February 14, 2018

Dear friends,

I’m back home in the cold and snow, watching the Olympics and warming myself with thoughts of all the great food I had in Florida. Yes, I ate too many Happy Meals in pursuit of wifi (Hurricane Irma destroyed our campground’s system). And I ate at places like Domino’s (yuk) and Golden Corral (not bad) because marriage is compromise. But I also had a lot of fine seafood and catered to my Cuban food obsession. Here are some highlights.

Best deal: Three pounds of just-harvested large stone crab claws for a measly $30 at a gas station in Everglades City. The charming little town is the self-described “World stone crab capital.” There’s so much crab that it’s even sold at gas stations. We missed the town’s seafood festival by one day, but had a festival of our own after toting the crab back to Okeechobee in a $7 Styrofoam cooler.

Best Cuban sandwich: Not Mervyn’s in Ft. Pierce, which somewhere along the line won the local title. Its Cubans are good but not great because they include salami and are relatively small. I want a sandwich with heft. I want to get two meals out of one.

The foot-long Cubans from El Cubanito’s in Ft. Pierce were just about perfect – crisp pressed Cuban bread, plenty of marinated roast pork, the traditional mustard and dill pickle chips along with ham and melted cheese. But the sandwich from Vicky Bakery in suburban Miami had all of that and a hint of creamy mayo, too. Later I made a clone that Tony said was even better that Vicky’s, but I doubt it. Here in the frozen North, I’m already planning to buy a pork roast and start making Cuban bread. I miss those sandwiches.

What I learned: Yuca is cassava is manioc. Same tuber, different names. I already knew the difference between yuca, a starchy vegetable that is eaten widely in the Caribbean, and yucca, an ornamental shrub. Before frying some up (or boiling, roasting or steaming it), you should know the difference, too.

Gator is still chewy, dammit. Tony, who claims he has cooked and served alligator steaks in his sushi bar, also claims that the alligator he got at festivals and in restaurants in Florida was tender and juicy. I say it was as dry and chewy as all the other alligator I’ve eaten over the years in the line of work.

I was happy, though, that Tony limited his alligator obsession to eating it. All month he wondered aloud whether a license was needed to hunt them. I finally realized he was serious. How would he kill one? Grab it and choke it, he said. What would he do with the carcass? Eat the tail and mount the head to hang on the wall, he said. Lord help us.

Best seafood meal:
Shrimp Tortuga at a casual beach restaurant, the Cottage, in Ft. Myers. Friends took us to the place, where we ate outdoors on a deck overlooking the ocean. The shrimp I ordered came with crusty bread to dip in the luscious sauce that was a flavor bomb of butter, garlic and lemon. Intense garlic and lemon. A friend and I couldn’t stop sopping up that sauce.

I tried to duplicate the dish back at the campground. I made a silky beurre blanc with wine, butter, lemon juice, garlic and a dash of hot sauce. It was delicious but not shrimp Tortuga. I tried again after I came home, and this time I got it right. The sauce is merely melted butter with lots of chopped garlic, lots of hot sauce and a dash of cream. Instead of lemon juice, I used grated lemon rind for a more intense lemon flavor. Bingo.

 

SHRIMP TORTUGA

 

Shrimp Tortuga

 

• 8 tbsp. butter
• 2 tbsp. minced garlic
• 1 to 2 tbsp. hot pepper sauce (Sriracha or Tabasco)
• 1 lb. large shrimp, peeled
• 1/4 cup dry white wine
• 1 tbsp. cream
• Finely grated zest of 1 large or 2 small lemons
• 2 tbsp. minced cilantro leaves

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add garlic and cook until softened but not starting to brown. Stir in hot pepper sauce. Increase heat to medium and sauté shrimp, stirring once or twice, just until no longer opaque. Remove shrimp from skillet and set aside.

Increase heat to medium-high and add wine. Simmer until reduced slightly. Stir in cream and remaining 6 tablespoons butter. Stir in lemon zest and cook for one minute. Taste sauce and add more hot sauce if desired. Return shrimp to pan and bathe in sauce. Divide among 2 to 4 plates and top with cilantro. Makes 2 to 4 servings.

GUT CHECKWhat I cooked last week:


Shrimp with garlic, butter, lemon and hot sauce.

What I ate in restaurants:
Pulled pork, smoked brisket, cornbread stuffing, mashed potatoes and a yeast roll at Golden Corral; fried hog snapper, french fries and coleslaw at Triad Seafood in Everglades City, Fla.; Cuban sandwich, plantain chips and yuca fries from Mervin’s Cafe in Ft. Pierce, Fla.; a chicken sandwich from KFC near Jacksonville, Fla. pepperoni pizza from Rizzi’s in Copley, Ohio; a quinoa and kale broth bowl with chicken and an apple at Panera Bread in Montrose.

TIDBIT

The Akron Recipe Project, a book in the making from retired Akron librarian Judy James, needs your help. The book will be about what people in Akron have been cooking for their families for generations. It will also be about the stories behind the recipes.

James is collecting the recipes and stories now, and hopes a few of you will share. The recipes need not be iconic Akron recipes – just recipes that are important to you and your families.

Submit recipes to Judy James at akronrecipeproject@gmail.com or contact Judy at 330-815-0775.

THE MAILBAG:

From Ellen M.:
The best wedding soup I ever had was at Yocono’s on West Exchange Street in Akron. I also liked their individual casseroles of penne pasta, meatballs, marinara sauce and cheese baked in the oven. Has anyone found a close second for either dish?

Dear Ellen:
I am sorry I missed those dishes when the restaurant was in business. I know Vaccaro’s Trattoria in Bath had excellent wedding soup the last time I tasted it. Hopefully we will hear from others who have suggestions for you. Anyone?

From Tammy Jo:
My husband has single-handedly stuffed our four (yes, four) freezers with an assortment of venison this season. I have made venison chili, venison spaghetti sauce, venison lasagna, a venison version of pasta a’ fagioli, and Johnny Marzetti with ground venison.

Do you or Tony have any other venison recipes that I could surprise my husband with?

Dear Tammy Jo:
Just about any ground beef recipe can be made with ground venison. I have made ground venison gravy over mashed potatoes, hamburger goulash and shepherd’s pie.

I request Tony’s deer be butchered into ground meat and an abundance of roasts. I use the latter in spicy recipes – for example, I rub a roast with Mexican spices and cook it in a slow cooker, then shred it with forks and use it as a stuffing for burritos. Last year I also cubed a roast and turned into classic goulash, which I provided a recipe for (made with beef) in my newsletter. You can access it by clicking here.

I am less inclined to cook venison steaks but when I do, I make a fruity wine sauce with the pan drippings to pour over the meat. Another good idea for venison steaks is to marinate them. This is a great time to try bulgogi, Korean marinated and grilled strips of meat. Use any venison steak and cut it into strips and marinate several hours or overnight. Grill (or pan grill) the strips and serve with rice at an Olympic-watching evening.

This recipe was given to me years ago by Jong Mi Edinger of Hudson. I am also including her recipe for a spicy salad to round out the meal.

BULGOGI

• 1 lb. flank steak (or venison steak – any cut)
• 5 tbsp. soy sauce
• 3 tbsp. sugar
• 3 tbsp. Oriental sesame oil
• 1/2 tsp. black pepper
• 2 tsp. toasted sesame seeds
• 1 tbsp. pressed garlic
• 1 green onion, minced
• 2 tbsp. white wine
• 1 medium onion
• 1 head garlic, separated into cloves and peeled

Cut the meat across the grain into 1/8-inch-thick strips. Combine all remaining ingredients except the medium onion and head of garlic. Mix well and pour over meat strips. Cover and refrigerate one to two hours (or overnight if using venison).

Meanwhile, cut onion in half lengthwise, then slice halves horizontally. Prepare a hot fire in a charcoal or gas grill, and cover grill with a fine-mesh screen. Remove meat from marinade and place on screen with sliced onion and whole garlic cloves. Grill until beef is cooked through but still moist. Serve with the onions and garlic cloves and, if desired, cooked white rice. Serves three to four.

SPICY SALAD

• 1 head leaf lettuce
• 3 tbsp. soy sauce
• 1 tbsp. sesame oil
• 1/4 tsp. sesame seeds
• 1/4 tsp. sugar
• 1/4 tsp. black pepper
• 1 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
• 1 tsp. (or to taste) crushed red pepper flakes

Wash and dry lettuce. Tear into bite-sized pieces and place in a bowl. In a small bowl, combine remaining ingredients. Pour over lettuce and toss. Serves four.

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February 7, 2018

Dear friends,

I didn’t get to taste the swamp cabbage but I did snag one of the last pieces of sour orange pie at the Lakeport, Fla., Sour Orange Festival last weekend. The shindig’s logo was an orange, making a puckery-angry face. How could I pass up such a unique food event just a 15-minute drive from our campground?

Things were well underway when we parked in a tufted and rutted pasture with about 20 other vehicles. Apparently the festival was not a hot ticket beyond Lakeport, a sun-baked crossroads of 7,500 residents.

A dozen or so knocked-together booths selling crafts, fried alligator, boiled swamp cabbage and the like were set up in a grove of live oaks. A trio played country-western music on a scuffed stage attached to the community building, where all the sour orange action took place.

This was the 26th year for the festival and its centerpiece, the Sour Orange Bake-Off, said organizer Dorri Evans. A moist coconut cake filled with sour orange curd won this year’s contest, which had just two entries, Dorri said with a rueful shake of her head. “We usually get twelve to fifteen.”

Dorri and her committee were on track to sell out of sour orange pie, as usual, though. In the weeks leading up to the festival the women juiced three 55-gallon drums of sour oranges picked from local trees, which grow wild in the area. The trees, brought here by Spanish colonizers, used to grow all over Florida. They were the root stock for Florida’s sweet-orange industry. Sour oranges are a staple of Cuban cooking and the cooking of Lakeport, where women turn the juice they squeeze into creamy frozen pies that taste like a Creme-sickle.

Tony and I shared a slice and got the recipe from Dorri. Sour orange juice is hard to find outside Latin American and Mexican food stores. Half lime juice and half orange juice may be substituted. Dorri gave me a sour orange before I left. It tastes citrusy but not orange-like. It is pleasantly sour, not lemon or lime sour. I like the flavor and am sorry I won’t be able to find the fruit in stores.

I’m even more sorry I won’t be around for the swamp cabbage festival in nearby Belle Glade later this month. I learned that what old Floridians call “swamp cabbage” is what we call “hearts of palm,” a gourmet item that costs a fortune when you can find it in cans.

Stubby palm trunks were heaped beside a chain saw in the pickup bed of one orange festival purveyor, who said the classic swamp cabbage preparation is boiled with vinegar, although it can be used for fritters and in salads, too. The main ingredient is from the sabal palm (elsewhere coconut and other palms are used, too). “Unfortunately, you have to kill the tree,’’ the purveyor lamented. “I think it’s the state tree of Florida.’’

 

FESTIVAL’S FAMOUS SOUR ORANGE PIES

Image 

• 3 cans (14 oz. each) sweetened condensed milk
• 2 tubs (8 oz. each) frozen whipped topping, thawed
• 2 cups sour orange juice (or 1 cup lime juice and 1 cup regular orange juice)
• 3  8- or 9-inch graham cracker pie crusts

Combine milk, topping and juice and beat with an electric mixer until well blended. Pour over graham crusts. Place in freezer until very firm, preferably overnight. (Wrap with plastic after filling firms up.) Let pies soften slightly at room temperature before cutting into wedges. Makes 3 pies.

Jane’s notes: * To make one pie, use 1 can milk, 2/3 tubs topping, 2/3 cup juice and 1 pie shell.
* Just before serving, decorate pie(s) with whipped topping and orange slices if desired.

GUT CHECKWhat I ate in restaurants week:


Half of a bagel-egg sandwich from Dunkin’ Donuts; a fish sandwich (probably tilapia) with fries and coleslaw at the Tin Fish in Okeechobee, Fla.; boneless ribeye steak, baked potato and iceberg lettuce salad with blue cheese dressing at the Brahma Bull Restaurant near Okeechobee; a tower of marinated raw tuna, avocado chunks, diced cucumber, crab cream cheese and pickled ginger with salmon roe and wasabi cream and eel sauces at 12A Buoy in Ft. Pierce; sugar-free Dilly Bar from Dairy Queen; and a practically flavor-free ham and pineapple pizza from Domino’s (my first from the chain).

What I cooked last week:
Nothing. Tony, however, made delicious grilled hot dogs on top-sliced buns with mustard, chili, grilled hot peppers and chopped onions. Yum.

THE MAILBAGFrom M.P:

Wanted to let you know that Siamone Fryer (Siamone’s in the Gala Plaza on Waterloo Road) has opened in her new location in the Brimfield Plaza. I was so glad to hear, and anxious to have her delicious Malay curry.

Dear M.P.:
That is good news. I like her food, too. The restaurant’s Facebook page, under Thai Monies, lists hours of 4 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday at 4112 Brimfield Plaza, State Route 43, in Kent. Phone 1-330-474-7588.


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