Sunday, July 20, 2008

Staycation Crab Cakes on Mixed Greens with Red Pepper Sauce

In a summer of traveling vicariously, I’m cooking foods I’d eat if I were anywhere but stuck in the middle. This week it’s crab cakes, inspired by the Paul family’s east coast adventures.

My recipe for crab cakes is from Wolfgang Puck’s Adventures in the Kitchen cookbook. They are beautiful and decadent. With an almond meal crust and a red pepper cream sauce these are the classiest crab cakes I’ve seen. Atop a bed of mixed greens they make an impressive summer lunch.

Crab Cakes with Red Pepper Sauce
Print recipe only here

Serves 6

1 medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced
½ medium yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced
1 medium red onion, diced
1 jalapeño
2 cloves garlic, smashed
½ cup dry white wine
1 pint (2 cups) cream
1 ¼ # lump crab meat
3 cups mixed greens

for the crabcakes:
2 T olive oil
½ medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced
½ medium yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced
½ medium red onion, diced
1 cup cream
1 t jalapeño, finely chopped
2 t chives, finely chopped
2 t dill, finely chopped
1 t parsley, finely chopped
½ t kosher salt
Pinch cayenne
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup bread crumbs
1 c almond meal (found at Trader Joes or grinding almonds)
1 ¼ # lump crabmeat

for the sauce:
2 T olive oil
½ medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced
½ medium red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, smashed
½ cup dry white wine
1 cup cream
Juice of one lemon
Salt and pepper, to taste

Prepare the crab cakes:
In a sauté pan , heat the olive oil. Add the onion, red and yellow peppers and gently sauté over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and reserve.

In a small saucepan, heat cream and jalapeño and reduce by one-half (so that ½ cup remains). Cool.

Chop chives, dill, and parsley and add to pepper-onion mixture. Stir in cooled cream, salt, and cayenne. Stir in egg and ½ cup each breadcrumbs and almond meal. Gently fold in crab meat. Divide mixture into 12 crab cakes - about 2 ½ ounces each.

Combine remaining breadcrumbs and almond meal on a plate. Coat both sides of crab cake well. Place on a tray and refrigerate for 2-3 hours.

Prepare the sauce:
Start the sauce closer to the point of service, or about 30 minutes before you plan to sauté the crab cakes.

Sauté pepper, onion and garlic in olive oil over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes. Deglaze pan with white wine and cook until 3 tablespoons of liquid remain. Add cream and bring to a boil.

Transfer mixture to a blender and puree until smooth. Strain into a clean pan. Add lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste and reserve, keeping warm.
When ready to serve, wash salad greens. Prep a sheet pan with paper towel to drain the crab cakes.

Working in one or two skillets heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Sauté crab cakes for about 4 minutes on each side, or until golden brown, avoiding over-crowding. Transfer to sheet pan to drain while sautéing all the crab cakes.

Plate greens and arrange two crab cakes per plate. Drizzle sauce over the greens and crab cakes. Enjoy immediately.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Evaluating Splash Shopper for iPhone

I did my gopher dance this morning when I saw that the great, all-powerful Splash Shopper was included among the web apps for the new iPhone OS. I’ve been an iPhone user for nine months but haven’t relinquished my frumpy Treo because I can’t stock my kitchen without Splash Shopper.

After fidgeting around with the iPhone version for more hours than I’d like to admit, I’m no longer doing the happy dance. My eyes hurt and my hands are twitchy. I’m disappointed with the release. Looks like I’m stuck with the Treo for awhile longer.

Splash Shopper for Palm OS has served me incredibly well. Here’s why I love it:

1. Filtering by store, or category (i.e. vegetables, cereal, condiments) allows one-stop-shopping or hitting a variety of stores with a list of what you need at each store.

2. Desktop application/sync keeps everything backed up and is easier to enter multiple items or new lists.

3. Allowing me to create multiple shopping lists - a shopping list just for an upcoming camping trip and another for my daughter’s beach birthday party.

4. Keeping track of recommended items like wine, music, movies, books. Also, the GIFTS category helps me remember what birthday gifts I need to purchase and organize my Christmas shopping.

The iPhone version fails both sorting/filtering and desktop/syncing. The sorting feature was what made the original software so brilliant; without it it’s pretty lackluster. The desktop version, which will include syncing to the iPhone, hasn't been released yet. Since it’s much easier to start a shopping list via your desktop the new user would benefit from waiting for software updates. Attempting to use the software in its current iteration will only cause frustration.

I encourage new users to wait for updates before purchasing. For now, I’m keeping my version and will waste some more time tweaking it. It’s been a slow summer.

photo courtesy Splash Shopper

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Best Burger is the Lamb Burger

It was only recently that the lamb burger earned a spot in the regular rotation on the Pinch menu. I'm not sure why it took so long. I've been a fan ever since my days at Campagne where the lamb burger was a regular item on the Cafe menu (ten years later, it still is). And I've been known to ship friends and family the components - ground lamb, burger buns, feta, red onion and mixed greens - as an alternative to the overdone gift basket. (If you'd ever like to do the same I use, and love, Diamond Organics.)

It might be a matter of finally noticing that ground lamb is regularly available at grocery stores. I pick it up at Whole Foods where I'm assured that the lamb is pasture raised, well-fed and not given antibiotics or growth hormone. Whole Foods' animal-friendly policies got the Lincoln Park store into hot water last week when it was discovered they had been providing shelter for nature’s original locavore.

I'm a purist with my burgers. I don't like adding anything to the meat before grilling. I prefer to top with fresh fixin's - allowing everyone to doctor their own - tableside.

Lamb Burgers
Print recipe only here

  • 1/3 # ground lamb per person
  • red onion
  • tomato
  • feta cheese
  • lettuce
  • good burger buns (I've been enjoying the sesame crusted ones from the Whole Foods bakery)

Preheat grill.

Form burgers and sprinkle with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.

Prep fixin's and reserve for service:
  • Thinly slice rounds of tomato and red onion
  • Wash and trim lettuce leaves
  • Crumble feta
Grill to your specs. About 4 min on the first side and 3-4 on the flip side for medium well.

Serve with sweet potato fries or Greek Salad.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Making Pad Thai from Scratch

Oh, it was SOOOO good.

The key flavors, which I hadn't known before completing my summer goal of Pad Thai from scratch, are tamarind, fish sauce and hot sauce. A little fresh lime juice at the end really ratchets up the umami of the dish. I really, really loved eating this.

I found tamarind in two places, frozen pulp in Pilsen and the paste at HMart. I recommend sleuthing out the paste at your local Asian grocer. Pad Thai is not that hard - just a bit laborious - and it's really worth it. Plus, when you make it for yourself it frees you up to try all sorts of new things at your favorite Thai restaurant.

I've updated my recipe to reflect some changes I made. I took the bones of the recipe from Honga's cookbook and made some adjustments. Do try it.

Pad Thai
Print recipe only here

Serves 2


* 7 ounces rice noodles
* 1/2 # protein: shrimp, chicken, or tofu (look for uncooked, peeled, tail-on, deveined shrimp at your grocery store. I get the frozen ones.)
* Fish sauce
* Chili sauce (Sriracha hot sauce is a good choice.)
* Tamarind paste
* 1 cup chicken/vegetable stock or water (I used water with excellent results)
* Bean sprouts
* Cilantro
* Peanuts
* Lime

In a large bowl cover noodles with boiling water and let sit for 5-10 minutes. Rinse with cold water and set aside.

Preheat in a wok or skillet:

Add and scramble:

* 2 eggs, well beaten

Transfer to a plate and reserve.

Add to the wok and sauté:

* 1 T canola oil
* 1 small onion, finely chopped
* 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
* 1 t fresh ginger, finely chopped

Add and cook for 2-3 minutes:

* 8 ounces shrimp (rinsed, patted dry and sprinkled with a pinch of kosher salt) or other protein

Transfer to a plate and reserve.

Combine in a small bowl and add to wok:

* 1 t paprika
* 1/4 cup fish sauce
* 1 T brown sugar
* 2-3 t chili sauce
* 1 T tamarind paste
* Pinch salt and freshly ground pepper

Add noodles to wok as well, and stir to combine. Pour in a bit of stock and stir until liquid is absorbed. Continue to add stock every few minutes, stirring in between, until noodles are tender (using more stock as necessary).

Add the shrimp/protein and eggs back to the wok and also add:

* 2 green onions, finely sliced
* ¾ cup bean sprouts, roughly chopped
* 3-4 T cilantro, finely chopped
* Juice of 1 lime

Stir to combine. Taste for seasoning, top with a sprinkling of roughly chopped peanuts and serve.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Regarding the Potluck Dinner

I have feelings about potlucks which are, summed up nicely, I do not care for potlucks and summed up not-so-nicely, Sucks to your potluck (with apologies to William Golding).

I like to be cooked for. It's fine if you don’t want to cook for me but please do not deny me a good dinner. We can see each other after dinner, say around 8.

Cooking for someone is a demonstration of pure affection. It requires generosity of time and talent and attention to differing tastes. Potlucks are usually organized one of two ways: 1) By people who do not know each other well but share some commonality - kids, church, etc. 2) By someone lacking time and talent but still wanting to entertain guests at mealtime. It's hard enough to make everyone in my house excited about what I've cooked for them. It's impossible to make everyone happy with the options at a potluck.

My principal problem with potlucks is they are too accurate a reflection of the American diet. Where nutrition is concerned we have a long way to go, baby. We need to ditch the canned cream of mushroom soup, the frozen taquitos and the Mini Cheeseburger Salad. We need to reject processed crud and start consuming foods closer to their point of harvest.

My feelings about potlucks (with even more snark: I would rather eat fur) will remain unchanged until we start feeding ourselves - and each other - with more concern for health and nutrition.

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Saturday, July 5, 2008

In Anticipation of Chilled Soba Noodles

The above photo shows the purchases I made this week at HMart - a Chicago-area Korean market of impressive size and quality.

I didn't come home with kimchi or anything decidedly Korean. There was a fantastic condiment/salad counter and some nice-looking marinated meat but for reasons unrelated to how good I'm sure it all was I came home with mostly bottled items. We trolled every aisle finding some familiar items, some peculiar ones - snake heads in a jar! lemon vinegar! Durian-flavored wafer cookies? And here I must digress...

Durian is a huge, thorny, foul-smelling fruit native to the South Pacific. Though I have yet to experience it firsthand I've heard a lot about it. Due to its smell, there are restrictions on where you may bring a durian. It's banned from hospitals in Thailand and from many hotels throughout Indonesia. Speaking both to legislation-happy Singapore and the alleged stench-like-an-open-grave of the fruit, it's illegal to bring a durian on public transportation in Singapore. Calvin Trillin, who always says it best, offered in The New Yorker (Fall 2007 food issue):

Having smelled a durian, I must say that the prohibition against carrying one on a public conveyance (for which there is no specific fine) strikes me as a very solid piece of legislation.

My husband couldn't believe I didn't come home with the cookies, just to get a whiff of fruit-beast. OK - I had the stomach flu recently. I'm eating and shopping gingerly right now.

When my appetite returns I'm looking forward to making chilled soba noodles. I'll combine a couple of recipes, one from Gourmet and the other from Alexandra's Kitchen, a food blog.

The one thing I forgot to look for at HMart was fresh wasabi. I want to get my hands on the real deal, the rhizome, the hon-wasabi (本山葵). I want to grate some on my microplane zester the way I see sushi chefs do for their favorite customers.* Now that I've secured tamarind paste (I don't think I mentioned that my tamarind search is over! I bought frozen tamarind pulp in Pilsen AND the paste at HMart) fresh wasabi is next on my list.

* Cue Trillin again. In one of his Tummy Trilogy books he claims to have carried a card reading, in Chinese, "Bring me what they're having at the next table." Genius.

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