January 22, 2020

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

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

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

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

TROPICAL MOJO CHICKEN AND PINEAPPLE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 15, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OKONOMIYAKI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Combine in a small bowl and stir well.

TIDBITS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Dorothy:
Brilliant idea. Thanks.

January 8, 2020

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

Yikes.

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

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

IMPOSSIBLE COCONUT PIE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 31, 2019

Dear friends,
I wonder what you were obsessed with this year. For me it was a mix of the old and the new — the clams on toast I made in September and have dreamed about every week since then; a detox smoothie from Florida; the ricotta and meat sauce-stuffed spaghetti squash I’ve made a half-dozen times since March; and as always, gingerbread, Cuban sandwiches and coconut anything.

One of my new cravings is the sauce for the Mongolian beef ribs I made last fall. I may turn it into an alligator stir fry in Florida, where I’m headed soon with Tony and the dog. Then again, I may be too busy eating Cuban sandwiches to cook.

Before we leave town, I’m sharing a recipe for the post-holiday noodle stir fry I made for Tony. I call it “post-holiday” because I haven’t felt like cooking since our duck extravaganza on Christmas Eve, and this stir fry practically assembles itself.

I adapted the recipe from Bon Appetit.

QUICK STIR-FRIED NOODLES WITH GROUND PORK

16 oz. yaki soba or 12 oz. spaghetti noodles
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
4 cups thin-sliced napa cabbage
2 tsp. sesame oil
8 oz. ground pork
5 green onions, sliced
2 tsp. chopped fresh ginger
2 tsp. (or more) red pepper flakes or (preferred) Szechuan chile oil
2 tbsp. hoisin sauce
1/3 cup mirin
1/3 cup soy sauce
1 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds

Chop and measure all of the ingredients before starting, as usual.

Cook noodles in boiling, salted water according to package directions. At the same time, heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil in a large skillet or wok and stir fry cabbage over high heat until tender and beginning to brown on the edges. Drain noodles and toss in a large bowl with the sesame oil. Add cooked cabbage and toss.

Heat remaining tablespoon vegetable oil in the same wok or skillet. Cook ground pork, over medium-high heat, breaking up with a spatula, until no longer pink. Continue cooking until meat begins to brown and crisp on one side.

Push meat to one side of pan. In the bare spot, stir fry onions, ginger and red pepper until softened, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in red pepper flakes or chile oil and hoisin sauce. Add noodles and cabbage and mix well over high heat. Add mirin and soy sauce and cook, folding, until meat and vegetables are glazed with the sauce.

Remove from heat and stir in sesame seeds. Makes 4 servings.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Meatloaf, potato salad; wild rice salad with pecans and oranges; roast Brussels sprouts with bacon; Szechuan duck steamed then roasted with a sesame-orange glaze; Japanese Christmas cake.

What I ate out last week:
Fried chicken, french fries, hot rice and slaw at Belgrade Garden in Barberton; grilled chicken salad and Christmas cookies at my niece, Heidi’s; a sesame-ginger chicken salad at Butcher & Sprout in Cuyahoga Falls; Italian wedding soup from Acme.

THE MAILBAG

From Peggy:
Your newsletter last week inspired a Christmas Eve search for the elusive “Aldi’s salted chocolate dipped cashews.” Twenty minutes into the search at Aldi’s, we found the cashews. They were awesome!

This was the most extensive shopping of the season for two avid Amazon users. Thanks for the adventure.

Dear Peggy:
Glad to have sweetened up your Christmas Eve. Many of Aldi’s products are seasonal, so you might want to load up. I already miss the glass jars of cherries in juice I bought until a week ago to spoon over ricotta cheese.

From Virginia:
The Brie soufflé sounds wonderful and easy for our New Year’s Eve party but I don’t know what underripe Brie is. Will you please explain?

Dear Virginia:
The term momentarily puzzled me, too, when I read it in Sarah Leah Chase’s cookbook. But after grating the Brie, I realized that soft, oozy, perfectly ripe Brie would not work. No matter, because I haven’t seen any Brie like that since I vacationed in France. Any Brie you find in a store’s refrigerator case will be firm enough to use. Just make sure it is well chilled before you try to grate it. Freezing it for 15 minutes or so wouldn’t hurt, either. Then use the wide horizontal holes on one side of a box grater.

From Dawn:
I see in your Gut Check you made pumpkin custard — twice! It must be good. I love anything pumpkin. Please share.

Dear Dawn:
It is just pumpkin pie without the crust because I love pumpkin but am watching my weight. I use basically the recipe on the can but replace the sugar with 1/2 cup Splenda and the canned milk with 1 1/2 cups nonfat milk. I bake it in a sprayed pie pan at 350 degrees for 60 to 75 minutes. One-fourth of the custard has just 115 calories.

From Christine O.:
Thank you for the past 20 years of newsletters… I have been following you since the 1990s in the Beacon Journal.

It would be fun to see how far your newsletters have spread around the country.

Dear Christine:
Yes, it would be fun. Let’s do it! If you subscribe and live outside Ohio, could you drop me a line? Just send a brief email with your location to janesnowcooks@gmail.com. Thanks!

December 24, 2019

Dear friends,
You are either knee-deep in latkes or about to dig into the Christmas pudding. Time for me to think about New Year’s Eve.

Throughout my career I have celebrated every holiday, food-wise, one week early in order to create and photograph recipes in time to get them into print. That’s why Tony, my friend, Marty, and I feasted on a Brie soufflé last week. It is the perfect nosh for a New Year’s Eve party, and even better the next day, sliced and plated, for brunch.

I found the recipe in “The Sliver Palate Cookbook,” a classic that has enjoyed a renaissance lately as publications mark its 40th anniversary. I remember interviewing the authors, Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins. I remember making many of the recipes, from the lime mousse and flourless chocolate cake to the carrot-orange soup and caviar roulade. But until now, not the Brie soufflé.

Yikes, is it rich. Did we really, back then, consider a quarter pound of Brie and a quarter stick of butter, not to mention milk and eggs, one serving? I made the recipe by the book, then remade it with a few tweaks so it’s not quite as sinful. It’s still delicious, although it is not a souffle.

When it’s hot from the oven, it’s like a fondue; no trace of the bread is apparent, just molten strands of cheese. When it cools, it’s like a strata — the bread gives it enough structure to be cut into slices or wedges and eaten with a fork.

So serve the hot soufflé (really, it barely puffs) surrounded by things to dip such as crackers and raw vegetables. Then slice and serve the chilled leftovers the next day for brunch. I liked it both ways, and think it’s even better with a few slices of torn prosciutto added to each layer.

BRIE SOUFFLE

4 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 slices good-quality sandwich bread, crusts removed
1 1/2 cups milk
1 tsp. salt
Dash of Tabasco
3 eggs
1 lb. slightly underripe Brie, very cold, rind removed
(6 slices prosciutto, torn, Jane’s addition)

Butter a 1 1/2-quart soufflé dish. Butter one side of the bread slices and cut each slice into thirds. Whisk together the milk, salt, Tabasco and eggs. Coarsely grate the Brie. (To grate the Brie, I used the horizontal slits on one side of a box grater.)

Arrange half the bread, buttered side up, on the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle evenly with half the prosciutto and half the Brie. Repeat, using remaining bread, prosciutto and Brie. Carefully pour the egg mixture over the casserole. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes while preheating the oven to 350 degrees.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until bubbling and golden. Makes 4 to 6 (or more) servings.

(Jane’s suggestion: Surround with crackers and crudities when hot. Or cool, then refrigerate and serve later at room temperature, sliced, as a brunch dish.)

TIDBITS

I’ve lost count of how many years I’ve been writing this newsletter. At least 20. It began as Second Helpings when I worked at the Beacon Journal and continues as See Jane Cook under the aegis of Mimi Vanderhaven and my friend, Mitch Allen, who support the blog financially and provide staff to handle the copy, manage the subscriber list and wrangle the website. I am so grateful to them, and if you know anyone who would like to advertise in the newsletter, I’m sure Mimi would appreciate it.

Lately, several of you have sent emails thanking me for continuing to write the newsletter. I would like to thank all of you for reading it. I think I’d be lost without it and the connection it gives me to our food community and the friendships — many without ever meeting — we have forged.

Especially now, when there’s so much misunderstanding and plain meanness afoot, I treasure this place we can come together and agree on something, even if it’s just a tub of Aldi’s salted chocolate-dipped cashews. Is there anyone who doesn’t love them? I didn’t think so.

Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukkah. Here’s to another 20 years. Well, at least five.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Corned beef hash with potatoes, carrots, daikon radish, onions, thyme and poached eggs; potato and greens soup; pumpkin custard (twice); stir-fried noodles with pork; cauliflower-coconut soup; pan-grilled pork chops.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Miso ramen with pork, chicken and egg rice bowl and a California roll at/from Tensuke Express and Market in Columbus; chicken and waffles, sweet potato fries, coleslaw, corn and lemon-rosemary cookies at Twisted Grill & Grind in Copley; a Puebla Wrap (chicken, corn salsa, avocado, pico de gallo) and coffee at Musketeer’s in Richfield; chicken curry and hot tea at Chin’s Place in Akron.

THE MAILBAG
From Ellen M.:
Regarding the question about West Point Market’s cheese spreads, I just went to Mustard Seed Market and they have the spread recipes from West Point. The man who made them at West Point makes them there. However, they only make the Bar None and The Other Spread.

Dear Ellen:
Thanks for the great information. Maybe eventually he’ll resurrect Coyote, a mouth burner but so good.

From Kay, Santa Fe.:
Help! Your penne recipe sounds beyond fantastic but my daughter is a vegetarian. Any way of getting around the ground beef?

Dear Kay:
Several people asked if they could leave out the meat to accommodate vegetarians. Yes, you may. Sautéed mushrooms would be a good swap. But there’s no way to omit the cheese, milk and eggs, which also are off-limits for many vegetarians. Before serving the penne to a mixed crowd, you might want to ask whether dairy products are OK.

From Carolyn V.:
My niece did Thanksgiving turkey breast sous vide. She first browned them and sous vided them for 14 hours. Then she oven-browned them for a very brief time at high heat The meat sliced beautifully and was very moist and tasty. The best part was that the leftover meat stayed moist and juicy even after being reheated.

Dear Carolyn:
Oh, boy. Gotta try turkey and chicken.

From Carol P.:
Apparently you can sous vide in your InstantPot. I am researching this idea because I am curious about the technique, too.

Dear Carol:
Do let us know how that turns out. Has anyone else used the appliance for sous vide?

December 18, 2019

Dear friends,
I have always wanted to go to an Italian family’s Christmas dinner. I have written about the traditional Christmas Eve feast of the seven fishes and printed recipes for Italian cookies and desserts but never actually participated. The closest I’ll come to an Italian holiday meal is probably the baked penne I made last week for Tony.

I could do a lot worse than share the creamy, walnut-studded pasta with my family. A LOT worse, given my family’s penchant for serving potato salad and meatloaf on the holiday (hence my desire to be adopted by an Italian family).

I made the pasta to share with you, though, not them. I figured maybe you could use a recipe for a make-ahead, luxurious dish large enough for a crowd. In the days before and after Christmas, if you’re lucky, your house will be filled with loved ones. This pasta is an easy way to feed them.

The recipe is a riff on one I found in Sarah Leah Chase’s “Cold Weather Cooking.” I changed the seasonings and a few other ingredients. In my version, cooked penne pasta is tossed in a casserole with cream, eggs, walnuts and a simple but deeply flavored tomato sauce quickly made in a skillet. Gruyere cheese is folded in, and the whole thing is scented with nutmeg, recalling the Northern Italian meat sauces that I love. It is baked until melty and bubbly and is absolutely delicious.

Buon Natale. And if you’re Italian and need a taste tester next week, give me a call.

BAKED PENNE PASTA WITH GROUND BEEF AND WALNUTS IN TOMATO-CREAM SAUCE

2 tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 lb. lean ground beef
1 tbsp. herbes de Provence
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
Salt, pepper
1 can (28 oz.) crushed tomatoes in puree
1 lb. penne pasta
2 eggs
2/3 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup broken walnut pieces
2 cups (8 oz.) shredded gruyere cheese (or Baby Swiss or mozzarella)
3 tbsp. grated Parmesan

Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Swirl in olive oil. Add onion and garlic and sauté until onion is translucent. Crumble in ground beef and cook until browned, breaking up meat with the edge of a spoon. Stir in herbes de Provence, nutmeg and plenty of salt and pepper. Stir in crushed tomatoes and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in boiling, salted water until al dente. In a casserole or deep oblong baking dish that holds 3 quarts, whisk together eggs and cream. When sauce and pasta are done, stir pasta into the dish with the cream and eggs, rapidly folding to coat pasta evenly. Stir in the walnuts and tomato sauce. Stir in all but one-half cup of the shredded gruyere, folding to distribute evenly.

Sprinkle remaining cheeses over top of casserole. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, until hot and bubbly and edges begin to brown. Makes 8 servings.

Note: Pass coarse sea salt at the table (it’s hard to get the seasoning right when cooking). The salt will bring out the flavor.

TIDBITS

OK, I am a fan. I sous vide-ed last week and the contraption is still in my kitchen, unlike the InstantPot that I banished to the basement after two lackluster meals.

I decided to give sous vide a whirl when I saw the immersion cookers on sale for $49.99 at Aldi. The one I bought looks like an immersion blender but fatter and heavier, with a readout on top of the handle and a clip on the side for attaching it to a pan filled with water.

The directions were easy to follow: Fill a deep pan with warm water, punch in the desired time and temperature and, after the water heats, lower in a sealed package of meat. I used a corned beef brisket I had sealed in plastic with my Seal-A-Meal. If you don’t own a vacuum sealer, you’ll have to buy one to use the immersion cooker.


My corned beef brisket cooked for eight hours at 170 degrees, and was juicy and perfectly cooked. Although sketchy time-and-temperature data came with my sous vide cooker, I used a more detailed chart I found on the Internet. I also scoured sites for the lowdown on sous vide and food safety, given that meat is cooked for a long time at a fairly low temperature. No problem. Although variables such as length of cooking time vs. temperature vs. thickness of meat come into play, my settings were safe for a whole brisket.

I am interested to hear about the favorite cuts others cook by the sous vide method. Must steaks be thick? What time and temperature do you use, and how long can you hold the steak at that temperature before it overcooks? Is there any point in cooking vegetables in this manner?

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Brie soufflé; corned beef; baked penne with ground beef and walnuts in tomato cream sauce.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Half of a spicy Asian salad and a cup of chili (yuck) at Panera; wonton soup and my favorite chili pork wontons at House of Hunan in Fairlawn; a hamburger with grilled onions, mustard and pickles at Bob’s Hamburg in Akron (as good as ever); shrimp lettuce wraps with pickled cauliflower at Portage Country Club in Akron.

THE MAILBAG

From L.R.:
Help! All of my local honey is crystalizing. I heated it as directed and it was OK for awhile but now it has crystalized again!! Am I doing something wrong?

Dear L.R.:
You aren’t doing anything wrong. As I understand it (from a quick chemistry lesson on a honey site), how fast/slow it crystalizes varies between types of honey. The process has to do with the ratio of glucose to fructose, the two types of sugar in honey, and this varies depending on the type of bee. Age can play a role, too. I have a jar that does this and it is annoying. Sorry, but just keep heating.

From Donna G.:
If you are ever in North Royalton, you need to stop in to Kavanna Social Kitchen.Their motto is “Taste. sip. share. repeat.” The food is fantastic and shareable. They are only open evenings Tuesdays through Saturdays. Check them out on Facebook. I have probably been there 20 + times. Varied menu including such delicacies as frog legs! You won’t be disappointed!

Dear Donna:
Thanks for the tip. I have been puzzled about the burgeoning “Social” phenomenon. In Cleveland, there’s the Twist Social Club and Prosperity Social Club. There’s the Social 8 in Akron’s Merriman Valley and Leo’s Italian Social in Cuyahoga Falls. When did “social” start serving as shorthand for “restaurant” and why?

The trend has been surging in California (naturally) for at least half a decade. The owner of a “social” there in 2015 described it in the San Francisco Chronicle as “Not quite a restaurant and not quite a bar … something in between.”

The online Urban Dictionary defines the Social as “Generally people eating, drinking, talking, laughing in a shared environment. A place to find Community.”

Legally, a non-profit social club is tax-exempt, but I don’t think that’s what we’re talking about here. I think the term is used to evoke a friendly neighborhood place where everyone knows your name. Appleby’s tried that and the chain is about as “neighborhood” as Walmart.

If you want to visit a REAL Social, go to spaghetti night at the Carovillese Club or the Italian Club in the North Hill area of Akron, or the fish fry on Friday night at the Polish Club. Just type in “ethnic club” on a search engine to discover exactly what these polished restaurants are trying to evoke. If you merely want a friendly neighborhood restaurant, you could go to one that’s been in business for decades such as the great Dontino’s in Cuyahoga Falls, whose patina is real. Like, 69 years real.

I’m not against new restaurants, just artifice. And, of course, chains. That said, there’s always room on my dance card for a new locally owned restaurant, which Kavana Social Kitchen definitely is.

From Kathy K.:
I was hoping you could help me locate a recipe that featured a favorite dish of the late pro baseball player, Thurman Munson. It featured beef tenderloin and I believe shrimp and possibly additional seafood. My family would like me to make it again for Christmas Eve dinner. Sadly, I can’t find the recipe. I would greatly appreciate any help or suggestions that you can offer.

Dear Kathy:
I’ve never heard of that recipe. Was it served at the former Bill Crocker’s Restaurant? I remember Frog Legs Thurman Munson but not beef tenderloin. Can anyone help?

December 11, 2019

Dear friends,
Busy much? If so, you might want to buy some of your holiday cookies this year. If you choose the bakery carefully you may be glad you didn’t turn on your oven.

One of the best bakeries in the Akron area for cookies — or anything, really — is Vincent’s Bakery in Cuyahoga Falls. The small mom and pop operation is the kind of bakery where traditions are born. Vincent Massoli started the business in the 1950s with Italian cakes and tea cookies so tender they almost dissolve on your tongue. His son, Nick, who for years now has run the place, still bakes everything from scratch with the family’s time-tested recipes.

The shop’s countertops are stacked with luscious-looking cookie trays that begin with Vincent Massoli’s buttery tea cookie recipe — emphasis on the butter. Real butter, not margarine or tinted shortening. The dough is shaped by hand into candy canes and Christmas trees, or nuts are added or rounds of dough are indented and filled with jam for thumbprints. Flavors are added to some of the dough, toppings are sprinkled on other batches. In all, the tender dough is the basis of 45 varieties of cookies.

Nick and his wife, Tina, generously shared the recipe with me in 2000 for a Beacon Journal article. I’m printing it again for those who want to bake like an Italian grandma this Christmas. Or just let Nick do it. The shop is at 2038 Bailey Road in Cuyahoga Falls. The phone is 330-923-8217.

Is it too early to think about New Year’s get-togethers? In celebration of the bakery’s 63rd year, Nick is offering plain 7-inch Italian cakes for $16 on Dec. 30 and 31 only. Orders must be placed by Dec. 28. The cakes are classic: three layers of sponge cake, a layer of vanilla custard and a layer of chocolate custard, all covered with whipped cream.

“We make our own custard, we make our own sponge cakes,” Nick says. “It’s the way my dad always did it. We haven’t changed anything.”

VINCENT’S TEA COOKIES

3 lbs. butter, slightly softened
1 1/2 lbs. powdered sugar
8 cups unsifted cake flour, divided
1/3 cup nonfat dry milk
1 tbsp. salt
1/2 cup egg whites (4 whites)
3/4 cup water
1 tbsp. vanilla

Beat butter with an electric mixer until very light and fluffy. In another bowl, sift together the powdered sugar, 6 cups of the cake flour, dry milk and salt. Add to the creamed butter a little at a time, beating well. Add egg whites to mixture and beat for one minute on medium speed.

Sift remaining cake flour and add to mixture alternately with water and vanilla to form a soft dough. The dough may be divided into portions and tinted with food coloring to pipe into canes, trees, etc.

Spoon dough into a pastry bag fitted with a star tip. Pipe batter into 1-inch rounds, crescents or other desired shapes onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 degrees for 8 minutes, or until light brown. Remove from trays and cool. The recipe may be cut in half.

Makes several dozen, depending on size.

TIDBITS

Merry Muttmas!
If you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or Festivus with a beloved pooch, get yourself and your furry friend to Morty’s Munchies, a wonderful new dog bakery in Akron’s Merriman Valley. In a small shop across from Papa Joe’s and two doors down from Michael’s A.M., owner Nicole bakes and sells her own wares along with other treats and gifts I haven’t seen in chain stores.

I bought some pizza-flavored biscuits and a lick mat, among many other things, for Oscar’s stocking. Nicole named the shop after one of her three dogs. If you live in the Akron area, this is a great chance to shop local.

No-Pudge Eggnog
I gave up eggnog years ago when the calories (just kill me) were first printed on the carton. I devised low-cal versions but they never tasted as rich. Now I’ve found a substitute: Almond milk eggnog.

I know, nut milks taste like a graphite pencil, but after seeing the fairly low calorie count, I decided to give Ajoyo Almond Nog a try. It is richer than my homemade skim-milk eggnog thickened with sugar-free instant pudding. It actually tastes pretty good and has just 100 calories per cup.

My new holiday drink is a half-cup of coffee, a half cup Ajoyo nog, a teaspoon of Splenda and a shot of Bourbon. Heat it up and sip it by the light of a twinkling tree.

GUT CHECK
The only interesting things I made last week were a couple of peanut butter and banana sandwiches and turkey-chickpea soup with coconut milk. I heated up frozen Thai chicken in a coconut curry sauce from Aldi’s and it was pretty good. Buy some (look in the freezer case) if you’re a Thai food lover. I had it over steamed cauliflower rice for a flavorful yet virtuous dinner.

Lunch out was boffo last week. I discovered Sonnet’s Espresso Bar & Restaurant in Wadsworth (late to the party, I know) and you should, too. It’s a coffee house with craft beers on tap and a real chef in the kitchen.

The waiter/bartender (owner? chef?) told me the place smokes its own briskets and pork and makes all the salad dressings. I think he was being modest because everything I tasted was from scratch.

An interesting chalkboard list of side dishes included roasted Brussels sprouts loaded with bacon in a portion so generous I could have stopped there. But I also got the 1814 sandwich, a pile of crisp pastrami, brisket, melted provolone, coleslaw and “magic mustard” on a pretzel bun. I took most of it home, and my husband and I split the leftovers for supper (truth in advertising: he also had turkey soup and later, ramen).

My friend had creamy mushroom soup and cubed roast sweet potatoes with bacon. There’s a breakfast menu (I want to try the black bean cakes with pico de gallo, egg and sour cream. I will definitely get the optional pork green chili). The lunch/dinner menu includes a lot of entree salads that can be turned into wraps, and many fabulous-sounding sandwiches.

The atmosphere tends more toward hip but comfy coffee house than family restaurant, which is the flavor of Alexandris around the corner. That restaurant is one of Tony’s favorites and the reason I haven’t visited Sonnets until now. The next time we dine in Wadsworth, it may be in separate restaurants.

For more info, go to sonnetscoffee.com.

THE MAILBAG

From Cindy W.:
Perfect timing on the new cookie glaze, as my holiday baking frenzy is about to begin. But…is it “2 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted”, or “2 1/4 sifted cups confectioners’ sugar”?

And while I’m writing, I think you may have experienced something like my newest kitchen issue and have some idea of what to do about it. Several of my “pretty” cookbooks were displayed on a shelf above my gas stove for eons and rarely used. I’ve brought them to Florida to display and actually use, but they’ve collected the typical coating of kitchen grease and dust. Cleaning the dust jackets is easy, but how do I clean the page edges without damaging them? Your suggestions would be very much appreciated!

Dear Cindy:
The recipe as written is measure, then sift. Many recipe writers don’t know the difference between putting “sifted” before or after the ingredient so I don’t trust them when it is written “flour, sifted.” But I am 99% sure King Arthur does. So in this case, measure the confectioners’ sugar and then sift.

I can’t answer your book-cleaning question. My books are far from the stove so I don’t have that problem. The wall clock, chef photos of Tony, writing mementos …. all coated with grease and cleaned periodically. But not books. Can anyone help Cindy?

From Martha:
Guinness and chocolate is a long-standing pairing. Although adding ginger is pretty fantastic, too. Here’s a delicious recipe I made for my family:
Chocolate Guinness cake
https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1875-chocolate-guinness-cake

Guinness makes great BBQ sauce too:
https://www.theblackpeppercorn.com/2012/03/guinness-bbq-sauce/.

Dear Martha:
I think you should make that cake for me sometime. Maybe we can have a cake fest with Guinness to wash it all down.

From Julie B.:
I have another chef you would love to follow. His name is Pasquale Sciarappa and he posts videos on facebook all the time. His Italian recipes are very similar to the ones from my grandma and he is a lot of fun to watch.

I hope you have a great holiday!

Dear Julie:
Thanks! Always room on my watch list for someone with a sense of humor.

From Molly C.:
I’ve frequented Stan’s Bakery a time or two as it is in my neck of the woods. I love walking in there as smells exactly as a bakery should. In addition to their sweet treats, they offer homemade pierogis. I’ve ordered custom-decorated cookies on separate occasions, and have always been so pleased. Leslie is a true artist.

You can subscribe to Stan’s Bakery online to stay up to date on what is available. They have a Facebook page too.

I will be rooting for Leslie to win when I watch her compete on the Food Network!

Dear Molly:
You are lucky — or is it cursed? — to live close to a great bakery. Thanks for writing.

From Mary D.:
My curiosity is piqued! I googled “Knock you Naked cookies” assuming it’s a bakery in the Akron area. The search returned various “Knock you Naked” recipes — from brownies to bars to party punch. I searched “what is knock you naked” but couldn’t find the origin, just recipes. What is the craze and where did it start?

Dear Mary:
Let’s catch others up on your reference. It is to my item a few weeks ago about the variety of dishes I judged at the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church Men Who Cook fund-raiser. Since this is cookie week, I’ll print the recipe for Larry Crocket’s entry. I have no idea where the trend started and my guess is we will never know. Remember Better Than Sex Cake? Same thing.

KNOCK YOU NAKED BARS
2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Caramel Sauce:
5 oz. evaporated milk
1 bag (14 oz.) caramels
1/2 cup peanut butter

For the bars: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.

Whisk together flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl. In a large mixer bowl, beat butter, sugar, brown sugar and vanilla with a mixer until creamy. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in chocolate chips.

Spread half of dough in the prepared pan. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from oven.

While the dough bakes, melt caramels with evaporated milk in a double boiler. Add peanut butter after caramels are melted. Melt thoroughly and stir well. Spread over baked cookie dough base.

Drop remaining cookie dough by spoonfuls on top of the caramel mixture. Return to oven and bake 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown.

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.