of as an aspirational restaurant, a place that sculpts Southern California life into not what it is, but what it should be. Even if you spend an eccentric amount of time at the Santa Monica Farmers Market, your stone fruit salad with ricotta salata is never going to look like Suzanne Goin’s does, partly because you don’t know how to cut the nectarines in precisely the right way, but also because you are never going to persuade the farmer to give you her very best box of nectarines.”

For a treat, search out some of Gold’s reviews and settle in for the symphony.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Cold tomato soup with mojo shrimp; brined, grilled pork chops, grilled corn; open-faced sloppy Joes on buttered, toasted ciabatta buns; avocado and fried egg on toast; tamale pie.

What I ate in/from restaurants last week:
A double cheeseburger with sautéed onions at Whattaburger in Wadsworth; roast pear and blue cheese flatbread, taco lettuce wraps with chicken at the Cheesecake Factory in Legacy Village; gyoza dumplings at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo; a cheeseburger and fries from Swenson’s.

THE MAILBAG
From Gillie Aked, Bridgnorth, UK:
I regularly by XL eggs (local new-laid from farmers market) to make scrambled eggs and omelettes, as it doesn’t matter about size. Also, they make great hard-boiled eggs for salads and egg mayonnaise (hard-cooked in American!). With a little care they can be cooked so that the centres are just slightly runny which is perfect halved on a salad. I also use the whites for meringue and the yolks for mayonnaise, just adjusting the proportions of sugar to egg white and oil to yolk. The only thing I don’t use them for is cake baking where the size really does matter.

I love reading your column — I feel quite nostalgic for the ten years I spent living in Hudson and buying the Beacon Journal every day, devouring the cooking pages so I could “cook American” like my friends. I have Hudson friends coming to stay soon with me in the UK — in the rural county of Shropshire where we still have a weekly cattle auction — and shall take great delight in introducing them to one of our five local butchers where the meat hangs in the window, the hams and cold meats are all home-cooked, and the pies and pasties are baked on the premises. Thank you for keeping my memories going.

Dear Gillie:
Your note is so lyrical I have to share all of it. Now I am nostalgic for rural England, where I spent some of my happiest vacations with my mother. Thanks for writing.

From Debbie:
I do not have the recipe for Jack Horner’s pancakes but I have attached a family favorite that I have been making for 40 years. I add blueberries when they are readily available. The batter also makes great crepes — just thin by adding additional milk and pour into a crepe pan. I may purchase the club soda your reader remembered and try it rather than milk. By the way, I use Rumford Baking Powder, which makes very light pancakes.

LIGHT PANCAKES
1 1/4 cups flour
2 tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1 egg
3 tbsp. oil
1 cup milk (or more)

Blend dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Add egg, oil and 1 cup milk. Mix until smooth. Add more milk if batter is too thick.

Portion batter onto a preheated griddle or skillet brushed with oil. Flip when bubbles begin to appear or bottom appears to be golden brown. Continue cooking until bottom is golden brown. Makes 16 4-inch pancakes.

Dear Debbie:
I’m sorry we can’t find Jack Horner’s recipe, but any pancake is a winner in my book. Thanks.

July 18, 2018

Dear friends,
The tomatoes I planted in May and lovingly tended with hoe and Miracle-Gro are green and getting bigger. I pray for a ripe one before summer ends. A row of eggplants, pollenated by hand with a Q-tip, have grudgingly produced three little blue-black nubs that may or may not flourish. The beets and carrots are anyone’s guess, and the zucchinis so far are non-starters.

Meanwhile, a handful of seeds Tony raked into the soil and ignored are growing wildly, producing green beans by the double handful. Last weekend we harvested more beans than I will use in a month, and we didn’t even finish picking the row.

The garden gods have a sense of humor.

I’m trying to be a good sport about Tony’s cache of green beans, but I’m annoyed every time I open the refrigerator. I thought at first we’d eat them quickly and be done with them, but there are far too many.

So far we’ve dipped them into hummus and had stir-fried green beans in Szechuan sauce as a side dish with steak. I don’t like frozen or canned green beans, so those options are out. Any other ideas? I’m desperate.

Sunday I figured I’d dream up a palatable green bean salad — an antidote to the ubiquitous version with sweet-and-sour dressing — and came up with a dish that should be good for a few quarts. It features just-tender beans shocked bright-green with cold water and glossed with a sesame oil-garlic dressing. The dressing is simple because who wants to be in the kitchen when it’s so hot?

I cribbed the dressing from a New York Times recipe for cucumbers, and it goes very well with the beans. A word about those beans — like Julia Child, I am not a fan of crunchy green beans. While for most recipes they should not be cooked until stewed and limp, neither should they be whisked from the fire before the last bit of rawness alchemizes into sugar. Half-raw green beans are nasty.

While I wait for my garden to grow, I will be eating a lot of this salad and hoping someone sends me some more flavorful, fresh-tasting green bean recipes. Please hurry.

SPICY SESAME GREEN BEANS

1 lb. fresh green beans
1 tsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. sugar
1 1/2 tbsp. rice vinegar
2 tsp. sesame oil
2 tsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. Canola or olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 tsp. toasted sesame seeds for garnish (optional)

Trim and wash beans. Cook in a big pot of boiling water until no raw taste remains, about 5 minutes. Drain in a sieve and refresh under very cold tap water to cool the beans and intensify their color. Drain well.

While the beans cook, combine the remaining ingredients (except sesame seeds) in a small lidded jar. Shake well. Transfer the beans to a 1-gallon zipper-lock plastic bag. Add dressing and turn to coat the beans. Refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight, turning occasionally.

Transfer beans and dressing to a serving bowl. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and toss. Makes 6 servings.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Pan-grilled hot dogs, corn off the cob with butter, sea salt and esplette; pesto; Chinese smashed cucumbers with sesame-garlic dressing, grilled strip steaks with wine and blue cheese sauce, stir-fried green beans, dirty martini; green bean salad with spicy sesame dressing; over-hard eggs, fried tomato, sliced avocado and a peach.

What I ate in/from restaurants last week:
McDonald’s cheeseburger Happy Meal with fries; a beef cheek taco and a taco al pastor at Mexico City Margarita Bar and Grill in Akron’s North Hill; Subway spicy Italian half sub; pulled pork, coleslaw and collard greens at City Barbecue in Fairlawn; a slice of pineapple and ham pizza (Tony’s turn) from Rizzi’s in Copley.

THE MAILBAG
From Beth B.:
You wondered who buys extra-large eggs. Among the buyers are devotees of Ina Garten’s recipes, which is practically everyone I know, because extra-large eggs are all she specifies. It’s kind of a pain in the butt because you end up with more extra-large eggs than you need and have to make room for two cartons in the fridge. So I hard-cook them and eat them for snacks.

Dear Beth:
Thanks to you and Ellen for pointing that out. Mystery solved. But what about those jumbo eggs? Read on.

From Noreen:
My husband likes a jumbo hard-boiled egg with his breakfast. I buy them from a local farmer, and thankfully, it’s one of the few things he can make himself. He makes several at a time.

I have a question about cabbage. What is the correct way to wash it when it will be used for coleslaw?

Dear Noreen:
Although he is gamely trying, your husband is barely making a dent in the world’s jumbo egg production. I will continue searching for answers to the mystery of who buys them and for what.

To clean cabbage for coleslaw or any other use, remove the outer layer of leaves and if the next layer is pristine, wash it under cool, running water and pat dry. If the next layer is not pristine, remove that, too, and then wash. Individual leaf-washing is not necessary because cabbage is so tightly packed that dirt and germs cannot travel far beyond the surface.

From LJR:
Do you have a recipe for a good dipping sauce for fried dumplings?

Dear LJR:
Yes, many of them. I usually just ad lib, but I dug up one I’ve been using for years for one of my favorite appetizers, Vietnamese pork in lettuce leaves. The recipe is so good I’m sharing the whole thing for those who don’t already have it in their files.

VIETNAMESE PORK IN LETTUCE LEAVES
1 lb. ground pork
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 minced green onion, including top
1 tbsp. soy sauce
2 tsp. vegetable oil
1 1/2 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. peeled and minced fresh ginger
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
Pinch of sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
20 Bibb lettuce leaves
Fresh mint leaves

In bowl, combine all ingredients except lettuce and mint leaves. Mix gently but thoroughly with fingertips and form into 20 sausage-shaped logs about
three inches long and one-half inch thick. Chill.

Thread meat on bamboo skewers that have been soaked in water, two pieces of meat per skewer. Grill on a charcoal grill or broil until cooked through.

To serve, slide pork logs off skewers and ask guests to place a pork log and two mint leaves in a Bibb lettuce leaf. Wrap to form a neat packet, and dip
into the sauce. Serves six as an appetizer, four as a main course.

Dipping Sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. water
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. minced fresh ginger
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

Combine all ingredients and serve in small bowls.