December 4, 2019

Dear friends,
I never met a gingerbread I didn’t like. So when a friend mentioned she had just made a gingerbread cake with dark beer and chocolate, I reacted like a deer in the headlights. I was stunned. Beer! Ginger! Chocolate!

I don’t usually eat desserts, so I had to invent an excuse to make Pennie’s gingerbread. It didn’t take a lot of thinking. Any old event would do. I made it last weekend, after smoking my backup Thanksgiving turkey (that was delicious). Then I sent the cake on a hunting trip with Tony to share with his friends, but not before I carved out a piece for myself.

The gingerbread lived up to my mental hype. It is made with not only beer and chocolate but grated fresh ginger, crystalized ginger and molasses. It is very moist and spicy. A dusting of confectioners’ sugar is all the gilding it needs.

The recipe is from a site I’d never heard of but will revisit: germanfoods.org. The site covers all things connected to eating in Germany or like a German — where to buy products, specialties by region, German table manners, food festivals and an astounding variety of recipes, from venison with chocolate and wine jelly sauce to fourteen ways to cook German white asparagus. The site’s owner is the food importer German Foods North America.

So. The Dunkel Gingerbread is baked, tasted and out of my hair. Now on to Lemon Almond Hearts, a traditional German Christmas cookie. Damn you, germanfoods.org.

DUNKEL GINGERBREAD WITH CHOCOLATE CHUNKS

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour plus more for dusting pan
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup dark German beer such as Becks or Warsteiner Premium Dunkel
1 cup molasses
1 tbsp. fresh grated ginger
1 stick (8 tbsp.) unsalted butter, softened, plus additional for coating pan
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
3 oz. dark chocolate, finely chopped
1/3 cup finely chopped crystalized ginger
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter a 10-cup ring or Bundt pan, dust with flour, and shake out excess.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves and salt in a medium bowl and set aside. Whisk together the beer, molasses and fresh ginger in a medium bowl and set aside.

Combine butter, sugar and egg in a large mixer bowl and beat at medium speed with a mixer for 2 minutes, or until mixture is light and fluffy. In 3 additions, alternately beat in flour mixture and beer mixture at low speed until batter is smooth. Stir in chocolate and crystallized ginger. Spoon batter into prepared pan, smoothing top of batter.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes or more (I baked it 45 minutes), until a wooden toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack 10 minutes. Remove cake from pan and cool completely on a wire rack. Dust cake with confectioners’ sugar, if desired.

TIDBITS

The New Royal Icing
I came across this easy glaze for sugar cookies that is as hard and shiny as the egg-white version, but without the egg whites:

2 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2 tbsp. corn syrup or honey
1 to 2 tbsp. milk
Food coloring (optional)

Mix together with a fork. The mixture should be thick but soft enough that it smooths out after you spread it. If the glaze is too thick, add 1/2 teaspoon of milk. Glaze one cookie. If it settles to a smooth surface within 30 seconds, bingo. If not, add a tiny bit more milk. The glaze will set up hard, so add sprinkles, etc. while it is still wet.

The recipe is from the folks at King Arthur Flour. If you bake but haven’t signed up for the company’s newsletter yet, you can correct your error at kingarthurflour.com. Nose around the site and eventually a box will pop up asking you to sign up.

Lights, Camera, Cookies!
Set your DVR to record the Food Network’s “Christmas Cookie Challenge” at 10 p.m. Dec. 16 or 1 a.m. Dec. 17, when a local baker is set to compete. Kent PR agent Bob Burford sets the scene:

“Leslie Srodek-Johnson has been working in her family’s Cleveland-area bakery since she was in the fifth grade. She’s seen and learned a lot over the years, but she was certainly not prepared for a phone call one day from Food Network.”

Leslie, who bakes cookies and other goodies at Stan’s Northfield Bakery with her mom, Kathie, took the call and, despite a giant case of nerves, agreed to compete in the on-air cookie contest. She was up against four other bakers in the taped episode. The challenge was to make the most dazzling cut-out cookies. She can’t divulge the outcome, but said, “I was so nervous I think I lost ten pounds…. It was harder than childbirth with no drugs!”

Thanks, Bob, for letting me know about Leslie’s star turn, and for turning me on to her family’s old-fashioned bakery, which specializes in cakes, breads, kolacky, paczki, kuchens, pierogi and, yes, decorated cookies. The bakery’s website is https://www.stansbakery.com.

THE MAILBAG

Dear readers:
I was flooded with emails about Chef John of You Tube fame after I wrote last week about discovering him. I love his exacting but humorous way of demonstrating recipes, mostly French. I wrote that the guy deserves to be famous. Apparently he already is. To wit:

From Marty:
Chef John has 3.18 MILLION subscribers. What’s amazing is that we don’t have a local Fork Don’t Lie fan club. Ha!

Note from Jane:
Fork Don’t Lie is a site that sells mugs, t-shirts and phone cases emblazoned with Chef John sayings such as “Never Let the Food Win” and “Don’t Cook Scared.”

From Sandy:
Just wanted to let you know that Chef John has a ton of recipes and videos on allrecipes.com. I’ve been using his recipes and watching the videos for years!

From Kristi:
Big Chef John fan right here. I used his recipes long before I listened to a video. Then I liked him even better. Another blog you might like is agardenforthehouse.com. Kevin is a hoot.

From Paula:
I absolutely love Chef John! I discovered him last year when my mom entered hospice a few days before Thanksgiving. I didn’t want to make things even worse for our family by giving up Thanksgiving dinner, too. It was my first time ever, but I set up my laptop in the kitchen and he walked me through the way to the best roast turkey, gravy and mashed potatoes. My friends and family were so impressed and it was so easy! It feels like Chef John is right there in the kitchen letting you know everything is going to be OK.

Dear friends:
Thanks for your emails. I found a photo of chef John Mitzewich on Wikipedia, and he looks exactly as I expected him to — middle-aged, a bit chubby with a mustache and a great smile. He studied at the California Culinary Academy. After I mainline “The Crown” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” I plan to settle in with Chef John.

November 25, 2019

Dear friends,

What are you thankful for this year? We may have to dig deep to find a bright spot on Turkey Day 2019. The world seems to be in ugly mode lately.

I will not contribute to the din. I will simply supply the side dish, bright-green Brussels sprouts sautéed until tender and tumbled in a spicy-sweet glaze. Did I mention there’s bacon?

After I created the recipe, as I was writing this column, I heard Tony mutter, “The best Brussels sprouts I’ve ever eaten.” I looked over at his plate. He had sautéed tofu pillows in the leftover sauce and dumped everything, including the Brussels sprouts, over steamed rice.

So there you have it: Maybe the best Brussels sprouts. Maybe the best tofu stir fry. At any rate, we both wish you the best possible Thanksgiving.

HOT HONEY BRUSSELS SPROUTS

1 1/2 lbs. Brussels sprouts
1/4 cup honey
1 tbsp. hot bean paste ( or sub Sriracha)
1 tbsp. Szechuan chile oil or less if delicate palates are involved
1 tsp. soy sauce
2 tsp. cider vinegar
2 slices thick-cut bacon
1 tbsp. vegetable oil

Trim and wash sprouts. Cut in halves through stem. Set aside.

In a small lidded jar, combine honey, hot bean paste, chile oil, soy sauce and vinegar. Mix well. Set aside.

In a large, heavy skillet (cast iron is ideal), fry bacon until very crisp. Drain on paper towels. Add the vegetable oil to the drippings in the skillet. When hot, add Brussels sprouts, mostly cut sides down. Cover and cook over medium heat for 8 minutes or until cut sides are brown and sprouts are almost tender.

Stir the honey mixture again and add half to the skillet, reserving rest for another batch of sprouts. Crank heat to medium-high and stir fry until Brussels sprouts are tender and glazed with sauce, about 4 to 5 minutes.

Mound glazed sprouts on a serving plate or in a shallow bowl. Crumble bacon and sprinkle over top. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

TIDBITS
After I wrote about aging beef at home last week, my friend, Martha, sent me a video of her “favorite wry cook, Chef John of FoodWishes.com.” He covers dry aging in the You Tube video and concludes it’s not worth it. You can check it out here:

What really blew my mind, though, is that someone besides me has discovered Chef John. I love this guy and his cooking videos. He obviously is an old hand who has seen it all in the kitchen and narrates his recipes in a world-weary voice. His techniques are impeccable but what sets him apart are his monotone asides that poke fun at everything.

Chef John can be found at http://www.foodwishes.com. His home page says he is the most popular chef on You Tube. I don’t know about that, but he should be.

THE MAILBAG
From Noreen S.:
For Thanksgiving dinner, I often will toss in a new recipe along with the standards. Last year I added a Brussels sprouts salad with cranberries. It added a nice contrast. For several years now I have added a corn pudding dish that has become a must-have. It’s comfort food to the extreme. It’s a simple toss-and-mix recipe. To cut down on the salt, I use frozen corn and light sour cream.

CORN PUDDING
1 package (8 1/2 oz.) corn muffin mix
1/2 cup (8 tbsp.) softened butter
2 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup whole milk
1 can (15 oz.) whole kernel corn, drained. (I use about 2 cups of thawed frozen corn)
1 can (14 oz.) creamed corn

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly oil a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.
In a large bowl, combine corn muffin mix, butter, eggs, sour cream and milk. Mix with a wooden spoon until just combined. Gently fold in canned corn and frozen (thawed) corn.

Pour into the baking dish and bake 40 to 50 minutes, until center is set.

Dear Noreen:
Corn pudding is a favorite of mine but, oddly, my family never serves it. Maybe it’s time to change that.

From Maryann B.:
For my hubby, a serious carnivore, all meat must be grilled. And all beef must be rare. A friend astonished him with a near-perfect steak cooked and held at rare temp using sous vide techniques…. and then finished on the grill. Santa will be bringing sous vide to our house soon.

Dear Maryann:
Thanks for weighing in. Your husband’s reaction makes me want to try it now.

November 20, 2019

Dear friends,
My fellow turkey and stuffing lovers, our day of celebration approaches. I am practically quivering at the thought of cornbread and sausage stuffing. Not to mention my niece’s bacon-wrapped roast turkey and my own smoke-infused turkey hot from the grill.

Again this year, Tony will begin a week-long hunting trip the day after Thanksgiving. Again this year, I’ll have almost our entire backup turkey to myself, after spending the feast day in Columbus with family. I can’t wait.

Most of you are seasoned cooks and already know what you will prepare. Over time I have developed a menu of the best turkey, the best stuffing, the best cranberry sauce and the best sweet potatoes I’ve ever tasted. I’ve printed the recipes many times, so I won’t bore you.

But it occurs to me that you probably have your own “best of” Thanksgiving recipes that I know nothing about, and it’s killing me that I may have missed the ultimate whatever. Do you have a fabulous Thanksgiving recipe I’ve missed all these years? Please enlighten me (and quick because the holiday approaches).

Meanwhile, I do have a new Thanksgiving recipe for you. I discovered it in an old (circa 2012) Cooking Light magazine. It’s for a different kind of pie dough (with baking powder!) you make in a food processor. Then you just press the crumbly mixture into the pan. It shouldn’t be so good, but it is.

PULSE AND PRESS PIE CRUST

5.6 oz. all-purpose flour (about 1 cup plus 2 tbsp., but a scale is more accurate)
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tbsp. ice water

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Combine flour, salt, sugar and baking powder in a food processor. Pulse twice or until combined. combine oil and ice water in a measuring cup. With processor running, slowly add liquid through feed tube and process until dough is crumbly.

Coat a 9-inch pie plate with vegetable oil spray. Sprinkle dough into the pie plate and evenly press into the bottom and up sides. Crimp edges or leave as is for a rustic look. Bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes. Remove from oven, add pumpkin filling and continue according to your pumpkin pie recipe.

(Note: Although this recipe calls for briefly pre-baking the crust before adding the filling, I always briefly pre-bake any crust for a filled pie that will be baked further, in order to prevent a soggy bottom crust. For extra assurance, brush the raw crust with beaten egg white before pre-baking.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Scrambled eggs and feta cheese on toast; sausage, white bean and kale soup; Dutch baby pancakes and eggs over easy; rotisserie chicken and Southwestern chopped salad; roast kabocha squash; spaghetti sauce with ground venison; pan-grilled strip steak finished in the oven, sliced carrots sizzled in wine and butter, dark cherries in syrup over ricotta cheese; frizzled ham and fried egg on toast with ketchup.

What I ate out:
Al pastor burrito bowl at Casa del Rio in Fairlawn; tapenade, pate, Caesar salad, cioppino and bananas foster at my friend Joan’s; ham and cheese sub from Subway; salmon roe, tamago, shrimp sashimi, ramen and Asahi beer at Sushi Katsu in Akron; half of a chocolate cupcake with cream cheese icing at my friend, James’s, birthday party; a fried dumpling, shao mai, steamed pork bun, crispy duck in a steamed pancake, a custard tart and tea at dim sum at Li Wah in Cleveland.

THE MAILBAG
From Anne K.:
Have you read Toni Tipton-Martin’s new cookbook, “Jubilee”? I am just finishing it. It is fascinating and wonderful. It is worth starting at the beginning and reading it again.

Dear Anne:
That book is on my short list. I’ll get to it soon. It is already garnering major buzz and I feel another James Beard Award for Toni is in the offing. Toni, a former food editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, won the award for her first book, “The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African-American Cookbooks.” The subtitle of her new book is “Recipes From Two Centuries of African-American Cooking,” which gives you an idea of the content.

Here’s how my friend, Kathleen Purvis, sums up “Jubilee” in the September issue of Garden & Gun magazine: “Lushly photographed and richly researched, Jubilee builds on Jemima Code’s foundation by highlighting more than one hundred recipes that capture the complex roots of African American cooking, from celebrations and parties to everyday family suppers.” For each recipe in the book, Tony runs the original as it was written, and her tested adaptation of it for the modern kitchen.

From Carol Button:
Jane, what’s all this stuff I’m seeing online lately about sous vide? Thanks for your info.

Dear Carol:
Sous vide is cooking food at a low, steady temperature in water. The food is sealed in plastic. You set the temperature and walk away. You can cook food in advance and reheat it to the exact temperature without overcooking, making it a boon for caterers and chefs. I wrote about it many, many years ago but didn’t think it would catch on. I was wrong.

The sous vide cooking process ensures that the food is perfectly cooked — no guessing about medium-rare or al dente. Vitamins and minerals are locked in. The process is more healthful than most other methods of cooking because it requires no added fat. The flavor and texture are said to be enhanced.

If you want to try it (I haven’t), you’ll need some sous vide equipment and the counter space to use it. The equipment varies but at its simplest includes a vacuum sealer and an immersion wand-like gizmo that is positioned in a pan of water and plugged in. The immersion gizmos are not inexpensive — generally $100 to $200. Or you could go all out and buy a sous vide “water oven” for $350 to $500.

I’m curious whether anyone reading this has used sous vide. Do you like it? Is it worth the hassle?

From Joyce D.:
The Farmer’s Rail on Cleveland-Massillon Road in Bath sells a variety of dry-aged meats. They also have a dry-aged compartment that displays their meats.

Dear Joyce:
Thanks for the info. By the way, I updated my knowledge of at-home dry aging by reading articles on the subject by the incomparable Kenji Lopez-Alt of Serious Eats. He rigorously tested various cuts and methods and points out that you cannot successfully age individual steaks (you need large primal cuts for aging), and just flopping the meat on a rack in the fridge for five days, as I did, will do absolutely nothing for the meat. Aging for 20 days or more is necessary for changes in texture and flavor.

That said, if you are willing to free up fridge space for a whole prime rib for three weeks, you can age it on a wire rack, unwrapped and open to air circulation top and bottom. The addition of a little fan will help but is not essential, he says. Keeping the fridge temp at 40 degrees is necessary. He uses a mini fridge but says your regular home fridge will work. After aging, cut away the outer crusty and/or moldy stuff before cooking and eating the meat.

November 13, 2019

Dear friends,

The November sumo tournament in Kyushu, Japan started Sunday. We needed a Japanese meal to savor while watching Hakuho and Takakeisho stomp around the dohyo (clay ring). So I made sukiyaki.

If I lived in Japan, I would say I’ve gone native. Here in Ohio, I can only plead proximity to a man who is Japanese. But frankly, my husband often seems more American than I am, while I am trending Asian.

I fell hard for sumo, of all things, after watching it once for laughs on NHK, the Japanese channel we subscribe to on DirecTV. Fat men in diapers rolling around a ring? Hahahaha.

No. That’s not sumo at all. The rikishi (wrestlers) are incredibly toned and athletic although, yes, large. The sport has intricate rules and rituals that date back in legend for 2,000 years, and the costumes of the referees, judges and support staff, unchanged by time, are stunning. The matches are brief and exciting. The rivalries are intense.

The top-tier fighters are treated like rock stars in Japan, yet live a life of sacrifice set apart from society. They must wear kimonos in public. They are forbidden to drive cars. They can’t even marry or live outside their “stables” until attaining a certain rank. Dip into their world at http://www.japanistry.com. Then dip into some sukiyaki while watching highlights of a match or two at https://www3.nhk.or.jp › nhkworld › sumo.

Sukiyaki, a meal almost as ancient as sumo, is similar to the chankonabe stew that rikishi eat to gain weight. It, too, is a hot pot but is seasoned differently and is made with beef, not chicken or pork. Also, I don’t recommend you take an hours-long nap after eating it, as rikishi do to gain weight.

Sumo or no, sukiyaki is a great dish for a cold evening. The hearty “broth” is rich and slightly sweet. It brims with cellophane noodles (or shiratake if you want to be dead authentic), mushrooms, thin-sliced beef and other items depending on your pantry and location in Japan. I added shopped Napa cabbage, wilted spinach and chunks of daikon radish, simmered until soft and almost translucent.

You can sub thin-sliced carrot for the radish and shiitake mushrooms for the white mushrooms I used, and water for the dashi I made with instant granules. Add cubes of tofu if you’d like. But do keep the slippery noodles and beef, and buy some mirin (sweet Japanese cooking wine) for this dish if you have none in your cupboard.

Latin and Asian groceries and some mainstream supermarkets sell packages of paper-thin sliced raw beef. I didn’t have any on hand so I partially froze a top sirloin steak and shaved it in shallow, oblique cuts with a sharp knife. My live-in sushi chef helped.

This recipe isn’t authentic — the raw egg for dipping is omitted, for example. But it is delicious and easy to make in an American kitchen.

SUKIYAKI

Broth:
2 cups water or dashi
3/4 cup soy sauce
3/4 cup mirin
1 tbsp. sugar or to taste

Hot pot:
4 oz. cellophane noodles (2 small nests)
4 slices daikon radish, 1/2-inch thick (optional)
Vegetable oil
8 oz. sliced mushrooms (shiitake or white)
10 green onions, trimmed and cut in 2-inch lengths
16 to 20 oz. beef in paper-thin slices (I used sirloin)
4 oz. (1/2 head) napa cabbage, very roughly chopped
4 oz. fresh spinach

Combine sauce ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and set aside.

Submerge noodles in a saucepan of boiling water. Cover, remove from heat and let stand until softened and tender, about 15 minutes. Drain in a sieve and set aside.

Place radish in a saucepan, cover with water and simmer, covered, until fork-tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and set aside. Or substitute thick diagonal slices of carrot, simmered until al dente.

Heat 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil in a wide soup pot (the Japanese use a shallow cast-iron pot). When very hot, add mushrooms and stir fry until almost done. Add about 1/4 cup of the sukiyaki broth, stirring until the boiling broth evaporates. With a slotted spoon, transfer mushrooms to a platter.

Add more oil to soup pot and when hot, stir fry green onions until fairly tender. Transfer to the platter.

Add more oil to soup pot and when hot, add beef (in batches if necessary) and stir-fry until no longer pink. Add 1/4 cup of the sukiyaki broth and boil and stir for 1 minute (the juice from the meat will prevent the broth from evaporating). Transfer to the platter.

Turn heat to high and add the cabbage. Cover and cook until cabbage partially wilts. Add the noodles, spinach, beef and remaining vegetables. Pour in all of the sukiyaki broth. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Portion into bowls, dredging noodles from the bottom and topping with meat, vegetables and broth. Makes 4 servings.

TIDBITS

Tony and I have waited several years for the second season of one of our favorite Netflix series. Now it is here, and we invite you to join us in enjoying “Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories.”

The series has become a cult favorite among American food lovers in the last year or two. Tony and I discovered the original Japanese series before it was marketed to American audiences. We stumbled across it while searching for Japanese programs on Netflix.

The show is a gentle comedy-drama about the odd characters who dine at a small Tokyo restaurant that opens at midnight and closes at dawn. Just one item is on the menu, pork miso soup, but the owner-waiter-chef behind the bar who anchors the restaurant will prepare anything that is requested.

While the diners reveal their stories, they eat various simple but luscious-looking dishes. We watch the chef prepare tan-men, a vegetable-forward ramen or egg tofu, a custard-like block of steamed eggs and dashi (it contains no tofu) that quivers atop a mound of rice. Each episode is named after the requested dish, but is about the people as much as the food.

If you are hungry after watching the episodes (and you will be), check out justonecookbook.com, where a San Francisco blogger has reproduced the recipes from the first season.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Frozen cauliflower-crust pizza from Aldi (my first; not awful); sheet pan Buffalo chicken tenders, Southwestern chopped salad; whipped cream cheese, apricot jam and sliced ripe pear on toast; baked brie with apricot preserves, sugar-free cranberry sauce, shepherd’s pie with mushrooms and fava beans, sugar-free pumpkin pie, sugar-free pumpkin custard; egg sandwich on toast with horseradish and ketchup; sukiyaki.

What I ate out last week:
Low-cal plate (hamburger patty, cottage cheese, applesauce and a hard-cooked egg) at Village Gardens in Cuyahoga Falls; popcorn, no butter at Cinemark; pineapple-ham pizza from Rizzi’s in Copley; spit-grilled leg of lamb, beef tenderloin with Béarnaise sauce, pulled pork, jalapeno corn muffin, spinach-ricotta ravioli with chicken sausage, Knock You Naked cookies and on and on at the Men Who Cook fundraiser at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Akron.

THE MAILBAG

From Molly M.:
Regarding your reader’s request for dry-aged steaks, Heinen’s and Whole Foods carry a few choices such as ribeye and strip.

Dear Molly:
Nancy S. also pointed out that dry-aged steaks are available at Heinen’s. Thank you both for the info.

From D.S.:
We have eaten at Don Quijote three times in the last month. The garlic soup was heaven, but your recipe does’t have any cheese. There were long strands of melty cheese in my soup. Next time try the Gallego, a rich soup with pork loin, white beans, potatoes, bacon and Spanish chorizo. I even got a bowl to go for my 90-year-old mother, who doesn’t get out much anymore. She thought it was delicious and asked for more anytime we went back. I also tried the Torta Espanola. A potato lover’s dream. They even have a (gasp!) hamburger on the menu, for I am sad to report some of my family aren’t adventurous.

Dear D.S.:
I did notice the wisps of melted cheese (not much) in Don Quijote’s version of the soup. They added to the deliciousness. I went with chef Jose Andres’ recipe, though, and didn’t feel comfortable tampering with it. I can’t wait to go back to Don Quijote and try the gallego soup.

November 6, 2019

Dear friends,

Yes, soup again. This one is a goodie. About halfway through a bowl of garlic soup at Don Quijote Spanish Restaurant near Belden Village Mall in Jackson Township, I told Tony, “When we get home, I’m going to make this.”

How have I not eaten this delicious soup before? I have visited Spain. I have eaten in numerous Spanish restaurants in the U.S. Over the years, at least a half-dozen Spanish cookbooks have crossed my desk.

I know how. In the 1980s, I once was a guest at an all-white-food dinner. I don’t think the the monochrome menu was an intentional theme, it just happened. It was as dreary as it sounds. The first course was garlic soup. It was chalk-white and studded with grapes. The texture was gritty from ground almonds. It wasn’t bad, but nothing I’d go out of my way to repeat. So I didn’t.

The reason I ordered the soup at Don Quijote was the picture on the menu, which showed a broth that was not white but deep gold with chunks of something bobbing in it. It turns out those chunks were bread. The burnished golden color was a mix of lightly browned slivered garlic, chicken broth and paprika — too little paprika to turn the soup red but enough to deepen the gold.

That handful of ingredients, simple but perfectly in sync, captured my heart. So did the restaurant, which has the kind of menu — if you ignore the Tex-Mex stuff — I haven’t seen since Madrid.

It’s obvious the tacos and such are a sop for folks who wander in off the street expecting margaritas and sombreros. The meat of the menu is the Spanish tapas, entrees and desserts, from paella (the best I’ve had in a restaurant) to the classic Spanish omelet, a garlicky sliced-potato cake that has nothing to do with eggs.

In addition to the soup, I had a by-the-book Spanish tapas of garlic-infused, sieved tomato with olive oil on crusty bread topped with paper-thin folds of serrano ham. Four of them filled a dinner plate. A couple of those and the soup were a meal.

The restaurant is a sister to one in Miami, Fla. We are lucky to have it here. It is a lovely upscale restaurant with moderate prices. I went even more upscale to recreate the soup. Jose Andres, one of the leading Spanish chefs (and Nobel Peace Prize nominee for his charity work feeding disaster victims), includes a recipe for the iconic soup in his book with co-author Richard Wolffe, “Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America.” His soup looks and tastes almost identical to the one I had at Don Quijote. Because the ingredients are few, they should be of high quality. I recommend using homemade chicken stock.

CASTILIAN GARLIC SOUP

3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
2 tbsp. white wine
1/2 tbsp. Spanish sweet paprika
3 oz. rustic white bread, crust removed, torn into small pieces
1 quart chicken stock
2 large eggs, beaten
Salt to taste
1 tbsp. chopped flat leaf parsley

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté until golden brown, about 1 minute. Add the wine and cook until the alcohol evaporates, about 30 seconds. Then add the paprika and sauté for 1 minute.

Add the bread and pour in the chicken stock. Stir together and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 8 minutes.

Add the eggs and stir with a spatula to fold them into the soup. The eggs will form long strands, almost like noodles. Simmer for 2 more minutes and add salt to taste. Sprinkle with the parsley and serve. Makes 4 servings.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Spicy skillet beans and ground turkey; banana pancakes; chicken stock; chicken soup; no-knead bread (twice); atsu age (breaded and pan-fried firm tofu) with soy sauce and sesame oil, grilled shishito peppers, pickled daikon radish and steamed rice; Spanish garlic soup; chicken salad; bagged Southwestern chopped salad with roast chicken; roast tomahawk beef rib steak with horseradish sauce and pan-seared brussels sprouts; chili.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Scrambled eggs, grilled pork chop and grits at Cracker Barrel; blue cheeseburger and fries at Ray’s in Fairlawn; a Jane roll, edamame, salmon roe and a gyoza dumpling from Sushi Katsu in Akron; half of a hot pork sandwich and mashed potatoes, no gravy at the Amish Door in Wilmot.

THE MAILBAG

From Carol S.:
We went to Hyde Park Grill and ordered dry-aged steaks. They were so much better than the steaks we typically buy at the supermarket. Do you know of any butchers or high-end stores that carry dry-aged beef in our area?

Dear Carol:
Funny you should ask. I pseudo-aged a tomahawk rib steak in my refrigerator for five days last week. Although I’ve seen complicated instructions for home-aging meat, Tony and I just plunked the bare-naked steak on a rack on the bottom refrigerator shelf and left it like that. It tasted pretty wonderful. I don’t have the nerve to age meat longer without researching the correct technique (which I knew once but have forgotten), but you might try this no-work short-term aging.

If you want the real thing, you have options. Giant Eagle Marketplace stores in Green and Cuyahoga Falls sell dry-aged beef. You can check out various cuts at different stages of aging in a case in the meal department.

Or you can opt for my preference, dry-aged beef from Kirbie’s Meats & Catering in Stow. I called to make sure Kris Burns and his crew are still aging beef at their shop, and the answer is yes. You should call in advance if there’s a particular cut you would like. Calling is good idea anyway at this time of year, when the aged beef is in demand for holiday celebrations.

Call 330-688-4333 or, better yet, reserve a cut in person between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. any Saturday in November, when a large selection of house-made holiday foods will be offered at Kirbie’s annual tastings.

While Kirbie’s isn’t West Point Market, it’s as close as you’ll find in the Akron area. It is much more than a butcher shop. You’ll be surprised at how much luxe food the store stocks.

October 30, 2019

Dear friends,
As soon as the temperature dipped, I got out my soup pot and ladle and haven’t looked back. I have missed soup. I tried to soothe the itch with cold soups last summer, but it wasn’t the same.

So, soup last week and soup this week and probably soup next week, too. If it’s any consolation, know that I won’t try to foist blah soup recipes on you. Remember the cauliflower-coconut soup last week? If you didn’t make it yet, please try it this week. After stirring up a pot, my friend Michele wrote, “Wow!! Yummy!! I think you may have a future in this foodie/cooking world.”

This week’s soup is from my book, “Jane Snow Cooks.” I had never made it for Tony. Maybe you have overlooked it, too. You shouldn’t. Goulaschsuppe is what all vegetable-beef soups aspire to be: rich, chunky and bone-warming enough to see you through an afternoon of skiing in the Alps, which is where and how I first encountered it.

My recipe requires a lot of precise chopping, but the reward is great. The small cubes of meat, potatoes and carrots, ideally all the same size, are the key to the texture. What puts the soup over the top, in my opinion, is the pinch of caraway seeds.

GOULASCHSUPPE

2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. oil
2 lbs. lean chuck, round or brisket, trimmed of fat and cut in 3/4-inch cubes
Salt, pepper
2 medium onions, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp. sweet Hungarian paprika
1 can (16 oz.) whole plum tomatoes, drained and chopped fine
1/4 tsp. caraway seeds
1 bay leaf
2 cans (14.5 oz. each) beef broth
1 cup water
2 medium potatoes, in 1/2-inch dice
2 carrots, in 1/2-inch dice

Heat butter and oil over high heat in a heavy soup kettle. Season the beef with salt and pepper. In batches, brown the beef cubes in the hot fat; remove with a slotted spoon and reserve.

Reduce heat to low. In same kettle, cook onions, green pepper and garlic for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add paprika and cook and stir for 2 minutes.

Return beef and any collected juices to kettle. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 45 minutes, until beef and vegetables are tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Makes 6 servings.

TIDBITS
Mark your calendars for one of my favorite local food events, Men Who Cook, on Nov. 9 at the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Akron. At the event, 18 men will prepare their favorite recipes to impress, and I’ll be one of the judges they’re trying to impress.

The last time I judged, some but not all of the the dishes were Greek, including a marinated whole leg of lamb. The food is plentiful and tickets are a modest $35, which includes the tasting dinner, an open bar and a really impressive live auction of donated goods and services.

The event is a fund-raiser for the church’s Philoptochos Society, which this year is earmarking proceeds for the renovation of the Valor Home Summit, a residence for homeless veterans.

For tickets, phone Shannon at 330-338-6851.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Ground venison and cabbage soup with tomatoes and paprika; sheet pan roast chicken breast strips, Delicata squash, green onion, zucchini and bell pepper with a hoisin and Szechuan sauce glaze; skillet dinner of spicy ground turkey and beans.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Half of a ham sub from Subway; wonton soup and ginger chicken from Chin’s Place in Akron; lentil soup, salad, fried liver and baked potato at Alexandris Restaurant in Wadsworth; barbacoa keto bowl from Chipotle; gyro and a Diet Coke at Fisher’s Cafe in Peninsula; serrano ham and garlicky tomato puree with olive oil on crusty bread, and a heavenly Spanish garlic soup at Don Quijote in Jackson Township (delicious; worth the trip).

THE MAILBAG

FROM D.E.:
I love cheese soup. The Cheddar-broccoli soup at Fred’s Diner in Akron is my favorite. Unfortunately, it’s available on Friday only. I’ve tried making my own and hated it. What a waste of ingredients. Why did I toss it? Chicken broth.

It makes no sense to me to add chicken broth to something you don’t want to taste like chicken…and I could definitely taste the chicken. I really don’t like chicken broth.

Eventually I just used water. Am I missing something important by doing that?

Dear D.E.:
If the soup tasted good to you made with water, then go for it. If you felt it wasn’t quite flavorful enough, sauté some chopped onion and garlic in oil before adding the water. An alternative would be to use vegetable broth, which has more flavor (but not chicken flavor!) than water.

From Cynthia H.:
First, thank you for sustaining me through multiple moves to different states the past couple of years. Now we are back in Cleveland. Your recipes are always entertaining and seasonal and a good challenge I like to take up.

We visited relatives in Cincinnati last weekend and it broke my heart that I couldn’t bring goetta back for you. We had some at Toast & Berry in Montgomery. It was excellent, and they used a pinhead oat variety that was perfect. To make up for my inability to bring you some, I’m sending a recipe from Mary Anna DuSablon’s “Cincinnati Recipe Treasury of 1983.”

STOVETOP GOETTA
3 quarts water
1 lb. ground beef
1 lb. ground pork
2 cups pinhead oatmeal
1 medium onion, chopped fine
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper

Using your heaviest pan, place the ground meat in the water, breaking up lumps while bringing the water to a boil. Add remaining ingredients. Cook for one hour. Stir frequently; don’t let it stick. The goetta will be very thick when done. (Note: Some people declare the goetta done if a wooden spoon stands upright when stuck in the center of the pan.)

Pour into loaf pans. Refrigerate. Slice and fry to a golden brown. Serve it with applesauce on top or with eggs at breakfast.

Dear Cynthia:
Thanks for thinking of me during your goetta foray. The recipe you sent reads like a message from another era. I like the hint on determining when the mixture is thick enough. When I tire of corn meal mush (that may take awhile), I might try it.

October 23, 2019

Dear friends,
My new favorite soup isn’t the prettiest on the block. It looks kind of like the gray skies of an Ohio winter. But wait until you taste it. The flavor is technicolor and the calories are low. This week, dip into a bowlful of roasted cauliflower-coconut soup with a chile-peanut crumble.

I don’t know exactly how I dreamed this one up. I was looking for a new way to use cauliflower, that protean vegetable that subs for everything from rice to pizza crust these days. With the nippy weather I was in the mood for a soup, but not just plain cauliflower soup. Since I could imprint any flavor on the bland vegetable, I mused, why not go big?

The cauliflower itself provides the creaminess. It is simmered in chicken broth and coconut milk and then pureed until smooth and thick. Roasting the cauliflower first gives it a slightly smoky flavor.

To add depth to the soup, I sautéed some onions and garlic before stirring in the liquid. I also added a spoonful of Thai green curry paste, although you can leave it out if you don’t have any in the fridge. I like the faintly exotic flavor and burst of heat it provides.

The soup is low in calories at about 95 per cup, but tastes rich because of the coconut milk and pureed cauliflower. A squirt or two of lime juice added before serving balances the richness.

I like the contrast between the smooth soup and the crunch of peanuts in my peanut crumble topping. The topping is essentially a spicy peanut brittle, made in minutes in a small saucepan by melting a bit of sugar and stirring in coarse-chopped peanuts and a smidgeon of chile pepper flakes. You can omit it if it seems like too much work.

Tony and I had the soup with pan-seared shrimp seasoned with a sploosh Criollo mojo marinade. I add the bottled marinade to the hot skillet just before the shrimp are done. It boils away, leaving the shrimp coated with flavor.

I know: Thai-flavored soup and Cuban-flavored shrimp. The combo sounds strange but they went well together. If I’m being honest here, Tony decided they went so well together they should be wedded in a single dish. He mounded rice in a bowl, piled the shrimp on top and ladled on the cauliflower soup as a kind of sauce.

You could try that if you want a more substantial meal. I preferred my lean dinner of pan-grilled shrimp and a cup of soup that tastes absolutely decadent yet, with light coconut milk, has just 95 calories per cup.

ROASTED CAULIFLOWER-COCONUT SOUP WITH PEANUT-CHILE CRUMBLE

For the crumble:
2 tbsp. sugar
1/3 cup rough-chopped salted peanuts
1 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

For the soup:
1 large head cauliflower
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 cup diced onion
2 fat cloves garlic
1 tbsp. chopped ginger
1 tsp. Thai green chile paste
1 tsp. salt
1 can (15 oz.) light or regular coconut milk
1 box (32 oz.) chicken broth
Juice of 1/2 lime

For the crumble:
Melt sugar in a very small saucepan over medium-low heat. Before the melted sugar browns, rapidly stir in the peanuts and pepper flakes. Immediately pat onto a buttered plate. When cool, chop with a sharp knife. Makes about 1/3 cup.

For the soup:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Separate cauliflower into florets, wash and pat dry. Spread on a lightly oiled, foil-lined baking sheet. Spray florets with olive oil spray. Roast at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes, until tender and the edges begin to brown.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a soup pot. Sauté onion, garlic and ginger over medium-low heat until softened but not browned. Stir in chile paste and salt. Add coconut milk and stir until chile paste has dissolved. Increase heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes to infuse the coconut milk with flavor. Stir in 2 cups of the chicken broth and the cauliflower, broken into small pieces. Cover and simmer over low heat until the cauliflower is very soft, about 30 minutes.

Puree soup in a food processor or powerful blender (in batches if necessary) until very smooth. Return to pan. Stir in the remaining 2 cups of broth. Cover and simmer 15 minutes longer. Remove from heat and stir in lime juice.

Ladle soup into bowls and top each portion with some of the peanut crumble. Makes 7 to 8 one-cup servings, depending on the size of the head of cauliflower.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Goulaschsuppe (Austrian vegetable-beef soup); chicken salad; chocolate pudding; ginger-glazed roast salmon, roast vegetables; roasted cauliflower-coconut soup; tomato and egg on whole-wheat toast.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
T-bone steak, tossed salad and steamed vegetables at the Brown Derby in Medina Township; keto steak bowl from Chipotle; grilled chicken sandwich and coleslaw at Ohio Brewing Co. in Cuyahoga Falls; marinated, grilled kefteh, beef and chicken, basmati rice, kibbee, tabbouli, baba ganoush, hummus and pita bread from Mediterranean Market & Grill in Cuyahoga Falls; a smoked brisket sandwich and Diet Pepsi at Christmas in the Woods Festival at Shaker Woods in Columbiana; half of a ham and cheese sub from Subway.

THE MAILBAG
From Sue D.:
I ordered goetta several times on my business trips to Cincinnati. Although there was oatmeal in it, it tasted mostly like fried sausage. Perhaps it’s an acquired taste, but I don’t think I’d go out of my way for it again. I’d just order oatmeal, which I love!

Dear Sue:
Hmmm. I was hoping for something more distinctive. I’m guessing the early German settlers used the oatmeal to extend the more expensive meat.

October 16, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MONGOLIAN BARBECUED BEEF RIBS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have you found anything great in stores this month?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 9, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

P.S.:
The tart was pretty good.

CARAMEL-APPLE TART

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

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

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

Make each component before assembling and baking the tart.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 2, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SAUSAGE & APPLE CORN MEAL MUSH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE MAILBAG
Nada. You apparently were busy.