January 25, 2017

Dear friends,

A cook at the ocean is a cook who is itching to get into the kitchen with a slew of seafood. Throw in access to America’s winter vegetable basket, and the urge is too strong to ignore. That’s what finally got me into the galley of our camping trailer last weekend on our month-long trip to Florida.

As I mentioned last week, the equipment comprises a 3-burner gas stove, an oven that isn’t much bigger than a microwave, and a microwave. With provisions from a farmers market and a seafood store, we had oven-roasted baby eggplant, sweet potatoes and kabocha squash with a thick grouper fillet Tony roasted outside over a wood fire. Cooking fish doesn’t need a sauce or seasoning other than salt.

The next evening Tony and I worked together in our mini kitchen to produce a summery ceviche made with ingredients from our pint-sized fridge. In about 30 minutes, we briefly simmered 1 1/2 pounds of succulent wild Gulf shrimp and tossed them with red bell pepper, green onions, mango and a tart grapefruit-lime dressing.

Tony made the dressing, did most of the chopping and helped me tweak the flavors. After we were done I showed him how I came up with the recipe — a list of ingredients jotted in the margin of a newspaper, transferred to a tablet in the order I planned to use them, and amounts penciled in as we worked and tasted.

I learn things every time I cook with Tony. Here’s one thing I already knew: If you’ve ever wondered whether to peel shrimp before or after you boil, steam or grill them, the answer is after. Shrimp cooked in their shells are simply more flavorful than shrimp that are peeled first. Of course, sometimes you must feel the shrimp first, such as for a stir fry. Not so for the recipe below.

GRAPEFRUIT SHRIMP CEVICHE

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Boil shrimp in lightly salted water to cover, just until meat becomes opaque. Do not overcook. Immediately drain and refresh in cold water to stop the cooking process. When cold, peel and discard shells and tails. Remove the vein if desired. Drain well.In a medium-size serving bowl, combine the grapefruit zest and juice, lime juice, salt, togarashi or pepper flakes, grated ginger and olive oil. Beat until mixed well. Add remaining ingredients including the shrimp. Mix well. Cover and chill. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

1 1/2 lbs. extra-large shrimp (uncooked, in shell)
1 tbsp. grated grapefruit zest
1/2 cup fresh grapefruit juice
1 tsp. lime juice
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 to 1 tsp. togarashi (Japanese hot pepper mixture) or red pepper flakes
1 tsp. grated fresh ginger
1/4 cup olive oil
3 green onions, trimmed and finely chopped, both green and white parts
1/4 cup minced red bell pepper
3/4 cup mango in 1/2-inch dice
1/3 cup lightly packed chopped fresh basil

TIDBITS

I have been enjoying some memorable meals at Pipo’s Cafe, a casual Cuban restaurant just up the street from our campground in St. Petersburg/Madeira Beach. The unpretentious restaurant serves homestyle Cuban dishes. All of the day’s offering are displayed in steam and trays behind a counter at the front of the restaurant. You look them over and order, and a waitress delivers them to your table.

There’s always a criollo mojo-marinated hind quarter of a hog so tender it spills from the skin in juicy shreds. Another staple is mojo-roasted chicken quarters. Two or three more entrees are added daily, along with black beans, white and yellow rice, incredible ham-flavored green beans, fried plantains and empanadas. Sandwiches (the Cuban has won awards) are made to order.

I don’t know how I’ll be able to leave this restaurant when Tony and I have to return to Ohio. Yeah, I’ll miss the sunshine and the palm trees and the beach. But mostly I’ll miss Pipo’s. The website is http://www.pipos.com.

THE MAILBAG

From Robin, Creston:
When you featured an omelet restaurant some time back in your newsletter for the Post House Restaurant near Doylestown, I immediately put this restaurant on my restaurant bucket list. I had passed this restaurant many, many times, but when you said it was good, it went on the list. I did make it there and enjoyed it…but I’m embarrassed to say not until right after an article appeared in the Wooster Daily Record announcing this vintage landmark will be closing at the end of February. I enjoyed an omelet along with their home fries and hot cakes. They did not disappoint for great diner food!

I hope to make a return trip for a milk shake and a burger. I hope you and Tony make it back to Northeast Ohio before the end of February.

Dear Robin: I’m glad you got to the Post House before it closes. Last fall the owner told me they don’t want to, but the updates demanded by building inspectors are too expensive for their modest budget. Tony and I will be back in time for one last omelet.

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January 19, 2017

Dear friends,

I’m in a summer state of mind. Don’t hate me, but I can’t get excited about stews and roasts with the temperature hovering in the low 80s here in Florida.

I’ve been eating Honeybell tangerines, ripe tomatoes, fresh shrimp and just-picked strawberries. I’m living the dream.

Our piece of paradise is a small camper on a patch of grass and sand in St. Petersburg, Fla. The beach is a mile away. A salty inlet is steps from our door, as is a bike path and swimming pool. We have been here for two weeks and will remain for another two weeks before facing the tail-end of Ohio’s winter.

Tony, who honed his people skills beind the sushi bar, is absolutely delighted with campground life. On our first day here he returned from a walk with an invitation for cocktails and the first names of everyone from Ohio. He wants to have a sign made with our names and city and a catch phrase like “On the road again.” No. Just no.

I awoke from a nap that first day and stepped outside to an array of our possessions scattered around the camp site. Tarps were on the ground, tools were here and there, our kayak was off the truck and over by the fire ring, fishing poles leaned against the bumper, and a collapsible red wagon, our bicycles and a 6-foot ladder littered the path between the camper and the road.

“We look like hillbillies,” I said. “We have to clean this up.” I figured he had been digging around for something and had just flung junk willy-nilly. I realized I was wrong when I asked why the ladder was out.

”For display,” he said.

The man was showing off our posessions like the proprietor of a flea market. Oh, my lord.

Anyway, I’m not doing a lot of cooking on my midget 3-burner stove. I have an oven, but it doesn’t get as much use as the microwave. Yesterday Tony cooked steaks outdoors over a wood fire and for lunch I warmed up a couple of store-bought arepas.

Breakfast was sliced strawberries over creamy ricotta cheese.

I have good intentions, though. I located a good seafood store, and I plan to steam spiny lobsters in a Thai coconut-lime broth. Maybe I’ll even bake a shortcake to showcase those ripe Florida srawberries.

Although you probably can’t lay your hands on spiny lobster, you can enjoy a tropical strawberry shortcake. Here’s a recipe for a strawberry-coconut shortcake I created a few years ago to feed my ongoing passion for all things coconut. The shortcake dough contains both coconut extract and shredded coconut, and toasted coconut is sprinkled over the finished dessert.

Tony suggests you display the tropical strawberry shortcakes on a sideboard to admire while you have dinner. And if you have a nice ladder, you could set that up, too.

STRAWBERRY-COCONUT SHORTCAKE

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1 pint strawberries
3 tbsp. sugar, or to taste
For the shortcakes:
2 cups self-rising flour
2 tbsp. sugar
3/4 cup sweetened coconut
8 tbsp. cold butter
2 tsp. coconut extract
1/2 to 2/3 cup milk
1 cup toasted coconut

Wash berries, remove hulls and cut in half or slice. Toss in a bowl with sugar to taste. The amount will vary depending on the sweetness of the berries.

In a food processor, combine flour, sugar and coconut. Cut butter into small pieces and add one at a time through the feed tube while the motor is running. Scrape mixture into a bowl. Toss with a fork while sprinkling with extract and enough milk to form a soft dough.

Gather dough into a ball. Scoop up one-third cup of the dough and gently shape into a disk about 1 inch thick and 3 inches across. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Continue with remaining dough.

Bake at 425 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until edges just begin to turn golden. Serve warm or at room temperature. To serve, split biscuits in half horizontally and fill and top with strawberries.

Sprinkle with toasted coconut. Makes 7 shortcakes.

Note: To toast coconut, spread on a baking sheet and bake at 425 degrees for 3 to 5 minutes or until light brown, stirring once.
TIDBITS
Tony and I stumbled on yet another version of hot chicken on our way to Florida. During our trip to Nashville last year we became hot chicken fans, so we practically shrieked when we spotted a “hot chicken” sign while filling the tank in Crescent Springs, Ky.

But Kentucky hot chicken is not Tennessee hot chicken, we learned. It is a totally different, weird and wonderful dish of its own. In fact, it does not exist beyoned Crescent Springs, a waitress at Joella’s Hot Chicken told us. Just the original Joella’s and one nearby restaurant serve it.

The chicken appears to be pressed, with a killer crunchy breading that is beyond crispy. It is topped with a complex, oil-based hot sauce and served on a paper plate with a pickle chip skewered to the chicken’s surface with a toothpick.

The dark-brown sauce comes in six levels of hotlness. I had a mid-hot Ella’s Fav, which was sweetened with too much honey but addictive nonetlheless. Tony had the Hot, and said he can’t imagine anyone ordering the Fire in the Hole, the ultimate flavor. Tony has a tolerance for spicy food (at home he uses Tabasco like ketchup), but had trouble finishing his chicken. He did anyway, of course.

Tony had his chicken over waffles. I had mine with slaw and green beans. I plan to stop again on my way back to Akron and maybe try the hot chicken sandwich with pimiento cheese. Fellow wanderers can find Joella’s at 2440 High St. in Crescent Springs.
The website is http://www.hotchickencom.
THE MAILBAG
Was it something I said? No one has sent me an email since the beginning of January. Please write to me with your questions and ruminations, as well as notes about restaurants and food stores you’ve visited and new dishes you’ve tried. Thanks.

 

January 4, 2017

Dear friends,

Maybe Tony was homesick. Maybe he was thinking of his mom, who died in August at age 86. Whatever the reason, he decided to create a traditional Japanese New Year’s Eve meal.

New Year’s is the biggest holiday in Japan. Tony’s family always celebrated with an all-night gathering of the aunts and uncles who prepared and feasted on a buffet of special dishes while watching “Red and White,” a nationwide annual New Year’s singing contest, on TV.

The elders are in their 80s now and don’t stay up all night. In fact, when we called shortly after midnight Tokyo time, even Tony’s brother was already in bed. We thought of them and my dear mother-in-law Fumi when we celebrated that evening (there’s a 12- to 13-hour time difference, depending on the season).

From memory, Tony made a red bean and mochi (elastic-texured pounded rice) stew (oshiruko) and a soup with rice cake (ozoni) that is traditionally eaten New Year’s morning. I’m not crazy about mochi but I loved his third dish, a vinegary salad of shredded daikon radish, carrot and black beans. The soft, meaty beans were a counterpoint to the crisp carrot and radish, both in texture and flavor. Black soybeans are used in Japan, Tony says, but he substituted regular black beans with a delicious result.

I didn’t go hungry while Tony loaded up on mochi and stew and soup. I had made a back-up selection, split pea soup, earlier that day because with Japanese food, you never know. These are the people who invented squid-flavored popcorn.

We would have fit right in with Tony’s family’s celebration this year. I went to bed at 11 p.m. and Tony fell asleep in the living room before the ball dropped. No matter. The New Year arrived just the same.

I think you will like Tony’s refreshing black bean sunomono (salad).

KURO MAME SUNOMONO

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(Black bean salad)

2 cups julienned daikon radish
1/2 cup julienned carrot
3/4 cup cooked black beans
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup rice vinegar
3 tsp. sugar
Salt to taste

Combine radish, carrots and beans in a serving bowl. In a smaller bowl or large measuring cup, stir together water, vinegar and sugar until sugar dissolves. Pour over vegetables and mix well. Season lightly with salt. Cover and refrigerate for several hours before serving. Makes 4 to 5 servings.

TIDBITS

I haven’t had much luck finding decent ramen in northeast Ohio until last week when I found not one but two restaurants to satisfy my craving. The first was close to home (and heart) at Sushi Katsu in Akron’s Merriman Valley. The second was at Flying Cranes, a darling half-Japanese half-American cafe in Cleveland on the edge of Shaker Heights.

Chefs Tin and Jason at Sushi Katsu, my husband’s former restaurant, serve a bowlful of comfort made from scratch with pork bones. The broth is lighter than ones I’ve had in Japan, but delicious and authentic-tasting. The broth is loaded with succulent slices of pork, pickled and poached eggs, kombu seaweed and bits of burdock. The noodles are crinkly and al dente. Bravo. A big bowl is $9. The restaurant’s website is http://www.sushikatwsu.com.

Flying Cranes Cafe has the standard ramen as well as the champon variety Tony had. The milky seafood broth was stocked with vegeables and ramen noodles. Tony said it was an authentic representation of the Southern Japanese specialty. Japanese comfort foods such as donburi bowls and Japanese curry also are on the menu, as well as soups, sandwiches, quiche and other non-Asian fare. The menu reflects the tastes of the owners, British-born Bill Frye and his wife and the chef, Kayoko, who is from Japan.

The website is http://www.flyingcranes cafe.com.

THE MAILBAG

From Pennie:
A Norwegian cookie I want to make calls for almond extract which tastes bad to me. Too artificial. I’ve seen suggestions to substitute vanilla extract so I could do that but not sure the flavor would taste right. Subbing brandy extract, another suggestion, sounds odd to me. What about using Torani syrup or almond butter? The ingredients are simple ones.

Dear Pennie: Brandy extract sounds a lot more fake-tasting than almond extract. Your grandmother’s recipe has almost no liquid other than an egg and a teaspoon of extract, so I would not sub more than 2 teaspoons. I don’t think Torani syrup would do it in that small a quantity. Same goes for almond liqueur (amaretto).

I think your choices are either putting up with the taste of almond extract (which I love) or subbing vanilla for an entirely different taste. I’m craving some of those cookies!