Thursday, May 29, 2008

Potato & Fennel Gratin or That Which You Resist, Persists



Ohms, electrical not Buddhist.

There are some foods I just don't like. There are others I don't want to like, and there are some that I just thought I didn't like.

Awhile back SSSal and I spent an entire year making foods we'd always hated. No we're not masochists. We wanted to know, was it the food or was it the way it was prepared? That's the question we were going to answer. We made a list and prepared everything twice, it was a very interesting year.

First of all, I now love Osso Buco. Prior to learning to make it myself I always just assumed that braising meant, "to make meat wet and stringy", now I know better. Second, risotto is exquisite when made correctly but worthless when made poorly. Al dente is a fine line, too raw and it's a teeth cracking mess, overcooked and it's wallpaper paste. Third, I just detest eggplant. Please don't bother sending me recipes; it's just vile. You simply can't prepare it in any way that is remotely palatable. I tried, no more.

There were some nice surprises during that year. One of the bigger shocks was fennel. I always hated the taste of licorice, I found it just too overpowering. But fresh fennel was a revelation. Fennel has a satisfying crunch with only the faintest hint of anise. It's really a very subtle vegetable.

So today I'm giving you a potato & fennel gratin recipe. Well I'm not actually giving it to you, an internet cohort of mine, "Kitchen Goddess", provides the following recipe. It's very straightforward and results in a great accompaniment to any grilled meat. I've made only two changes. First, I went with a higher fennel to potato ratio. Second, I baked it in my new best friend, The Baker's Edge Brownie Pan, (see the amazon button to the left?, after you're done here, hit the link and buy one). The added crispy edges had the gratin gone in one sitting. Enjoy.

Potato & Fennel Gratin
from Kitchen Goddess @

2 Fennel Bulbs thinly sliced
2 Large Potatoes thinly sliced (Use a mandoline for both)
4 TBSP Butter
1/2 Cup Heavy Cream
1/2 Cup Whole Milk (I suppose 1/2 cream and 1/2 milk equals a cup of half-and-half, duh!)
3 TBSP Vermouth
Salt & Pepper to taste
1 TBSP Chives, finely chopped
1 TBSP Flat Leaf Parsley, finely chopped
2 ounces Gruyere Cheese, grated

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees

In a large pan, melt the butter and saute the fennel until lightly golden.

Add the potatoes to the fennel and toss to coat evenly with butter.

Add the vermouth and simmer until evaporated.

Add the milk and cream. Salt and Pepper to taste. Cook for 1 minute.

Add the chives and parsley and mix well.

Butter a casserole or your Baker's Edge Brownie Pan (you can also use a spray oil e.g. PAM)

Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan. Scatter cheese on top.
Bake for 40 - 50 minutes until top is golden brown (well maybe a little longer, because I really like it crispy).

There you have it. Now, note well, I calculated all the conversions from metric. This is very dangerous mathematically speaking, but I'm pretty sure I got close. The result is a crispy, crunchy side dish that everyone loved, with only a faint hint of anise. If you're skittish about fennel go back to the original proportions of 1 fennel bulb to 4 potatoes. Regardless of the ratio, you will be very happy with the result.

OK Crablings, I'm out of here. Next time another "bring along" summer salad. Until then, remember, you can do it, you can cook.

Oh, by the way, besides eggplant, I really, really hate lima beans.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Black Bean, Corn & Hearts of Palm Salad, with help from The Five Man Electrical Band

Sides, Sides, everywhere there's sides,
Blockin' Out the Table, hurtin' my eyes,
Eat this, don't eat that, you're not supposed to eat this...

- with major apologies to The Five Man Electrical Band.

Having the reputation of being a semi-accomplished home cook isn't all it's cracked up to be. There are a few things that happen to you when you're know to be "a pretty good cook". First, you often don't get invited over to peoples' homes for dinner. Now personally I attribute this to my somewhat crusty personality, but given that the world isn't entirely about me and the fact that SSSal is a charming woman, there seems to be another factor at play.

People are intimidated, afraid that their cooking abilities won't measure up to my standards. This is simply insane. Let me state this part clearly and for internet eternity, Crabby's favorite meal in the world is the one that Crabby doesn't have to cook. I enjoy cooking. I love cooking. I just don't love doing it all the time. Serve me soup out of can and a nice bottle of wine and Crabby is satisfied. Put out the smallest of efforts and serve it with a bottle of wine (notice a trend?), and Crabby is ecstatic. Just try!

That said, whenever we are invited over, SSSal and I always offer to bring something. Invariably this ends up being a side dish, salad or dessert. Which brings me th the second trap of being a pretty good cook. When we bring something, there is an expectation that it is going to be a) "different", and b) interesting and exceptional. Now, I don't mind the "pressure", in fact I enjoy it, but (and this is a big but, as opposed to a big butt), there are very few side dishes that travel well. They usually get cold and gooey or soggy and droopy.

So, in honor of the onset of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, over the next two weeks I'll be posting a few recipes for bring-along sides dishes, (some travel better than others, but thems the breaks). They're great for dinner parties, picnics or boat rides. None will contain that salmonella sleeper cell, mayonnaise. Sadly, this means there won't be a potato salad. Please, no clamoring for the ever repellent, "German" Potato Salad. If you really want potato salad go for the mayo; the food poisoning roulette will make it seem exotic.

So here's salad/side dish number 1. This has a Caribbean/Cuban feel to it, satisfies even the finickiest of eaters and travels very well.

Black Bean & Hearts of Palm Salad

adapted from Bon Apetit, August 1992

1 16-ounce can black beans, rinsed, drained
1 10-ounce package frozen corn, thawed, drained or cut from two fresh cooked ears
1 7 1/2-ounce jar (or can) hearts of palm, drained, cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
16 small (cherry or grape sized) tomatoes
1/2 red onion, minced
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon ground coriander

Mix all ingredients in medium bowl.
Season salad to taste with salt and pepper.
(Salad can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

Come on, how easy is that?
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Active Cooking Time: 5 minutes (like opening jars and cans is cooking)
Clean-Up: A knife, a cutting board and a bowl

Crabby Tip 1: The original recipe called for using chopped seeded tomatoes, these only get soggy and shriveled the longer they're cut. Use cherry tomatoes and you eliminate the problem.

Crabby Tip 2: Dice an avocado ahead of time and squirt with some lime juice (the lime juice will keep the avocado from browning too much). Sprinkle the avocado over the salad just before serving.

Crabby Tip 3: SSSal prefers this salad with more lime juice and less oil say 4TBSP juice and 3TBSP Oil. Feel free to vary the amounts to your preferences.

The smart ones in the crowd will notice that I employ neither of my tips in the attached photos. Well, I thought I had grape tomatoes and avocados sitting around, but I was wrong.

Alright Crablings, this is as easy as it gets, enjoy the summer, don't forget the sunscreen or the bug lotion. I'll be back soon, 'til then, remeber you can do it, you can cook.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Tomato Tree Day 1

This will be a short post designed to introduce a gardening experiment I'll be trying this summer.

There are two things you need to know about Crabby. First, I love fresh tomatoes. Second, I'm a sucker for all those late night infomercials with products designed to improve my life beyond any reasonable expectation. Normally I ignore them, but occasionally, whether due to exhaustion or over consumption of wine, I end up trying one of these "god-sends".

A couple of weeks ago, I bought the Topsy Turvy Tomato Planter (with stand). This is an invention wherein the tomatoes are suspended in the air and thus grow downward. Now there are all sorts of alleged benefits to this approach, but I was primarily attracted to the space saving nature of the product as well as the promise of higher yields per square foot.

It has been a truly glorious spring weekend here in Michigan. Probably the first and last before the summer's humid onslaught. It was a perfect weekend to plant the garden, and the Topsy Turvy. So here are some photos. I'll post updates as the summer progresses. I planted 6 plants in this contraption
(with the expectation that 2 or 3 won't survive), and only 1 "conventionally", so if thing doesn't work... Well, no guts, no glory.

With some luck we're only a couple of months from one of life's great taste treats, Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato Sandwiches with fresh tomatoes.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Baker's Edge Brownie Pan or The Single Greatest Invention in the History of Mankind

I enjoy life around the edges.

The mainstream is boring; there are few surprises and everyone just moves along in one massive, pudgy blob.
Most everything in life is oriented for the biggest group, the soft easy middle.

Out on the edges things are a little less predictable. Things aren't as smooth, there are bumps in the road, potholes. It's also where the great confluences occur, those events that you can't anticipate. The edges are where the normal rules break down; it's where the "average" of the center starts to fall apart. The edge is where one influence takes over all others, it's where the magic happens.

It's at the edges that cooking gets interesting. I love pizza at the very edge of the slice. Not because of the crust (I really only like thin crust), but because that's where the cheese gets a little burned. I like bacon at the ends because that's where it's the crispiest. I like cookies that have been baked just a minute or to over the recommended time, because then you get that truly satisfying crunch when you bite into them.

In our house, crispy is where it's at. Whenever SSSal makes a batch of brownies, it gets eaten from the outside in. The last pieces eaten are always from the center. Well no more. I give you the Baker's Edge Brownie Pan. I came across this pan somewhere on the internet and ordered it immediately through Amazon. Obviously I am not alone in my edge obsession, because when I ordered it, the pan was back ordered by two weeks.

As you can see from the pictures the pan is a maze-like contraption that ensures that you get nothing but crispy edges when you bake. We tried it out the other day and it works sensationally. About the only difference we experienced is that the cooking time seems to take a couple minutes longer than normal box recommendations.

The brownies in this batch disappeared faster than any in recent memory. No forlorn center piece waiting to be eaten by some desperate soul at 11PM. I can say unequivocally that this brownie pan is the greatest invention in the history of mankind, (baking division). If you like your brownies crispy and all edge then you have to get this product (may I suggest the amazon link on this page?).

If this product weren't already great enough the web site gives you recipes for cookie bars, blondies, zucchini bread, lasagnas, gratins and more. If you love that crispy edge, you need this product!!

Well there you have it, Crabby's second product endorsement (after the Le Creuset). Later this long weekend I'm going to put up the first post of a summer long garden experiment. Check in tomorrow or Monday.

Have a nice weekend.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Morels, The i-Shroom

There are some things I just don't get. For example, I don't get "i" anything. The Crabby family has owned more than 6 i-pods, and at one time or another all have failed. If that weren't bad enough, when they are working, they all have a seemingly lousy battery life.

One of the CrabCakes owns an i-laptop; a few months ago it was overheating on a daily basis. When I took it into one of the inaccurately named i-geniuses, he told me the product overheats when it runs at full specifications. In other words when you use the product to the extent that it's advertised, it stops working. Brilliant.

I really don't get the iPhone. Here's a $300 - $500 phone that's well, a phone. You can send text messages, listen to music, get directions and surf the internet. I can do most of that with my $100 phone and I can do it with any service provider. But, you say, on the iPhone I can watch video. Sure you can, on a 3.5 inch screen!! Plus I just don't get what's so special about being able to watch re-runs of "The Office" or "South Park", hunched over and squinting like some 18th-century scrivener.

Is the thing cool. Sure. Do most owners use even 1/3 of the features. I doubt it. Is it a great product for business users, no doubt. But to my aging eyes, this is a victory of style over substance. The i-people have done a wonderful job at marketing; next up, the "igottahaveit".

Which brings me to morels. Every spring there is this low key frenzy over their appearance. People take to the woods to "hunt" morels, (Hunt?, it's a mushroom!?). There are the obligatory news stories about closely guarded locations and occasional fist fights among foragers. Ensuring the frenzy is the rather mind-boggling price. The i-People have learned one great lesson from the 'shroomers: sell the sizzle, make it scarce and then charge a lot.

They're mushrooms. Interesting to look at, slightly chewy mouth feel with a vaguely earthy taste, but they're just mushrooms.

I was given a few ounces of "free range" morels last weekend. I was very thankful for the gift, mostly because I didn't have to spend $30 to buy them. So here's a recipe that's a wonderful tribute to spring, regardless of which type of mushrooms you use.

This is a recipe I received and adapted from a friend who happens to be a great chef. Richie Barron is part owner and head chef of IlCappriccio in Waltham, MA. (781.894.2234). Richie, along with co-owner and sommelier Jeannie Rogers, consistently provide a spectacular Northern Italian inspired dining experience. Richie gave me this recipe a few years ago, I've forgotten part of it, so this is my adaptation of what I can remember.

Asparagus & Morels with Pecorino
By Crabby, inspired by Richie Barron, Head Chef, Il Capriccio

1 Bunch Fresh Asparagus
1 TBSP Olive Oil
4 ounces Fresh Morel Mushrooms
2 TBSP Butter
Pecorino Romano Cheese
Salt & Pepper

Morels, even fresh picked ones are often sold dried. If dried, cover the morels with luke warm water and 2 teaspoons of salt. They should be reconstituted within 30 minutes. Rinse the morels 4 or 5 times in cold water. They are now ready for use.

Pre-Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Wash and trim asparagus. Cut off the woody bottoms of the aspargus stalks and, using a vegetable peeler, shave off the tough exterior flesh on the bottom third of each spear. Alternatively, holding each end of the spear, bend in half until it breaks. The top half of the spear will be very tender, discard the bottom portion (this approach yields much less asparagus, but insures only tender spears).

Dry the asparagus and place in a medium bowl. Toss with the olive oil. Lightly salt and pepper the spears. Arrange the spears in a single layer on a cookie sheet of roasting pan. Roast the asparagus for 20 minutes turning the spears every 5 minutes. After 20 minutes remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes.

While the asparagus is cooling wash and chop the morels into small bite size pieces.

Cut the asparagus into thirds, slicing on a bias. The bias cut doesn't change the flavor but does give it a nice look for presentation.

Melt the butter over medium-high heat. When the foaming begins to subside add the morels. Saute for 1 minute, tossing once to insure the morels are evenly covered in melted butter. After 1 minute, add the chopped asparagus. Cook for an additional minute.

Divide the asparagus and morels onto serving plates. Then, using a vegetable peeler, shave 1 or 2 pieces of Peccorino Romano cheese over each serving.

Serve and prepare to be amazed at what 3 simple ingredients and a little butter can taste like.

I know morels are expensive, so feel free to substitute crimini or chatarelle mushroom. I enjoy a glass of dry champagne with this first course. But then I pretty much enjoy a glass of champagne with any course.

This is a very easy recipe, I'd encourage all of you to try it.

That's it for now. Here's a tip, if you get a chance to visit Il Capriccio and Richie comes by the table, ask him about the Red Sox or the Patriots, he'll be happy to talk for hours.

Until next time, remember, you can do it, you can cook.

Monday, May 19, 2008

To Winter's End and Roast Onion Soup

In an earlier post, (Asparagus & Victoria's Secrets), I wrote that in the Upper Midwest spring is binary, and that this year the switch has been firmly in the off position. Spring has made a few half hearted attempts to establish itself, but it seems unwilling to truly take charge. So tomato plants stay inside, I need a jacket to grill and, when it gets really bad, my thoughts turn back to soup.

I love French Onion Soup, I just hate making it. It's time consuming and if you turn away for too long, an hour's worth of work turns into lightly burned mush. When I have the time and the patience, I'll make Julia Childs' recipe, (I'll post that one in the fall), it's far and away the best; but today I'm going to show you a recipe, while not as unctuously savory, it still makes an acceptable product.

Over the years I've made a few fruitless attempts to come up with a way to make a quick onion soup. My forays have always centered around oven roasting the onions instead of the attention devouring approach of caramelizing on the stove top. What appears below is a combination of an "Eating Well" magazine recipe with an Emeril Lagasse recipe with some Crabby adjustments. Try it, enjoy it and remember to cover up the tender plants during every frost warning.

Roast Onion Soup
by "Eating Well" magazine, Emeril Lagasse and Crabby

4 Large Red Onions, halved and the n thinly sliced
1 Large Sweet Onion, (Vidalia, Walla Walla type) halved and then thinly sliced
3 Large Shallots, peeled, halved, then thinly sliced
4 Garlic Cloves, peeled and halved
2 TBSP Olive Oil
4 Cups Chicken Stock, low sodium variety or homemade if possible
2 Cups Beef Stock, low sodium or homemade if possible
1/4 cup cognac (optional)
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh sage
Salt & Pepper to taste

8 (1/2") slices of French Baguette
1/2 cup Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese (more for those who like a lot of cheese)

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Place the sliced onions, shallots and garlic in a large roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil. Toss the vegetables using your hands and then arrange as a single layer on the bottom of the pan. Season with salt and pepper (I suggest 1 teaspoon of each).

Pour the broth into a heavy soup pot or dutch oven and warm over low heat while the vegetables are roasting.

Roast the vegetables for 30 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. NOTE WELL: Depending on how thinly you sliced the onions, how hot your oven runs and how caramelized you want the onions, this step could take as little as 20 minutes or as much as 45 minutes. I prefer closer to 45 minutes but it's up to you.

While the vegetables are roasting, prepare the croutons. Lightly brush one side of each baguette slice with olive oil. Arrange the bread, olive oil side up, on an aluminum foil covered cookie sheet. Cover each slice, liberally, with grated Parmesan cheese. You might also want to consider using a mixture of cheeses, say adding some grated Comte. Set aside.

When the vegetables are done, remove, and turn the oven to broil.

Place the roasting pan on your stove top. Ladle in one cup of broth into the pan. Stir the mixture while scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the roasting pan. It will help to turn a burner on under the pan. As the broth boils it will help loosen the bits.

Transfer all of the mixture into the dutch oven and simmer for 10 minutes. If you are going to add any cognac, now is the time. The simmering will burn off most of the alcohol.

With approximately 5 minutes to go, place the cookie tray with croutons under the broiler. Watch carefully so that they don't burn (though I like that flavor of slightly crispy cheese). NOTE WELL: Depending on the strength of your broiler it may takes more or less than 5 minutes to get good looking croutons.

Just before serving add the thyme and sage. Serve soup in individual bowls with two croutons each.

There you go. This recipe is a bit labor intensive, not tough but you have to be hanging around the kitchen every 5 minutes or so. The resultant soup is quite nice though the broth lacks that thick, non-greasy oily mouth feel that "real" onion soup has. But hey, it'll warm you up while you watch the robins shivering on the bird feeders.

Until next time, just remember, you can do it, you can cook.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Goin' (Sustainable) Fishin'

Today we're going on a field trip. That's right, no cooking, no recipes. But I am going to talk about food.

Today's subject is something near and dear to Crabby's heart, seafood. Crabby grew up on the East Coast about 20 miles south of Boston Massachusetts. Cape Cod was a 45 minute drive (if the traffic wasn't too bad), and it was a living marketplace for seafood. Clams, quahogs, little necks, sea scallops, bay scallops, bluefish, mackerel, cod, haddock, tuna, stripers, lobster, there was so much life in the ocean it seemed like you could walk across the water.

I can remember my uncle snorkeling among some rocks, then surfacing holding a 3 pound lobster. I remember being on a boat when the bluefish were running. There was no land in sight, yet for as far as the eye could see, the water seemed to be boiling from the fish.

Fish were everywhere.

When I was growing up, family friends would visit from other parts of the country and treat this bounty as exotic. You had to travel to one of the coasts to experience "real" seafood. The variety and quantity of fish now available across the country was unheard of 20 years ago. Sushi was some exotic, faintly nauseating dish from Japan; now you can buy it for lunch at Kroger.

Crablings, this is not some rant about Slow Food or Global Warming. This is a rant about common sense. A thousand years ago, the world population was about 300 million, by 1927 we'd hit 2 billion, 1974, 4 billion, now we're at 6 billion and climbing. Six billion people eating, breathing, pooping and peeing, has to affect the system.

We are tearing through our seafood supply at an alarming rate. Chilean Sea Bass, Atlantic Swordfish and Striped Bass have, at various times, been nearly wiped out. We're now promoting the wonders of skate wings, a fish that for years was considered little more than bait.

Responsible farming is helping. But farming is causing a couple of big problems. First, irresponsible farming has introduced diseases and parasites into wild fish. For example, sea lice attack salmon in overcrowded farms. When those areas are flushed by the tides, the lice, now existing in far greater numbers, are then introduced into the wild fish population. The lice are threatening local wild salmon populations with extinction.

The second issue with farming is less obvious. Diversity. Ten years ago when I visited my fishmonger there were literally dozens of choices. Now when I look at the fish case at Whole Foods, it's predominantly salmon and shrimp, (both widely farmed). Chilean Sea Bass is nearly gone. Tuna is under siege. Halibut seem to be getting smaller.

But you say, "Crabby, What can I do about it?".

I'm glad you asked. There are a number of resources on the internet that can help you identify which fish you should be eating and which you should be avoiding. The best source I've found is Seafood Watch under the auspices of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. When you visit the site, you can download regional seafood guides that show you which fish are good choices and which ones are to be avoided (if you click the photo to the left you'll get a full sized version). You can also search for specific fish (e.g., swordfish), and find out where it stands on the list, as well as what toxins it's known to retain in its flesh.

The website provides printable, regional guides that you can take shopping. I've found no comparable guides for areas outside the United States, but the guidelines for the farmed fish are applicable worldwide. Also, with the search engine, you can look up your local favorite.

Crablings, I'm not going all Birkenstock on you. I'm doing this because I'm greedy;
I love fish. I want you all to eat fish. But I also want my kids and my grandkids and their kids to be able to eat fish. I want a robust fish stock so that I can eat better. By making smart choices, and by getting our food providers to give us what we want, we can ensure a healthy and diverse fish population.

Alright, the air is getting a little thin on top of this soapbox. Next time another recipe. Until then, remember, you can do it, you can cook.

All images are courtesy of the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Seafood Watch.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Viva la Revolucion!!! and Sweet-Spicy Grilled Shrimp

What is going on with Cuban food?

In the last three months our cooking group, my dentist's dinner club and a neighbor have all done Cuban/Caribbean inspired meals. Why all the sudden interest in Cuba? Is it because Castro seems to be, once again, on his last legs? Has "Guy and Dolls", ("sweet of milk"), been the musical of choice at local high schools? Is Godfather 2, ("Michael, we're bigger than US Steel"), playing on some endless loop on cable somewhere?

The problem is that when I research Cuban food I have a very hard time coming up with a distinctive cuisine. Recipes tend to center around ceviche, pork, plantains and Coca-Cola, (Coke seems to be the marinade of choice, along with a little rum). I find very few, specifically Cuban recipes. Maybe it's because the country has been under embargo for the last 48 years, having been forced to live off of the scraps of the old Soviet Union. But I prefer to think of a more optimistic explanation,(I know, Crabby optimistic, it does sound funny).

The Caribbean has always been an ocean going highway of cultural exchange. Cuisine from Jamaica is not terribly different than that of the Dominican, or the Bahamas, or Puerto Rico, or any of the islands. It's not so much that there are individual country cuisines as much as there is a regional cuisine. The results are lush and varied. Cuba is simply one member of this culinary diaspora.

I would love to have some distinctly Cuban recipes. If you have any please post them in the comment section.

When I think of Cuba, I think of hot, sweet, spicy, tart, and that's just the women. No, no, the food too. Here's a recipe for grilled shrimp. I use an Asian sweet chile sauce, but feel free to substitute something hotter if that's what your crowd likes. Viva la Revolucion!!!

Grilled Sweet & Spicy Shrimp
adapted by Crabby from "Hot Barbecue", by Hugh Carpenter & Teri Sandison

2 lbs. Large raw shrimp (about 30), rinsed, de-veined and all shells removed
Flavorless cooking oil to brush on grill grates


1 stick of butter, softened to room temperature
2 teaspoons Chile Sauce (I prefer a sweet-spicy sauce by Maggi-Taste of Asia)
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 TBSP finely minced lime zest (about 2 medium limes)
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1 TBSP fresh chives, minced
2/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 Jalapeno pepper, seeded, de-veined then finely chopped

Place all the glaze ingredients into a medium sauce pan over medium-low heat. Heat until the butter melts and the garlic just begins to sizzle. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature,(about 1 hour).

Place the shrimp in a large bowl and combine with the glaze. Mix well to evenly coat all the shrimp. Refrigerate.

Pre-heat your gas grill to medium-high (15 minutes). Remove shrimp from refrigerator and bring to room temperature.

When grill is hot, brush a grill screen with oil and place on top of the grates. Turn heat to medium. When the screen is hot (approx. 5 minutes), place the shrimp in a single layer on the screen. NOTE WELL: THE GRILL WILL BE VERY SMOKY!!! All that butter hitting heat causes a few flair-ups and a lot of smoke. Don't panic.

Grill for 90 seconds to 2 minutes (depending on size of shrimp). Turn and cook for an additional 90 second to 2 minutes.

Remove. Serve over white rice or with some roasted asparagus.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Passive Prep Time: 1 hour for glaze cooling
Active Cooking Time: 9 minutes (5 minutes for the glaze and 4 minutes for the shrimp)
Clean-Up: Sauce pot for the glaze and the bowl holding the marinating shrimp

Easy. Quick note: Don't marinade the shrimp more than an hour, the lime juice will toughen them by actually starting to cook them, sort of a mini-ceviche kind of thing.

OK. I still have no winners from the veal chop quiz. Questions too hard? Well here are two more, In today's post there are two quotes from movies, Guys and Dolls and Godfather 2, Name the character who spoke each. Bonus: Name the actor speaking the line from "Guys and Dolls".

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Veal Chops in The People's Republic of Ann Arbor

"There was music in the cafes at night and revolution in the air."

Cambridge, Massachusetts. Ann Arbor, Michigan. Berkeley, California.

College towns.

During the 60's these three towns became epicenters of rebellion, of fomentation. The SDS. The War. Nixon. "Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh, we don't know who's gonna win." These three towns were flash points for a nation's unrest.

The war ended and Nixon was impeached. Combining age with lack of a convenient target, the inquisitive inexorably became the acquisitive.

"I was never liberal when young, for fear it would make me conservative when old."

The baby-boomers have aged, and while much of the country likes its tyrants conservative and Christian, places like Ann Arbor prefer their oppressors liberal and politically correct. There are still war protests today, though in truth, if you see a picture of the crowds, you'd wonder if they've heard we're already out of Saigon.

No, in Ann Arbor the "wars" are now fought over more mundane issues. No smoking, no fur, green this, organic that, bike lanes, free Tibet, gay rights, pro-choice. You can be for or against anything you like, so long as it's liberal. You can throw animal blood on an old lady wearing a fur, while walking to a PETA rally, (irony is so ironic sometimes).

Don't misunderstand, I love living in Ann Arbor. The University is an 800 pound gorilla affecting everything around it. (Actually there are (7) 800 pound gorillas in town, the University, the Medical center, and the offensive line of the Michigan football team). The University makes Ann Arbor an exciting, eclectic place to live. The population is stunningly well educated; the University brings in an array of speakers and performers to rival any large city. And, for all the protests by year-round residents, the annual influx of students gives the town a vibrant and oddly innocent air. There are only three
things you can't find in this town: a republican, a parking space or a decent veal chop.

That's right, no decent veal. I suspect it's the local populace's demand for free-range, humanely-raised, gently-induced-to-commit-suicide-before-processing meats, that makes them so tough. What follows is really a recipe for an all purpose accoutrement, gremolata, and less a recipe for veal. If you have access to proper veal, this recipe is spectacular.

Grilled Veal Chops with Gremolata
by Crabby

1/3 cup Parsley, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
Rind of 1 lemon, minced.
Salt & Pepper, to taste

2 Veal Loin Chops

Pre-heat gas grill to high. Bring veal chops to room temperature.

In a medium bowl mix the first three ingredients. I normally use a Microplane grater to remove the lemon rind. This gives you small minced pieces of lemon with virtually no pith (white part). Add salt and pepper to taste. Ta-da, gremolata is done.

When the grill is hot, lightly oil the grates and turn down the heat to medium high. Place chops on grate and grill for 5 minutes per side. Depending on the temperature of your grill, this will give you a medium doneness chop.

Remove chops from the grill. Place on a non-reactive plate and squeeze the lemon juice from the previously denuded lemon onto the chops. Cover lightly with foil and allow to rest for 5 minutes.

After resting, place a generous tablespoon of gremolata on each chop. Serve with a nice Pinot Noir form Oregon.

Crabby Tip: Gremolata is an amazing all-purpose addition to virtually any grilled meat. In the winter I add it to Osso Buco just prior to serving. For grilled fish, I'll substitute orange for the lemon. For lamb, instead of parsley use mint. Use it as is for any broth based soup. When added before service, it brightens virtually any dish.

That's it for this time. Just remember, power to the people, oh, and, you can do it, you can cook!

By the way, this is an old picture of CC1.

Oops, almost forgot.

Crabby Quiz: I opened this post with a quote. Name the song and the artist.

Bonus Question: There is a quote about about being liberal when young, name the author.

Have fun.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

2 For 1 Sale. Skillet Potatoes & Roasted Green Beans

Before I get started today I wanted to point out that Crabby has joined the Foodie Blog Roll. To the left you'll notice a button and a short drop down menu; the Foodie Blog Roll is a collection of Internet food blogs. There are over a thousand blogs listed at the site, with quite literally blogs for every taste, technique and expertise. After you're done here, go check it out.

As I stated when I started this blog, Crabby is primarily a carnivore. I like meat. As far as I'm concerned PETA should stand for People Eating Tasty Animals. The great philosopher Homer Simpson said it best, "If God didn't want us to eat animals, then why did he make them out of meat?". Truer words were never spoken.

That said, a few of you out there in cyberland, aided and abetted by SSSal, have complained that I don't post enough side dish/adjunct recipes. Well, today I'm throwing all of you a bone, or is that stalk? Today you're going to get two recipes for the price of one post. The first is a recipe for roasted green beans, the second is a SSSal technique for quick skillet potatoes. Either can be made while while you're working on the main event (i.e., meat).

Recipe 1, oven roasted green beans, is supremely easy and given the unusual cooking approach, they come off as somehow exotic. I have been using this recipe for years and can't remember where I got it, so I'm calling it my own. It also works with asparagus and sugar snap peas.

Roasted Green Beans
by Crabby

1 lb. Fresh Green Beans
1 TBSP Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Wash and trim the green beans, making sure to dry them very well

In a medium bowl, using your hands, toss the beans with the olive oil.

Place the beans in a single layer on a cookie sheet, shallow roasting pan or jelly roll pan.

Season the beans with salt and pepper to taste.

Roast for 20 - 30 minutes. Turning every 10 minutes. The beans will begin to brown in spots and shrivel slightly.

Serve hot.

Crabby Tip 1: You can add 1 - 2 cloves of garlic to the pan.

Crabby Tip 2: Just before serving, squeeze the juice of half a lemon, or splash a bit of soy sauce, over the beans.

This recipe is simple, simple, simple.


Recipe 2 comes form SSSal. It's a potato recipe that takes about 25 - 30 minutes, which is normally the amount of time it takes Crabby to grill a steak and then let it rest. Teamwork at its best.

SeaShell Sal's Skillet Potatoes

3 Large Baking Potatoes, sliced thinly
1 Large Shallot, sliced
1 TBSP Cooking Oil
1 TBSP Butter

Heat a non-stick pan over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot add the oil and butter (I always add the oil first then the butter - it seems to cut down on burning).

When the butter has melted and nearly stopped foaming add the shallot, saute for 1 minute.

After 1 minute add the potatoes and turn once to mix with the shallot. Lightly salt and pepper the potatoes, turn the heat down to medium and cover the pan. Walk away for 5 minutes.

After 5 minutes turn the potatoes, trying to get the slices on top into contact with the bottom of the pan. Cover and walk away for 5 more minutes.

Turn the potatoes every 5 minutes or so until you've reached a total cooking time of 25 minutes. The potatoes should be nicely browned. The key to this recipe is keeping the lid on the pan as much as possible. You are not only sauteing the potatoes to get that nice brown color, you're also using the natural liquids in all the vegetables to steam the entire course.

A little additional salt and some sour cream on the side and you have a simple dish that will satisfy the starch/carb hungry members of the crowd.

Well that's it for today. I realize these recipes are a bit boring, but you asked for it. Next time we'll get back to cooking things with feathers, fins or feet.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

A Bit More on South African Wines and Roast Chicken Revisited

Today is going to be a short, general housekeeping post.

Wine Wizard Bob recently held a couple of wine tasting back in the Boston area. As you might expect, given his recent travel to Africa, he chose to showcase SA wines. Here are a few notes.

Just finished a couple of tastings with two diverse groups. One was for a local Adult Education Group, and the other, (the next night - yes, it's hard work, but someone has to do it), an assemblage of the elite clients of a famous stock brokerage company. {Why do the call them Brokers, when you are trying to get Richer and not Broker?}

Biggest hits were the aforementioned Graham Beck Brut Rose Bubbly, the Raats Family Cabernet Franc and the not previously mentioned Rustenberg John X. Merriman. The Rustenberg was the 2003 vintage and is a classic Bordeaux style blend. It compares favorably to 2nd Growth Bordeaux at only $30 retail in Boston area. It does need to be decanted and allowed to breath for about an hour. They are so confident of the quality of their wine, that Rustenberg states on the back label, that the wine will benefit with 10-15 years of aging. WOW! When I visited them, they served a 1999 in magnum and it was a magnificent, but still youthful wine.

If I could take one winery's portfolio, it would be Graham-Beck. I know I've raved about the Champagne, but that overlooks the sensational whites and reds. Virtually everything is priced in the $15 - $20 range. I realize it may be a little tough to find in certain parts of the country, but make a point of remembering the name and grab some when you come across it. I'm going through a withdrawal of painful proportions from lack of South African coffee and croissants, thank goodness I can get the wines. Jumanji!

I recently made a roast chicken using the sauce recipe from Pork Roast All'Arancia. In some ways the meal was better with chicken than pork. Here's the recipe and a photo. Enjoy.

Roast Chicken with Orange

Arrosto All'Arancia

Serves 4

3 Tablespoons Butter
1 cup Orange Juice (strained)
1 teaspoon orange rind
1 garlic clove, chopped
Pinch of Red Flakes (more or less depending on how spicy you like things)
Pinch of dried oregano
1 Roasting Chicken, split

Salt and Pepper
12 small new potatoes, or 3 medium russet potatoes, quartered

Bring the chicken to room temperature and preheat the oven to 350 deg.

Melt the butter in a pot, add the orange juice, orange rind, garlic, red pepper flakes and oregano. Rub the chicken with salt and pepper.

Place the potatoes in the bottom of a dutch oven or roasting pan and drizzle, lightly, with olive oil.

Put the chicken in the roasting pan in a single layer, covering the potatoes. Pour on the butter and juice mixture. Baste occasionally while roasting. Remove from the oven after 1 hour. Lightly cover the roast with foil and let rest for 10 - 15 minutes. Carve & serve.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

I Say Tomato, You Say To-mah-to, I Say Sc-all-up, You Say It Wrong

I grew up in New England. To be more precise, I grew up in a small town, Avon, about 20 miles south of Boston Massachusetts. Now New England is notorious for its rather interesting pronunciations of various words. It primarily centers around the dropped "r". Take any word ending in "r" and a Bostonian will simply omit saying the letter. Thus "car", becomes, "cah", "beer" becomes, "beh", and "New York Yankees", becomes, "Evil Empire", (you had to grow up there).

Like all good regional dialects, it also has its own vernacular for everyday items that is completely incomprehensible to outsiders. Therefore, "I'll have a large regula, and a krulla.", translates to "May I please have a balanced breakfast consisting of equal serving from the major food groups of, sugar, fat and caffeine?". Actually it means I'd like a large coffee with one sugar, one cream and a stick donut, preferably filled with jelly and rolled in sugar.

One of my ingrained pronunciations has also become one of my pet peeves. A true New Englander will pronounce the word scallop as, sc-all-up. A flatlander will pronounce it as, sc-aaa-lop. Scallops are one of the true treats of the sea. A sea scallop is entirely edible and amenable to pairing with any number of sauces or presentations.

Crabby Note #1: When buying scallops, only buy those that are certified "dry pack", "day boat" or "chemical free". Industrial operations will often treat scallops with a chemical, sodium tripolyphosphate, sounds tasty doesn't it? STP does a number of things; it is a preservative that also bleaches the scallop and causes it to absorb water. However, when an STP treated scallop hits the saute pan it releases all that pent up water. It is impossible to sear an STP scallop, at best you will steam it.

Reputable fishmongers won't sell STP treated scallops. Ask, if he doesn't know what you're talking about, go someplace else.

Crabby Note #2: Scallops are often sold with a muscle attached to the meat. This is the muscle that holds the flesh to the shell. It is very tough. The good news is that it easily peels off by pinching and pulling it from the flesh.

Crabby Note #3: The sauces presented are very versatile. You can use them on pork, chicken or other cuts of fish.

Sea Scallops With Two Sauces

by various.

Sauce 1
Tahini Sauce
Weber's Real Grilling Cookbook

1/3 Cup Tahini (Sesame Seed Nut Butter, often found in the Asian food section)
2 TBSP fresh lemon juice
2 TBSP finely chopped fresh garlic
1 1/2 tsp honey
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp granulated garlic
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup water

In a medium bowl mix all sauce ingredients. Mix until smooth.

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Active Cooking Time: Huh?
Mixing Time: 1 minute
Sauce 2
Red Pepper and Toasted Sesame Sauce
The Great American Seafood Cookbook, Susan Loomis

3 tsps white sesame seeds
3 medium scallions, trimmed, white bulbs and light green stems finely minced
3 tsps sesame oil
1/3 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp honey
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsps minced fresh ginger
3 TBSP soy sauce
2 TBSP water

Place the sesame seed in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Toast, stirring constantly, until golden brown. Remove from heat. Did I mention stirring constantly? Finely crush half of the toasted seeds, I used the side of a wine bottle as a rolling pin on top of a cutting board.

Reserve the remaining sesame seeds and 1 tablespoon of the scallions. Combine all the remaining ingredients in a small sauce pan. Place over low heat until hot, stirring occasionally. When hot remove from heat and add remaining sesame seeds and scallions.

This sauce works best when served warm. It is also somewhat spicy, so the less daring among you may want to cut back on the cayenne or add more honey.

Cooking the sesame seeds is the toughest part of this meal. If you've made it this far you're safe.

1 1/3 lbs "Dry Pack" Sea Scallops (approx. 12 - 15 scallops)
1 TBSP Butter
1 TBSP Oil (I prefer Grapeseed Oil, it has a very high smoke point)

Bring the scallops to room temperature. Grind pepper onto the scallops.

Heat a saute pan over high heat, when the pan is hot, (your hand get s hot when it's over the pan), add the oil to the pan, and turn down the heat to medium-high,(if you have a vent above the stove top, now is the time to turn it on). Add the butter. It may smoke, don't panic. Swirl the butter in the oil until melted and most of the bubbles have disappeared.

Place the scallops in the pan, making sure to leave room between the individual scallops. You will probably have to cook in batches. Sear the scallops for 1 minute, do not touch them, do not move them, do not shake the pan. After 1 minute, turn the scallops over. If your pan was hot enough, then there should be a nice brown crust on the scallop. Cook for an additional minute of the other side.

Remove from the pan and cover with foil.

Allow the pan to reheat before starting the next batch. You may need to add some more oil and butter, this will be up to you. When the pan is hot repeat the cooking process detailed above.

Serve with the two sauces. Serve a nice California Chardonnay, maybe a Silverado.

Bask in the bounty of the ocean.

That's it folks, just remember, oh you know, you can do it, you can cook.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Grilled Balsamic-Honey Mustard Strip Steak or Young Men and Fire*

Days slowly fill with sunlight. The air warms. Large hairy beasts, distended, slothlike, begin to move. In the distance, a tolling, St. Weber of The Kettle calling the faithful. It's spring and a young man's heart turns to fire.

As a young man I was a snob, an elitist when it came to cooking outdoors. Charcoal and only charcoal would do. If you were going to use gas, well then why not just cook inside? Age has mellowed me, or maybe it was a combination of laziness and the realization that I wasn't really barbecuing but grilling. Regardless, complaints about convenience and cancer finally won me over to gas.

No more briquettes, no more clean up, no more concerns about all those ashes getting on the food.
I now have a grill that's tied into the natural gas line of the house, I don't even need to worry about empty propane tanks. On a 35 degree day in January I'm only a switch away from cooking over open flame.

But here's the thing. Grilling is some of the toughest cooking I know of. There are just too many opportunities to screw up. Medium-High on my grill might be hotter than yours, grilling in 35 degree temps is very different than grilling when it's 85 degs., a dirty grill will have flair ups and hot spots that can incinerate a piece of food in seconds. No, the variables for grilling are so much tougher to control than cooking indoors. Which is why it seems so asinine that we assign the task to our least experienced cooks, men. Who doesn't have a story about a father or an uncle flirting with self-immolation while grilling for 20 on hot summer's afternoon?

I've never found anything inherently better about cooking over open flame; the flavors you're trying to create come from the preparation work you do ahead of time. Great grilling starts the night before, good grilling starts the morning of, hamburgers and hot dogs can be done anytime.

The longer you allow a marinade or rub to work its magic the better the final product will taste. With beef, chicken and pork overnight marinating is acceptable. Fish, being more delicate, usually maxes out at a couple of hours.
So here's a recipe that's pretty straightforward, overnight marinating is best, but in a pinch, even a half hour helps.

Grilled Balsamic & Honey Mustard Marinated New York Strip Steak
by CrabbyCook

1 TBSP Honey Mustard
1 TBSP Balsamic Vinegar
1 TBSP Chopped Garlic
1/2 TBSP Olive Oil
1/2 TBSP Lemon Pepper

2 New York Strip Steaks, approx 1 lb. and 1 1/2" each

Combine the first five ingredients in a medium sized bowl. Mix together until it forms a thin paste. Pour the marinade into a large Ziploc bag and then add the steaks. Seal the bag, while squeezing out as much air as possible. Massage the marinade into the meat. Refrigerate overnight, or 8 hours, or 4 hours, or leave the steaks on the counter for an hour while you do other stuff, just give the marinade a chance to come into contact with the steaks for as long as possible.

One hour before cooking, take the steaks out of the fridge. Ten minutes before grilling remove the steaks from the bag and place on a dish, do not clean off any marinade.

Preheat your grill over high heat. If you're using a gas grill, ignite both sets of burners, if you're using charcoal, fire it up. After 15 minutes, the gas grill should be ready (30 minutes for charcoal). Lightly oil the grates using a balled up towel or brush (this is a somewhat controversial move, but I believe it helps the food not to stick).

Put the steaks on the grill, cover and turn down the heat to medium high and shut off the burner you're not cooking on. Walk away. Don't peek.

Assuming an outside air temperature of 70 degrees, after 4 minutes, turn the steaks over. Close the cover, walk away, don't peek. After an additional 4 minutes, remove the steaks from the grill, bring them inside and cover with aluminum foil. Walk away for 10 minutes. Set the table, open a bottle of good Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, wait.

After 10 minutes, uncover and slice. The steaks should be in the medium to medium rare range of doneness. If the outside temperature is colder than 60 degrees, it's going to take a few more minutes of grilling time. If you don't like your steaks medium-rare to medium its going to take a few more minutes of grilling time (probably 2 more minutes a side). If you like your steaks well done instead of done well, then don't invite me over, because there's few things sadder than "The Tears of a Clown" or an overdone steak.

Note that I didn't salt the during the marinating process. Salt would actually dry out the steak if we marinated with it. Add salt to taste when you start eating.

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Marinating Time: 30 minutes to 24 Hours
Active Cooking Time: 30 seconds to flip 2 steaks
Passive Cooking Time: 7 minutes

Serve this meal with a nice California Merlot.

That's it, until next time, just remember, you can do it, you can cook.


* Young Men and Fire,
by Norman Maclean

On August 5, 1949, 16 U.S. Forest Service "Smokejumpers" parachuted into a forest fire in the Mann Gulch area of Montana, within an hour 13 were dead or horribly burned. Twenty-five years later Maclean, (author of "A River Runs Through It"), would investigate the circumstances surrounding their deaths. The first half of the book is some of the most compelling storytelling I've ever read. His descriptions of the inferno as a living being are chilling. While the second half of the book suffers from excessive analysis of the events, the story of the final moments of these young men is truly haunting.