March 13, 2018

Dear friends,

Out of the blue, Tony whipped up an appetizer last week of cold, juicy cylinders of spinach draped with a rich sesame sauce that tasted like sophisticated peanut butter. Where did that come from? And why has he been hiding it from me for the 12 years I’ve known him?

“Hatsuhana,” Tony said. “I learned to make it when I worked at their sushi bar in New York City.”

Well, it’s about time Tony dragged those recipes out of his memory. He was recruited by the chain of very upscale U.S. sushi bars when he was a young hotshot sushi chef in Tokyo (he won a city-wide contest for making sushi the fastest with the fewest mistakes.) Tony was brought first to Hawaii, then New York, then Chicago to work in Hatsuhana restaurants before he struck out on his own.

After visiting the New York location with Tony, I wondered whether any of the luxe recipes were lodged in his memory banks. Finally the wonderful spinach rolls surfaced. Are there more recipes screaming to get out? Only time will tell. Tony will not be hurried.

Last week I convinced Tony to make the spinach rolls again. I stood at his elbow measuring each ingredient and jotting notes about his spinach-rolling technique. The man is infuriating when he cooks. He shares knowledge grudgingly. We usually argue “like the chefs on ‘Top Chef’ during restaurant wars,” he says. Two cooks are not meant to share a kitchen, he believes. I say he is just contrary and bossy.

Anyway, I got the recipe. It is so terrific and so simple. Spinach leaves are cooked briefly in boiling water, refreshed with cold water and gently squeezed into a cylinder that is about 1 inch in diameter. Squeezing too tightly will cause the spinach “rope” to fall apart. Squeezing not enough will result in watery rolls and they, too, will fall apart.

The spinach rope is wrapped snugly in plastic wrap and refrigerated. After a while (“when it’s ready,” is Tony’s unhelpful instruction), the spinach roll is placed on a cutting board and sliced into about 1 1/2-inch lengths. The pieces are arranged on end, on little plates, and the sauce is spooned over.

Tony makes the sauce with toasted sesame seeds that he crushes to a powder with a pestle and mortar. Sorry, but a blender won’t do the job. If you lack the tool, check out the inexpensive ones sold in Asian food stores.

Sugar, sesame oil, white miso and soy sauce are added to the crushed seeds. The sauce is thinned with water. The sauce in my photo is a bit thick. The next time Tony made it, he thinned the sauce until it flowed easily from a spoon.

Minus the mortar and pestle chore, this dish is ridiculously easy to make. It would be an elegant, refreshing appetizer for a spring or summer gathering.

OSHITASHI (Spinach rolls with sesame sauce)

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10 oz. spinach leaves (approximately)
1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp. toasted white sesame seeds
2 tbsp. sugar
3/4 cup white miso paste
2 tbsp. soy sauce
Pinch of salt
Water to thin
Toasted sesame seeds for garnish

Steam or boil spinach just until wilted and stems are tender. Drain and place in a pot or big bowl with very cold water. When the color brightens and the leaves are cool, drain in a mesh strainer. Do not press at this point.

Gather the wet spinach leaves in your hands and begin gently pressing while elongating the pressed leaves into a rope about 1 inch in diameter. Do this by gently squeezing handfuls of leaves in a downward motion, as if you are milking a cow. Some moisture will remain in the spinach. Squeeze out just enough water so that the rope holds together.

Place the spinach rope on a piece of plastic wrap slightly longer than the rope. Wrap it tightly but do not squeeze it. Tuck the ends of the plastic wrap under to seal. Refrigerate, being careful not to bend the rope.

While the spinach chills, grind the sesame seeds to a powder with a mortar and pestle, in batches if necessary. Transfer to a bowl and stir in sugar, sesame oil, miso and salt. Continue stirring until smooth. Stir in enough water to make a thick dressing that flows off a spoon.

Place the plastic-wrapped spinach on a cutting board. Without unwrapping, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces. Unwrap each piece and group three pieces, standing on ends, on a plate or in a small bowl. Drape with some of the sesame dressing. Makes 3 to 4 servings.

GUT CHECK

 What I cooked last week:
Thai potato and spinach soup with coconut milk; chocolate pudding; fusilli lasagne; chicken salad with dried cranberries and pecans; stubby Italian sausages from West Side Market roasted with chunks of kabocha squash and cauliflower; Cuban bread; pan-grilled steak with roast sweet and red potatoes, grape tomatoes, green beans and feta cheese with olive oil and herbes de Provence.

What I ate in restaurants last week:
Half of a steak and arugula sandwich and a cup of tomato soup at Panera Bread; cafe con leche, a Cuban sandwich and fried ripe plantains at Sabor Miami Cafe in Cleveland; a fish sandwich minus the bun and some cottage cheese at Alexandri’s in Wadsworth.

 TIDBIT
The Sabor Miami Cafe, a comfy, homespun restaurant hidden in a small shopping strip in Old Brooklyn, was plenty good enough to satisfy my itch for Cuban food. I give my Cuban sandwich a B plus. The people who cook, take your order and ring up sales get an A plus in warmth and hospitality. Combined, that should be enough to make the place a big hit. Too bad it’s so hard to find.

When Tony and I visited, the sign was propped up on the ground, hidden behind parked cars. If not for the pastel stripes running like piano keys across the top of the building, which I associated with deco Miami Beach, we would have given up and returned home.

That would have been a shame. The rich cafe con leche, served in big mugs, is reason enough to drive up and down Broadview Road a half-dozen times searching for the cafe. We sipped and surveyed the funky decor while waiting for my Cuban sandwich and Tony’s palomilla steak sandwich to arrive. There was a lot to look at, from the mismatched tables and chairs to the burlap coffee bags doubling as art, to rustic portraits of Frida Kahlo to a 3 1/2-foot-tall plush pink flamingo posed in a rattan chair. Half the room is given over to thrift-shop wares. Is the stuff for sale? Who knows.

My pressed Cuban sandwich, on real Cuban bread, was about 8 inches of deeply marinated chopped pork, Swiss cheese, ham, mustard, mayo and, oddly, sweet pickles instead of dill. It was almost perfect, and plenty big enough for two meals. I also bought a fabulous beef and potato empanada for later. Tony loved his sandwich of shredded, marinated steak topped with lettuce and fried potato sticks. He also had serviceable black beans and yellow rice and we shared some maduros — fried sweet plantains. All of the food is made by owner Mariela Paz, who is from Nicaragua but lived in Miami, where she came to love Cuban food.

As good as the food was, the information we gleaned was the lagniappe. The bread, we learned, comes from Caribe Bake Shop, which sells the heavenly stuff — along with Cuban sandwiches and a range of eat-in and takeout Caribbean foods — at 2906 Fulton Rd. in Cleveland. Can’t wait to visit.

Sabor Miami Cafe is at 4848 Broadview Rd. in the Old Brooklyn area of Cleveland. The restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch. The phone is 440-714-0202.

THE MAILBAG

From Jan S.:
I have made egg salad for many years and never had a problem with it the next day until about two years ago. I use Miracle Whip and sweet pickle relish. That’s it; no salt, no pepper. It is fine when I make it and use it immediately, but if it sits in the fridge, the next day it is runny. Any idea as to why this is happening?

Dear Jan:
Interesting! This happened to me two weeks ago. For the first time in 30-some years I used Miracle Whip that Tony had bought. I was tempted to blame that product until I read about similar complaints from those who used light mayonnaise.

So-called experts on the Internet blame watery additions such as celery and onions, undrained relish, or smashing the eggs too finely. I don’t buy any of that. I don’t use celery, onions or relish, and those who do had no problem for years and years. I think the culprit is fat. Low-fat mayo turns runny. After some digging, I learned that Miracle Whip was de-fatted in 2006 when some of the soy oil was replaced with water in a move to economize on ingredients. It, too, is now low-fat. To avoid runny next-day egg, chicken and potato salads, stick with full-fat mayonnaise.

From Randy:
You have mentioned several times Tony’s ramen noodles. Does he use the ramen that is sold in bricks everywhere or is there a fresh or frozen noodle that is superior? Thanks so much. I so enjoy your blog.

Dear Randy:
Thanks. Tony uses both dried and frozen ramen. I was surprised to see in Japan that those bricks with the seasoning packet are widely used there, too (not in restaurants but at home as snacks). Many brands of frozen ramen come with the seasoning packet, too.

Tony’s favorite brand of dried ramen is Maruchan, either in the block or bowl. He prefers chicken or beef flavors. He adds a splash of soy sauce, whatever meat is left over in the refrigerator, green onions if we have them, and usually cracks a beaten egg into the simmering soup. He does not like my homemade ramen broth, laboriously made with pounds of pork bones, so I don’t know if you want to trust his judgment.

From Carol B.:
I am so disappointed that Southern Gardens in Portage Lakes has closed. They had the best pho that I’ve ever tasted. Do you know of any restaurants in this area that are known for this dish? Also, do you know whether the former owner plans to open another restaurant?

Dear Carol:
I’m sorry I didn’t visit Southern Gardens before it closed. I heard good things about it. I think the owner sold the restaurant to her niece and the niece apparently couldn’t make a go of it.

I have not heard that the family opened elsewhere. When we’re in the mood for pho, Tony and I go to Pho Hoa or Superior Pho in Cleveland. Any other recommendations?

From Beth B.:
Regarding poaching (last week’s newsletter), here is how i always poach chicken, a lazy technique that has resulted in perfection every time I’ve done it:

For 1 1/2 pounds chicken breasts, skin and bones removed (about 3 large breasts), bring 2 quarts of water to a rapid boil. Add the chicken, cover and turn off the heat. Let stand for 2 hours. The chicken will be moist and just done.

The technique is from “Summer on a Plate” by the late Anna Pump, who had the Loaves & Fishes store in the Hamptons. I love this cookbook, not just for the name of it, but because every recipe I’ve tried has been delicious.

Dear Beth:
What a no-brainer way to poach chicken! I’ll try it the next time I need some juicy chicken for a recipe.

From Janet C.:
I was hunting something different, but easy and quick, to make for a St. Patrick’s Day treat to take to friends. My dearest Aunt Bobby, who died in December, made these many years ago:

OREO TREATS
Coating chocolate (I use half milk, half dark melted together)
1 or 2 packages of Oreos (I prefer Oreo thins. The mint variety would be good for St. Pat’s.)
Peanut butter

Melt the coating chocolate. I used the low setting of my slow cooker and it worked perfectly. Open each sandwich cookie and spread with peanut butter. Put the cookies together again and chill for several hours. Using 1 or 2 forks, dip each cookie in the chocolate. Shake off excess and set to cool on a rack over waxed paper to catch the drips. Decorate with green sprinkles if desired. Store in refrigerator or a cool place.

Dear Janet:
Thanks for sharing your aunt’s recipe. I bet your friends love you.

 

 

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