April 1, 2020

Dear friends,
In an interview last week, restaurateur and TV personality David Chang said he fears most independent restaurants will fail in the coming months without a government bail out. He thinks only chain restaurants will survive the coronavirus quarantine, permanently changing the face of dining in America.

I am afraid he is right. Not only will restaurant owners lose income and rack up debts (utilities, loan payments, taxes, rent), but their employees will vanish. Cooks, dishwashers, bartenders and servers cannot just tread water until the quarantine is lifted. Most will have to find other ways to carve out a living, and many will not return to their restaurant jobs — if those jobs even exist — after the coronavirus situation is resolved.

The problem is too immense for us to tackle in its entirety. But maybe we can save our own little corner of the restaurant world by eating restaurant carry out and tipping generously — ridiculously generously — as much as our finances will allow.

During this time, I implore you to avoid the Taco Bells and Appleby’s in favor of Rockne’s and Mr. G’s. Skip BJ’s Brewhouse, and instead order takeout from Sushi Katsu or Continental Cuisine.

And the smaller the restaurant, the more it needs your support. Some have closed temporarily, but other are trying to remain open. To help them do that, let’s share the names of the restaurants we visit each week and the meals we have ordered. Maybe we can tempt each other into ordering out more often.

I know this works, because I probably wouldn’t have ordered dinner from Vaccaro’s in Bath last week if owner Gabriel Vaccaro hadn’t posted his weekly menu options on Facebook. And I know my friend Betsy wouldn’t have ordered the Friday fish special from Chowder House in Cuyahoga Falls if I hadn’t reposted chef Louis Prpich’s menu.

Every week, I’ll post in my newsletter as many of your emails about restaurants as possible. Here’s the first batch:

From Marlene H.:
We did Vaccaro’s Trattoria (in Bath) delivery service. The delivery was on time and the entree was still piping hot. They offer three menu choices and change the choices each week. We ordered the Chianti-braised beef tips with homemade gnocchi, garlic lemon broccoli, and salad. The dinners are billed as dinner for 4 for $40, but we actually had 6 dinners. There was a lot of food for us and it was so delish!! Looking forward to seeing what the choices are for the coming week.

From Kate S.:
We look forward to your weekly email. Thanks for encouraging your readers to order takeout from our local restaurants. Our go-to is D’Agnese’s On White Pond in Akron. Veal Marsala, chicken piccata and hearty soups. Consistent high-quality food.

From Deb C.:
Take a drive to the Honeymoon Grille in Coventry/Portage Lakes. They have a drive-through window and car hop service. I’m partial to their chef salad. My son got a half-pound burger and onion rings. Just pull into the lot and turn on your lights. They are at the intersection of Portage Lakes Drive and Manchester Road.

On Swenson’s Facebook page they have been featuring Northeast Ohio restaurants that are still serving.

Also, the BK Rootbeer stand on Monroe Falls Avenue between Bailey and Portage Trail will be opened on Saturday. They have great homemade Coney sauce.

Be well. Be safe. Wear your seatbelt. Wash your hands.

From Noreen:
I think it’s interesting how some restaurants are getting creative. My hometown Foster’s Tavern in Hinckley has carryout, and we enjoyed their fish fry last Friday. They post daily carryout menus. They also have an online contest showing pictures of families eating their pizza.

I’m hoping to get fish tacos at Kavana’s Social Kitchen in North Royalton this week. They also have an online contest and they’re giving away $50 gift certificates for 50 days. An order is an entry. Their fish tacos have bits of apple in them — so good!

Another on my wish list is Michael Angelo’s Winery in Richfield. They post a weekly menu and for $40, you get a lovely multi-course dinner for 4 to 6. I can’t wait to try it, but they often sell out.

From Charlene:
If you are mentioning local restaurants trying to stay alive, don’t forget Sammie’s in Tallmadge and, of course, Menches Bros. in Green. Both are relying heavily on younger family members to keep things going.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Microwave mug gingerbread; microwave mug chocolate cheesecake; frozen eggplant lasagne (from last summer); venison paprikas over noodles; homemade fettuccine for Vaccaro’s pasta sauces; lemon ricotta custard; miso mushroom chili; smoked sausage dogs with miso mushroom chili, baked potatoes with sour cream; egg salad sandwiches with Major Grey’s chutney; omelet filled with miso mushroom chili, buttered toast; sausage and canned spicy baked beans.


What I ate from restaurants:
Bacon, egg and cheese flatbread and cappuccino from Cafe Arnone drive-through in Fairlawn; quarts of wedding soup, pasta e fagioli, pomodoro sauce and Bolognese sauce from Vaccaro’s Trattoria in Bath.

THE MAILBAG
From Marti W.:
I am writing to you to see if you know what happened to Sumner’s Butter. I have not been able to find it in the stores. We love that butter. Anything about it would be greatly appreciated.

Dear Marti:
I really tried, but I can’t help you. I found the Facebook page for Sumner’s Creamery Butter but the last post was in 2014. I phoned Tasty Pure Foods, the Akron company that makes the butter, but no one answered. I researched the company in the Beacon Journal digital archives but could find no mention of anything amiss. Maybe someone else knows why you can’t find the butter in your local store. Help!

From Monica, Hudson:
My new year’s resolution was to add more plant-based eating to my diet. I don’t eat loads of meat but cheese is my weakness and I probably eat more cheese than meat!
Anyway, I’m starting slow by doing one plant-based day a week. This week I made Chana Masala and Coconut Rice from Ella Mills’ Natural Feasts. The recipe is easy to find online. It was delicious and easy, with lots of spices for great flavor. I highly recommend it.

Anyway, there are a million plant-based cookbooks and recipes online but so many are just OK when I make them. I wonder if you or any of your readers have favorite tried and true recipes they like. I would love to try some really good tested recipes!

Dear Monica:
Your request is now out in the universe — or at least our little universe — and I hope a ton of recipes are on the way. I will print or forward all that I receive.

From Sue B.:
I’ve never been much of a cook but always enjoy reading your blog and the things your subscribers share. Last week’s edition made me say “wow.” The foods that all of you are preparing sound incredible. How lucky many of us are to have the resources allowing us to prepare more than basic foods.

This is a time of reflection for most people and I’ve been thinking about my parents a bit. They were married shortly after the onset of great depression of the 1930s. In the last year of his life, when he was quite ill, I casually asked Dad what was the best meal he ever had. “Oh, that’s easy,” he said. “During the depression we didn’t have much food or money. We searched the couch crevices and came up with a few coins, enough to buy some sausage for sausage gravy on the potatoes we had.” Best meal ever! Then too, I remember Mom telling me when my brother was a toddler she sometimes had to feed him bread spread with lard.

Thank you for reminding us to support the food service industry and the employees. Please allow me to express thanks to the area food banks. Fortunately these organizations have been up and running in our community for some time and are needed now more than ever. I hope all of us who are so blessed will donate even more generously to the effort to feed those with very little.

Keep your blog coming Jane. You are needed more than ever.

Dear Sue:
Thank you for reminding us to be grateful. Most of us are lucky to be weathering the isolation with full stomachs. Let’s share what we can.

March 25, 2020

Dear friends,

Every day my facebook feed is filled with pictures of baked goods friends have made. There are golden-brown loaves of bread, trays of chocolate chip cookies, platters of brownies, oblong and tiered cakes and pies oozing last summer’s blackberries. As the news grows more dire, our ovens go into overtime. Stores are out of yeast and flour. I think we are catastrobaking.

My own kitchen has been filled with the aroma of baked bread, gingerbread and chocolate cheesecake this week, and the counter was strewn with cookies the week before, even though I rarely make desserts.

The bread and cakes just sort of happened as fear and boredom drove me to the kitchen. The cookies were on purpose. They are simply the best cookies I have tasted, ever. After eating two I bought at a Peruvian espresso bar in Florida, I knew I had to make them.

Picture two meltingly tender, vanilla-scented butter cookies hugging a thick swirl of milky caramel. Picture their pretty scalloped edges and dusting of powdered sugar. Sigh.

Alfajores are popular not only in Peru but in other Latin American countries and Spain, I learned. The ones I ate cost $2.50 each (yikes!) but were worth it.

The butter cookies owe their crumbly tenderness to cornstarch, which replaces some of the flour. Plenty of real butter contributes flavor and richness to the cookies. The dough is rolled out relatively thick — somewhere between one-fourth and one-eighth inch — and the rounds are baked just until set, not browned.

The filling is dulce de leche ( dool seh de LEH chey), a caramel made with sweetened condensed milk. It is sold in cans in Hispanic food stores and some supermarkets, or you can make your own, as I did.

You should have all of the ingredients for these wonderful cookies in your cabinets already, a prerequisite for catastrobaking. If you’re watching your weight or health, you will be glad the recipe makes just 12 to 14.

ALFAJORES

(Caramel sandwich cookies)
Dulce de leche (recipe follows)
1 3/4 cups flour
1/2 cup sifted cornstarch
1/2 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
2 tsp. vanilla
1 egg yolk
Confectioners’ sugar for sifting

Make the dulce de leche and set aside at room temperature. If making in advance, cover and refrigerate, then warm to room temperature before filling cookies.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, cornstarch, one-half cup confectioners’ sugar and salt. Set aside.

In a mixer bowl, beat the butter and vanilla on medium speed until smooth. Beat in egg yolk just until incorporated. Slowly add the flour mixture while beating on low speed. Continue beating on medium speed just until combined. Gather dough into a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Roll dough on a lightly floured surface to a thickness of between 1/4 and 1/8 inch. Use a round plain or scalloped-edge cutter about 3 inches in diameter to cut dough. Re-roll scraps until all dough has been used. Place 1 inch apart on baking sheets. Chill about 10 minutes.

Bake one sheet at a time in the lower middle of oven for about 12 minutes, until the cookies are set but haven’t started to brown. Slide parchment sheets with cookies on them onto a counter and cool to room temperature.

When the cookies have cooled, flip half over and top each with about a tablespoon of dulce de leche. Use a spoon to drop the caramel in the middle of a cookie, then with the back of a wet spoon gently spread. Top with another cookie. Do not press down or the cookie will break. If you want to spread the caramel further, slide the cookies together horizontally.

Place the filled cookies on a rack over a baking sheet and generously sift confectioners’ sugar over all. Store overnight in a lidded container. Makes about 12 to 14 cookies, depending on the size of your cookie cutter.

Adapted from acozykitchen.com.

DULCE DE LECHE
1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk

Pour milk into a 9-inch glass pie pan. Cover tightly with foil. Place in a larger pan. Add enough boiling water to come halfway up sides of pie pan. Bake at 425 for 1 hour and 45 minutes, adding more boiling water at intervals to maintain water level.

Carefully remove from oven and remove pie pan from water bath. Remove foil and stir until smooth. Makes enough for 1 batch of alfajores cookies.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Filet mignons with tarragon wine sauce, baked Japanese sweet potatoes and roast butternut squash; cream of wheat; Japanese pork curry (Tony); reheated frozen gyoza with gochujang sauce; shrimp fried rice; hamburgers with Mongolian barbecue sauce, sweet potato fries; cream cheese blender omelet; no-knead bread (twice); spaghetti with venison sauce, chopped salad; chicken and cabbage soup with smoked paprika; toasted crusty bread with pesto, ricotta cheese and a hard-fried egg; filet mignons with blue cheese sauce, brussels sprouts pan-seared in duck fat and baked potatoes with butter.

Carryout:
Ham and cheese sub from Subway.

TIDBITS
At age 70, I have been hesitant to leave my home even to pick up carryout from restaurants, as you can see from my gut check. A close friend has coronavirus and two weeks in, she is still flattened. But it is imperative we support our independent local restaurants. We must do our best to make sure they can reopen. We owe it to our chefs, wait staff and restaurateurs. We owe it to ourselves to protect this aspect of the quality of life in our communities.

During this crisis, please send me emails about the carryout meals you have enjoyed so I can share the names of restaurants you are patronizing. If a restaurant has curb service or delivery, tell me about that, too. (Use the link at the bottom of this newsletter).

One place you may want to support this week is Vincent’s Bakery, 2038 Bailey Road in Cuyahoga Falls. When you drive by, you will likely see employees in the street, passing loaves of fresh-baked bread through car windows. This is a mom and pop bakery that has been around since the 1950s. The baked goods are fantastic. Check out the offerings on Facebook. The phone number to order curb pickup is 330-923-8217.

Wherever you get your food, remember to tip extra generously.

THE MAILBAG

From Marlene H.:
Have been cleaning while “sheltering in place” and came across a note I had sent my cousin on 12/08/2000 where I told her someone had bid $325 for a Jane Snow (food critic for a day) dinner. Told her the auction went on for another week and how much I would love to go. Alas, I was not the high bidder.

Have been enjoying rediscovering these gems from the past.

Dear Marlene:
What memories that brings back! I did this twice. I actually reviewed the restaurants while entertaining the successful bidders. On one review, a nice young guy paid $400 to try to impress a young woman he asked to accompany him. I took them to a posh restaurant. She was pleasant but I could tell that would be their first and last date. The second time, I spilled red wine on the guest’s fancy dress and was so horrified I forget the rest of the evening.

From Alix W.:
Thanks for your newsletter today. Might be the highlight of the day even though I can’t go out to buy the ingredients. I still think Julia Child’s recipe for onion soup is the gold standard. I use double the amount of onions and let them caramelize for at least half an hour. You must keep a close eye on them (stirring almost constantly) but the end result is worth it. I always enjoy getting your newsletter.

Dear Alix:
Thanks for the note. I agree — that’s my favorite French onion soup recipe, too.

From Ron C.:
Yesterday a made a Swiss steak recipe for the Crock-Pot. However, I discovered an hour before dinner that the ground fault outlet had tripped off. I quickly poured the mixture into a Dutch oven, heated to boiling, then put it into a 350-degree oven for an hour. Turned out great! Sometimes ya gotta improvise.

Dear Ron:
I haven’t made Swiss steak in decades. I think it’s time. I will use the Dutch oven, though, because I have no idea what a “ground fault outlet” is. Better safe than sorry.

From Kristi P.:
I too am a stress cooker. I made a batch of grapefruit marmalade, three batches of strawberry-rhubarb jam from the strawberries and rhubarb that I cleaned out of my freezer, four loaves of bread, brownies and that doesn’t count meal prep which included date-stuffed quail, pot roast and a corned deer roast. There’s only two of us! Help!

Dear Kristi:
Thanks for the laugh. Think freezer! Then maybe this summer we will all have giant neighborhood meals spread on sun-dappled tables on the lawn. I can dream.

From Kathy G.:
Since my daughter is back from college early because of Coronavirus concerns, minimal cooking for two of us is really not good enough now. I have been making lasagne Florentine, chicken noodle and vegetable soups, corned beef brisket (in the Crock-Pot) with cabbage, carrots, onions and potatoes, spicy chili with meat sauce, beans and mushrooms and even baked sugar cookies — gone in a day!

Dear Kathy:
Tandem cooking with a daughter sounds like fun, pandemic or not.

From Chris O.:
What I made last week was vanilla extract in my Instant Pot. It is so easy to make, cheaper than buying it, has better flavor, plus I bottled some to give away as gifts.

Dear Chris:
What a clever use of your time — holiday gift-making. It is only March, but what the heck. Your vanilla sounds good.

From Marlene H.:
To see us through these scary times, we concentrated on purchasing canned vegetables, canned/boxed soups, shelf-stable almond milk, coffee, protein (meat for the freezer and canned tuna) and one obligatory jar of peanut butter. Didn’t stockpile the toilet paper. We’re trying the delivery service from one of the local grocery stores this week to see how that goes.

Have been doing lots of cooking, but agree, this may be getting old having to do it so often. We ate out a lot. Will most likely be trying some of the carryout services from the local restaurants in the very near future. Vaccaro’s Trattoria in Bath has a nice special of a variety of entrees that feed four for $40. Checking out other local restaurants, too.

Here are some of the recipes I’ve tried:

1 Crock-Pot Corned Beef and Cabbage right from the corned beef package recipe.
2 Paleo Chocolate Chip Blondies from bakerita.com. These were so good I would not have known they were paleo.
3 North Carolina Lemon Pie from myrecipereviews.com. The crust is made with saltines, melted butter, and corn syrup. The lemon filling is so easy and the pie is just delicious. The recipe calls for a whipped cream topping, but with the 4 egg whites left over from the yolks called for in the filling, I whipped them up and topped the pie with a meringue, which I really liked.
4 Slow Cooker Maple Brown Sugar Steel Cut Oatmeal from amindfulmom.com. I added a peeled, chopped apple and some ground flax seed because I had them in the pantry. Gave it extra flavor, texture, and fiber.
5 One-Pot Creamy Beef Stroganoff from pillsbury.com/recipes/. So, Pillsbury is promoting these one-pot dinners for those who don’t like to cook or clean up, so thought I’d give this one a try. The flavors were pretty good with the sauce nice and creamy, however, the noodles were a bit gummy. It did hit the mark for easy on the cooking and cleanup though.
6 Spicy Lamb Shish Kebabs from foodandwine.com/recipes. This was fabulous! I used lamb stew meat and the yogurt tenderized it so it melted in your mouth. We cooked them on the outdoor grill so they had that extra grill char. Yum!
7 Chicken Breasts with Artichoke-Olive Sauce from foodandwine.com/recipes. Another tasty treat from Food and Wine magazine.

I look forward to more of your recipes and what your other followers are making.

Dear Marlene:
OK, you win the award for the most creative use of your time in the kitchen. Wow. I removed the detailed links you supplied because apparently they don’t work in my newsletter, and provided simpler links that do work, but require a bit of poking around to zero in on the recipe. Thank you so much.

March 18, 2020

Dear friends,
Panic buying set in the day I arrived home from Florida. I bought milk, coffee cream, yogurt and a few vegetables before elbowing my way to the cashier, wondering why everyone in the Montrose area had decided to shop at the same time. What was going on?

The next day, staring at empty shelves where toilet paper used to be, it sunk in. The world had gone mad. The toilet paper I needed was in someone’s basement, awaiting the apocalypse.

How are you doing? Are you sitting on a stash of Charmin? Or did you stock up on siege foods such as lentils and beans? In those first moments of panic, what did you rush out and buy to see you through these scary times?

I bought fresh vegetables. Then Tony and I drove to the Asian Market in Cuyahoga Falls for tofu and one of the last bags of rice in the store. I also bought a jar of gochujang, a Korean hot pepper paste I’ve been meaning to try. Now I would have plenty of time to explore this popular condiment.

Cooking is comforting at a time like this. The cozy rhythms of chopping and stirring are a refuge. What did you cook or bake last week?

Feeding family or even yourself every meal of every day can get old, though. The way I did it was to cook all of those vegetables and the tofu and store them in individual dishes in the fridge. Then at each meal I pulled some out and briefly stir fried them with a sauce, or heated them in a bowl and ladled on broth for an Asian-ish soup.

What tied each dishes together was that gochujang sauce. It is spectacular — spicy-hot but not incendiary, with a complex flavor that goes on for days. At the beginning of the week I made a big jar of a stir fry sauce whose backbone is the Korean chili paste. It’s a gorgeous red sauce studded with sesame seeds. It is the kind of hot that stings but not too much, and the heat disappears quickly. This is Tony’s new favorite hot sauce, and that’s saying something.

I stirred my sauce into the cooked vegetables and tofu I had warmed in a frying pan. I added a glop to our bowls of soup. The jar is half gone, so I suspect Tony has found even more uses for it.

As for the vegetables, I roasted the cubes of butternut squash, wilted the fresh spinach with olive oil and garlic, and sautéed the mushrooms and finished them with sherry. I also had daikon radish simmered until tender, fried green pepper strips and sliced green onions. I seasoned each vegetable as it cooked. The tofu was cut into cubes, dusted with flour and fried in shallow oil.

Use whatever vegetables and protein you like, but don’t substitute for the gochujang. This sauce is worth a trip to an Asian grocery store for the ingredients.

SPICY GOCHUJANG STIR FRY SAUCE

1/2 cup Korean gochujang sauce
1/4 cup sesame oil
1/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp. water
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds
4 tsp. rice vinegar
4 tsp. minced garlic

Combine all ingredients in a lidded jar. Stir to break up the gochujang. Cover and shake until smooth. May be stored in the refrigerator for weeks.

Based on a recipe from mykoreankitchen.com.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Chicken and sauerkraut simmered with sherry; fried sweet plantains; Peruvian alfajores cookies; roasted and stir fried vegetables and tofu; gochujang stir fry sauce; stir frys and soups.

What I ate in restaurants, etc.:
Pot roast, mashed potatoes and a biscuit at Cracker Barrel in Parkersburg, W.Va.; a Sausage McMuffin and coffee from McDonald’s; a grilled chicken salad from Vasili’s Greek Cuisine in Akron; a pepperoni pizza from Rizzi’s Pizza in Copley.

THE MAILBAG
From Dennis A.:
While I do not have the recipe from The French Coffee Shoppe, Hudson’s Restaurant in downtown Hudson has the best French onion soup around! They also serve a French chicken sandwich that is as good as The French Coffee Shoppe.

Dear Dennis:
Good to know. Tony is crazy about French onion soup. We will go when the restaurant reopens.

From Monica, Hudson:
My new year’s resolution was to add more plant-based eating to my diet. I don’t eat loads of meat but cheese is my weakness and I probably eat more cheese than meat!
Anyway, I’m starting slow by doing one plant-based day a week. This week I made Chana Masala and Coconut Rice from Ella Mills’ Natural Feasts. The recipe is easy to find online. It was delicious and easy. Lots of spices for great flavor. I highly recommend it.

Anyway, there are a million plant-based cookbooks and recipes online but so many are just OK when I make them. I wonder if you or any of your readers have favorite tried and true recipes they like. I would love to try some really good, tested plant-based recipes!

Dear Monica:
Excellent question! Many people are slowly moving to plant-based eating because it is better for the planet. Let’s share! Send your favorite recipes to me and I’ll post them.

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.

GUT CHECK
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.

THE MAILBAG
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?

WHAT YOU COOKED LAST WEEK
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.

March 4, 2020

Dear friends,
Every time I eat moussaka I think, “I’m going to make this every single week for the rest of my life.” I like it that much. My good intentions last until I dig up a recipe and sigh at the amount of work and calories involved.

I went through the same rigamarole recently after I had moussaka at a Greek church festival. The layers of eggplant, gently seasoned ground lamb and creamy-dreamy béchamel sauce warmed my soul. While walking my dog the next morning I looked forlornly at the empty festival tents and wondered why I hadn’t bought a couple of extra hunks. Well, they were $12 each, that’s why.

I wasn’t ready to give up, though. Over the next few days I came up with a compromise — a grilled cheese moussaka sandwich. Now, hear me out. It sounds strange, yes, but it delivers the essence of moussaka without all the work.

The sandwich is made in three steps so it does involve some work, but not a lot. Ground beef is browned with onion and seasoned with the spices that make moussaka sing: cinnamon, allspice and oregano. Slices of eggplant are pan-grilled until limp in a skillet coated with olive oil spray. Then the meat and eggplant are layered with mozzarella between two slices of crusty bread and grilled. The cheese holds together the components and imparts a bit of the richness the béchamel provides in the real thing.

The sandwich isn’t moussaka, but it’s close enough to tide me over between Greek festivals.

GRILLED MOUSSAKA SANDWICH

1 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. finely chopped onion
1/2 lb. ground lamb or beef
Salt, pepper
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1/4 tsp. oregano
1 small globe eggplant
4 slices crusty bread
Softened butter
10 tbsp. finely shredded mozzarella

Heat olive oil in a warm skillet over medium heat. Sauté onion in oil until limp but not brown. Increase heat, crumble in meat and season generously with salt and pepper. As meat begins to brown, add the cinnamon, allspice and oregano and break up meat with the edge of a spatula. Continue until meat is brown. Set aside.

Peel eggplant and cut lengthwise in 1/4-inch-thick slices. Heat a grill pan or large skillet over medium-high heat. Coat with olive oil spray. Cook the eggplant slices until they are limp, cooked through and light brown on both sides. Blot on paper towels.

To assemble the sandwich, spread one side of each slice with softened butter. Turn slices over and sprinkle each of two slices with 2 tablespoons of the cheese. Top evenly with 2 to 3 tablespoons (packed) of the ground meat. Top each with 1 tablespoon cheese. Top with a layer of eggplant, cutting pieces to fit the bread. Sprinkle each with remaining mozzarella (2 tablespoons each). Top with remaining two pieces of bread, buttered sides out.

Heat a heavy skillet large enough to hold both sandwiches. Coat skillet with olive oil spray. Toast sandwiches on both sides over medium heat, turning once, until golden brown and melty. Makes 2 sandwiches.

Note: You will have leftover meat and maybe eggplant. Exact amounts depend on the size of your slices of bread. Chop the leftover cooked eggplant into the meat, stir and eat. It’s delicious.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Pan-grilled chicken and apple sausage and a fruit salad of grapefruit, strawberries, jicama and shredded basil; loose meat sandwiches with mustard and ketchup; sliced tomatoes with fresh basil and Kewpie mayonnaise; grilled moussaka sandwich; French toast with sugar-free strawberry preserves.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
A thin-crust pizza with sliced tomatoes, basil, mozzarella and prosciutto and a glass of Chianti at The Glade Pizza & Wine Bar in Hobe Sound (fabulous); a beef empanada and cafe con leche at the Miccosukee Casino near the Everglades National Park; roast pork, yellow rice and vegetable bowl from Pollo Tropical in Jupiter; butter chicken, eggplant curry, basmati rice, naan and rice pudding at India Palace restaurant in Stuart; shrimp ceviche and fresh tortilla chips from Green Apple Produce & Carniceria in Hobe Sound; iced cafe con leche and a Peruvian alfajores (tender butter cookies sandwiched with caramel) at Lopez Cafe Gano Excel, a Peruvian coffee shop in West Palm Beach; half a beef burrito and a steak taco from The Taco Truck in Stuart; a Detox smoothie at Tropical Smoothie Cafe; a “New Haven style” pizza with sausage, pepperoni, onion and peppers from Amato’s in Hobe Sound (yuck).

THE MAILBAG
From Marlene H.:
What I’ve cooked lately:
1. Your Shrimp Scampi with Couscous. So good!!

2. Jacques Pepin’s Curly Hotdogs with Relish. Who knew Jacques likes hotdogs?!
Curly Dogs with Pickle Relish by Jacques Pépin on Salt + Spine
https://saltandspine.com/featured-recipes/jacques-curly-hot-dogs

3. Roasted Cauliflower with Browned Butter, Hazelnuts, and Capers from Fine Cooking. Didn’t have hazelnuts so used pecans. My new fave cauliflower recipe!!

Roasted Cauliflower with Browned Butter, Hazelnuts, and Capers – Recipe – FineCooking

Marlene:
You’re my hero this week. You are one of only two people who sent the inspiration I requested. And what inspiration! With recipes!

From Theresa K.:
Sounds like you all are having a great time in Florida! I cooked a beef Irish stew last week which was full of cubed stew beef, leeks, celery, shallots, carrots, parsnips and baby Yukon gold potatoes, I added 1 cup of Guinness to the broth and let it simmer on Sunday night, then we had it Monday for dinner with biscuits. It was some of the best I have made.

The beer takes the flavor to another level, and you don’t know it is there — no beer taste just the best deep, rich broth. A little garlic, parsley, thyme, salt and pepper were all the seasonings I added. I got the recipe from a blog but the Guinness was my idea. Enjoy the rest of your trip!

Dear Theresa:
My other hero! This is the perfect time of year — pre-St. Pat’s — to make a Guinness-spiked beef stew. Thank you so much for the idea.

The rest of you…..what did YOU cook last week?

February 25, 2020

Dear friends,
I don’t know what happened last week. I got tropical fever or something and my intentions wilted. I barely turned on the stove.

Oh, I still ate well. I had a fabulous brisket-and-apple hash breakfast at an almost 70-year-old diner in Jupiter, Fla. I found the seafood restaurant of my dreams, a dressed-down place with eight tables, super-fresh local seafood and a line out the door in Port Salerno. And the Greek church next to my campground in Hobe Sound pitched a couple of big white tents, tuned up the balalaikas and dished up a smorgasbord of homemade Greek food at its annual festival. Tony and I partook.

The slow-simmered Greek lamb shanks were a treat on a rainy night in Florida. They would be a treat on a cool evening anywhere. Braised lamb shanks are a common Greek dish, although the style varies. Some have a lemon-wine underpinning; some a tomato base. The local church went with the latter.

I found this recipe that is very similar to the shank Tony and I enjoyed. Cooking it will fill your house with cozy aromas. I promise to fill my camper with delicious aromas of some sort this week, but I need inspiration. What have you cooked lately?

GREEK-STYLE LAMB SHANKS

2 tbsp. olive oil
Salt, pepper
3 tbsp. flour
2 lamb shanks, fat trimmed
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup water
1 can (14 oz.) diced tomatoes
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. thyme
3 tablespoons fresh, chopped parsley

Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. While the oil heats, season the lamb with salt and pepper and sprinkle with flour, dusting evenly. Brown shanks on all sides in the hot oil. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Remove all but about 2 tablespoons of the fat in the pan and reduce heat to medium. Add the onions and sauté until soft and translucent. Add the water and stir, scraping browned bits from bottom of the pan.

Return the shanks to the pan. Add the diced tomatoes with their juice, cinnamon, allspice, oregano, and thyme. Cover the pan and bring to a boil. Simmer on low heat for 1 hour or longer, until the meat is very tender. Check the lamb often to make sure the edges and bottom of the pan are not burning., adding more water if necessary Sprinkle with the parsley just before serving. Makes 2 servings.

Adapted from greekboston.com.

TIDBITS
I almost snorted my coffee through my nose when I stumbled across a parody in The New Yorker of a food newsletter I get every week.

The article, “What Not To Cook This Week,” is a hilarious spoof of the New York Times’ newsletter, “What To Cook This Week.” In the original, the Times’ Food Editor Sam Sifton suggests meals made with the Times’ recipes both old and new. In the spoof, not so much. Max Cohn writes, in part:

“Seven-Pot Garlic Spaghetti With Anchovy-Lime Breadcrumbs
This ‘simple’ dish requires you to use more pieces of large cookware than you actually own,” Cohn cautions before continuing with the “recipe,” and

“Spatchcocked Micro-Pheasant Avec Creme Monet
You know only 18 percent of the words in this recipe.”

The list goes on.

Somehow, Cohn caught the cadence if not the substance of Sifton’s writing. I’m actually a big fan of the New York Times Food section and Sifton, who manages to keep the section relevant and exciting in this age of instant-Google recipe gratification. And I do not find his weekly newsletter at all precious. Still, the New Yorker’s takeoff is gut-busting.

Both the New Yorker and the Times are touchy about allowing non-subscribers a peak at their brilliance, but you may be able to access the parody here: https://www.newyorker.com/humor/daily-shouts/what-not-to-cook-this-week.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Chicken and cheese quesadillas.

What I ate in/from restaurants, etc.:
Grilled grouper over a salad with pears, jicama and a ginger-coconut dressing at Moir’s Food Shack in Jupiter, Fla.; a gordita with chicken and black beans from Taqueria Solavino taco truck in Hobe Sound; a Cuban sandwich, sweet plantains and cafe con leche from Wow Cuban Cafe in Hobe Sound; chicken tacos from Taqueria Solavino taco truck in Hobe Sound; conch fritters, steamed clams in a spicy broth and a Bud Light at King Neptune in Port Salerno; barbecued ribs, slow-cooked marinated chicken quarters and fresh corn tortillas from Gallo de Oro Tortilleria in Stuart; brisket, apple and chile hash with eggs over easy, toast and coffee at the Olde Lighthouse Diner in Jupiter; braised lamb shank, rice pilaf, green beans and moussaka at a Greek church festival in Hobe Sound; various dribs and drabs at Tony favorite restaurant, Mikata Buffet in Stuart.

THE MAILBAG
From Pennie:
What’s up with bone broth? I thought all broth was made with bones. At least, the stuff my mom made was. What is the difference between bone broth and broth?

Dear Pennie:
The difference is time. Regular meat broth is simmered on the bones for a couple of hours, maybe slightly more. Bone broth is simmered for 12 to 24 hours to leach the minerals from the bones. It contains more nutrients than regular broth. More flavor, too.

February 19, 2020

Dear friends,
In the back of a pickup by the side of the road were two big coolers filled with ice and shrimp. Tony and I had been eyeing the setup for a couple of weekends, after spotting the sign: “Gulf shrimp. $12 a pound.”

A woman in rubber gloves fished out a couple of handfuls of the large beauties, shell-clad and with their heads still on — a pretty good clue that the shrimp were fresh. They were also wild, several rungs up the flavor ladder from the pasty farm-raised crustaceans most of us are used to.

Even before the shrimp made it to our fridge, I was plotting ways to use them. Ultimately I decided to make old-school shrimp scampi but with couscous for heft and wilted fresh arugula from the pot flourishing on my porch. I know you probably don’t have street-corner shrimp vendors or pots of arugula ready for plucking, but this is shrimp season in stores, too, and spinach is a good stand-in for the arugula.

My shrimp scampi couscous takes almost no time to make (about 15 minutes after you peel the shrimp and cook the couscous). Buy shell-on shrimp because they are more flavorful.

This recipe made just enough for Tony and I to split 60/40. Tony ate the lion’s share, then later wolfed down two brioche buns smeared with butter. So if you are a really big eater, you might want to double this. Then again, we don’t call Tony “The Anaconda” for nothing.

SHRIMP SCAMPI COUSCOUS

1 cup pearl couscous
2 tbsp. olive oil
3 large cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp. minced onion
1 cup dry white wine
2 tbsp. butter
3/4 lb. large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 cups packed arugula or spinach, washed
Coarse sea salt

Cook couscous according to package directions and set aside.

Heat olive oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. Sauté garlic and onion until softened. Add wine, raise heat to high and boil until reduced by half. Add butter and stir until melted. Add shrimp and cook 30 seconds, turn with tongs and cook 30 seconds longer.

Add arugula and fold until it starts to wilt. Divide among two plates for entrees or four plates for starters. Sprinkle each portion with coarse salt before serving. Eat with large spoons.

Note: Often I skip deveining shrimp, but the flavors here are delicate enough to warrant removing the vein. And in this dish, I like the way the shrimp curl after deveining.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
A grilled hamburger on a brioche roll with mustard and onions, and sliced tomato with Kewpie mayonnaise and fresh basil; sliced tomatoes with basil, Kewpie mayo and Slap Ya Mama Cajun Seasoning (Tony’s purchase); sizzled ham, melted mozzarella, tomato and basil sandwiches on brioche; tomahawk rib steak, chopped salad, baguette and a Dreaming Tree pinot noir.

What I ate in/from restaurants, etc.:
California roll, beef in puff pastry, a buffalo chicken wing, a fried sugar doughnut, pineapple and melon at Mikata Buffet in Stuart; a grilled mahi-mahi sandwich, slaw and fries with iced tea at the Lazy Loggerhead in Jupiter; a steak and chorizo quesadilla from the Taqueria Solavino taco truck in Hobe Sound; cafe con leche and chicken croquettes from Wow Cuban Cafe in Hobe Sound; a detox smoothie from Tropical Smoothie Cafe; eight oysters on the half shell, a baked stuffed oyster, steamed crawfish, beef in puff pastry and a couple of bites of cheesecake at Mikata Buffet; Jamaican meat pie and lentil soup from the Jupiter El Sol Farmers’ Market.

THE MAILBAG

From Amy G.:
I use cake mixes a lot and when they changed the size I also noticed that my recipes weren’t turning out the same. I called Duncan Hines and they just sent me a bunch of free coupons. I figured out that if I bought two cake mixes of the same kind and added exactly five tablespoons of extra cake mix to one of them, all my recipes were fine again. Then you store the leftover cake mix for future use. I’m thinking that most of the recipes posted use the old size of cake mix. Just a guess. Duncan Hines did tell me that my recipes should be the same with the decrease in size. Not true. Hope this helps.

Dear Amy:
That is about as good an answer to the shrinking cake mix problem as we will get. Thank you for taking the time to help.

From Jill N.:
Do you ever use butter powder? I was given some this past week. As I read about it I am hearing it is very flavorful. I buy my butter from Hartzler Dairy out of Wooster. Just wanted to hear from someone who actually used it.

I grew up next to my granddad’s farm and when he stopped milking, my parents started buying that homogenized stuff. I stopped drinking milk. I do get some a few times a year when we visit some friends that still have milking cows for their family. But I don’t like the taste of the milk you buy at the stores today.

Dear Jill:
Until you wrote, I had never heard of butter powder. If it is indeed flavorful, I will buy some and skip the butterfat. Please let me know. Does anyone else want to chime in?

Your note about raw vs. pasteurized milk took me back to my childhood, when my family visited friends who owned a farm. My brother and I were (and still are) milk lovers, so the woman gave us big glasses of milk fresh from the cow. It freaked me out. While I knew milk came from cows, that glass of fresh milk put too fine a point on it. City kids.

From Bill:
Do any of your Cuban places that you try to visit make a dessert that has flan on the top and a coffee-flavored chocolate cake on the bottom? We had this delight in the Tampa area with a caramel syrup, house-made vanilla bean ice cream and whipped cream doots.

Dear Bill:
Really? Really? You are killing me. I want it now and will scour Florida until I find it. And I will feel awful after I eat it because I gave up sugar, remember?

From Chris O.:
Your question about what to do with cacao nibs reminded me of a chocolate seminar I went to in 2013 at a preventative medicine practice. The handout I got tells you everything you ever wanted to know, and more, about cacao and nibs. I forgot about grinding nibs in with my coffee. Gotta try that one. Here’s the gist of the cacao nibs info:

“Raw cacao nibs are what is found if you crack open a raw cacao bean. They have a pleasant strong, dark, bitter chocolate flavor. Sprinkle them over breakfast cereal, grind them into a powder using a coffee grinder, mix them with goji berries and raisins for a trail mix or blend them into smoothies. Grind with coffee beans in making coffee.”

From William B.:
If I could afford cocoa nibs, I would make a white chocolate fudge and stir the nibs in like nuts. I might also add chopped chocolate-covered espresso beans to it, too — as a surprise.

From Chris R.:
I LOVE the added crunch of cocoa nibs in my favorite chocolate chip cookies. My son adds nibs to his smoothies.

Dear readers:
Thanks for all of the suggestions. About 10 years ago, a chocolate company sent me an unbranded packet of nibs and asked me to let them know if I figured out a use for them. I was busy and didn’t get around to it. Better late than never, eh?

February 12, 2020

Dear friends,
I hope you are well. I hope you are warm. My wish for all of you this week is to feel like a million bucks while digging your toes into sand on a beach somewhere. Sadly, that is not the case for many of my friends, who share snapshots of ice-encrusted lawn ornaments and report everything from the sniffles to the flu.

I can’t cure what ails you but I can offer comfort in the form of a steaming mug of broth infused with ginger and tangerine. This is a chicken soup you can make in minutes, even if you’re too ill to make chicken soup. It’s a snap.

Have someone bring you some fresh ginger, a tangerine or orange, and a carton of bone broth. If you’re feeling chipper you could make your own chicken bone broth in a slow cooker with these instructions: https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/275943/slow-cooker-chicken-bone-broth/. If not, do not despair. In the last year or two just about every broth manufacturer has rushed to market with its own brand of bone broth — at a premium price, but still.

Heat the broth. Cut an inch of fresh ginger root into thin slices. Add it to the simmering broth with strips of the tangerine peel. Simmer for 10 minutes. Squeeze the juice from that tangerine and add it to the broth. Steep it for 10 more minutes. Discard the peel and slices of ginger. Ladle it into a mug. Ahhhh.

GINGER-TANGERINE BONE BROTH

32 oz. chicken bone broth, from a carton or homemade
A 1-inch piece of ginger root
1 medium tangerine or orange

Begin heating broth in a small saucepan. Peel ginger and cut into thin slices. Add to the broth. Cut zest from half of the tangerine or orange in strips with a sharp vegetable peeler. Be careful to leave behind the bitter white pith. Add zest to broth. Bring to a simmer, cover and simmer very gently for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, juice the tangerine or orange, straining out pulp and seeds. You should have about 1/3 to 1/2 cup. After 10 minutes, remove broth from heat, stir in juice and let it steep, covered, for 10 minutes longer.

With a slotted spoon or long-handled strainer, remove zest strips and slices of ginger. Ladle broth into mugs. Makes 4 cups.

TIDBITS
My friend, Linda Amstutz, has written a charming book I hope you’ll read. We bonded more than a dozen years ago over shared interests in food and writing. We formed a writers’ group together to work on our books. I abandoned mine. She just published hers, “The Bicycle Messenger,” available on Amazon.

The novel is a page-turner about children of the French resistance during World War II. It is set in the south of France, where Linda now lives. The tale switches between 1941 and 1995. There is danger, intrigue involving a valuable work of art, and a romance between the narrator — an annual visitor to France, like Linda used to be — and one of the boys, now grown.

What may interest my newsletter readers, besides the well-told tale, is Linda’s irresistible descriptions of French meals, snacks and cocktail tidbits. This woman loves the food of France, and it shows.

Here’s a tiny taste: “Each of us took a plate, Jean put a slice of cheese, half a fig and a few nuts on them and poured some of the dark tawny-colored fortified wine in each glass. Without further conversation we sipped and tasted and almost as one we sighed — such an elegant combination of flavors and textures.”

Linda is the friend Tony and I visited in September 2018 in southwestern France. The meals at her home were unforgettable. For me, reading her book was like talking to a friend. Don’t try it on an empty stomach, though.

Corrections:
The hot sauce I mentioned in last week’s recipe is Cholula, not Chalula, my friend, Martha, points out. And the seafood restaurant in Hobe Sound, Fla., I’ve been frequenting is the Catfish House, not Crawfish House. Sorry for the errors.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Charcoal-grilled fresh mackerel with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and oregano; conch salad (Tony’s creation) and tortilla chips; charcoal-grilled skirt steak with Mongolian barbecue sauce, steamed rice and fried plantains.

What I ate in/from restaurants, etc.:
Indochina Noodles (spicy dish of wide noodles, ground beef, tomato, vegetables) at Krua Thai in Stuart, Fla.; chicken salad sandwiches, chips and cookies aboard a pontoon boat on an Indian River wildlife tour; a hotdog with mustard, onion and relish from Mr. Grumpy’s hotdog cart in Okeechobee; shrimp ceviche from Green Apple Produce in Hobe Sound; picadillo, red beans and rice, fried plantains and cafe con leche at Wow Cuban Cafe; edamame, deep-fried tofu with a soy-based sauce and chicken yakitori at Fugu Tei Japanese Restaurant in Hobe Sound (not great); coleslaw and a medium-rare hamburger with mustard, onion and tomato at Taste Casual Dining in Hobe Sound; a chorizo taco with grilled onions, cilantro and lime from Taqueria Solavino taco truck in Hobe Sound.

THE MAILBAG

From Jenny K.:
Perhaps you or one of readers can help me solve this problem.

Once in a while I use a cake mix as a base for a recipe, usually changing it up in some way. Sometimes on the internet recipes the size of the cake mix is not mentioned. Is there a way to tell from the amounts of the other other ingredients listed whether the size is the “old” 18.25 oz. or the reduced 15.25 oz.? I know how to change the smaller size to fit older recipes, but if no size is listed or if there’s no date on the recipe I’m not sure if I need to add the extra 3 oz. of ingredients. I know that the size was decreased in 2016; but with no recipe dates, I’m just not sure what to do. Any ideas?

Dear Jenny:
Not to sound like a snob, but I haven’t used cake mixes in so long that I didn’t even know the size had changed. Those cheapskates! Can anyone help Jenny?

February 5, 2020

Dear friends,
Tony set the tone for our Florida trip the day the temperature dropped and it rained. As we huddled in our camper reading, he told me he was drinking Pomeranian tea. Maybe pomegranate? Whatever. Tony keeps coming up with these unwitting one liners, brightening even the rare cloudy day.

Most days have been sunny here in Hobe Sound, our new location after two winters at a campground in Okeechobee. We are near the beach. We are near seafood. We are near all kinds of Caribbean, Mexican, Guatemalan, Japanese and Thai cuisine.

Sorry, but I can’t tell you about the fancy waterfront restaurants with seafood appetizer towers. In retirement my haute cuisine veneer has peeled away, revealing what I’ve been all along — a lover of homespun dumps that serve food packed with flavor.

I’ve been getting my seafood at Crawfish House, a clapboard shack with house trailers out back. It has been around forever. Hush puppies come with the hand-breaded, fresh fried shrimp.

After a movie one night, we found get-down Jamaican cuisine at a kiosk in a mall. We made a u-turn on the way out of the mall after seeing plates of deliciousness on tables in the food court. I scanned the food purveyors and deduced the food was from 876 Jerk. It was, and our meal was terrific.

We get our Cuban fix at Wow Cuban Cafe, by a stroke of luck located not a mile from our campground. We are addicted to the cafe con leche. We buy a Cuban sandwich and split it for lunch at the beach. We get sides of fried plantains and black beans and rice. The slow-roasted marinated pork looks delicious.

We have found a great little Thai restaurant, Krua Thai, and noted a few sushi places we want to try. We’ll probably never get to, though, because Tony fell in love with a Japanese-Chinese place recommended last week by the woman who cut my hair. Mikata Buffet in Stuart is not bad at all for a buffet restaurant. The sushi is made to order and the rice is properly cooked and seasoned, a rarity. The stir frys and other hot table items taste better than the microwaved junk at most buffets. But jeez, do we have to dine there every time it’s Tony’s turn to pick? So far, yes.

If my husband is tired of my choices, he hasn’t complained. My go-to is either a Mexican grocery near us that has a few homemade items, or a tortilleria in Stuart that sells its own fresh-made corn tortillas and a mysterious selection of meals. Maybe none one day. The next day, a couple of Styrofoam containers filled with palomilla steak dinners will be stacked in the glass warming oven. A pan might hold deeply marinated, oven-roasted chicken quarters. Maybe the one clerk will sell some to Tony. Maybe not.

My obsession lately has been the tall plastic take-out glasses of shrimp ceviche from our next-door Mexican grocery, Green Apple Produce and Carniceria. Northern Mexican ceviche is not like the vinegary, oil-slicked variety most of us know. It is more gazpacho than ceviche, and in the version I like, the shrimp is cooked.

The little grocery stocks a tomato-y broth with tiny cubes of sweet onion, cucumber, avocado and jalapeno, adds a jolt of lime juice and packs the glass with six fat shrimp. Chopped cilantro adds a grassy note.

I recreated the recipe back at our camper in order to share it with you. It is a substantial, slimming lunch for calorie counters. It is usually served with homemade corn tortilla chips, the sturdy kind that can hold up to a dunking.

Tony likes it with Pomeranian tea.

SONORAN SHRIMP CEVICHE

24 large raw shrimp in shells (about 3/4 lb.)
1 cup peeled and seeded, finely diced (about 1/4 inch) cucumber
2 fat Italian plum tomatoes, trimmed and finely diced
3/4 cup finely diced sweet onion
1 jalapeno pepper, seeds removed, minced
1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro
2 tsp. hot sauce (preferably Mexican such as Chulula)
2 cans (11.5 oz. each) V-8 juice
2 tbsp. ketchup
Juice of 2 limes
Salt, pepper to taste
1 avocado, peeled, seeded and finely diced

Bring about 1 quart of water to a boil in a 2-quart saucepan. Dump in shrimp and cook for 1 minute. Drain and transfer to a bowl of ice water to halt the cooking, or drench under running cold water until the shrimp are cool. Remove shells and tails and drain shrimp on paper towels. Place in a medium bowl.

Add cucumber, tomatoes, onion, jalapeno and cilantro. In a small bowl, stir together one can of the V-8 juice, the hot sauce and the ketchup. Pour over shrimp and vegetables. Add second can of V-8 and lime juice and stir gently but thoroughly. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight. Just before serving, stir in avocado. Serve with tortilla chips. Makes 4 servings.

GUT CHECK:
What I cooked last week:
Pearl couscous salad with tuna, cucumber, radish and tomatoes; Sonoran shrimp ceviche; pasta with caramelized shallots and anchovies.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Shrimp ceviche (twice) from Green Apple Produce and Carniceria in Hobe Sound; palomilla steak with onions, black beans and yellow rice, fresh corn tortillas and slow-roasted chicken quarters from Gallo de Oro Tortilleria in Stuart; California roll, beef in puff pastry, stir-fried green beans, steamed cabbage, edamame, Buffalo wings and a sugar doughnut at Mikata Buffet in Stuart; tossed salad, blackened sea scallops and a Bud Light at Catfish House in Hobe Sound; pork and chicken tamales and carnitas from Green Apple; pulled pork, baked beans, potato salad and chocolate cake at a Super Bowl party in Hobe Sound.

THE MAILBAG
From Jen G.:
Hi Jane! Although your Southern migration paused your quest to empty the pantry, I have kept trying. So far, we’ve had a chili-lime lentil “curry,” pepperoni-and-Parmesan puff pastry pinwheels (gotta clear that freezer, too), and fried rice-style quinoa. It’s been a rewarding adventure to use up some of these staples and think about what flavors will be appealing, rather than making the same old four to five standby recipes for dinner. Thanks for the inspiration!

Dear Jen:
Now I’m inspired. When I return home, I will attack my pantry with vigor. Does anyone know what to do with cocoa nibs?

January 29, 2020

Dear friends,
I’d like to tell you about the wacky things happening here in Florida, cooped up in a 20-foot camper with my husband and dog, and I will. But this week I’m sharing a recipe I made a month ago, in preparation for a time like this. It’s my fallback recipe, although the flavor is anything but fallback.

The recipe sounds weird, but give it a chance. It is a Japanese-American mashup of a coney dog minus the bun, minus the hotdog and minus the coney sauce. But in spirit it’s a coney and it rocks. It is from my new favorite cookbook, “The Gaijin Cookbook” by Ivan Orkin and Chris Ying. I borrowed it from the library and liked so much I shelled out $30 for a copy.

Orkin, like me, is married to a Japanese. They own two hit restaurants, Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop and Ivan Ramen in New York City, and previously owned two ramen shops in Tokyo. This is Orkin’s second cookbook. The first, “Ivan Ramen,” is filled with recipes from his restaurant. “Gaijin” has recipes for lesser-known homestyle Japanese dishes such as spaghetti with ketchup-y red sauce, along with his own Japanese-inspired dishes such as the Tofu Coney Island I fell in love with.

I think the sauce Orkin ladles over fried squares of tofu is much better than coney sauce. As a coney dog lover, that’s a high accolade. The meatless sauce stars mushrooms cooked into a flavor rocket with onions, ginger, garlic, ketchup, miso and sake. If you don’t want to mess with cutting and frying tofu, spoon it over grilled chicken, scrambled eggs, steamed fish or even hot dogs. The tofu version is great, though, and worth the time it takes to fry the cubes in shallow oil. Use firm tofu.

Orkin uses button and beech or oyster mushrooms. I used all button (regular white supermarket mushrooms). Other ingredient notes: mirin is sweet Japanese cooking wine; you may substitute sherry. Buy One Cup Sake for cooking, a brand that comes in one-cup jars and is relatively inexpensive. The red miso is non-negotiable.

As Orkin says in his book, this recipe makes more than you’ll need for the tofu, but you’ll want extra. Top with chopped onions and a squiggle of mustard or not, your choice.

TOFU CONEY ISLAND

2 cups Mushroom Chili (recipe follows)
14 oz. firm tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup potato starch
6 to 8 cups vegetable oil for deep-frying (or shallow fry in 3/4-inch of oil as I did)
Kosher salt
For serving: Yellow mustard, finely diced onions

Make the mushroom chili and keep warm. Drain tofu squares on paper towels. Combine the cornstarch and potato starch in a bowl. Heat oil in a deep pan for deep frying or a deep, wide skillet for shallow frying. I shallow fried. Working in batches, dredge the tofu in the starch, shake off excess, and fry in hot oil until brown on all sides. Transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain.

Arrange the fried tofu on a plate and spoon some of the mushroom chili on top. Finish with lots of yellow mustard and plenty of diced onion. Makes 2 servings (according to Jane).

MUSHROOM CHILI
1 lb. button mushrooms, trimmed
3/4 cup vegetable oil (Jane says 1/4 cup is plenty)
1 medium onion, diced
1 tsp. kosher salt
2 tbsp. minced or grated ginger
1 tbsp. minced garlic
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup liquid from pickled garlic (made without katsubushi if you want to keep this recipe vegan)
1/4 cup red miso
3 tbsp. sake
3 tbsp. mirin
3 1/2 oz. shimeji or oyster mushrooms, trimmed (Jane just added extra button mushrooms)
1 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

Pulse the button mushrooms in a food processor until they are uniformly broken up into about 1/8-inch pieces (or chop by hand).

Heat a large skillet or Dutch oven over low heat and add the oil. When the oil is warm, add the onion and salt and cook, stirring regularly, until the onion is softened and golden, about 30 minutes. Don’t rush. Add the ginger and garlic and cook until softened and aromatic, about 3 minutes.

Add the button mushrooms, raise the heat to medium and cook until the mushrooms have yielded their liquid and the mixture has become more or less dry 15 minutes or so. Stir in the ketchup, pickled garlic liquid, miso, sake and mirin. Bring to a simmer and cook for 7 minutes.

Add the other mushrooms (or more halved button mushrooms) and lemon juice and cook until the mushrooms are tender, about 5 minutes more. Serve, or cook and store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week. Makes 4 cups.

From “The Gaijin Cookbook” by Ivan Orkin and Chris Ying.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Spicy ground venison, green bean and bell pepper stir fry; poached eggs with canned corned beef and toast; pork and green chile stew; pepper jack quesadillas.

What I ate in/from restaurants, etc.:
Jamaican chicken in brown sauce, fried sweet plantains, rice with pigeon peas, stewed cabbage and cauliflower at 876 Jerk in Jensen Beach, Fla.; long-roasted chicken and fresh-made corn tortillas (turned into soft tacos at home with grilled onions and salsa) from Tortilleria Gallo De Oro in Stuart, Fla.; bad coffee, Greek omelet, toast and grits at Dixie Cafe in Hobe Sound; Cuban sandwich and cafe con leche from Wow Cuban Cafe in Hobe Sound; gyoza, California roll, shrimp cocktail, pepper beef, fried sugared doughnut and melon and pineapple at Mikata Buffet in Jensen Beach; oyster shooters, grilled bacon-wrapped shrimp and shrimp and girts at the Port Salerno Seafood Festival.

THE MAILBAG

From Jean B.:
I have been enjoying the chatpatty at Family Groceries on North Main Street in Akron since you mentioned it in your newsletter. Unfortunately, the last time I stopped in the store, a sign was posted saying that chatpatty is no longer available. Can you suggest any other groceries in the area that offer chatpatty, and any other exotic ethnic foods? I love discovering interesting cuisines, and North Hill is rich in many delicious cultures.

Dear Jean:
No chatpatty?! I am sorry to hear it is gone. Maybe the cook migrated to another Nepalese store — there are quite a few now in North Hill. I have a few connections so I’ll ask around, but probably not before I return from Florida in March. If someone else who is reading this (Tin Win?) knows, could you send me an email?

Like you, I’m interested in hearing about ethnic food finds. I used to be up on every bit of food news in Northeast Ohio but I don’t get around as much since I retired. Have you been to the Mediterranean Grocery and Grill in Cuyahoga Falls? If not, that should be your next stop.

From Mary D.:
I’m guessing you forgot to add the link to the sweet potato and red lentil soup mentioned by Noreen S. in a previous newsletter. My lentils were purchased not too long ago for a dal recipe that never happened.

Dear Mary:
You are right. Sorry. Here’s the link:
https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/269427/sweet-potato-and-red-lentil-soup/.
Noreen says she swapped some of the spices for those on hand, so don’t be afraid to tinker.