March 11, 2020

Dear friends,
By the time you read this I’ll be back in Ohio, reveling in my adult-sized kitchen with a full refrigerator and five-burner stove with two ovens. I’ll be glad to see my friends and the new sous vide machine I had just begun to figure out when Tony and I decamped to Florida.

But not yet. As I write this, I am enjoying the last couple of days of 80-degree weather and reflecting on two months’ worth of vacation victuals. I will miss:

1. Cuban sandwiches and cafe con leche from Wow Cuban Cafe, less than a mile from our campsite in Hobe Sound, Fla.
2. Empanadas everywhere. Caribbean and Latin American food isn’t plentiful but it is available if you hunt for it on this stretch of the coast about 100 miles north of Miami, so I had not only Cuban but Guatemalan, Mexican, Jamaican and who knows what other varieties of hand meat pies. Tony and I lunched at the beach several times on empanadas.
3. The shrimp lady who drives on weekends from the Gulf and sets up shop on a berm of U.S. 1 in Hobe Sound. The heads-on shrimp are so fresh they fairly snap when you bite into a properly cooked one.
4. My little neighborhood “carniceria,” or butcher shop, which is also a produce stand, herb shop, Mexican sweet roll bakery and purveyor of house-made shrimp ceviche, crackling-crisp tortilla chips, tropical fruit salads and on weekends, roasting pans heaped with tamales and carnitas.
5. The next-door taco truck which, come to think of it, is good but can’t hold a candle to the Funky Truckeria in Norton.
6. Lunches with Jan Norris, retired food editor of the Palm Beach Post. We forged a friendship while covering food events together for more than 20 years across North America. After a dozen years’ hiatus we got to dine and laugh together again, first over grouper sandwiches at the Lazy Loggerhead in Jupiter and then over meatloaf (me) and a hotdog (her) at the City Diner in West Palm Beach. In semi-retirement Jan writes a full page of restaurant news and features weekly for The Palm Beach Florida Weekly.
7. No-frills seafood restaurants such as the Catfish House in Hobe Sound and King Neptune in Port Salerno. Fresh, fresh, fresh shrimp, oysters, clams, scallops and grouper at prices that won’t break the bank.
8. Our seafood connection, a roadside stand just up the highway where we bought fresh tuna for sashimi and fresh oysters for slurping on the half shell.
9. Loaves of Cuban bread in every supermarket, including Walmart.
10. The sun. Hurry up, spring.

What I cooked last week:
Nada. Does coffee and toast count?

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Meatloaf, French fries and banana cream pie at City Diner in West Palm Beach; a Cuban sandwich and chicken empanada from Wow Cuban Cafe in Hobe Sound; a Detox Smoothie from Tropical Smoothie Cafe; shrimp ceviche and homemade tortilla chips from Green Apple Produce and Carniceria in Hobe Sound; fried clams, slaw and French fries at King Neptune in Port Salerno; a green-lipped mussel, California roll, pepper beef, a chunk of sweet potato, beef in puff pastry, a sugared doughnut and mango ice cream at Mikata Buffet in Jensen Beach; pan de bono and coffee at La Familia Columbian Coffee Shop in Stuart; eggs over hard, bacon, grits and toast at Mel’s Cafe in Port Salerno; barbecued (sort of) ribs, potato salad and corn bread from Family Bar-B-Q in Stuart.

From Debra L.:
My husband and I used to frequent the French Coffee Shoppe in Cuyahoga Falls. We both loved the French onion soup. Ever since the restaurant closed I have been trying different soup recipes without much luck. Do you happen to have the recipe for the French onion soup from that restaurant or something similar? We would greatly appreciate any recipe that comes close to that wonderful soup.

Dear Debra:
Although that recipe was requested often during my days at the Beacon Journal, I don’t think I ever got my hands on it. Maybe someone else can help. Judy James?

Thanks for the great response after I nudged you in my column last week. I am awed at the ambitious menus some of you whipped up. They will provide me with inspiration in the coming weeks. Maybe they will inspire you, too.

From Mary C.:
Sesame roasted asparagus — an old Cooking Light recipe using sesame oil and soy sauce;

Romantic French Lentil Salad – Romantic French Lentil Salad Recipe on Food52;

Hamburger Steak with onion gravy – Hamburger Steak with Onion Gravy;

Peanut butter mocha energy bites – Peanut Butter Mocha Energy Bites – Recipe Runner;

And applesauce pancakes (to use up a jar of applesauce), topped with ricotta cheese (to use up the ricotta!) and blueberry maple syrup (heat frozen blueberries in a skillet and add maple syrup). I saw the idea of honey ricotta cheese but was too lazy to stir the firm, paste-like honey into the cold ricotta.

From Tammy Jo:
Last week I made venison meatloaf (ground burger and sausage) with red gravy and mashed potatoes; baked pork chops with mushroom orzo and roasted broccoli; a spin-off on wedding soup with shredded chicken, spinach and ground venison.

From David R.:
I made jambalaya from John Besh’s “My New Orleans” for a Mardi Gras-themed brunch. It had all the goodies and was a hit. The recipe made enough for an army, so after everyone took some home I still had about four 1-quart containers remaining. Last Sunday I made a Zinfandel-braised beef short rib from a 2005 recipe I have from the Wall Street Journal, together with an accompanying crème brûlée. Interestingly, the chef who published the recipe was New Orleans-based as well.

From Beverly W.:
What I cooked last week with two proteins and leftovers:

Ancho chili and coffee short ribs over smoked gouda polenta, micro greens salad with pistachio-crusted baked goat cheese and figs; jambalaya, with fresh bread from Trader Joe’s Beer Bread mix ( wonderful); short rib tacos and avocado salad with micro greens; roasted chicken (the other half from the jambalaya), stuffing, roasted Brussels sprouts with maple bacon and figs, and applesauce. I grow my own micro greens and when they come in they grow with a vengeance. It is just my husband and myself so we have to eat them fast! But oh so good. We don’t mind at all.

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