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OUR GOOD COOKS Common items, uncommon tastes



Published: Wed, August 15, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



This Canfield woman says 'line, shape, color and texture' pop up in all her varied interests.

By SARAH A. CART

VINDICATOR CORRESPONDENT

This week's Good Cook, Joyce DiTosto of Canfield, rarely sits still for long.

In addition to being an active volunteer and master gardener at Mill Creek Park's Fellows Riverside Gardens, she has for several years been chairwoman of the decorating committee for the annual midsummer garden party. She also is a docent at the Butler Institute of American Art, a gardener and holiday decorator for the Arms Museum, and a speaker on herbs, gardening and crafts. And she relishes cooking with uncommon ingredients, or blending common ingredients in uncommon ways.

Common to all her varied interests, she pointed out, are "line, shape, color and texture; they keep popping up in gardening, flower-arranging, food and art." And through these interests, she continually finds herself in the midst of educational preparation and discovery processes.

Susi Thompson of Lisbon nominated DiTosto in a letter that described how, whenever she visits the DiTosto home, "Joyce almost always has something for me to try. Rosemary lemonade, sunshine carrot salad, homemade biscotti; whatever it is, it is always delicious and intriguing. Frequently, the ingredients are not what one would expect."

She concluded, "Whenever I'm in doubt about what combination of foods to serve for a special occasion, Joyce is my resource. She has a knack for combining the right foods to complement and enhance one another."

Background: DiTosto grew up in Youngstown with an older brother. After graduating from Boardman High School, she earned a degree in French and English from Seton Hill College, and in 1966, she married Ronald DiTosto. On their fifth wedding anniversary, the two pounded the stakes into the ground as the start of the house that has been their home ever since.

Many of the basics of how to cook were taught to her by her parents, Helen and James Granito of Youngstown. As Thompson's letter nominating DiTosto explained, "One cannot know Joyce for long without meeting and then becoming friends with her parents. They, too, are wonderful cooks, and like Joyce, always have something for a visitor to try."

Their confidence in their daughter's cooking abilities, however, took some time to evolve. "When I got married, my mother said I didn't know how to cook," DiTosto recalled with a chuckle.

Experiments: Rather than subject friends to any culinary disasters, therefore, she went to work immediately to expand her horizons via trial and error. For example, she recalled, before the seven other members of her card club would arrive for an evening of food and entertainment, she would do a test run of the entire menu for her husband to consume and critique. She laughed as she admitted that her husband "gained 50 pounds in the first six months after our wedding!"

As this active community volunteer selected recipes to share with The Vindicator's readers, she included a caution regarding the almond-lavender biscotti she developed to take advantage of lavender's relaxing properties: "If you burn them, you'll have dog biscuits." She then added with a laugh, "But that's not too bad because your dog will love them!"

She was especially grateful for this recognition of her culinary talents because, she said, "it made me sit down and get specific details for several treasured recipes from my parents. At this stage in their lives, that's a blessing."

SUNSHINE CARROT SALAD

2 cups grated carrot

1 cup crushed pineapple

1 cup orange sections (canned mandarin sections work well)

1/2 cup golden raisins

1/2 cup grated unsweetened coconut (can use sweetened if other is not available)

1/2 cup sunflower seeds (unsalted are better)

4 tablespoons plain or vanilla yogurt, or mayonnaise

Plump raisins in boiling water unless they are fresh.

Mix together grated carrot, pineapple, orange sections, raisins, coconut, sunflower seeds and yogurt.

Chill until ready to serve.

To serve, spoon out onto lettuce leaves or alfalfa sprouts, or serve separately as a side dish. Makes six servings, but recipe can be doubled or tripled, if necessary.

ALMOND-LAVENDER BISCOTTI (FOR SWEET DREAMS)

6 eggs

2 cups sugar

4 cups flour

1 pound whole almonds

1 teaspoon almond extract

2 teaspoons pulverized lavender flower heads, or to taste

Beat eggs in a glass bowl with a whisk; whisk in sugar, pulverized lavender and almond extract. Add 2 cups flour gradually and continue whisking. Then use a wooden spoon to add remaining flour and almonds. (Note: If you use a mixer instead of a whisk, the texture will be softer).

Grease two baking sheets, or use parchment paper on them. Oil your hands and divide dough into three equal portions. Shape each portion into a flat log 3 to 4 inches wide and 1 inch tall, two on one baking sheet and the third on the other.

Bake at 325 degrees until light brown (approximately1/2 hour). While loaves are warm, slice1/4-inch thick with a serrated knife (an electric one works well), then place slices back on parchment-paper-lined baking sheets and return them to the oven until toasted (watch carefully so they do not burn).

ROSEMARY LEMONADE(From the Holborn Herb Growers Guild cookbook)

2 teaspoons fresh rosemary or 1 heaping teaspoon dried, crushed

1 cup water

1 cup sugar (more or less to taste)

1 large can frozen lemonade concentrate

3 cans water

Sprigs fresh rosemary

Borage flowers

Mix crushed rosemary with 1 cup water and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then immediately reduce heat and let simmer for 5 minutes. Strain, then mix together this syrup, the lemonade concentrate and the three cans of water in a large pitcher.

Serve iced and garnished with sprigs of fresh rosemary and borage flowers.

JAMES GRANITO'S BISCOTTI

41/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

3/4 cup vegetable oil

13/4 cups sugar

11/2 cup crushed pineapple (optional; the biscotti do not keep as well if they have pineapple in them)

1/2 cup sour cream

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon anise extract

1/2 teaspoon anise seeds

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1 large egg yolk

1 teaspoon water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a large baking sheet.

In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In another bowl, with an electric mixer, beat together 2 eggs, sugar and oil until combined well. Beat in sour cream, vanilla and anise extract and seeds. Add flour mixture gradually until a soft dough is formed; stir in walnuts and raisins, and pineapple if desired.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 3 pieces. Form each piece into a 14-inch log, 2 inches wide. Place logs a few inches apart on a baking sheet. Brush each log with an egg wash made from the egg yolk and water. Bake in the middle of the preheated oven for 30 minutes or until pale golden.

Cool logs on baking sheet for 10 minutes before transferring (carefully) to a cutting board. Cut each log diagonally into 1-inch-thick slices and cool on racks. If desired, return slices to oven and bake for an additional 15 minutes.

MUMSY'S STRUDEL

3 cups flour

1 tablespoon Spry or Crisco

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup warm water

Melted butter

Cinnamon

2 pounds dry cottage cheese

1 cup sour cream

4 eggs

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup margarine

2 tablespoons Spry or Crisco

In a bowl, mix together flour, one tablespoon Spry, one teaspoon salt and the warm water, and work mixture with hands for 15 minutes. Cover dough with a coating of melted butter and let rest for at least 30 minutes.

Shape dough into a ball, then flatten it into a rectangle. Coat with melted butter.

In a bowl, combine cottage cheese, sour cream, eggs, one teaspoon salt and sugar. Spread this filling onto the dough, then sprinkle filling with cinnamon. Roll up like a jelly roll.

In a saucepan, melt together margarine and two tablespoons Spry; brush this mixture on top of the roll, then place the roll on a baking tray with the seam underneath. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue to bake for an additional 45 minutes.

FALAWONES (POTATOES & amp; ONIONS)

8 cups flour

2 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons salt

2 packages dry yeast

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1 cup oil

2 cups warm (125 degrees) water

Additional warm water, if needed

4 to 6 potatoes, pared and diced

3 to 4 onions, peeled and diced

Additional vegetables (green pepper, etc.), if desired

Salt

Black pepper

Cayenne pepper

Lemon juice

6 eggs

1/2 cup grated cheese

1/4 cup flour

1/4 cup oil

Butter

Place in a large sifter 8 cups of flour, sugar, 2 teaspoons salt, yeast and1/8 teaspoon black pepper. Sift into a large bowl and stir in 1 cup oil. Mix until mixture looks coarse, then add 2 cups warm water. Mix with wooden spoon and stainless steel fork until dough sticks to fork (if some of the coarse mixture remains at the bottom of the bowl, add more warm water1/4 cup at a time). Dough should be pliable but not too wet.

Knead dough, then roll it into a log and divide into 8 pieces; knead each piece a little, then cover and let rise.

Mix together potatoes and onions (and any other vegetables desired) and add salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper to taste, then a generous splash of lemon juice, and mix; let stand.

In another bowl, mix together eggs with grated cheese,1/4 cup flour and1/4 cup oil; mix well.

Roll out each piece of dough as for a calzone. Place a portion of potato mixture on one end of each piece of dough, then spoon 1 or 2 tablespoons of the egg mixture over the potatoes and place a pat of butter in the center of the potatoes. Fold dough over and pinch edges closed.

Place on very lightly greased baking sheets and bake in a 400 degree oven for 25 minutes.

XTo nominate a Good Cook, write to Michael McGowan, Special Projects Editor, The Vindicator, P.O. Box 780, Youngstown, OH 44507 or email mcgowan@vindy.com.




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