February 24, 2016

Dear friends,

The end is near. Like any good survivalist, I’m stocking up. My freezer is loaded with shrimp, edamame and ramen noodles. A couple of cases of Champagne are tucked under the basement stairs. Tubs of miso and boxes of tofu are stacked in the refrigerator. My oversized bottles of rice vinegar and soy sauce have been topped up.

I’ll miss a lot of things when Tony hands over the keys to his Akron sushi bar, Sushi Katsu, and retires Feb. 29 – wine and fish at wholesale prices, access to 20-pound tubs of toasted sesame seeds…. but mostly I’ll miss Tony’s extraordinary sushi. It’s not easy to make at home, he says. He would have to drive to Columbus for the sushi-quality seafood, spend an hour cooking, fanning and seasoning the rice, make ponzu and eel sauces, etc. etc.

“It would be a hassle,” he admitted.

Luckily, we’ll still be able to dine at Sushi Katsu. The new owners recognize Tony’s skill and asked him to train their sushi chefs before he leaves. He has spent the last three weeks teaching, and will probably remain awhile after the restaurant changes hands, “until I’m comfy they can do it,” he says.

Still, I no longer will be able to send Tony to work with empty containers to fill and bring home. For ponzu and eel sauces, at least, that will be no problem. I can easily make my own.

Ponzu, one of the simplest Japanese sauces, is basically citrus-spiked soy sauce. Tony makes his with lemon juice, rice vinegar and soy sauce.

Eel sauce is more complicated, and each sushi bar in Japan has a secret recipe. At its simplest, it is a mixture of soy sauce, sugar and water simmered until thickened. Tony also adds sake and lemon juice. When he made sushi in Japan, he started the eel sauce by boiling sea eels in water with soy sauce and sugar. He skips that step here.

Tony won’t divulge the proportions of either sauce because the recipes have been passed on to the new owners, but he gave me enough information to make reasonable copies. The sauces can be used on a variety of things besides sushi. A splash of ponzu, a thin sauce, is delicious on grilled seafood as a finishing touch. Eel sauce (tsume) is similar to teriyaki sauce, and can be brushed on fish, pork and chicken before cooking or drizzled over the finished seafood and meat.

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PONZU SAUCE
•    1/4 cup soy sauce
•    1/4 cup lemon juice
•    1 tbsp. rice vinegar
•    Dash of cayenne

Combine all ingredients and mix well. May be stored indefinitely in the refrigerator.

EEL SAUCE
•    2 cups water
•    1 cup soy sauce
•    1 cup sugar
•    2 tbsp. sake
•    1 tbsp. lemon juice

Combine ingredients in a narrow, deep saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Reduce heat and simmer without stirring until reduced by half. Let stand overnight. Transfer to plastic squeeze bottles and store in refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before using. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.
LACQURED SALMON WITH RICE STICKS
•    1 oz. (about) thin rice sticks
•    Vegetable oil
•    2 tbsp. olive oil
•    4 salmon fillets, each about 2 inches wide
•    4 tbsp. (about) eel sauce
•    4 green onions, green part only, sliced

With scissors, snip off four pieces of rice sticks, each about half the size of your hand. Gently tease apart the strands into a fan shape.

Heat about a half-inch of oil in a wide skillet until very hot. Drop in one mass of rice sticks and when the noodles puff, turn with a spatula. When the noodles puff again, remove and drain on paper towels. Noodles should not brown. Continue with remaining rice sticks.

Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of oil from the pan. Brush the salmon, pink sides only, with some of the eel sauce. Place skillet over medium-high heat.

Arrange salmon skin side down in hot skillet. Cover and cook for 7 to 10 minutes or until desired degree of doneness. Turning is not necessary. With a spatula, remove fillets from grill, leaving skin behind.

Place a mass of noodles on one side of each of four dinner plates. Rest salmon fillets against the noodles. Drizzle with more eel sauce and sprinkle with chopped green onions. Serves four.

TIDBIT
Three words: Chicken fried bacon. It actually exists. My friend, Charlotte Observer food editor Kathleen Purvis, found it at Acre restaurant in Auburn, Ala., recently. Strips of bacon (no mention whether crisp or raw) are dipped in batter and deep fried.
Talk about piling sin on sin.

Kathi said with all the breading and seasonings, she couldn’t really taste the bacon. No matter. It still contains the full complement of calories even without the gravy.
THE MAILBAG
From Marty Kaltenbach:
You frequently reference Malley’s chocolates. I’ll tell you that Temo’s chocolate is better. Especially any of the dark bark. Larry and Elaine and the crew still make all the chocolate in-house. Caramel, too. The bark is thick and has the right percentage of cocoa — not so dark as to be bitter.

They take cash or check only, and they are closed in summer to protect their product and reputation.  Stop in and visit.

Dear Marty: Thank you for giving me a chance to love on Temo’s. I adore Temo’s chocolate. I have stopped in to visit (and buy) many times. I have traipsed to the basement to watch the chocolatier at work. At Easter and Christmas, I can buy it at my local Acme. I took gobs of it to Japan as gifts. Tony bought me a tiny box of Valentine’s chocolates at Malley’s because he passes the store daily and Malley’s sells sugar-free. I am not one to look a gift box of chocolates in the mouth.

For those who haven’t had the pleasure, Temo’s shop is at 495 W. Exchange St. in Akron, phone 330-376-7229.

From Dorothy Tucker:
Please tell Dale that pork shanks also make a very good osso buco. I have been using them for the last 15 years —  great, just great.

Dear Dorothy: Thanks for the suggestions. I’ll try that, too.

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February 18, 2016

Dear friends,

Valentine’s Day was sweet this year, and not just because I got some Malley’s chocolates. It fell on a Sunday, so I finally got to celebrate with my husband. A decade into this relationship (our 10th anniversary is next year), we’re still in love (aww) and he still makes me laugh every day. (His latest malapropism: “I have to go to work early Friday because it’s lentil season and everyone will be coming for fish.”)

We made the most of a snowy Valentine’s Day, with brunch at Wolf Creek Tavern in Norton followed by a movie. That evening we snuggled in with Champagne, Team Ninja Warrior on TV, and the best meal I’ve made in months.

I didn’t have to spend precious time in the kitchen cooking it, either. Meaty lamb shanks in an herbed tomato sauce spiked with beer simmered in the slow cooker while we were out having fun. We came home to a house that smelled fabulous and a dog half-crazed from the delicious aromas. None of us could wait to dig in.

I chose the recipe because I wanted to eat well but I didn’t feel like cooking. Just few minutes of browning and stirring in a skillet is required before the slow cooker takes over. Browning the meat, sauteeing the vegetables and finishing the sauce on the stove develops deep, soulful flavors you can’t get with a slow cooker alone.

By the time we returned home from the movie, the meat on the lamb shanks was falling from the bones. We spooned the rich tomato sauce over al dente rotini and arranged the shanks on top. We ate slowly, flipping a shred of meat and a rotini to the dog occasionally. The snow fell and the Champagne flowed. The dog flipped over on its back, sated and ready for a nap. No, wait. That was Tony.

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SLOW COOKER LAMB SHANKS WITH PASTA
•    2 tbsp. olive oil
•    4 lamb shanks (about 5 lbs. total), trimmed of fat
•    Salt, pepper
•    2 ribs celery, sliced 1/3-inch thick
•    2 large carrots, sliced 1/3-inch thick
•    4 peeled cloves garlic, sliced
•    1 cup beer
•    1/4 cup tomato paste
•    2 cans (14.5 oz. each) chopped tomatoes in sauce
•    2 tbsp. minced fresh rosemary or 2 tsp. dried, crushed
•    2 tsp. chopped fresh oregano or 3/4 tsp. dried
•    1 lb. good-quality rotini or penne pasta
•    Grated fresh Parmesan

Heat olive oil in a large, heavy skillet. Rub the shanks all over with plenty of salt and pepper. Brown the shanks all over in the hot skillet. Transfer to a plate. Cook the celery, carrots and garlic over medium heat in the skillet until they are softened but not brown, about 5 minutes. Scrape the vegetables into a large round or oval slow cooker and top with the lamb shanks.

Add beer to the skillet and bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom. Stir in the tomato paste, canned tomatoes with their sauce, herbs, and more salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for about 5 minutes. Pour over the lamb. Cover and cook on low power until the lamb is fork-tender, about 7 to 8 hours.

Transfer meat to a plate and cover tightly with foil to keep warm. Bring water to a boil for the pasta. Spoon off as much fat as possible from sauce in slow cooker. Transfer sauce to the large skillet and bring to a simmer. While pasta cooks to al dente, simmer sauce until it thickens a bit, about 10 minutes.

Drain pasta and divide among 4 shallow bowls or dinner plates. Top with sauce and lamb shanks. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan if desired. Makes 4 servings.

From “Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook” by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann.

HELP U COOK

There’s a science to beating egg whites properly. It starts with beating the egg whites slowly so small bubbles form. Beating at too high of a speed initially produces foam with large bubbles, which break easily and deflate the whites. Don’t increase the speed until an even foam has formed.

Adding an acid after the foam has formed but before the whites hold their shape helps stabilize the egg whites. The acid can be in the form of a pinch of cream of tartar or 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice.

If adding sugar, sprinkle it in just when the whites reach the soft-peak stage. If you add it sooner, the sugar will keep the foam from developing. If added later, it could cause the whites to dry out and lose elasticity, according to “Brilliant Food Tips and Cooking Tricks” by David Joachim.

THE MAILBAG
From Annie:
I, too, wondered about baking soda in a box. I keep mine in a canning jar, the type with the glass lid and a rubber ring. I stack it on the baking powder in the same kind of jar.

The broth bowls continue at my house. Your piece on broth has given me inspiration for an Asian bowl (tofu, bok choy, bamboo shoots, shiitaki mushrooms and more in veggie broth), a Mexican bowl (chicken, avocado, tomato, roasted chilies plus more), and this week’s Italian bowl (chicken Italian sausage, tomato, cannelini beans, basil and roasted peppers). My husband has been slurping them up with no complaints about “JUST SOUP FOR DINNER!?!?” Thanks a bunch for being my muse.

Dear Annie: No, I think you’re MY muse. What great ideas for changing up the broth bowls. Can’t wait to dig out my driveway and get to the store for avocado to make Mexican bowls. My husband is loving the broth bowls, too.

From Dale C.:
What cut of meat do you use for osso buco? Recipes say veal shanks but I can’t find them. Is there a good substitute without driving to a specialty butcher or West Side Market in Cleveland?

Dear Dale: Good question. I’ve never used veal shanks, the classic cut for osso buco. Can you imagine how expensive they’d be if you could find them? I use beef shanks. Shanks that are 3 to 4 inches long are best, but to be honest, I use the inexpensive inch-thick shanks from Acme. They may not look as impressive as larger shanks, but there’s plenty of meat for one person and the price is right.