June 12, 2019

Dear friends,

I’m into gonzo cooking these days. At least two nights a week I run out of energy and patience by the time dinner rolls around. In the bad old days, that’s when I’d order a pizza. But because of my new, healthful eating plan (I’m down 10 pounds, guys), pizza is not a good idea. So I crank up the oven, turn up the flame under the cast iron and flash-cook some protein and veggies.

This week’s recipe isn’t really a recipe. It’s a collection of ingredients and a time-saving cooking method. It’s stupid-easy so if you’re already doing this, forgive me. But I really want everyone to know how to get a great meal on the table in about 30 minutes.

My favorite no-recipe healthful dinner is seared pork tenderloin strips and roast vegetables wrapped in lettuce leaves with maybe a drizzle of sweet soy sauce and fresh cilantro or basil. It’s kind of an East-Meets-Southwest taco.

First set the oven temperature to 400 degrees. While it preheats, cut a bell pepper into strips. Trim the root and any limp green part from 6 scallions. Cut a big carrot into carrot sticks (or use pre-cut ones). Butterfly a pork tenderloin. I use tenderloin because it is lean and fairly low-cal. Boneless chicken would work, too.

To butterfly, cut the cylinder of meat lengthwise halfway through, spread it out and beat it with a meat pounder until it’s an even thickness. If the tenderloin is a fat one, you may have to make vertical cuts in each half and spread them apart before bashing them. Lacking a meat pounder (a utensil with a smooth pounding surface), use a rubber mallet from the toolbox in the garage. Wash it first.

Line a baking sheet with foil. Spread the vegetables in a single layer on the sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Roll the veggies around to coat them evenly with oil. Spread them out again. Roast them at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes, removing the scallions when they begin to brown. Everything should be tender.

While the veggies roast, heat a heavy skillet (cast iron is best) over high heat. When it is hot, add enough olive oil to coat the bottom. Season the meat with lots of salt and pepper and cook it until the bottom is brown. Turn the meat over, reduce heat to medium, cover and cook until just no longer pink. Cut it into 1/4-inch-wide strips across the grain. I do this in the pan, which is not good for the knives. You should probably do this on a cutting board, but that means you’ll have one more thing to wash.

Mound each vegetable and the meat on a platter. Add a pile of fresh herbs and about 6 big lettuce leaves. Pliable leaf lettuce is best. At the table, arrange the ingredients on the lettuce leaves, drizzle with a little sweet soy sauce (or salsa or whatever you like) and roll to encase the filling. Eat ‘em up.

I guarantee you this is at least as good as a pizza.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Spaghetti squash and feta cheese baked in spaghetti squash halves; pan-grilled pork tenderloin with roast carrots, bell peppers and scallions wrapped in lettuce leaves with cilantro and sweet soy sauce; crustless asparagus quiche with lemon and dill, and homegrown baby lettuces with vinaigrette; microwave scrambled egg with capers, chopped tomato and fresh oregano; sheet pan chicken thighs with Indian simmer sauce and roast lemons, pepper strips, radishes and baby potatoes; yogurt- and spice-marinated grilled chicken with a cucumber, mint and baby lettuce salad and watermelon; charcoal-grilled strip steaks, pan-grilled asparagus and grape tomatoes.

What I ate in/from restaurants last week:
Bacon and grits at Bob Evans; tossed salad,T-bone steak and garlic mashed potatoes at Brown Derby in Medina Township; salad bar and tomato-basil soup at Buehler’s in Medina; pastore tacos with grilled onions, cilantro and lime at Taqueria Rancheros in Akron (yeow); Ahi tuna poke salad bowl at Poke Fresh in Akron (Wallhaven, near Whole Foods).

THE MAILBAG
From Linda S.
The Middle East restaurants in Canton are Sahara, Aladdin’s and the Desert Inn, for your Middle East food fix. I get my fix mostly at my mom’s house!

Dear Linda:
You lucky dog. I am not familiar with Sahara; I’ll have to try it. I loved the Desert Inn when I reviewed it decades ago, and I am a regular at the Aladdin’s in the Montrose area of Bath Township. Thanks.

From Sally T.:
I saw a very interesting show on PBS about hijiki seaweed. It showed women diving for it, then drying it, and it all was fascinating to me. I thought you or your husband probably knew something about this.

On the show, they used the seaweed in traditional Japanese food but what caught my attention was they used it in salads with fruit and spaghetti sauce. Of course, they talked about how good it is for you. I conquered kale so I thought it might be interesting to try this. I would love for you to write something about the different types of seaweed. What I found was this is the most palatable to American tastes. Do the Japanese eat a lot of it?

Dear Sally:
Tony says it is eaten a lot in Japan. Try it topped with shrimp, cucumbers and a soy-rice vinegar dressing. That is known as “sunomono” and is served at sushi bars. If you’re watching your weight, sunomono, miso soup and edamame would be a filling, low-cal, high-protein meal.

Hijiki has an interesting texture, kind of like al dente spaghetti squash. I had some last weekend on a tuna poke salad. Tony said the strands of bright-green hijiki were mixed with strands of jelly fish. This is how I have seen it most often.

The other types of seaweed most common in Japan are nori, the dried sheets used to wrap sushi, and kombu. The latter is smooth, flat and wide. That’s the chopped greens you see floating in your miso soup. It is used in all sorts of other preparations, too, including the sunomonos described above.

From Jan C.:
I finished Ruth Reichl’s book a couple of weeks ago. It is truly one of her best. I enjoyed your review of the book, but in that same newsletter, the old restaurant book you linked to is spectacular.

Many years ago when I worked at General Tire on East Market Street in Akron, we would run to pick up stacks of Thacker’s burgers for lunches. Our Christmas lunch was usually at Nick Anthe’s on Tallmadge Avenue. Appreciation dinners were held at the Mayflower Hotel. What great memories. Thank you.

Dear Jan:
I got lost in that restaurant book, too. I reviewed many of them, and heard about most of the rest. The book is a stellar piece of research and nostalgia.

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June 5, 2019

Dear friends,
I’ve been on an Asian food kick and it shows no signs of abating. I know I should switch my thinking to French or Spanish or Greek or Lebanese flavors for variety. But not just yet. At the moment, Ruth Reichl has me thinking about spicy Asian noodles.

I’ve just finished reading Reichl’s new book, “Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir.”
It covers her 10-year stint at Gourmet magazine, from when she was wooed away from the New York Times, where she was restaurant critic, to the soul-numbing day in 2009 when the staff was summarily summoned to a conference room and told the magazine was dead as of that moment. Pack your belongings and leave.

The book is less about food than her previous memoirs, and more about the drama and nuts and bolts of turning the venerable but dated magazine into a relevant, contemporary food magazine filled not just with recipes but cutting-edge articles by some of the best writers on the planet.

Reichl takes us behind the scenes in the Gourmet test kitchen, but also writes about the opulence showered on Conde-Nast editors and how she initially resisted the more decadent perks such as a clothing allowance and liveried car service to the office each day.

In the course of telling the story of Gourmet’s last gasp, Reichl describes the terror of 9/11 and lugging chili and brownies through the ash-clogged streets to the first responders; parties at the penthouse of autocratic Conde Nast chairman Si Newhouse; and the untimely death from pancreatic cancer of Jonathan Gold, Gourmet restaurant critic and the first food writer to receive the Pulitzer Prize.

This is Reichl’s sixth memoir and although her writing has always been elegant, her skill at storytelling has only gotten better.

The books has a bare sprinkling of recipes. Here’s one for the simple meal she served her son after accepting the job at Gourmet — which meant she could have dinner with her family rather than dining nightly in a restaurant as a critic.

RUTH REICHL’S SPICY CHINESE NOODLES

1/2 lb. Chinese wheat noodles, dried egg noodles or spaghetti
Peanut oil
1/2-inch-long piece fresh ginger
2 scallions
1 tsp. sugar
2 tbsp. Chinese black bean paste with garlic
1 tbsp. Chinese bean paste with chili
1/2 lb. ground pork
Sesame oil

Cook the noodles in boiling water until al dente. Drain and toss with 1/2 tablespoon peanut oil, and set aside.

Peel and mince the ginger (you should have about 2 tablespoons). Chop the white parts and slice the green parts of the scallions.

Mix the sugar and the two kinds of bean paste, and set aside.

Heat a wok until a drop of water skitters across the surface. Add a tablespoon of peanut oil, toss in the ginger, and stir-fry for about half a minute, until the fragrance is hovering over the wok.

Add the pork and white scallions and stir-fry until all traces of pink have disappeared. Add the bean sauce mixture and cook and stir for about two minutes.

Stir in the green scallions and noodles and quickly toss. Add a drop of sesame oil and turn into two small bowls. This makes a perfect snack for two.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Steamed asparagus with sesame oil and sea salt; filet mignon with wine sauce, steamed asparagus; spicy Chinese noodles; fava beans with olive oil, sea salt, tarragon and chives, pan-grilled pork loin chops, more steamed asparagus; peanut slaw with mint and Thai dressing (a duet with Tony); pan-grilled flatiron steak, pan-grilled bell pepper strips with chunky sea salt, a salad of baby lettuces from the garden; chilled tomato soup with dill, skillet-seared mojo shrimp.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Larb at Papaya Salad in Cuyahoga Falls; a green smoothie at Smoothie King in Cuyahoga Falls; tuna poke at Poke Fresh in Akron; small popcorn no butter at Regal Cinema (“Rocketman” was outstanding); half of a Subway ham and pepper-cheese sub.

THE MAILBAG
From Joy:
I was looking for info on Foley’s seafood salad mentioned in your last newsletter (no luck) and came across the Akron restaurants info and photos you’ll find on the enclosed link.

Some descriptions say when the restaurants opened and closed, with some not having much info at all. I have to say the info about Senier’s Tavern (opened in 1929) and the Merry-Go-Round was a good read, especially the part about the owner being arrested for allowing public dancing past 11:30 on Saturday nights! There’s a good amount of old Akron restaurant photos you and your readers might recognize or just enjoy. I’m thankful we’re able to see the history kept here: The Golden Age of Restaurants in Summit County

Dear Joy:
What a treasure! I hope everyone is able to access the information from the link you sent — I was able to from your email but not when I retyped the link for this column. I am hoping the glitch is in my writing program. The history of Akron restaurants is from the special collections department of the Akron-Summit County Public Library. I especially like the old menus and photos of places such as Kaase’s and O’Neill’s Georgian Room.

From Sally T.:
I saw a very interesting show on PBS about hijiki and it showed women diving for it, then drying it, and it all was fascinating to me. I thought you or your husband probably knew something about this. They used it in traditional Japanese food but what caught my attention was they used it in salad with fruit and spaghetti sauce. Of course, they talked about how good it is for you, which brought to mind that the Japanese are famous for long life and thinness.

I conquered kale so I thought it might be interesting to try this. I would love for you to write something about the different types of seaweed. What I read was hijiki is the most palatable to American tastes. Do the Japanese eat a lot of it?

Dear Sally:
Hijiki with spaghetti sauce? Yuk.

The three types of seaweed I am most familiar with are nori, kombu and hijiki. Nori is the pressed and dried seaweed sheets that are moistened and wrapped around sushi rolls. The crisp sheets are popular with U.S. kids right now as a snack.

You may have seen kombu chopped and floated in miso soup. It is also used in making dashi (fish broth), and is the base for the Japanese salad, sunomono, that is served at sushi bars, topped with bits of seaweed, vegetables and a soy-rice vinegar dressing. Kombu is incredibly nutritious and is used widely in Asia.

Kombu is flat, wide and smooth. The flavor is unremarkable to me — kind of kale-like in that respect. Hijiki has a more interesting texture. The squiggly, thin strands are dull green or brown and crisp. I find it in Asian stores, usually in the deli section where it is dressed with vinegar and sprinkled with sesame seeds for a refreshing salad. I cannot imagine eating it with spaghetti sauce or even fruit, for that matter. It is high in minerals and low in calories, as is kombu.