November 6, 2019

Dear friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CASTILIAN GARLIC SOUP

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE MAILBAG

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 30, 2019

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

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

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

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

GOULASCHSUPPE

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

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

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

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

Makes 6 servings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE MAILBAG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 23, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ROASTED CAULIFLOWER-COCONUT SOUP WITH PEANUT-CHILE CRUMBLE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 16, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MONGOLIAN BARBECUED BEEF RIBS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have you found anything great in stores this month?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 9, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

P.S.:
The tart was pretty good.

CARAMEL-APPLE TART

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

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

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

Make each component before assembling and baking the tart.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 2, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SAUSAGE & APPLE CORN MEAL MUSH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE MAILBAG
Nada. You apparently were busy.

September 25, 2019

Dear friends,
While I played Florence Nightingale with chicken soup last week, Tony was making a sneak attack as Typhoid Mary. Despite tons of Lysol and Purell, I got his sore throat and fever. Ugh.

Luckily, he perked up just as I started wilting, which meant it was my turn for soup. Not just any soup. Tony made a soulful, miso-enriched soup that is my new favorite. And, sweetheart that he is, my husband measured and wrote down everything that went into the pot and presented me with the recipe so I wouldn’t have to work while I was ill.

Chefs, especially sushi chefs, do not write down recipes. I was touched. I was also puzzled by some of his notations such as “1 ladle miso.” No matter. The soup was so good that I was happy to recreate it with universal measurements Monday, when I was feeling better. Tony and I worked together chopping and measuring to get the same magical result.

In much of Japanese cooking, how the ingredients are chopped is of paramount importance. The size and shape affects the texture and flavor of the finished dish. That is true with this soup, which is why I explain in detail how Tony cut the ingredients. He also has a brilliant technique for dissolving the miso in the soup without mashing the tender vegetables.

The soup is called “butajiru” in Japan, which means “pork soup.” I call it luscious.

JAPANESE PORK-MISO SOUP

6 cups water
1 1/2 tbsp. mirin (Japanese sweet cooking wine)
2 medium carrots
1 medium onion
1 medium potato
1 lb. lean pork loin
1/2 tsp. coarse sea salt
1/3 cup white miso
Pinch of togarashi (Japanese 7-spice seasoning)
1 tbsp. butter or margarine

Bring water to a simmer in a medium-size saucepan. While water heats, cut the vegetables and meat. Scrub and trim the carrots and cut into pieces about 1-by-1/2 inches by rolling the carrot while cutting off pieces at an angle starting at the tip. Cut, half turn, cut, half turn, etc.

Trim and peel the onion and cut in fourths vertically. Cut each piece horizontally into 1/4-inch thick slices. Peel the potato and cut lengthwise into fourths. Cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Add all of the vegetables to the pot of simmering water.

Trim the pork of fat and cut into pieces about the same size as the potato and onion slices. Add to the pot. Stir in salt and simmer for about 5 minutes, until the meat is cooked and vegetables are tender.

Measure out the miso and transfer to the bowl of a ladle. Submerge the ladle in the bubbling soup, then bring it to the surface and stir the top of the miso with a fork, dissolving it bit by bit into the soup. Continue dipping the ladle below the surface, lifting it to the surface and stirring it with a fork. Be patient because it will take a while to dissolve the entire ladle of miso into the soup.

Season the soup with togarashi. Add the butter or margarine. Simmer a few minutes longer, until butter melts and forms a golden sheen on the top of the soup. Ladle into bowls. Makes 2 servings according to Tony, 4 according to me.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Grilled tomahawk rib steak with horseradish sauce, sliced tomatoes; pork and green chile stew; tomato, prosciutto and melted mozzarella sandwich on toast; fried egg sandwich with fresh sage, tomato and whipped cream cheese.

What I ate out:
Marinated grilled chicken, kefta, kibbee, pita and hummus from the Mediterranean Market & Grill in Cuyahoga Falls; chicken and sun-dried tomato sandwich from Panera; an apple fritter and a bite of a pulled pork sandwich at the Johnny Appleseed Festival in Lisbon; a Dairy Queen vanilla cone.

THE MAILBAG
From Cindy W.:
Since you’ve asked, my method of boosting the flavor of store-bought chicken broth is a variant of yours.

When Costco’s rotisserie chicken beckons me, I usually buy two. After my first hot meal of dark meat, I remove all meaty sections (to save for future meals) and all the skin. I add the package drippings, carcasses, wings and skin to 2 to 4 quarts of boxed reduced-sodium chicken broth in a stock pot, adding a carrot and a celery rib and top if I have them on hand. I bring all to the boil and simmer covered for an hour. I strain out all the solids and add the meat remaining on the bones.

I find the rotisserie flavor imparted to the broth makes it taste almost like the homemade broth of my youth, when chicken bones were mature enough to make a decent, flavorful broth.

From Dorothy G.:
Re: chicken soup, I just make the soup like you did, but I do brown chicken thighs before I proceed. I add carrots, celery and onion. Also add some parsley and dashes of Hungarian paprika. I like very thin noodles and buy Bechtle soup noodles. You can get them at Marc’s or Aldi’s. They only take 4 minutes to cook and I cook them separately and then add to a bowl of soup. Good for what ails and also for the coming cold weather. FYI, I use Better Than Bouillon low-fat chicken base for the broth.

From Marty L.:
My chicken soup starts the very same way yours does, but if I have the time, I brown the chicken before adding it to the broth. Then after removing it to de-bone it, I add it back with a handful of carrot and celery chunks. My usual seasonings are a teaspoon of curry powder, salt and pepper and and a sprinkle of parsley, along with a quarter teaspoon of turmeric and a good squirt of ketchup that gives it a beautiful golden color. I use rice or noodles, depending on the request of the sick person.

From Jo K.:
For easy chicken soup, use cartons of your favorite chicken broth, Sam’s Club rotisserie chicken, whole onions with the outer skin, celery ( with leaves if possible), carrots and maybe turnips.

Remove chicken legs and a few slices of breast meat to be used as desired. Put the chicken and all of the above ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil. Simmer for an hour or more. Remove the onion and celery as well as chicken. Take the meat off the bones and return to the soup with carrots. Salt and pepper to taste.

From Nancy S.:
I take most of the meat off a rotisserie chicken, then put the bones, skin and juice in a slow cooker with store-bought broth. I let it cook on low for 12 to 24 hours depending on my schedule. I strain the broth into large pot, add meat and carrots, celery, onion and salt and pepper if needed, and cook until the veggies are tender and finish with fresh parsley and fine noodles.

You can add all of the meat and make a big pot or you can make a smaller pot and have chicken salad or chicken enchiladas or… just easy breezy chicken soup!

Dear chicken soup gang:
Thanks for all of your suggestions. I learned a few things, and relearned others. Jo reminded me that onion skin imparts a deep golden color to chicken stock. Marty’s idea of using turmeric (a natural anti-inflammatory) is one I will steal. Making the enriched stock in a slow cooker is a good idea, too. A big thank you to everyone who shared their quick chicken soup techniques.

September 18, 2019

Dear friends,
I didn’t think I would get quite as much cooking done Sunday as I did. Tony was sick. I figured I’d spend most of my time making cups of tea with honey and delivering tissues and aspirin.

Instead, after a breakfast of tea and toast, Tony went back to bed and stayed there. The hours passed. I made chicken soup. I make eggplant lasagne. I read a novel. I watched sumo on TV. I started to worry. Tony is never sick. What if he was dying upstairs? I had told him to take Tylenol every 4 hours, but the pills were downstairs and he was upstairs, possibly comatose and unable to call out.

Finally at 5 p.m.I delivered hot tea, a bowl of chicken soup and a Tylenol on a tray. Tony, incredibly groggy, said didn’t need the pill. He had been taking the ones in the upstairs bathroom every four hours, just like I said. He showed me the packet. They were Nyquil tablets. He had been taking Nyquil. All day.

When Tony finally snapped out of his drug-induced haze, he wandered downstairs and zeroed in on the bubbling pan of cheesy, tomato-ey eggplant. He scarfed down half the casserole and settled in to watch sumo with me (we get a Japanese TV station and I’ve become addicted to sumo tournaments).

I began making this no-recipe eggplant casserole one September to use up a bumper crop of Chinese eggplant from my garden. I wanted eggplant Parmesan but not the calories that go with breading and frying. So I cut the eggplant in halves lengthwise, roasted them on a cookie sheet, then topped them with spaghetti sauce and low-fat mozzarella cheese. The next time I made my no-fry Parmesan, I upped the deliciousness by sandwiching the eggplant halves with low-fat ricotta. That’s the version I’ve been making ever since.

Eventually it occurred to me that this dish is closer to lasagne than Parmesan. Whatever it is, it’s stupid-easy and delicious enough to make an extra casserole for the freezer. Which I did.

EGGPLANT LASAGNE

Eggplants (3 large or 6 to 8 slender Chinese)
Olive oil spray
1 cup low-fat ricotta cheese
3/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg
1/4 cup minced fresh basil (optional)
3 cups spaghetti sauce with meat
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

If using large globe eggplants, peel them and cut into 1-inch-thick slices. If using Chinese, trim off the stem and cut in halves lengthwise without peeling. Place on foil-lined baking sheets that have been coated with olive oil spray. Lightly spray eggplants. Roast in a preheated, 400-degree oven for about 45 minutes for the thick slices or 30 minutes for the slender eggplants, until the eggplants have softened but are not mushy.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl beat together the ricotta, 1/2 cup of the Parmesan,
salt and egg. Stir in the basil.

Spread about 1/2 cup of the sauce in the bottom of a 9-inch-square baking pan. Arrange a single layer of eggplant slices over the sauce, fitting together tightly. Spread the ricotta mixture over the eggplant. Top with more eggplant slices. You may have some eggplant left over. Save it for another use.

Spoon the remaining tomato sauce over the eggplant. Top with the mozzarella and remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes, until the cheeses have melted and the sauce is bubbly. Makes 4 servings.

TIDBITS
Half of my friends seem to be down with the September scourge, which is either strep throat or a sore throat, depending on the teller. Chicken soup is in order, but a quick one because no one wants to cook when they’re sick.

While making a thrown-together but delicious chicken soup on Sunday, I wondered how others meet this challenge. If I tell you about my quick chicken soup, will you tell me about yours?

I made a double-strength chicken stock with three boxes (32 ounces each) of store-bought chicken broth in which I simmered some chicken on the bone (I used 8 legs), covered, for an hour or so. I also added a chunked up carrot, half of an onion (not chopped) and a branch of thyme from my herb garden.

I removed the chicken and vegetables with a slotted spoon, picked the meat from the bones and returned the meat to the rich broth along with a half-cup of large-pearl couscous, a handful of baby carrots and half a bag of frozen chopped kale (about 1 1/2 cups). I also added salt to taste. In a half hour, I had soup.

I have a feeling I’m going to need more chicken soup, but I don’t want to repeat myself. Will anyone share their version?

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Toast with cream cheese and thin-sliced Asian pear; grilled top sirloin steak, sliced tomatoes with chunky sea salt and microwaved corn on the cob; bagged chopped Southwest salad with microwaved frozen chimichurri chicken breast; cream cheese, tomato and lox on toast; stir-fried beef, roasted tomatoes and peppers over baby salad greens with sesame-soy dressing; pan-grilled hamburger with steamed green beans; egg, bacon and tomato sandwiches; egg salad; chicken soup with couscous and kale; eggplant lasagne.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Seared sea scallops over crispy crab hash, oat-crusted swordfish over bacon risotto with asparagus, and pho from chef Louis Prpich at the Chowder House in Cuyahoga Falls; half of a ham sub from Subway; wedding soup from Acme; a chili dog at the Sharon Township Fall Fest.

THE MAILBAG
From Francie L.:
Loved your suggestions for tomato sandwiches, they sound delicious! Our favorite tomato sandwich recipe is from Serious Eats https://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2013/04/anchovy-tomato-basil-aioli-sandwich-recipe.html It’s so easy and the perfect weeknight dinner. I get that the idea of anchovies and capers might seem like salt overload but for some reason it works.

Dear Francie:
Homemade aioli, fresh basil, anchovies — what’s not to like? I want to try this. Thanks for sharing.

From Lois S.:
The funniest time I saw a person repack fruit was in Marc’s. She had several containers of strawberries open picking out the perfect ones to make her container complete! OMG!!!

Dear Lois:
The cretins are everywhere!

From Linda C.:
I saw freekeh at Meijer’s today. Not sure if you have one near you.

Dear Linda:
Not near, but I haven’t visited the new Meijer’s in Stow yet. This will give me a good reason.

From Jan in Tallahassee, Fla.:
Google came up with an ad for Bob’s Red Mill freekeh available on the Vitamin Shoppe website. Maybe they carry it in the store, too?

It looks like they’ve opened a store on Main Street in Cuyahoga Falls, across from Sheetz where the JD Byrider used car dealer was. Yeah, that’s on the outskirts of the messed-up Howe Avenue zone but it’s a thought if you’re really freakin’ for freekeh…

Dear Jan:
Thanks for the long-distance sleuthing

From Linda C.:
You can order freekeh from Vitacost. I love it and I look forward to your recipe.

From Mary B., Christine and others:
You can buy freekeh from Amazon.

Dear Jan, Mary et.al.:
I guess I’m still not used to the magic of Jeff Bezos, because Amazon had not occurred to me. Still, when possible, I like to buy locally.

September 11, 2019

Dear friends,

Summer is not over; it has just reached it peak on the tomato meter. September, not July or August, is when the tomato onslaught hits.

I made the most of it last week with my own little tomato sandwich festival. I had made a few BLTs earlier in the summer but with the kitchen counter heaped with heirlooms, I vowed to make the best tomato sandwich in existence.

Sparking the project was the memory of tomato toast from long ago on a car trip across northern Italy. At a modest roadside restaurant I ordered a tomato sandwich and was served a thick piece of toast that had been rubbed with the cut side of a ripe tomato.
It was simple and simply perfect.

Research led me to Food 52, the New York Times, Serious Eats, Saveur and other Internet food sites. I consulted Patricia Wells, Craig Claiborne and Kenji Lopez-Alt. Tony and I ate a lot of tomato sandwiches.

Ultimately, I chose three sandwiches worthy of the miracle that is a dead-ripe summer tomato:
1. Melissa Clark’s version of my Italian rubbed-tomato toast, taken to the extreme. Craggy toast is rubbed with a cut clove of garlic, then with a cut tomato to release all the juice into the bread. The toast is spread with mayonnaise and topped with a thick slice of tomato, thinly sliced onion, bacon and the other piece of tomato-rubbed toast. This is an elevated version of the classic tomato-bacon sandwich.

2. Craig Claiborne’s 1964 open-faced version featuring a thick hunk of bread topped with fresh mozzarella, a thick slice of tomato, a couple of salty anchovies and a sprinkling of grated Parmesan. The tartine is then broiled until blistered and bubbly. The salty anchovies cuts through the richness of the cheese, producing cheesy tomato heaven. This was my favorite because: cheese.

3. A mash-up of Kenji Lopez-Alt’s sandwich bread skillet-toasted in bacon fat, spread with the ambrosial smoked-corn mayonnaise I heard about in a PBS episode of “A Chef’s Life,” and filled with crisp bacon and a slice of heirloom tomato. I kind of winged the recipe for smoked corn mayonnaise and thought it was just OK considering the work involved. Then I let it chill for a few hours. Whoa. Then I tasted it again after an overnight in the refrigerator. My gawd, get me a spoon. This sandwich was Tony’s favorite. The smoked tomato mayo may be my favorite substance, ever.

MELISSA CLARK’S TOMATO SANDWICH

4 slices crusty country bread
1 fat garlic clove, halved crosswise
1 ripe and soft tomato, halved
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Flaky sea salt
Mayonnaise, as needed
1 ripe but firm tomato, sliced
Thinly sliced white onion
4 slices cooked bacon (optional)

Toast the bread. Take each slice and rub one side all over with the cut side of the garlic clove. (The clove should start to disintegrate into the bread.) Rub each slice with the cut sides of the soft halved tomato, pressing so the tomato flesh sticks to the bread. Drizzle bread with oil, then sprinkle with salt.

Spread mayonnaise over the tomato pulp. Place the sliced tomatoes on top of 2 pieces of the bread. Cover tomato slices with onions and sprinkle with salt. Top with bacon if using, then use the other 2 slices of tomato-rubbed bread to make sandwiches. Eat over the sink. Makes 2 sandwiches.

From The New York Times.

OPEN-FACED TOMATO SANDWICH

6 slices firm-textured sandwich bread (I used thick crusty bread instead)
Unsalted butter, softened
1 ball fresh mozzarella (about 1 lb.), thinly sliced
2 large firm but ripe tomatoes
1/2 tsp. crumbled oregano
1/8 tsp. fresh-ground pepper
1 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
Salt
18 anchovy fillets
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 1/2 cups)
Chopped flat-leaf parsley (optional)

Heat broiler. Spread one side of each slice of bread with softened butter. Cover each with the sliced mozzarella cheese, 3 to 4 slices for each piece of bread. Cut the tomatoes into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Place 1 of the largest slices on each sandwich.

Combine the oregano, pepper and butter. Brush over the tomato slices. Sprinkle with salt and drape 3 anchovy fillets on each sandwich. Cover with grated Parmesan, about 3 to 4 tablespoons per sandwich.

Place under the broiler, about 6 inches from the heating element, until the cheese has melted and is bubbly, 3 to 5 minutes Serve hot, garnished with parsley if desired.Makes 6.

By Craig Claiborne in “The Essential New York Times Cookbook” by Amanda Hesser.

TOMATO AND BACON SANDWICH WITH SMOKED CORN MAYO

4 slices bacon
4 slices fine-grained white sandwich bread (I used Sarah Jane’s)
Smoked corn mayo (recipe follows)
2 large, thick slices heirloom tomato
Coarse sea salt, black pepper

Slowly cook the bacon in a large, heavy skillet until crisp. Remove and drain on paper towels. Pour all but about 1 tablespoon bacon fat into a custard cup and set aside. In the same skillet over medium-high heat, place two slices of the bread and weight with a slightly smaller skillet. Cook until golden brown. Remove from pan, add more bacon fat and repeat with other side of the bread you just toasted. Continue with remaining bacon fat and two slices of bread. You may not need all of the bacon fat. Then again…

Slather a thick layer of smoked corn mayo on one side of each slice of bread. Place a tomato slice on two pieces of bread. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Top each with two pieces of bacon. Top with other slices of bacon-grilled, mayo-slathered bread. Makes 2 sandwiches.

SMOKED CORN MAYO
3 ears corn, shucked
2 large cloves garlic
2 tsp. red wine vinegar
1/2 cup loosely packed basil leaves
1/4 tsp. hot pepper sauce
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 tsp. salt

Grill corn over a medium-hot charcoal fire or on a gas grill until the kernels on one side begin to brown. Turn corn over, sprinkle a few wood chips onto the coals and cover grill, leaving the vents wide open. Continue to grill until the bottom side of the corn begins to brown. Remove and cool.

Drop garlic cloves through the feed tube of a food processor with the motor running until minced. Cut corn kernels from the cobs and add to the bowl of the processor. Process until the corn is pureed.

Add vinegar, basil and hot pepper sauce and puree. Add mayonnaise and salt and process until very smooth. Transfer to a bowl, cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours or ideally overnight. Makes about 2 cups.

The leftover mayo is excellent on sliced ripe tomatoes, stir fried or steamed vegetables or, frankly, just about anything.

TIDBITS
Pears, Grapes and Wine:
The luscious, juicy Asian pears are back in season at Weymouth Farms in Hinckley. But that’s not all the boutique operation is offering this year. Wait until you taste Paul O’Neill’s grapes. Not Concord and Niagara. Several years ago O’Neill planted a number of unusual table grape varieties rarely seen at local farms and almost never in stores.

These grapes, with thin skins and tons of fruit flavor, go by such names as Himrod, Reliance and Jupiter. They are pick your own. My favorite is the purple Jupiter, a muscat-type grape with floral notes.

The primary reason O’Neill planted grapes was that he wanted to make wine. The wine-grape varieties he planted, in consultation with the experts at Cornell University, are not the usual suspects. They are sophisticated hybrids such as Chardonelle and Noiret, which can be rooted rather than grafted, as European vinifera varieties must be. O’Neill learned how to turn the grapes into wine in a course from the University of California at Davis, the epicenter of winemaking education.

The wines already have won a bunch of awards and are sold at the farm. Try the The New Black, a red released this year that already has won gold at the Ohio and the Finger Lakes wine competitions. Even more impressive, Paul’s Asian Pear Wine won gold last year at the International Wine Competition in California, where his late-harvest Apple Ice Wine took silver.

Weymouth Farms is at 2398 Weymouth Road (Route 606) in Hinckley, near I-71 exit 222 or I-271 exit 3. It is open from noon to 5 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays. Pick-your-own grapes are Saturday and Sunday only. The phone is 216-534-9600. The website is http://www.weymouthfarms.com.

Just Stop It:
So far I have limited myself to a restrained but sarcastic “Really?” when I pass someone snacking on or rearranging the produce at Aldi’s. My patience is wearing thin, though.

When you pluck and eat a grape or snatch a bing cherry, you are stealing. At by-the-bag places, you are stealing from the shopper who buys that bag. At by-the-pound places, you are stealing from the supermarket and, ultimately, the customer who pays in higher prices to make up for what the industry calls “shrinkage.”

My severest scorn, though, is for the Aldi’s customers who unpack and repack the plastic containers of cherries, grapes or strawberries with the choicest selection from the bags on display. This happens almost every time I’m there. A shopper will brazenly set herself up in front of the fruit and begin sorting and rejecting as if she’s doing the laundry.

These miscreants aren’t just selfishly picking and packing the best selections for themselves. They are pawing through the fruit that the next poor shopper will buy. Their fingers are all over those grapes and cherries.

Join me in giving these jerks the evil eye. And maybe a sarcastic “Really?”.

Freaking Out:
Where the freek can I buy some freakin’ freekeh? The Middle Eastern grain is trending hard but I can’t find it in local stores. I have tried Earth Fare, Aldi, Acme and Giant Eagle. (Not Whole Foods because I can’t bring myself to shop in the air space once inhabited by West Point Market.)

The grain has more protein than quinoa and sounds delicious. It is unripe green wheat that is toasted over wood fires to remove the husk, resulting in a nutty, smoky flavor. Sign me up. But where?

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Hard-cooked egg sandwich with bacon, tomato and pesto on toast; baked bell peppers with a venison-corn stuffing; prosciutto and melon; tomato sandwich with bacon and onions; open-faced tomato sandwich with anchovies, mozzarella and Parmesan cheese; tomato, bacon and mozzarella on toast; chicken stir fry with cauliflower rice; bacon and tomato sandwich with smoked corn mayonnaise.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Spicy kefta rolled sandwich and salad with feta cheese at Aladdin’s in Montrose; blueberry sugar-free frozen yogurt at Menchie’s; California roll and barbecued chicken wings from Earth Fare; Madras chicken, basmati rice, naan and masala tea at Singh Biryani in Cuyahoga Falls.

THE MAILBAG
From Mark:
A recent New York Times recipe for okonomiyaki — a sort of Japanese chopped cabbage pancake — caught my eye. Then I discovered in a Chicago restaurant an adaptation of okonomiyaki served on (rather than incorporating) a bed of shredded cabbage. My question to you and Tony: Are variations of okonomiyaki common? Are there okonomiyaki restaurants in Japan?

Dear Mark:
Tony says shredded cabbage and eggs are the base to which “chicken or beef or shrimp or octopus are added. So many kinds.” Yes. there are many restaurants devoted to the dish, which is very popular in Japan. It’s like the taco of Japan, he says. Foreign visitors, especially, like it.

September 4, 2019

Dear friends,
Very few recipes earn a spot in my regular rotation. Baked tacos are one of them.

I like this recipe because the tacos taste great and the filling can be whatever is in the fridge. Feta cheese? Fine. Green peppers? Throw ‘em in.

Last week I had those plus corn on the cob, so I made a roasted vegetable salsa to go with a steak I planned to pan-grill. I made the salsa in the morning, quickly cooked the steak at dinner time, and married them on a flour tortilla in the oven for 10 minutes.

I love the way flour tortillas crisp and warm in the oven, yet remain pliable enough to fold over the filling. The window of opportunity is brief, though. If you don’t fold as soon as the tortilla comes from the oven, it will be too late.

I think flour tortillas, in particular, taste best when thoroughly cooked. They taste raw to me when they’re merely warmed in a skillet or a microwave. Heating them on a cookie sheet for 10 minutes makes a world of difference in flavor.

Consider my roasted vegetable salsa recipe merely a suggestion. Roast and add whatever vegetables you like to the mix, including cubed summer squash, charred onions and mushrooms.

BAKED STEAK TACOS WITH ROASTED VEGETABLE SALSA

For the salsa:
8 bell and medium-hot peppers mixed, or enough to fill a baking sheet when halved
12 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 ear corn
1/8 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. oregano
Coarse sea salt to taste
2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lime
1/4 cup chopped cilantro (optional)

Wash and halve the peppers lengthwise. Remove and discard the ribs, stems and seeds. Place peppers in a single layer on a lightly oiled baking sheet.

Cut tomatoes in halves and place cut-sides up on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for about 30 to 40 minutes for the peppers and 1 hour for the tomatoes. The tomatoes should be slumped but still juicy.

Shuck corn, spray with olive oil spray and toast over a gas burner, turning with tongs, until singed in spots. Or singe on a grill. It does not have to be fully cooked.

Cut corn from cob and place in a medium bowl. Cut peppers into 3/4-inch pieces and add to the bowl along with the tomatoes. Stir in cumin, oregano and salt. Stir in olive oil, lime juice and cilantro if using. Cover and refrigerate if making in advance.

For the tacos:
1 lb. boneless top sirloin steak, trimmed of fat
Salt, pepper
6 large flour tortillas
3/4 cup crumbled feta or shredded cheese (Cheddar, Monterey Jack, provolone…)

Season steak on both sides with plenty of salt and pepper. Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Coat skillet with olive oil spray or a film of vegetable oil. Sear steak in hot skillet until brown on one side. Turn and reduce heat to medium. Continue to cook to the desired degree of doneness. The time will vary depending on the thickness of the steak, but shouldn’t take longer than 5 minutes total.

Let steak rest for 10 minutes if possible. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with olive oil spray or lightly film with vegetable oil. Cut rested steak across the grain into 1/4-inch-thick slices.

Place two flour tortillas on the baking sheet. Arrange some of the steak and some of the salsa off-center on each of the tortillas. Sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of the cheese over the filling.

Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes or until the edges start to crisp and brown. Remove from oven and with tongs, immediately fold the tortillas over the filling. Transfer to plates. Continue with remaining tortillas and fillings. Makes 6 large tacos.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked/assembled last week:
Egg, chorizo and green pepper scramble with salsa on whole-wheat toast; baked steak tacos with roasted vegetable salsa; stuffed baked poblano peppers with sour cream and salsa; muskmelon and prosciutto.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Chicken shawarma wrap at Continental Cuisine in Fairlawn; tuna tataki, octopus sashimi, tamago (omelet), salmon roe and a tuna roll at Sushi Katsu in Akron; combo dinner (marinated grilled beef, chicken and kefta, kibbee, rice pilaf, baba ganoush, hummus, tabbouli and pita bread) from Mediterranean Market and Grill in Cuyahoga Falls; a corn dog and sugar-free lemonade at the Great Geauga County Fair in Burton.

THE MAILBAG
From Luis M.:
Re: your paella — Last February a Spanish restaurant, Don Quijote, opened in the Belden Village area. My wife and I tried their paella repeatedly and found it to be outstanding — much better-tasting than the ones in the Cleveland area.

For tapas try the shrimp in garlic sauce, “gambas al ajillo”

Dear Luis:
Thanks for the recommendation. I thought you had misspelled “Quixote,” but in fact the restaurant is “Don Quijote.” It is at 4695 Dressler Rd. N.W. Those who are interested can check out the website at donquijotecanton.com. The menu is enticing. The kitchen uses authentic Spanish ingredients such as serrano ham and manchego cheese, and offers typical Spanish dishes such as grilled sardines, grilled octopus and caramel flan.