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.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Paella with Panache

Remember how I told you about the lobster stock last week?  Well, get ready cause we’re gonna use it here. 
But a side note, this is not animal friendly.  I murdered two lobsters and plan on showing you the gory details.  I even took video of the lobster still twitching and flailing a full five minutes after I split him in half and scooped out his brains with my fingers. 

At any rate, this recipe is wonderful.  And because there are only a few weeks left that we can successfully grill outside without freezing, I recommend trying this now.  I’ll let all these pictures tell the story and entice you to try this.

Aanother aside, if you tell your boyfriend’s parents that they’ll have lobster paella when they visit, but they are unable to bring their paella pan, you may just get one for your birthday.  Just sayin.

Grilled Lobster Paella
From Bon Appetít July 2011

1/3 c. olive oil
¾ lb. fresh chorizo, cut into chunks
1 large leek, diced
1 Tbs. smoked paprika
2 cups short grain rice (like calasparra, bomba, or abrorrio)
¼ tsp. saffron
5-6 cups lobster stock (closer to 5, but use your discretion here)
2 live lobsters, split in half  and claws cracked (do this just before cooking them)
1 ½ cups peas (thawed if frozen)
Salt to taste
¼ c parsley, chopped
2 lemons, cut in segments for each person

Prepare the grill, and if necessary start other charcoal to add in.  Place a 16” paella pan on the grill, add oil, chorizo and leeks.  Cook, stirring until chorizo is browned and the leeks are softened about 3 or 4 minutes.  Add smoked paprika and rice, coating everything in oil, about 2 minutes. 

Add saffron and 5 cups of lobster stock (you can add the 6th if the rice seems two hard). Stir just at first to evenly distribute everything, then leave it alone.  To ensure even cooking, rotate the pan around thee grill so that each part gets time closer to the heat.  After about 10 minutes, add the lobsters shell side down. 

At this point you can add more coals, but if the heat is fine, close the lid and cook another 10 minutes. Once the lobsters are just red and the meat is opaque, scatter the peas over everything and cook another 5 to 10 minutes so that the rice is cooked and looks dry.  Remove pan from grill, cover and let rest for 5 minutes.  Sprinkle with parsley and serve with lemon segments.  Serves 4 with leftovers.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Stocking Up

Who said it could be September already? I mean seriously, I have not had enough time getting sun burnt or sweating at night or getting bitten by mosquitos. All of the things I normally gripe about have been very infrequent this summer, or at least it seems that way to me now.
I told Joe this morning that I was not ready for spiced apple desserts or soups or roasts or any other fall type food. I want my tomatoes and eggplants and green beans darnit! I’m holding on to summer recipes and summer foods for as long as I can. I’ll be out grilling in the first snowfall I imagine.
Normally, I kind of like the release of summer into early fall. You can smell it. Maybe that’s why, it’s been raining for the past few days and I haven’t smelled autumn yet. I keep asking myself (well my tummy really) ‘do we want apple cider? How does butternut squash sound to you?’ and in response I get nothing, no gurgle of appreciation or rumble of desire. Nothing. This means I will continue to disregard the calendar and outside temperatures and keep cooking summer favorites.
You may be wondering, what does she have for me today. The answer is nothing. I’m sorry. I’ve been so busy with guests and hurricanes and work that I have not got something to share with you. I have been cooking up a storm, but they have all been trusty favorites, or brand new recipes I don’t feel comfortable sharing just yet. Well, that’s not entirely true. I made some lobster stock that I plan on using this weekend. I’ll share that with you. Since this is basically how I make chicken stock, I know it well enough to share.
Remember how I told you last week that we tend to eat lobsters when we have guests? My parents came this past weekend, and to make eating lobsters not as terrifying to my mother, Joe and I dispatched and dismembered them prior to dinner. But I had lots of lobster shells available for making stock – which is perfect because I will need lobster stock for next week’s recipe. I don’t want to give it away, but I will give you the lobster stock. It was really very simple and smells wonderful while cooking.

Quick Lobster Stock
I did not add any salt to this as we cooked the lobsters in VERY salted water, but taste and adjust as needed.

4 empty lobster shells – meat removed (we saved all the little bits as well as the heads, this turned into quite a bit of shell)
1 medium onion, cut into a large dice
3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
3 stalks celery, cut into large chunks
3 sprigs of thyme
3-4 large prigs of parsley (stem and leaves)
1 bay leaf
12 peppercorns
Water to cover

Combine lobster shells vegetables and spices in a large pot over medium heat. Begin cooking to soften the vegetables, then add water to just barely cover everything. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally.

Skim off any foam that accumulates on the surface and discard. Simmer for about one hour, until the stock is fragrant and yellowish/green in color.

Place cheese cloth into a colander and the colander into a large bowl (or other pot). Strain the stock through the cloth and colander. Discard the shells and veggies. Stir the strained stock to cool it quickly. Once it has stopped steaming, pour into re-sealable bags or plastic containers and freeze until ready to use. Make about 12 cups.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Proper Lobster Bake

It has taken me a long time to write about cooking lobsters. I’ve been waiting for the perfect moment.

There have been quite a few; cooking lobsters at home while a friend visiting from China was with us, borrowing a lobster pot in Rockport Mass from a waitress’ dad, who told us ‘His name is Jim, you’ll know him when you see him’, Driving lobsters down to Philadelphia or driving lobsters to upstate New York, well, you get the picture. We cook a lot of lobsters for guests, as that is what everyone expects from people who reside in Maine. And Joe and I are happy to oblige.

But this time, this time was different. And it was blog-worthy.

The recipe itself is not difficult – get lobsters, steam them, serve with butter and lemon and other things, cover yourself with lobster juice, enjoy. But what really separates this from the other lobster feasts is the combo of when, where, and how that set it apart.
 The best way to steam lobsters is in ocean water.  I’ve tried plain water, seasoned water and wine; but the best lobsters were always cooked in boiling seawater.  This does ruin the inside of a pot, so be warned.  Sometimes you can find little pouches of “Sea Salt” for adding to tap water if you are in a store buying lobsters.  But if you happen to be near the ocean, by all means use some of that instead.   
So let me tell you a bit about the pictures that you see here.  A friend of mine from NJ came up to visit and we went camping in Acadia National Park.  He requested that we have a proper lobster bake.  I considered using driftwood, seaweed, stones and tarps to do this but wasn’t sure all those pieces would come together in protected wildlife areas.  So we opted for literally the next best thing.  A lobster bake over a campfire.   
 Yup, cliffs were scaled to retrieve aforementioned ocean water, a fire built and stoked and tended to boil that water.  Local potatoes, corn and butter were accompaniments and steamer clams and lobsters the main show.  A word of the wise for you though, boiling a large pot of water over an open fire takes a long time, so plan accordingly.  Thankfully we had brought good bread, cheese, tomatoes and plenty of wine to hold us over for dinner.   
 That is not to say the dinner didn’t have its share of challenges.  Besides sending my friend over a cliff in search of water to potentially his death, or the fact that washing a butter covered pot with cold water in another pot that is equally coated in food particles at your campsite could potentially lead to some interestingly flavored coffee the next morning, the meal was very good.  Oh yeah and cleaning the steamers prior to cooking was not something we were able to do, so they were a bit crunchy.  But other than that I would do this again in a moment, and if you are fortunate to have lobsters, ocean water and an open flame you should give it a try as well.