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.

August 28, 2019

Dear friends,

Thanks to wikipaella, I finally discovered why the paella I had in Spain wasn’t as good as the paella I make myself. It was a different animal. I vacationed in the far south of Spain with my mother more than a decade ago, and in that region the rice is infused with seafood but not showered with it.

Yes, there’s a wiki for paella. Check it out at wikipaella.com. If you click on “recetas,” you’ll see that some anal type surveyed 319 restaurants in the Valencia area of Spain, where the dish originated, and compiled a chart of common ingredients. Percentages are given for the prevalence of each ingredient in three types of authentic (autentica) paella.

In Valencia paella, the 100 percent must-haves are chicken, salt, tomato, rice, water, olive oil and saffron. Almost-100-percenters are rabbit, fava beans and smoked paprika. Other significant ingredients include snails, rosemary, garlic and duck.

The type of paella in the south where my mother and I dined is arroz a banda, in which the rice is infused with seafood broth and mixed with chopped shrimp and squid. No wonder the paella I had was garnished with just a shrimp or two. I thought the restaurants were being cheap. No, they were just being autentica.

In Spain, paella rarely (never?) is made with both seafood and chicken or rabbit. And sausage? They would run you out of town.

But knowledge doesn’t always beget wisdom. I still love paella with chicken AND seafood AND sausage. The combo was good enough for Craig Claiborne when he wrote “The New York Times Cook Book” in 1961 and it still is good enough for me.

I’m not totally stuck in the past, though. After reading the wiki, I amended Claiborne’s recipe to include common Spanish paella ingredients he probably didn’t have access to at the time — specifically, smoked paprika and fava beans instead of peas. I skipped the pimiento and green pepper in his recipe, too, and substituted pancetta for the salt pork and ham.

Claiborne’s recipe is more compact than the one below, but I wanted to add information on handling and purging the mussels and clams.

This paella is one of my favorite dishes for a group because it covers all the bases — seafood for meat avoiders, chicken for seafood haters and, if you serve it with Champagne sangria as I did to a group of Tony’s ESL (English as a second language) classmates last week, enough bubbly to break the ice around the communal table.

EVERYTHING PAELLA

12 large shrimp
12 smallish (50 cent size) clams
1 lb. mussels
1 tsp. oregano
4 peppercorns
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 1/2 tsp. salt
6 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. vinegar
8 meaty chicken legs or mix of legs and thighs
4 oz. pancetta
1 6-inch link of chorizo sausage, preferably dried, sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tbsp. capers
2 1/4 cups white long- or medium-grain white rice
1 tbsp. tomato paste
4 cups boiling water
1 tsp. saffron threads
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1 cup peeled fava beans or edamame

Shell and de-vein the shrimp and refrigerate. Take the clams and mussels immediately home from the store (no stopping for a fro yo) and place over ice in a bowl. Cover the bowl with a wet dish towel and refrigerate. Use that same day.

Prep all of the ingredients (chop the onion, slice the sausage, measure out spices) and line them up in order of use next to the stove.

About 1 1/2 hours before dinner, combine the peppercorns, garlic, salt, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and the vinegar in a mortar or a sturdy little bowl and grind together with a pestle or mash with the back of a wooden spoon until thoroughly amalgamated. Rub chicken all over with the mixture and refrigerate.

Fill a large mixing bowl three-fourths of the way with cool water. Stir in 1/2 cup or so of salt until dissolved. Place clams and mussels in water and let stand at room temperature to purge any sand the shellfish contain. Tony purges overnight for sushi, but 20 minutes to an hour is long enough.

About an hour before dinner, fry pancetta in a large, deep skillet or paella pan until crisp.
Remove the pancetta and reserve. Add remaining 4 tablespoons olive oil. Fry chicken over medium-high heat until golden brown on all sides. Stir in chorizo, onions and capers. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened and transparent, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, wash rice in a bowl of cool water two or three times, swishing it around with your fingers and draining off the starchy water and refilling each time. Drain well. Begin heating a covered pot with about 2 inches of water for steaming the mussels and clams.

Add rice and tomato paste to chicken mixture in skillet. Stir, turning it over from top to bottom. Stir in boiling water, saffron, smoked paprika and fava beans. Cover and simmer rapidly for 20 minutes, until water has been absorbed. Turn mixture top to bottom. Stir in shrimp and reserved pancetta. Cover and continue to cook over low heat.

Meanwhile, transfer shellfish to the pot of boiling water. Cover and cook over high heat until the shells open, about 5 minutes.

Turn paella onto a platter and garnish with the clams and shrimp. Makes about 6 to 8 servings.

JANE’S CHAMPAGNE SANGRIA
1 cup mango nectar
2 cans (12 oz. each) fizzy mango-flavored water
1 cup halved grapes
1 nectarine, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
2 limes, cut into 3/4-inch pieces, skin and all
1 orange, cut into 3/4-inch pieces, skin and all
3 bottles of sparkling wine
In a pitcher, combine mango nectar, flavored water and fruit. Feel free to substitute or add other chopped fruits such as pineapple and pear.

Fill stemmed wine glasses (not flutes) halfway with juice and fruit. Top with sparkling wine. Makes many, many drinks.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked/assembled last week:
Muskmelon and prosciutto for a perfect breakfast; a protein shake; pan-grilled top sirloin steak, steamed corn on the cob, roasted green peppers with olive oil and sea salt, and baked potato with sour cream; hard-fried egg and ripe tomato with pesto on whole-wheat toast; roast chicken sandwich on whole-wheat toast with sliced cucumber, tomato, sea salt and mayo; salted almonds and jumbo blue cheese-stuffed olives, paella with chicken, chorizo, shrimp, clams and mussels, and Champagne sangria with fresh fruit; potato, green bean and corn soup with smoked ham hock and a pesto swirl.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Half of a BLT at the Eye Opener in Akron (where I saw on the menu a deep-fried biscuit with Crooked River jam, ala the cronut); Shanghai soup dumplings, chili wontons and stir-fried noodles with beef at LJ Shanghai in Cleveland; plain popcorn at Regal Theater; a cabbage roll and bites of Tony’s sausage and pierogi at Al’s Corner Restaurant in Barberton; garlic marinated shrimp, roast pork tenderloin with wine sauce, mushroom-pecan latkes with chive sour cream, hasselback tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil, and a peanut butter-chocolate chip bar at my friend Michele’s; scrambled eggs and grits at Cracker Barrel.

THE MAILBAG

From Louise H.:
I just read your latest newsletter and enjoyed your comments on Mark Auburn’s book, which I have read. I’m so happy to see the mention of this book.

Are you related to Glenna Snow, who was food editor at the Beacon Journal in the 1940s? She was a founder of the University of Akron Women’s Committee and taught at UA after retiring from the Beacon. I have recently read some of the historical articles about her efforts to furnish the UA home economics house in 1948-’49. It was an interesting venture!

Dear Louise:
No, I’m not related to Glenna, though I’m often asked that question. I just finished writing a brief history of the Beacon Journal’s food coverage for an upcoming book, and delved into Glenna’s career in my research. This is the first I’ve heard of her post-newspaper doings at the University of Akron, though. Thank you for the information.

From Jenny K.:
Several recipes I have call for Japanese sake. I’ve tried to find out the type to use in cooking savory dishes, but with no luck. Do you have any recommendations?

Dear Jenny:
I buy One Cup Sake for cooking because it tastes good (for sake) but is relatively inexpensive. More important, it comes in one-cup glass containers, so I don’t have half a bottle cluttering my refrigerator. Sake is made in various styles and most would work in cooking. But there’s no sense spending a lot of money on the boutique stuff for cooking.

August 21, 2019

Dear friends,
Farm stands and farmers’ markets are a minefield for me this month. I can’t resist. Anything.

I bought a basket of about 10 large heirloom tomatoes last week and have been eating them out of hand like apples, sprinkled with chunky sea salt, as I race to use them up. Then at Rittman Orchards in Doylestown on Sunday I bought big handfuls of green beans and a bunch of nectarines that I sliced and tossed with my own blackberries for a pie.

I have been indulging in corn and watermelon for a month, and now am heavily into muskmelon. I supplemented my stash with a fragrant little Charentais (!) melon I also found at Rittman Orchards.

And then at Dunkler’s in Copley last week, I was thrilled to see that hot peppers are finally in season. A pile of shiny, fat, wrinkled poblanos called to me. I scooped up four big ones and carted them home with no idea what to do with them. I couldn’t justify the calories of chile rellenos, which I craved. So I started thinking of ways to slim down that dish of cheese-stuffed peppers, breaded and deep-fried.

The recipe I came up with is a cross between rellenos and stuffed peppers with a Mexican accent. I roasted the poblanos over my gas stove burner (electric will work, too) and stuffed the peeled peppers with a delicious mixture of browned ground meat, fresh corn kernels and crumbled feta cheese seasoned with oregano. A splash of Worcestershire gave the mixture an undercurrent of umami. I stirred in a bit of shredded Mexican-style cheese mix (Monterey Jack and Cheddar) for melty goodness.

After baking the peppers for 20 minutes, I lashed them with lime-flavored sour cream and scattered some chopped tomato over the top. Yeow. The filling was delicious, and the cool lime sour cream tied together the flavors and toned down the mild sting of the poblanos. Tony and I loved them.

Now, what to do with a crate of cabbage and a half-peck of new potatoes?

BAKED STUFFED POBLANO PEPPERS

6 fat poblano peppers
1 to 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
3/4 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic
1/2 lb. lean ground beef
1 cup fresh corn kernels
Salt, pepper
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup shredded Mexican blend (or Jack) cheese
1/4 cup sour cream
2 tbsp. milk
Grated zest of 1 small lime
Chopped ripe tomato for garnish

Blister peppers on all sides on a grill or over a gas or electric range burner. Immediately place in a paper bag and close tightly. After 5 minutes, rub each pepper under running water to remove blistered skin. Don’t worry if some skin remains.

Cut a lengthwise slit in each pepper and carefully remove the seeds without tearing the pepper. Wear rubber gloves if you wish. I didn’t, but I was careful not to rub my eyes. Set peppers aside on paper towels.

While peppers steam in the paper bag, start the filling. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a nonstick skillet. Sauté the onions over medium-high heat until softened. Add garlic and sauté a minute longer. Crumble in ground beef and cook, stirring often, until no longer pink, adding the remaining tablespoon of oil if necessary.

Stir in corn kernels. Season with salt, pepper and oregano. Stir in Worcestershire sauce. Remove from heat and stir in feta and shredded cheese.

Stuff the poblano peppers with the meat mixture. It should be enough to fill six large poblanos. Arrange in a single layer in a baking pan or individual ramekins, allowing two peppers per person. Bake uncovered at 375 degrees for 20 minutes, or until the cheeses have melted.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine sour cream, milk and lime juice, stirring until smooth. Spoon into a small sandwich bag and snip off one corner (a tiny snip!). When the peppers are done, place two on each plate (or leave in ramekins) and squeeze the sour cream mixture over them in a decorative squiggle. Scatter a spoonful of chopped tomato over all. Makes 3 servings.

TIDBITS
Anyone who is nostalgic for 1950s and 1960s food should read “In the President’s Home: Memories of the Akron Auburns,” my friend Mark Auburn’s book about the years his father, Norman, was president of the University of Akron (1951-1971).

Mark, a fellow food-lover, did not stint on descriptions of the food served to family and guests alike. I am now bereft that I never tasted Blossom Shop Candies’ mint disks sandwiched with a layer of chocolate. And Mark, I want you to know I STILL eat Coco Wheats. Not often, but there’s a box in my cabinet for special occasions.

The book is available on Amazon, at Barnes & Noble in Montrose, or through the University of Akron Press.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Chicken, tomato and pesto on whole wheat toast; feta, tomato and pesto on whole wheat; sautéed zucchini smothered with spaghetti sauce and melted feta cheese; stir-fried cauliflower rice with chicken and vegetables in a spicy sauce; hard-fried egg, pesto and tomato on whole wheat toast; bagged chopped salad and microwaved frozen chimichurri chicken; roasted bell peppers with olive oil and sea salt; eggplant Parmesan; venison spaghetti sauce; peach and blackberry pie; baked stuffed poblano peppers.

What I ate in/from restaurants last week:
Indian bread stuffed with potatoes, chickpeas with Indian spices (chana masala), lamb madras, chicken tika masala, steamed basmati rice, Indian masala tea at Singh Biryani in Cuyahoga Falls (very good); small popcorn no butter at Regal Cinema; Coney dog with onions and mustard and a diet root beer at Coney Island Diner in Mansfield; steak salad from Chipotle.

THE MAILBAG

From Bill B.:
Just had a blurb on my Facebook feed for a place in Wooster called Bay Lobsters. Seems they are handling a lot of fresh seafood, along with the lobsters. I haven’t been there yet. Have you?

Dear Bill:
Yes. The business sponsored this newsletter when they had a store in Twinsburg. I noticed just recently that their shop is now in Wooster, and they have added a cafe. They sell very fresh seafood. The Bay Lobsters Cafe & Fish Market website is baylobsterswooster.com.

From Anne K.:
I would be interested in knowing the instance of salmonella in heritage pork grown by small producers who do not use antibiotics. I try not to buy any grocery store pork.

Dear Anne:
I have no information on that, but would guess that pork from a small operation whose breeding stock does not come from a mass producer would be a safer bet for consumers.

August 14, 2019

Dear friends,
My days of relishing blushing-pink pork are over. Yours may be, too, if you read the expose on the pork industry Sunday in the New York Times.

In a meticulously researched story, reporter Matt Richtel lays out evidence that pork tainted with a dangerous variant strain of salmonella is seriously sickening people because the bacteria is resistant to four major antibiotics.

Why is this particular type of salmonella so hard to kill with antibiotics? Probably because many pork producers have overused antibiotics on their hogs to the point that the bacteria has mutated into a resistant strain.

Where are these hogs being raised? How widespread is the problem? There’s the rub.

The pork farmers and their organization, the National Pork Producers Council, have refused to cooperate with scientists trying to track the infected meat. Because of the historically cozy relationship of pork producers — and heck, most food producers — with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, rules do not exist to force the farmers to cooperate. The farmers are afraid if the tainted pork is traced to specific producers, their business will suffer. Huh.

According to the Times article, the problem came to light after nearly 200 people became ill from tainted pork in a Washington outbreak in 2015. Unfortunately, the problem is not confined to Washington. An analysis by researchers at the Environmental Working Group found that 71 percent of pork chops in supermarkets in the United States carried resistant bacteria.

Cooking pork to 145 degrees (160 degrees for ground pork) will kill any salmonella it harbors, according to the Centers for Disease Control. But it’s easy to spread the bacteria from raw meat before it is cooked. I intend to handle raw pork very carefully from now on. And I’ll use an instant-read thermometer to be sure it is done.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Steamed whole lobsters, microwaved corn on the cob; frozen chimichurri chicken breast (heated) and a bagged chopped salad with chipotle and Cheddar cheese; a BLT (for Tony) and a grilled salmon, lettuce and tomato (me), and Seiberling steamed corn; oven-baked wild sockeye salmon glazed with sweet soy sauce (for me) and with a cucumber-mayo sauce (for Tony), steamed corn, cucumber salad with sesame dressing.

What I ate in/from restaurants, etc.:
Bacon, egg and sausage flatbread, coffee at Red Cup in Boothbay Harbor, Me.; oysters on the half shell with mignonette sauce at Glidden Point Oyster Farm in Edgecomb, Me.; fried clams from Frye House in Farmingdale, Me.; half of a Subway roast beef sub; scrambled egg with ham, a buttermilk biscuit and coffee at Monroe’s Family Restaurant in Twin Mountain, N.H.; a hot dog and a bag of popcorn at a football team fund-raiser along I-90 in Massachusetts; half a Subway ham and cheese.

THE MAILBAG
From Dorothy B.:
What a great story, Jane (about last week’s clam-hunting trip). It reminds me of a time many, many years ago when we were camping and went down to the dock and bought our lobsters right off the boat. We steamed them over the campfire using the rack in a large canning pot. Thanks for dredging up some great memories.

From Carol B.:
Wow, Jane, your description of Maine food is so enticing that I want to jump in the car and head east!

I’ve been to Young’s Lobster Pound in Belfast, Maine a couple of times, and thinking about it makes my mouth water. Is there ANY place in Northeast Ohio where we can get food like that?

By the way, September and October are great months to travel to tourist-heavy areas like that. You might have cooler weather, but I hate hot weather anyway.

Dear Carol:
Yes, I will have to start traveling in the off season. The over-tourism caught me by surprise in Paris last year, too.

You won’t find off-the-boat Maine food in Ohio, but you can find lobsters and clams (although rarely steamers) in the fall when clam bake season cranks up. Papa Joe’s in the Merriman Valley in Akron always has a number of lobster specials in the fall, including a lobster bake, and many restaurants offer clam bakes.

But none of them equals sitting on a bench outside eating lobster rolls and fresh-dug clams. Maybe you could get together with friends, make a mad dash to the coast for seafood, and have your own lobster festival when you return.

From Mary P.:
Jane, I made your corn and onion salad the other day. It was delicious.

In reading the email from Bill B., I just did not understand the “microwaving onion stem” and then the rest of the sentence without punctuation, I’m guessing.
So, is he suggesting microwaving the onions…in no butter, little butter, or what?

Sorry to need a clearer understanding.

Dear Mary:
Bill’s email made perfect sense, but I garbled it badly when I retyped it. I didn’t proofread it either, apparently. My apologies.

The point Bill made is that he partially cooks/steams large amounts of chopped onion in the microwave before transferring them to a skillet to caramelize in butter on the stove. Because the onions are partially cooked, they caramelize on the stove much faster and therefore need less butter to keep them from burning.

The chopped onions should probably go in a shallow, wide casserole dish. No butter. Cover and microwave until fairly softened. The time will depend on the amount of onions and the power of your microwave. Exactness doesn’t matter. Even a bit of precooking will shave time from the caramelizing process on the stove. Right, Bill?

From Marnie F., Charlotte, N.C.:
I am a former Cleveland native, living in Charlotte for 30 years. Your corn story a few weeks ago brought back many memories of Ohio sweet corn. I shared your story about eating the corn at various stages after picking at a family reunion with corn lovers from both coasts and the Midwest. Everyone enjoyed your research. My question is whether you have this report available to the public. It would make a great gift for all of the sweet corn lovers I know.

Dear Marnie:
That research ran in a story in the Beacon Journal on August 12, 1987 under the headline Stalking Great Corn. The story was about the then-new hybrid super-sweet corn, and how it tasted compared to regular just-picked corn and ears that were four hours old.

The article is available free in the Akron Beacon Journal database of the Akron-Summit County Public Library. You can access the database online with your library card number at akronlibrary.org. Others can access it through a paid newspaper archives service. Ask at your local library.

August 7, 2019

Dear friends,
The tidal flats of the central coast of Maine zigzag for miles along fingers that reach inland from the ocean. Tony and I crisscrossed them again and again in our search for the rocky shore. I would lick my lips in hunger.

“That’s clam territory,” I told Tony atop one bridge. “Keep an eye out for signs.”

Sure enough, on yet another ill-fated attempt to beat the hordes of tourists to the actual shore, I spotted culinary gold: A hand-pained sign, “Clams, Seafood” with an arrow.

We turned off State Route 209 near Phippsburgh onto a narrow, rutted road. Around a bend was a small pre-fab building with a cement loading dock and a sign, “Clam Hunter Seafood.”

“Come on up,” called the smiling woman on the dock. She led us inside, where wire shelves and water-filled tubs were crammed with clams and oysters. Lobsters bubbled in a glass tank filled with sea water. A man — her husband? — with a wind-burned face and rolled-down waders directed a spray of water at shell debris on the concrete floor. Yes, he had just dredged up the clams, he said.

The clams had already been purged, we were told. That meant I wouldn’t have to soak them in salt water until they released any sand they harbored. Already-purged clams were a real find.

Soft-shells, called steamers here, were $6 a pound. Lobsters were $7 a pound. I almost cried when I realized I couldn’t fit three pounds of clams AND lobsters in the little cooler I had brought.

I only needed a pound of clams for the recipe I had in mind, but I knew I could eat more than a dozen myself, the average number of steamers in a pound. I bought three pounds and doubled the sauce recipe.

I have had some fine clams in Maine so far. My first meal was a lobster roll and a dozen steamers with clam broth and drawn butter. They tasted like the sea and reminded me of my early 20s, when I lived in Atlantic City and was in love with life and my first taste of seafood. My second restaurant meal was an indecently big pile of fried seafood including clams fresh from the shell, dunked in batter and fried until crisp and golden. They were so sweet and crisp I’ll be dreaming of them the rest of my life.

Then there were my clams. Back at my camper, I made a soffritto of crisp-fried pancetta, softened onion and minced fennel. I cut thick slices of crusty bread, fried them in olive oil and rubbed them with garlic. I bubbled those sea-fresh clams with wine, lemon peel, a bay leaf and the sofrito. When the flavors were blended and the clams had opened, I ladled everything over the thick slices of toast on a platter.

A half-dozen clams and the broth-soaked toast turned out to be plenty for me but not nearly enough for Tony, who ate almost all of them. The clams on toast was so good Tony suggested selling it along the roadside to other tourists stuck in traffic, trying to find the shore. He thinks we could make a fortune.

A word of warning: The Maine coast, like many popular destinations, suffers from over tourism. If you want to see a tide pool or a rocky headland or an ocean wave, get up before dawn. We were stuck in traffic for hours on U.S.1 one day, and were turned away a half-mile from Popham Beach State Park another day because all of the parking lots were full by noon.

But there are still clams, lobsters and oysters to be had on byways far from the madding crowds.

CLAM TOASTS WITH PANCETTA

(From Bon Appetit magazine)
4 tbsp. olive oil
2 oz. pancetta, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, 2 sliced thin, 2 whole
1/2 medium sweet onion, finely chopped
1/2 small fennel bulb, finely chopped, plus 1/4 cup fennel fronds
2 wide strips (3 inches long) lemon zest
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. ground fennel
1 cup dry white wine, divided
Pinch of salt
2 thick (1 1/2 inch) slices sourdough bread
1 lb. clams (steamers or littleneck)
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Crushed red pepper flakes

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium. Add pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until brown and crisp. Add sliced garlic and stir-fry until it is golden around the edges, about 1 minute. Reduce heat to medium-low and add onion and chopped fennel. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent.

Add lemon zest, bay leaf, ground fennel, ½ cup wine and a pinch of salt. Increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until wine is mostly reduced but mixture is still a little bit saucy. Transfer soffritto to a medium bowl; discard lemon zest and bay leaf. Wipe out skillet.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in same skillet over medium. Cook bread slices in skillet until golden brown on both sides. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Cut 1 garlic clove in half and rub one side of each toast with cut side of garlic. Wipe out skillet.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in same skillet over medium. Crush remaining garlic clove with the side of a chef’s knife and cook, stirring often, until it begins to turn golden, about 1 minute. Add clams, soffritto, and remaining ½ cup wine. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Cook, uncovered, until liquid is reduced by half and clams are open (discard any that do not open), 5 to 7 minutes. Add parsley and chopped fennel fronds and cook 1 minute longer.

To serve, place a piece of fried bread on each of two plates and spoon clam mixture and broth over. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes. Makes 2 appetizer or light lunch servings.

Note: Soffritto can be made 2 days ahead. Cool, cover and chill.

GUT CHECK
What I prepared last week:
Crudités and a campfire hotdog with mustard and onions; a scrambled duck egg sandwich and coffee; grilled strip steaks and microwaved corn on the cob; salade Nicoise and a ripe peach; clam toast with pancetta.

What I at in/from restaurants:
Buffalo wings from Bella Pizza in Lackawanna, N.Y.; a cheese omelet, whole wheat toast and coffee at Cherry Tree Inn in Henderson, N.Y.; half of a Subway ham and cheese; a brick oven pizza with garlic sauce, chicken, feta, dried cranberries and walnuts and a Stella Artois; fried fish, french fries, coleslaw, mac and cheese and a roll from Ghize’s Tavern in Ogdensburg, N.Y.; stuffed cabbage and potato moussaka from a farmers’ market in St. Albans, Vt.; a lobster roll (the meat of an entire lobster in a toasted split-top bun with melted butter on the side), homemade thick-cut potato chips, steamed clams at Lobster in the Rough in York, Maine; fried scallops, clams, haddock and shrimp with french fries and a roll at Sea Basket Restaurant in Wiscasset, Maine.

THE MAILBAG
From Bill B.:
Regarding the caramelized onions in your corn salad, do you ever microwave stem the chopped onions to cut cooking time when caramelizing them I do this when I’m making huge batches of onions. This usually cuts down on the amount of butter I need to use as well.

Dear Bill:
Brilliant. Next time, instead of cutting down on butter to save calories but then not quite caramelizing the onions so they don’t burn, I will try your trick. Thanks.

July 31, 2019

Dear friends,
What a difference four years make. In 2015 I was whining about wedging all of my garden produce in the refrigerator. This year, I have exactly one tomato that has been ripening for a month now and is still too green to pick.

Yes, I sent soil away for testing and added the recommended amendments. No, it didn’t help. The garden that once gave me so much pleasure now produces mostly grass and weeds.

This week I leave it all behind to travel to upstate New York and Maine, where I will eat someone else’s blueberries and tomatoes and console myself with lobsters and clams. To remind myself of the good old days. I’ve left behind this column from 2015:

We open the refrigerator gingerly at this time of year. It is so stuffed with produce that an errant breeze could dislodge a cantaloupe or trigger an avalanche of eggplants or send a quart of blackberries tumbling over the bacon.

My untamed but prolific garden produces on its own schedule and I must adjust. When the rains last weekend unleashed a deluge of yellow squash, green beans and bell peppers, I knew something in the fridge had to go. In order to make room for the new stuff, I had to sacrifice half of a watermelon. I thought about that watermelon all day Sunday. By the time Tony and I returned from the Medina County Fair, I had a rough recipe in my head.

“Let’s go out to dinner,” Tony suggested as we pulled into the drive. “No,” I snapped. “We have to eat a watermelon!”

He shrugged and wandered into the living room while I went to work, cutting the melon into 1 1/2-inch cubes. I added sliced green onions and crushed coriander seeds. I had bought some dark, robustly flavored buckwheat honey at the fair. I spooned some out and stirred in a sprinkling of coarse sea salt. In another bowl I made a dressing of fresh lime juice, olive oil and crushed red chili pepper flakes with just enough sugar to tame the acid.

I loaded the watermelon salad, chunks of feta cheese, pita bread and chicken burgers on a platter and carted everything into the living room where Tony was watching the Olympics. Just before dishing up the watermelon, I tossed the cubes with the chili-lime dressing and drizzled it with the salted honey.

“This is good,” Tony said, spearing another bite. “Really, really good.”

I noticed he was watching synchronized swimming. Two perky young women with sequined bathing suits and nose plugs were jerking their heads and slapping the water in unison. Tony thought they were really, really good, too. I hope I can trust his taste.

Flowers yes; vegetables, no.

WATERMELON SALAD WITH CHILI-LIME DRESSING AND SALTED HONEY DRIZZLE
Chili-lime dressing:
2 tbsp. fresh lime juice
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 to 1 tsp. crushed red chili pepper flakes
1/4 tsp. salt

Salad:
6 cups chilled watermelon in 1 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup sliced green onion
2 tbsp. minced mild or medium-hot fresh green chili pepper such as Anaheim
1/4 tsp. crushed coriander seeds
2 tbsp. buckwheat honey or other full-flavored honey
1/2 tsp. coarse sea salt

Combine the dressing ingredients, mix well and refrigerate. Just before serving combine the watermelon, onions, minced fresh chilies and coriander seeds in a medium bowl. In a custard cup or small container, stir together honey and sea salt. Pour chili-lime dressing over salad and gently but thoroughly toss. Drizzle salted honey over salad; do not toss. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Pan-fried cod with stir-fried vegetables in ginger-garlic sauce over steamed rice; hard-over egg and basil leaves on whole wheat toast, cucumber spears and blueberries; a detox smoothie; shrimp cocktail, tomato and cucumber salad with fresh dill; pan-grilled salmon with a sweet soy sauce glaze, tomato and cucumber salad, a glass of Champagne.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Egg drop soup and chicken in black bean sauce (very good) at Chin’s Place in Akron; a Taco Bell taco; popcorn at Regal Cinema; Chipotle barbacoa salad; Superfoods Salad at Aladdin’s in Montrose.

THE MAILBAG
From M.P.
Years ago we were at Lake Chautauqua for the week and I was frying potatoes and hot peppers for our fishermen husbands. I did not wear gloves and soon felt the effects of the pepper oil. It felt as if my hands were in the skillet!

I will forgo all the details but will tell you the pharmacist filled the script for the doctor-recommended salve but told us olive oil would work better and faster. We located the nearest grocery store and quickly grabbed a bottle. We had brought with us a large bowl of water that my hands had been in on our trip to the hospital. We tossed out the water and poured the oil over my burned hands. Oh, the relief.

God bless this man behind the counter in the town of Warren, Pa.

Dear M.P.:
Astounding! I did not know this about olive oil. You have helped many people today.

From Carol P.:
I wanted to tell you how I make jojo potatoes. It’s not original but I think it saves time. Wash russet potatoes and pierce with a fork. Place in microwave and cook until tender. Cut into fourth lengthwise. When cool, brush with mayo or ranch dressing. Roll in panko or regular bread crumbs. Fry in 1/4 inch of oil until brown on all sides. Remember, the potato is already cooked.

I think your garlic butter brushed on while the potatoes are hot would be yummy. Then sprinkle with Parmesan after frying.

Dear Carol:
Dino Reed at Wise Guys told me he roasts the baking potatoes before he cuts them lengthwise into quarters and fries them, so his method is similar to yours. He prepares them in advance to that point, then coats them with garlic butter and Parmesan and warms them in the oven.

From Rachel A.:
My first job was in the farm market at Graf Growers in Akron, and I am still a corn snob about it. The corn I get there always tastes best to me. Apparently, nostalgia tastes like sweet corn.

Try this corn salad, too. I made it for my husband and mother-in-law last week and both of them raved about the flavors. The contrast between the warm roasted corn and the cool, creamy sauce is awesome; the tang from the quick-pickled onions adds a lovely little bite. It’s absolutely delicious: https://smittenkitchen.com/2019/07/corn-salad-with-chile-and-lime/.

Dear Rachel:
I like Graf corn, too. I intend to try your corn salad recipe, which author Deb Perelman says is modeled on the popular Mexican-style street corn. Thanks for the link.

July 24, 2019

Dear friends,
I jumped out of bed Saturday, fully alert. It was corn day. I had waited all year. Seiberling Corn Farm in Norton would open at 9 a.m. for the season.

At 9:40 I snagged the last parking spot in front of the farm house. A slew of people already were digging through a pile of corn under a canopy. When an an older guy on a tractor putted up with another load, I wanted to hug him. I resisted.

To me, fresh corn on the cob is the essence of summer. It would be on my bucket-list last meal. I love it so much that I think I talked Northeast Ohio into making it the symbol of summer, too. A new managing editor imported from Miami once expressed surprise that my “corn is here” story appeared on the newspaper’s front page. On reflection, he decided that in Ohio, the opening of corn season probably was big news.

No. In all modesty, I think I made it big news by writing so enthusiastically about corn year after year after year. I wrote about Szalay’s vs. Graf vs. Rufener’s. I gave ridiculously detailed directions for cooking it in the microwave, on the grill, and in boiling water. One year I set up a pan of boiling water on a camp stove in the middle of a corn field and cooked an ear seconds after picking, then judged it against ears picked an hour, two hours and four hours earlier, some refrigerated and some not.

Sure, everybody around here already liked corn. But I was nuts about it, and I think my mania rubbed off.

I’m still nuts about it, and was distraught when the wet weather impacted planting last spring. Would there be corn?

I actually was happy when Szalay’s and Graf started bringing in corn from central and southern Ohio to keep the corn-hungry hordes at bay. In past years I disdained the out-of-town stuff. Then on Saturday, the real thing arrived.

Although there are only two of us, I got caught up in the corn-shucking frenzy at Seiberling’s. I stripped a dozen ears naked and, back in the car, dug one out of the bag and took a huge bite, typewriter style. I looked up, cob still to my lips, and locked eyes with an elderly woman. She gave me a thumbs up.

I found this recipe for corn salad in the “Food 52 Cookbook, Volume 2.” The original uses pancetta, cilantro and more olive oil than mine, which allowed the onions to be cooked longer. I sacrificed complete caramelization for calories, cutting the olive oil in half.

The beauty of the salad is the onions, which sweeten and also take on a bit of tartness from the vinegar, forming a built-in dressing for the corn. It is one of the best corn salads I’ve tasted. There’s no reason the salad couldn’t be served warm as a side dish, either.

And of course, you could forego the salad altogether and eat your corn raw, out of hand, in the car.

CORN AND CARAMELIZED ONION SALAD

4 slices bacon
Kernels from 6 ears of corn
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 large red onion, chopped
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
Dash of salt
8 to 10 medium basil leaves

Fry the bacon in a large, heavy skillet until crisp; drain on paper towels. Pour off and reserve all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat. Sauté the corn kernels in the skillet over medium-high heat, stirring and turning, for 1 minute. Transfer corn to a serving bowl.

Return skillet to the burner over medium-low heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the reserved bacon fat and the olive oil. Stir in onions, vinegar, sugar and salt. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 15 to 20 minutes, until onions are soft and beginning to caramelize. Stir onions into the corn.

Cool salad to room temperature. Stir in chopped basil, crumbled bacon and sea salt to taste. Makes 6 servings.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Kung bao chicken, steamed rice; beet, dill and goat cheese salad; eggplant, garlic and basil salad; corn and caramelized onion salad and roast mustard-glazed pork tenderloin.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Salad with raw tuna, edamame, cucumbers, peppers, pickled turnips and ginger and ponzu dressing from Tensuke Market in Columbus; Cobb salad from Sam’s Club; cauliflower-crust pizza with steak and mushrooms, Bud Light at Pavona’s Pizza Joint on Sand Run Road in Akron (a new place); the Laddie Burger and garlic-Parmesan Jo-Jo potatoes at Wise Guys in Akron; baba ganoush, hummus, pita bread, kibbee, marinated grilled chicken, marinated grilled beef and kefta from Mediterranean Market & Grill in Cuyahoga Falls.

TIDBIT
Are you kidding me?? A juicy, double 3-inch-high cheeseburger that’s a contender for the best in Akron, PLUS the ultimate Jo-Jos rolled in garlic butter and dusted with Parmesan, at a fast-food price? Seriously. It’s $7 on Thursdays in the bar at Wise Guys Lounge & Grill in the North Hill area of Akron.

Kathy C. told me a year or more ago about the Thursday special. She didn’t tell me the colossal hamburger is on the menu the rest of the week at just $10 or I probably would have eaten one by now. The thing must weigh 1 pound and chef Dino Reed and his crew have the skill to cook it perfectly. If you want medium-rare, that’s what you get.

You also get real cloth napkins, soft music and upscale Rat Pack decor. I already loved this place for the beautifully prepared steaks and lamb chops at moderate prices. Now I am obsessed with it for the cheeseburger. See you Thursday.

Check out the full menu at wiseguys.us.

BYE BYE BLENDER
I can finally get rid of my bozo Hamilton Beach blender. I bought it for recipe testing. I wanted equipment most people would have, which ruled out a $450 Vitamix.

Now that I’m retired my budget rules out a Vitamix. So I was thrilled but skeptical when I found a like-new smoothie maker for $8 at a second-hand store. It turned out to be a $160 Smoothie Elite that chomps through pineapple and liquefies kale like a champ. It is a powerful machine.

I am telling you this in case you, too, get hooked on the 180-calorie detox smoothie from Tropical Smoothie Cafe (the one near Belden Village is now open). Making them at home with a Smoothie Elite is the way to go. If you lost the recipe, it’s on my blog site at janesnowtoday.com. The search button is above my photo.

THE MAILBAG
From Carol B.:
Regarding your hot pepper incident, I fixed a Pakistani chicken dish for my Dining for Women meeting last week. I had the most beautiful peppers from Kreiger’s on Graham Road in Cuyahoga Falls — plump, smooth, large, crunchy. I stupidly did not use gloves when I minced them. I woke up in the middle of the night with burning hands and I couldn’t get back to sleep. I got a gel pack from the freezer, went back to bed and wrapped my hands in it. It worked! I woke up in the morning with no stinging hands!

P.S.: If you’ve never heard of Dining for Women, check it out at diningforwomen.org. They do wonderful things to empower women around the world.

Dear Carol:
Boy, you must have gotten a hot batch of jalapeños. I never use gloves for them, although I do for peppers higher on the Scoville scale. Thank you for bringing Dining for Women to my attention. I encourage others to click on the link and check out this wonderful organization.

From Chris D.:
For some weeks there was a sign in a tiny storefront between the Indian grocery and Strickland’s on Bailey Road in Cuyahoga Falls saying “Coming soon Singh Biryani, healthy Indian carry out food.” It finally opened on July 19! I’m leaving on vacation, will visit the restaurant when I get back. I wish them success!

Dear Chris:
Thank you for the great tip. I hope to get there soon.