December 13, 2017

Dear friends,

I know you are busy so I’ll get right to it. This week’s recipe is a party snack you can assemble in 15 minutes while fighting a sinus headache, making soup and cleaning the house. I know because I did it Saturday when my sister phoned to say she was dropping by with her husband for a visit.

Dee and her family live in Burton so I don’t get to see them every day. In fact I hadn’t seen them since August, so I was excited. Luckily, I didn’t have to clean and cook too much. On a company-cleaning scale of “deal with it” to “you could eat off the floors,” my sister’s visits are a comfortable three — “vacuum and remove major chunks of debris.”

I did want to treat Rob and Dee to a yummy snack, though, so I thawed a sheet of puff pastry and began chopping olives I had bought earlier that week. I put the olives in a dish on the counter along with finely crumbled feta, grated lemon zest and a tiny bit of minced rosemary from the potted bush I’m trying to keep alive in the mud room.

After rolling the puff pastry sheet into a larger rectangle, I evenly sprinkled each ingredient over it, folded it as for a palmier, and cut the resulting log into slices. The slices baked up golden brown, and deliciously fragrant with the pungent ingredients.

A palmier is a French sweet pastry that is said to resemble pigs’ ears or elephant ears. I simply switched the sugar filling for savory ingredients that would make it party-worthy. Or sister-worthy, in my case. Frozen puff pastry, sold in most supermarkets, makes the palmiers an elegant last-minute treat.

 

OLIVE AND FETA PALMIER
Olive and Feta Palmiers

• 1 sheet frozen puff pastry
• Flour
• 3/4 cup chopped kalamata olives
• 4 oz. (about 3/4 cup) finely crumbled feta cheese
• 1/2 tsp. finely minced fresh rosemary
• Grated zest of 1 lemon
• 1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp. water

Thaw pastry according to package directions. Sprinkle some flour on a work surface and unfold pastry onto the flour. Roll to a 11-by-14-inch rectangle. Sprinkle evenly with the olives, then the feta, rosemary and lemon zest.

Fold one long edge toward the middle. Fold the other long edge toward the middle. Then fold each toward the middle again, pressing down. Fold one long log on top of other and press with hands to form a cylinder. Basically, each side is folded in on itself twice, then the two sides are folded together to form a log.

With a sharp knife, cut pastry log into 1/2-inch slices. Place the slices flat on the floured work surface and with your palm, flatten each to about 1/4-inch thick. Arrange on parchment-lined baking sheets. Brush tops with egg mixture. Bake at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes, or until pastries are crisp and golden. Cool. Store loosely covered at room temperature. Makes about 20.

 

TIDBIT

With a bit more sauce, KFC’s new Nashville Hot Chicken might be worthy of the name. Might. It’s hard to tell from the skimpy dribbles of red sauce Tony and I got with our order last week.

What I tasted I liked. My chicken wasn’t pressed, as it is in Tennessee, but it did come with a dill pickle chip. Coleslaw and a biscuit rather than the typical white bread was served alongside. The heat was just a mild sting that built in my mouth but not Tony’s. He couldn’t detect the heat. Real Nashville chicken, even the milder choices, is so hot I have to eat a meal in two or three sittings, pausing to let my mouth recover.

While no one is likely to mistake the Colonel’s Hot Chicken for the real thing, it may help you endure until your next authentic Nashville Chicken fix. The chicken comes as extra-crispy legs and thighs, extra-crispy tenders or as a patty in a sandwich

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:

Skillet meat loaf, roasted Brussels sprouts and potatoes; scrambled eggs with ham, bell pepper and onions; roast chicken, quinoa and farro salad with roasted butternut squash, pomegranate arils and Moroccan-spiced vinaigrette; palmiers with feta, kalamata olives, lemon and rosemary; ham and lentil soup.

What I ate in restaurants last week:
Grilled chicken Caesar salad at Rockne’s; Nashville hot chicken, a biscuit and slaw at KFC in Wadsworth; chicken breast with mushroom sauce, green beans, roast potato chunks at Tangier; pepperoni, sausage and onion pizza (the Cleveland) at Pizza Fire in Montrose; a dry, rubbery mozzarella and basil omelet with about a tablespoon of filling, and chopped fruit, fried potatoes and tea at Burntwood Tavern in Montrose.

 

THE MAILBAG

From Jenny K.:
In response to your discussion of dry-brining a turkey, for the last few years I have dry brined. About three to four days ahead, I have the butcher prepare a turkey for spatchcocking (take out the backbone and break the breast bone to flatten the bird).  I then rub it with the dry brine, cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate. For the last eight to twelve hours I uncover it and leave it in the fridge for the skin to dry out so that it will have crispy skin once it is cooked.

I have tried every which way to cook a turkey and this is by far the best. Spatchcocking assures me that the turkey cooks more evenly, without the breast getting done before the rest of the bird. Dry brining is so much easier than wet brining! The result is just as moist if not more so. The texture of the meat is much better, also.

Dear Jenny:
I haven’t tried it but I am already a convert. Thanks.

From Carol B.:
Jane, I thought you might enjoy this:
Haute Dots of Sauce

Dear Carol:
The debate over minimalist restaurant plating techniques continues to rage, and this NPR essay makes an excellent argument. Writer Nina Martyris calls the dots and smears of sauce decorating tiny portions of food “Pollock on a plate,” and to me, sums up the objections succinctly: “The precision blobs and artful smears look exquisite on Pinterest and Instagram, but they certainly don’t allow you to satisfyingly dunk your crust of bread in them.”

Exactly.

I, too, have struggled to drag a bite through enough dots to impart a hint of what the sauce tastes like.  Even when the sauce is pungent, there’s often too little of it to tell. Is that grapefruit I taste? Mint and thyme? I want more sauce, dammit.

 

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December 6, 2017

I screwed up. I was going to bring you a recipe for a delicious country pate that could be made in a hurry in the microwave, but things went horribly wrong. Bottom line: The pate didn’t cook properly and didn’t taste very good, either.

So instead of a new, party-ready recipe, I will repeat two of the grandest pate recipes I have ever tasted — a much-tested and loved rustic country pate recipe from “The New York Times Cookbook” by Craig Claiborne, and an equally loved recipe for chicken liver pate with bacon and walnuts from a small calendar put together in the 1980s by the Silver Palate folks.

In my opinion, unless there’s raw goose or duck foie gras on hand, these are the only two pate recipes you will ever need. Both are unctuously rich and scented with Cognac.

The country pate is the kind that is sliced and served on a plate with cornichons and baguette. It takes a while to make. The chicken liver pate is the kind that is served in a crock or a bowl and spread on crackers or slices of baguette. It requires less time to make.

Both pates remind me of Christmases past and gatherings with old friends and Champagne. Proust has his madeleines. I have my pate. Try one of these incredible recipes and make some memories of your own.

MOUSSE PATE WITH BACON AND WALNUTS

• 6 slices bacon, diced
• 1lb. chicken livers (often sold frozen in supermarkets)
• 1/2 cup brandy
• 3/4 cup whipping cream
• 1 medium onion, chopped
• 1/4 cup mayonnaise
• 1 tsp. dried thyme
• Pinch of fresh-grated nutmeg
• Salt, fresh-ground pepper
• 1/2 cup coarse-chopped walnuts
• 3 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley (optional)

In a large skillet, fry bacon until crisp; remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

In the bacon fat, fry chicken livers over medium-high heat until brown outside but still slightly pink inside, about 5 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to the bowl of a food processor.

Add brandy to skillet and scrape up browned bits. Add cream and boil until reduced to about 1 cup. Pour cream mixture into food processor bowl. Add onions and puree until smooth.

Add mayonnaise, thyme, nutmeg, salt and lots of pepper. Process until mixed well. Add bacon, walnuts and parsley; process just until incorporated. Transfer to crocks or decorative bowls. Cover and chill several hours or overnight. Makes about 3 cups.

For the following pate recipe, you will need to  contact a good butcher and ask to have the veal and pork shoulder ground with one-fourth of the fat, and the ham ground with one-fourth of the fat. Half of the pork fat should be sliced thin.  Call up to a week in advance if possible so the butcher can save the necessary pork fat for you.

COUNTRY PATE

• 1 1/2 lbs. fresh pork fat
• 1 lb. boneless veal
• 1 lb. boneless pork shoulder
• 1 lb. ham
• 1/2 lb. chicken or pork livers
• 8 cloves garlic
• 1/4 cup heavy cream
• 3 eggs
• 1/2 cup cognac
• 4 tsp. salt
• 2 tsp. white pepper
• 1/2 tsp. allspice
• 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
• 1/2 cup flour

Have the butcher slice one-half pound of the pork fat thinly and finely grind half of the remaining  pork fat with all the veal and pork shoulder (or do it yourself.) Grind the ham with a coarse blade with the remaining pork fat.

Line a 3-quart mold or two 1 1/2 quart loaf pans with the thin slices of pork fat, letting the long ends hang outside the pan. (Jane’s note: If the butcher doesn’t have enough pork fat, use raw bacon for this step.)

In a blender, puree the chicken livers with the garlic, cream, eggs and cognac. Gradually blend in about one-third of the pork-veal mixture.

In a mixing bowl, combine all the ground and pureed meats. Add the seasonings and flour and mix thoroughly. Fill the prepared pan(s) with the mixture. Fold the ends of the fat strips over the top. Cover tightly with a double thickness of foil. Place in a larger pan and pour in enough hot water to come halfway up sides of pate pan(s).

Bake at 400 degrees for 3 hours.  Remove foil and continue baking until top of the pate is brown, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven,  pour water from larger pan, and again place pate in larger pan. Set on counter. Cover pate with foil. Place a pan slightly smaller than pate pan directly on foil-covered pate and fill with weights (coins, canned goods, etc.)  Do not remove weights until pate is completely cool. When cool, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Pate will keep several weeks if surrounding fat is not removed.

From “The New York Times Cook Book” by Craig Claiborne.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked at home last week:
Baked cod in a Szechuan sauce, roasted Brussels sprouts; pan-grilled T-bone steak, roast butternut squash; turkey broth with wilted greens and a hard-cooked egg; hot dogs and beans; wilted greens with garlic (and thawed-out previously roasted pork); wilted greens and eggs scrambled in olive oil; sugar-free chocolate pudding; country pate with Cognac.

What I ate away from home last week:
Vegan gumbo at a Christmas open house. Tony was away for a week hunting and I mostly stayed home and cleaned house.

THE MAILBAG

From Dorothy G.:
There is a library book, don’t know the name right off, that lists how much money old cookbooks and pamphlets are going for on the sale market. We all probably have a fortune in our collections! Don’t let anyone in your family get rid of them when you are gone — they can be sold.

Dear Dorothy:
We’re rich! Actually, I plan to get rid of dozens of cookbooks for $1 to $2 each next spring at a yard sale, so come on over.

From Mike:
I know from past posts that you are a proponent of brining your turkey. I agree. As a matter of fact, several years ago I sent you an email regarding my idea of putting my turkey and brine in trash bags in my cooler surrounded by ice overnight. Oops. Some of your other readers weren’t happy with the idea of possible toxins leaching from trash bags. Shhh! I continued to do that practice until last year. That is when I heard of dry brining.

Last year was good just with overnight dry brining because I didn’t know the procedure called for a longer time. So this year I applied the dry brine on Tuesday night and my 22-pound turkey sat uncovered per instructions in my fridge until Thursday (some Internet sites suggest even longer, up to 3 days ahead of cooking.)

I have to tell you we were very happy with the results and the procedure is so much easier than wet brining. It uses a lot less salt — one-half cup kosher salt mixed with two tablespoons baking powder. I added a couple tablespoons of brown sugar. Some recipes suggest adding herbs, too. Then just evenly sprinkle the mixture all over the turkey and a little in the cavity. I didn’t even use all of the mix.

Just curious, have you tried this method?

Dear Dave:
No, but I will the next time I roast a turkey. Thanks for the tutorial. I have dry-brined chicken breasts and pork chops but I didn’t know you could dry-brine a whole turkey. That sure would beat hauling a cooler to the kitchen and scouring it before and after brining — not to mention measuring out all that salt and liquid and replacing the ice each morning. Thanks again, Dave.

Has anyone else tried dry-brining a turkey? Is the meat as juicy as with wet brining?

From Joanne:
(Regarding last week’s cookie recipes), My husband made jam poppits for years; that was his special Christmas cookie. I didn’t have the patience.

From Nancy S.:
(Regarding the Viennese Shortbread recipe), These cookies are the BOMB! I’ve been making them ever since I cut the recipe out of the Beacon over 20 years ago. They are my son’s favorite and mine, too. Thanks, Jane.

From Dawn C.:
The pecan-apricot cranberry sauce you mentioned in the newsletter sounds divine! Was that at Heidi’s? Would she share the recipe?

Sorry you won’t be making cookies for the holiday. I’m about to delve into my baking frenzy. (I have all the decorating, shopping and cards done, so it’s on to the really fun stuff!) I spend about three days baking from sunup to sundown. And I love it. The cookie recipes you shared sound wonderful! I may have to try at least one of them this year. Merry Christmas!

Dear Dawn:
Whoa, whoa, whoa. You have all the decorating, shopping and cards done? Who are you, Wonder Woman?

Your Christmas baking spree sounds wonderful. Kudos to you. I did something similar when I was young. Then I realized that of the 10 dozen cookies I made each December, I ate about 9 dozen of them. I do miss baking cookies.

The pecan-apricot cranberry sauce Heidi made is from “Cold Weather Cooking” by Sarah Leah Chase. It is fabulous. I have printed the recipe several times, and am happy to do so once more.

WHOLE CRANBERRY SAUCE
• 1 lb. fresh cranberries
• 1/2 cup inexpensive port wine, such as Gallo
• 1/2 cup orange juice
• 1 cup diced, dried apricots
• 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
• 3/4 cup granulated sugar
• 3/4 cup pecan halves

Place cranberries, port, orange juice, apricots and sugars in a saucepan.

Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thick, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from heat and refrigerate.

Meanwhile, spread pecan halves on a cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for five minutes. Set aside. Immediately before serving, stir pecans into cranberry sauce. Makes about four cups, enough for 10 to 12 servings.

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November 29, 2017

Dear friends,

Bah, no cookies for me. I had plenty of cookies in the last few months, from Japanese ginger and peanut cookies at Tink Hol market in Cleveland to giant West Point Market chocolate chip and ginger cookies at my monthly writer’s group meetings thanks to the thin and sadistic Ann. So in a case of extremely bad timing, I am following a high-protein, low-carb eating plan during the holidays.

I can eat caviar, prime rib and shrimp out the kazoo, so I don’t feel too bad. But I cannot make even one batch of cookies for a photo for this newsletter because I would gobble them all up. I can dream, though.

This week I’m dreaming of the dozens of cookies I plowed through in my career, in our frequent holiday cookie contests.  If I could bake a few batches of holiday cookies, I would make the delicate Almond Cremes sandwich cookies that won the Beacon Journal’s 2002 contest; the sophisticated, chocolate-tipped Mocha Viennese Shortbread cookies from the 1998 contest, and my long-time favorite, Jam Poppits from the 1980 contest, before I was food editor. What a cookie tray that would be.

The cookies are not quick and easy to make. They are fancy cookies, meant for a special occasion. They are cookies you may make just one time a year, and that time is now.

Enjoy.

ALMOND CREMES

• 1 cup flour
• 6 tbsp. chilled butter
• 3 1/2 tbsp. half-and-half, divided
• 3/4 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar, plus extra for dipping
• 1 tbsp. softened butter
• 1/8 tsp. almond extract

Place flour in a medium bowl. Cut chilled butter into small pieces. Cut into flour with a pastry blender until crumbs are the size of small peas.

Reserve 1 tablespoon half-and-half for use in the filling. Sprinkle one of the remaining tablespoons over part of the flour mixture and toss with a fork to moisten. Sprinkle another tablespoon over more of the flour mixture and toss with a fork. Sprinkle the last half-tablespoon over the flour mixture and toss to moisten.

Gather dough into a ball. Do not knead or handle the dough more than necessary. Divide dough in half. On a lightly floured surface, roll out to slightly less than 1/8-inch thick. Cut into 1 1/2-inch squares.

Dip one side of each dough square in confectioners’ sugar. Place a half-inch apart, sugared sides up, on ungreased cookie sheets. With a fork, prick each cookie in parallel rows. Bake at 375 degrees for 8 minutes, or until golden and puffy. Cool on wire racks.

While pastry cools, make the almond filling by combining the 3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, softened butter, almond extract and reserved 1 tablespoon half-and-half. Beat until smooth, adding liquid or sugar if necessary to achieve a thick spreading consistency.

When the cookies are completely cool, sandwich in pairs with almond filling. Store at room temperature, loosely covered. Makes 2 1/2 dozen.

MOCHA VIENNESE SHORTBREAD

• 1 cup plus 2 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
• 1/2 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
• 1/2 tsp. vanilla
• 2 cups all-purpose flour (unsifted)
• 1/4 tsp. baking powder
• 2/3 cup unsifted confectioners’ sugar
• 1 tsp. instant coffee dissolved in 1 tsp. water
• 6 oz. coating chocolate (available in cake-supply shops) or semisweet chocolate chips

In a medium bowl, cream 1 cup of the butter with the 1/2 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar and the vanilla until fluffy. In another bowl, stir together the flour and baking powder with a whisk until thoroughly mixed. Stir the flour mixture into the creamed mixture.

Using a cookie press and a medium star No. 32 tip (or a pastry bag with a star tip, or a plastic bag with one tiny bit of a corner snipped off), make dough strips 3 inches long on an ungreased baking sheet. Place strips 1 inch apart. Bake about 7 minutes, or until very lightly browned around the edges. Cool.

Meanwhile, mix remaining 2 tablespoons butter with the 2/3 cup unsifted confectioners’ sugar and the instant coffee mixture. Beat until creamy. When cookies are cool, spread a small amount on the flat side of one cookie and cover with the flat side of another cookie, making a sandwich. Repeat until all cookies are used. Melt coating chocolate or chocolate chips. Dip about one-half inch of both ends of each cookie in the chocolate, and place on a tray lined with waxed paper. Chill until chocolate is firm. Store in a tightly sealed container. Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

JAM POPPITS

• 1 cup (2 sticks) cold butter
• 1 1/2 cups sifted flour
• 1/2 cup sour cream
• 3 tbsp. sugar
• 1 tbsp. water
• Assorted jams and jellies

Cut butter into flour with pastry blender until completely mixed. With a fork, stir in sour cream until thoroughly blended. Divide dough into 2 equal parts. Wrap each and refrigerate eight hours or overnight.

Roll each piece of pastry to 1/16-inch thickness on a well-floured cloth. Cut into 2-inch rounds. Refrigerate scraps before re-rolling.

Cut a small hole in the center of half the rounds (the top of an old-fashioned salt shaker works well). Place rounds without holes on ungreased baking sheets. Combine sugar and water and stir well. Dip out some of the sugar water with a fingertip, and moisten the edges of each pastry round.

Top plain rounds with cut-out rounds. Moisten top with sugar water. Fill hole in center with about a half-teaspoon of jam. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes. Makes about 40 cookies.

MICROWAVE DESSERT

Today I’m sharing a recipe for a festive peppermint-chocolate cheesecake I developed for my almost-book. I learned that when making cheesecake in the microwave, you must not cook it until it looks done. If you do, it will be rock-hard when it sets up. Instead, cook it until the edges are set but the center is still very liquid. You’ll have to be patient while the cheesecake cools, but the reward is a creamy cheesecake that tastes oven-made.

Red-striped peppermint lozenges or candy canes tint this batter a fun pink. The combination of cool mint and dark chocolate rocks.

PEPPERMINT-CHOCOLATE MUG CHEESECAKE

• 4 oz. cream cheese (half of an 8-oz. package)
• 1 tbsp. (1/2 oz.) finely crushed peppermint hard candy
• 1 egg white
• 2 tbsp. sugar
• 1/8 tsp. vanilla extract
• 1 drop peppermint extract
• 1 tsp. all-purpose flour
• Pinch of salt
• 2 tbsp. miniature bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate chips

Place cold cream cheese in a 12-ounce pottery mug and microwave on high power for 10 to 20 seconds or until cheese is warm on the edges but still cool in the center. Beat with a fork until smooth. Stir in candy and distribute evenly. Add egg white, sugar, vanilla and peppermint extract. Beat until the egg white is thoroughly incorporated, about 50 strokes. Use a spoon or small rubber spatula to scrape any unmixed ingredients from bottom of mug, and stir them in. Add flour and salt and beat until smooth. Stir in chocolate chips.

Microwave at 50 percent power for 2 minutes, 45 seconds in a 1000-watt oven or 2 minutes in an 1100- or 1200-watt oven.

The cheesecake is done when the edges are set and the top is covered with tiny bubbles but the center is still very wet. It will firm up as it cools. Place in freezer for 15 minutes for soft-set or in refrigerator until cool and firm.

Dress it up: Drizzle one tablespoon of warm fudge sauce over the top of the cheesecake.

Even better: Scatter a half-teaspoon of coarsely crushed peppermint hard candy over the warm fudge sauce or, at holiday time, a whole miniature candy cane.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked at home last week:
Grill-smoked turkey, pureed cauliflower, baked Japanese sweet potato; 1 turkey and cranberry sauce sandwich; pan-grilled strip steaks with wine sauce; chopped lettuce and turkey salad; turkey soup.

What I ate away from home last week:
Wendy’s chili; fried fish and watery steamed carrots at Alexandri’s in Wadsworth; brined and bacon-wrapped roast turkey, pecan-apricot cranberry sauce, creamy green beans, whipped sweet potatoes with candied pecan topping, 3 kinds of stuffing, mashed potatoes with incredible gravy, pumpkin and pecan pies and a Coppola claret at my niece Heidi’s in Columbus. She takes after me.

THE MAILBAG

From J.D. Switzer:

(In response to the item about off-price cookbooks) The Library Shop at Main (in downtown Akron) always has a couple shelves of used cookbooks for about $2 each.

Dear J.D.:

I thought the old cookbooks got snapped up as soon as they were shelved. Thanks for letting us know there are plenty to browse. Second-hand shops are also good sources of used cookbooks. I’ve bought a few myself.

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November 20, 2017

Dear friends,

Although panna cotta is on the menu of many fancy restaurants, in truth it’s easier to make than instant pudding. Seriously.

That’s why I made pumpkin panna cotta Sunday when Tony and I craved something sweet. I knew I would be cooking pumpkin pie, turkey and other feast foods in the coming days, and I didn’t want to mess around.

The simple Italian dessert has been described as “creamy gelatin,” but I think panna cotta tastes more like a firm custard. The gelatin in the recipe almost inconspicuously holds the milk, cream and flavorings together in a gentle embrace.

I have seen panna cottas chilled in molds that are then dipped in warm water and tipped onto dessert plates. That’s not a good idea with a generously spiced version such as pumpkin. I found that some of the spices invariably sink to the bottom, which then becomes the speckled top when the panna cotta is unmolded.  I recommend chilling and serving it simply in custard cups or dessert coupes (little footed dishes).

To make the dessert super fast, I used pumpkin pie filling that is pre-sweetened and pre-spiced. I’m not ashamed. Consider the work involved in this recipe: a packet of gelatin is sprinkled on some milk in a saucepan and let stand for five minutes. More milk along with cream and pumpkin pie filling are stirred in and brought almost to a simmer. The mixture is poured into custard cups and chilled. That’s it.

When Tony raved about my pumpkin panna cotta and I smiled and accepted his accolades as if I’d spent the afternoon in the kitchen — now, THAT I’m ashamed of.

Pumpkin Panna Cotta

 

PUMPKIN PANNA COTTA

• 1 1/2 cups whole milk
• 1 envelope gelatin
• 1 cup whipping cream
• 1 cup pumpkin pie filling (sweetened, spiced)
• Whipped cream, fresh-grated nutmeg

Pour 1/2 cup of the milk into a medium saucepan and sprinkle gelatin over the milk. Let stand for 5 minutes to soften.

Meanwhile, whisk remaining milk with the cream and pie filling until very smooth. Pour into pan with gelatin, whisking well. Heat to just below a simmer, stirring until the gelatin dissolves.

Whisk again and pour into 6 to 8 custard cups or coupes. Chill at least 4 hours. Top each with a spoonful of whipped cream and a dusting of grated nutmeg. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

HELP U COOK

On Tuesday I cooked my annual pre-Thanksgiving back-up turkey my favorite way, on a covered Weber grill. Grill-smoked turkey is hands-down the best way to cook the beast. The meat always turns out juicy, smoky and delicious. One year I roasted a turkey in the oven and one on the grill and compared. The winner by a mile was the grilled turkey.

I have to look up the directions every year because my brain does not hold onto every little detail. I assume you are the same way, so I am providing detailed directions I wrote years ago for the Beacon Journal. It is as good a guide as I’ve seen. You may want to print and save it.

You’ll need a covered grill large enough to contain the turkey. If you’ve already put away your grill for the winter, don’t forget to open the vents or the fire will go out during the first half-hour of cooking. You’ll have to start over, beginning with moving the hot, slippery turkey to a platter.

Use plenty of charcoal. The colder and windier the day, the more you’ll need. Pile about 50 or so briquettes in the grill for starters, and allow them to become about 80 percent ashed over.

When the fire is ready, push the briquettes to each side of the grill and place a drip pan in the center of the grill. A throw-away foil pan works fine. The turkey will be placed directly on the oiled grill (breast-side up) above the drip pan, so that the juices for gravy flow into the pan, and so that no coals are directly under the turkey.

This is called cooking with indirect heat and it’s what all true barbecuers do, whether the meat is turkey, pork or beef. If you place coals directly under a large piece of meat such as a turkey, the outside will burn before the inside cooks.

Add two or three hickory chunks that you’ve soaked in water to the fire before putting on the turkey. This will give the meat a pleasant, woodsy flavor.

Four or five briquettes must be added to each side of the fire about every 45 minutes, so that a steady heat is maintained. About halfway through the cooking, add a couple more chunks of hickory, too. Try to keep the two fires evenly hot, or one side of the turkey will cook faster than the other. Open the grill lid as little as possible, to keep the heat in.

Other than rubbing the turkey all over with butter or margarine before putting it on the grill (to keep the skin from splitting), no basting is required.

Either place a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh (not touching the bone) before you begin grilling, or use an instant meat thermometer to determine doneness. The turkey is done when the thigh meat is 180 degrees and the breast meat about 170 degrees.

The unstuffed 12 1/2-pounder I tested took about 3 1/2 hours to cook. A bone-in, 5-pound breast took about 2 1/2 hours. Cooking time will depend on how cold it is outside, the bone configuration of the turkey, and the temperature of the meat when it was put on the grill. When I grilled, it was sunny and about 65 degrees. But generally, figure on about 11 to 15 minutes of cooking time per pound — longer if it’s cold and windy.

Rely on a thermometer, not looks, to determine doneness. The meat will be pink just beneath the skin because of the smoke, but this is not an indication of rawness.

When the bird is done, transfer it to a platter, cover with foil and let rest about 20 minutes to allow the juices to return to the surface. Remove the drip pan and make gravy from the juices.

That’s it. Just don’t expect any leftovers. Grilled turkey has a way of getting gobbled up.

Turkeys may be cooked on gas grills, too. Just follow the manufacturer’s instructions for preparing the fire. Set the temperature control for 300 to 350 degrees, or low heat, and preheat 15 to 20 minutes, recommends the National Turkey Federation. Place the whole turkey on the grill and close the cover.

TIDBITS

Tony and I both are crushing on Xinji Noodle Bar in Ohio City, which we visited after thoroughly enjoying the Jazz Age exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Finally, ramen that tastes like the rich soup we enjoy in Japan.

The restaurant, which opened in July, is hipster chic on a budget. It is sparsely furnished, with blond wood floors, high ceilings and the requisite exposed duct work. It is a large space — maybe carved from two former shops — partially separated by a wall of exposed brick.

The menu is limited to ramen in several styles, bao sandwiches, a couple of rice bowls and a few appetizers. The latter includes two spicy, very crisp Korean chicken thighs that Tony and I shared. They aren’t as addictive as Nashville hot chicken, but close.

The ramen portions are about half the size of the behemoth bowls served in Sapporo noodle shops, but my bowl of miso ramen was more than enough for me. The rich broth bespoke long-simmered pork bones. The curly ramen noodles had that mysterious crispness of real Japanese ramen (the unusual texture comes from the way the noodles are processed). To cap it all off, nothing on Xinji’s menu is more than $12.

For hours and more information, go toxinjinoodle.com.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked at home last week:
Thick, pan-grilled lamb chops with herbs de Provence and wine sauce, roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon; pumpkin panna cotta; chicken and cabbage soup.

What I ate away from home last week:
Pad Thai at the cafe at State Road Giant Eagle in Cuyahoga Falls; Japan-worthy miso ramen noodles with corn kernels, kale, sliced pork and a few bean sprouts at Xinji Noodle Bar in Cleveland; pineapple and ham pizza from Rizzi’s in Copley; eggs over easy, grits, ham and a piece of toast at Wally Waffle in Akron; a cup of turkey chili and a Greek salad at Panera.

THE MAILBAG

From Kim M.:
I saw that you had food at the Eye Opener and had French dressing (which I love). How does it compare to Papa Joe’s White French? The reason for this email is I tried to make white French and it separated. I guess I didn’t drizzle the oil. Do you have a recipe for white French dressing?

Dear Kim:
White French dressing is best when the acid threatens to but doesn’t quite overtake the sweet. This recipe is from my book, “Jane Snow Cooks.”

ALMOST KEN STEWART’S WHITE FRENCH DRESSING
• 1 cup Hellman’s mayonnaise
• 1/4 cup grated yellow onion
• 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
• 1 tbsp. plus 2 tsp. distilled white vinegar
• 1 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. sugar

Place mayonnaise in a bowl. Grate the onion on the grater disk of a food processor or the large holes of a box grater, then mince finely by hand. Measure onion, packing down. Add to mayonnaise.

Add remaining ingredients and stir well. Cover and refrigerate overnight before using. Makes about 1 cup.

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November 17, 2017

Dear friends,

My cookbook collection is growing again after an abrupt halt when I retired from the Beacon Journal. I had access at the newspaper to almost every new cookbook printed in the United States. They arrived on my desk in droves, unbidden. I could look up an Uzbekistan dish, no problem, or decide which of five Peruvian cookbooks I wanted to keep.

Ah, well. After an 11-year dry spell, I’m just glad to have a way to purchase a few of last season’s cookbooks for $2 to $3. Sometimes the books are older than last season, but that’s OK; they are new to me.

There are probably lots of off-price book e-tailers, but BookBub is the one that snagged me. While it does not specialize in cookbooks, at least two or three are among the offerings in any given week. New subscribers check categories of books they are interested in, and receive daily emails with five or six book synopses. The prices are good for a limited time, and only through BookBub. Most of the books are sold at regular prices at outlets such as Amazon.

So far I have bought Carnivore by Michael Symon, Pastries from the La Brea Bakery by Nancy Silverton, The Essential New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser and The Best Recipes in the World by Mark Bittman. The latter two are the only ones that have tempted me to cook from them, but for $9 total, I can handle a few misses.

I didn’t think I would like cooking from an electronic book, but now I enjoy propping my iPad on the kitchen counter and following along. When the food is finished, my iPad is right there to photograph it.

My latest electronic cookbook session involved a Chinese crab and corn soup from Bittman’s book. I chose it because it sounded so quick to prepare. It was, and Tony loved it. I liked it too, and probably would like it even more with homemade chicken stock and creamed corn that starts with fresh corn on the cob, which Bittman suggests as options. But then, the soup would never have made it to my table.

This soup is delicate and lovely. The clean, grassy bite of cilantro juxtaposed against the creamy broth is what makes the soup, in my opinion. Is it one of the best recipes in the world? No, but it’s good and it’s quick, and worth the $2 paid for the book.

Cream-style corn and crabmeat soup

CREAM-STYLE CORN AND CRABMEAT SOUP

  • 2 tbsp. corn, grapeseed, or other neutral oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 3 shallots, sliced
  • 3 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 1/2 lb. shredded crabmeat, diced peeled shrimp, or diced boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • 1 tbsp. nam pla or soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
  • 1 can (15 oz.) creamed corn
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves or scallion
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil; then add the crabmeat. Lower the heat to medium and cook for about 2 minutes, until nearly done.

Stir in the nam pla, wine, and corn. While stirring, pour in the eggs in a slow stream so they cook in thin strands. Garnish with cilantro and serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

From The Best Recipes in the World by Mark Bittman.

TIDBITS

Confession: I rarely buy unsalted butter. I know salted butter is not trendy, but I like the flavor. Now I can come out of the closet.

David Lebovitz, who lives in Paris, writes in My Paris Kitchen: “If you buy regular salted butter, it’s likely that the salt has been dissolved so that it’s not obvious, but there is a discernible flavor difference you’ll probably start to appreciate if you use it often. Salted butter just tastes more, well, buttery to me.’’

Yes, salt originally was added to butter to help preserve it before the availability of reliable refrigeration, but it was added for flavor, too. The two types may be used interchangeably in recipes without compensating for the small amount of salt added or lost, Lebovitz says.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked at home last week:
Chinese corn and crab soup, French dip; bratwurst with sweet and sour cabbage; Japanese venison curry.

What I ate away from home last week:
Taco Bell tacos; butternut squash soup and grilled chicken salad with white French dressing at The Eye Opener in the Wallhaven area of Akron; eggs, bacon, grits and a biscuit at Cracker Barrel; and a Greek smorgasbord (pastitsio balls, spit-roasted lamb, marinated, grilled chicken, Greek cookies, rice pudding, etc., etc.) as a judge at a Men Who Cook fund-raiser at the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Akron.

THE MAILBAG

From Rachel A.:
I love your “ode to friends” issue (last week) so much. I’m an Akron girl who moved away and moved back, but I left my two dearest girlfriends a hundred miles away in Powell, Ohio, and this holiday season is when I miss them most.

Recipes and stories are some of the best glue to keep us together. Thanks for the toast to the family we choose! Love (to Kate and Deena).

Dear Rachel: I hope your Kate and Deena continue to enrich your life as Elizabeth does mine. Thanks for the note.

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November 10, 2017

Dear friends,

At a dull dinner once I eyed the people at my table and zeroed in on two elderly women who had arrived together. They had been friends for decades, one confided. “What is the craziest thing you two have done together?” I asked. The conversation took off. Our table became so rowdy we drew glances of envy from around the room.

If you’re very lucky you have an old friend like that — one who is part of so many memories she’s like your other self. For me it’s Elizabeth, my friend of 45-plus years. She was there when my first husband tried to strangle me. I was there when she graduated from college. We took up Tchaikovsky. We memorized “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” We were there for each other when our careers started and when we retired, and every hilarious moment in between.

Elizabeth also colluded in my early cooking experiments. She was up for whatever I wanted to try, including a recipe once that began with a panful of frying hot peppers that assaulted our sinuses and cleared the house.

Then I moved away and became a food writer, and she whittled her weight down to 100 pounds and ate health food. But when we got together, she still gamely tried whatever I cooked.

Last week it was Moroccan chicken with olives. She ate half a serving with basmati rice and a cold, spicy carrot salad. For someone who weighs 100 pounds, that was a lot. Four decades in, I’m still experimenting and Elizabeth is still trying it. If you are lucky enough to have a such a friend, share this soulful stew.

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MOROCCAN CHICKEN SMOTHERED IN OLIVES

  • 1/4 cup salt for brining
  • 1/2 cup sugar for brining (optional)
  • 8 chicken thighs, skin removed and discarded
  • 2 onions, halved and sliced
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 2 tsp. turmeric
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp. sweet Spanish smoked paprika (pimentón)
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 11 oz. (about 1 1/2 cups) pitted green olives in brine, like Goya’s, drained
  • Juice of 1 lemon
To brine the chicken, combine the salt, sugar, and 1 cup hot water in a large bowl and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add 3 cups cold water and the chicken pieces. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours. Drain, rinse, and drain again.

Arrange the onions in a large casserole (or pan) and top with the chicken pieces. Sprinkle with the ginger, turmeric, cumin, paprika, garlic, and cilantro. Pour the chicken broth over all. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes, turning once.

Meanwhile, combine the olives with several cups of water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes, then drain well and set aside. Add the olives and lemon juice to the chicken and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. If desired, simmer longer to reduce and thicken the sauce. Serve. Makes 4 servings.

From The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century, Amanda Hesser, editor.

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MOROCCAN CARROT SALAD

  • 1 lb. carrots, peeled and sliced 1/2-inch thick
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. chopped cilantro

Put the carrots in a saucepan with water to cover and bring to a boil; reduce the heat and simmer for 8 to 12 minutes, until the carrots are tender but slightly firm. Drain the carrots and put in a bowl. Add the lemon juice and mix well.

Combine the cumin, coriander, sugar, and salt in a small dish, mix, and then add to the carrots. Toss well. Season with pepper, and fold in the olive oil and cilantro. Cover and allow to marinate for at least 6 hours before serving. Makes 4 servings.

From The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century, Amanda Hesser, editor.

HELP U COOK

Don’t believe the warnings that basmati rice cannot be cooked in a rice cooker. You have to make a few accommodations to make sure the rice turns out fluffy and with separated grains, but it can be done.

Before cooking, rinse the rice very well to remove some of the starch. Do this by placing the rice in your rice cooker or Instant Pot insert, covering with cold water, swishing with your fingers for about 30 seconds. Drain. Repeat four or five times instead of the usual three times for regular rice. Cover with cold water again and soak for 30 minutes. Drain, then add 1 1/2 cups cold water for each cup of rice. Cook as usual in the rice cooker or Instant Pot.

GUT CHECK

What I prepared last week at home:
Moroccan chicken smothered with olives, Moroccan carrot salad, basmati rice.

What I ate last week in (or from) restaurants:
New York-style thin pizza from White Box Pizzeria in Wadsworth; a ham sub from Subway; a Spanish omelet, grits and toast at Alexandri’s in Wadsworth; marinated, grilled chicken strips with lettuce, feta and tomatoes on pita bread at Village Garden in Cuyahoga Falls.

Note: I cleaned house (one-armed because of the shoulder surgery) in preparation for company last week and didn’t have time to cook, nor did I want to get my sparkling stove dirty. Tony couldn’t help because he threw his back out, but he did contribute thousands of empty calories. He discovered a motherlode of sugar-free baked goods at the Walmart in Wadsworth and lugged home blueberry and apple pies, lemon pound cake, chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin cookies, and banana nut and blueberry muffins. Arrgh.

THE MAILBAG

Have you ever heard of an evil practice called “threading?” If you use gmail as I do, you probably have fallen victim to this feature that combines all emails on the same subject into a single humongous email.

I learned this week that if you delete an email in the “trash” folder, it will also delete all emails in the inbox that have the same word in the subject line.

Anyway, that’s why I don’t have Mailbag this week. If you sent an email last week that I have not printed or responded to, please send it again. And if anyone knows how to turn off the evil “thread” function on a MacBook Air, please let me know.

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November 2, 2017

Yes, pork again. In the space of a week I made carnitas, breaded and pounded pork cutlets and pan-grilled pork chops. Now I’m sharing a recipe I developed last week for a spectacular rolled pork loin stuffed with cornbread and apples in a cider cream sauce.

The pork fest has been delicious but I’ll lay off now that I’ve whittled my whole pork loin down to nothing. The thing must have been 3 feet long.  I couldn’t freeze it because it had already been frozen once. For two years, every time I opened the basement freezer, it was a humongous, ungainly reminder that I had been too lazy to portion the meat before freezing.

But that turned out for the best. Without that slight edge of desperation, I probably wouldn’t have combined apples, cornbread and cider in a dish that not only is delicious, but screams “fall.” This is the kind of entree you gather friends and family to share. It is a celebration.

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CORNBREAD AND APPLE-STUFFED PORK LOIN
WITH CIDER CREAM SAUCE

  • 1 boneless pork loin, 3 1/2 to 4 lbs.
  • Salt, pepper
  • 2 tbs. olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 of a medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 large apple, peeled, cored and sliced thin
  • 1 tbsp. crumbled dry sage leaves or to taste
  • 2 cups crumbled cornbread
  • 1 3/4 cups apple cider
  • 1/2 cup cream
Place pork loin on a cutting board fat side down. Butterfly the pork loin by slitting lengthwise halfway through the thickness of the meat. Spread open along the slit. With knife blade flat against the meat, make a horizontal cut near the center slit, lengthwise through the thickest part of the meat on one side, stopping an inch from an outer long edge. Repeat on other side.
Open meat by folding back along cuts. With a blunt meat pounder, pound meat to achieve a fairly even thickness. The meat doesn’t have to be thin, just evenly thick. You should now have a flat, oblong piece of meat. Season cut surface with salt and pepper.

Melt oil and butter in a large, hot skillet. Add onion and apples, sage, 1 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened. Scrape into a large bowl. Add cornbread and stir well. Stir while drizzling in 3/4 cup of the cider.

Evenly spread cornbread stuffing over cut side of pork loin. You may not need all of the stuffing. Press to condense stuffing. Starting at one long edge, roll pork cigar-fashion to encase stuffing. Tie at intervals with kitchen twine.

Place stuffed pork loin in a baking or roasting pan with fairly low sides (a 9-by-14-inch pan works well).  Pour remaining 1 cup cider around loin. Roast in a preheated, 325-degree oven for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until an instant-read thermometer registers 155 degrees in the center of the meat. Remove from pan, cover loosely with foil and let rest 15 to 20 minutes before cutting into 3/4-inch slices.

While meat rests, scoop any loose stuffing from the pan with a slotted spoon, leaving behind all of the cooking liquid. Place pan over a burner and bring to a simmer, scraping up browned bits from the bottom.  Stir in cream and return to a simmer. Cook until liquid reduces slightly and flavors blend. Fan slices of meat on a platter or place a slice on each plate and top with a spoonful of sauce. Makes about 8 servings.

SPEEDY MICROWAVE MUG DESSERT

 

This is the second installment from my almost-book of 5-minute cakes, custards, cheesecakes, bread puddings, pies and crisps. This flourless chocolate cake is one of my favorite recipes in the collection.

“How soon can I get the recipe for this?” asked a friend who was persuaded to try just a bite before breakfast one morning and ended up eating the whole thing.

The ultra-smooth texture and deep, dark flavor of this chocolate decadence-style cake is just about perfect. You could serve it at a dinner party with creme anglaise and chocolate curls and no one would believe it came from a microwave.

 

FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE CAKE

  • 6 tbsp semisweet chocolate chips
  • 3 tbsp. butter, cut in small pieces
  • 2 tsp. sugar, preferably superfine (see note)
  • 3/4 tsp. cornstarch
  • 1 whole egg
  • Pinch of salt

Place chocolate and butter in a 12-ounce ceramic mug. Microwave on high power until butter is melted and chocolate is soft, 20 to 40 seconds. Stir until smooth. Chocolate retains its shape when melted in the microwave so stir very well before increasing cooking time.

Add sugar and stir well. Add cornstarch, egg and salt and beat vigorously with a fork for 50 strokes or until the egg is completely incorporated.

Microwave at 50 percent power for 2 1/2 minutes in a 1000-watt oven or 1 1/2 minutes in an 1100- or 1200-watt oven, adjusting the time up or down for lower or higher wattage ovens.

The batter will rise and fall in the oven. The top of the cake will feel firm but look wet when done. Let stand a few minutes before eating. Any moist batter will set as the cake stands. If desired, immediately run a knife around edge of cake an invert onto a plate.

Dress it up: Chill the cake and dust with sifted confectioners’ sugar.

Even better: Garnish with fresh raspberries.

NOTE: To make superfine sugar, process 1 cup of regular granulated sugar in a food processor for 30 seconds without stopping. Measure after processing.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
Locally made bratwurst and fried onions in Orlando brat rolls; sausage, potato and green chile soup; Japanese tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlets over rice with onions in a dashi-soy-based sauce), sugar-free strawberry Jell-O.

What I ate in restaurants lasts week:
One egg over easy, bacon and a biscuit at Bob Evans (Tony’s favorite restaurant); red pepper and mozzarella pizza at Pizza Fire in Montrose; corn and potato soup and a fabulous crispy kale salad with focaccia bread at The Courtyard Inn & Cafe in Lisbon; ribs and hush puppies from Old Carolina Barbecue in Fairlawn; baked crab and a Jane Roll (a California roll with caviar and both shrimp and crab) at Sushi Katsu in Akron.

TIDBITS

Dining at The Courtyard in Lisbon is like eating inside a jewel box. Surfaces are encrusted with tiny mirrors. Overhead lights glitter. The tabletops and the entire undulating bar are sheathed in gleaming copper. Interesting artwork surprises you around every corner.

In most hands such a decor would be too much, but in the hands of internationally known jewelry designer Renee Lewis, the entire restaurant comes off as a work of art.

Lewis noticed the old brick building — the oldest brick structure in Ohio — on trips to her hometown from Manhattan, where she lives now. It had been empty for years and was in danger of demolition. Lewis rescued it in grand fashion. She spent 11 years restoring the exterior as well as the interior, in the process fitting out four bedrooms for guests and installing a top-flight staff in the kitchen.

Lewis chose a vegetarian menu so she would have someplace to eat on trips home, but the menu is so interesting and the dishes I tried so delicious that it should appeal to anyone. The lush crispy kale salad, for example, featured big pieces of oven-dried kale tossed with a mixture of greens, creamy strands of mozzarella and candied nuts. Dinner entrees are familiar, upscale items such as risotto, Thai peanut stir fry, and stuffed shells puttanesca over Sicilian olive-tomato stew.   Ingredients are carefully and locally sourced, and everything including the breads is scratch-made.

I can’t wait to return for another meal and to maybe one day stay in a room upstairs where three presidents, including Lincoln, have been guests. Information and directions are at thecourthouseinnandrestaurant.com. Reservations are recommended.

THE MAILBAG

From Michele, Akron:
I recently bought an Instant Pot and, like you, made carnitas as my first dish. Since then I have made a beef roast and a salsa chicken recipe, which was speedy because I had forgotten to thaw the chicken. Today I cooked artichokes in it. They were tender after 12 minutes and then resting while the pressure released for 10 minutes on its own, and then I manually released the pressure.

I suggest watching some You Tube videos on the Instant Pot. I was afraid of pressure cookers for over 40 years thanks to the story involving a pressure cooker, potatoes, an explosion and third-degree burns told by my mom. I watched several videos — many very short — and they helped me to adequately understand so I could begin experimenting. I plan to make homemade yogurt in the near future. Going to try your pickled onions with carnitas for my next venture!

Dear Michele: I’m excited to hear you can cook food from its frozen state in an Instant Pot. That would come in handy. Otherwise, I think I’d rather cook food the old-fashioned way.

From Linda C.:
Re: Your pressure cooker article — how timely! I was looking at an Instant Pot last week. Many of my vegetarian and vegan friends are addicted. Thanks for the Melissa Clark reference article.

Dear Linda: Go for it. Katherine’s recipe (below) would be a good place to start.

From Katherine:
Try the Instant Pot spaghetti from skinnytaste.com. It’s really delicious, and because of the pressure cooking, the whole wheat pasta better absorbs the sauce and it has a more pleasant consistency than usual. My whole family loves this recipe, and I’m going to make three batches in a row in a couple of weeks when I cook dinner for the homeless.
 
Dear Katherine: Thanks for bringing this recipe to my attention. It sounds a lot like the classic Mexican homestyle dish, fideo, where broken pasta is stir-fried in a skillet to toast it, then stirred some more in sauce. The pressure cooker would eliminate the need for 20 minutes of stirring.

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October 26, 2017

Dear friends,

I am mechanically impaired. Closing a tea ball is difficult. Manual can openers are Chinese puzzles to me. So it’s no surprise that I left my new Instant Pot in the box for several months before unpacking it. I could sense trouble.

The good news is that I did eventually unpack it and on Saturday cooked pork carnitas for tacos in 11 minutes. Unbelievable. Of course, that doesn’t count the 15 minutes it took for the Instant Pot to “come to pressure” or the 15 minutes to reduce the sauce after cooking. But still.

The bad news is that my first test of the pot — a venison roast — was a disaster. I read the instruction book cover-to-cover but the pressure gauge is so weensy that I never did see it pop up (it pops about an eighth of an inch, I later determined). I was afraid to remove the lid so I left the roast in the pot for two hours, during which time it continued to cook (not “keep warm”) until even the dog wouldn’t eat it.

My second try last weekend went more smoothly but still had glitches. For example, it took me 10 minutes to figure out how to lock the lid. Yes, I had locked it before. Don’t judge.

Will I use my Instant Pot again? Yes, but only because so many of you do, and I feel obligated to provide recipes. I know many of you have bought Instant Pots because the multi-cooker is a genuine phenomenon. Sales began surging in the summer of 2016 and rose so fast — by word of mouth and primarily through mail order on Amazon — that the item was named product of the year for its increase in market share.

A group of engineers formed the Instant Pot Co. in Canada in 2008 to design an electric pressure cooker with built-in safety controls that old stove-top pressure cookers do not have. In other words, this is not your mother’s exploding pressure cooker. The Instant Pot will automatically shut off before the pressure reaches a dangerous level. The pot also can be used as a slow cooker, rice steamer, yogurt maker and probably a coffee pot. But it’s the fear-free pressure cooker function that excites most buyers.

The Instant Pot and its imitators are available in stores as well as online, in a variety of sizes and with varied features. I will not provide a buying guide here; plenty of information is available on the Internet.

As a neophyte myself, neither will I instruct you in its use. An excellent primer has been written by Melissa Clark of the New York Times at: https://cooking.nytimes.com/guides/46-how-to-use-an-instant-pot. Her cautions include cutting way down — by half or two-thirds — the liquid in a regular recipe when making it in a pressure cooker. Liquid does not evaporate. Another crucial tip is to make sure the vent on the lid is not just turned off, but is locked in place before programming the pot. This is a step that is glossed over in the instruction booklet, and is overlooked by many first-time users. Me, for example.

If anyone has a good Instant Pot recipe or would like me to adapt a favorite recipe to the Instant Pot, send it to me. I can’t print or adapt them all, but I’ll do what I can. Meanwhile, try my 11-minute carnitas recipe. With the additions I suggest, you can make one of those trendy, upscale tacos for a fraction of the cost in a restaurant.

I snuggled the carnitas — little glazed cubes of meat — in corn tortillas briefly fried in a skillet just long enough to change the texture of the tortillas (I dislike those crumbly raw things) but not enough to make them crispy-stiff. The meat is topped with quick-pickled onions, crumbled Mexican cheese, cilantro and a squeeze of lime. The final touch is a spoonful of the spicy reduced carnitas cooking liquid. Yeow.

I bought the crumbly cheese, queso fresco, at a Mexican grocery store. You could substitute feta if desired.

If you don’t own a pressure cooker, the carnitas recipe may be adapted to stove-top cooking. Just toss the carnitas ingredients into a pot with double the liquid and simmer the meat and spices over low heat, covered, until the meat is tender. Remove the meat and boil the liquid until it is reduced to about 1 cup. The inspiration for the carnitas, although not the exact recipe, is from Coyote Cafe by Mark Miller.

PRESSURE-COOKER CARNITAS

  • 2 lbs. boneless pork loin, untrimmed
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 tbsp. mild or medium pure chile powder
  • 1 1/2 tsps. salt
  • 4 cloves garlic. chopped
  • 1/3 cup chopped onion
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1 tsp. fennel seed
  • 2 tsp. cumin seed
  • 1 stick Mexican canela or cinnamon, about 3 inches
  • 1 tbsp. oregano

Cut pork, including fat, into 3/4-inch cubes. Place in pressure cooker pot with the water, chile powder, salt, garlic and onion.

In a dry skillet over medium-high heat, toast the fennel, cumin, cinnamon stick and oregano, shaking pan often, until spices are fragrant, about 2 minutes. Grind spices (including cinnamon or canela) in a spice grinder to a powder. I use a small coffee grinder I reserve for that purpose.

Stir spices into meat mixture.

Lock lid into place, lock vent in closed position and program Instant Pot for the “meat” setting, then immediately adjust the time to 11 minutes. After the time expires and the gauge pops up, vent the steam manually and remove the lid. The meat should be very tender. If not, replace the lid, reprogram and cook a few minutes longer. When done, remove meat with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Re-program Instant Pot to sauté and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Return meat to pan and cook a few minutes longer, until the meat is glazed with the sauce. Transfer meat to one bowl and sauce to another. Makes enough for about 20 tacos.

Note: If your pressure cooker does not have a sauté function, transfer meat and sauce to a pan and boil on the stove, uncovered, until meat is glazed and sauce has reduced to about 1 cup.

 

PORK CARNITAS TACOS WITH PICKLED ONIONS, QUESO FRESCO AND LIME

 

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  • 1 vertical half of a large yellow onion, peeled
  • 1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Canola oil
  • 8 corn tortillas
  • Pork carnitas and sauce (see previous recipe)
  • Crumbled queso fresco, or feta, 1 to 2 tbsp. per taco
  • Handful of cilantro leaves
  • 1 lime, cut into 8 wedges

Cut the onion into very thin horizontal slices. Place in a small bowl with the vinegar and water, submerging the onion. Let stand while preparing the tacos.

Heat a scant quarter inch of oil in a skillet large enough to hold a corn tortilla. When hot, cook the tortillas one at a time in the oil, turning with tongs and folding in half. Cook just until the tortillas are blistered but do not brown. Drain on paper towels.

Place a thick layer of carnitas in the bottom of a taco shell. Top with 1 to 2 tablespoons of cheese, some of the drained onion, some cilantro and a squeeze of lime. Drizzle with a spoonful of the carnitas sauce. Continue with remaining taco shells. Makes 8 tacos, or 4 servings, with meat left for about 16 more tacos.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked at home last week:
Coconut curry chicken soup; pork loin roast with apple-corn bread stuffing and cider cream sauce, kale sautéed with garlic; pork carnitas tacos with queso fresco,  pickled onions and lime; two sugar-free pumpkin pies.

What I ate in (or from) restaurants last week:
Half of a steak and bacon sub from Subway; half of a chicken and avocado melt sandwich and an apple at Panera; an Indian buffet (samosa, hot pepper pakora, chicken tikka masala, curried eggplant, naan) at Bombay Sitar in Jackson Township; pepperoni pizza from Rizzi’s in Copley Township; a chili dog with onions and french fries with chili and cheese at the Hot Dog Shoppe in East Liverpool.

THE MAILBAG

From Shirley, Cuyahoga Falls:
For those who find your peanut butter and tomato sandwich combination appalling — don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it. I’ve been eating peanut butter, tomato and mayo sandwiches for as long as I remember. I’m 83 years old now and can’t wait until home-grown tomatoes are in our stores. That sandwich is probably my favorite of all time!

From Rachel M.:
I dig PB and tomatoes, too. PB with sharp Cheddar on Italian bread is surprisingly tasty, and PB with Clausen dill pickle sandwich slices (patted as dry as possible) is an old favorite. Nope, not pregnant; just a fan of some weird combos.

Dear Shirley and Rachel: Thanks for helping me feel normal. And you may want to try PB and thin-sliced onion some time.

From Michele:
I was reading your pumpkin pie mug recipe and wanted to know where you are finding superfine sugar. I have searched high and low with no success.

Can’t wait to see more of your mug recipes. Hopefully, some are waist-friendly.

Dear Michele: I wish. All of the recipes are desserts. Not a low-cal number among them.

As for superfine sugar, that’s one of the many quandaries I faced while writing the book. I used superfine sugar because it dissolves quickly — a plus when the cooking time is just 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.

Microwave mug cakes made with regular sugar are gritty, I found. But a couple of years into testing recipes, I suddenly couldn’t find superfine sugar in stores anymore. Domino and a couple of other manufacturers were still making it, but most stores didn’t sell enough to justify the shelf space, I was told.

The solution, if you’re unable to find the sugar, is to grind some regular sugar in a food processor.  Process 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar nonstop for 30 seconds to produce 1 cup superfine sugar.

 
From Cheryl S.:
A couple things going on. The first has to do with aged balsamic vinegar, which can be expensive. America’s Test Kitchen says you can “age” your own. Actually, it’s just a reduction but tastes identical to an aged one I recently sampled. To an uneducated palate such as mine, it was fine.

In a small saucepan combine 1 cup inexpensive balsamic vinegar, 3 tablespoons sugar and 3 tablespoons ruby port. A 4-inch sprig of fresh rosemary is optional. Heat just below a simmer until reduced by about half. I made two batches, one with rosemary and one without. Both were delicious, but the one with rosemary was outstanding.

On another note, I despise beets — always have. I think they taste like dirt. But I found a recipe that makes them tolerable if not good. I made this recipe with the non-rosemary vinegar.

HONEY-GINGER BALSAMIC GLAZED BEETS

  • 1 lb. medium-sized fresh beets, scrubbed and trimmed
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 2 tbsp. peeled, chopped ginger (or more)
  • 2 tbsp. aged balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. honey, or to taste

Line a cake pan or other oven pan with foil. Splash in about 1/4 cup water, add the beets and seal with foil. Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes or until tender. Test by piercing with a sharp knife. Remove from oven.

When cool enough to handle but still warm, peel beets and cut into thick slices.  Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add ginger and cook for a minute or two, just until fragrant. Add beet and vinegar and cook until beets are hot and glazed. Stir in honey.

Just thought I’d share and see what you thought (and maybe a wine suggestion).

 

Dear Cheryl: I like beets BECAUSE they taste like the earth. Not dirt. Earth. See how I make them palatable? It’s all about perception. As for wine, how about a big, earthy, fruit-forward zinfandel such as  Ridge? I like the “aged” balsamic recipe. Real aged balsamic is beyond expensive.

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October 18, 2017

Dear friends,

Remember the cookbook I was writing? After four years of testing microwave dessert recipes in three different ovens and another year of writing descriptions, chapter intros and cautionary how-tos, I flamed out. The book is so close to the finish line that to drop it at this point would be nuts, so call me nuts. I can’t. Write. Another. Word.

The good news is that I’m left with almost 100 original, rigorously tested recipes for single-serve cakes, pies, crisps, custards, cheesecakes and bread puddings that can be made in about 5 minutes in a microwave oven.

I had to invent a few techniques to get the textures and flavors I wanted. For example, I found that microwaving the cakes on 50 percent power instead of 100 percent gives the leavening more time to work and helps eliminate the rubbery texture most other microwave mug cakes have. I haven’t seen my methods in other sources, or tasted microwave mug desserts this good, so I hate to let the recipes languish in my computer.

My solution is to share the recipes with you in this newsletter. I have shared a couple of recipes in the past and will share many more in the coming months. This week I’m offering a recipe for microwave single-serve pumpkin pie. If it is one of the two or three mug recipe I’ve printed before, forgive me. It didn’t turn up in a search of my columns, so I think I’m safe.

The microwave pumpkin custard/pie recipes I’ve tried from the Internet are awful — bland and loose-textured, like warm pumpkin from the can. Don’t be intimidated by the number of ingredients in my recipe. They are all necessary to produce a 5-minute microwave pumpkin pie that tastes like it came from your regular oven. The measuring goes quickly, and the result is worth it.

I’m also sharing my microwave mug recipe for a moist banana cake. I found that most Internet mug cakes I tried had a rubbery texture that hardened if left overnight. If you can resist eating this banana cake hot from the oven, it will taste just as good the next day.

The size, shape and composition of your mug, along with the power of your microwave, makes a difference in the timing of the recipes. I tested the recipes in 1000-, 1100- and 1200-watt ovens, and used 12-ounce Fiesta ceramic mugs. I provide microwave times but also describe what the surface of the dessert should look like when it is done. Adjust the time if necessary.

Image

 

MICROWAVE MUG PUMPKIN PIE

Crust:
  • 1/2 tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • 2 tbsp. graham cracker crumbs
Filling:
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1/3 cup pumpkin at room temperature
  • 2 tbsp. sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 tsp. sugar (preferably superfine)
  • 1 tsp. cornstarch
  • 1/8 tsp. cinnamon
  • Pinch of powdered ginger
  • Pinch of ground cloves

For the crust, place butter in a 12-ounce ceramic mug and microwave on high power for 15 to 20 seconds or until butter melts. Stir in sugar and graham crumbs. Press evenly into the bottom of the mug. Set aside.

For the filling, combine butter, pumpkin and sweetened condensed milk in a glass measuring cup. Microwave on high power for about 30 seconds, until butter has melted. Stir well. Stir in sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Pour over crust in mug. Microwave on 50 percent power for 2 minutes, or until the top is mostly dry except for a dime-sized circle in the center. The filling will be loose. If eating right away, first chill in a freezer for 10 minutes to set the custard. If eating later, chill completely in the refrigerator.

Dress it up: Top chilled pie with a dollop of whipped topping and pinch of nutmeg.

Even better: Beat a half-teaspoon of Bourbon into the whipped topping.

MOIST BANANA MUG CAKE

  • 1 tbsp. softened butter
  • 1 tbsp. sugar, preferably superfine
  • 1 tbsp. corn syrup
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tbsp. mashed ripe banana (1/3 to 1/2 banana)
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 tbsp. flour
  • 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • Pinch of salt

In a 12-ounce ceramic mug, beat butter and sugar with a fork until fluffy. Beat in corn syrup, egg yolk, banana and vanilla until thoroughly incorporated. Add flour, baking powder and salt and beat about 50 strokes, until very smooth and thick. Scrape batter off sides and smooth top.

Microwave at 50 percent power for 2 1/2 minutes in a 1000-watt oven, or 1 minute, 45 seconds in a 1100- or 1200-watt oven. Adjust time up or down for lower or higher wattage ovens. Eat directly from the mug or, if desired, immediately run a knife around the edge of the cake and invert onto a plate.

Dress it up: Sift confectioners’ sugar over the cake.

Even better: Stir a tablespoon of mini chocolate chips into the batter before baking.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
Chicken with sautéed peppers over ditalini pasta with wilted spinach and mascarpone cheese from Blue Apron; oven-roasted potatoes and green beans with leftover pot roast; two sugar-free pumpkin pies.

What I ate in restaurants last week:
Delicately crunchy fried perch, coleslaw, applesauce at The Boulevard in Cuyahoga Falls; arepas with chorizo and green salsa, and a taco with duck confit, roasted red peppers, kale and goat cheese at Crave Cantina in Cuyahoga Falls.

TIDBITS I

Low-cal, high-protein ice cream is a hot category in grocery stores at the moment. The ice creams (technically frozen desserts because they don’t contain enough fat to legally be called “ice cream”) are sold in pint containers that are about 230 to 350 calories for the whole thing.

The only problem is they’re expensive. The ones I’ve seen cost about $6 a pint.

The exception is a new entry in the category, Breyers delights. The various flavors contain 20 grams of protein and range from 260 to 330 calories a pint. They cost about $4. Currently they’re available at Giant Eagle stores.

I tried two Breyers delights and they’re pretty good. Still, as I’ve pointed out before, you can make your own high-protein, low-cal ice cream by freezing a protein shake made from a low-cal protein powder such as Pure Protein. It won’t cost $4, either.

TIDBITS II

I can’t wait to return to Crave Cantina and work my way through the menu. The Cuyahoga Falls restaurant is the brainchild of Aaron Herve, the chef who owns Crave in downtown Akron. He calls the food globally inspired Latin fare so as not to pigeonhole it too narrowly. Tacos are the main event, but nothing you’ll find in Mexico. The imaginative fillings range from buttermilk fried chicken with kimchi, Korean bbq, Japanese mayo and house-made pickles, to smoked brisket with fried potatoes, pickled red onion, white Cheddar, horseradish and pasilla pepper pesto. The 13 taco varieties are $3 and $4.

The menu also includes salads, sandwiches, a handful of entrees (paella Cubano with mussels, scallops and shrimp is $19), seven kinds of guacamole and nine appetizers. I loved the arepas, although the unstuffed cornmeal disks were unlike any I’ve had before. For the next trip, I have my eye on the Latin poutine (yucca fries, chorizo, queso fresco, pickled chilies and cumin veal gravy, $9) and the Jamaican curried chicken empanadas, $8.

The restaurant is at 2097 Front Street, in the middle of an ongoing street construction project that makes getting to the place a challenge. I suggest you park behind the restaurant in one of lots on Riverfront Parkway and enter through the back door. The Cantina is open evenings only.


THE MAILBAG

From Rebecca R., Senecaville:

Is the Stray Dog (last week’s newsletter) like the Hot Dog Shoppe in East Liverpool? Have not stopped there in a few months. Also, the last time we were in Wilmot we stopped at Bee Bobs. The burgers were really good and the fries and onion rings are all hand-cut and fried to order. We will stop there again but hubby and I will split our order next time, it is that large. You may want to check it out when you are in that area.

Dear Rebecca: You bet I will. The Stray Dog is a hip restaurant with contemporary, global food — good, but nothing like our beloved Hot Dog Shoppe.

From Linda C.:
Your soup (last week’s newsletter) sounds yummy. I’m a vegetarian so I would leave out the chicken and use a clear veggie broth. It reminds me of a fave Crock Pot dinner with sauerkraut, potatoes and apples (we used to add kielbasa but now add vegan hot dogs at the end). I love sauerkraut. Thanks!

Dear Linda: Thanks for telling folks how to make my soup recipe vegetarian-friendly.

From Marlene H.
Re: your review of meal kits — I’ve been using Home Chef for a few months, and overall have been pleased. On the “steak” dishes, the meat has not been the tenderest. I’ve been really busy at work and this is a nice alternative as I get tired of eating out, which is the easy way out after an extended work day. Have been amazed at the flavor you get with just a few ingredients. It’s also nice to have it delivered and mostly prepped.

From Cynthia P.: I prefer Blue Apron. Fresher veggies. Much better packaging. More spices . More layers of flavor. Better directions. Healthier food overall. I didn’t like that Hello Fresh used chicken base in recipes and less olive oil. And now I have more choices on  Blue Apron. After a few weeks of Hello Fresh it got boring. I switched back and forth but will do more Blue Apron.

From Janis T.:
Just read about your experiences with meal delivery kits. I also recently became interested in this service. I don’t mind cooking at all, it is the meal planning and shopping that I consider to be a chore. There are only so many hours at the end of a work day and I would prefer to use the extra ones on other things.

I started with Hello Fresh, too, and was pleased with the whole experience. I love that I can come home and pull out all the ingredients for a meal in one handy package, rather than running circles around the kitchen from the fridge to the pantry collecting all ingredients. I also like that I don’t need to purchase a whole jar or bottle of an ingredient I may or may not use again. We were very pleased with the quality and taste of the Hello Fresh meals.

However, I recently stumbled onto SunBasket. It’s a little more expensive than Hello Fresh at about $12 per serving (they also charge for shipping) but the draw for me is the recipes. They have so many more meals that are “paleo” protein/vegetable combos, rather than including a starch such as rice, noodles, etc. This was very appealing, and as it turns out, delicious, too! Plus, I’m cooking meals that I would not have considered had I needed to start from a recipe. We are on our fifth week with SunBasket and have not been disappointed in a meal yet.

From Pam M.:
Seriously Jane? Peanut butter and sliced tomato on toast?

Dear Pam: Sadly, yes.

BONUS FALL RECIPE!

APPLE PINWHEEL DUMPLINGS

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 2/3 cup solid vegetable shortening, chilled
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 1/2 cups chopped apples

Make a syrup by combining sugar, water, cinnamon, nutmeg and butter in a saucepan. Cook and stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Set aside.

In a food processor, combine salt, flour and baking powder; pulse to mix. Cut shortening into bits and add to the flour mixture, pulsing until bits of fat are the size of peas. Drizzle in enough milk, pulsing, to form a soft dough. Dough also may be made by hand by cutting the shortening into the flour mixture with a pastry blender, and tossing with a fork while adding the milk in a drizzle. Gather dough into a ball and chill.

Roll or pat dough into an 11-by-15-inch rectangle. Spread apples over dough. Beginning at a long edge, roll up jelly-roll fashion. Pinch seams to seal.

Cut pastry log into 1-inch slices. Place in a buttered, 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Pour syrup over all. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, until browned and bubbly. Serve warm with whipped cream, if desired.

Makes 12 servings.

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Please note: If your email address changes, you must re-subscribe to my newsletter in order to continue receiving it. We are unable to change the address for you in our email list. The procedure is easy. Just click on the “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of a newsletter. Then click here to sign up under your new address. Thank you.

October 12, 2017

Dear friends,

One of my favorite fall dishes is a skillet ragout of chicken and sauerkraut simmered with onions and apple cider. What if I turned the ingredients into a soup, I mused last week?

Yes, it can be done and the result is delicious. I like the slightly sour edge to this soup, which I ate for lunch, dinner and even one day for breakfast.

You’ll notice that the soup is a lovely golden yellow, due to the totally unnecessary turmeric I added for its anti-inflammatory properties. Turmeric doesn’t impart much flavor, so if you’re young and vigorous or you just don’t give a darn, you can leave it out.

By the way, you can buy big pouches of turmeric at bargain prices in the many Nepalese grocery stores that dot the North Hill area of Akron. I frequent Family Groceries at 768 N. Main St.

If you have sour cream on hand, add a dollop to each portion before serving.

Image

CHICKEN AND SAUERKRAUT SOUP

  • 4 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • Salt, pepper
  • 1 1/2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, in 1-inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup thin-sliced onions (halve lengthwise before slicing)
  • 2 cups apple slices
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp. turmeric
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 24 oz. sauerkraut
  • 1 lb. potatoes in 1-inch cubes (2 large potatoes)
  • 2 boxes (32 oz. each) chicken broth

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a soup pot. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Brown in oil on all sides. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil. When hot, sauté onions and apple slices over medium heat until the edges begin to brown.

Return chicken to pot. Add paprika and turmeric and stir and cook 1 minute. Add vinegar and bring to a boil. Stir in sauerkraut. Add potatoes and broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 30 to 45 minutes. Makes 8 servings.

Note: If the soup is too tart for your taste, stir in 1 tablespoon brown sugar.

 

TIDBITS

And the winner is….Hello Fresh. I haven’t tried every meal delivery kit on the market, but of the two I tried this month, I prefer Hello Fresh.

Two different friends signed me up for free three-day trials of Blue Apron, the industry leader, and Hello Fresh, and Tony and I had fun trying them out. For those who have been living under a rock, meal delivery kits are three or four day’s worth of ingredients and recipes shipped in a big box to your door. Everything is included, from tiny bottles of sesame oil to well-iced packages of fish, chicken and beef. All you have to do is follow the easy-to-use instructions for making the meals, none of which takes more than 30 minutes to assemble.

Customers may choose among offerings that change weekly. My Hello Fresh meals were spicy ground beef tacos with quick-pickled vegetables; creamy Dijon chicken with roasted green beans and oven-fried potatoes; and sesame shrimp stir fry with ginger rice and roasted green beans.

The Blue Apron meals comprised penne pasta Bolognese, crispy buttermilk catfish with sautéed kale and roast delicata squash, and chicken breasts with sweet pepper puree over ditalini with spinach and mascarpone cheese.

The meals cost about $9 per person — about $55 to $60 for three days’ worth of meals for two. Family-size subscriptions also are available. The portion sizes of both brands were more than adequate although Tony, the human anaconda, topped most of his dinners with a big bowl of ramen. I would have added more seasoning to some of the dishes, and the cooking processes  of the Blue Apron dishes seemed clunky and messy. Overall, the Hello Fresh meals seemed to be better thought out, the food better seasoned, and the recipes more interesting to my palate.

Meal kit companies are multiplying exponentially right now, leading me to wonder why local supermarkets don’t jump on the trend. The popularity of the kits proves what I’ve thought for a long time — more people would cook after work if they just had the ingredients and a recipe on hand. That’s the fun part. The hard part is figuring out what to cook, finding a recipe and drawing up a shopping list.

I’m interested in other meal-kit companies. Do you subscribe to one? If so, drop me an email.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked at home last week:
Pan-browned, oven-finished glazed pork chops with sweet soy sauce, roast eggplant with pesto, roast delicata squash and fried ripe tomato slices; peanut butter and sliced tomato on toast; egg salad; chicken and sauerkraut soup; crispy buttermilk catfish with sautéed kale and roasted delicata squash from a Blue Apron meal kit; penne pasta with beef Bolognese sauce from Blue Apron.

What I ate out last week:
Baked chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, beets and a yeast roll at the Amish Door in Wilmot; homemade potato chips, a mini shredded beef hand pie, and a coney dog with mustard and relish at Stray Dog City Tavern in Akron; dried tomato and goat cheese canapés with figs, creamy clam chowder, ham tetrazzini and sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream (wow) at my friend Joan’s; cheeseburger and fries at Five Guys.

Note: I came across Stray Dog City Tavern when I was searching for a local coney dog restaurant. It is a real find, although owner Charlie Murphy says he has owned the restaurant for a year. Before that he operated the cafe in the main Akron-Summit County Public Library in downtown Akron. He started out eight years ago with a hot dog cart, and still operates three Stray Dog carts in the area.

The restaurant is in a hip, updated space near Temple Square. The menu is pretty hip, too, with items such as scallop tacos, mussels with Guinness stout and hot dogs topped with crawfish, slaw, and Sriracha mayo. The big, all-beef dogs come a variety of ways, although none of the variations are on the menu. You have to ask.

“We make up new stuff every weekend,” Murphy says.

Two of his burgers, including his Punch In the Mouth Burger, took prizes at this year’s National Hamburger Festival downtown. Punch In the Mouth burger is topped with Cheetos, pickled jalapeños and Wrath of Dog sauce. All of Musrphy’s food, from the hot sauce to the potato chips and onion dip, is made from scratch. Check out the menu at akroncitytavern.com.

THE MAILBAG

From Susan Rainey:
No! Don’t use your Instant Pot for canning. Very bad idea.

See instantpot.com/portfolio-item/before-you-buy/

Dear Susan: Thanks so much for setting us straight. In fact, the Instant Pot may be used for boiling water bath canning but not for pressure canning, in which the pressure must reach 15 psi and the temperature must be maintained at 240 to 250 degrees. Pressure canning is mandated for low-acid foods such as meat, poultry and vegetables.

The problem is that the Instant Pot is regulated by a pressure sensor instead of a thermometer. Elevation above sea level can affect the temperature of food under pressure, so the exact temperature of the food inside the pot cannot be determined. The caution applies to other brands of pressure cookers, also.

From Deb B.:
Thanks for the interesting and helpful recipes. Would you share your recipe for apple dumplings?

Dear Deb: The apple dumplings my family makes are actually apple turnovers. If you are craving a real apple dumpling, you’d be disappointed. I have made plenty of other apple dumplings over the years for articles, though. A favorite of newsroom tasters was a pinwheel apple dumpling in a bubbling sugar syrup, an entry in a state-wide apple cooking contest. To introduce that recipe in 2003 I wrote:

“Thousands of blushing, naked apples are heaped in Ohio’s roadside markets this week, just waiting to snuggle into a warm blanket of pastry.

Have pity. Make a dumpling.”

Geez, I wish I could still write like that.

APPLE PINWHEEL DUMPLINGS

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 2/3 cup solid vegetable shortening, chilled
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 1/2 cups chopped apples

Make a syrup by combining sugar, water, cinnamon, nutmeg and butter in a saucepan. Cook and stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Set aside.

In a food processor, combine salt, flour and baking powder; pulse to mix. Cut shortening into bits and add to the flour mixture, pulsing until bits of fat are the size of peas. Drizzle in enough milk, pulsing to form a soft dough. Dough also may be made by hand by cutting the shortening into the flour mixture with a pastry blender, and tossing with a fork while adding the milk in a drizzle. Gather dough into a ball and chill.

Roll or pat dough into an 11-by-15-inch rectangle. Spread apples over dough. Beginning at a long edge, roll up jelly-roll fashion. Pinch seams to seal.

Cut pastry log into 1-inch slices. Place in a buttered, 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Pour syrup over all. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, until browned and bubbly. Serve warm with whipped cream, if desired.

Makes 12 servings.

To subscribe to this newsletter, please click here.

Please note: If your email address changes, you must re-subscribe to my newsletter in order to continue receiving it. We are unable to change the address for you in our email list. The procedure is easy. Just click on the “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of a newsletter. Then click here to sign up under your new address. Thank you.