Monday, July 29, 2013

Crab Cakes Extraordinaire!

Following Keja's translocal theme, we report to you from the Jersey Shore. Our kids went crabbing on the docks overlooking Barnegat Bay with an old friend of mine (and mother of their friends), who is a patient, informative, and successful crabber. They came away with some beauties, which Cocktail Dave then made into amazing crab cakes. Probably the best I've ever had, though they were amply spiced with a cold beer on a shady porch overlooking a lovely body of water, so I may be biased.

Dave, take it away!

My grandmother is descended from a long line of Marylanders, whose surname I was given as a middle name.  All her life she has griped about her favorite food, crab cakes.  If someone else makes them, they use too much filling and not enough crab.  If she makes them herself, the darn things are always falling apart in the pan.

This is not her recipe.

My kids went crabbing in Barnegat Bay and brought home 3 beauties.  It ain't the Chesapeake, but thanks to the efforts of groups like Save Barnegat Bay you can still eat the crustaceans pulled from it.

Now, last time I visited my Maryland cousins (about 8 years ago), they treated us to a crab feast.  I was hungry and couldn't pick the crabs fast enough to feel full.  I am told that this is a common problem among crab-eating peoples.  This time I planned to do it differently.

I found a rocking chair -- three cheers for the inventor of the rocking chair! -- and sat out on the porch to pick these 3 crabs.  I was not hungry.  I had nowhere to be.  I had a nice view and people to chat with.  I took my time and learned a thing or two about picking crabs.  First, that curved, pointed tool is not just for getting the little tubes of meat from the legs.  It can be used for the meat from the body as well, which helps you get it out in big lumps instead of little stringy bits.  By the time I got to my third crab I felt I was getting the hang of this.

Then I took the meat and threw it into a mixing bowl.  I added 1/3 cup stale crushed tortilla chips, an egg, some lemon/olive oil-based salad dressing I had in the fridge, and half a red onion, finely diced.  Once this was mixed together, I found that the darn things kept falling apart when I tried to make patties.  I threw the mixture back in the bowl and scraped some breadcrumbs out of a stale heel.  With this added, the darn things still wouldn't stick together, but remembering the words of my grandmother, I refused to dilute the crabmeat further.

I made patties in one hand by squeezing all the extra liquid out and spreading them on a plate.  I dusted the tops with flour then with great care flipped them over, dusting the other side.

I put a good amount of safflower oil in a medium-hot pan and let it heat.  Then I slid the patties into the oil with a spatula and my fingers.  After that -- important step!  -- I left the room.  I poured myself a beer first, but then I skedaddled.  I knew that if I remained in the room I would poke and prod the cakes and flip them too early.  I hoped that if I left them alone they would get crusty on the bottom and might not fall apart in the pan when flipped.

After drinking about 1/3 of a beer, assuming that the cakes would be brown and crispy on the bottom, I came back in and flipped.  The darn things did not fall apart.  The other side didn't take as long, and after draining them on paper towels, they were solid enough to be eaten by fingers.

These crab cakes were not overly seasoned, which I liked.  They might have been better with a nice aioli, but they were good plain with a lemon wedge.  I wish my grandmother would have been with me to share them, but next time I see her I'll read her this recipe and hopefully she'll appreciate that I did my best to follow her Maryland principles of crab-cake making.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Translocal Caramelized Fennel and Onions

Fennel roots were at the Union Square farmers' market when I left at the beginning of July, and are still at the French farmers' markets I've been visiting the past few weeks.  Remai
ns of colonialism?  Proof of co-evolution?  Fodder for my new idea of the "translocal"? (Which so far has this behind it: what's local in one place might carry across oceans to be local in another too.)

Anyway, at the same time as fresh fennel root is available, the very last of last year's onions look meager next to the bright white and green spring onions.  Still, the old onions are cheap and yummy, and if you're caramelizing they work a little better than the spring ones (which are perfect for salads, roasting, grilling...).

Caramelized Fennel and Onions
serves 4

1 T olive oil
3 medium fennel roots
3 medium onions
1 cup white or rosé wine
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 cup crème fraiche or sour cream
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper

Slice the fennel roots and the onions.  Sauté in the olive oil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until they soften, about 5 minutes, then lower heat (to low), add salt and pepper, and cook for another 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Raise heat to medium-high, add wine, and cook, stirring frequently until the liquid has almost disappeared (about 5 min).  Add the broth and crème fraiche or sour cream and cook, stirring frequently, until liquid has almost disappeared  (about 5 min).  Serve immediately.

Excellent with a roasted pork loin!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Fatted Duck Breast

New carrots are in!  Carrots last well into the winter and get sweeter with age, but the new ones are here now, and with a little honey and other tricks can be quite fantastic.  And these ones are really the most perfect side for duck that I can imagine.  But duck, local and seasonal?

Well, I am in France, so let me just go on a little about French farmers' markets.  Well, actually, almost everything I was going to say that's great about French farmers' markets has already hit the Boston area: there's a market every day of the week except Mondays, there's bread and meat and cheese and milk and yogurt and wine as well as veggies.  This is totally true in the Boston area as well, only I don't keep a list of the farmers' markets by day on the fridge, and I only head to the farmers' market first on Saturdays when it's in Union Square right around the corner from my house.  So it's as much the mindset of an old French lady or an American on holiday in France (the main clientele at French farmers' markets) as the presence of markets that I really need.  A mindset that lets you not only get to the market every day but take the time to walk up and down the whole market before you purchase anything, to greet the marketers and ask their advice on what's good, amidst questions about relatives and comments about the weather.

There is, however, one thing that French farmers' markets themselves offer that is unique: fresh meat.  None of this flash-frozen stuff that the USDA apparently requires at farmers' markets in the U.S.  Cool and perfectly hung beef, pork of every kind not only fresh but also cured, in patés and--my favorite--rillettes, and all manner of house-made sausages (including another favorite, blood sausage, and one of the few meat products I might not try at home again, andouillettes--basically tripe sausage), and of course rabbit and a fantastic array of poultry including goose and duck.  Aside from goose and duck rillettes and patés, magret de canard is by far my favorite.  While the regular translation of magret de canard is "duck breast," "fatted duck breast" is not only more prosaic but also more accurate.  And if you know my love of all things fatty and rich, you'll understand.  I would, however, like to note at this point that I recently had a cholesterol check that got me a note from my doctor saying not only are my cholesterol levels good, but I have the highest level of good cholesterol he's ever seen--and this with a family history of high cholesterol of the bad kind!  A sure sign that butter, cream, and duck fat along with with rather enormous volumes of olive oil, avocado, and salmon collars contribute to good cholesterol.

So, for better cholesterol, better eyesight, and a delightful combination of flavors, textures, and colors:

Magret de canard with shallot-wine sauce
Serves 4

2 magrets ("fatted duck breasts")
1 cup sliced shallots (from 6 small shallots)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 cloves
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp ground pepper
2 T raspberry jam
1 cup red wine
1 1/2 T mustard

If there's any fluid on the duck breast, wipe it off.  Bring to room temperature.  Meanwhile, put the shallots, garlic, cloves, salt and pepper in a bowl.   Make 4-5 cuts into the fatty side of the duck just to touch the meat under the fat.  Heat the pan.  Put the duck in fat-side down for 3-4 minutes on low heat.  Once the fat begins to render and brown, turn and brown, about 5 minutes more.  Add the shallot mixture, raise heat to medium and cook until soft, about 3 minutes.  Remove the duck (it is not yet cooked through).  Add the raspberry jam, mix, then add the wine.  Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 5 minutes.  Return the duck to the pan, cover, and cook 2-5 minutes longer (depending on desired doneness).  Slice against the grain, cover with sauce, and serve.

Glazed Carrots with Ginger and Hot Pepper
Serves 4
this is my, rather reworked, version of Martha Stewart's Glazed Carrots and Ginger

2 bunches new carrots
2 T butter
2 T honey
2" fresh ginger, peeled and cut into 1"-long matchsticks
1 tsp hot pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground pepper

Cut the carrots into pieces 2" long and 1/2" thick (new carrots are small, but you'll probably need to cut most in half across and then again lengthwise on the top half, maybe even in four lengthwise).  Blanch the carrots by bringing a large pot of water to a boil and dropping carrots in for exactly 3 minutes, then removing and draining immediately.  Meanwhile, melt the butter and honey in a large pan.  As soon as the carrots are drained, add them to the pan along with the other ingredients.  Sauté over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 minutes.  Serve immediately.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Sandy

The Sandy cocktail was inspired by our summer visit to the New Jersey shore.  I was looking for the toughness of bourbon -- "Jersey Strong" -- plus the summery mix of Cointreau and lemon.  Lime is a common pairing with Cointreau, but the idea of lime plus bourbon skeeved me out a little (to quote a Jersey Girl of my acquaintance).  Thus, lemon.  After mixing these three ingredients, I felt that the sweetness of the bourbon and Cointreau didn't quite stand up to the sourness of the lemon.  I thought about adding agave syrup, but I had been making a lot of margaritas lately and gotten used to salting glass rims.  I tried sugaring the rim of this drink rather than adding sweetener and, voila.  A refreshing cocktail with a sour character that is admirably set off by the sugar rim.  Drinking it on the veranda was a slight problem for two reasons: one, a fly discovered the sugar and tried to make it his own, and two, this drink went down way too easily.  Try it but remember to drink in moderation, because this drink won't remind you.

2 oz. Maker's Mark bourbon
1/2 oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice (approx. one half of a lemon)
1/2 oz. Cointreau

Mix the ingredients with 3 cubes of ice and stir vigorously until the mixture is quite cold.  Pour white sugar in a saucer.  Roll the rim of a cocktail glass or wine glass in the extra lemon juice, then roll glass rim around sugar saucer until rim is coated.  Then pour the mixture, ice and all, in the glass, careful not to disturb the rim.  Drink in responsible quantities.  Say goodbye to agita.