May 17, 2017

Dear friends,

I’ve never been a less-is-more kind of person. In cooking as in life I usually go big and bold, or at least offbeat. That’s how I came to marry a man whose current fixation is becoming Amish (visually only, thank god). He already has the oversized blue jeans with farmer’s pockets on the sides. He cut the sleeves off a Ralph Lauren denim shirt so they hang limply right below the biceps. He bought black suspenders. Now he wants a flat-brim hat so he can be, his words, “Japanese Amish.”

“There aren’t many of us,” he remarked the other day. Many?! Honey, there aren’t ANY.

After going out to lunch with him in that get-up, I was ready to tone down my life with nude lipstick, mellow jazz and food that whispered instead of shouted. I remembered a suave pasta salad from Earth Fare that appeared to have just four ingredients: orzo, roasted red pepper bits, capers and Italian dressing. I couldn’t believe something so simple was so good.

Of course, there’s no room for error when playing with so few ingredients, so I carefully set about cloning it. My first try was too fancy — I added chopped black nicoise olives and sun-dried tomatoes, which ruined the flavor. The second time I kept it to the four basic ingredients plus salt and played with proportions. My restraint paid off.

If you’re in the mood for a simple, classy pasta salad, this is it. It’s not Tex-Mex or Cajun or fusion or even Japanese Amish. Thank god.

ORZO SALAD WITH CAPERS AND RED PEPPERS

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1 box (12 oz.) orzo pasta
Salt
6 tbsp. olive oil
3 tbsp. red wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. dried oregano
2 tbsp. drained cappers
1/4 cup chopped pickled or roast sweet red pepper

Cook pasta until al dente in boiling, salted water; drain well.

While pasta cooks, whisk together oil, vinegar, garlic, sugar, 1 teaspoon salt and oregano in a medium serving bowl. Stir in capers and chopped red pepper.
Add orzo and toss well to coat pasta with dressing. Cool. Serve at room temperature. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week: Grilled chicken breasts rubbed with Indian spices and marinated in yogurt; roast asparagus with olive oil, sea salt and lemon; rice-cooker jambalaya; grilled t-bone steaks, Italian orzo salad, roast asparagus and chocolate pudding.

What I ate last week in restaurants: Roast beef, baby Swiss and onion sandwich with Italian dressing at Shisler’s Cheese House in Copley; a chili dog, a country apple pie sugar-free ice cream cone and a gigantic pulled pork sandwich with slaw at Boss Frosty’s ice cream stand on Greenwich Road, across from the Blue Sky Drive-In in Wadsworth; boiled crawfish, crystal shrimp, a sweet potato slice, spring roll, beef stir fry and fresh fruit at Katana’s in Jackson Township.

TIDBITS

* Katana’s, where Tony and I dined Saturday evening, is one of the buffets recommended by readers a couple of weeks ago. It is huge and it was packed. There were seven double-sided steam and food bars not counting soup, sushi and stir-fry stations. I don’t know if the food was house-made — most Asian buffet food is not — but it tasted fresh and the items were seasoned better than at other Asian buffets I’ve visited. Even the sushi was good, Tony said. Service was excellent.

“Tell your friends thank you,” Tony said after plowing through five or six plates of food.

Unfortunately, Tony will want to return. Although Katana’s is several notches above other Asian buffets I’ve tried, I’m still not a fan. Maybe it’s the businesslike way diners attacked the steam tables. Even while eating, hardly anyone talked or cracked a smile. It seemed like the kind of crowd that could turn ugly if the shrimp ran out.

But that’s just me. Or maybe it’s just Americans at all-you-can-eat buffets.

* CHICKEN IN A JIFF

As you can see in this week’s Gut Check, I no longer cook every day and when I do cook, it’s rarely complicated. The grilled chicken last week is a good example. Early in the day I rubbed two boneless, skinless breasts with garam masala, an Indian spice blend you can buy in many Asian stores or make yourself (which I have done exactly once). Then In a bowl I squished the chicken around with a cup of plain yogurt. I covered and chilled, then grilled it over charcoal on an oiled grid, leaving as much yogurt as possible clinging to the meat. Oiling the grill is important.

The yogurt keeps the chicken juicy and the spices permeate deeply into the meat. It made a luscious, healthful dinner with the addition of roasted asparagus: trim and rub the spears with olive oil on a baking sheet, sprinkle with coarse sea salt and roast at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. Squeeze some lemon juice over the asparagus before serving.

* THE OTHER HALF

After chowing down at a buffet you may want to see how the other half lives, gastronomically speaking. If so, go to http://www.thomaskeller.com. In the “restaurants” menu find the French Laundry, and click on “chef’s tasting menu.” You will be transported to a world of duck foie gras torchons with strawberries and wild purslane, and grilled king crab with hen egg terrine and wild ramp emulsion.

The French Laundry is a picturesque restaurant in California’s Napa Valley. Chef Keller strives to perfect every morsel of food he serves in his multi-course tasting menu — the only menu available, which changes daily. I still count the meal I enjoyed there in the 1990s as the best I’ve eaten.

THE MAILBAG

From MaryAnn, Charlestown Township:
Wow. I remember Spanish Bar Cake was my dad’s favorite store-bought item and it came from the Omarket Bread delivery truck. As a rural letter carrier Daddy ate lunch in the car out in the boonies of Southeast Ohio and this cake started moist and stayed moist. The A&P in town was only an occasional stop, but the cake was always on the list.

Also, next time you’re near Deerfield Circle head back to the Edinburg Township line and go to my friend Diane’s coffee shop, the Wistful Cafe and Bakery. Look for the tall signs for the camper place; she is nestled beside it.

Her bakery has outstanding items and I have purchased event and wedding cakes. We have a ladies’ lunch there once a month, and there is a strong community feel. Since she is in the heart of Southeast Schools, she has some dishes that were favorites from the school food service. I love an individual skillet of mac and cheese, or chili. I had a memorable butternut squash soup there last month. Check out her website for menus and specials: http://www.thewistfulcafe.com.

Dear MaryAnn: I drive by there frequently on my way to visit family in East Liverpool, but have never noticed the restaurant. After reading all the raves on the Internet, you can bet I’ll stop the next time I drive out that way. Thanks.

May 10, 2017

Dear friends,

What the heck happened?! One minute we were sweating in the unseasonably warm weather and the next we were getting frost warnings. It’s May! I should be toasting hot dogs over a campfire, not cooking hearty soups!

But soup it was last week and soup it probably will be again this week, hopefully for the last time until fall. In Ohio you never know, though, so I’ll keep my recipe for white bean and sausage soup handy.

A big pot of the soup warmed up Tony and me for several meals. The dipping temperatures were all the inspiration I needed to start tossing ingredients into a pot — first onions, then garlic and sausage, then broth, tomatoes and kale. I used canned white cannellini beans and added them last to prevent them from becoming mushy.

This is a simple soup that’s quick to put together but is satisfying and boldly flavored. Let’s hope it’s the last hearty soup of spring.

SAUSAGE, WHITE BEAN AND KALE SOUP

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2 tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, slivered
1 lb. spicy or mild Italian sausage links, cut in 1-inch pieces
1 tsp. oregano
Salt to taste
32 oz. (4 cups) chicken broth
1 can (28 oz.) whole peeled plum tomatoes with juice
5 or 6 big kale leaves, washed and torn, with tough center stem discarded
2 cans (15.5 oz. each) cannellini beans, drained

Heat oil in a hot soup kettle. Sauté onion in oil over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high, add garlic and sausage pieces and cook until edges of sausage begin to brown. Stir in salt and oregano. Add chicken broth. Chop tomatoes and add with the juice. Add kale. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Add beans and simmer 30 minutes longer. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Ladle into bowls. Makes about 8 servings.
GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week: Rhubarb compote; kale and white bean soup; mashed avocado and an easy-over egg on toast with hot sauce; orzo salad with capers, and smoked bratwurst on buns.

What I ate in restaurants last week: Hot pastrami on rye at Primo’s Deli in Akron; Subway Italian hero; chili-glazed pork belly banh mi at Wolf Creek Tavern in Norton; jerk pork taco, Mexican street corn and carnitas taco at Funky Truckeria in Norton; Chinese pork bun from Park to Shop in Cleveland; and smoked boneless pork ribs, candied sweet potatoes, scalloped potatoes, collard greens and corn muffins at the Sunday buffet at LA Soul in Akron.

TIDBITS

The tacos I had at Funky Truckeria in Norton on Cinco de Mayo were the best I’ve tasted in Northeast Ohio. Tacos are the main (and almost only) menu item at the small but hip restaurant wedged in the far corner of Norton Plaza.

If you haven’t been to the restaurant yet, I recommend you try it. If you have, then you’re probably a fan, too, and won’t mind clicking on over to http://www.cleveland.com/best/2017/05/a_history_of_taco_tuesday_its.html#incart_highlight to vote for Funky Truckeria in a contest for best tacos in the Cleveland area. The contest ends May 15, but you can vote once an hour until then to help put Funky over the top.

THE MAILBAG

From Dennis:
If I remember correctly, Tony loves barbecue. LA Soul Restaurant, 1001 E. Tallmadge Ave. in Akron, has a barbecue and soul food buffet on Sundays. I work Sundays and have not been to the buffet but I have had many of the items on their menu and their food and desserts are homemade and very good. No young kids on staff and everyone is very helpful and friendly.

Dear Dennis: As you can see above, Tony and I immediately followed your suggestion and went to the Sunday buffet. The service was well-meaning but almost non-existent when we visited, but the buffet was beyond lush, and everything was indeed homemade. Great fried fish, fried and baked chicken, boneless barbecued ribs and roast beef were just the beginning. There were at least a dozen side dishes not counting salad, and I can personally recommend the collard greens, scalloped potatoes and corn muffins. The cost is $16.99 for all you can eat. Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, but the buffet runs to just 7:30 p.m.

May 3, 2017

Dear friends,
My buddy, Dave, is the ultimate audience for my cooking. Heck, for anyone’s cooking. Better known as Coondog O’Karma, Dave is a retired professional speed eater and connoisseur of good eats. Many of our conversations are about food, so I wasn’t surprised when he shot me a Facebook message in December with photo of a Spanish Bar Cake and this plea: “Jane Snow, will you make this for me? Please! Please!!!!

I meant to surprise him, but winter turned to spring and the cake slipped my mind. Coondog was still on the scent, though. “Jane, please make me an A&P Spanish Bar Cake and I will come over and clean up after all the pets,” he wrote a couple of weeks ago.

Okay, okay. It was time. I had not tasted the raisin spice cake since I was a kid, and neither had Coondog. It was an iconic product of the A&P supermarket chain, where my friend was once employed as a stock boy. I remember the cake as dark and spicy with an overtone of cloves or allspice. It was a long, narrow double-layer filled and frosted with a thick, sweet white icing.

Knock-off recipes are everywhere, so that was no problem. I made the cake in a 9-by-13-inch pan and cut the finished cake in half lengthwise for the two layers. The recipe I found came with a recipe for the white icing, and although I don’t think the original was a cream cheese icing, it was good.

At the hand-off Tuesday Coondog vowed to eat every bite of the cake by himself. From the way he ogled the cake, I have a feeling he ate it on the way home in his car. He has been starving lately, he said.

“Lisa (his wife) is on a diet and the meals are killing me,” he confided. “I need carbohydrates.” No problem. That cake is a guaranteed sugar high.

SPANISH BAR CAKE

IMG_1608.JPGCake:
2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tbsp. cocoa powder
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground allspice
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 cups applesauce
2 eggs
1 cup raisins plumped in hot water

Icing:
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
4 tbsp. butter, softened
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
Drops of milk if needed

For the cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, sugar, baking soda, cocoa powder, salt and spices in the bowl of an electric mixer. Mix briefly on low speed. Add oil and beat until dry ingredients are moistened. Beat in applesauce. Beat in eggs one at a time until batter is smooth. Stir in raisins by hand. Pour into a greased and floured 9-by-13-inch pan that has been lined with parchment paper and greased again. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, until the cake pulls away from sides of pan and top is dry to the touch.

Cool cake in pan for 10 minutes, then invert onto a foil-lined counter. Peel off parchment paper and cut cake in half lengthwise. Cool completely.

For the icing: Beat cream cheese and butter with an electric mixer until fluffy. Beat in vanilla. Beat in sugar a little at a time, adding a drop or two of milk if needed for proper spreading consistency.

Place one cake layer, flat side up, on a platter or a piece of cardboard covered with foil. Spread a thick layer of the icing over the top of the cake layer. Top with second layer, flat side down. Ice top of cake only. Dip a fork in water and drag the tine the length of the cake, making subtle back-and-forth squiggles. Repeat the pattern over the entire top of the cake. Cut crosswise into slices to serve. Store in refrigerator.

Note: You will have icing left over unless you choose to ice the sides of the cake, which is not necessary.
TIDBITS
*What I ate in restaurants last week:
Gumbo at Constantine’s Marketplace in Cleveland; omelet and fruit at Alexandri’s in Wadsworth; Cheeseburger and onion rings at Swenson’s; Thai chicken salad at Panera; eggs, bacon and homemade potato pancakes at the Circle Restaurant in Deerfield, and thin-crust pizza from Earth Fare.

What I cooked last week:
Pan-grilled steaks with Japanese sweet potatoes; egg salad; Spanish bar cake; sugar-free brownies, and Jamie Oliver’s Chicken in Milk for our 10th anniversary. The recipe for the luscious chicken is from the April 20 New York Times. Sam Sifton wrote, “ It is the sort of meal you might cook once a month for a good long while and reminisce about for years.”

A whole broiler-fryer is browned in a pan just large enough to hold it, and baked with milk, lemon peel, a cinnamon stick, lots of garlic and sage leaves. The sauce is supposed to get stringy and clumpy but mine didn’t. Others have had this problem, and one Times emailer said she solved it by using shelf-stable milk (Parmalat). Even without the interesting texture, the chicken was delicious.

JAMIE OLIVER’S CHICKEN IN MILIK

 

IMG_1595.JPG1 whole chicken, 3-4 pounds
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 small cinnamon stick
10 cloves garlic, skins left on
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1 handful of fresh sage, leaves picked — around 15-20 leaves
2 lemons

Heat oven to 375. Season the chicken aggressively with the salt and pepper. Place pot that will fit the chicken snugly over medium-high heat on the stove, and add to it the butter and olive oil. When the butter has melted and is starting to foam, add the chicken to the pot and fry it, turning every few minutes, until it has browned all over. Turn the heat down to low, remove the chicken from the pot and place it onto a plate, then drain off all but a few tablespoons of the fat from the pot.

Add the cinnamon stick and garlic to the pot, and allow them to sizzle in the oil for a minute or 2, then return the chicken to the pot along with the milk and sage leaves. Use a vegetable peeler to cut wide strips of skin off the two lemons, and add them to the pot as well. Slide the pot into the oven and bake for approximately 1½ hours, basting the chicken occasionally, until the chicken is cooked through and tender and the sauce has reduced into a thick, curdled sauce. (If the sauce is reducing too quickly, put a cover halfway onto the pot.)

To serve, use a spoon to divide the chicken onto plates. Spoon sauce over each serving. Goes well with sautéed greens, pasta, rice, potatoes, bread.

* Plating pains:
”A spoonful of sauce slid on the plate looks like the cat’s ass has been used to drag the puree across. It was novel at first, but now it’s done in Los Angeles, Tokyo, London… You have no idea where you are in the world because the plate is exactly the same.”
— Jeremiah Tower in Bon Appetit. magazine

THE MAILBAG

From Geoff:
I agree fully with you about most buffet food being bland, stale and flavorless but the one I like very much, although not quite local, is Mrs. Yoder’s Kitchen in Mt. Hope, a 45-minute drive south of Akron in the middle of Amish country. It has a great salad bar and most of the traditional Amish-type comfort foods but the item I yearn for en route is the wonderful pressure-fried chicken. it has a very light, flavorful batter and is cooked perfectly. The chicken alone makes the trip worthwhile.

From Marty: If you want to try some country-style hearty food, cruise down to Mrs. Yoder’s Kitchen in Mt. Hope. They have both a buffet as well as made-to-order menu. This is Amish cooking and the bread is baked on the premises. It is wonderful. Here is a link to the website: http://mrsyoderskitchen.com.

Dear Geoff and Marty: I had forgotten this buffet in my list of ones Tony and I have tried — probably because he got the buffet while I had half of a hot pork sandwich with homemade mashed potatoes. Don’t know how I could forget. It is indeed first-rate.

From Jenny K.:
A few weeks ago my husband and I discovered an Asian buffet called Katana in the Belden Village area near Burlington Coat Factory. We thought the food was very good and items were replenished immediately as needed. The price is very affordable; the food was fresh and well-prepared. They say they serve Chinese, Japanese and some American.

In the same area is Buffet Dynasty near the corner of Belden Village Avenue and Dressler. I love their coconut shrimp, but I don’t think their other offerings are as extensive as Katana. There is or used to be an Asian buffet in Twinsburg that was very popular. It has been years since we’ve been to the Royal Seafood Buffet in the Chapel hill are but it was very good when we used to go.

From Chris Avers:
The best buffet around is Katana’s at 4758 Everhard Road in Canton, next to Burlington Coat Factory.

Dear Chris, Jenny and others: Katana is now on my dance card. Thanks for the suggestion.

From Judy A.:
Sahara Grille on Dressler in the Belden Village area has a Middle-Eastern buffet that is great and very fresh — kibbee, fatoush, lentil soup, m’jadara, Lebanese green beans, etc. The hours and address are on the webpage here: http://www.saharagrille.com.

The owners of Sahara were the original owners of Sanibel Middle Eastern Bakery on South Street in Akron, and also the original franchisee of Aladdin’s in Highland Square.

Dear Judy: This is great news. I love their food and am happy to hear they now have a Middle Eastern buffet.

From Francie:
I’m with you on buffets but Tony might like the lunch buffet at Bombay Sitar in Canton (www.bombaysitar.com). It’s a favorite of all of my daughter’s friends (especially the vegetarians and vegans) when they are in town. The restaurant recently made the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s list of 50 things to eat and drink in Greater Cleveland.

Dear Francie: I have only eaten there twice, but it was enough to made Bombay Sitar my favorite Indian restaurant in the area. The lunch buffet can get crowded, so go early if you can.

From M.A.:
In mid-Atlantic aboard Celebrity Reflection, I chose the 12th deck buffet morning, noon and night — well, we take most of our nighttime food in one of the tablecloth restaurants, but I check the dinner buffet to see what I missed. While I agree with your general characterization of American buffets, the cruise industry has got it right, and with live prep stations does a limited number of quick-serve items, too.

Dear M.A.: I haven’t cruised as yet. I was holding out for the QE II and its all-you-can-eat caviar policy. Alas, I waited too long and the liner is now docked permanently in Dubai. Does Cunard’s new Queen Elizabeth play loose with the caviar, too, I wonder?

April 26, 2017

Dear friends,

I didn’t have much luck with college roommates. One stole my favorite blouse and punched me in the head in a fit of jealousy. Another kicked me out because she thought I had stolen the rent money (In reality she was irked because I was dating a hippie, which offended her plastic-doily sensibilities. The rent check was merely lost in the mail and turned up a couple of weeks later).

With this kind of a track record, it was almost thrilling to hear from a former roommate who wasn’t mad at me. In fact, Manda had been bullied by the puncher, too. We had fun savaging the puncher in emails before the conversation turned to food. Did I have an easy recipe for curried chicken?

Manda, you have no idea how many easy curried chicken recipes I have. You’ve come to the right roommate. Of course, easy back then and easy now are two different things. I remember my first stab at making curried chicken, in the 1970s: Butter, flour, milk, curry powder and chicken chunks. I thought it was tres exotic.

My curried chicken recipes these days are filed by country — Thai, Indonesian, Indian. Then there are subsets — red, yellow, green; peanut or coconut; Parsi, Bengali, Madras or Kerala. But Manda didn’t ask for all that, and I don’t want to test her patience. You never know what a roommate might do, even if she is in her 60s now and a retired social worker.

I do suggest she broaden her curry horizons beyond the bottle of yellow powder we knew in the 1970s. Curry flavorings now come in a range of pastes and sauces that more authentically duplicate the diverse curries of Southeast Asia. Although curry is thought to have originated in India, it has been adopted in Pakistan, Myanmar, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Because Manda specified a quick curry, I’m sharing a recipe I developed for an easy coconut chicken curry. It uses both Indian curry powder and Thai curry paste to create tons of flavor in a hurry.

QUICK THAI CHICKEN CURRY

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
2 tsp. good-quality curry powder (from and Indian grocery store, if possible) or garam masala (an Indian spice blend)
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
3 tbsp. oil
1/4 tsp. green curry paste
1 cup thick coconut milk (see note)

Place chicken in a bowl. With clean or gloved hands, rub chicken with curry powder and then yogurt. Cover and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or up to 4 hours.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Remove chicken from yogurt mixture, allowing some to cling to the meat. Brown chicken on one side. Turn, cover and reduce heat to medium. Continue cooking for about 7 to 10 minutes, until chicken is just cooked through. To test, cut into the thickest part of a chicken piece with a sharp knife. The meat should be white, not pink.

Remove chicken from pan and add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to pan. When hot, add curry paste and stir-fry for 1 minute. Stir in coconut milk and bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute. Return chicken to pan and simmer 1 minute longer. Place chicken on 4 dinner plates and top with sauce. Makes 4 servings.
Note: Chill the can of coconut milk before using. Open and pour off the clear liquid. Use the remaining thick coconut milk in this recipe.

TIDBITS

* What I cooked last week: Ground venison and mushroom gravy over mashed cauliflower; steaks on the grill with Diane sauce; frozen pupusas; chicken, asparagus and Thai eggplant stir fry with my homemade Sichuan sauce; hot dogs over a fire pit in the back yard, and poached eggs over asparagus with fresh-squeezed lemon.

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* What I ate in restaurants last week: Cavatelli with meat sauce at Casa Emanuel in East Liverpool with my brother; chili dogs at The Hot Dog Shoppe in East Liverpool (different day); bacon and arugula pizza at Pizza Fire; the Fresh Harvest Buffet at Hard Rock Rocksino in Northfield, and tomato soup and half of a steak and arugula sandwich at Panera.

Yes, I dined at a buffet. Tony and I went to the casino for a date night. We ate and dropped $20 in the slots. I thought buffets were all behind me when I stopped reviewing restaurants but then I met Tony, who adores buffets. Like most food critics, I think a buffet is an excellent place to get tepid, mass-produced food. Tony thinks a buffet is an adventure where he can sample a wide range of potentially exciting food in trip after trip until he is full. This usually takes at least three, sometimes four trips not counting fruit for dessert. He gets his money’s worth.

Since I met Tony we have eaten at many Chinese buffets (his favorite); a barbecue buffet on vacation; Golden Corral (which isn’t half bad); the pizza buffet at Marie’s in Wadsworth, and the Indian-cuisine lunch buffet at the Bombay Grill in Fairlawn. Tony would like to know if he has missed any. Me, not so much. But I love the guy, so if you know of any local all-you-can-eat buffets worth trying (not brunch, which is a separate genre), do tell.

THE MAILBAG

From Martha, Akron:
For thin-crust pizza: 3 Palms in Hudson and now Cleveland (www.3palmspizzeria.com). Go not only for the pizza, which is the best outside my brother’s house or Italy, but everything else from beans and greens, the cheese plate, all the different meatballs and sauces, homemade bread, desserts and luscious wines and adult beverages. I drive there regularly from West Akron, bypassing many other places.

Second best is the Merchant Tavern on Merriman Road in Akron. Again, everything Victor cranks out from the kitchen is dee-lish. Try the Thai mussels.

Dear Martha: Thanks for the recommendations. You had me at “Thai mussels.” And no wonder you find the food at 3 Palms outstanding. After reading your note, I learned that the chef-owner is Shawn Monday, who over the years has produced some of my favorite meals at the old Inn at Turner’s Mill, then Downtown 140 and now at One Red Door and Flipside Burgers, all in Hudson (Flipside has a couple of other locations). I can’t wait to try the pizza at 3 Palms and the mussels and pizza at the Merch.

From Geoff, New Franklin:
Your list of ingredients in the rice pudding recipe called for “sushi rice or any firm long-grain white rice (not converted).” Sushi and most rice puddings are normally made with short-grain rice. Was this a mistake?

I’d also like to recommend a very good Thai restaurant that opened recently. It’s called Thai Patteya located at 497 Portage Lakes Blvd. south of Akron. Their pho is excellent as are the pad Thai and curries. Reasonably priced and a very nice atmosphere.

Dear Geoff: Yay, a new Thai restaurant! I have been craving Mussaman curry.

As for the rice issue, until I met Tony I used regular long-grain white rice for rice pudding. Now I use Japanese rice which, as you say, is short-grain. I wasn’t aware that most rice puddings are made with short-grain rice. In fact, I don’t know of any short-grain rice besides Japanese and arborio, although no doubt some exist. Nevertheless, I think almost any kind of rice except sticky rice may be used for pudding. I have even used basmati with success, although I wouldn’t recommend it for the rice pudding mousseline.

April 20, 2017

Dear friends,

Not many local restaurants serve something so popular the proprietors are compelled to offer it commercially. Barberton Hot Rice and Whitey’s Chili come to mind. Another is the steak sauce served for 40-some years and now bottled and sold at Lanning’s Restaurant in Bath.

I hadn’t thought of that steak sauce or even the restaurant in decades, until last week when we celebrated Tony’s birthday there with a gift certificate from a friend.

“I love this steak sauce,” Tony said as he offered me a bite of his porterhouse drenched in the stuff. The brown brothy sauce was spooned onto the steak in the kitchen. It sparked a taste memory that was just out of reach, like a word on the tip of my tongue. I grabbed my spoon and took a taste unmuddled by beef. Ah, yes. Julia Child’s steak Diane.

I have made steak Diane several times, including once on a camp stove during an electrical outage. The dish is always made in the pan just before serving. Steaks are quickly browned, then set aside. In the same pan, shallots are sautéed in butter, and then beef bouillon, Dijon mustard, Madeira and fresh lemon juice are added and simmered to concentrate the flavors. The steaks are bathed in the sauce before plating.

Steak Diane is seriously good, an icon of a recipe that should not be forgotten. But who wants to stand over a stove while everyone is already at the table? Maybe that’s why the dish has waned in popularity.

Lanning’s apparently solved that problem, and I figured I could, too. It took a couple of batches, but I think I have come up with a decent make-ahead version of steak Diane sauce. It should keep in the refrigerator for at least a couple of weeks because of the acid it contains, so feel free to make a double batch.

The sauce may be used by itself over grilled steak, but it’s better when added to the pan after making pan-grilled steaks. Remove the cooked steaks from the pan, add the sauce and simmer, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Return the steaks to the pan and swirl in the sauce, then plate the steaks and pour the sauce over the meat.

Tony didn’t say whether my sauce tastes like Lanning’s, but I know he liked it. As he flipped steaks on the grill Sunday he shouted to me in the kitchen, “Got any more of that sauce?”
No, but in a matter of minutes I made some.

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STEAK DIANE SAUCE
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/4 cup minced shallots
1/4 cup Madeira
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 cup rich beef broth
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

Heat oil in a small skillet or sauté pan. Sauté shallots until softened. Add Madeira and bring to a boil.

Simmer until liquid is reduce by half. Stir in mustard and Worcestershire sauce. Add beef broth and lemon juice and simmer for two minutes. Use immediately or cool, pour into a lidded container and refrigerate. Makes enough for 4 steaks.

TIDBITS

* Few chefs have embraced the farm-to-table movement as enthusiastically as Ben Bebenroth, who actually leased a farm to supply his restaurant, Spice Kitchen + Bar in Cleveland. Beginning in June he will share this year’s chef-grown bounty with us at a farm stand at his Spice Acres Farm, 9570 Riverview Road in Brecksville.

I mention this because even at the height of summer it’s a gamble buying fruits and vegetables at produce stands and stores. Many have no connection to a farm and get trucked-in stuff from wholesalers. Wise consumers ask.

You won’t have to ask at Spice Acres, where eggs, vegetables, honey and flowers — the overflow the chef doesn’t use at his restaurant — will be sold from 9 a.m. to dusk Thursday through Sunday this summer. It is one of 11 leased farms in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

* Pizza love: For years I disdained thin-crust pizza as the spoil-sport Puritan cousin of lush, wanton, thick-crusted pies. No longer.

First I tasted a few crisp-crusted, imaginatively topped pizzas on vacation last summer in Colorado. Then I developed a craving for the brick-oven beauties at Pizza Fire (with several locations in Northeast Ohio), where thin disks of dough are topped and cooked in a matter of minutes while you watch.

Now I’m in act three of my obsession. Earth Fare, I discovered, sells fresh, unbaked 12-inch pizzas that crisp up beautifully in your home oven in about 10 minutes. Best of all, they cost just $10 and serve two, compared to the still-reasonable $9 or so personal pies at Pizza Fire.

I still love Rizzi’s bubbling, cheesy, thick-crust pizzas, and will no doubt return to them in time. But for now I’ll save a few bucks and a bunch of calories with my new fave from Earth Fare. Are there any other thin-crust pizzas I should try?

By the way, the area of Florida I visited in January is dotted with Pizza Fire-type places that proudly advertise their coal-fired ovens. Is it just me, or do other Northerners feel that “coal-fired” flavor is nothing to brag about?

THE MAILBAG

From Sharon:
Have you ever used an Instant Pot? I am thinking about getting one but don’t know how useful it would be.

Dear Sharon: I haven’t but I plan to buy one soon. A fellow food writer swears by them. Mike Vrobel of Copley, who writes the popular Dad Cooks Dinner blog (see my list of favorites for the link), uses his Instant Pot as a pressure cooker to make quick after-work meals for his family. He even “baked” a cheesecake in one. l understand that the electric appliance also may be used as a rice cooker, slow cooker and steamer. They cost about $100 at discount stores.

April 13, 2017

Dear friends,

The burning question in my life since the finale of Top Chef on March 2 is how to get my hands on some of Shirley Chung’s drop-dead delicious rice pudding.

Shirley was not the winner (Brooke Williamson edged her out to become season 14 Top Chef), but Shirley’s pudding was the hit of the finale. It was Padma’s favorite dish of the evening. Tom said it was his favorite Top Chef dessert ever and may have been the best dessert he has tasted, period.

The rice pudding was ultra-creamy, not too sweet, and studded with tropical fruit and other goodies that the judges kept dredging up with their spoons. A scoop of lemon-lime “snow” that Shirley made with liquid nitrogen nestled on top of each portion.

So far neither the recipe or recipe guesstimates have been posted to the Internet. I got tired of waiting and made the pudding myself. Keep in mind that I have no clue what the ingredients are other than rice, so my pudding is definitely not Shirley’s. It is pretty good, though, and meets all the criteria: Intensely creamy — almost mousse-like – and not too sweet, with a variety of add-ins that vary in texture, flavor, temperature and even saltiness.

The add-ins: Cubes of ripe mango, cubes of frozen kiwi, salted whole cashews and sesame brittle.

I used Japanese rice for the pudding because I think it’s the best. It is sold in mainstream stores as “sushi rice,” although it is used for all purposes in Japan. The grains are plump and flavorful, a cross between long-grain and arborio. I made a standard stove-top rice pudding and chilled it until firm, then fluffed it up with a stick blender and folded in unsweetened whipped cream. Note that there is no vanilla in the recipe. The pudding doesn’t need it, and I didn’t want a dominant flavor competing with the add-ins.

All of the add-ins except the brittle are ready-made —just dice up some fruit and open a can of nuts. The sesame brittle takes a bit of time to produce but I think it’s worth it. I toasted sesame seeds and stirred them and some Asian sesame oil into melted sugar in a small saucepan, then poured it onto a buttered platter to cool. The broken shards of brittle, the fruit and the nuts are buried in each portion of rice pudding just before serving.

This dessert would be an unexpected treat after an Asian meal. It is more sophisticated and frankly tastes better than traditional Chinese rice pudding. Until Shirley coughs up her recipe, it may be the best rice pudding you’ve ever had.

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RICE PUDDING MOUSSELINE WITH TROPICAL FRUIT

Pudding:

3 1/2 cups milk
3/4 cup Japanese sushi rice or any firm long-grain white rice (not converted)
Pinch of salt
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup whipping cream

Add-Ins:

2 kiwi, peeled and in 1/2-inch dice
Sesame brittle (recipe follows)
12 to18 salted whole cashews
1 or 2 ripe mangos

For the pudding: Heat 1 1/2 cups of milk to a simmer in a medium-size saucepan. Stir in rice and salt. Return to a simmer. Cover and simmer very gently for about 15 minutes, until the milk has been absorbed. Stir in 1 1/2 cups more milk and the sugar. Return to a simmer and cook uncovered over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened and creamy, about 15 minutes.

While pudding simmers, microwave remaining one-half cup milk until lukewarm in a glass measuring cup. Beat in the egg with a fork. Remove pudding from heat and stir a couple tablespoons into the egg mixture, beating rapidly to prevent egg from cooking. Very slowly pour egg mixture into pudding in pan, beating constantly. Return to low heat and cook and stir for 2 minutes. Do not allow pudding to boil. Remove from heat, cover and chill.

Just before serving, beat whipping cream until stiff peaks form. With a spoon or an immersion blender, beat pudding until fluffy. Fold whipped cream into pudding.

For the add-ins: Place diced kiwi on a plate, each cube separate, and freeze uncovered overnight or until solid.

For the brittle, toast 1/4 cup sesame seeds in a dry skillet on a burner, stirring often, until golden brown. Set aside. Combine 1/2 cup sugar and 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil in a very small (2-cup) saucepan over low heat. Stir until sugar melts. Continue cooking until mixture is cinnamon-colored. Stir in sesame seeds and immediately pour onto a well-buttered platter, tilting to thin the mixture. Set aside for up to 2 days or so unless very humid. Break into bite-size pieces.

To assemble the pudding: Place two spoonfuls of pudding in the bottoms of six goblets or on-the-rocks glasses. In each glass, layer a couple of pieces of fruit, nuts and brittle with pudding between each addition. Continue until glasses are filled. Decorate tops with more add-ins. Makes six servings.

HELP U COOK

We wash rice in water to remove some of the starch before cooking, to prevent it from becoming glue-like and sticky. Rice should not be washed before using it in pudding, however; because the starches help thicken the mixture.

Another rice pudding tip: Don’t worry if rice pudding seems soupy when you remove it from the burner or oven. Like tapioca, rice requires time to soak up the liquid. The pudding will continue to thicken as it cools.

THE MAILBAG

From Jenny Kuenzi:
My husband’s parents live in Pittsurgh and are turning 90 and 91 years old this month and in July. They are still runing around like they’re our age, but we prefer them not to drive the distance to our home in Green. Therefore, we are traveling to Pittsburgh on a regular basis. I would like to take a complete meal for the four of us (already prepared). What would you suggest in the way of a non-casserole and non-pasta make-a-day-ahead main dish? They like chicken, pork and beef. I realize I will need to to prepare it the day before and keep it cold in a cooler while we travel and then reheat it at their home. They do not have any dietary restrictions other than they do not like heavy cream sauces.

Dear Jenny: I have a few ideas. Big entree salads would be easy to tote — grilled and sliced steak or salmon in one container, the salad in another and dressing in a third. Add some interesting bread for a filling meal.

You’ve probably already thought of soups, but how about a Pittsburgh sandwich specialty such as meatball splash? Tote homemade meatballs, spaghetti sauce and bread, and put together the open-faced meatball sandwiches on the spot. Another idea is to grill or bake meats such as chicken breasts or pork chops, and take a topping — fruity salsa, pesto — on the side. Serve it with a room-temp vegetable such as roasted green beans with lemon, pine nuts and shaved Parmesan.

You should slightly undercook meats you plan to reheat. Cool them quickly and chill, and keep them cold during the trip to your in-laws. They are lucky to have their health — and a thoughtful cook like you.

March 23, 2017

Dear friends,

Once when I asked chefs to reveal their favorite breakfasts, the answers ranged from burnt over-hard eggs with ketchup to cigarettes and coffee. One answer kept popping up, though: huevos rancheros. Yessss! That just happened to be my favorite, too.

Is it a coincidence so many food professionals crave this breakfast? Or is it indeed the apex of morning meals, and you should rush right out and eat some, too? If the latter is the answer you’ve probably indulged by now, but who knows what your huevos experience was like?

Back when I wrote the breakfast story huevos rancheros wasn’t lurking on every hip-casual menu. Unless you lived west of the Mississippi, you had to make your own. In light of the many not-so-splendored ways huevos rancheros are mutilated in Midwest restaurants, you’re probably wise to make your own now, too.

The exact ingredients of the dish are in dispute, so I just go with my palate. I usually warm up a couple of corn tortillas, grate some Jack cheese, heat some refried beans, get out the salsa and fry a couple of eggs over easy. Yes, it’s a bit more trouble than opening a container of yogurt. Recently, though, I figured out a way to not only streamline the prep but to make huevos easily for a crowd. If you ever entertain at brunch, print and save this recipe.

Little corn tortillas are fitted into muffin cups, filled with refried beans, salsa, cheese and an egg and baked. No muss, no fuss. More salsa and chopped avocado are strewn over the darling little huevos cups on the plate. The tortillas crisp up while the cheese melts and the egg whites set. When you cut into one, the yolk runs onto the plate, mingling with the salsa and cheese.

If you’re the only one in the house who like huevos rancheros, no problem. Breakfast for one can be made as easily as brunch for a dozen. Buy the corn tortillas at a Mexican grocery that sells fresh tortillas or high-quality refrigerated tortillas, if possible. The quality difference from mass-produced tortillas will be noticeable.

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HUEVOS RANCHEROS CUPS

16 small corn tortillas
16 tbsp. refried beans
1 1/4 cups jarred salsa (mild, medium or hot)
16 eggs
Salt, pepper
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
2 ripe avocados, peeled and diced

Microwave tortillas two at a time directly on the turntable for about 20 seconds on high power, until very soft. Quickly fit them into full-sized muffin cups that have been coated with non-stick spray. Continue with remaining tortillas.

Spread one tablespoon refried beans in the bottom of each tortilla cup. Top each with one teaspoon salsa. Crack an egg into each tortilla cup. Sprinkle each with salt, pepper and one tablespoon cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, until whites have set but yolks are still soft. Remove from pan and place two on each of eight plates. Top each with a ribbon of salsa and some diced avocado. Serve immediately. Makes 8 servings of 2 cups each.

TIDBIT

A fruity and suave sauce from a high-end Ohio jam and sauce producer is a bargain buy right now at Sam’s Clubs. I found a 40-oz. jug of Robert Rothschild Roasted Pineapple Glaze & Finishing Sauce for just $7.68. That’s less than a small jar (12.7 ounces) costs on the Rothschild website. The sauce is sweet and chunky, with a mild sting from the hot peppers. It tasted great on pork and would be spectacular on baked brie or even ice cream.

The Rothschild farm near Urbana is one of the food treasures of Ohio. Since 1984 owners Bob and Sara have been making high-quality, small-batch preserves, vinegars, dips and other fruit-based condiments, most with the raspberries they grow themselves. I hope their Sam’s Club sales help them make it through another three decades.

THE MAILBAG

From Holli Mallak, Shanghai, China:
I just returned to Shanghai from a 10-day trip to Vietnam. I realize this recipe may wreak havoc on your preferred diet, but you must try it:
http://www.legalnomads.com/vietnamese-egg-coffee-recipe.

I hadn’t heard of the European egg coffee until I looked up this article. Maybe a coffee-off is in order?

Give Akron my love.

Dear Holli: Thai iced tea and Thai iced coffee would have to figure in any coffee-off, although I think Vietnamese egg coffee would win in terms of richness. All are made with sweetened, condensed milk, but the Vietnamese coffee is further enriched by beating the milk with an egg yolk until thick and fluffy. According to the article you shared, the mixture is poured over strong, bitter Vietnamese coffee, about half and half.

I used to love the Thai iced tea at the old Bangkok Gourmet restaurant in Akron back when I was young and active enough to burn off the calories. Your Vietnamese egg coffee would be a challenge for even my younger self, but it sounds heavenly. I can’t thank you enough for sharing your experience and the recipe.

March 15, 2017

Dear friends,

Coconut, ginger and lime may not sound like blizzard foods, but they are when combined in the creamy, rich Brazilian soup I stumbled upon recently while cleaning out a closet. The recipe for the soup was in a 20-year-old issue of Food and Wine in a box of stuff I was sorting. I almost pitched it along with a half-dozen Paris Metro maps and the floor plan of the Louvre. Thank goodness I paged through it, hoping to have a laugh at the foods we ate back then.

This soup — actually more of a bisque — is timeless. It’s unlike any I’ve tasted. In addition to the three ingredients I mentioned, it includes peanut butter, tomatoes, hot peppers and lots of onion and garlic, yet everything gets along. The peanut butter doesn’t bully the delicate coconut and ginger; there’s just enough of it to provide a warm undertone. I couldn’t separate out the flavor in the finished soup.

I could definitely taste the coconut and ginger, though, along with the lime that was added at the end. I would expect those flavors in a brothy soup, but they were surprisingly good in this richer cream soup, too. As it bubbled on the stove, it smelled too good for a family supper. I wished I had invited friends to share.

The recipe is supposed to serve six as an entree, although after Tony tasted it he said he intended to eat the entire batch. And he almost did.

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BRAZILIAN SHRIMP AND COCONUT SOUP

2 tbsp. butter
2 lbs. medium shrimp, shells removed and reserved
1 large onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, chopped
2 small fresh hot chilies such as Thai or serrano, minced
2 tbsp. finely grated fresh ginger (about a 2-inch piece)
1 quart chicken stock or broth
2 cups canned plum tomatoes, drained and chopped
1 can (14 oz.) coconut milk
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Salt, pepper
Lime wedges for garnish

Melt butter in a medium-sized soup pot. Add the shrimp shells, onion, garlic, chilies and ginger and cook over low heat, stirring, until the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the chicken stock and simmer gently, covered, for 15 minutes.

Strain the shrimp broth and return it to the pan. Stir in the tomatoes, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a food processor or blender combine the coconut milk and peanut butter and pulse until smooth. Stir the mixture into the simmering broth. Add the shrimp, lime juice and coriander and simmer just until shrimp turn pink and begin to curl, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Ladle into warm bowls and garnish with lime wedges. Makes 6 entree servings.

TIDBIT

Here’s your laugh for the day, a collection of epic food-related fails (www.pulptastic.com/im-only-bread-but-kill-me), sent to me simultaneously by two food-writer friends.

Note that two of them involve pan lids wedged in the ceiling, confirming my fear of pressure cookers.

THE MAILBAG

From Debbie:
I heard you have to rinse quinoa before you cook it to remove a chemical that could make you sick. Some of your recipes skip this step. Why?

Dear Debbie: Some quinoa on the market is pre-rinsed. If so, it will say that on the package.
Quinoa that is not pre-rinsed should be rinsed in a fine sieve with cool running water before using. Rinsing removes a naturally occurring substance called “saponin” that coats the seeds.

Saponin imparts a bitter taste to quinoa, but it also has many positive qualities. Among others, it protects the plant from insects and is an anti-oxidant and immune system protectant, according to researchers. It also can be toxic, however.

Researchers have found the saponins in quinoa can damage intestinal mucosal cells, according to a study in Britain’s Journal of Science and Food Agriculture. A lot of foods contains saponins, but the amount on quinoa is especially high. Even so, it’s just mildly toxic unless consumed to excess.

March 8, 2017

Dear friends,

While hunting up an old recipe for Asian slaw, I found another salad recipe I didn’t know was lost: Winter Quinoa Salad With Dates and Pomegranates. I made it, swapped blood oranges for the pomegranates, and loved it even more than I did the first time. I gobbled up the leftovers in two days, adding various toppings — pan-grilled chicken, stir-fried shrimp — to turn it into meals.

I have already made a second batch of the grain salad. I like the idea of having something delicious on hand that can be turned into dinner with the addition of protein. I plan to keep making the quinoa salad until i grow tired of it, as a friend does with the Asian slaw. In a note in January, he said he and his wife have eaten the slaw at least once a week since I printed the recipe. If he is taking about my recipe, that’s once a week since May 2007. I don’t think he is, though, based on ingredients he mentioned — miso and mayonnaise. I did find a Food & Wine slaw dressing with those ingredients, so I’m providing a triple-whammy of make-ahead dinners today.

The first recipe is for my reworked version of the quinoa salad. The warm spices give it a Moroccan flair. The second recipe is for my spicy slaw. Just add a bag of supermarket shredded cabbage for a super-quick meal. At the time I developed the recipe, I wrote, “It’s a great quick-fix dish to take to summer pot lucks. The most time-consuming part is making the dressing, which is a blend of soy sauce, peanut butter, rice vinegar, oil and Asian seasonings including fresh ginger and chili bean sauce.”

My friend’s slaw dressing sounds good, too. Miso gives it a umami backbone and that touch of mayonnaise emulsifies the sauce. Maybe I’ll alternate the salads in my fridge.

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QUINOA SALAD WITH DATES AND BLOOD ORANGES

1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped dates
2 blood or cara-cara oranges

Dressing:

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 tsp. each salt, cinnamon, ground ginger, ground cumin
2 tsp. honey or Splenda to taste

Rinse quinoa well in cold water. Drain in a sieve. Place in a medium saucepan with water. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat and cover. Simmer for about 15 minutes or until grains are al dente. Do not overcook. Drain any excess water.

While quinoa cooks, place onion and dates in a medium-size serving bowl. Make the dressing by combining the vinegar, oil, spices and honey or Splenda in a small jar and shaking well. Place the warm quinoa in the bowl and toss with the dressing, onion and dates.

Cut a thin slice from both the blossom and stem ends of the oranges. Place on a cutting board, one of the cut ends down. With a sharp knife, slice off the skin and white pith all the way around, following the shape of the orange. Then one at a time, slice next to one membrane and flick the bare orange section into the bowl. Do this over the bowl with the quinoa to catch any juices. Continue with second orange. Gently toss to distribute the orange sections.

Cover and chill salad. Toss again before servings. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

SPICY ASIAN SLAW

1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tbsp. sesame oil
3 tbsp. light soy sauce
2 tbsp. rice vinegar
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp. hoisin sauce
1 tsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. chopped fresh ginger
1 1/2 tbsp. Chinese chili bean sauce
1/4 tsp. (or more to taste) red pepper flakes
1 tbsp. peanut butter
1 bag (16 oz.) shredded cabbage (about 4 cups)
2 medium carrots, shredded
2 cups bean sprouts
1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro
1/2 cup dry-roasted peanuts

In a small, deep bowl combine oils, soy sauce, vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, hoisin sauce, sugar, ginger, chili bean sauce, red pepper flakes and peanut butter. Whisk until smooth. Mix together cabbage, carrots, bean sprouts and cilantro in a large bowl. Pour enough dressing over slaw to moisten, tossing gently. Garnish with peanuts. Makes about 6 servings. Unused dressing will keep in the refrigerator for weeks.

ASIAN SLAW DRESSING:

1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
3 tbsp. white miso
1 tbsp. mayonnaise
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. grated ginger
Pinch of sugar
3/4 cup oil
Salt, pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients and mix well. Store in refrigerator. Makes about 1 1/4 cups.

TIDBITS

While bumbling around the kitchen during my recovery from knee surgery last fall, Tony invented a new kind of spaghetti sauce. This one was actually edible. He dumped in a lot of spices from the cupboard and although the they shouldn’t have gone together, they tasted fine. His genius, though, was adding about a cup of walnut pieces.

I was reminded of how good nuts taste in red pasta sauce when we thawed the last of his sauce earlier this week. The walnuts add texture and flavor that do not fade in the freezer. Although Tony can’t remember everything he stirred into the sauce, we will remember those walnuts for future batches.

Bakery is back:
Holly Phillips of Stow is back to making custom gluten-free cakes after a brief hiatus. Check out her gorgeously decorated cakes on Facebook under Sweet P’s Custom Cakes (www.facebook.com/SweetP’sCustomCakes. The business formerly was known as Mrs. P’s Gluten Free Bakery. You can reach her at 216-906-2758.
THE MAILBAG
From Doris G.:
Regarding old darkened pans, I am still using 70- to 80-year-old pans that my mother used. I find that regardless of the way they look, they are superior to anything you buy today. Or maybe I think that because they are connected to my late mother.

Dear Doris:
I can relate. I have a couple of my mother’s old, banged-up, darkened baking sheets that I hang onto. I don’t use them often but when I do, I line them with parchment paper to help prevent baked goods from over-browning on the bottoms.

March 1, 2017

Dear friends,

After a couple of failed marriages and a string of doomed relationships, I gave up on love. I concluded romantic love never leads to happily ever after. That’s a myth. It leads to disillusionment and either a painful split or a long, soul-sucking marriage. I thought people who remained in marriages were either too lazy or too afraid to end them when the chemical attraction wore off.

I was pretty happy being single. I had lots of friends, an adorable dog and a great job. Then I met Tony. Bear with me. I’m getting to the Fontina and Prosciutto Soup.

At almost exactly this time 11 years ago, I walked into his sushi bar and began a terrifying romance. I was gun-shy. He was persistent. I fell hard. It was like stepping out of a plane with no parachute. I didn’t trust the feeling for a minute.

Next month will be our tenth wedding anniversary and I’ve learned that love can stay. You just have to do a lot of forgiving and stop expecting perfection. I read somewhere that a successful marriage is two imperfect people who refuse to give up on each other. That pretty much sums it up.

I was reminded of all this when I came across a soup recipe I developed in 2006. I created it after tasting a similar soup at West Point Market. It is a luxuriously rich Fontina cheese soup studded with bits of prosciutto. It’s the last dish I made for a gaggle of girlfriends just before I met Tony. The soup triggers memories of good times that were about to get even better. Much better.

FONTINA-PROSCIUTTO SOUP
1 head garlic
1 tbsp. olive oil
3 tbsp. butter
6 paper-thin slices prosciutto, chopped
1 cup diced yellow onion
1/4 cup flour
6 cups chicken broth
1 bay leaf
2 cups whipping cream
1 lb. Fontina cheese, shredded
1 tbsp. Marsala wine
Salt to taste

Discard any loose outer skin from the head of garlic but do not separate the cloves. With a sharp knife, cut off the tips of the cloves (no more than 1/8 inch), leaving head intact. Place in a small oven-proof bowl or pan and drizzle with olive oil. Bake uncovered at 375 degrees for about 1 hour, until brown and soft. Remove from oven and cool.

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a soup pan and saute prosciutto until frizzled. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Melt remaining butter in pan and saute onion until soft and golden. Sprinkle flour over onions and cook and stir for about 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in broth. Squeeze garlic from the papery skins into the broth. Add bay leaf and cream, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, until onion is very soft.

In batches, puree the soup in a blender. Return to the pan. Add cheese a handful at a time, stirring until melted. Stir in Marsala and season to taste with salt. Return prosiutto to the soup and simmer a couple of minutes. Ladle into bowls. Makes about 10 servings.

TIDBITS

The new West Point Market is starting to look like the store we knew and loved. After a spartan opening before the holidays, when about the only things on the shelves were chocolate and wine, the store has begun to grow into its new space at 33 Shiawassee Ave. in Fairlawn.

There is already a large, full-service cheese department and an extensive seletion of teas and coffees. The wine department, which looks almost as large as the one in the old store, has settled into a separate room adorned with West Point’s iconic British telephone booth. Another room holds cafe tables and the fully staffed wine bar. Although a cafe is not planned, customers eventually willl be able to buy prepared salads and sandwiches in the deli and eat them at the cafe tables, says manager Jovanna Gionti.

“We’re growing every day,” she says. “We’re adding to it.”

A meat department should be up and running in a couple of weeks, she says. Ditto for the soup bar. A gift shop and full-service chocolate shop were being installed last week.

The black wire shelves that hold dry goods are still emptly in spots, but products are arriving daily, Gionti says. Already customers can find such gourmet essentials as snail shells, Maille Dijon Mustard and Maldon Sea Salt.

The store looks roomy, although at 10,000 to 12,000 square feet it is only about one-third the size of the former store in Wallhaven. There’s no on-site kitchen, so the deli items and soups are made in a leased kitchen in the Merriman Valley and transported to the store.

The store is closed Mondays. The website is http://www.westpointmarket.com.

THE MAILBAG

From S.H.:
I got rid of my old cookie sheets and replaced them with dark ones. I noticed that when I used them to bake (lined with aluminum foil) the underside of the baked item turned dark very quickly. I always watch when I bake without the foil and remove the cookies, etc. when they are lightly brown on the edges; but now I believe I either should turn down the temperature and/or decrease baking time even when I line with foil. Am I right?

Dear S.H.: Your first mistake was buying dark-colored baking sheets. They absorb heat and can burn the bottoms of your baked goods. The solution is not foil, which also conducts heat a bit too well. Instead, line your baking sheets with parchment paper. Parchment does not require greasing, and you can reuse the paper until it begins to turn brown.

Reducing the heat is not a good idea because that would not only prevent the undersides from browning too quickly, but also prevent the top and interior of the item from baking at the ideal temperature for proper rise, etc. Instead, even when using parchment, you may have to shorten the baking time. Watch carefully and remove the item from the oven when it appears to be done.