South Beach, Baby!

Dear Friends,

Before the models and glitterati moved in and ruined the neighborhood, I visited Miami’s South Beach annually on union business. I paid $60 a night for a room at the now-ritzy Edison Hotel. My buddies and I stayed there because it was cheap. Pre-rehab, the Art Deco-era hotel had a raffish tropical elegance. The airy lobby with its high ceilings and paddle fans gave onto a long arched  portico situated directly across the street from the beach.  Even then, the sidewalk along that street—Ocean Drive—was a circus. We’d sit under the Edison’s shady portico drinking Planter’s Punches and watching the bizarre parade. Topless women, roller bladers, a man with a 6-foot boa constrictor draped around his neck, ancient seniors from the nursing home next door…Ocean Drive had it all.

We usually ate a block inland from the beach at a mom and pop Cuban restaurant. Ropa vieja with black beans and rice was about $5, I recall. After dinner we’d hurry back to the Edison for a Planter’s Punch or two and a front-row seat for the nightly parade.

Now the Edison’s rooms cost $130 and up. The portico is still there, but you’d probably have to push your way through a sea of silk and sequins for a drink at the outdoor bar. I wonder if they still serve those luscious Planters Punches. The chic crowd  in South Beach is probably into martinis. They don’t know what they’re missing.

PLANTER’S PUNCH

  • 2 oz. (1/4 cup)  dark rum
  • 1/4 oz. (1 1/2) tsp. grenadine
  • Equal parts sour mix and pineapple juice
  • Club soda (optional)
  • Maraschino cherry, orange slice for garnish

Combine rum and grenadine in a collins glass (tall and narrow). Add sour mix and pineapple juice (half and half, as much as much as you want) and stir. Drop in a couple of ice cubes, top with a splash of club soda and garnish with a cherry and orange slice. Serves one.

CUBAN PLANTAIN CHIPS

  • 2 green plantains
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Peel plantains with a knife. Cut into 1/8-inch slices (a mandoline is recommended). Combine in a bowl with the oil and salt and mix well. Spread in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes or until golden, turning once. Serve warm as a nibble with drinks.

THE MAILBAG

From Michele:
I’m looking for something exciting to do with the two huge kohlrabi I got in my CSA share. Any suggestions for it or for two giant heads of escarole?

Dear Michele: The one time I planted kohlrabi I was so excited that they grew that I left them in the ground just to observe them. They were giant, woody and tough by the time I harvested them. I cut them into thick slices and simmered them in beef broth. Yuck. Maybe someone else has a recipe they’d be willing to share.

The escarole is easy  to use up. Fry a few strips of bacon in a big skillet. Remove the bacon but not the grease. Add one-fourth cup or more cider vinegar and sugar to taste to the bacon grease in the pan. Stir over medium heat to dissolve the sugar. Then wilt the escarole in the liquid (covering the pan at this point helps) and serve with the  crumbled bacon. My grandmother thickened the sauce with a bit of cornstarch, but I don’t think it needs it.

From Melanie:
Do you know if cherries can be made into fruit leather? I have an over abundance and no more freezer space.

Dear Melanie: Too many cherries? What is that like? While I attempted to work up sympathy for your problem, I cruised the Internet and found a recipe with photos at http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/how_to_make_fruit_leather/. Just about any fruit will work in the recipe. Enjoy those cherries.

From Karen, Chagrin Falls:
I’ve been making pie crust infrequently for many years, always uncertain how it would come out but usually pleased enough.  Recently, though, I’ve gotten a wonderfully flaky and delicious crust but it is sticking stubbornly to the bottom of the pan, to the point where I can only get about half of it out, particularly when it’s warm.  Not a pretty presentation, either.

I’ve been using the 1997 “Joy of Cooking” with its chilling and rest period, maybe that’s the problem? Do I need to use more water (I tend to underdo this)? I figured if anyone would know the answer, it would be you.  Thanks!

Dear Karen: Sorry, I don’t have a magic solution. The problem could be any number of things (but not too little water). Too little fat can cause the dough to stick, although if your crust is flaky I doubt that’s the problem. Does the recipe contain sugar? That could be the problem. Do  you press the dough into the pan with your fingers? If so, don’t. Just ease the dough into the pan without stretching.

Sometimes a sugary, liquid filling (such as for pecan pie) will seep through the dough and cause it to stick to the pan. Whatever the cause, I do have a potential solution. Lightly dust the bottom of the rolled-out dough with flour before fitting it into the pie pan. Hope this works.

From Jan:
A few red hot cinnamon candies in place of sugar is a nice addition to rhubarb or apples when making sauce. Rhubarb sauce and rye toast is a fond childhood breakfast memory I still enjoy.

Dear Jan: Rhubarb and rye sounds like a strange combination, but I can imagine the flavor. I’ll try it some day.

From Rob, Phoenix:
Your Vietnamese coleslaw recipe sounds great. I’ve made a similar dish for several years that has become my daughter’s favorite salad. To your mix of napa, red bell pepper, green onion, carrot and cilantro, I will add a handful of chopped mint and Thai basil (sweet basil will work, too). To dress, I just toss with seasoned rice vinegar and a splash of toasted sesame oil to taste.  Will definitely have to try it with the Vietnamese sauce, too, and the peanuts would be a great addition.

Regarding the lobster crackerjack: I’m guessing that it really is just the six little legs (isn’t that one lobster’s worth?). You really couldn’t roll the meat out of the claws with a beer bottle, plus I would think that the meat from the little legs, all chopped up, would add good lobster flavor without making the popcorn too soggy. (When we occasionally cook lobster, I invoke Julia Childs’ rule that all the little legs belong to the cook – me — although no one ever listens.)

Dear Rob: Thank you for your input on the lobster-leg question. Sounds logical. Plus, I like Julia Child’s rule, which I’d never heard before.

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