July 10, 2019

Dear friends,
The mushrooms were golden and a bit fuzzy, like button mushrooms from an alternate reality. I can’t remember their name. I remember the flavor, though — a bit more pronounced than regular white mushrooms, with earthy, woodland notes.

I bought a small sack of the mushrooms at the Countryside Farmers Market Saturday — just enough to flavor a soufflé if I wanted to spend that much time in my sweltering kitchen. I didn’t.

I sure wanted that soufflé, though, so I made a down and dirty version in a skillet. No cooked white sauce. No buttered soufflé dish. Just a bowl in which to beat the eggs and a skillet to sauté the mushrooms and bake the soufflé in, too.

I found a recipe for a lemon skillet soufflé (just Google “lemon skillet soufflé”) and riffed on that. The original was from the Cook’s magazine folks. I changed almost all of the ingredients except the eggs, and borrowed the technique of beating the soufflé base rather than cooking it. It worked pretty good, although a dessert soufflé made in this manner would probably rise higher than my mushroom-laden one.

A reader asked me this week about the difference between my crustless quiche of a few weeks ago and a frittata. This mushroom soufflé further muddies the waters. All of them are similar, although the frittata is much more eggy and the soufflé is puffier.

Basically, a frittata is an unfolded omelet with the filling ingredients mixed right into the eggs. It can be cooked on the stove or in the oven. A quiche usually is a custard base (eggs and milk) to which lots of cheese is added. My crustless quiche skips the milk in the custard base and uses cottage cheese as the dairy. It’s not a true quiche, but the cottage cheese disqualifies it as a frittata. A soufflé is a custard base made with just the yolks, to which beaten whites are added.

None of this matters. What’s important is whether it tastes good, and Tony gave the mushroom skillet soufflé a big thumbs up. The flavor of the mushrooms was enhanced with finely chopped sage and thyme from my herb garden. Chives and rosemary would complement the mushrooms, too.

When the local corn finally ripens I’ll sub a cup of sautéed kernels for the mushrooms (it won’t be long — I hear the corn is starting to tassel this week) and use basil for the herb. Until then, some strange-delicious mushrooms will do.

This airy soufflé and a salad make a great, light dinner on a sizzling summer night. One-fourth of the soufflé — a big, big hunk — has just 198 calories.

MUSHROOM SKILLET SOUFFLE

5 eggs
2 tbsp. butter
6 oz. mushrooms (any variety), diced to 1/4-inch pieces
1/4 cup diced onion
1 clove garlic, diced
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. minced fresh sage
1 tsp. minced fresh thyme leaves
1/2 cup milk
3 tbsp. flour
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Separate the eggs, placing the whites in the bowl of a mixer and the yolks in a custard cup. Make sure no speck of yolk contaminates the whites (to be safe, separate each white into a custard cup before pouring one at a time into the mixer bowl).

Melt butter in a 10-inch oven-proof skillet. Sauté mushrooms, onions and garlic over medium heat until vegetables are softened and mushrooms are golden brown. If the mushrooms give off moisture, turn up the heat to evaporate the moisture. Remove from heat and stir in salt and herbs.

Arrange oven rack in middle of oven and preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Beat whites on medium-low speed until frothy. Increase speed to high and continue to beat until whites are stiff and glossy. Scrape whites into another bowl.

In the same mixer bowl (no need to wash) beat yolks on high speed until thickened and light yellow, at least 1 minute. Beat in milk, then flour and cheese. Stir in mushroom mixture.

Return skillet (without washing) to medium-low heat. Stir and fold one-fourth of the egg whites into the yolk mixture until barely a trace of the whites remain. Gently fold remaining whites into the yolk mixture, scraping bottom of bowl to incorporate all of the mushrooms and yolks.

Pour soufflé mixture into warm skillet and cook for 2 minutes over medium-low heat. Place skillet on middle rack in a 375-degree oven and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until top is puffy and golden and center is almost set. Serve immediately. Makes 4 large servings at 198 calories each.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Venison spaghetti sauce and Parmesan cheese baked in a spaghetti squash half; a turkey burger and sugar-free ice cream soda; grill-smoked thick, bone-in rib steak (tomahawk) with horseradish sauce and grilled vegetables with sesame-ginger dressing; black raspberry galette; marinated roast pork tenderloin, buttered corn on the cob; wilted spinach and fried egg on toast; grilled ribeye steaks, corn on the cob, sliced tomatoes with olive oil, sea salt and chopped basil; kung pao chicken over rice; another wilted spinach and fried egg on toast.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Half of a spicy Thai salad, an apple and iced coffee at Panera; half of a chicken teriyaki sub at Subway; popcorn, no butter at Regal Cinema; half of a Subway ham and Swiss; half of a pulled pork sandwich from Showcase Meats in Akron.

THE MAILBAG
From Martha K.:
This recipe is a throwback to your crustless quiche. I make egg muffins often. They’re good hot, cold or slightly warmed, alone or on a bed of arugula topped with a squeeze of lemon and a grating of pecorino Romano cheese.

I make them when I need to watch my calorie intake or when I know I’m going to be very busy. They pack easily. They’re great for a road trip. I usually have plenty of vegetables at home but when I’m in a hurry, I grab a small amount of carrots, peas, scallions, broccoli, peppers and whatever looks good from a salad bar at a grocery store.

EGG MUFFINS
9 eggs
Scant 1/4 cup milk
Pinch of cream of tartar
Pinch of salt
Crank or two of pepper

Filler:
Any combination of finely chopped fresh vegetables
Romano, Cheddar, low-moisture mozzarella or any shredded cheese
Cubed ham, crumbled bacon, shredded chicken, chopped steak

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat a 12-cup muffin tin with vegetable oil spray or butter.

In a 4-cup measuring cup, whisk together the eggs, milk, cream of tartar, salt and pepper. Arrange any combination of fillers in each muffin cup. Do not fill more than halfway.

Pour egg mixture into each muffin cup, filling no more than three-fourths full. Mixture will puff in oven. Bake at 375 degrees for about 18 minutes. Eggs are ready when the edges begin to brown.

Let cool in pan. Run a knife around edges of muffins and remove from tin. Eat immediately or refrigerate in a sealed container for up to 5 days. Makes 12.

Dear Martha,
I love this idea. Tony and I are getting ready for a road trip with our camper. I’ll definitely take some of these along. Thanks!

From Pat S.:
Hi Jane. I have been seeing a range of Hasselback recipes. The baked potatoes are excellent and the sweet potato version looks awesome. I’m now seeing the technique used on baked chicken breasts, Caprese and fajita styles. I think the combinations are endless. These are oven-bake recipes, but I’m thinking the chicken could be grilled as well, making it an easy, quick summer meal. And very good when we have so much fresh produce and herbs in season. Do you have thoughts on this method and its versatility?

Dear Pat,
I think “Hasselback” is almost as much fun to say as “spatchcock.” Remember a couple of summers ago when we were spatchcocking our brains out? Seriously, I think that’s why “Hasselback” is having a moment — it’s fun to say.

Fun aside, the technique of slicing something almost but not quite through and stuffing the crevices (or not stuffing, as in the original version of Hasselback potatoes) is an interesting way to present food. If you stuff, you’ll want to make sure the stuffing and encasing food roast at the same speed. In other words, no potato stuffed with seafood. Otherwise, this is a visually exciting way to dress up dinner.
If you grill the chicken, I would slice it and stuff it after cooking to prevent the chicken from drying out. Send me your favorite Hasselback recipe! I want to play, too.

FYI, Hasselback potatoes were named after Restaurant Hasselbacken in Stockholm, Sweden, where they were invented.

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July 3, 2019

Dear friends,
I have an old, slim, tattered Szechuan cookbook from 1982 that I burned the back cover from when I set it on an electric burner eons ago. The paperback, “Szechwan & Northern Cooking: From Hot to Cold,” was written by Rhonda Yee. It has survived four moves and a Marie Kondo-style cleansing.

Every few years the book gets buried in the basement or pushed to the back of a bookshelf and I forget about it. A few years later I find it, consider tossing out the poor, charred little thing, but instead hang onto it. On the rare occasions I crack open the book, I’m glad I did. The sauce recipes are extraordinary.

When I found the book on my shelf last weekend, it was the culinary equivalent of a letter from my youth. I remember making recipes from the book in the early days of my career as a food writer. I paged through the book, encountering my penciled-in annotations from the past.

The most exciting moment is when I found my favorite recipe for kung pao chicken, which I thought I had lost. Tony is a kung pao fanatic, but I keep telling him the pallid versions he gets in restaurants can’t compare to the one I would make if only I could find my recipe. I will wow him with this superior version this week.

But I had a sirloin steak, not chicken, in the fridge last weekend, so I improvised with the ingredients on hand and a couple of Yee’s sauces. I’ll tell you straight up that her salad dressing recipe, reprinted below, should be made by the gallon and kept in your refrigerator at all times. It is luscious. I’m going to use the leftovers all week on roasted vegetables.

I marinated the steak, grilled it and sliced it. I tossed it with romaine lettuce, sliced scallions and Yee’s lip-licking dressing. Rice sticks and peanuts provided the crunch.

Filament-like rice sticks can be found in Asian stores and some supermarkets. They are usually coiled into nests. For this recipe, the strands are teased apart and dropped into very hot oil, which puffs them dramatically. With the weather we’ve been having, I wouldn’t blame you if you used packaged chow mein noodles instead. The salad will still taste great.

CRUNCHY SZECHUAN BEEF SALAD

Marinade:
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. hoisin sauce
1 tbsp. black bean garlic sauce
1 tsp. sugar

Dressing:
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
2 tbsp. sesame oil
2 tbsp. rice vinegar
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. sugar
1 tbsp. hoisin sauce
1 tsp. Szechuan chili oil

Salad:
1 lb. top sirloin or flatiron steak, trimmed of fat and gristle
1 oz. very thin rice sticks or 2 cups chow mein noodles
Oil for frying (if using rice sticks)
Salt
4 to 6 cups chopped romain lettuce
4 scallions, sliced
1/2 cup coarsely crushed dry-roasted peanuts

Combine marinade ingredients in a custard cup. Slather on both sides of steak. Place on a plate, cover and marinate in refrigerator for at least 1 hour or up to 4 hours.

Combine dressing ingredients in a lidded jar and shake well. Set aside.

If using rice sticks, separate the strands over a bowl to catch the pieces. The filaments should be separated and broken into pieces but not crushed. Heat about 1 inch of vegetable oil in a heavy, wide skillet. The oil should be very hot. Test it by dropping a strand of rice stick into the oil. It should immediately puff up. Scatter a handful at a time in the oil, turning over with tongs as soon as they puff, and removing from the oil as soon as the other side has puffed. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt.

Remove steak from marinade and grill over hot coals to desired degree of doneness. Let rest off the heat for 10 minutes, then slice across the grain into 1/4-inch-wide strips. Cut the strips into 1 1/2-inch lengths.

Just before serving, place chopped romaine in a very large bowl. Add scallions and all but 2 tablespoons of the peanuts. Toss with half the dressing. Add the beef strips and toss again, adding more dressing if necessary. Add all but a handful of the rice sticks or chow mein noodles and salt to taste; toss. Mound on a platter. Drizzle with a bit more dressing. Garnish with remaining peanuts and rice sticks. Makes 4 large servings.

Note: Refrigerate the delicious leftover dressing and drizzle over cooked vegetables or salads.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
A crustless tomato quiche; roast carrots, bell peppers and zucchini; a crunchy Szechuan beef salad.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Thai chicken curry with chopped peanuts at Basil Asian Bistro in Wooster; half of a ham and cheese sub from Subway; edamame, a California roll, Tony’s Mussels and a Bud Light at Sushi Katsu in Akron; sugar-free coffee frozen yogurt at Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt; marinated grilled chicken and beef, grilled kefta, kibbee, tabbouli and baba ganoush from Falls Mediterranean Market & Grill in Cuyahoga Falls; small popcorn, no butter at Regal Cinema; samosa, corn salad, bahn mi and watermelon at the Project Learn picnic in Akron.

THE MAILBAG
From Maria M.:
I have quite a bit of zucchini from last year’s garden that I partially blanched and froze last year. They are in slices and half slices. How do you recommend using them? I know I can drop them frozen into soup such as minestrone but this is definitely not soup weather! I’m always uncertain as to whether or not I should thaw the zucchini before using it in a recipe or leave it frozen. Any recipe suggestions would be helpful and appreciated.

Dear Maria:
Zucchini is one of the few vegetables I would never freeze. Because of its high water content, it becomes beyond mushy when thawed. A lot of people do freeze zucchini, though. Unless you use it in soup or stew, you should thaw the zucchini and drain it well before using. You might even want to squeeze it dry.

Many people who freeze zucchini shred it first for use in baked goods such as zucchini bread. Since you didn’t do that, I would forget about baked goods and instead sneak it into meatloaf, spaghetti sauce and smoothies. You could try stir frying it, but be prepared for some splatters when the moisture in the zucchini meets the hot fat.

This year, pick them small — 6 inches or less — and eat ‘em up.

From Mary:
Jane, your couscous salad was delicious! We had fresh salmon I baked and the salad with it was just so good. Thanks for the recipe. It was awesome.

Dear Mary:
I love when I hear that one of my recipes was made and enjoyed. Thanks for writing.

From Linda C.:
This vegan loves your couscous salad recipe. I love roasting veggies. The large pearl couscous is a great texture change. I’m experimenting with different grains. We love farro and freekeh. Tef was a wonderful change as a breakfast grain, too.

Thanks for your continued flavor combinations and great food advice.

Dear Linda:
Tef, eh? That is one I haven’t tried. Thanks for the suggestion.

June 26,2019

Dear friends,
Authentic isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Not always, anyway. Do you ever read about a country’s food, imagine it in your mind, and then feel a bit let down when you actually taste it?

I do that all the time. Korean and native American food come to mind. If only there were a teensy bit less fermented gunk, or the mutton stew was made instead with lamb…..

I felt that way the first time I tasted a Moroccan tagine. The seasonings in the stew were kind of brilliant but the vegetables were sooo limp. Wrung out. Tasteless. Don’t get me wrong, I still eat tagine every chance I get and even bought a tagine cooker (it looks like an upside-down funnel). But wouldn’t it taste better if the vegetables were roasted to concentrate their flavors? And how about using that big-pearl couscous instead of the fine-grained stuff?

I haven’t bastardized a tagine to that extent yet, but I did take the elements and seasonings (one version of the seasonings; there are many) and combine them in a side dish/salad. Serve it warm or cold for my American take on a Moroccan classic.

Not to insult the entire country of Morocco or anything, but this is the kind of dish you’ll eat with a spoon, standing in front of the refrigerator, at 11 at night. It’s that good.

COUSCOUS SALAD WITH ROASTED VEGETABLES, ALMONDS AND RAISINS

1 bell pepper, cleaned and halved lengthwise
1 zucchini, about 8 inches long, halved lengthwise
1 Chinese eggplant, about 8 to 10 inches long, halved lengthwise
2/3 cup Israeli (large pearl) couscous
1/4 cup slivered blanched almonds
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup raisins

Dressing:
4 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. mace
1/8 tsp. ground cardamom
Salt, pepper

Spray a baking sheet with olive oil spray or lightly grease with olive oil. Place pepper, zucchini and eggplant on sheet and spray or lightly coat with olive oil. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes or until vegetables are soft but not mushy. The roasting time will depend on the thickness of the vegetables.

Meanwhile, cook couscous according to package directions. While it cooks, heat a heavy, medium-size skillet over high heat. Toast almonds in the skillet until light brown on the edges, stirring frequently. Remove from skillet and set aside.

Heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil in same skillet over medium heat. Sauté onions until softened but not brown. Scrape onions and oil in skillet into a medium-large serving bowl. When the couscous is done, stir into the onions and oil in the bowl.

Pour hot water over the raisins in a small bowl and set aside.

In a lidded jar, combine dressing ingredients and shake well. When vegetables are done, cut into 1-inch chunks. Place in the bowl with the couscous and stir well. Season with salt to taste. Drain raisins and stir into the couscous with the toasted almonds. Shake dressing again. Pour over salad and stir well.

Serve warm or cold. Makes about 6 servings.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
Genghis Khan (marinated, grilled thin-sliced lamb) over cauliflower rice with pan-grilled carrots, sugar-snap peas, onions and oyster mushrooms; baked shrimp with tomatoes and feta; roast pork tenderloin and couscous with roasted vegetables, almonds and raisins; baked potato and filet mignon cooked in and grilled over a backyard campfire.

What I ate out:
Chicken gyro at Continental Cuisine in Fairlawn; small popcorn, no butter at Regal Cinema; pancetta, lettuce and tomato flatbread sandwich, drip coffee at Cafe Arnone in Fairlawn; juicy, lemony grilled pork tenderloin, couscous salad with mushrooms, shaved Parmesan and truffle oil, and chunky vegetable salad at my friend Marty’s house; barbecued baby back ribs, kale slaw and homemade potato chips at Hoppin’ Frog Brewery in Akron; Caesar salad with grilled chicken at Mustard Seed Market in Highland Square; homemade tortilla chips with salsa, and tacos with carnitas and cactus salad at Taqueria Rancheros in Akron.

THE MAILBAG
From me:
Thanks to those who wrote to commiserate about the weather, comment on past recipes (the crustless quiche was a hit) or just to say “Hi.” I no longer feel ignored.

I still don’t have mail to share, though, so I’m passing along a recipe from my friend, Joan Welsh, who brought the yummy dish to a gathering. Four of us meet once a month or so to laugh and, basically, eat. I know many of you have similar get-togethers. I’d love to have the recipe for the latest dish you’ve shared with YOUR friends.

Joan’s dish was heady with the aroma (and flavor) of truffles — no doubt because she used good truffle oil. She bought the oil at TruffleHunter on the Internet, she said.

ISRAELI COUSCOUS WITH MUSHROOMS AND LEMON TRUFFLE VINAIGRETTE
1 lb. assorted mushrooms, sliced
2 tbsp. olive oil
Salt, pepper
1 cup Israeli couscous
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 cup shaved parmesan
1/4 cup vinaigrette

Truffle Vinaigrette:

1/3 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white truffle-infused olive oil
Pinch of salt and pepper

Combine vinaigrette ingredients in a jar and shake well.

Spread mushrooms in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast at 400 degrees until done.

Place couscous in a large frying pan and toast over medium heat. When the couscous starts to brown, add broth, cover and simmer according to package directions until cooked.

In a bowl combine room-temperature mushrooms and couscous. Shake dressing well, add 1/4 cup and toss. Add salt and pepper if needed. Top with shaved Parmesan just before serving.

June 19, 2019

Dear friends,
Mostly I eat local in the summer, relishing the appearance of each vegetable and fruit as it ripens according to its own unique schedule. But who knows how much longer we can enjoy the gradual change of seasons measured by an asparagus spear or a raspberry? Get this stuff while you can.

My asparagus patches, old and new, are still producing, probably because of the rains. My tomato plants sport marble-sized green fruits that refuse to ripen, also because of the rains. I have been buying cherry and grape tomatoes and roasting or pan-grilling them to compensate for the lack of flavor. Cooking concentrates the sugars and makes them edible.

Last week I combined a bunch of asparagus and a few grape tomatoes in a crustless quiche brightened with lemon and dill. The dill, volunteers from last year’s plant that I allowed to go to seed, have taken over one big planter. There must be 20 fronds in there. I’ll be eating a lot of dill this summer.

My first crustless quiche was a flop. I thought I could make a low-cal version without consulting a recipe, but I learned that simply reducing the amount of cheese in a quiche produces a pie pan full of scrambled eggs.

For the second attempt, I chose a method from Eating Well that replaces milk and shredded cheese with cottage cheese. This produces an eggy pie that puffs up nicely in the oven and — thanks to some flour — holds together beautifully on the plate. The flavor is bland, though, which is why I added some Parmesan, lemon and dill. The asparagus and tomatoes help, too.

Tony and I had this quiche for dinner one night, but I liked it even better as breakfast the next morning. It fits into my current eating plan with 250 calories per serving, which is one-fourth of a 10-inch deep-dish pie.

ASPARAGUS CRUSTLESS QUICHE WITH LEMON AND DILL

1 1/2 cups asparagus spears in 1-inch pieces
1 cup cherry tomato halves
6 eggs
1 cup cottage cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tbsp. flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. (packed) chopped fresh dill
Grated zest of 1 lemon

Place sliced asparagus in a small (7-inch) skillet and barely cover with water. Cover pan and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 2 minutes, depending on size of the spears, until asparagus is al dente. Transfer to a colander and refresh under cold water to intensify the color. Set aside.

Return skillet to stove and spray bottom with olive oil or vegetable spray. Place tomatoes, cut sides down, in skillet and cook over high heat until tomatoes begin to sizzle. Press down on tomatoes with a spatula to release liquid. When most of the liquid has evaporated but the tomatoes are still slightly juicy, remove from heat and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk eggs. With a spoon, stir in cottage cheese, Parmesan, flour, salt, dill and lemon zest. Stir in most of the asparagus and tomatoes, reserving 4 tips and 3 or 4 tomato halves. Pour into a deep 10-inch pie pan coated with vegetable oil spray. Arrange reserved asparagus and tomatoes on top.

Bake at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes, until the edges turn golden and the center is set. Cool for 20 minutes before cutting into 4 pieces. Each slice has 250 calories.

Adapted from Eating Well.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Pan-grilled pork tenderloin cutlets, asparagus with balsamic vinegar, cucumber salad with toasted walnuts, raisins and yogurt dressing; green bean, ham and potato soup with pesto; lettuce wraps with pan-grilled pork loin strips, roasted vegetables and cilantro; asparagus and tomato crustless quiche with lemon and dill; steamed sugar snap peas; awful strawberry gelatin molds.

What I ate in/from restaurants and carryouts:
Chef’s salad with chicken and blue cheese from Sam’s Club; eggs over easy, bacon and grits at Wally Waffle in Montrose; a hot dog with mustard at Canal Park (take your dog to the ballpark day); half of a spicy Thai chicken salad at Panera; sugar-free Dilly Bar at Dairy Queen; tossed salad, Italian bread, veal scaloppini topped with shrimp in garlic butter sauce and a Bud Light at Naples Spaghetti House in Steubenville; chicken burrito salad from Chipotle; seaweed-wrapped rice with vegetables and beef, steamed egg with pickles and bulgogi at Korea House in Cleveland; detox green smoothie from Tropical Smoothie Cafe in Cleveland.

THE MAILBAG

Dear Readers:
No mail suitable for sharing arrived in my in box this week. You probably were too busy building dikes around your houses to write. While you wait out the floods, you’ll have time to try the scrumptious bacon bread knots I saw in a Facebook post last month by my friend, Pennie. Her gourmet group held a bacon night (love it) and these luscious-looking things were one contribution. Of course I pestered Pennie for the recipe.

If the ark you are building has wi-fi, drop me a line.

BACON GARLIC WRAPS
1 1/3 cups warm water
1 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
3 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup plus 2 tsp. grated Parmesan cheese
2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried oregano
3 tbsp. olive oil
30 strips bacon
5 tbsp. melted butter
4 cloves garlic, minced
Marinara sauce for dipping (optional)

Sprinkle yeast over warm water in a small bowl. Let sit 5 minutes or until frothy.

In a large bowl whisk together the flour, 1/4 cup Parmesan, sugar, baking powder, salt, basil and oregano. Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and the yeast mixture. Stir until a ball of dough forms. Transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead until the dough is springy, about 5 minutes.

Coat the large bowl with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and turn ball of dough in bowl to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place about 1 hour or until doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Dust dough with a bit of flour and dump onto a clean surface. Tear the dough into 30 pieces, then roll into 6-inch-long strips. Place a strip of bacon over each dough strip. Tie both together to form a knot. Place the knots on a wire rack over a baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes or until bread is golden brown and the bacon is crisp.

In a small bowl mix the butter, garlic and remaining 2 teaspoons Parmesan cheese. Brush mixture over knots and bake for another 5 minutes. Serve warm with marinara sauce for dipping, if desired.

June 12, 2019

Dear friends,

I’m into gonzo cooking these days. At least two nights a week I run out of energy and patience by the time dinner rolls around. In the bad old days, that’s when I’d order a pizza. But because of my new, healthful eating plan (I’m down 10 pounds, guys), pizza is not a good idea. So I crank up the oven, turn up the flame under the cast iron and flash-cook some protein and veggies.

This week’s recipe isn’t really a recipe. It’s a collection of ingredients and a time-saving cooking method. It’s stupid-easy so if you’re already doing this, forgive me. But I really want everyone to know how to get a great meal on the table in about 30 minutes.

My favorite no-recipe healthful dinner is seared pork tenderloin strips and roast vegetables wrapped in lettuce leaves with maybe a drizzle of sweet soy sauce and fresh cilantro or basil. It’s kind of an East-Meets-Southwest taco.

First set the oven temperature to 400 degrees. While it preheats, cut a bell pepper into strips. Trim the root and any limp green part from 6 scallions. Cut a big carrot into carrot sticks (or use pre-cut ones). Butterfly a pork tenderloin. I use tenderloin because it is lean and fairly low-cal. Boneless chicken would work, too.

To butterfly, cut the cylinder of meat lengthwise halfway through, spread it out and beat it with a meat pounder until it’s an even thickness. If the tenderloin is a fat one, you may have to make vertical cuts in each half and spread them apart before bashing them. Lacking a meat pounder (a utensil with a smooth pounding surface), use a rubber mallet from the toolbox in the garage. Wash it first.

Line a baking sheet with foil. Spread the vegetables in a single layer on the sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Roll the veggies around to coat them evenly with oil. Spread them out again. Roast them at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes, removing the scallions when they begin to brown. Everything should be tender.

While the veggies roast, heat a heavy skillet (cast iron is best) over high heat. When it is hot, add enough olive oil to coat the bottom. Season the meat with lots of salt and pepper and cook it until the bottom is brown. Turn the meat over, reduce heat to medium, cover and cook until just no longer pink. Cut it into 1/4-inch-wide strips across the grain. I do this in the pan, which is not good for the knives. You should probably do this on a cutting board, but that means you’ll have one more thing to wash.

Mound each vegetable and the meat on a platter. Add a pile of fresh herbs and about 6 big lettuce leaves. Pliable leaf lettuce is best. At the table, arrange the ingredients on the lettuce leaves, drizzle with a little sweet soy sauce (or salsa or whatever you like) and roll to encase the filling. Eat ‘em up.

I guarantee you this is at least as good as a pizza.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Spaghetti squash and feta cheese baked in spaghetti squash halves; pan-grilled pork tenderloin with roast carrots, bell peppers and scallions wrapped in lettuce leaves with cilantro and sweet soy sauce; crustless asparagus quiche with lemon and dill, and homegrown baby lettuces with vinaigrette; microwave scrambled egg with capers, chopped tomato and fresh oregano; sheet pan chicken thighs with Indian simmer sauce and roast lemons, pepper strips, radishes and baby potatoes; yogurt- and spice-marinated grilled chicken with a cucumber, mint and baby lettuce salad and watermelon; charcoal-grilled strip steaks, pan-grilled asparagus and grape tomatoes.

What I ate in/from restaurants last week:
Bacon and grits at Bob Evans; tossed salad,T-bone steak and garlic mashed potatoes at Brown Derby in Medina Township; salad bar and tomato-basil soup at Buehler’s in Medina; pastore tacos with grilled onions, cilantro and lime at Taqueria Rancheros in Akron (yeow); Ahi tuna poke salad bowl at Poke Fresh in Akron (Wallhaven, near Whole Foods).

THE MAILBAG
From Linda S.
The Middle East restaurants in Canton are Sahara, Aladdin’s and the Desert Inn, for your Middle East food fix. I get my fix mostly at my mom’s house!

Dear Linda:
You lucky dog. I am not familiar with Sahara; I’ll have to try it. I loved the Desert Inn when I reviewed it decades ago, and I am a regular at the Aladdin’s in the Montrose area of Bath Township. Thanks.

From Sally T.:
I saw a very interesting show on PBS about hijiki seaweed. It showed women diving for it, then drying it, and it all was fascinating to me. I thought you or your husband probably knew something about this.

On the show, they used the seaweed in traditional Japanese food but what caught my attention was they used it in salads with fruit and spaghetti sauce. Of course, they talked about how good it is for you. I conquered kale so I thought it might be interesting to try this. I would love for you to write something about the different types of seaweed. What I found was this is the most palatable to American tastes. Do the Japanese eat a lot of it?

Dear Sally:
Tony says it is eaten a lot in Japan. Try it topped with shrimp, cucumbers and a soy-rice vinegar dressing. That is known as “sunomono” and is served at sushi bars. If you’re watching your weight, sunomono, miso soup and edamame would be a filling, low-cal, high-protein meal.

Hijiki has an interesting texture, kind of like al dente spaghetti squash. I had some last weekend on a tuna poke salad. Tony said the strands of bright-green hijiki were mixed with strands of jelly fish. This is how I have seen it most often.

The other types of seaweed most common in Japan are nori, the dried sheets used to wrap sushi, and kombu. The latter is smooth, flat and wide. That’s the chopped greens you see floating in your miso soup. It is used in all sorts of other preparations, too, including the sunomonos described above.

From Jan C.:
I finished Ruth Reichl’s book a couple of weeks ago. It is truly one of her best. I enjoyed your review of the book, but in that same newsletter, the old restaurant book you linked to is spectacular.

Many years ago when I worked at General Tire on East Market Street in Akron, we would run to pick up stacks of Thacker’s burgers for lunches. Our Christmas lunch was usually at Nick Anthe’s on Tallmadge Avenue. Appreciation dinners were held at the Mayflower Hotel. What great memories. Thank you.

Dear Jan:
I got lost in that restaurant book, too. I reviewed many of them, and heard about most of the rest. The book is a stellar piece of research and nostalgia.

June 5, 2019

Dear friends,
I’ve been on an Asian food kick and it shows no signs of abating. I know I should switch my thinking to French or Spanish or Greek or Lebanese flavors for variety. But not just yet. At the moment, Ruth Reichl has me thinking about spicy Asian noodles.

I’ve just finished reading Reichl’s new book, “Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir.”
It covers her 10-year stint at Gourmet magazine, from when she was wooed away from the New York Times, where she was restaurant critic, to the soul-numbing day in 2009 when the staff was summarily summoned to a conference room and told the magazine was dead as of that moment. Pack your belongings and leave.

The book is less about food than her previous memoirs, and more about the drama and nuts and bolts of turning the venerable but dated magazine into a relevant, contemporary food magazine filled not just with recipes but cutting-edge articles by some of the best writers on the planet.

Reichl takes us behind the scenes in the Gourmet test kitchen, but also writes about the opulence showered on Conde-Nast editors and how she initially resisted the more decadent perks such as a clothing allowance and liveried car service to the office each day.

In the course of telling the story of Gourmet’s last gasp, Reichl describes the terror of 9/11 and lugging chili and brownies through the ash-clogged streets to the first responders; parties at the penthouse of autocratic Conde Nast chairman Si Newhouse; and the untimely death from pancreatic cancer of Jonathan Gold, Gourmet restaurant critic and the first food writer to receive the Pulitzer Prize.

This is Reichl’s sixth memoir and although her writing has always been elegant, her skill at storytelling has only gotten better.

The books has a bare sprinkling of recipes. Here’s one for the simple meal she served her son after accepting the job at Gourmet — which meant she could have dinner with her family rather than dining nightly in a restaurant as a critic.

RUTH REICHL’S SPICY CHINESE NOODLES

1/2 lb. Chinese wheat noodles, dried egg noodles or spaghetti
Peanut oil
1/2-inch-long piece fresh ginger
2 scallions
1 tsp. sugar
2 tbsp. Chinese black bean paste with garlic
1 tbsp. Chinese bean paste with chili
1/2 lb. ground pork
Sesame oil

Cook the noodles in boiling water until al dente. Drain and toss with 1/2 tablespoon peanut oil, and set aside.

Peel and mince the ginger (you should have about 2 tablespoons). Chop the white parts and slice the green parts of the scallions.

Mix the sugar and the two kinds of bean paste, and set aside.

Heat a wok until a drop of water skitters across the surface. Add a tablespoon of peanut oil, toss in the ginger, and stir-fry for about half a minute, until the fragrance is hovering over the wok.

Add the pork and white scallions and stir-fry until all traces of pink have disappeared. Add the bean sauce mixture and cook and stir for about two minutes.

Stir in the green scallions and noodles and quickly toss. Add a drop of sesame oil and turn into two small bowls. This makes a perfect snack for two.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Steamed asparagus with sesame oil and sea salt; filet mignon with wine sauce, steamed asparagus; spicy Chinese noodles; fava beans with olive oil, sea salt, tarragon and chives, pan-grilled pork loin chops, more steamed asparagus; peanut slaw with mint and Thai dressing (a duet with Tony); pan-grilled flatiron steak, pan-grilled bell pepper strips with chunky sea salt, a salad of baby lettuces from the garden; chilled tomato soup with dill, skillet-seared mojo shrimp.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Larb at Papaya Salad in Cuyahoga Falls; a green smoothie at Smoothie King in Cuyahoga Falls; tuna poke at Poke Fresh in Akron; small popcorn no butter at Regal Cinema (“Rocketman” was outstanding); half of a Subway ham and pepper-cheese sub.

THE MAILBAG
From Joy:
I was looking for info on Foley’s seafood salad mentioned in your last newsletter (no luck) and came across the Akron restaurants info and photos you’ll find on the enclosed link.

Some descriptions say when the restaurants opened and closed, with some not having much info at all. I have to say the info about Senier’s Tavern (opened in 1929) and the Merry-Go-Round was a good read, especially the part about the owner being arrested for allowing public dancing past 11:30 on Saturday nights! There’s a good amount of old Akron restaurant photos you and your readers might recognize or just enjoy. I’m thankful we’re able to see the history kept here: The Golden Age of Restaurants in Summit County

Dear Joy:
What a treasure! I hope everyone is able to access the information from the link you sent — I was able to from your email but not when I retyped the link for this column. I am hoping the glitch is in my writing program. The history of Akron restaurants is from the special collections department of the Akron-Summit County Public Library. I especially like the old menus and photos of places such as Kaase’s and O’Neill’s Georgian Room.

From Sally T.:
I saw a very interesting show on PBS about hijiki and it showed women diving for it, then drying it, and it all was fascinating to me. I thought you or your husband probably knew something about this. They used it in traditional Japanese food but what caught my attention was they used it in salad with fruit and spaghetti sauce. Of course, they talked about how good it is for you, which brought to mind that the Japanese are famous for long life and thinness.

I conquered kale so I thought it might be interesting to try this. I would love for you to write something about the different types of seaweed. What I read was hijiki is the most palatable to American tastes. Do the Japanese eat a lot of it?

Dear Sally:
Hijiki with spaghetti sauce? Yuk.

The three types of seaweed I am most familiar with are nori, kombu and hijiki. Nori is the pressed and dried seaweed sheets that are moistened and wrapped around sushi rolls. The crisp sheets are popular with U.S. kids right now as a snack.

You may have seen kombu chopped and floated in miso soup. It is also used in making dashi (fish broth), and is the base for the Japanese salad, sunomono, that is served at sushi bars, topped with bits of seaweed, vegetables and a soy-rice vinegar dressing. Kombu is incredibly nutritious and is used widely in Asia.

Kombu is flat, wide and smooth. The flavor is unremarkable to me — kind of kale-like in that respect. Hijiki has a more interesting texture. The squiggly, thin strands are dull green or brown and crisp. I find it in Asian stores, usually in the deli section where it is dressed with vinegar and sprinkled with sesame seeds for a refreshing salad. I cannot imagine eating it with spaghetti sauce or even fruit, for that matter. It is high in minerals and low in calories, as is kombu.

May 29, 2019

Dear friends,
I am not exactly dieting, as you can see from my Gut Check below. Last week I ate, among other things, shrimp Louie, stewed warm rhubarb over cold strawberry yogurt, Thai papaya salad and Chinese dim sum. In two weeks I’ve lost five pounds.

How? By eating fresh, really flavorful food and laying off everything else. No more potato chips at 9 p.m. just because Tony found big bags for 99 cents at Dollar General. No more toast with nuggets of Kerry Gold butter and a scattering of sea salt. No more big, juicy hamburgers with fries.

I am doing this for my health, not my looks. That ship has already sailed. Also in the past are the deprivation diets that left me hangry and sad. Not worth it. Instead I am eating just really delicious, mostly healthful food. (Yeah, I had an egg tart at dim sum on Memorial Day. So sue me.)

One of the best dinners I had last week was a cookbook failure. I tried Chinese dry-frying but I didn’t have half the ingredients in the recipe and the sauce wouldn’t reduce and the fish started to fall apart so I just said screw it and plated it.

That fish was awesome — spicy but not too hot, with earthy flavors chiming in from across the Chinese spectrum. There was tingle of ginger, a pow of garlic, notes of soy sauce and sesame oil, a touch of Szechuan chili oil, and sherry to mellow it all out.

If you make the sauce one day and the fish the next, this can be a quick dinner.

SZECHUAN FLAVOR BRAISED COD

1 lb. cod fillets
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. sherry
4 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tbsp. Szechuan chili oil
5 scallions
2 tsp. minced ginger
2 tsp. minced garlic

Sauce:
1 cup chicken broth
2 tbsp. sherry
1 tsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. sweet soy sauce
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar

To finish:
2 tsp. sesame oil

Pat fish dry. Rub fillets with salt and sherry and set aside. Measure and/or chop remaining ingredients. Combine sauce ingredients in a lidded jar and shake well. Reserve 2 tablespoons of the scallion greens for garnish.

Heat a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the 4 tablespoons vegetable oil and the Szechuan chili oil. Sauté scallions, ginger and garlic for 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add fish fillets and cook until bottoms begins to brown.

Pour sauce over fish and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 10 minutes, spooning sauce over fish occasionally, until fish is cooked through. With a spatula, transfer fish fillets (including the crunchy browned bits on the bottoms) to a small platter. Pour sauce in pan over fish. Drizzle with the sesame oil and garnish with the reserved scallion greens. Serve with steamed rice. Makes 4 servings.

HELP U COOK
Although Chinese dry-frying didn’t work for my fish, I use it frequently for vegetables. The technique is simple: Heat a small amount of oil — say, a tablespoon — in a large skillet. Add the vegetables and seasonings and stir. Then add one-half to three-fourths cup water or broth, clap on the lid and cook over high heat until the liquid evaporates. Uncover and stir again. If the vegetable isn’t done yet, add more liquid and repeat. This allows you to cook vegetables with enough fat to carry the flavor, but not enough fat to constitute frying.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Microwave scrambled egg and ricotta on toast; tomato, shiitake and eggplant sauce over spaghetti squash; warm stewed rhubarb over cold strawberry yogurt; Szechuan braised cod, stir-fried green beans with sesame oil; hamburger patty with sautéed onions and mushrooms; chicken and cabbage soup; fava beans with olive oil and fresh tarragon; shrimp Louie salad with lemon dressing (from a New York Times recipe); Thai ripe papaya chicken salad.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Chicken, bacon and blue cheese chef’s salad from Sam’s; Thai mussels and a cucumber martini at the Merchant Tavern in Akron; hummus and a chicken shawarma bowl at Shawarma Brothers in Cuyahoga Falls; Thai chicken skewers and brussels sprouts salad from Earth Fare; a small cabbage roll at Euro Mart in Uniontown; one-fourth of a ham and cheese sub from Subway; dim sum at Bo Loong in Cleveland (shao mai, a pan-fried dumpling, a pork dumpling, half a steamed pork bun and an egg tart).

THE MAILBAG
From Kristi Perry:
Just a reminder that your favorite little farm market is open now on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon. Come check out the Seville Farm Market. We are a producer market so everything you purchase will have been grown or made by the vendor. Our market runs through the end of September. Parking is close by and free.

At this time we have strawberries and rhubarb and spinach and lettuce and some baby kale along with bread, English muffins and sweet treats. There are plants, flowers and herbs. I hope to see you soon.

Dear Kristi:
You will indeed see me soon. The Seville Farm Market at Maria Stanhope Park is one of my favorites because prices are generally lower than at the bigger markets, and everything I have bought there has been exceptional (including Kristi’s homemade English muffins). Check it out at sevillefarmmarket.blogspot.com.

From Carol B., Cuyahoga Falls:
I got excited when I saw that you made “pan-grilled bell pepper strips,” but you didn’t give a recipe. I suppose it’s something you just whip up, but I’d love to know whether you seasoned them or added other ingredients. Since I can’t fit into my clothes anymore and I refuse to buy the next size up, I’m trying to minimize meats and maximize veggies in my diet.

Also, are you still happy with the Instant Pot? I’m thinking of getting one, but I’m afraid it will be just one more thing to clutter up my small kitchen.

Dear Carol:
Nah, I hate that Instant Pot. I think I am just technology-averse. Mine is in the basement, used twice.

Regarding the red pepper strips, I just glossed a cast-iron skillet with oil and cooked them over medium-high heat, lid on, until they softened a bit, then seasoned them with chunky sea salt. Nothing special. When three-packs of bell peppers are on sale at Aldi, I snap them up and use them as a side vegetable with dinner.

I sympathize about the tight summer clothes. I let my guard down in France and just kept eating like a lumberjack through fall and winter. Ten pounds later, I joined the Internet diet program, Noom. I’m down 5 pounds in two weeks and eating more mindfully.

From Carrie:
Any chance you will share the recipe for the pineapple mousse pie you made for your brother? I LOVE pineapple! Years ago you shared your mom’s pineapple cookie recipe. I’d love to have this one too.

I was recently reminiscing about Foley’s seafood pasta salad, which was a favorite for a long time. Whoever moved in after Foley’s kept it on the menu for a while (was it Ken Stewart or was someone in there between?) as “Former Owner’s Seafood Pasta Salad.” I would love to have that recipe. Any idea where to find it? Did the Beacon ever print it?

Dear Carrie:
My mother’s pineapple pie recipe has been shared before as Angel Food Pie. I’m glad to reprint it, because it is one of my favorites. It uses raw egg whites, so use pasteurized or be careful where you source them.

As for the salad, a friend who worked for both Foley’s and Ken Stewart’s in Akron (no owner in between), says the Former Owner’s Salad on Ken Stewart’s initial menu was iceberg lettuce topped with ground chipped ham on one half, shredded American cheese on the other half, and a garlic Italian dressing over all. She doesn’t recall a seafood salad. Does anyone else?

MOM’S ANGEL FOOD PIE
2 egg, separated
1 cup drained, crushed pineapple
1 cup sugar
4 tbsp. (scant) cornstarch
1 cup cold water or the juice from the pineapple
Dash of salt
1 baked, 9-inch pie shell

Beat egg yolks with a spoon or whisk in a medium saucepan. Stir in sugar, cornstarch, pineapple, water and salt. Cook and stir over low heat until thickened. Remove from heat.

Whip egg whites until stiff but not dry. Fold into warm pineapple mixture. Spoon into pie crust. Chill.

May 22, 2019

Dear friends,

I don’t think I’m the only one who has faced the conundrum of how to sauce a grilled steak. An unadorned, charcoal-grilled strip or ribeye is fancy enough for Tony and me most of the time. But when company calls or when we are celebrating a birthday or anniversary, grilled steak could use a frill or two.

In the past I have minimally solved the problem with a sprinkling of crumbled blue cheese or, for grill-smoked prime rib or cowboy steak, a simple horseradish sauce made by stirring prepared horseradish into thinned mayonnaise. But now I can do better. Now I can lavish the steaks with a voluptuous blue cheese and port wine sauce.

I devised this pan-sauce-without-fond a few months ago but thought it was too simple to share. Now that grilling season is here, I have pulled out the recipe and used it myself, a clue that others probably need just such a sauce, also. So here goes.

A “fond,” by the way, is the meat drippings that stick to the bottom of a pan after cooking. It is the basis of a good sauce. When you grill, you have no pan and therefore no fond. No fond, no sauce.

In its absence, I built layers of flavor by sautéing garlic and onion — just a bit of each — in plenty of butter, then adding beef broth and reducing it to a couple of spoonfuls. I then added port wine and reduced that. Then I added a cup of crumbled blue cheese and stirred until it melted into the wine reduction, producing a deeply flavored, satin-textured sauce. I used port because it goes well with beef and is a fortified wine that can be kept for months, opened, in your cupboard.

The techniques I used to make this delicious blue cheese-port wine sauce are known to any good cook, so anyone could have figured this out. But I didn’t until recently, so I figured maybe you didn’t, either.

A big selling point of the sauce, for me, is that it can be made in the time you rest the steaks before serving. That should be about ten minutes. If you have all your sauce ingredients measured and ready to go, you can beat that time by half, giving you breathing room to finish your pre-dinner cocktail.

BLUE CHEESE-PORT WINE SAUCE FOR GRILLED STEAKS

2 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. minced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup beef broth
3/4 cup port wine
1 cup crumbled blue cheese plus more for garnish if desired

Heat a medium skillet (7- to 8-inch diameter) over medium heat. Melt butter in skillet. Sauté onion and garlic until softened. The garlic should not taste raw, but do not brown.

Pour beef broth into pan, increase heat to high and boil until reduced by half. Pour in wine, stir well and boil over high heat until reduced to about 1/2 cup. Reduce heat to medium, add cheese and stir until melted.

Immediately spoon sauce over steaks and top with a sprinkling of crumbled blue cheese if desired. Makes enough sauce for 4 steaks, about 2 tablespoons per steak. The recipe may be doubled if you like a lot of sauce, but the sauce is rich and you really don’t need much.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Pineapple mousse pie for my brother; Japanese pork curry over rice; pan-grilled boneless pork chop with a sweet soy sauce glaze, steamed asparagus with balsamic vinegar and coarse sea salt; grilled steaks (filet and strip) with blue cheese-port wine sauce, fava beans with chopped fresh tarragon and olive oil, pan-grilled bell pepper strips.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Marinated, grilled chicken, beef and kefta, baba ghanouj, pita bread, tabbouli, hummus and kibbee from Mediterranean Bakery & Grill on Graham Road in Cuyahoga Falls; tossed salad topped with grilled chicken and raspberry dressing, iced tea at Hot Shots Bar & Grill in East Liverpool; chicken kabobs, green papaya salad and a hot chili wonton at the Cleveland Asian Festival; a quarter of a ham and provolone sub from Subway; a chicken burrito bowl sans rice from Chipotle.

TIDBITS
I was blown away last week during an odyssey in search of my favorite Ahmad Ceylon tea. I found it at two Middle Eastern stores off Graham Road in Cuyahoga Falls — one that I’ve been to before but that has expanded, and another that is new to me but that I’ll return to often.

The big news: I finally found fresh fava beans. They are sold in Middle Eastern stores. Who knew?

I also found what may be the best $40 meal around. It is gigantic, delicious and it feeds four. It’s the combination dinner (actually, $39.99) at Falls Mediterranean Bakery & Grill at 526 Graham Road in the plaza where Kifli’s used to be.

Call ahead (330-923-7777) or be prepared to wait for 30 minutes. Either way, it’s worth it. You can shop the wide selection of Middle Eastern foods or watch the friendly guys behind the counter prepare food in a brick oven and wait on a steady stream of hijab-clad customers.

Food is carryout only, so we didn’t know what we had until we unpacked the two bags at home. It was a feast. In one bag was a foil pan heaped with jasmine rice and topped with grilled, marinated boneless chicken, beef and the gorgeously seasoned ground lamb and beef fingers called “kefta.” The chicken was tender. The beef, not so much.

In the other bag were plastic one-pound tubs of hummus, tabbouleh and some of the best baba ghanouj I’ve had, with big, soft pitas to scoop it up. Two small, tapered, meat-filled kibbee were inhaled on the way to the table.

I didn’t try the store’s meat pies because I already had a bag of the terrific fatayer I bought at Fuad Khayyat’s Vine Valley in Akron’s Merriman Valley (https://vinevalleyfoods.com/). I skipped the Ahmad tea and fresh and frozen (!) fava beans, too, because I had just loaded up on them at East Market, 3464 Hudson Drive in Cuyahoga Falls. That store, by the way, has moved to a plaza across Hudson Drive from its previous location behind Starbuck’s.

Are there other local Middle Eastern stores or restaurants that I haven’t heard of? Let me know. Meanwhile, try some Ahmad Ceylon tea. It’s great, and just finding it can be an adventure.

THE MAILBAG

From Rob S.:
Regarding various types/brands of salt, Cooks Illustrated published the following set of equivalencies some time back: 1 teaspoon table salt = 1 1/2 teaspoons Morton’s kosher salt = 2 teaspoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt.

Diamond Crystal, with its light, flaky crystals, is less salty by volume than Morton’s, and both are less salty by volume than table salt. The finer the crystals, the tighter the salt packs into a given volume (e.g., a teaspoon) and the saltier it will make your dish. Of course, all are equally salty when measuring by weight instead of volume.

Best is when a recipe clearly states what type of salt they are referring to and, if kosher salt, which brand (Cooks Illustrated, for example, always uses Diamond Crystal in its recipes). You can easily convert with the formula above if you don’t have the type specified. If the recipe gives the amount of salt by weight (and you have a kitchen scale) that works equally well.

Dear Rob:
Thank you for the last word on the salt question. I might add that even salts with the same flakiness and weight can vary in flavor because of the mineral content. I once tasted every brand of sea salt sold at West Point Market, from Maldon to some chunky stuff from Maine — almost a dozen in all — and the saltiness and
flavor varied widely.

From Pat S.:
Hi, Jane. This may seem a minor concern in the world of foodies but I have wondered nonetheless. When watching expert TV cooks in food prep I notice most do not fully scrape out the container of liquid ingredients with a silicone spatula when incorporating beaten eggs and oil into cakes mixes, etc. Doesn’t scraping out the residue of liquid ingredients matter in the outcome of a recipe, especially in baking? I always do it.

Dear Pat:
Yes, it matters! TV cooks are more interested in the camera and their script than in the details of cooking because the ingredients they stir up in front of the camera almost never actually get cooked/baked/grilled. There isn’t time. The mixtures made on camera are usually thrown away and a finished version made earlier (often by someone else) is pulled from the oven/stove/grill. Been there, done that.

Also, not much camera time is allotted to the assembly part we see, so TV cooks often just quickly dump premeasured ingredients into the pan or bowl. But you should keep scraping.

May 15, 2019

Dear friends,

Between Marie Kondo and my college roommate, I finally cleaned the house. I mean really cleaned, as in waxing the shower and donating all of the clothes that no longer fit. Well, most of them. I’m still hanging onto the high school majorette uniform my mom made and an expensive purple velveteen pantsuit I bought at Macy’s in 2005 and wore twice.

My drawers now are so beautiful I want to haul people in off the street for viewings. Crew socks are neatly rolled and lined up in a long, slim box. Ankle socks nestle in another box, separated by color.

My sweaters are put away for the season, all the floors are vacuumed, shampooed or scrubbed, the windows sparkle and wood furniture glistens. Most of this frenzy was sparked by a visit from a college roommate I hadn’t seen in 50 years. Once I began cleaning, I couldn’t stop. I even dragged poor Tony into the project.

The week involved a lot of cooking, too. The fanciest meal was cioppino over polenta, which Manda had requested after she saw the photo I took for this newsletter a few months ago. We invited her friend from Cleveland and the four of us had a long, leisurely meal. I had intended to serve a puffy strawberry pavlova for dessert, but by that point I was cooked out. Whew.

The day after I put Manda on her plane home, I eyed the extra eggs and strawberries in the refrigerator. I would make that Pavlova just for Tony and me. A Pavlova, for the uninitiated, is a meringue baked in the shape of a cake and topped with fruit. The meringue is crisp outside but soft and marshmallow-like inside. I had no guests to please, so I would make the normally sugar-intensive Pavlova without sugar. Could it be done?

Yes, it can. When you sub Splenda for sugar in a Pavlova recipe and add a bit of cornstarch for stiffening, you end up with a healthful dessert of basically baked egg whites and sliced strawberries. The Splenda must be liquefied over heat with water and lemon juice before adding it to the egg whites, but the process is easy. I am smitten, and intend to make this beauty all summer.

If you have no need to limit sugar or avoid Splenda for some reason, find another recipe. This is for those of us who hunger for something sweet but must avoid sugar. The splash of balsamic vinegar on the strawberries intensifies their flavor.

The recipe serves four, but I’m kind of glad Tony and I had this dessert all to ourselves.

SUGAR-FREE STRAWBERRY PAVLOVA

For the Pavlova:
6 egg whites
1/2 cup Splenda granular
4 tbsp. water
1 tsp. lemon juice
4 tsp. cornstarch

For the topping:
3 cups halved medium-sized strawberries (about 1 lb.)
2 tbsp Splenda granular or to taste
1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
Sugar-free whipped topping, optional

Heat oven to 225 degrees. Begin to whip egg whites on low speed. Meanwhile, combine Splenda, water and lemon juice in a very small stainless steel saucepan. Heat to 175 on an instant-read thermometer or until the liquid has almost reduced and begins to look sticky.

The egg whites should be at the soft peak stage at this point. If not, increase the speed of the mixer and whip until foamy. Slowly add Splenda mixture while whipping. Stop mixer and sift in the cornstarch. Increase speed to high and beat to the stiff peak stage. Do not over beat.

Fit a piece of parchment paper to a baking sheet. With a pencil, trace a 10-inch circle on the parchment (use a plate). Turn the pencil side down. You should still be able to see the circle through the parchment. Using the circle as a guide, dollop egg whites onto the parchment in a circle to make cake-like structure. Slightly indent top with the back of a spoon, so it can serve as a bowl for the berries.

Bake at 250 degrees for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until it just begins to color. Turn off oven, open door and let meringue sit until it is cool.

While meringue cools, combine strawberries, Splenda and balsamic vinegar in a bowl. Let stand at room temperature or chill until ready to serve. Just before serving, spoon some whipped topping, if using, into the indentation of the meringue and top with strawberries and their juices. Cut like a cake to serve. Makes 4 large or 6 medium servings.

TIDBIT
Now I know what all the fuss is about. I finally visited Cafe Arnone in Fairlawn and I am a believer. It is as close as you’ll come to an Italian espresso bar outside Italy.

About eight jewel-like colors of house-made gelato beckon from a glass-fronted case when you walk through the rest of the space and a terrace outdoors. We sat at the counter where I could watch coffee being brewed by a number of methods. There are drip pots, French presses, an impressive bank of sleek espresso machines, and baristas hand-pouring steaming water over coffee by the cup and the pot. Take your pick. I had just a regular cup of dark-roast coffee (drip coffee, $1.75) and it was superb.

The sandwiches on crisp flatbread taste fresh, not pre-assembled. I had the chicken piadina — chicken breast chunks with mixed greens and a film of melted Cheddar and Jack cheeses lacquering the inside of the flatbread. A couple of soups and salads also are available. In another life I will return and chow down on the breakfasts toasts. For now, I’ll just dream of craggy toast topped with bananas, strawberries, Nutella and powdered sugar. Or fresh bananas, almond butter, cinnamon and honey. Sigh.

Cafe Arnone is at 2840 W. Market St. in Fairlawn. The website is cafearnone.com.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
Avocado and feta salad with fresh tarragon and vinaigrette dressing; sugar-free Pavlova with balsamic strawberries; coconut-ginger chickpea soup, steamed asparagus with balsamic vinegar; pan-roasted steelhead trout with roasted carrots, bell pepper, grape tomatoes and Kalamata olives, and steamed asparagus with balsamic vinegar; avocado toast, morels fried in butter; steamed asparagus with lemon juice and coarse sea salt; tuna couscous salad; baked spaghetti squash with ricotta cheese and meat sauce; steamed asparagus topped with a poached egg, lemon juice and sea salt. (My two asparagus patches are going crazy).

What I ate out:
A cup of vegetable soup and half of a spicy Thai salad with chicken at Panera; orichette with tomato-meat sauce, arugula and avocado salad, garlic bread, fresh fruit at a friend’s house; pad Thai at the Giant Eagle in Green; Cobb salad with two warm pita triangles and coffee at Alexandri’s in Wadsworth; small popcorn, no butter at Regal Cinema; chicken piadina (flatbread sandwich) and coffee at Cafe Arnone in Fairlawn; sugar-free vanilla frozen yogurt at Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt in Fairlawn.

THE MAILBAG

From Joy, Vancouver, Canada:
Sorry to hear about Geoff Hewitt’s passing. I thought you might be interested in the fresh tomato soup recipe served at Vikram Vij’s Indian cuisine restaurants in Vancouver. I have his cookbooks, one of which has the tomato soup, but have not tried the recipe myself as yet. Vij mentions in his cookbook that they serve the soup (as a light lunch) over pakoras (cauliflower and potato fritters) at Vij’s and Rangli in Vancouver.

The soup consists of 5 or 6 pakoras in a bowl, then the tomato soup is poured over the fritters and garnished with cilantro. You’ll notice in the recipe instructions they either use ginger or garlic but never both at the same time. Here’s the link to the recipe:
https://www.alive.com/recipe/tomato-coriander-and-ginger-soup/.

From Jenny K:
In terms of baking and/or savory cooking, what kind of kosher salt should be used when a recipe specifically calls for that type? Morton’s is a much coarser salt than Diamond Crystal Kosher. I assume they must not measure the same. Thanks!

Dear Jenny:
You ask the tough questions. I have always assumed recipes that called for kosher salt meant the coarse kind. That may be because that’s what I always mean when I write recipes. Or it may be because Morton’s is the only kind of kosher salt I remember seeing in grocery stores.

I tried to find out whether, as I suspect, Morton’s is the top dog in the kosher salt market. Failing that, I’m just going to go with my gut and guess that recipes that call for kosher salt mean the coarse kind. If the recipe specifies “flaked,” add a few extra grains of coarse salt to make up for it.

In any case, unless your recipe calls for gobs of salt, the difference will not be so great that you can’t adjust the seasoning after tasting. If using Diamond Crystal, go light on the salt before tasting.

May 8, 2019

Dear friends,
And I use that salutation sincerely. I have corresponded with so many of you for so long that I do feel you are my friends. Losing one of you is painful, as it was when long-time reader Geoff Hewitt died on April 26.

Geoff had been in failing health, said Sherrie W., a close friend of Geoff’s who let me know.

I had no idea. Geoff and I traded emails about his favorite Cleveland Asian restaurants just two weeks before he died. His picks: Siam Cafe, Won Ton Gourmet, Szechuan Cafe and for dim sum, Bo Loong.

Over the years we discussed many food issues, from the price of produce at farmers’ markets (he was in favor of paying top dollar to support local farmers) to the best restaurants in Florida.

I met Geoff just twice. The first time was years ago when I interviewed him for an In the Kitchen column for the Beacon Journal. I learned he was a professional photographer who specialized in auto racing. He loved to cook almost as much as he loved to dine out. He shared his recipe for bread pudding with coconut and pecans, which is in my cookbook and which I reprinted in this newsletter a month or so ago.

The second time was at my yard sale last summer. Geoff dropped by just to visit. We sat in lawn chairs under an awning and talked for at least an hour. He told me he learned to make the bread pudding in a cooking class in New Orleans. He traveled the country for his job, and often made time for culinary detours. His knowledge of restaurants was extensive. He could have written a restaurant guidebook for all 50 states.

Before Geoff died, he wanted to know if any of my newsletter readers could figure out the ingredients in the tomato soup at Bombay Grill in Fairlawn. I printed his request, but got no answers.

Generous to the end, Geoff sent me his version of the soup. It isn’t quite the same as the restaurant’s but it’s pretty good, said. I know he would be pleased that I’m sharing it with you.

So long, Geoff. You made my life a bit more delicious.

GEOFF’S INDIAN TOMATO SOUP
2 tbsp. butter or ghee
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1 1/2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2 cans (28 oz. each) crushed tomatoes
1 small can tomato paste
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground black mustard seeds (preferred) or yellow mustard seeds or mustard powder
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. paprika
2 tsp. curry powder
2 tbsp. sugar
4 cloves chopped garlic
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

In a large saucepan or saucier, melt the butter over medium heat and sauté
the onion for about 10 minutes until lightly browned. Add the ginger and cook two more minutes. Add the tomatoes and all the ingredients down to and including the sugar. Cover and cook for about two hours at a low simmer.

Stir in garlic and salt. Use an immersion blender to make a finely chopped puree. Alternately, puree in batches in a blender or food processor. As a last resort you could get by with a potato masher but this wouldn’t make the soup thin enough.

Add the cream, stir and add the cilantro. Taste and adjust any seasonings as necessary.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Meat sauce baked in spaghetti squash halves; chicken and rice salad with pineapple and dates; steak salad with roast butternut squash and sizzled asparagus; microwave-scrambled egg and ricotta with hot sauce and toast; pineapple mousse pie; cioppino (Italian shellfish stew) over polenta.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Chocolate chunk croissant from the Blue Door in Cuyahoga Falls; steamed edamame, octopus carpaccio, salmon nigiri, tamago nigiri at Sushi Katsu in Akron; fried pickle burger, french fries and coffee at Wally Waffle in Bath (Montrose) (majorly delicious); Korean barbecued beef taco, a Thai chicken with peanut sauce taco and a Modelo beer at Funky Truckeria in Norton.

TIDBIT
My favorite food festival of the year, the Cleveland Asian Festival, is coming up. Clear some time on Saturday, May 18 or Sunday, May 19 to eat your way through a United Nations of Asian cuisine and watch some quality entertainment (singing, dancing) by various Northeast Ohio Asian groups.

The festival sprawls along Payne Avenue around 27th Street, with a World Marketplace, social and service club exhibits, and two entertainment tents in addition to the Asian food court area, which is filled with edibles from local Filipino, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, Indian and Nepali restaurants. Did I miss any?

Festival hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Don’t bring your dog (we tried last year). Check out the website at clevelandasianfestival.org.

THE MAILBAG
From Mary D.:
I found an unfiltered extra virgin olive oil at Marc’s — Carapelli.

Dear Mary:
I rushed right out and bought a bottle. The olive flavor is pronounced and, as you mentioned in a follow-up email, grassy. It is delicious. I will save it for salad dressings and other uncooked applications in which the flavor can shine. I am glad to see that Carapelli is on the list of certified extra-virgin oils. Thanks for the tip.

From Michele Sandridge:
Clamato is sold everywhere — Marc’s, Acme, etc. Look in the fruit juice aisle.

Dear Michele:
I’m embarrassed. Thanks for setting me straight. As Ken Stewart’s bartender (and my frequent partner in crime), you should know.