Archive for the 'Recipe' Category

Maryland Crab Cakes

Homemade Crab Cakes

I grew up in Maryland and, because of that, I have some strong opinions about crab cakes.  I’m even inclined to voice these opinions to anyone who’s willing to listen.  When we lived in California, I had a number of conversations about crab cakes with coworkers who promptly thought I was a bit obsessed about the whole thing.  That continued until another person who had lived in Maryland joined our group who had equivalently strong and vocal opinions about the matter.

I’ve tried crab cakes in other styles from other regions, and as good as they may be, they don’t compare with a Maryland crab cake.  While I will freely argue about the various merits of the different styles, in the end, it’s a preference based on the experience of eating them as a kid.

In Maryland, crab cakes are everywhere.  They’re on almost every menu.  From a food stand to a deli to a fine dining restaurant: all have their crab cakes.  The church I attended growing up used to have all-you-can eat crab cake and ham suppers as fundraisers.

There are a few things, in my mind at least, that make a crab cake Maryland style.  First, it must include Old Bay. I’m usually not a fan of pre-mixed spices but I make an exception for Old Bay. Second, the binder should be saltine crumbs; bread crumbs don’t give the right texture. Finally, and most importantly, it should be made with Chesapeake Bay blue crabs.

Unfortunately, there are barely enough blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay to supply the surrounding region.  Plenty of crab from North Carolina, the Gulf, or even Asia is sold in this area.  But when good Chesapeake Bay crab meat is available, the resulting crab cakes can be phenomenal.

We’re lucky that Buster’s Seafood had some lump backfin at the farmer’s market last Saturday.  As soon as I saw it, despite the significant cost involved (and that’s only going to get worse because of the oil spill in the Gulf), I knew I had some crab cakes in my future.

Maryland Crab Cakes
Adapted from Chesapeake Bay Cooking With John Shields

1 lbs. lump backfin crabmeat
1 egg
2 tbs mayonnaise
1 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp Old Bay
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2-3 dashes Tabasco
1/4 cup saltine crumbs
peanut oil, for deep frying

  1. Pick over the crab meat for shells and place in a bowl.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, dry mustard, black pepper, salt, Old Bay seasoning, Worcestershire sauce, and Tabasco.
  3. Pour the mixture over the top of the crab meat and add the cracker crumbs.  Carefully mix together, taking care not to break the pieces of crab apart.
  4. Form into crab cakes 3″ wide by 1″ tall. The crab cakes should hold together but still be loose.
  5. Deep fry the crab cakes, in batches if necessary, at 375ºF until well-browned, about 3 minutes.  Remove from the oil and drain on paper towels.
  6. Serve immediately with french fries and cole slaw.

Serves 4.

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Fettucini with Ramps and Asparagus

Fettucini with Asparagus and Ramps

If you’ve read this blog before, it becomes readily apparent that I’m not a vegetable-centric cook.  But after a long winter where the only vegetables at the farmer’s market were lettuces and carrots, the arrival of asparagus, ramps, and tomatoes yesterday really got me excited.  The sign at Westmoreland Berry Farm’s stand announcing that there would be strawberries in two weeks didn’t hurt.

While running errands later in the day, all I could think about was what exactly I’d do with my vegetable bounty. I settled pretty quickly on pasta but the details were still a mystery. I contemplated using pancetta or bacon. Then I wondered if I should add cream or cheese.

In the end, I went for the route of simple.  No pork products.  No cream.  No cheese.  Just saute the vegetables in butter and use the pasta water as a sauce.

It’s amazing what such a simple sauce can provide in flavor.  In a word, it tasted like spring.  The pasta absorbed the flavor of the asparagus and ramps and tasted nearly perfect.  The flavor was mild such that anything richer or heavier, like bacon or cream, would’ve over powered it.

Ramps and Asparagus

Fettucini with Ramps and Asparagus

6 large stalks of asparagus
8 oz. ramps
3 tbsp of butter, divided
salt and pepper
1 large shallot, diced
fresh pasta made with 2 cups of flour and 2 eggs

  1. Break the bottom off the asparagus and discard the bottom.  Use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin on the bottom portion of the asparagus.  Cut the asparagus into 1″ pieces.
  2. Clean the ramps.  Separate the leaves from the white parts of the ramps.  Tear the leaves into 1″ pieces.
  3. Heat 2 tbsp of butter over medium heat in a large skillet.  Add the asparagus and white part of the ramps.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring regularly, until the asparagus and ramps begin to brown, 2 to 3 minutes.
  4. Add the shallots and cook for a minute more.
  5. Add the ramp leaves, season with salt, and cook until the ramp leaves are wilted.
  6. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in salted boiling water until slightly undercooked.  Drain the pasta, reserving the cooking water.
  7. Add the pasta to the skillet.  Add 1/2 cup reserved pasta water to the skillet.  Increase the heat to medium-high and cook until the pasta water is mostly absorbed and the rest is thickened.
  8. Remove from the heat and add the remaining 1 tbsp of butter.  Stir until the butter is incorporated into the pasta.
  9. Serve immediately.

Serves 2.

Homemade Smoked Bacon

Homemade Smoked Bacon
I don’t think I can compete with the superlatives bestowed upon bacon on the internet.  My love of bacon is not as great as that professed on some sites.  I don’t find the idea of chocolate covered bacon appetizing.  I don’t even like bacon a cheeseburger.  To be honest, I rarely eat bacon by itself.  Bacon has, however, become an integral part of my cooking as an ingredient.

One of the advantages of moving to Virginia is that there is a history of smoking in the state and, therefore, there are good local bacons available.  Those at the farmer’s market are even better. In California, I even made fresh (unsmoked) bacon. When I saw a pork belly at EcoFriendly Foods stand several weeks ago, I knew it was time to try smoked bacon again.

This isn’t my first try at smoked bacon.  My first attempt used a maple syrup based cure and the bacon was oddly sweet.  My next attempt was a more savory cure based on a pancetta recipe.  This bacon is a refinement of the second attempt.

While it may be self-aggrandizing, this is the best bacon I’ve tasted.  The cure ingredients only serve to enhance and complement the natural pork flavor as does the smoke.  It’s almost too flavorful to eat by itself.  Almost.  But that makes it even better when it’s used as an ingredient.

Smoked Bacon
Adapted from Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing

One 5 lbs. (2.25 kg) pork belly, skin on

Dry Cure:
4 garlic cloves, minced
12 g pink salt
50 g kosher salt
26 g light brown sugar
20 g coarsely ground black pepper
10 g crushed juniper berries
4 bay leaves, crumbled
5 sprigs of thyme, leaves only
4 sprigs of rosemary, leaves only
3 dried red chili peppers, crumbled

  1. Combine the cure ingredients in a bowl and mix well.  Place the belly in a jumbo Ziploc bag or other large container.  Spread the cure mixture on all sides of the pork belly.
  2. Refrigerate the pork belly for 7 to 10 days, overhauling the pork belly by turning it over every other day, until it is firm at its thickest point.
  3. Remove the pork belly from the refrigerator, rinse the pork belly, dry it with paper towels, then allow it to dry in the refrigerator overnight on a rack.
  4. Hot smoke the pork belly over hickory until it reaches an internal temperature of 150ºF, 2 to 3 hours.
  5. Allow the pork belly to cool to room temperature, then chill in the refrigerator.
  6. Cut into thick slices.
  7. The bacon can be refrigerated for several weeks or frozen nearly indefinitely.

Yields approximately 4 lbs/1.75 kg bacon.

Maple Cake with Maple Syrup Frosting

Maple Cake with Maple Syrup Frosting

The last two times we’ve gone skiing in Vermont, my non-skiing wife insisted that we take at least one day and go exploring.  For us, exploring consists of visiting cheese makers, ice cream makers, a brewery, and, of course, maple syrup producers.  It was an interesting experience visiting several different producers, trying the different grades, and then tasting the differences between different areas and producers.  Similar to wine, the terroir makes a difference.

After our last trip, we come home laden with more maple syrup, even though we had an unfinished bottle in the fridge from our previous trip.  With so much maple syrup in our house, when I first read the title of this recipe in Bon Appetit, I knew I had to make it.

I made it when we had planned to have several guests.  Instead, only Alison decided to join us.  So that meant a lot of cake for me to eat for breakfast and lunch during the week, even after we sent Alison home with some of the leftovers.

Surprisingly, given the article that this recipe was part of, this is not a typical cake.  It’s sweetness is muted.  The cake itself is subdued in flavor while the icing provides a good counterpoint with the dark maple flavor and the tangyness of the cream cheese.

This isn’t a particularly difficult recipe but I did have problems getting the maple syrup to mix with the butter and shortening in a smooth fashion.  I beat it until the fat particles were relatively small and, in the end, I don’t think it made much of a difference.  The original recipe calls for walnuts in the cake and in the frosting, but I omitted them because of Angela’s preferences.

Maple Cake with Maple Syrup Frosting
Adapted from Bon Appetit April 2010

Cake:
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tbsp baking power
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened, cut into 1 tbsp chunks
2 tbsp vegetable shortening, softened
2 cups Grade B maple syrup
3 egg yolks
1 egg
1 1/4 cups whole milk

Frosting:
8-oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened, cut into 1 tbsp chunks
3 cups powdered sugar
2 tbsp Grade B maple syrup

  1. Preheat the oven to 325ºF.
  2. Butter and flour two 8″ cake pans.
  3. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and whisk to combine.
  4. In an electric mixer, beat the butter and shortening until creamy and fluffy.
  5. Add the maple syrup and beat until the mixture is smooth, 3 to 5 minutes.
  6. Add the egg yolks and the egg one at a time, pausing until the mixture is well combined before adding the next one.
  7. Beat in the flour in 3 additions, alternating with the milk.
  8. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans.
  9. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes.
  10. Remove from the oven, allow to cool, then remove from the cake pans.
  11. To make the frosting, beat cream cheese and butter until smooth.  Add the powdered sugar and maple syrup and beat until just combined.
  12. Make a layer cake, by icing the cake with the frosting.

Serves 10.

Fried Oysters

Fried Oysters

In honor of health care reform passing last night, I thought we should eat some fried foods.  That may be the best form of socializing risks that I know of.

In reality, I had bought some shucked oysters at the farmer’s market and had already been planning to fry them.  We’ve been lucky that a seafood vendor has been attending the farmer’s market.  Initially, they had only agreed to attend during the winter.  Given the quality of their products (particularly, the rock fish), to encourage them to continue attending as well as to eat more seafood, I decided to try and buy at least one thing from them every week.  Last week was clam chowder. This week, at Angela’s encouragement, was fried oysters.

Despite being from and currently living in the Chesapeake Bay area, I’ve had little experience with oysters.  My parents don’t like them (or at least think they don’t), so I never ate them growing up.  My first experience with them was at a local restaurant; from there, I was hooked. Angela’s obsession started after eating a fried oyster topped burger in Boston.

I also must admit that the recipe I use for frying oysters comes from a New Englander. In my defense, my lack of Chesapeake Bay cookbooks not withstanding, it’s really quite good. It’s also said to be a “southern style” fry mix. And while most Marylanders would probably put Old Bay on the oysters, it would probably overpower the mild taste of the sweet oysters I’ve been buying.

I like to serve fried oysters with french fries.  If I’m taking the time to start deep frying, I might as well make some french fries while I’m at it.  Plus, it makes a convenient “one pot” meal.  If you want to make french fries, I’d suggest cooking them before the oysters.  The oysters cook very quickly and can add odd flavors to the french fries.

For the dredge, don’t use a very coarse cornmeal (i.e. polenta); it will make the oysters too gritty.  However, I would recommend a stone-ground cornmeal if at all possible.

For the frying, I like to setup two half-sheet pans, each with a cooling rack on top.  One sheet pan gets the dredged but uncooked oysters.  The other sheet pan can be used to rest the cooked oysters.

Homemade French Fries

Fried Oysters
Adapted from The Summer Shack Cookbook: The Complete Guide to Shore Food

1 half-pint shucked oysters
2 cups buttermilk
4-6 cups peanut oil or enough to deep fry

Dredge:
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cornmeal
1 1/2 tsp lemon zest
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp kosher salt

  1. Heat the oil in a large dutch oven to 360°F.
  2. In a bowl, put the buttermilk.  In another bowl, mix together the dredge ingredients.  Dredge each oyster, first through the buttermilk, then through the dry ingredients.  Set aside.
  3. Deep fry the oysters at 360°F until they are lightly browned and cooked through.  Initially, the oil will boil very heavily, when the oil subsides and boils lightly, the oysters are done (the change is distinct).
  4. Remove from the oysters from the deep fryer and allow to drain for a minute.  Season the oysters with salt.
  5. Serve immediately with cocktail sauce.

Serves 2-3.

Cocktail Sauce
Adapted from The Summer Shack Cookbook: The Complete Guide to Shore Food

12 oz. Heinz chili sauce
1 tbsp prepared horseradish
1/2 tsp Worchestershire sauce
1 1/2 tsp lemon juice
pinch of salt

  1. Mix all ingredients well.

Camarones a la Vinagreta (Shrimp with Lime Dressing)

Camarones a la Vinagreta (Shrimp with Lime Dressing)
Last Saturday, we had a party where we served Mexican food.  I even invested in a tortilla press and tried my hand at making fresh tortillas.  Unfortunately, despite my best efforts to prepare in advance, I was too busy and too tired to take pictures to generate a blog post.

But armed with a new tortilla maker and some left over ingredients, I wanted to try to make more Mexican food.  I haven’t made a lot of Mexican food previously.  When we lived in California, Mexican food was omnipresent.  They even served passable tacos at the corporate cafeteria.  In northern Virginia, good tacos are few and far between.

Given that there were shrimp in the freezer, shrimp tacos seemed a wise choice.  These tacos are very easy to make.  The cooking of the shrimp is somewhat unconventional but it does work.  Given the flavoring of the tacos, they would be just as good, if not better, served either at room temperature or chilled on a hot day.

Camarones a la Vinagreta (Shrimp with Lime Dressing)
Adapted from Authentic Mexican 20th Anniversary Ed: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico

For the shrimp:
1 quart water
1 lime, halved
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp ground allspice
3 bay leaves
12 oz. shell-on shrimp

For the dressing:

1/2 small red onion, coarsely diced
1 medium tomato, cored and diced
1 1/2 tbsp dice cilantro
2 1/2 tbsp lime juice
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp vegetable oil
salt

  1. In a sauce pan, combine the water, black pepper, allspice, and bay leaves.  Squeeze the limes and add them to the sauce pan.  Bring to a simmer, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.
  2. Uncover the sauce pan, turn the heat to high, add the shrimp, cover, and bring to a boil.
  3. Remove the sauce pan from the heat and drain off the liquid.  Keep the pan covered and set aside for 15 minutes.
  4. Peel the shrimp and cut them into 1/2″ pieces.
  5. Combine the red onion, tomato, and cilantro in a bow with the shrimp.
  6. Whisk together the lime juice, olive oil, and vegetable oil.  Pour over the shrimp mixture.
  7. Serve the shrimp mixture in tortillas.

Serves 2-3.

Bavette de Veau Boucherie Duciel (Veal Flank Steak Boucherie Duciel)

Veal Skirt Steak
One of my favorite things about shopping at the farmer’s market is that there’s always a surprise.  At a supermarket, you have a pretty good idea of what’s going to be available every week but the selection changes week-by-week at the farmer’s market.

This past week, EcoFriendly Foods had an impressive selection of veal, including veal skirt steak, which is virtually unheard of in a grocery store (what happens to the rest of the calf normally?). So how could I resist?

The first recipe I found was very simple and that suits me just fine.  For something as mild as veal, simple recipes usually work best.  And, continuing the focus on farmer’s markets, high quality veal is much better than mass-produced veal, particularly for a recipe as simple as this one.

Bavette de Veau Boucherie Duciel (Veal Flank Steak Boucherie Duciel)
Adopted from The Paris Cookbook

1 lbs. veal flank or skirt steak, divided into two pieces
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp heavy cream

  1. Dry the flank steak on both sides well with a paper towel and season it on both sides with salt and pepper.
  2. In a large skillet, heat the butter over medium heat.
  3. When the butter is hot and finished foaming, sear the flank steak on both sides until well browned.
  4. Remove from the heat and allow it to rest.
  5. Deglaze the pan with the heavy cream.
  6. Pour the heavy cream over the steak and serve immediately.

Serves 2.