Thursday, January 29, 2009

Sauerkraut Soup & The Bitter Taste of Defeat

"Death is nothing, but to live defeated and inglorious is to die daily."

Well, the results are in, and the people have spoken, the bastards.

Your fearless leader suffered a good old fashioned butt-whoopin'. After a week long polling, Crabby failed to capture the title of Best New Food Blog over at the Well-Fed Network. I made a run late in the polls but it wasn't enough. What part of "vote early" was difficult to understand?

"Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan."

No, no, I'm not going to be bitter. I'm not going to dwell on the rather indifferent response from Crab Nation. I refuse to wallow in a pool of recrimination, spewing invective at my so called support. I will congratulate the victor and wish them "Bonne Chance", reminding them that leading is so much more difficult than winning.

"It's better to have the skunk inside the tent peeing out than outside peeing in."

I feel so, so...Republican.

I tried to think of a recipe to go with the results, something that matched the mood of the country and your vanquished leader. It is a time to reflect, to lick our wounds and to begin the process of healing, of course that means soup. What better soup than one from my youth. A potent and bittersweet concoction from the Boonsta. Many of you will turn your noses up at this recipe, you will be making a mistake. So, even though we are angry, maudlin and morose, please try and enjoy...

Boonsta's Sauerkraut Soup

By Crabby's Mom

1 can (28 oz.) Sauerkraut
1 cup shredded cabbage
1 can (14 oz.) low-sodium chicken broth
2 cans (14 oz. each) vegetable broth
1/2 cup tomato juice
1 pound "country style" spare ribs
1 bay leaf
6 peppercorns
Salt to taste

Put all the ingredients in a large, heavy-duty soup pot over medium heat. As the broth begins to boil, turn heat down to a low simmer and cook for 60 minutes.

Serve with boiled potatoes.

There you have it. This is a sweet-tart soup. Those of you who like a sharp bite in your food will love this. You can round out the tanginess of the sauerkraut by sauteing it along with a sweet onion in some butter before adding it to the stock pot. Just make sure and let the kraut brown slightly, it will dramatically mellow the vinegar taste and bring out some of the sugars.

Well crablings, I'm off to my hole in the coral. Time to drown my sorrows in tequila and coconut rum. Until next time, remember, you can do it, you can cook.

Oh yeah, Crabby Quiz: There are three quotations in the body of this post, identify the speakers.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Duck, Shrimp & Andouille Gumbo; It's the Super Bowl!

"Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Fillet of fenny snake,
In the cauldron, boil and bake;
Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog..."

--- Macbeth, Act IV, Scene I

Fenny snake? Eye of newt, toe of frog? Wool of bat, tongue of dog? What is this? Has Anthony Bourdain gone back to eating in Cambodia?

Fenny snake? Do you have any idea how hard it is to fillet fenny snake?

Look, I know the Super Bowl is this Sunday. I know you are all looking for that magic potion that will hypnotize your guests. I also know you're now pulling out your hair wondering why you agreed to have the party at your house. But fear not, Crabby's here!

Then again, I do have some bad news. I don't do chili! It all tastes the same and, short of adding mouth incinerating amounts of hot peppers, it's always forgettable...until the next morning.

Nope, today you're going to have to work. This recipe is involved. This recipe requires intricate planning. Success with this recipe comes from having your "place mis'd". Today we're going to make a quick gumbo. There's plenty you can do ahead. You can make much of it a few hours before the game and finish it when your guests arrive.

This meal is not for the faint of heart. But I know you can do it. We've been together for nearly a year and I have taught you well. It's the Super Bowl, it's time to bring your "A" game. So crack out the pots and pans, sharpen the knives and enjoy...

Duck, Shrimp & Andouille Gumbo
from Cooking at Home with The Culinary Institute of America
Supersized by Crabby

makes 12 -14 servings

4 TBSP butter
3/4 cup flour
2 TBSP vegetable oil
1 large onion, diced
3 celery stalks, diced
1 bell pepper, seeded and diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 TBSP tomato paste
1/4 cup white wine
48 ounces low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup tomato puree (or crushed tomatoes)
1 ham hock
3/4 pound andouille sausage, removed from casing
4 skinless duck breasts
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 pound raw, peeled & deveined shrimp
3 plum tomatoes seeded & diced (or 1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes)
Hot Sauce to taste

In a large pot or Dutch oven (Le Crueset), bring the chicken broth to a simmer.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. When fully melted add the flour, stirring constantly. Cook the roux until it turns a medium to dark brown, about 8 - 10 minutes. Set aside, roux can be made first, but kept warm on your lowest possible stove setting while you prepare the rest of the gumbo.

In a large heavy duty pan, over medium-high heat, heat the vegetable oil and saute the onions, celery and bell pepper. Cook until the vegetables are just golden brown, about 10 -12 minutes.

Add garlic to the veg and cook 2 minutes more.

Add tomato paste and, stirring constantly, cook the mixture until it takes on a rich red/brown color, about 4 minutes.

Deglaze the pan by adding the white wine. Scrape up any brown bits.

Now, whisk the roux into the simmering chicken broth. Whisk vigorously to break up any lumps that may form. Add the vegetable mixture to the broth. Add the tomato puree and the ham hock & simmer for 15 - 20 minutes.

While the stock mixture is simmering, heat a large saute pan over medium high heat and add the andouille sausage. Saute until cooked through, about 4 - 5 minutes. Keeping the fat from the sausage in the pan, add the andouille to the gumbo base.

Reheat the andouille fat and add the duck breasts, seasoning each with salt & pepper. Saute the duck until just cooked through, about 4 minutes per side.

Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the duck to a cutting board. Quickly dice the duck breasts into bite size chunks and add to the gumbo base. Don't worry if the duck appears underdone, it will finish cooking while simmering in the gumbo base.

Reheat the saute pan over high heat. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper and add to the hot pan. Saute until just done, approximately 1 - 3 minutes depending on the size of the shrimp used. Add to the gumbo base along with the diced tomatoes. Add the hot sauce or serve on the side.

Simmer all until heated through. Serve over white rice with plenty of beer. Watch the game.

Whew. I know crablings, I know. But have the base ready late in the afternoon and then cook off the duck and shrimp at the last minute. But I promise you, this recipe beats the pants off of an ordinary chili. You can do it, you can cook!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Chicken Romana & The WellFed Network Blog Awards

Hear Ye! Hear Ye! Hear Ye!

The time for hope and change is upon us. Yours truly, your fearless leader and his peerless blog have been nominated for a Blog Award. The brilliant, beautiful and artistic people at the WellFed Network, have chosen CrabbyCook as a finalist for Best New Food Blog of 2008. Clearly this is a stupendous honor and I am humbled by their faith not only in myself, but in the wisdom shown by the regular members of Crab Nation.

But crablings, I need your help. This award will not be bestowed by the wise men and women of the WellFed Network. No, it is up to you, the voting members of the blogosphere, to make yourselves heard. You must all rise up as one and vote.

We live in a world where nouvelle cuisine is no longer novel, where fusion food is only confusing and where raw veganism is called cooking. With your vote
, you are not just voting for me but you are voting for yourselves. You are voting for your belief and commitment to good food, good wine and good times.

Now the road will be long and the battle fierce, but we must not tremble before the challenge. I promise to all members of Crab Nation that I will not falter in my duties. I also promise to run a clean campaign. I will not traffic in the increasingly unsettling but, as of yet, unstated, unsupported and completely untrue rumors of moral turpitude and financial chicanery soon to be dogging my opponents.

Finally, as you go to the voting page, remember that Crab Nation is about inclusion and empowerment. Everyone is welcome at Crabby's table; everyone is encouraged to learn to be a better cook. With that spirit filling our hearts, today I offer you a simple but flavorful meal appropriate to feed a multitude. Please enjoy...

Chicken Romana
by Mario Batali plus some Crabby add-ons

1/4 cup olive oil
2 ounces pancetta, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 (3 1/2 - 4 pound) chicken, cut into 8 pieces
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 (28 oz) large can whole tomatoes and their juices (San Marzano if available)
1 yellow pepper, seeded and cut into strips
3 red bell peppers, seeded and cut into strips
Salt & Pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 TBSP capers, drained

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.

Add the pancetta and cook slowly to render out the fat.

Remove all but 4 TBSP of the fat-oil mixture from the pan and add the garlic and chicken pieces, cooking until the chicken begins to change color and the garlic browns, 10 -12 minutes.

Add the wine and cook for an additional 5 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and peppers, season with salt and pepper to taste and simmer, uncovered for 45 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.

Just prior to serving, sprinkle with capers and parsley. I like to serve this meal with roasted potatoes and cipolline onions.

There you have it crablings, a repast fit for an inauguration. The original recipe didn't have the capers or the parsley, but SSSal and I think they add a little something to the dish. So, until next time, remember, you can do it, you can cook.

Oh, and remember, in that great Chicago political tradition, vote early and often!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Asian Short Ribs & Past is Prologue

Tomorrow the new guy starts.

The King is Dead, Long Live The King!!

Rather than attempting to wax poetic about change and hope, I thought it wiser to revisit another inauguration address. As much as things change...

I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our Nation impels. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself -- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.

In such a spirit on my part and on yours we face our common difficulties. They concern, thank God, only material things. Values have shrunken to fantastic levels; taxes have risen; our ability to pay has fallen; government of all kinds is faced by serious curtailment of income; the means of exchange are frozen in the currents of trade; the withered leaves of industrial enterprise lie on every side; farmers find no markets for their produce; the savings of many years in thousands of families are gone.

More important, a host of unemployed citizens face the grim problem of existence, and an equally great number toil with little return. Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment.

Yet our distress comes from no failure of substance. We are stricken by no plague of locusts. Compared with the perils which our forefathers conquered because they believed and were not afraid, we have still much to be thankful for. Nature still offers her bounty and human efforts have multiplied it. Plenty is at our doorstep, but a generous use of it languishes in the very sight of the supply. Primarily this is because the rulers of the exchange of mankind's goods have failed, through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure, and abdicated. Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men.

True they have tried, but their efforts have been cast in the pattern of an outworn tradition. Faced by failure of credit they have proposed only the lending of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence. They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish.

The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.

-- Franklin D. Roosevelt, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933

For the full text visit

Nearly seventy-six years and nothing's changed. Amazing.

In honor of the new multi-cultural President, today I give you Asian Short Ribs. This is a tasty and frugal meal, perfect for the slow cooker. It's also a great idea for a Super Bowl party. So, enjoy...

Asian Slow Cooker Short Ribs
from Slow Cooker Cooking by Lora Brody

1 TBSP vegetable oil
4 - 5 pounds meaty beef short ribs
1 medium onion, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
2 TBSP peeled and chopped fresh ginger
2 TBSP Chinese fermented black beans (rinsed)
1 TBSP chile powder
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 cup dry red wine
2 cups low sodium beef broth
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1 whole star anise
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Get out your slow cooker/crock pot.

In a heavy saute pan over medium-high heat, warm 1 TBSP of the vegetable oil. When hot, add the short ribs, working in batches so as not to crowd the pan. Brown the ribs on all sides, about 5 minutes per batch. When browned, transfer the ribs to the slow cooker insert.

Pour off excess fat from the saute pan.

Add the onion, celery and carrot to the pan, cook, stirring, over medium-high heat until they have softened, about 5 minutes.

Add the ginger, black beans and chile powder, cook, stirring for 2 minutes.

Add the garlic, soy sauce, red wine, broth, thyme, bay leaf, star anise and black pepper. Bring to a boil and scrape the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.

Pour the stock mixture into the slow cooker insert.

Cover and cook on low setting for 6 hours.

After six hours, remove bay leaf, and gently transfer ribs to a serving platter (the meat should be falling off the bone tender).

Skim as much of the fat from the remaining juices as possible. Using a stick blender lightly puree the sauce to your desired consistency. Serve over cooked egg noodles or mashed potatoes.

That's it. This is a very tasty and very inexpensive meal. What's more, you can start it early in the day and have it waiting for you at dinner time. One quick note, the fermented black beans can be difficult to find, if you can't get your hands on any I'd add 2 TBSP of additional soy sauce to the recipe.

Well crablings, we have nothing to fear but fear itself. So until next time, remember, you can do it, you can cook.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Tuscan Chicken

"Fair is fowl and fowl is fair;
Hover through the fog and filthy air."
- Crabby Quiz, See Below

OK, so maybe there's a typo, or two, in there. But the cold is starting to affect the proper function of my brain. It was -5F this morning, balmy by Minnesota standards, but still frigid.

Walking the Crabby canine had me waxing on the wonders of living in a cold climate. A light wind causing snowy ripples in the landscape. Crystalline flakes, caught in the sunlight, erupting into countless rainbows. It was a foggy, fairy tale world. That was until I realized that the fog was my eyes freezing, and the raspy rale wasn't the wind but my breathing. Took an hour to warm up.

Bitter cold weather is a great time for fantasizing. A Caribbean beach? Desert sands? Swaying Hawaiian palms? How about an afternoon sun caressing Tuscan hills? Yeah, that's it. A glass of red, a little cheese,
some bread, maybe a few olives, ahhhhhhhhh.

Better now.

Can't change the weather and it's cold in Italy right now anyway, so let's cook a little. Tuscan Chicken is one of the first recipes we ever pulled off a web site. Normally served with a warm white beans (recipe for another day), this dish has a hearty but light flavor that reminds you of warmer weather. So put on a little Pavarotti and enjoy...

Tuscan Chicken
from Bon Appetit, December 1995

4 to 5 pounds chicken pieces or your choice
5 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
2 TBSP olive oil
2 TBSP chopped fresh rosemary or 2 teaspoons dried
2 1/2 TBSP grated lemon peel
1/2 teaspoon sugar

Arrange chicken pieces in a 13x9x2 inch baking dish.

Mince the garlic cloves, mixing in the teaspoon of salt.

Rub the garlic mixture into the chicken.

In a medium bowl, mix the lemon juice, olive oil, chopped rosemary and sugar. Combine well. Pour over the chicken. Add pepper to taste.

Cover and chill 3 to 8 hours (basically for as long as you can).

Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and uncover. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Bake chicken until cooked through but still juicy, basting occasionally, about 40 minutes.

Remove chicken from oven and turn on broiler.

Broil chicken until just browned, about 5 minutes. Serve.

There you go, a simple and tasty chicken recipe. The key to this recipe is marinating the chicken pieces for as long as possible. I've done it overnight, though you risk having it get a little chewy if it's left in the lemon juice too long.

OK crablings, I'm outta here, until next time, remember, you can do it, you can cook.

Crabby Quiz: Name the source, author and speaker of the opening lines.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Pho Bo, Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup

We've never lived in Alaska.

Visited once on a cruise ship. Spectacular place; I highly recommend it.

But we've never lived there.

The closest we've come to living in that kind of environment is Minnesota. While the landscape doesn't compare, the weather can be uncomfortably similar.

Bitter sub-zero temperatures for weeks on end.
Savage keening winds and snow; endless snow.

We loved it there.

We found intriguing ways to pass the time. There was a very small pond in our neighborhood. One January all the neighbors decided to have a "cookout" on the pond. Dads plowed so the kids could skate. Moms prepared salads and "hotdish" to share. We set up a few grills and had a party.

Of course that day the air temperature was -10F, (-23C). The grills were used as much for warming fingers as for cooking. The high point came when I went to get some accouterments for my grilled sausage. The sauerkraut and the fork in it were a frozen mass. The mustard was more icicle than steady stream. Even the beer had turned slushy.

Ah, good times.

It's getting colder here. So it's back to another soup. While living in Minnesota we started visiting Vietnamese and Hmong restaurants. CrabCake 1, at the ripe old age of 9, fell in love with Pho, a Vietnamese/Cambodian Beef Noodle Soup. Here's a recipe that comes close to getting the seasoning right, please enjoy and warm up to...

Pho Bo, Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup
from Gourmet magazine and a few tweaks by Crabby

6 cups beef broth
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 slice of ginger (1 chunk)
2 whole star anise
1 cinnamon stick
3/4 pound boneless beef sirloin, trimmed of fat
8 ounces dried rice noodles
1/4 cup Asian fish sauce (available in the Asian section of most supermarkets)
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup fresh bean sprouts, rinsed and drained
1 baby bok choy (or small napa cabbage), thinly sliced
1/4 cup minced scallions
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, washed and roughly chopped
1 small red or green Asian (Thai), chile, sliced very thin
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
Lime wedges for garnish

In a large pot, bring the broth, ginger, star anise and cinnamon stick to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. When boiling, add the rice noodles and cook according to package directions. When finished, drain and set aside.

While the broth is simmering, cut the sirloin into thin slices, making sure to cut across the grain of the meat. Set aside.

After the broth has simmered, removed the star anise, ginger chunk and cinnamon stick.

Return the broth to a low boil and add the fish sauce, NOTE: If you cannot find fish sauce, substitute clam juice, which should be available in your supermarket.

Add the chopped bok choy and simmer for 1 minute.

Add the beef, bean sprouts, salt and pepper. Boil for 30 seconds.

Remove from heat.

Place noodles into serving bowls. Ladle soup over the noodles. Sprinkle
scallions, cilantro, chilies and basil over the soup. Serve with a lime wedge garnish.

Pretty simple actually. What's nice about this soup is the variety of spicy flavors. It's a nice change of pace from standard beef noodle soup. One thing, the Thai chilies can be quite hot, so if you're sensitive to that, drop down to a jalapeno or Anaheim pepper.

OK crablings, The temperature is really going to drop this week, so I'm off to build a fire and wrap myself up in wool sweaters. Until next time, remember, you can do it, you can cook.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Wild Huckleberry Sauce

Sauce, sauce, sauce, sauce, sauce.

I love sauces. I love gravies. I love jus. They're the reason I cook. A good sauce can transform any meal.

I've had people tell me that, "Oh, I'm sorry I don't care for (fill in the blank), but I'll just try a taste." As soon as the sauce hits their taste buds, their protests evaporate. Sauce can make you forget you don't like fish. Sauce can turn you into a hunter when it comes to venison. Sauce can turn lamb into your "special" event dinner.

So guess what I'm going to make today?

Yuppers, a sauce. But not just any sauce. Today it's fruit sauce. And not something pedestrian like apple-mint jelly; nope, today we're going exotic. Today it's huckleberries.


"Where in God's name am I going to get huckleberries?" you ask.

I'll get to that.

Huckleberries are small, sweet-tart berries, usually found in colder climates; they seem to grow especially well in the Pacific Northwest, on the lower slopes of mountains. The two biggest problems with huckleberries are finding them and not getting eaten by bears, who also really like them.

Since I don't like tangling with bears, I get mine off the internet. Northwest Wild Foods, Co. can ship you berries as well as assorted honeys, jams and gift packs. If ordering frozen berries off the internet is too "out there" for you, you can always use frozen blueberries. It's not exactly the same, but close enough. Just make sure your berries haven't been dusted with sugar before freezing. If so, drop the added sugar in this recipe and be prepared to ramp up the vinegar.

This sauce goes especially well with strongly flavored meats. If someone tells you they don't like duck or venison or even lamb, make this sauce and watch them dig in. The pictures here show the sauce with Mustard Crusted Rack of Lamb, (a recipe you'll be seeing a bit later). Please enjoy...

Wild Huckleberry Sauce
from Jordan Hollow Inn, (via FoodNation with Bobby Flay), and a tweak by Crabby

2 cups frozen huckleberries
1/3 cup sugar
2 TBSP champagne or raspberry vinegar
1/4 cup port wine

Combine all the ingredients in a medium saucepan.

Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook until the sauce reaches your desired consistency; for me that's about 7 - 10 minutes.

Tada!! Thank you, thank you very much. This cooking thing is soooooo tough, please let me bask in your awe. Really that's it. It can't be any easier.

OK crablings, after all this hard, hard cooking, I'm outta here; until next time, remember, you can do it, you can cook.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Roast Shallot Sauce

Sometimes I get bored with cooking. I don't know what to make, I don't have any new ideas. Everything just reminds me of everything else I've ever made. It all seems to taste the same.

There's only one thing to do in that case.

Make a new sauce.

Face it there are only so many proteins and only so many ways to prep them. Beef, poultry, pork, fish, lamb, wild game, (yeah, OK, tofu too). Roast, saute, deep fry, braise, throw away (that last one works especially well with the tofu). But at the end of the day you've got 6 options and 4 ways to cook them.

Real cooking is about what goes on top, inside or around the final product.

So today let's concentrate on a sauce. This one works especially well with beef, though I suspect it would work with roast pork or duck breasts. Roast shallots are the key ingredient, just watch out for the outer layer toughening during the roasting process. Please enjoy...

Roast Shallot Sauce
from with some Crabby adjustments

1 TBSP Olive Oil
3 large shallots
2 TBSP unsalted butter
1/4 cup onion (finely chopped)
1/2 cup red wine
1 cup chicken or beef stock
Peppercorns, about 10
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Peel the shallots and place in a baking dish. Drizzle with the olive oil and toss to coat.

Cover with aluminum foil and roast for 45 minutes.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

While the shallots are cooling, melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the finely chopped onions and saute until they soften but not brown, approximately 10 minutes.

Add the red wine and cook on a low boil, allowing the liquid to reduce for 8 minutes.

While the wine is reducing chop the roast shallots, discarding the outer layer if it has become tough during roasting. Set aside.

When the wine has boiled for 8 minutes, add the chicken/beef stock and continue to cook on a low boil until the liquid has reduced by half.

Add the chopped shallots, peppercorns and balsamic vinegar and simmer until the sauce begins to thicken, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add the mustard.

Serve over roast meat.

Pretty easy crablings. Not only that, it's something you can be doing in the background while you're working on the roast beast. As for options, you could leave out the Dijon and add some fresh rosemary during the stock reduction step, just remember to remove it prior to serving. Sauce makes everything better, so it's important to remember that, you can do it, you can cook.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Pastitsio, "A Rose by Any Other Name..."

As much as things change...

Bride and Groom? Check. Reception Hall? Check. Photographer? Check. Flowers, Bridesmaids, Ushers? Check, check, check. Officiant/Celebrant/Reverend/Priest? Ooooohhhh, that's a tough one.

On New Year's Eve, SSSal and I attended the wedding of WheatonJen, (of Baby Lava Cakes fame). In many ways it was a traditional, neighborhood-girl-marries-nearby-neighborhood-boy ceremony. Well almost.

WheatonJen is especially cool toward organized religion. So it became a challenge to find the proper celebrant to best oversee the ceremony. The bride's younger brother even offered to become an ordained minister from an online church, but somehow that seemed a bit much.

Enter That's right folks! In the Chicagoland area, when you're searching for the right balance of secular and pious, when you want a warm, humorous ceremony with just the right amount of the God stuff, turn to Rev. Jim Rehnberg, the Rent-a-Rev.

Rev. Jim did a great job honoring the dignity of the ceremony while keeping everyone relaxed and attentive, capped off by the readings, not from scripture, but from The Art of Marriage by Wilferd Peterson and The Places You Will Go by Theodor Geisel. Really no different than any wedding; two young people celebrating their commitment and love with help from the internet and Dr. Seuss.

For today's recipe let's embrace the idea of new twists on old traditions. Pastitsio can best be described as Greek Lasagna. I'm sure the Greeks out there will be appalled by this, but lasagna is the famous sister. This recipe is a little involved and is different primarily in the spices it uses, but it does make for a nice new version of an old standby. Enjoy...

from Gourmet, December 2008

Meat Sauce

2 medium onions, finely chopped
2 TBSP olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 pounds ground lamb
1 large can (28 oz) whole tomatoes in juice
1 small can (15 oz) whole tomatoes in juice
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Bechamel Sauce

7 TBSP unsalted butter
6 TBSP all purpose flour
7 cups whole milk
3/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (about a 2 ounce chunk)
5 large egg yolks


2 pounds Ziti or Mostacolli
1 3/4 cups coarse fresh bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Meat Sauce

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, stirring to coat with the oil. Cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook an additional minute.

Increase the heat to high and add the ground lamb. Stir the lamb occasionally, breaking up any large chunks as you go. Cook the meat until it starts to brown, about 15 minutes.

While the lamb is cooking, drain the tomatoes over a large bowl, saving all the juices.

Chop the tomatoes and place them, along with seeds and any additional juices, into the bowl holding the reserved juice from the can, (Crabby Note: I prefer to just squish the tomatoes by hand over the bowl, it's a lot more fun that way.).

After the meat starts to brown, pour off any excess fat from the skillet. Turn the heat down to medium and add the chopped tomatoes and juices. Stir in thyme sprigs, spices and 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt.

Bring the mixture to a simmer. Partially cover the pan and simmer until the liquid has evaporated but is still moist, about 40 minutes. When done, discard thyme stems.

The meat sauce can be made and stored, refrigerated, up to 2 days ahead. Bring to room temperature before assembling the pastitsio.

Bechamel Sauce

Have all ingredients measured out and ready.

Pour milk into a medium saucepan and heat until just below a boil, (this should be started a few minutes before beginning the roux).

Make the roux by melting the butter in a heavy medium pot over medium heat. When the butter has melted and just stopped foaming, whisk in the flour. This works best if the flour is added in stages, say 2 tablespoon at a time.

Cook the roux, stirring frequently, until pale golden, about 6 minutes.

Using a ladle, add the hot milk to the roux in a steady stream. WHISK CONSTANTLY. You may want to have someone help you stream in the milk if this is the first time you've ever made a bechamel, it'll be much less stressful that way.

Whisk until the sauce is very smooth and bring to a boil.

Cook the sauce for 1 minute while whisking constantly (are you starting to get the idea about the whisking?).

Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the grated Parmesan, nutmeg and 1 tablespoon of salt. Set aside.

Now the hard part.

Lightly beat the egg yolks in a medium bowl. Gradually, slowly, carefully, whisk in 2 cups of the warm bechamel. Whisk constantly, but not aggressively.

Add the egg/bechamel mixture back into the remaining bechamel saucepan. Cover with a buttered piece of wax paper (buttered side down).

You've just tempered the eggs. Congratulations!


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Cook the pasta according to box directions minus 1 minute of cooking time (you're going for al dente here).

Drain the pasta and transfer to a large bowl. Gently mix 1 cup of the bechamel into the pasta.

Now, in a large (10x14) baking pan, arrange the 1/3 of the pasta lengthwise in a single layer. If you don't care about the tube effect when you cut into the pastitsio, I say just make sure the bottom of the pan is covered in a single layer and then move onto the next step.

Add half the meat sauce to the pan and spread evenly over the first pasta layer.

Repeat the previous two steps, creating a second layer of pasta and meat.

Build a final layer of pasta on top of the other layers.

Carefully spread the reaming bechamel over the top layer, making sure to fully cover any exposed pasta.

Note: When I made this recipe I was left with a bit of extra pasta and maybe 1 1/2 cups of extra bechamel.

Stir together the bread crumbs and grated Parmesan. Sprinkle the combination over the top of the pastitsio. Bake in the oven until golden brown, about 45 minutes. DO NOT BROIL THE TOP TO GET IT TO BROWN! It will burn almost instantaneously, (don't ask!).

Allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving.

I know, a lot of steps. But look at it this way, not only did you learn how to make Pastitsio, you also picked up how to make a bechamel, which will come in handy in the future. You also need to know that like the first slice of pie, the first piece of pastitsio doesn't come out easily. So if you're going for wow factor, set aside the first piece for leftovers.

OK crablings, that's it for today. Let's wish the newlyweds happiness and clear sailing on their journey through life. But when they get back, just like you, they need to remember that they can do it, they can cook.