Monday, March 31, 2008

Beef, BBall and Brownies (Part 1)

Crabby like sports!

Crabby like basketball!

Crabby like beef barbecue!

Crabby like eat when watching TV!

OK, you get the picture. There are a few times of year when I turn into a slack jawed, knuckles-scraping-the-sidewalk-when-I-walk, mouth breather. It happens whenever I watch the NFL playoffs or the NCAA basketball playoffs, (OK, OK, it happens when I watch Giada too).

For March Madness, CrabCake 2 and I set up our own pool. We parts of as many games as possible. We talk trash at each other based on who's leading in the brackets. But come finals weekend, I also like to throw in some good old fashioned, clog up those arteries, man food. This year it's going to be "barbecued" beef brisket and brownies (not just any brownies, but you're going to have to wait for part 2 to get that recipe).

True barbecue is art. It takes days of preparing rubs, fussing over coals, adjusting smoke levels and arguing about wet vs dry. Well I'm not doing any of that. I'm not going to spends days and days worrying about something that's as likely to end up on my shirt as is likely to end up in my stomach, (I only do that for Thanksgiving).

So today we're going to cheat. We're going to take a few big shortcuts that, when combined with a few beers, will go unnoticed. This recipe is based on 2 lbs. of beef brisket, though it can be made with a 2 lb. boneless pork loin roast (and turned into shredded pork). It can probably be doubled or tripled if you have a big enough cooking vessel.

Crabby Cook's Beef Brisket

A Crockpot, Le Creuset or oven safe pot.
1 18oz. Bottle of your favorite BBQ Sauce (mine is Sweet Baby Ray's)
1 14 oz. can beef broth
2 Tbsp Honey
2 lb. Beef Brisket or 2 lb. Boneless Pork Loin Roast
A lot of Patience

If using an oven instead of a Crockpot, pre-heat to 200 degrees. Mix the bottle of BBQ Sauce, beef stock and honey in the insert (or cooking pot). Place the beef (fattiest side up) inside the pot, liquid should nearly cover the meat, if it doesn't, add water. Cover. Turn on crockpot to low (or place covered pot in oven). and cook, undisturbed for 6-8 hours. No peeking.

After the cooking time, slice beef or shred pork roast. Serve on soft white hamburger buns. Add some more BBQ sauce to the sandwich. Watch the game. Slobber all over yourself.

Tip 1: Instead of honey add 1/4 cup of diced, canned pineapple (this is especially good with the pork).

Tip 2: Thinly slice some jicama (often called a Mexican potato, though it seems more like a radish) and garnish each sandwich with a slice. For those of you living in remote areas, try using regular radishes (though they have a pepperier flavor than jicama).

Tip 3: For those that like it really spicy dice up some jalapeno for a garnish.

Tip 4: Some shredded Monterey Jack cheese also makes a good garnish.

Tip 5: Drink Beer.

Tip 6: Have lots of napkins handy.

Prep Time: 5 Minutes
Passive Cooking Time: 6-8 Hours
Active Cooking Time: 3 Minutes
Clean-Up: Well that depends if your a slob using real plates instead of paper, but lets call it 15 minutes.

Crablings, this is as easy as it gets and the result is pretty darn good. Give it a shot. Next time SS Sal will take you through a brownie recipe. Until then, just remember, you can do it, you can cook.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Wonderin' Where The Lions Are...

Back in 1996 Sea Shell Sal and I went to South Africa for two weeks. We visited Capetown, Sun City and of course went on safari.

It is the most stunning, confusing, compelling trip I've ever been on. Visiting is an exercise in adaptation. The country is spectacular in its beauty and crushingly depressing in its poverty. Capetown is a photogenic cosmopolitan city bordered on multiple sides by shanty towns of indescribable squalor. Sun City is your worst Disney/Las Vegas nightmare. It is the only place in the country where gambling and pornography are allowed and only the wealthiest of citizens can afford to visit. It was crawling with tourists, primarily from Asia.

That said, it was 1996,
apartheid had ended and Nelson Mandela was President. There was a true sense of optimism and hope in the country. While the country would struggle with spasms of violence and questionable leaders after Mandela, I have watched with a tourist's pride as it has grown into an increasingly stable voice in an otherwise dysfunctional continent.

So, why this story? Well, as you read this, Wine Wizard Bob is winging his way to South Africa for a wine industry sponsored promotional tour. As Bob put it, he's traveling to Africa, "to converse, confer and otherwise hob-nob with his fellow wizards" (name the movie).

He will be visiting numerous wine producers in the Paarl and Stellenbosch areas of South Africa. Besides touring wineries and eating the likes of grilled impala and Bobotie, he will also get the chance to go on safari. Safari is one of the great experiences of my life. You sit in roofless Land Rovers and get to within a few feet of lions, rhino, leopards, baboons and the like. This is not Disneyland. Most of the animals are carnivores. Never have I felt so much like bait in my life.

Everyday after our jeep tour, we would go on "walkabout" into the veldt. Our guide always carried a high powered rifle and we were constantly instructed not to get separated from the group. Our biggest fear was from lions.

Lions are extremely territorial and protective of their cubs. When on walkabout, we were all issued small whistles for our hikes. We were to blow the whistles at random times in order to warn the lions of our presence and to, hopefully, have them move off. Additionally, we were issued strongly flavored cinnamon gum. Lions have a keen sense of smell and it is believed that the scent of the gum warns them of our proximity. We were constantly on the lookout for signs of recent lion activity, particularly lion dung. How did we know it was lion dung? The dung gave off a pleasant cinnamon scent and was embedded with many small whistles.


That is a very old joke.

Before WW Bob left I asked him to recommend a few South African wineries for us:

Glen Carlou, Paarl Valley. A winery owned by the Hess Vineyards of California. They produce very good chardonnay and shiraz, typically at $15-$25/bottle.

Graham Beck Wines. Very good merlots and sparkling wines (goes great with bobotie). Also about $15-$25/bottle

Ken Forrester Wines. Famous for their Petit Chenin, though that one can be harder to find. Prices range from $15-$60/bottle. A strong, reliable producer.

That's all folks. Be back soon. What do you think of the new look?

The lion photo is courtesy of National Geographic, photographer Chris Johns.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Making Apple-Pear Cobbler Using Occam's Razor

Back in the day, and by "the day" I of course mean the early 14th-century, philosophizing was all the rage. Philosophers of the time were equivalent to today's hip-hop rappers. Like today the word wars would break out among competing factions, culminating with the occasional "ride by" (horses and wagons standing in for the as yet uninvented Escalades); Thomas Aquinas was rumored to be a real "playa" with a spear, (I may have made that part up).

One of the shining lights of the day was William of Occam. Known as, Billy da O, the Phantastic, Phransican Philosophizer, (I may have made that part up), Will was to become the father of modern epistemology, (philosophy concerned with the acquisition of knowledge). Now, while Billy da O would "bust" many a truth regarding the nature and scope of knowledge, his number one hit was Occam's Razor. Contrary to the title, no weapons are involved.

Basically, Occam's Razor states that if you come up with two or more answers to a problem then you should choose the solution that employs the fewest assumptions. In other words, Billy da O, had invented the KISS principle, Keep It Simple, Simon. Centuries later, business consultants are still selling Occam's Razor to clients and never once do they credit the source.

Occam's Razor applies to cooking as well.

SeaShell Sal and I love to buy food magazines. We tell ourselves that it's the recipes that get us, but really it's all the pretty pictures. When it comes to magazine covers, we're like a couple of rubes in the big city for the first time, standing, mouths agape pointing at all the pretty colors. Sometimes we get sucked into some shady recipes.

There are bad recipes. There are horrendous recipes. Two weekends ago SS Sal tried one from the April issue of Food & Wine magazine. Apple Pie Bars. Sounded good, picture looked great. Three hours into it SS Sal was having second thoughts. It took nearly every mixing bowl, measuring cup, spatula and pan to make these bars. The only other times I've seen this much wreckage in a kitchen, the mom is standing in front of her trailer saying something like, "We were just watching Wheel of Fortune, when all of a sudden it sounded like a freight train coming through".

The real killer was that the bars were only alright. Not bad, but certainly not worth the effort in prep, baking and clean-up. Problem is that desserts can be more complicated than "regular " cooking. There just weren't a lot of clues that said this recipe was going to turn into the train wreck it became.

So, instead of that disaster, we're going to use Occam's Razor and give you a recipe for a very simple, tasty, straightforward Apple-Pear Cobbler. Try the Apple Pie Bars at you own risk, you've been warned.

Apple-Pear Crisp
adapted from Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa

2 pounds ripe pears (4 pears) (preferably Bosc)
2 pounds firm apples (6 apples) Gala, Macoun or Fuji
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

For the topping:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Peel, core, and cut the pears and apples into large chunks. Place the fruit in a large bowl and add the zests, juices, sugar, flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Pour into a 9 by 12 by 2-inch oval baking dish.

For the topping:
Combine the flour, sugars, salt, oatmeal, and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed for 1 minute, until the mixture is in large crumbles. Sprinkle evenly over the fruit, covering the fruit completely.

Place the baking dish on a sheet pan and bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until the top is brown and the fruit is bubbly. Serve warm.

1, Don't even think about combining the butter into the topping ingredients without the mixer! That was a huge issue with the aforementioned apple pie bars.

2. This makes a large cobbler. Instead of cutting the recipe in half, which you could readily do, make cobblers in 2 smaller (i.e. 8 X 8 inch square pans) dishes and freeze one before you bake it. Thaw on the counter for a few hours and then bake as prescribed.

There you have it crablings. A very easy dessert, that even Crabby could make if SS Sal weren't around.

I know a few of you tried the lamb recipe for Easter, so please post your experiences, good or bad. Until next time, just remember, you can do it, you can cook.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Veal Stew and The Other Woman

In keeping with recent news events, the time has come for me to confess some personal failings.

No, I haven't had an affair, I mean I'm not governor of New York for God's sake.

But I am in love with another woman.

She's young, beautiful, vivacious and a wonderful cook. She hosts her own TV show while making countless appearances on other programs. If things weren't bad enough, she's married too. But our love can't be denied. I'm of course speaking of Giada. Giada De Laurentiis, the name tumbles from my lips like her bosom overflowing the top of her blouse.

Have you seen this woman's zabagliones? Of course you have, if you've watched her show for thirty seconds you are intimately familiar with her Dolomites. If the low cut tops weren't enough, have you ever noticed that everything, (and I mean everything), she uses while cooking forces her to lean over and reach across her work surface? I thought a great drinking game would be to have a shot, a double of course, every time Giada leaned forward while on camera. After watching the show a couple of times I realized you'd be in a coma by the first commercial.

Don't get Crabby wrong; I am NOT complaining! I mean really, which Italian Chef would you rather look at, crocs wearing Mario Batali or scoop-necked Giada? I am willing to watch Giada all day, every day. Now, I can hear some of you out there saying, "But Crabby, aren't you happily married to Sea Shell Sal?" Yes I am. I've been in love with SS Sal for 27 years, and if actuarial tables are to believed, I will be in love with her for approximately 27 more. Which is why I'm going to miss her terribly when I run off with Giada.

OK, all joking aside, while Food Network has turned her into the Sophia Loren of the kitchen, Giada is a hell of a cook. SS Sal and I own two of her cookbooks, "Everyday Italian" and "Giada's Family Dinners". Both are fantastic, we've never had a bad meal cooking from either. The recipes are simple and straightforward. They typically only use a few ingredients and she's very willing to employ time and work saving shortcuts. This is what cooking should be; so finish reading this post and then click the Amazon button on this page and buy at least one of these books, (I prefer "Everyday Italian" as a first choice). You'll be cooking from them for a long, long time.

Well, time for a recipe. In tribute to Giada, and in acknowledgement that sex sells, your leader Crabby Cook, will be writing the rest of this post topless. Those who may be offended should skip past this following picture and proceed directly to the recipe.

Veal Stew with Cipollini Onions
(serves 4-6)
from Giada De Laurentiis', "Giada's Family Dinners"

14 cipollini onions
2 Tbsp olive oil
2.5 lb veal stew meat
salt and pepper
1/3 C flour
3 garlic cloves
1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1 1/4 C dry white wine
2 1/2 C chicken stock
7 or 8 oz can diced tomatoes in their juice
7 small red-skinned potatoes
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 C fresh parsley for garnish

In a pot, boil the unpeeled cipollinis for 2 minutes. Drain and let cool. Cut off the root ends and peel (this is the biggest pain of preparing this meal but worth it, expect to take about 5 minutes to peel the onions). Heat the oil in the stock pot, (preferably a dutch oven) over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the veal with salt and pepper and then coat with flour. Add veal to pot in batches and cook until browned on all sides (about 8 minutes total per batch). Set aside. Add garlic and thyme to the same pot and saute for about 30 seconds. Add the wine and deglaze the pan, scraping up all the crispy bits after the wine comes to a boil. Simmer over medium-high heat until reduced by half (about 3 minutes). Return the veal to the pot.

Add the broth and tomatoes with juice. Partially cover and simmer on low-medium heat for 15 minutes. Add the onions, potatoes and carrots and simmer uncovered for about 45 minutes, the sauce will thicken as it cooks. Stir in parsley, season with salt and pepper and serve in bowls with thick wedges of crusty bread.

This is a bit harder meal to prepare than what we've done to date, but well worth it.

Prep Time: 25-30 minutes
Active Cooking Time: 30-40 minutes
Passive Cooking Time: 45 minutes

I love this meal. You could probably try it with beef or lamb instead of veal, though a lot of the subtlety would be lost.

Serve with an Italian Barbera d'Asti; candidates that should be widely available:
Michele Chiarlo Barbera d'Asti $12-$15 (Italy), La Famiglia de Robert Mondavi $18-$20 (California) or Renwood Barbera $20-$25 (California). If you can find it, and it won't be easy outside of the big cities, Poderi Alasia Barbera d'Asti Rive 2005 $25 (Italy), a spectacular example of this type of wine.

Alright crablings, Easter's coming up so I may not post until Sunday or Monday. Enjoy the stew, and just remember, you can do it, you can cook.

P.S. Giada, when you read this, call me babe.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Cleaning Out the Inbox

OK, today I'm going to answer some questions that have been submitted to the site and some others that have been submitted to me directly. I'd encourage all of you to post your questions on site. There are no bad questions; if you have a question about a particular post chances are good someone else has the same question. Here we go.

Q 1: to anonymous x 2,

Some of you have had questions regarding the cook times in my recipes, particularly the roast chicken. In every case, the cook times I list are the ones that work for me. If yours are different there are a couple of possible culprits:

1. Please be sure to bring whatever you're cooking to room temperature before you start. This makes more of a difference than you think. Imagine being outside on a cold day and coming in for a hot drink to warm up. You will take longer to feel warm than someone whose been inside the entire time, cooking is the same way. If time doesn't allow for a 30-45 minute warm-up, you're realistically going to have to add 10-20 minutes of cooking time.

2. My roasting chickens run 3-4 lbs. If you've got one of those 5-7 pound, raised next to a nuclear power plant chickens, well, even though they should be glowing on their own, that bird is going to take a little longer to cook (a 7 pounder may need as much as 2 hours to get the job done).

3. If the cavity is stuffed full of anything that will also slow the cooking time.

4. If times are way off you may want to check to be sure your oven is heating to proper temperatures. A $5 oven thermometer would do the trick.

Q2: to runwithperserverance,

I posted a quick response to your question, but wanted to highlight it here. You asked about vintage differences in the J. Lohr Cabernet Sauvignon. While I'm waiting on WW Bob's response, weather plays an important part in how wine tastes. 2005 was a hotter growing season, which tends to ripen grapes faster and produce greater fruit flavor in the final wine. I suspect that this is the difference you're noticing in the two bottles. I'll update the answer when WWB gets back to me.

Q3: to internetwhackjob,

You present an interesting case for a second gunman on the grassy knoll. Thanks for sharing.

Q4: to mrsklondike,

re: Pork Roast Recipe. I'm not really sure why they "french" the pork roast bones, (looks?). You could use a bone-in pork loin roast with the recipe, you could even use thick cut pork bone-on pork chops with a cooking time of about 45 minutes depending on their thickness, (you'd have to cut the vegetables into smaller pieces to insure that they'd roast in time however). The only cut I wouldn't use is a pork tenderloin. It's too lean and would cook too quickly. You just wouldn't get that tart-sweet caramelization of the lemon-orange juice that longer roasting buys you.

Q5: to imabean,

re: Desperate Soup. This is a great soup for emptying out the leftovers from the fridge. Put whatever you have sitting in there. You want to simmer for at least 20 minutes just to have some hope of blending the flavors. I'd also consider dropping the lentils and if you have some leftover cooked pasta add it in the last few minutes just to bring it up to heat. It shortens the cooking time even more and makes for a heartier meal.


Q6: to sildainnyc,

Spitzer? I hardly even know her!

Well that's it for today. Later this week, (Thursday or Friday) I'll be posting a veal stew recipe. Until then, remember, you can do it, you can cook.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Easter Special Request

Maybe it's the image of all those sheep hobbling around on crutches that gets to me, but I just don't like leg of lamb. If that weren't enough, all year we consider sheep symbols of gentleness and caring, but Easter Sunday rolls around and they go from representing Peace on Earth to being the ultimate Piece. Sheep need a better agent.

When people say they don't care for the taste of lamb they're almost always talking about the leg. The fat surrounding the leg gives off a very gamy flavor. As far as I'm concerned, leg of lamb with the fat still on is the gamiest meat out there. The only possible exception is if you overcook actual game (i.e., venison, elk, etc.). Combine this overpowering flavor with all the sinew and tendons in the leg and you end up with a pretty unappetizing meal.

Sea Shell Sal loves leg of lamb.

The horns of a dilemma. For her birthday she wants leg of lamb. For a celebration dinner she wants leg of lamb. For Easter she wants leg of lamb.

What to do?

After years of fighting it, I finally found a grilled leg of lamb recipe that actually tastes good. Whenever someone who tells me they don't like lamb, this recipe brings them around. I have no pictures of this meal (yet) but I wanted to get it out to you before the holiday. As always, the recipe is fairly simple, though you do need to prep and marinade the meat the night before. The good news is, come Easter Sunday, you only have to worry about grilling the meat and making the sides.

For a smaller crowd I get half the leg, usually the sirloin end, but either will do. This recipe assumes the entire leg is being used.

Grilled Hoisin-Marinated Butterflied Leg of Lamb
(from the July 1994 Gourmet Magazine)

1/3 cup hoisin sauce (found in the asian aisle at your supermarket)
3 tablespoons rice vinegar (preferably not seasoned)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1/4 cup minced scallions
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
a 6 1/2- to 7 1/2-pound whole leg of lamb, trimmed, boned, and butterflied (4 1/2 to 5 1/2 pounds boneless)

In a bowl whisk together hoisin sauce, vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, minced scallion, honey, and salt.

Trim as much remaining fat as possible from lamb. Place the lamb in a ziploc bag large enough to hold the lamb flat (gallon size) and pour in the marinade. Close the bag while squeezing out as much air as possible, massage the marinade into the meat. Marinate lamb, covered and chilled, at least 4 hours but preferably overnight.

Prepare grill over high heat.

Bring lamb to room temperature (about 45 minutes). Grill flat on an oiled rack set 5 to 6 inches from heat source. If using a gas grill turn down heat to medium-high immediately after placing the meat on the rack. Grill 12 to 15 minutes on each side, or until meat thermometer registers 140°F., for medium-rare . Please, please, please do not over cook this piece of meat, it is the one guaranteed way to ruin this meal. (Alternatively, lamb may be broiled under preheated broiler about 4 inches from heat for approximately the same time on each side as for grilling.) Transfer lamb to a cutting board and let stand 20 minutes before carving.

Holding a sharp knife at a 45° angle, cut lamb across grain into thin slices.

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Marinade Time: Overnight
Active Cooking Time: 2 minutes (How long does it take to turn the meat over and check the temp?)
Passive Cooking Time: 25 - 30 minutes

Keys to success with this meal:

Trim as much of the fat as you can reach. In fact if you get really aggressive trimming the fat the lamb will turn into 2 or 3 separate pieces that make the grilling go even faster (This takes a bit of practice though, so don't sweat it too much the first time). The more fat you get rid of ahead of time the milder the flavor of the finished product.

The grilling takes a little bit of watching. If the coals/burners are too hot, you can end up burning the hoisin sauce. If the lamb is excessively smoking while cooking move it to a cooler spot on the grill. This may extend the cooking time, so have an instant read thermometer handy to keep track of your progress.

Let the meat rest for twenty minutes under an aluminum foil tent, this is key for this meal.

Serve with some steamed buttered snap peas. some jalapeno pepper jelly and either a David Bruce Petite Syrah ($18) or your favorite California Merlot.

That's it. Peace in the household with a piece of grilled lamb, maybe next year we'll go after rabbits. Until next time, remember, you can do it, you can cook.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Computers, Wine Wizard Bob & White Wine 101


Way back when Sea Shell Sal and I worked for computer companies. Back then computers were the size and cost of small SUVs (which hadn't been invented yet). If that weren't bad enough, they did less than the chip set in today's cell phones. We were newlyweds living in suburban Boston. We were into cooking and trying to learn more about wine. A co-worker of Crabby's at Computervision (a now defunct CAD/CAM computer manufacturer), told me about the brother of a college roommate who had a wine store.

Understand, this was pre-high tech, pre-real estate boom; Millis Massachusetts was "back of beyond", a gas station, a liquor store, a traffic light and a Dunkin Donuts.
In the midwest they're called "party stores", in the northeast we call them "packies". Millis Discount Liquor was an unprepossessing storefront in a non-descript strip mall next to a candlepin bowling alley on a secondary highway in southern Massachusetts. This was supposed to be where I was going to get wine insight?

CrabbyCook may be arrogant, CrabbyCook may be bull headed, but CrabbyCook is not stupid.

Brothers Bob and Peter Harkey had taken over Millis Discount Liquor from their father. Peter concentrated on beer and liquor, Bob on wine. As the area economy grew and expansion brought people out toward Millis, the wine section inexorably began to consume space.
The store is now called Harkey's Wines and Spirits, you can still get a 6-pack, a pint and a lottery ticket, but it has about 4,000 sq. ft of retail space dedicated to wine, and regular clientele from as far away as New York state.

Bob is 6'6" tall and north of 225 pounds. Brother Peter is 6'3" and is ridiculously handsome (Sea Shell Sal's words). Interesting side note, Peter appeared as a contestant on the TV show Survivor: Marquesas.

We became friends with Bob instantly. He would come over on Sunday afternoons. We would cook and he would bring a case of wine and a rack of glasses, we'd taste and learn. Everything we know about wine is from Bob. While it's probably impossible for everyone to recreate the relationship we have, I strongly encourage you to get to know your local wine merchant and have him or her help you learn. It's well worth the time, and the homework is fun.

Today's lesson is on white wine, here's Bob:

The 3 most popular white variety of grapes for wine in the USA today are, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio.

Pinot Grigio is the one I take to someone's house when I don't know what is being served. The wine is neutral in flavor and average in body, so it's a great background wine to interesting food. The chef, crabby or not, gets all the credit. 2006 vintage is outstanding. Look for the small print, if you see the word Venezie, meaning from the Venice area, the Pinot Grigio tends to be smoother than the crisp ones from Alto Adige. A top line, reliable producer is Cavit, typically priced at less than $15.

Sauvignon Blanc is the dry white wine with the most "bite". Crisp and clean, it is wonderful with seafood dishes, creamy dishes and goat cheese. The ones from France tend to be snappier with a lime zest essence. The California ones are the least zippy due to a warmer climate, and have a grassy flavor. Nice with grilled seafood, but not with a butter or creamy sauce. The New Zealand ones have a tropical flavor that turns in your mouth to grapefruit zest as you are sipping the wine. I love them with shellfish. Look for Oyster Bay (New Zealand), Geyser Peak (California) both at <$15, or if you're feeling flush try the Groth (California), over $18.

Where the grapes are grown is almost as important as the variety of grape in the wine. An apple from Michigan, New England, or Washington state has a zip to go along with the sweetness because of the cooler climate. The apples you get in August from warm climes, tend to be mealy, without the nice burst of tartness. Chardonnay from California is creamy and buttery due in large part to the warm climate. Chardonnay from France, struggles to ripen so you get the nice snap in the wine. Serve the California Chardonnay with grilled seafood. The French Chardonnay is better with cream/butter sauces because the acid-snappy sensation, cleans your mouth from the cloying sauces. Louis Jadot is a consistent good producer of French Chardonnay. You can spend anywhere from $15 -$200 a bottle and you will get your money's worth. Chateau St. Jean still offers great value in California Chardonnay for under $15 a bottle. Also consider J. Lohr or Steele (both California) at $12 - $15.

That's it for today. For those of you in the Boston area:

Bob Harkey
Harkey's Wine & Spirits
1138 Main Street

Millis, MA 02054

(508) 376-8833

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Evil Couscous

Steak will give you a heart attack.

Eggs will give you a stroke.

Fish will give you mercury poisoning.

Carbs will give you diabetes.

Vegetables and fruits are covered in potentially deadly pesticides.

All of the above statements are true... unless they're not.

For every statement above, you can cite a study that supports a contrary position.

What to do?

Cook it yourself.


Most supermarkets are set up in the same way. If you walk the outer ring of the market you usually come across the following pattern: Fruits & Vegetables, Meats & Fish, Dairy, the Bakery. Most of your purchases should be from the outer ring. Dip into the aisles only for life giving essentials (i.e., grains, pasta, cookies, coffee and ice cream). Avoid prepared foods. Go for the low sodium option when you can.

Make it yourself.


Today we have a recipe for a side dish. A starch. Yes, a member of that evil, fat-producing, diabetes-inducing Carb gang, none other than that famed middle-eastern food terrorist, couscous. But not just any couscous, I want you to go find Middle Eastern (sometimes called Israeli) couscous. The difference is the size of the pearl of pasta, (and that's essentially what couscous is, a pasta). Middle eastern couscous has a very large pearl. I like it because it gives you a better mouth feel when you're eating it, and it holds its shape better than that sawdust most of us have been sold as couscous. You should be able to find it in either the bulk grain aisle of your market (if it has one), or boxed in the aisle with the rice.

I adapted this recipe from a demonstration cooking class I attend at the New York Wine & Culinary Center in Canandaigua, NY.

Vegetables Couscous

1 Bell Pepper (red, yellow or orange), diced.
1/2 small yellow onion, diced
2 Tbsp. Butter
1 cup middle eastern couscous
14 oz. (1 can) chicken stock
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Melt half the butter in a small saute pan over medium high heat. When the butter is fully melted add the vegetables and toss. Cook the vegetables until lightly caramelized, approximately 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

As the vegetables are cooking, bring the chicken stock and remaining butter to a boil in a medium sized pot. When the stock boils add the couscous. Stir. Turn down the heat to medium. Pay attention, if you're boiling too rapidly the couscous may bubble over. You want a roiling boil. If the couscous starts to boil over temporarily remove from the heat and turn down the burner. Return the couscous to heat.

Stir occasionally, cooking until most of the stock has been absorbed, approximately 10 minutes.

When the stock has been absorbed, remove from the heat and stir in the sauteed vegetables and the grated parmesan.

Serve. Watch your family be amazed.

This is a side that is especially good with lamb or chicken.

Remember, you can get the pepper and onions from the salad bar. You can also add any other vegetables you'd like: peas, corn, artichoke hearts, whatever strikes you.

That's it. See how easy. As always, remember, you can do it. You can cook.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Mighty Duck

Before Paris and Nicole, before Britney and Lindsey, there was the Brat Pack. The Brat Pack was a group of young actors from the '80's including, Demi Moore, Rob Lowe, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez. All of whom except for Sheen appeared in the movie "St. Elmo's Fire". This truly vapid waste of celluloid depicted the lives of six college friends as they started to make their ways in the real world. All suffer the tediously predictable problems that come from having to become an adult. Think of the movie as "Friends" without the laughs, haircuts or $5000/month Manhattan apartment.

Like Par-Nic-Brit-Lin, the Brat Pack's personal lives were tabloid fodder. Estevez's initially perhaps the most interesting, he was engaged to Demi Moore and in 1992 married Paula Abdul (Yep Idol's own Paula, I would love to have seen that gift registry).

In 1984 Estevez would play Otto in the cult classic film, "Repo Man". One of the scenes in "Repo Man" is when a group of street punks rob a convenience store. As the robbery goes bad, one of the thugs lies dying in a pile of cans labeled "Food". No description of what's inside, just black and white labels proclaiming "Food".

Food was boring. Food was generic. Food that wasn't fast seemed excessively complex, fussy and even exotic. Gourmets ate the parts of animals most people threw away (pate, sweetbreads) or ate weird things like sushi, risotto or duck. Thankfully, as people got wealthier and the world got more "globalized" (huh?), people started to get more adventurous with eating.

Today crablings we're making duck legs. I don't want any whining or squeamishness. A duck is nothing but a chicken with a better publicist. This recipe appeared in the Sunday New York Times Magazine (1/27/08).
It is ludicrously easy, so no excuses. Ideally you'd make this meal in a dutch oven, like the Le Creuset I pimped in an earlier post, but a big, oven-safe pot will do the job.

Duck Legs Braised With Red Wine and Lime

4 duck legs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil
4 medium yellow onions, peeled and sliced
Grated zest of 2 limes

2 tsp minced serrano or jalapeno chili or large pinch red chili pepper flakes

1 cup red wine

2 tsp lime juice, more as needed
1 Tbsp chopped cilantro

1. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F (120 C). Season the duck with salt and pepper. Place the dutch oven pot over medium-high heat, and add the oil. When hot, add the duck, skin side down, and cook until golden brown (approx 2 minutes, but take a peek and make sure they don't need a little more time). Transfer to a plate.

2. Turn the heat to medium-low, add the onions and a little salt and cook covered, stirring occasionally, until they are softened, about 15 minutes. Stir in the lime zest and serrano chili (or pepper flakes). Add the red wine, ½ cup of water and a pinch of salt. Nestle the duck legs, skin side up, on top of the onions. Bring to a boil, and then cover, place in the oven and cook until the duck is tender but still toothsome, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

3. Transfer the duck and 1/2 cup of the onions to a plate; cover to keep warm. Purée the remaining onions, the cooking liquid and lime juice in a blender (or if you have one, use a stick blender and puree right in the pot). Adjust to taste with salt and lime juice. Stir in half of the cilantro.

4. Mound the reserved onions in the centers of 4 plates. Put a duck leg on top of each, and pour the sauce around the duck. Sprinkle the remaining cilantro over each plate. Serve as a hearty appetizer. Serves 4 (as an appetizer or small dinner, add additional legs if you're serving bigger appetites for dinner).

Adapted from “
Aroma,” by Mandy Aftel and Daniel Patterson.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Active Cooking Time: 15 minutes (lots of breaks for wine sipping while the onions are "sweating")
Passive Cooking Time 1 1/2 Hours (Plenty of time to work on the Times Crossword Puzzle)
Cleaning Up: Measly. One cutting board, a grater, a knife and the pot.

Tip 1: Peel off the duck skin before eating. It's soggy and doesn't add much to the meal.

Tip 2: Serve with rice pilaf or mashed potatoes (
roasted garlic mashed would be best, you'll get that recipe another day).

Tip 3: Serve a Pinot Noir with dinner. WW Bob recommends: Mark West or Castle Rock from California at less than $15 each; A to Z or Erath from Oregon at $15 to $20; or a Jadot French Red Burgundy at about $40 for you big spenders.

Alright, I know I promised a WW Bob story for this post but that's going to have to wait. Post your questions and comments. Until then, just remember, you can do it, you can cook.

P.S. Don't rent "Repo Man", it's crap.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Wine 101 or Sprite on your Honeymoon

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, Seashell Sal and I were married. We were living in the suburban Boston at the time; it was so long ago that the Celtics were really good, the Patriots were really bad and the Red Sox truly forlorn. After the wedding in Michigan (SS Sal's childhood home) we honeymooned in Bermuda.

We stayed at the Elbow Beach Hotel, along with seemingly every newlywed couple from the New York City tri-state area. Two things struck us on that trip. One, we were 5-7 years older than nearly every other couple. In fact, some seemed to have gone straight from their high school proms, to the church and then to Bermuda. Two, we seemed to be the only couple interested in drinking wine with dinner.

To this day I can remember a high-haired woman at the next table, in an accented voice reminiscent of
a swarm of bees attacking a mule, telling the sommelier that she didn't want wine with her lobster, but she wanted "diet Sprite, cold but with no ice". She went on to tell her already roving-eyed husband that, "they just try and rip you off with the ice". "Gawd".

We learned everything we know about wine through our friendship with Wine Wizard Bob. I'll fill you in on the details of how we got to know WW Bob before the next recipe post. Today is the first of many lessons on wine. You're going to be getting my rules and guidelines. You'll be getting insights from WW Bob as well. Today it's the basics.

Crabby Rule #1: Drink what you like. The old rules of wine pairings were established in simpler cooking times. French chefs weren't widely exposed to chili peppers 100 years ago, Italian chef never saw jicama in the 1800's, etc., so it's much harder today to follow old guidelines.

Crabby Rule #1a: Drink what you like but remember there are classic match ups: German wines with pork, Red burgundy/Pinot Noir with roast duck, Cabernet/Merlot/Bordeaux with grilled beef, lamb or game.

Crabby Rule #2: When you can, drink wine from the area or country that the recipe comes from. Classic pairings happened over time. Like any business, winemakers made what people wanted, chefs cooked what people liked, over the centuries the two matched up very nicely.

Crabby Rule #3: When choosing a wine for a meal think about the dominant component. Heavy beef or lamb, then you need a heavy red wine. Veal, still a red meat but with a delicate flavor, go for a lighter red. Chicken, virtually flavorless, so think about the other flavors in play and lean toward a white wine.

Crabby Rule #4: Some foods just don't go with wine. Here's some insight direct from WW Bob:

Soup is awful with wine. The hot liquid just kills the enjoyment. Your mouth stays warm from the soup and this heat tends to accentuate the alcohol, it just tastes yucky. (Yucky, a formal wine term).

Salad is another troublemaker. It's not the bitter greens, but the vinegar in the dressing. The acid in wine is either lactic(milk), which gives the wine the creamy sensation, malic (apple), the snappy crispness in a fresh young wine, or tannic(the chalk dust wrapped around your tongue acid that comes from the barrel, grape skins and seeds). Now even though the vinegar, acetic acid, is weaker, it "trains" the wine acids to taste even more bitter. Another yucky sensation. So go for the sparkling water with your next salad. By the way, Vin=Wine, and Egar=Sour, and if you age a wine too long it will turn to Vinegar, perfect on a salad too.

This acid reaction is also why strong citrus dishes can be tough on wine. Citric acid fights the wine acids. That's why we don't mix OJ with milk, but then again, I just love those Creamsicles. So there are exceptions.

St. Patrick's Day is approaching, bad news, wine is horrid with the saltiness of corned beef and cabbage, so stick to the Guinness. Did you know that Guinness stout has less calories than most beers and is about the same as most light beers? That's why it floats on top of lagers.

Finally, the biggest disappointment is that almost all dessert wines are lousy with chocolate. Port was the safest choice, but recently I found a grape from the Piedmont section of Italy that is the perfect foil for all those Triple Decadent, Death by Flour less Chocolate Orgasmic Desserts. Brachetto d'Acqui is a low alcohol red wine that is pleasantly sweet with flavors and aromas reminiscent of roses and raspberries. Even though it is red wine, it needs to be served chilled. We get the English word Fizzy from the Italian word Frizzante and this wine is Frizzante. You will open the bottle with a corkscrew and the wine will not "pop" but it will foam a smidge in the glass and tickle your tongue as it goes down. It's also wonderful with a Sunday brunch. Expect to pay $15 to $25 a bottle.

There you go, four basic rules to get you started. As soon as I figure out how to do it, I'll be posting a chart that gives you general guidelines on what type of food goes with which type of wine.

Until then, here's a short list of moderately priced wines that WW Bob came up with that should be widely available in all precincts of Crab Nation:

Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay $12-$15
Ferrari-Carano Fume Blanc $12-$16
J. Lohr $10-$20 Any type of wine.
Bogle Wines $10-$20 Any type (but Merlot is best)
Clean Slate Riesling (Germany) $12
Trimbach Pinot Gris $20 (Maybe harder to find, serve lightly chilled)

Well there's a start; we'll be expanding this list over time to hopefully come up with 15-25 reliable wines that most of you can find. Until next time, remember, you can do it, you can cook.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Like Eatin' Fish in a Bag

Enough. I spent the weekend re-reading my posts and I realized I've been too easy on you. Cutesy stories and moronically simple recipes. In short, I've been treating you like you had to use "the short bus" to get to school.

Enough is enough. The recipes you have are very good, spectacular even. I'll take any and all questions you have about them, the only stupid question is the one not asked. That said, time to get a little more aggressive.

Crabby Tip of the Day: Learn to be a thief.

Whenever I go to restaurants or to the supermarket or watch a cooking show I'm looking to steal something that will make me a better cook. I'm not talking about stealing something physical, I'm talking about stealing ideas, tips and techniques.

If I'm at the grocery store and I see something I don't recognize, I'll ask the staff what it is and how to cook it. I can't tell you how many times I've been in restaurants and sweet talked the wait staff into getting me the basics of a recipe that I really enjoyed. If I see a technique on a cooking show, I'll find a rerun and Tivo it.

Teach yourself, don't wait for me to do it.

With will comes skill. Will yourself to do it.

Today's recipe is based on a technique I stole while watching my fishmonger prepare a dinner. Monahan's Seafood Market (734.662.5118) is an Ann Arbor business located in the Kerrytown area of the city. Monahan's is the type of small business I like to support. The staff is knowledgeable and responsive to my questions and complaints. My only persistent complaint is that his prices tend to run $1-$2 per pound more than can be found at other local supermarkets.

One of the products Monahan's provides is a cook-at-home fish in parchment preparation. For $10 - $15 dollars (depending on the fish) you get a single serving of fish on a bed of either rice or spinach, topped with either a compound sun-dried tomato butter or a lemon caper sauce. The entire thing is wrapped in parchment; 14 minutes in a 375 deg oven and you're done.

Three nights in a row I bought this dinner just so I could watch the technique. After the third night I knew I could do it myself. Fish en papillote is a time honored tradition, there is nothing difficult about it.

Here is my base recipe, this recipe allows for nearly unlimited creativity ("veering"); the amounts are for a single serving dinner. When serving more people make individual pouches and serve in the bag on a plate. The crowd will go wild.

N.B. The photos included do not use a compound butter, but use pieces of butter topped with a strawberry balsamic glaze. (That came out pretty well).

Fish in a Bag

1 Sheet Parchment paper approx 30" long (NOT waxed paper)
5 oz Fresh Baby Spinach Leaves
2 c. chopped assorted vegetables from your supermarket salad bar
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes, drained
1 Tbsp Butter
1 Tbsp White Wine
1 tsp Olive Oil
1 serving (approx 1/3 pound) fish fillet (good candidates: salmon, sole, tilapia, mahi mahi)
1 Tbsp compound butter (recipe to follow - needs to be made in advance)
1 Stapler (hold your seahorses, you'll see in a minute)

Preheat your oven to 375 degs. In a saute pan melt the regular butter over high heat. When the butter stops foaming add the salad bar vegetables (This is a great cheat. Why buy and chop up all those individual vegetables yourself when they're just sitting at the salad bar waiting to be taken? You may have to cut some of the larger veg into smaller pieces but it's still faster and easier than doing all that work yourself). Toss occasionally, sauteing until slightly browned (approx. 3- 5 minutes). Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.

Lay out the parchment paper on a flat surface. Drizzle the wine on one half of the parchment paper. Place the spinach leaves on top of the wine. Place the sauteed vegetables atop the spinach and then the drained tomatoes. Drizzle the vegetable pile with the teaspoon of olive oil. Place the fish fillet on top of the pile of vegetables. Divide and distribute the tablespoon of compound butter atop the fish.

Now the semi-hard part. Fold the other half of the parchment paper over the half holding the fish. At this point the fish should be covered, but the pouch open on three sides. Now starting on one side, take both pieces of paper and fold a 1/2" edge down the length of the side of paper. Take that fold and fold it in half and quickly staple the edge closed, (you will need probably 4 or 5 staples to cover the side). Repeat this process across the top of the package and then down the opposite side. When complete you'll have a sealed pouch that will nicely steam your fish veggie dinner.

Put the package on a cookie sheet and place in the oven. Bake for 15 minutes (this assumes a fillet approximately 1" thick, for larger pieces of fish add 7 minutes of cooking time for each additional inch of thickness). Larger pieces will also need more compound butter.

Compound Butter

1 Stick of Butter (4 oz.) softened to room temperature
1 Tbsp Honey
Salt & Pepper to taste
1 tsp. Dried or Fresh Thyme
1 Tbsp Hot Sauce (My personal favorite is Maggi Taste of Asia Sweet Chili Sauce - not too spicy with just a little kick. If using Sweet Chili Sauce you will want to eliminate the honey from the recipe)

Place the softened butter into a bowl. Add all the other ingredients and mash together, ultimately forming a well mixed paste. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. After two hours the butter will return to a firm consistency. I have no idea how long this butter will keep as I use it on seemingly everything.

That's it. Serve with a chilled Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc (try one from New Zealand if you can find it).

Prep Time: 10 minutes for the compound butter assuming you left the butter out overnight to soften
Prep Time: 15 minutes to prep the fish bag.
Active Cooking time: 7 minutes to saute the vegetables
Passive Cooking Time : 15-20 minutes.
Clean-Up: 1 Saute Pan and the Dinner Plate. If you're careful the cookie sheet will be clean because all the liquid will be trapped inside the bag until you open it on the plate.

Other ideas. Use freshwater whitefish or walleye. Add some drained canned diced tomatoes to the vegetable medley. Use Worcestershire and honey in the compound butter (especially useful for steakier fish like tuna, and can also be used on a grilled steak).

Alright crablings, this recipe is a little bit harder but not because of the cooking. No, it's the hand-eye coordination you need to seal the package. Believe me, it's easy and the result is probably the moistest piece of fish you've ever had. Give it a try.

Just remember, you can do it. You can cook.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Desperate Soup

Seashell Sal and I have two sons. CrabCake 1 is a junior at the University of Miami in Coral Gables Florida, ( yeah, I know, what a life.), and CrabCake 2 is a high school freshman. Before CC1's arrival, like most new parents, we spent weeks preparing the house. We painted rooms. We bought clothes. We bought furniture. We bought books and magazines to tell us which paint, clothes and furniture we should buy.

We also bought a couple of jars of baby food.

We knew that CC1 wasn't going to be needing any jarred baby food for awhile, but in that moment of idyllic preparation frenzy, we decided to pick up some pureed chicken and pureed fruit, just to see what it was like. One day, just before CC1 was to move off formula, SS Sal and I tried some of the chicken. It was vile. It smelled bad, looked worse and tasted like crap. It was at that moment that Seashell Sal decided she was going to make all of CC1's food. It was at that moment that CC1's and CC2's fates were sealed. From then on they would be "picky" eaters. Not picky bad, but picky.

Sundays were spent preparing food. All sorts of vegetables were boiled. Countless fruits could be found percolating on the stove. After they had properly cooled, they would be "plopped". Dropped onto cookie sheets or into ice cube trays and then frozen. Once rock hard they were transferred to plastic freezer bags to await consumption. Any leftovers that SS Sal and I had from our dinners would also get the puree, plop and freeze treatment.

We had Gerber on the run.

Neither of the kids ever ate a jar of baby food.

The kids got to be very picky eaters.

The kids got to be better eaters than most of our adult friends. As they got older, they never really cared for fast food burgers or those chicken-finger-nugget things that all their friends seemed to love so much. To this day we rarely have pizza, and if we do, CC1 wants it to be topped with basil pesto and fresh tomatoes. CC2 eats sandwiches from home for lunch everyday. Corned beef, cheese and pickle. Pastrami. And, occasionally, mozzarella, pesto and balsamic syrup on toasted whole wheat. Lord save me.

The real problem is not the pickiness. It's not the cost or the time it takes to prepare good food. No, it's what do you do about dinner when your coming home late from a practice or a rehearsal and you don't want to wait an hour or so for dinner. Enter soup. Specifically, Desperate Soup.

Desperation creates inspiration. This is my version of a jazzed up lentil soup. Though if you don't have or want lentils it can be made with beans (cannellini are my favorite) or with noodles. This is also a great way to clean out any leftovers in the fridge. With a little bit of advanced planning you too can pull off this meal sized soup in less than an hour. My all time record for preparing this recipe is 40 minutes from walking into the house to sitting down to eat. No time is no excuse crablings. So stop whining and start cooking.

Desperate Soup

28 oz. (2 small cans) chicken stock (low sodium if possible)
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes (with juices)
1 tsp Olive Oil
1/2 package smoked kielbasa sliced to 1/2 " rounds (or any leftover meat you may have on hand)
1/2 lb. mushrooms, sliced
1 small onion, chopped
pinch red chili pepper flakes (optional)
1 cup red lentils or 8 oz dried pasta
1 large carrot, large dice
1/2 small bag frozen vegetables of your choice

Pour the chicken stock and diced tomatoes into a large pot and bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat. While the liquid is coming to a boil, slice and dice the kielbasa, mushrooms, onion, and carrot. Heat 1 tsp of olive oil in a saute pan over high heat. When hot but not smoking add the kielbasa. Step away from the pan, it will sizzle. After one minute, toss the kielbasa so that most pieces are turned over. There should be a nice caramelization on the sausage. After one minute add the kielbasa to the pot with the liquid. Next, bring the saute pan back up to heat and add the mushrooms. Walk away for one minute and pour yourself a glass of wine. Come back and toss the mushrooms. Walk away for one minute. After the additional minute, add the mushrooms to the soup pot. Return the saute pan to heat and add the onions. Walk away, have a sip of wine. If desired, add the chili pepper flakes to the onions and toss, sauteing for another minute. Add the onions to the soup pot.

With the soup boiling add the lentils to the pot and stir, trying to get all the lentils off the bottom of the pot. Turn the heat to medium and have the soup cook at a rolling simmer (a light boil). Stir every five minutes to keep the lentils off the bottom of the pot. After 20 minutes add the carrots and cook for five minutes. After that five minutes add your frozen vegetable of choice and simmer for 5 more minutes. Test the lentils to see if they're done. They should be a little mushy. Adjust salt.

You're done. Serve in bowls with a little grated parmensan cheese if you have it (or a squeeze of lemon juice). If you have some crusty bread that's also a great addition.

The soup will be a bit thick, almost stew like. If you like it thinner add another can of chicken stock half way through the boiling process. If you don't have or want lentils, substitute pasta and boil for the amount of time mentioned on the box. (N.B., Pasta will absorb a great deal of liquid, you may want to add additional broth when making this soup with pasta. Also, if using egg noodles, they turn to mush very quickly so somewhat undercook the egg noodles, they'll finish in the bowl.)

Freeze whatever you don't finish for another desperate night.

Alright crablings, a new recipe to try.

PrepTime: 10-15 minutes
Active Cooking Time: 10-15 minutes
Passive Cooking Time 30 Minutes
Clean-Up: Light to Moderate, you can do the knives and cutting boards while the soup finishes, though the soup pot make take some work.

Just remember, you can do it. You can cook.