Friday, December 16, 2011

Almost Almond Macaroons

We have come to the end of the cookie testing, and I am glad that I did it. I had a few hits and a few more misses. And as per usual, I have left the most difficult cookie recipe to try for this weekend. So if you hear me cursing and throwing ingredients around the kitchen, don’t be alarmed.

In hindsight I wish that I had really cooked the s**t out of some new cookie recipes, but alas my time was taken away from me. So I apologize for only giving you a couple of usable cookie recipes and only a few posts this month as well. I feel as though I have really dropped the ball on this whole sharing recipes for the holiday’s thing.
This week I made almond macaroons after seeing an old episode of Baking with Julia. The cookies seemed so simple to make, and are a favorite Italian bakery treat for Joe and I. I figured, why not. Instead of using the recipe from that episode (mostly because it called for 8 oz. of almond paste and I could only find a tube of 7oz.) I instead used the recipe inside the box. And typically, this method works out just fine. Well, except for the Tollhouse chocolate chip recipe on the bag, I find that it is a little too much butter if you don’t refrigerate the dough before baking, but that’s just me.
Anyways, this recipe gives you very almond-y flavored cookies which is wonderful, but they are a bit too chewy for me. I feel like a dog eating peanut butter when I chomp into one of the cookies. Aside from that, the cookies are good, and simple to make.

I think I have narrowed down my Christmas cookie selection to the following:
Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
White Chocolate Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies
Jam Filled Cookies
Chocolate Mint Cookies (previous post)
Italian Tri-Colore Cookies
And if the mood strikes me, maybe something else.
I’ll let you know next week which ones worked out the best!

Almond Macaroons7oz. Almond paste
½ c sugar
Pinch of salt
¼ c egg whites

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

Grate the almond paste and place in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the sugar and salt and mix on medium speed to thoroughly combine. Add in egg whites and mix until the dough everything is well incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl several times (about 5-7 minutes).

Scoop cookie dough into a pastry bag, or releasable bag and snip off one corner. Pipe the dough in a snail like formation onto the cookie sheet.

Next dampen a cotton kitchen towel and gently smack the cookies to remove the lines from piping. Bake for about 12 minutes or until the edges are a light golden brown.

Let cool on the baking sheet. To remove the cookies from the paper, lift the paper, wet your fingers, and moisten the paper directly underneath the cookie. Then peel the cookie from the paper. This will help get the cookie cleanly off of the paper. Store in an airtight container. Makes about 2 dozen.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Fun in Foil

This post will not be about cookies.  I will admit to being weak-minded and buying cookies this week at the supermarket.  And when you already have some cookies in the cupboard, then you really oughtn’t make more cookies on top of that. 
Or at least that’s how I am dealing with my guilt about not producing another cookie recipe for you, and right before the Holidays too, sheesh.
Instead, I wanted to share with you some pictures from Thanksgiving and one of the recipes I have now made a few times which will be good all winter and into early spring.
As you know I grew some beets and leeks (I actually managed to get 3 leeks!) in my tiny little garden this year.  So I had a surplus of beets on hand come the end of harvest.  I love the idea of eating things that don’t necessarily seem to work together – and that is what this recipe is all about.  It is incredibly easy to prepare and is a very different way to get that side of vegetables onto your dinner plate.
I do recommend using Chioggia, golden or even white beets as standard beets will stain all of your pretty vegetables a bright pink.  And if you can find multi-colored carrots, use those too – it really ups the pretty factor.

Beets, Carrots and Leeks in foil

2-3 medium beets (Chioggia, golden or white)
2-3 medium carrots
1 large leek
1 Tb olive oil
3Tb white wine
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
½ tsp dried tarragon (or 1 ½ tsp fresh)
Salt and pepper to taste
Aluminum foil

Preheat the oven to 375° or preheat the grill.  Peel and chop the beets and carrots.  Arrange two sheets of foil, overlapping each other, on the countertop or work surface.  Pile the chopped beets and carrots onto the center of the foil.  Thoroughly wash and dice the leeks, add to the top of the vegetable pile.  Gently fold up the sides of the foil to create a little wall, pour on oil and white wine.  Add the thyme sprigs, tarragon, salt and pepper and toss to coat vegetables.  Fold foil up over the vegetables creating a tight seal, so none of the liquid spills out.  Place foil packet onto grill for 20-30 minutes until it smells magnificent and the vegetables are softened.  Or, place foil packet on a cookie sheet and cook in the oven until the vegetables are softened.

Serves 4 as a side dish

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Another Look at Cookies

Again, let me apologize for not sharing a good recipe with you last week.  I have a better one this week – I promise. 
So toward the end of college I was working for a cookbook author, preparing to work again with the Smithsonian Folklife Festival’s Foodways section, and waitressing in a bar.  That meant I was thinking about and dealing with food pretty much continually.  I didn’t eat too much food as I was incredibly busy, subsisting off of single pop tarts and hamburger halves through thesis writing and graduation.  (I realized this was a bad idea when I grabbed a hamburger from the bar I worked at, ran to pick up graduation tickets, said hello to a friend’s family, answered two telephone calls from my own family and began choking on said hamburger in front of my former advisor; I thought I should really move on to something that required less chewing.)
Anyways, around this time I started tinkering with my own recipes.  I made a pretty awesome strawberry rhubarb pie and some wonderful cookies.  I wrote down the recipe for the pie, but neglected to take my cookie recipe to paper.  Thus, I forgot the recipe.  But, I remember what those cookies tasted like. 

Have you ever eaten something but wanted it to be a little more spectacular?  Like, wow this chocolate chip cookie is good, but what if it had peanut butter in it too?  That’s the way I felt about the Archway chocolate cookies you find in the grocery store.  I had bought them for a project my step-sister was doing for her special-ed classroom – Ice Cream sandwiches.  The Archway cookies are big, flat and easy to handle.  They offer a large area for spreading ice cream which is always a big deciding factor in making ice cream sandwiches.  The chocolate cookies are good, but they were missing something – mint.  Now, if you are not a fan of chocolate and mint I am sorry, you are missing out.
These cookies are a little temperamental, they are superb when cooked exactly right and kind of duds when baked a little too long.  Although as long as you use a timer when baking, you should be fine.  (I don’t use a timer, and this comes back to bite me in the butt every so often).  These cookies store well in an air-tight container making them perfect for baking and sharing, but they also make a very handsome ice cream cookie sandwich.

Chocolate Mint Crinkles
as adapted from Bon Appétit Dec. 2000

2 sticks butter, softened
1 ¾ c sugar
2 eggs
¾ tsp peppermint extract
2 cups white whole wheat flour
1 c cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
Large Granulated decorating sugar

Preheat oven to 350°.  Line 4 baking sheets with parchment paper.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs and peppermint extract and mix to combine.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix until just combined.  Roll dough into 1 ½” balls and place on a cookie sheet spacing about 2” apart.  Press dough on the balls to flatten them to about ½” thickness. 

Sprinkle cookies with decorating sugar, and bake until the cookies are firm around the edges, but soft and crackled in the center – about 12 minutes.  Rotate pans if the cookies are baking unevenly.  Cool on trays for about 5 minutes and then move the parchment with cookies off of trays.  Allow to cool, and enjoy.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Christmas Cookies Part I

Alright here is my first installment of trying out cookie recipes for the Holidays and sharing them with you.  This week was Chocolate Pistachio Biscotti from an old Food & Wine recipe.  It looked quite delicious and biscotti keep very well so I thought I would give it a shot.
I don’t know about you, but I have binders (yes that’s plural) filled with torn out pages from magazines and handwritten recipes I scribbled down on something random.  Hello, torn piece of cardboard or back of “To Do List” from 2003.  My first binder is very well organized, with tabs distinguishing poultry from appetizers from desserts.  However, that binder got full real fast.  I also have a special purple binder emblazoned with Jewel (the singer) stickers that I brought with me to college.  This has in it my own recipes and other special ones, I know exactly which recipes are where in there and how each grease stain and food spot got onto the pages.  I love that purple binder (and no, not just because it has Jewel stickers all over it). 
The third binder is a bit more haphazard.  It’s kind of dangerous actually.  When I open it I have to be careful the recipes don’t take out their vengeance on me and cut me with a million paper cuts.  They are so poorly thrown together, some not even hole-punched (gasp!) that I am sure they feel their very nature has been compromised.  I am always hesitant to reach for that binder because I know it will take me an hour to go through it and find the recipe I want.  Seeing that binder reminds me why I should never take up scrapbooking. 
Perhaps if I have a snow day and some tabs and a hole-punch I can make an honest binder out of it.  Until that day comes, though, I will continue to add torn pages from magazines to the top of my book shelf and neglect them with all the others. 
Luckily for you though, this recipe came from the previous well-organized binder.  But I never had a chance to make it before now.  And the verdict is – it’s not really worth it to make these biscotti.  I know right!  What a letdown.  I had high hopes for these – pistachios, chocolate, almond extract, more chocolate – what could be bad about these.  It turns out that second addition of chocolate just doesn’t work.  Since biscotti get baked twice, they tend to be crisp and sturdy.  These took a little longer to cook then I prefer drying out parts but not the whole thing.  They were also very delicate to handle and tended to crumble since I had to move them around so frequently during the baking process. 
They taste fine, and they are pretty neat to look at but they kind of leave me with a ‘so what?’ feeling.  I figure that when trying to make cookies to encourage your neighbor to snow blow your walk way throughout the entire winter – you had better make some pretty spectacular cookies.  These were not snow blower approved.   If you would like to try them out for yourself, the link to the recipe is here.  So because of this, I do not have recipe per se to share with you today.  However, I am on the prowl for a scrumptious cookie and hopefully I can share a recipe with you next week!

In the Jamie v. Cookies battle so far:

Christmas Cookies – 0
Jamie - 1

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Curious Cannolis

First, I need to apologize to Joe’s Nana.  (by the way it’s pronounced ‘Nah-Nah’) I fear that she would not approve of the recipe I am about to share with you here.  She takes her cannolis very seriously.  These qualify as being too fussy or new to meet her exacting cannoli standards, and for that I understand.  But I will push on anyways without her blessing and share this recipe anyways.

Oh wait, so you want to know more about how seriously Nana takes her cannolis? Alright, I will indulge you.  I once made cannolis for Joe’s grandparents when we went to visit around Halloween one year.  He said his grandfather liked cannolis, so I thought that would be an excellent surprise to bring along.  Well, that and it gave me an excuse to buy cannoli forms.  What are cannoli forms?  Oh they are just over priced pieces of pipe that you wrap cannoli dough around and then deep fry. 
I made sure to follow a traditional recipe for both the cannoli shells and the filling.  Joe advised me that I should keep the filling in a separate container and only fill them once we were about to eat dessert, otherwise the shells would get soggy. (I’m telling you, these people do not mess around!) 
I managed to keep everything intact through a Halloween party and a short flight – I typically carry food with me as a carry on – doesn’t everyone? 
When I announced what I brought for dessert, Joe’s grandfather was excited but Nana was hesitant.  She told me she needed to taste the cannoli cream before I could serve it.  I opened the ziplock bag and she stuck her finger right in and popped it in her mouth.  She closed her eyes and nodded – it would do.  I am sure she was being nice, but at least it passed.  And she told me she couldn’t stand it when they put in different things like cinnamon into the cream.  She went on to tell me that she would always insist on tasting the cannoli cream before purchasing any cannolis from a new bakery, and that she had told the proprietors no on more than one occasion.  So at least I had passed this test.

However delicious regular cannolis are, I thought I would try something a little different for Halloween this year and perhaps even throughout the Holidays.  Plus, I am super obsessed with pumpkin flavored things this year.  Below is the complete recipe for the cannolis, but if you can find cannoli shells at the store, or if you can buy empty shells from a bakery – do it.  It is not really worth the hassle of frying your own.  I thought that after one greasy form slipped into my pot of oil and sprayed the entire kitchen.  Save yourself the trouble – unless of course you want an excuse to run out and buy cannoli forms.

 Pumpkin Cannolis
As adapted from the recipe inside the cannoli form packaging.

For the Shells
1 ¾ c flour
½ tsp. salt
2 Tb sugar
1 egg
2 Tb butter, cold and cut into small pieces
About ¼ c sweet Marsala
1 egg white, slightly beaten

Vegetable oil for deep frying

For the Filling
2 c ricotta cheese
1 c canned pumpkin
¾ c powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla
¼ tsp anise extract
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp all spice
1/3 c mini chocolate chips

For the Shells: Sift the flour, salt and sugar together into a large bowl.  Make a well in the center, add the egg and butter.  Slightly beat the egg, and then with a fork begin to moisten the flour working from the center outward.   Add Marsala one tablespoon at a time, working until the dough comes together (it will still be a bit dry).  Cover and let stand for 15 minutes at room temperature.

Roll out the dough to about 1/16” thick and cut into circles 3 ½” in diameter (or 2 ½” for smaller cannolis).  Then with the rolling pin, make the circles into ovals.  Heat oil in a heavy bottomed pot, so there is about 2 – 3” of oil for deep frying. 

Wrap the dough around the cannoli forms, dip your finger into the beaten egg white and wipe it where the dough overlaps each other t seal it.  Then turn out the edges of the dough around the form slightly.  Once the oil reaches 350° begin frying.  Fry each shell for about 1 or 2 minutes until golden brown, remove to a paper towel lined platter and let cool.  Once cool, slide form out of shell and wrap another piece of dough around it.  Repeat until all the shells are fried. 

For the Filling: Blend the ricotta in a food processor or blender until very smooth, add in pumpkin, sugar, vanilla, anise and spices and blend until well combined.  Add chocolate chips and stir to combine.  Place filling in a pastry bag, or a ziplock bag. 

When ready to serve, pipe filling into each shell, dust with powdered sugar and enjoy.

 Makes about 15-18 cannoli shells (with some extra filling).

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

College Cornbread

There are so many different ways to make cornbread that I am afraid to really expound on it as an expert and instead will channel the dark side, my “Semi-homemade” side.  I don’t usually like things that you start with a mix, or add in premade items and then call the whole shebang homemade and nutritious, but this is one place where I defer to my pantry.  Not that there is anything wrong with saving time and opting for ease, but for me it leaves me feeling guilty and depressed when I cut open a boxed cake mix or slice into refrigerator cookie dough.  Heck I don’t even like bisquick. 
But I do appreciate these items for their purpose – which is to be fast and easy.  And the one boxed starter I use is for cornbread.  Now, I have made cornbread from scratch, and I like the idea of how versatile cornbread can be.  Spicy, sweet, savory, soft, crunchy and so on baked in cast iron, papers, tins, molds and pans the permutations are endless.  However, it is to this recipe that I turn to the most when I make cornbread.
I got this recipe from a friend of mine in college.  After coming back from Germany, three friends and I sublet a very nice town house in Washington DC.  It was during this semester that I really started to get into cooking, and where I decided that it was a passion of mine.  Mostly, this was due to boredom.  I didn’t have a job, most of our other friends were studying overseas, I didn’t have a boyfriend and I didn’t study in the library. So instead, I learned all the words to 50 Cent’s ‘Wanksta’ and I cooked. 
In fact, I managed to win household MVP one night because I made chili and this cornbread.  Yes, that’s right we had MVP.  You only got bragging rights for it, and it was largely very arbitrarily determined who won MVP for some action he or she performed.  I won MVP for making dinner one night.  My friend won MVP for putting out the toaster fire we started while trying to warm up taco shells.  You see what I mean.
At any rate, this recipe is cheap, easy, and can be a pantry staple to have on hand at a moment’s notice.  I typically only make cornbread for stuffing or when I make chili.  And I must confess that I make the chili simply as an excuse to shove as much cornbread into my face as I possibly can.

Mat’s College Cornbread
I suppose you could use any brand of cornbread mix, but I like the Jiffy version.  There is something very comforting to me about how the picture has not changed on that box in decades.  Also, this can be halved easily, but I will give you the larger version, as the cornbread is very delicious, and you will want to eat a lot of it. Well, that and it’s so hard to find the small cans of corn, making a double batch is just easier.

2 boxes Jiffy Cornbread mix
1 15oz can sweet corn, drained
1 14oz can creamed sweet corn
2 eggs
2 teaspoons sugar

Preheat the oven to 400°.

In a bowl combine all the ingredients.  Stir to combine everything until just moistened and there are no clumps of cornbread mix left.

Pour into a lightly greased 9x13” pan.  Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the top is golden and the sides of the cornbread are lightly browned. 

Let cool slightly and serve.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

My Oh My It's Fish Pie

Yes, that’s right I am going to be sharing a recipe with you for something called fish pie.  But first I want to bounce an idea off of you.
I kind of want to test out a ton of cookie recipes for the upcoming holiday season.  Does that seem like something you all would be interested in?  I keep coming across recipes that seem like they would be wonderful, and so I stow them away only to choose 5 or 6 between all of them to actually bake.  I will typically spend an entire weekend baking cookies and then I hand them out to neighbors and family.
However, this method tends to lead to madness as most of the cookie recipes are new to me and can inspire foul language and flying objects if things don’t turn out exactly as I pictured them.  But, if I make many cookies leading up to Christmas, I can pawn them off on unsuspecting people and whittle down my choices through a well-documented pseudo-scientific method. (Although I will most likely just make a lot of cookies and still choose 5 or 6 new recipes that turn me into a hyperventilating monster a few weekends before Christmas.)  So, cookies? Cool?  It’s decided then.
Now, on to that fish pie.  This one of the many recipes I took away from working in the Scottish Kitchen at the Folk Life Festival.  It was the first recipe I successfully made on my own after learning it, and it is the only one I specifically asked one of the cooks to share with me. 
It sounds kind of gross, and it doesn’t look super appetizing, but I promise you – it’s good.  I like to use this with leftover cooked fish, but you could always cook your white sauce a bit longer with the fish in it to cook the fish. I have taken the liberty here to dress up the pie a bit, but feel free to pare it back and keep it very simple. Oh and when you do make this, the lighter your mashed potatoes are, the better they will sit on top and spread out over the pie.

Joyce McRaye’s Fish Pie
 Any white fleshed fished can be used here (and I have even seen recipes which call for salmon) such as flounder, haddock or cod. Also feel free to omit the crust; the pie will work just as well without it.

For the Crust
1 c flour
5 Tb cold butter, cut into small cubes
1-3 Tb cold water

For the Pie
1 large shallot, chopped
2 Tbs. Butter
¼ tsp. Thyme
¼ c. flour
1 c. milk
½ lb. cooked white fish, shredded
½ c. frozen peas
Salt and pepper to taste

For the Topping
4-5 medium red skinned potatoes, cut into 1-2” chunks
1 garlic clove, whole
1 Tb. Butter
¼ c. milk or cream
Salt and Pepper to taste

For the crust: cut the butter into the flour until it is course looking, and then slowly add water a teaspoon or two at a time, until the dough comes together. (This can be done in a food processor).

Shape dough into a ball, flatten it to a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile prepare the mashed potatoes for the topping.  Boil cubed potatoes with the whole garlic clove in salted water for about 12 to 15 minutes, or until the potatoes can be pierced with a fork.  Drain the potatoes and mash with the butter and milk until well combined.  Add salt and pepper to taste. (Or you can use your favorite mashed potato recipe for this.)

Preheat the oven to 375°.  Roll out the dough and place it into 9 or 10” pie plate.  Prick the crust with a fork and pre-bake it for about 10 minutes. 

While the crust is baking, sauté shallot and thyme in butter over medium heat in a large pan for about 5 minutes.  Next, add the flour and stir constantly until the flour and butter have thickened and are smooth.  Slowly add in milk, whisking to avoid lumps.  Once all of the milk has been added, the mixture should be thick but not too stiff, if it is, add a bit more milk.  If the mixture is too watery, let it simmer for a few minutes on the stove.  Add in the cooked fish and peas, stirring to combine.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Pour filling into pre-baked crust and top with mashed potatoes.  Bake for about 15-20 minutes or until the mashed potatoes are golden and the crust is browned.  Cool for 15 minutes and serve.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Something About Squash

Oh baby, it is squash season. Not the summer squash season where complete strangers will approach you and force overgrown zucchini upon you. No, this is winter squash season. I have resisted you in the past winter squash, but not anymore.
I have noticed that winter squash appeal is much bigger in New England than it is anywhere else. Even when I go home to New Jersey for the holidays, I can never find any interesting winter squash. But up here, squash is the predominant vegetable for the entire winter. And right now – I am very excited about that. (Talk to me in March and I will be ready to take a baseball bat to any orange hued storage vegetable that crosses my path.) So excited in fact, that I now have 2 different kinds of squash on our counter and another pureed variety in the freezer. I have been ripping out all recipes with squash or pumpkin I the ingredient list from magazines, and printing anything squash related from the web as I cross it. If you see with Joe or I later this winter, and you notice a strange orange glow about us, it’s not spray tan – it’s beta carotene!
Now, don’t panic like Joe is doing right now. Squash isn’t all that bad. It’s pretty, it’s sweet and it is very versatile. So if you are unfamiliar with winter squash or if your stomach turns at the thought of eating it, I’ll ease you in slowly. Butternut squash is one of the easiest to work with, and is most commonly found in grocery stores around the country. You can boil or roast it and then mash it, puree it, bake with it, and so on. But it’s always fun to try something new.
That, and everything with a crust tastes good in my book. This is a very pretty dish, and I saw it about 2 years ago in a publication by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. I have been pining to try it ever since. It definitely sounds like something that zealous vegetarians would be attracted to, but I promise that the average meat loving Joe I mean person will like it.

Winter Squash and Kale Tart
as adapted from Roberta Bailey’s Harvest Kitchen
This recipe takes a long time but it is fairly simple to assemble, especially if you use a premade crust. It also is a bit soft, and doesn’t cut super cleanly, so if you are using a smaller egg, I would recommend using 2.

For the crust
1 c flour
5 Tb cold butter, cut into small cubes
1-3 Tb cold water

For the Tart
1 ½ cups cooked pureed winter squash*
2 c kale
1 medium leek, chopped
2 Tb butter
1 egg
½ c whole milk
½ c pecorino, grated (or other hard cheese)
½ tsp dried thyme
1 tsp. dried parsley
¼ tsp. all spice
¼ tsp. nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste

For the crust: cut the butter into the flour until it is course looking, and then slowly add water a teaspoon or two at a time, until the dough comes together. (This can be done in a food processor).

Shape dough into a ball, flatten it to a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425°.

Meanwhile, remove thick stems from kale and chop into ½” strips.

Once the dough has rested, roll it out into a 10” disc, and place into a 9” pie or tart pan. Press the dough in, and remove any excess. Bake crust for 10 minutes, then allow to cool slightly before filling.

In a large skillet, sauté leeks in the butter until softened, about 5 minutes. Add kale and a few tablespoons of water, cover and cook until just barely wilted. Season with salt and pepper and set aside to cool slightly.

Lower oven temperature to 350°. In a large bowl, mix together egg and milk. Then add in pureed squash, cheese, herbs, and spices. Stir in the leek and kale mixture, coating everything. Pour filling into par-baked crust and bake for 55-60 minutes, until the edges of the tart are golden and the center of the tart is solid. Allow to cool for 15 to 20 minutes, slice and serve.

*If you don’t just happen to have pureed squash laying around, take a small butternut squash (or something more fun like Hubbard, Winter Luxury or Kobocha), peel, seed and chop into 1” cubes.  Roast in a 375° oven for about 30 minutes, or until soft.  Toss into a blender or food processor with a tiny bit of water to get it going. Puree until smooth, and set aside for another use!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Imperial Appetizer

I love crabs.  Specifically, I love blue crabs, and I miss them sorely now that I no longer live along the mid-Atlantic seaboard.  I love blue crabs so much, that when Joe and I were preparing to leave for California, I bought a giant tub of Old Bay seasoning to take with me, in case they didn’t sell it out there (they do).
Blue crabs as I am familiar with them exist from New York down to North Carolina and I am deeply in love with everything about them.  Just the thought of a big steaming pile of crabs covered with Old Bay can make me salivate.  I have a long history with blue crabs; catching them, cooking them, racing them, reading books about them and so on.  But I will only share a little of this knowledge with you here today.  This is due mostly to the fact that I did not cook with blue crabs this weekend. 
Here in Maine we have the Jonah crab or the Peekey-Toe crab.  The meat is stringy and sweet but I think it lacks the depth of flavor and heft that fresh blue crab has.  In a pinch (yes, pun intended) local crab will suffice for me.  No, this is not a crab cake recipe, as the Maine crab meat couldn’t hold up to the ingredients or flavors in my recipe.  Instead I am going to give you my version of Crab Imperial. 
Basically, crab imperial is the stuffing when anything is ‘stuffed with crab.’ It’s darn tasty and there are several different schools of thought which, can be much disputed depending on where you are and with whom you are conversing.  I like my crab imperial to have a little zing and to not have any breadcrumbs in it.  You can make this into a straight dip, or stuff it into things, like mushrooms and shrimp. 
This weekend I stuffed tiny little bell peppers with the crab since they are all over the farmers’ markets.  Some crab imperial recipes call for minced bell pepper, so I thought this would be a unique twist on it.
Don’t worry I’ll share my wild and crazy crab stories with you another time, maybe when I have access to fresh live blue crabs.

Crab Imperial
I like to use fresh crab.  There is usually canned blue crab available in the supermarket, but it is usually from the Philippines, extra salty and overall not very good tasting.  If you can get fresh local crab meat – use that instead.

1 8 oz. container fresh local crab
3 Tb mayonnaise
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
½ tsp. shallot, minced
¼ tsp. capers, chopped very fine
¼ tsp. Worcestershire sauce
¼ tsp. Old Bay Seasoning

8 mini stuffing peppers
Shredded cheese for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Core the peppers by running a knife vertically into the pepper around the stem, and pull out the stem and seed core.  Flick out any remaining seeds and pull out the white pith if it is thick.  Leave the pepper intact.

In a small bowl combine mayo, mustard, shallot, capers, Worcestershire sauce, and Old Bay. Stir until everything is well coated. The mixture will be runny.  Stuff crab mixture into peppers and sprinkle with shredded cheese.

Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the peppers are soft, the cheese is melted and the crab mixture looks a bit more dry.  Serve immediately.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sungold Sludge

I went a little tomato crazy this weekend.  I’ve been very enthralled with the whole canning food –pioneer life trend that’s been happening recently.  This is not to say that I am any good at it.  Currently, I have a few bags of frozen fruits, multiple jars of jam and a garden I need to deal with, but that does not mean I have “put up” enough for Joe and I to subsist on for the winter.  Really I just like the idea of being useful and home-makey.  So I got it into my head that I would try canning tomatoes. 
 Sure I could do something useful like make tomato sauce, or can whole tomatoes to use later in soups and sauces.  But no.  I was distracted by a recipe in Bon Appetít for homemade ketchup.  ‘Yes!’ I thought, ‘I can make my own ketchup, it will be very useful and delicious.’

So I immediately e-mailed a local farm and placed my order for a crate of 2nd rate tomatoes at a discounted price.  A measly $25 for a crate I would pick up at the farmer’s market on Thursday.  Perfect.

When I got to the farm stand I was armed with 2 cloth bags to transport the tomatoes home.  I smilingly approached the man at the stand and told him of my order.  He said oh yes, we have seconds for you.  You can help yourself. 
I asked him how much was a crate of tomatoes (meaning how many tomatoes would I be getting), he told me a crate of tomatoes.  I nodded my ascent as if I got the joke and wasn’t at all trying to ask an actual question.

I was handed an empty crate which now looking back was the size of a pallet (well, maybe not quite that big, but it was rather large) and told to fill it up with whatever I wanted.  I started grabbing handfuls of different colored tomatoes and placing them into the black plastic crate.  When I got about halfway full, my heart started racing.  ‘Oh gosh, what am I doing, the recipe only calls for 5 pounds of tomatoes.’  So I interrupted the man again and asked how many pounds he thought a full crate was.  Oh about 35 pounds, he calmly replied looking at my crate.  I told him I thought I was ok with just a half full crate and I would still pay full price.  He told me no.  I was going to need to fill it up more.  I got a few chuckles and stares from other patrons at the stand noticing my panic and red flushed faced as I continued to plop tomatoes into the crate. 
I tried pushing them around to make it seem like more, the opposite of what children do to food they don’t want at dinner. 

I re-approached the man and told him the crate was full, I was ready to pay.  He, thinking he was being helpful, looked up at the sky and nonchalantly added 10 more tomatoes to my crate.  The one time the baker’s dozen elicits panic.  We then poured the tomatoes into my two bags, and I swear that when I picked them up it was closer to 50 pounds.  I’ve been lifting weights, so I’m pretty sure they weighed more than 35 pounds.

After lugging my 60 pounds of tomatoes home, I moved them into a wide shallow box, as the weight of all of them piled on top of one another was beginning to crush some of them.  Then I tried to push to box over to the side of my kitchen but apparently I am unable to push 75 pounds of tomatoes with one foot. 
When Joe came home and asked how my day was and what I had gotten at the farmer’s market, my reply was ‘Ok, don’t get mad at me, but…’ and thankfully he knows what that means – I have gone overboard on something.  I showed him the box. 

He agreed that it was over 35 pounds.
So to wrap this story up; yes I did make ketchup, no I did not use all of the tomatoes in that batch, and when you quadruple a recipe you also have to quadruple the time.  The ketchup turned out alright, not really ketchup as we know it (so I’m calling it catsup – because who really knows what catsup is) and it’s a bit spicy.   Too spicy for Joe, so now I have 12 pints of catsup that I ‘put up’ this weekend in case this winter we have to douse everything with homemade ketchup.  More likely this will become a Christmas present to at least 11 people. 
With the remaining 10 pounds of tomatoes, I made a vat of tomato sauce and froze it on Sunday.  But what I am going to share with you today is not a recipe for tomato sauce or ketchup catsup. I will share something far more manageable in the tomato realm.  Although I love this so much that next year I may only grow Sungold tomatoes and make this all summer long. So that when Joe asks me what’s in the garden I’ll have to say “Ok, don’t get mad at me, but…”

Bess’ Sungold Sludge
Sungold tomatoes are the small orange tomatoes.  They are as sweet as candy and just as pretty in my mind. My friend Bess, makes this delightful treat in the summer when her crop of Sungolds are ready.  I always secretly hope she will have some each time I see her.
1 pint of Sungold tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tb olive oil
Salt to taste

For assembly:
Fresh basil leaves, sliced
Goat cheese (or cream cheese)
Toasted French bread slices

 Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat, add garlic and sauté for about a minute.  Slice some tomatoes in half and add to skillet.  Add the other tomatoes and stir.  Adjust the heat as necessary so the garlic doesn’t burn.  Cook, stirring occasionally until the skins of all the tomatoes have burst.  If a tomato doesn’t split open, gently press on it with a spatula or poke it with a knife, but be careful of any juices spitting out.

Once the tomatoes have split, lower the heat a bit and continue to cook another 7 minutes or so until the juices are thick and syrupy.  Add salt to taste.

To serve, spread goat cheese on toasted bread, spoon the sludge over top and sprinkle with fresh basil.