yay, America

Maybe you’ve already moved on from the festivities of last week. Me? I had LOADS of fun (probably too much, since I fell at some point and have a ginormous bruise on both my leg and hip), and when Thursday rolled around, going back to work for 2 more days seemed a little unfair.

Of course, I’d take a mid-week day off any time over none at all. So I’ll stop complaining.

We got a pretty big group together (friends, friend of friends, and so forth) and had a most-amazing picnic in Golden Gate Park. Our area was right in front of Stow Lake, where folks rent paddleboats and such. That meant lots of people-watching, and also lots of gorgeous scenery – a Chinese-style sitting area, waterfalls, and great views of Sutro Tower until the afternoon fog rolled in.

Food-wise? We all just brought whatever we felt like bringing, and it came together just fine. Chris manned the grill and we had burgers, brats, polenta, and whatever else could be thrown atop the grates. We had plenty of snacks, salads, and treats and as if you really had to ask – plenty of beverages.

I hadn’t baked a cake in a little bit, so when I was trying to decide what to bring alongside our burgers (with house-made balsamic ketchup!), I found an awesome recipe for a festive cake, and I just happened to have some food coloring gel in the pantry.

This probably goes without saying, but this isn’t some “everyday” cake. First, it’s clearly a bit of effort (but well worth it, for the fun it was to cut into it!). Second, it is packed with calories – in butter form, in sugar form, and totally in cream cheese form. It’s not something you want sitting around the house, or as Chris would attest to, something you want to hold on the way home, when getting a slight case of the munchies (I had a ton of crumbs in the passenger seat as proof).

But for America’s birthday? The perfect cake, indeed.

Oh, and here’s a less time-intensive, but equally tasty, red velvet cake. Yeah!

Red, White, & Blue Velvet Cake
Adapted, barely, from Epicurious; serves 12

Sure, this is way too late for July 4th THIS YEAR, but you can make this cake for any occasion. It would make an awesome Halloween cake using black/orange food coloring (and black icing!) or a festive Christmas cake too. Shoot, you could make the layers any color you want for any day that you want. No big deal.

time commitment: 4 hours, according to Epicurious. I did the cake in steps, making the white layer first and refrigerating it, then making the other two layers later on that night, so it seemed less time-intensive that way. I made the icing and cut the fruit while the cakes were baking. You could easily bake off the layers of the cake well in advance and freeze them. Let them thaw in the fridge a few hours before you need to ice the cake.

printable version

ingredients
red/blue velvet cake layers
2 1/2 c sifted cake flour (sift before measuring)
1/4 c unsweetened natural cocoa (such as Hershey’s; not Dutch process)
1 t baking soda
3/4 t salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 c granulated sugar
1 c vegetable oil
2 large eggs
food coloring of your choice (I use Wilton food gel, about 1/2 of the 1/2 oz jars for each layer)
1 1/2 t white or cider vinegar
1 1/2 t vanilla extract
3/4 c sour cream mixed with 1/4 c water

white cake layer
1 1/3 c sifted cake flour (sift before measuring)
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
3 large egg whites
1/4 c sour cream mixed with 2 tablespoons water
5 T unsalted butter, softened
3/4 c granulated sugar
1/3 c vegetable oil
1 T grated lemon zest
1 t vanilla extract

cream cheese frosting
2 1/2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese (20 ounces total), softened
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter, softened
2 1/2 T fresh lemon juice
2 t vanilla extract
1/4 t salt
3 1/4 c confectioners’ sugar

fruit topping
1 pint (8 ounces) strawberries, preferably small; halve or quarter if large
1 pint (12 ounces) blueberries

instructions
Make red/blue velvet cake layers
(NOTE: If you’re using two different colors for the top and bottom layer, divide the batter into two bowls and mix in the food coloring after the flour/sour cream is blended (see below). If you’re using one color, just add the food coloring when you add in the vinegar and vanilla. Also, if you’re using two different colors, it might be helpful to weigh the bowl before you add in ANY ingredients so that you can weigh again before you divide the batter, subtracting out the weight of the mixing bowl to know how much to put into each bowl.)

Heat oven to 350 F. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans, then line bottoms with rounds of wax paper. Butter paper and dust pans with some additional flour, knocking out excess. (Alternatively, you can spray with cooking spray instead of buttering.)

Resift cake flour together with cocoa, baking soda, and salt into a bowl (true confession: I skipped this part – I just whisked it together).

Beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer (fitted with paddle attachment if using stand mixer) at medium-high speed until combined well, then add oil and beat until very pale and creamy, about 3 minutes.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, and beat in vinegar and vanilla extract (read the first step about food coloring!).

Reduce speed to low and mix in flour mixture and sour cream mixture in batches, beginning and ending with flour mixture, and mixing until batter is smooth.

Divide batter between pans (about 3 cups in each, or weigh to be exact) and smooth tops. Rap pans on counter a couple of times to expel any air bubbles. Bake in middle of oven until a wooden pick comes out clean and cake begins to pull away from sides of pans, 25 to 30 minutes. Keep oven on.

Cool layers in pans on racks 10 minutes, then run a thin knife around edge of pans. Invert layers onto racks and peel off wax paper. Cool layers completely.

Make white cake layer while red velvet layers cool
Butter one 9-inch round cake pan, then line bottom with wax paper. Butter paper and dust pan with some additional flour, knocking out excess.

Resift cake flour together with baking soda and salt into a bowl (yup, skipped this, too and just whisked…). Whisk egg whites in another bowl with sour cream mixture until combined.

Beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer (fitted with paddle attachment if using stand mixer) at medium-high speed until combined well, then add oil and beat until very pale and creamy, about 3 minutes. Beat in zest and vanilla extract (add food coloring here if you’re making a non-white layer for the middle.).

Reduce speed to low and mix in flour mixture and sour cream mixture in batches, beginning and ending with flour mixture and mixing until batter is smooth. Transfer batter to pan and spread evenly. Rap pan on counter a couple of times to expel any air bubbles.

Bake in middle of oven until a wooden pick comes out clean and cake begins to pull away from side of pan, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a thin knife around edge of pan. Invert layer onto rack and peel off wax paper. Cool layer completely.

Make cream cheese frosting
Beat together cream cheese and butter in a large bowl with an electric mixture until creamy and smooth. Beat in lemon juice, vanilla extract, and salt.

Sift confectioners’ sugar into a bowl and add to cream cheese mixture. Mix on low speed until incorporated, then increase speed to medium-high and beat until smooth.

Frost cake
Brush loose crumbs from cake layers with a pastry brush. Carefully slice some of the top of the cake to make flat, if you want. Use a long, serrated knife for this or skip this step.

Put a red velvet layer, bottom side up, on a cake plate or stand. Spread 1 cup of frosting over layer. Cover with white layer, bottom side up, and spread with another cup of frosting. Top with second red velvet layer, bottom side up.

Spread a thin layer of frosting around sides and over top of cake. Chill or briefly freeze cake just until frosting is firm.

Spread sides and top of cake with remaining frosting. Chill or briefly freeze cake just until frosting is firm.

Make fruit topping
Toss together fruits in a bowl. Let cake come to room temperature before serving and top with about 1 1/2 cups fruit. Serve remaining fruit on the side.

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when life gives you lemons

When I was a kid, my parents had a French friend name Aurora (which is SO French, right?!). I swear I’ve mentioned her name here before, but once you write a blog for 3 years, it becomes hard to keep track. So forgive me if I’m on repeat.

Either way, being around Aurora, in those few years that I knew her, was a definite treat.

My parents, Aurora, and Clyde (her boyfriend) used to play cards together on what seemed like every Saturday. They’d take the extra leaf out of our dining room table, load up with beverages, using bar stools as coasters, and deal out hands of Spades and Hearts for hours. It was through these card games that I learned about the awesomeness of getting drunk with your friends. Man, the songs they’d sing, the shit they’d say; I probably don’t remember half of it, but I remember thinking they were so cool. And also, a little bit weird.

I wish I had access to some of our family photo albums, and I’d show you the awesomeness of the styles back then. Clyde and my dad used to rock these awesome hats, like the ones the golfers wore before they all had Nike and Titleist logos. And the pants, oh boy, the pants. Sorta tight, plaid, and kinda big at the bottom – not quite like a bell-bottom, but close. Flare leg, I reckon. And the ladies wore these polyester button-up shirts with these weird ribbon ties at the top. Aurora had a sexy red number with a hole right near her boobs, what today I’d probably call a cleavage shirt. Is it weird that I remember these details? Who cares…

I also remember showering one night when they were over. I’d just learned to shave my legs, and I suppose my fancy Bic razor was on the dull side, because the second I aligned the razor with my thigh, the water hit the razor and slipped, taking a ginormous slice of my thigh with it. I wasn’t sure what to do about gushing blood, so I proceeded to toss on a towel and run out to the adults. Drunk adults aren’t very helpful in those situations, as it turns out. But eventually, the bleeding stopped and I was probably way too dramatic about it anyway. That was probably too much information, but you’ll deal.

Last but certainly not least, I remember Aurora for her skinny long cigarettes (so French and sophisticated) and her love of citrus fruits. We’d sometimes eat lemon rinds together, just to gross everyone else out. If it wouldn’t tear the enamel from my teeth, I’d probably eat a lemon daily just like an apple or a bowl of cherries. Dang, they’re tasty.

So when I found out about my coworker’s lemon tree burgeoning with fruit, I easily volunteered to take some off of her hands. What she gave me were the biggest lemons I’ve ever seen, and after a little thought, I made yet another batch of lemon curd. It’s sour enough to remind me of all those lemons I used to eat, but tempered by the eggs and the butter so other people will like it, too. Its biggest claim to fame? the stuff goes on everything. I like a regular ol’ piece of toasted bread, truth be told, but next week I’ll give you an extra-tasty option. Of course, you can always see what you find in the bread or breakfast section of the recipe index, but if all else fails, a spoonful is just as good all by its lonesome, or with a plate of berries.

Lemon Curd
from Gourmet via Epicurious; makes 1 1/3 cups

time commitment: 1 hour, 15 minutes (15 minutes active)

printable version

ingredients
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh lemon zest
1/2 cup sugar
3 large eggs
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into bits

instructions
Whisk together juice, zest, sugar, and eggs in a 2-quart heavy saucepan. Stir in butter and cook over moderately low heat, whisking frequently, until curd is thick enough to hold marks of whisk and first bubble appears on surface, about 6 minutes.

Using a fine mesh strainer, strain curd into a bowl and chill, its surface covered with plastic wrap, until cold, at least 1 hour.

Just the Two of Us

In almost 3 years of blogging, there are a lot of recipes around these parts. And among all the ones seafood-centric, not a one of them involves scallops.

This is going to change that, and majorly.

Chris and I usually do like everyone else and head out to a restaurant for Valentine’s day, whereby all the wait and cook staff forced to work that night provide somewhat lackluster food at dilated prices. It never stops us though – and it’s not like we go to restaurants we’ve been eyeing for years, or places we’ve never been to – we go to the same places we’d go any other weekend. That said, it seems just as reasonable to stay home and just be together, saving the tasting menus and parking hassles for another night.

So we did this year. I mean, at least this year Chris wasn’t about to hop on a plane and move to California without me for two months, right?! So there was certainly plenty to celebrate – a March and April free of selling a condo, shipping our belongings across the country, tempering territorial cats, living out of a suitcase, and apartment-shopping. Instead, months of continuing to settle in and absolutely adore everything different about this year was something definitely in need of appreciating.

So I decided it was well past time to make scallops. I picked up a half dozen oysters, too. We hung out in the kitchen together – me searing scallops and making this amazing lemongrass-tomato sauce, and Chris shucking oysters and putting together a nice, spicy mignonette to eat them with. We even ate at the dining room table like civilized folk. Or do civilized folk eat on the floor in front of the TV, desperately trying to catch up on episodes of Castle or CSI? Because if that’s the case, then we are ultra-civilized. I can’t decide…

Either way, I enjoyed the way things turned out that night. I enjoyed being home, a little music in the background, not having to worry at all that the cooks would serve me raw pork chop (V-day 2009) or that someone would propose in a super cheesy way nearby (V-day 2004) or that we’d be drunk and stumbling home in the cold (V-day 2011). We just ate together, the two of us.

And this dinner was freaking awesome, to boot.

Seared Scallops in Lemongrass-Tomato Sauce
adapted from Self Magazine, 2008 via Epicurious; serves 2 

this recipe was originally slated for 8, probably as an appetizer. I pared it down and made it for 2, but you’ll still have leftover sauce. it would go great on any seafood or even on pasta, so don’t throw it out!

time commitment: 45 minutes

printable version

ingredients
2 T canola oil, divided
1/2 onion, chopped
4 stalks lemongrass, dry leaves removed, stems pounded; cut into 3-inch lengths*
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 red Thai bird chiles, finely chopped*
1 c dry white wine
1 can (14 ounce) whole tomatoes, plus juice
1/4 c Thai basil
1/4 c fresh mint
1/4 c cilantro sprigs
1/2 c baby arugula
Juice from 1/2 lime
10 jumbo sea scallops

*lemongrass and Thai chiles can be found abundantly in Asian markets (Thai chiles are sometimes in their freezer section) or in well-stocked grocery stores, like some good-sized Whole Foods.

instructions
Heat 1 t canola oil in a large, nonstick pan over low heat. Cook onion with a pinch of salt until translucent, about 8 minutes. Stir in lemon grass, garlic and chiles. Add wine. Raise heat to high, then simmer 4 minutes. Add tomatoes and juice; break apart tomatoes. Simmer until sauce thickens, about 15 minutes. Remove lemongrass and discard; puree the rest in a blender until smooth. Season with salt and pepper and keep warm.

Meanwhile, toss basil through arugula together in a bowl; season with salt and pepper. Whisk lime juice and 2 t oil together, then add to salad and sit aside.

Season scallops with salt and pepper. Heat a large nonstick pan over high heat 1 minute; add 1/2 T oil. Cook 5 scallops 1 minute; reduce heat to medium-high; cook undisturbed until golden, about 4 minutes. Turn scallops over; cook 3 minutes more. Remove from heat. Repeat with remaining 1/2 T oil and 5 scallops. Divide scallops and sauce and serve with salad.

A Giant Kinda Night

One of the (10,000 bazillion) reasons Chris and I work so well together is that we play to each other’s strengths, we complement one another. For example, when we plan vacations, I like to hop around to tons of places, he likes visit 1-2 spots and really hone in on them. We usually compromise at 2-3. When we painted our kitchen together a few weeks ago (notice the teal in the back?), I agreed to do the tedious taping of the trim and mind-numbingly boring detail work, as long as he promised to do the big areas of rolling and lots of the cleanup. When I make dinner, he (usually) does the dishes. I drive, he navigates.

You get the point, right?

And when major holidays or events roll around, he likes to stick to tradition, and keep things as they usually are. I’m fine with that, as long as there’s good food involved, which there always is. For July 4th, we always make burgers. These are still one of my favorites. For Thanksgiving, we don’t do anything crazy with the turkey, and we can’t change the stuffing, but I have free reign over most of the other dishes (which even I, Miss I-Hate-To-Make-Things-More-Than-Once, usually only rotate out the green veggie dish and keep the rest the same, too). There is usually a time of the year that we find a reason to make pulled pork (like watching a season of The Walking Dead. Get it – pulled pork?! shredded meat?! bwa ha ha), and there’s always another holiday, like Memorial Day perhaps, where we just plain ol’ grill.

Let there be no doubt in your mind that Super Bowl Sunday is its’ own holiday, too. And when Super Bowl Sunday rolls around, it’s chili time – 20 degree weather outside or not.

Mind you, a move West hasn’t changed a single one of these traditions – somehow we manage to really gravitate towards the same type of people no matter where we live – the ones that like to eat, drink, and have a shit-load of fun together. And as per usual, we have no issue with hosting, again playing to the “as long as we get to make good food” mantra.

This time around, instead of making 1 chili for everyone to eat, we made 2 different chili recipes – watch out! The recipe below is adapted from a Texas-style all-beef chili. For you Texans-to-the-core out there, don’t hate, but I put beans in it, too (!). I won’t be caught walking an alley of Texas alone (does Texas have alleys?), that’s for sure, because I’m about to let ya’ll know that this girl LOVES beans in chili. Plus, even though we doubled mostly everything in the original recipe, I couldn’t quite bring myself to dump 8 lbs of beef into a pot, but by all means, if you prefer beef to the beans, go for it. I liked the additional texture of pinto beans, and clearly I need just a little more ammo in my nightly “Dutch ovens“, so there you have it ;).

The other recipe satisfied the gluten-free and white-meat-only eaters out there, and was another tasty concoction – a white bean and chicken chili, with loads of chili powder. Maybe I’ll share that one a little later on.

And of course, there’s no such thing as chili without some cornbread, and we all know how much I love cornbread, right?! No pics of it, and no leftovers either. Sad faces.

But when it came to the chili, we were happy to eat it for another couple of nights. Happy faces!

Oh, and GO, Bears! 49-ers? Ok, ok, YAY GIANTS!

 

Beef & Pinto Bean Chili with Ancho, Mole, and Cumin
Adapted from Bon Appetit, February 2009 via Epicurious; serves 12-16

I should add here, that the serving sizes are NOT generous (maybe 1 cup each). They’re based on the fact that this chili was eaten after tons of other snacks were consumed, so ginormous bowls of chili were not had. If you’re making this chili for dinner, I’d guess that this exact recipe yields closer to 10-12 servings. But it’s hearty, so consider yourself forewarned!

printable version

time commitment: at least 4 1/2 hours, most of which is inactive

ingredients
chili
2 T cumin seeds
8 bacon slices, chopped
1 4-pound boneless chuck roast, trimmed, cut into 1/2- to 3/4-inch cubes
2 large onions, chopped (about 4 c)
8 large garlic cloves, chopped
7 c beef broth, divided, possibly more
1/4 c pure ancho chile powder
1/4 c chili powder
2 T mole paste
1 T salt
4 t apple cider vinegar
1 T dried oregano
1 bottle of stout beer
4 15-oz cans of pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 c masa (corn tortilla mix)
1/4 t cayenne pepper

garnishes
Chopped green onions
Queso fresco
Sliced fresh  jalapeño chiles
Tortilla chips

instructions
Toast cumin seeds in heavy small skillet over medium heat until fragrant, stirring often, 4 to 5 minutes. Cool; grind finely in spice mill or in mortar with pestle.

Meanwhile, sauté bacon in large pot over medium-high heat until brown and crisp. Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to large bowl. Sprinkle beef with salt and pepper. Working in 3 batches, sauté beef in drippings in pot until browned, about 5 minutes per batch. Transfer beef and most drippings to bowl with bacon. Add onion and garlic to pot. Sauté until onion begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add 1 c broth to pot. Bring to boil, scraping up browned bits. Return beef, bacon, and any accumulated juices to pot. Mix in ancho chile powder, chili powder, mole paste, salt, vinegar, oregano, and cumin. Add 6 cups broth, stout, and pinto beans; bring to boil. Reduce heat to very low and simmer gently uncovered until beef is very tender, stirring occasionally and adding more broth by 1/2 cupfuls if chili is dry, about 2 1/2 hours. Mix in masa by teaspoonfuls to thicken chili or add more broth by 1/4 cupfuls to thin. Season chili with salt, pepper, and cayenne, if desired.

Chili can be made up to 3 days ahead (and making it ahead does give flavors time to meld, so try to make it at least a day in advance). Let cool at stovetop for an hour, then refrigerate. Rewarm over low heat before serving.

Set out garnishes as desired. Ladle chili into bowls and serve.

I Got Crabs

Getting crabs can go either way, I suppose. Hopefully your mind is outta the gutter and you’re realizing that since this is a food blog, I’m referring to the more positive aspect of crab procurement.

But if you weren’t thinking along those lines, I really can’t fault you, because I probably would have gone there first, too. I can’t help it that I’m almost 32 and still relatively immature. What can I say – I try not to take life too seriously. Things have worked out ok for me so far, so there is that.

But let’s get to the point. It’s crab season in the Bay Area, folks! If you’ve got a big enough pot for some live Dungeness crabs (which I do not – yet), now is the time to get your hands on some. Otherwise, buying the pre-picked lump crab meat is the next best thing.

Now for me, having a “crab season” is something of an oddity. In North Carolina, it was always crab season. Blue crabs. If you’ve read along from the very beginning, you might remember me talking about our place at the beach. My pops had 3 or 4 crab pots, and every weekend we went to the beach he’d take the crab pots out and let them hang out in the sound for a few days. The next weekend we’d check them, and if we were lucky, they’d be FULL of crabs.

I never appreciated the crabbing and fishing like I do now. What I wouldn’t give for another weekend like those weekends we spent down there – taking out our own pots (or at least, watching pops do it), dragging the shrimp nets through the mud, digging for clams (the term “clam diggers” took on a whole new meaning, a legit meaning, then), peeling shrimp and watching a fat ol’ flounder fry up. Our little vacation trailer smelled like a shrimp shack almost nightly, and the steam fogged up the windows in a flash. We went through jars of cocktail and tartar sauce, and man, I totally took the hushpuppies for granted.

I don’t even think I cared much for seafood back then – unless, of course, the shrimp were fried up nice and crunchy. Nowadays, a nice piece of fish, or a handful of shrimp, and this time, a ginormous container of extra-fresh West Coast Dungeness crab, is a highlight of the day. My friend, Judy, told me their company had gotten a great deal on live or picked crab and if I wanted any, all I had to do was tell her how much and I could pick it up later that day. As much as I wanted to buy a few live crabs for dinner that Friday, I knew my lil’ pot couldn’t handle them in their full-on shell-on form. (And to be honest, I haven’t tossed a live crab in a pot of boiling water in a looooong time, so that was another issue that quickly became a non-issue.) So instead, I opted for pre-picked and with that, I knew it was crab-cake time. But not the crab cakes you get at the restaurant that are loaded with bread crumbs – real, meat-filled crab cakes was what I had in mind.

And so I went full California style and figured a recipe with avocado sauce was entirely appropriate. Sure, my cakes were so much more crab and so much less ‘glue’ that they didn’t quite stay together in cake form, so to speak, but I was generally ok with that – what was lacking in presentation was entirely overshadowed by taste this time around.

Even though I never ate crab cakes with avocado sauce back home, I still felt a twinge of nostalgia for all those weekends back East. It was a good feeling, and for a few moments I felt like I could have easily been sitting back there, shoving fried shrimp and a few bites of flounder and stuffed crab into my face. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and I was transported 3,000 miles away. ‘Twas a good night, a good night indeed.

Crab Cakes with Spicy Avocado Sauce
Adapted from Gourmet, 2004 via Epicurious.com; serves 4 

I meant to include an egg and more panko in my crabs, but I totally forgot to do both. Mine didn’t stick together very well, but I am sure that adding an egg and more panko will do the trick, plus I think a little more breading in the cake is nice for texture. Normally I’d try these things out before posting, but I doubt I’ll be buying a pound of crab again in the near future, and I wanted to share this while Dungeness is in season out here! plus, after reading a ton of reviews on Epicurious, I get the sense that others already tried these additions with success, so I’m sure you will, too. You’re welcome ;).

time commitment: 45 minutes (30 minutes active)

printable version

ingredients
sauce
1/2 ripe avocado, pitted and peeled
1 T low-fat mayonnaise
1 T fresh lime juice
1/4 t salt
1/4 t sugar
1 fresh jalapeño (including seeds), stemmed and quartered lengthwise
1/4 c skim milk

crab cakes
1 lb Dungeness (or other) crabmeat, picked over and coarsely shredded
3 T low-fat mayonnaise
1/4 c coarsely chopped cilantro
1 T fresh lime juice
1 t Dijon mustard
1/4 t black pepper
1 c panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 T unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1/4 t chipotle chile powder
1/4 t salt

instructions
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 400 F. Line with parchment paper.

prepare sauce
Pulse avocado with mayonnaise, lime juice, salt, sugar, and jalapeño in a food processor until chile is finely chopped. Add milk and purée until smooth. Transfer sauce to a bowl and chill, covered.

make crab cakes
Stir together crabmeat, mayonnaise, cilantro, lime juice, mustard, pepper, 1/2 c panko, and egg in a large bowl until blended well, then chill, covered.

Melt butter in a medium nonstick skillet over moderate heat, then cook garlic, stirring, until golden and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add chile powder, salt, and remaining panko and cook, stirring, until golden brown, about 6 minutes. Transfer crumbs to a plate to cool. Discard garlic.

Divide crabmeat mixture into 4 mounds. Form 1 mound into a patty, then carefully turn patty in crumb mixture to coat top and bottom. Transfer to baking sheet and repeat with remaining 3 mounds, then sprinkle remaining crumbs on top of crab cakes. Bake until heated through, about 15 minutes. Serve crab cakes with sauce.

Way Overdue

I don’t pretend to pay too much attention to what goes on around here. Oblivious? Well, no. But truthfully, I more or less talk about whatever recipe is on my mind without so much as a thought about whether it’s been pasta overload or slim pickin’s in the sweet category, or you know, more of that.

But for once, I actually did do that. Think, I mean. And this resulted: we are way overdue to talk about macaroons.

Not to be confused with the adorable macaron, these here morsels of goodness are feisty while the French similarly-spelled-but-that’s-it treats are graceful. Macarons are intimidating, what with their folding and piping and turning on and off of the oven; macaroons can be made in one’s sleep, or while intoxicated, or both. Macarons are a tease, but macaroons are, well, easy.

I can’t imagine a macaroon without shredded coconut, but I can envision exactly 10,148 ways of flavoring macarons.

Of course, macaroons aren’t meant for the days when you’re feeling creative, and they certainly aren’t meant for the days when you want to spend hours in the kitchen concocting your best dessert production yet. What they’re meant for are the other times – the most of the times, days filled with other obligations and pantries containing only a few random ingredients.

Let’s face it: we all like a few challenges in life, but at the end of the day, these little things, treats that are always way overdue, these are the ones we appreciate the most, aren’t they?

Coconut Macaroons w/ Chocolate Drizzle
adapted loosely from Epicurious; makes  ~2 dozen

time commitment: 1 hour, including cooling time

printable version

ingredients
2 egg whites
2 T sugar
1/2 t vanilla extract
kosher salt
1 1/2 c sweetened flaked coconut
1 c dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips

instructions
put oven rack in middle position and preheat to 300 F. line baking sheet with parchment paper.

stir together egg white, sugar, vanilla, and a pinch of salt until combined, then stir in coconut. divide mixture into small mounds, dropping onto baking sheet about 2 inches apart from one another.

bake until tops are pale golden in spots, ~15 minutes, then carefully lift parchment and macaroons and place on baking rack to cool completely (they will harden more at this point), about 15 minutes.

meanwhile, dump chocolate chips into a microwavable bowl. zap in microwave on 50% power in 30 second intervals, stirring between each zap, until chocolate chips are melted and smooth. dip a fork into the melted chocolate and wave it over the macaroons, so as to sling the chocolate onto them. coat until you’re happy, and let the chocolate dry over the macaroons before eating. (Alternatively, you could dip these in chocolate in place of or in addition to drizzling chocolate. Just sayin’.)

Verdammt gut

You may remember (but you probably don’t, or if you did it would be weird) a comment I made a few months ago about Germany. German, to more specific. I considered myself quite the ‘language buff’ in high school and college. For a while, my intended major was business with minors in French and Spanish. I had dreams of being a big-time international businesswoman, racking up miles like George Clooney and living out of hotels with only the best room service, a constant supply of freshly-made cookies, 700-count sheets, and a suite with French doors opening out to the sun each morning.

That lasted approximately 1 semester. I hated economics, I did not like the idea of constant groupwork and presentations using pie charts, and the business building was slam on the other side of campus from my other classes. I liked the language coursework though, and I had full intentions of sticking with those minors until I took that damn genetics class.

I took both Spanish and French in high school, and to be totally honest, they were both easy to me, though it was probably because our classes were full of hoodlums (myself included) who acted up all the time, deterring Señora Williford and Madame Whatever-her-name-was from teaching too much anyway.

For whatever reason, I left the Spanish behind (which I now regret) and continued with French for a couple of semesters at college. Once I challenged myself to take French AND German at the same time. Ballsy, yes; smart, no.

Decidedly, the German language was not for me. I couldn’t get the difference between der and das and the crazy crazy noun inflections; most of all, I couldn’t get anywhere close to sounding German, and when I tried I was too busy laughing at myself (I also would not make a good actress, I know).

The only phrase I could say and know it was right was, “Ich komme aus Bombay” which translates to “I come from Bombay”. Why did I say that?! Who knows – we were told to pick names and countries of origin, so I thought being from India sounded pretty rad for someone in German class. It was short-lived, all of it.

Ironically enough, the Hubs is of 100% German descent, but I didn’t hold that against him when we met. Furthermore, I’d probably consider German food to be my absolute least favorite type of food (at least of what I can think of now). And don’t take that the wrong way – I like German food. Bratwurst? Mustard? Pretzels? Let’s not forget the bier und Rießlingen (beer & Riesling). And when, thanks to the CSA, I found myself with some red cabbage and pork chops, I couldn’t get the German themed combo out of my mind. I knew the cabbage needed a good braise, and both cabbage and pork needed more pork – bacon. It seemed to be a match made in heaven, and it was.

That said, I racked my wee ol’ brain and conjured up one more German phrase to add to the only other one I know: “Dies ist gut. Dies ist verdammt gut.”

Pork Chops with Braised Red Cabbage
Adapted from Gourmet, 2006 via Epicurious.com, serves 4

time commitment: 45 minutes, mostly active time

printable version

ingredients
6 bacon slices, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 small red cabbage, halved lengthwise, cored, and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 granny smith apple, sliced into thin sticks
1/4 c sherry vinegar
3/4 c water
2 T sugar
1/2 t caraway seeds
1 1/4 t salt
3/4 t black pepper
1 T canola oil
4 (1-inch-thick) bone-in rib pork chops (2 1/2 to 3 lb total)

instructions
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 450 F.

Cook bacon in a 4- to 5-quart wide heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, and transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Heat remaining bacon fat over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then cook onion, stirring occasionally, until it begins to turn golden, about 2 minutes. Add cabbage and apples and turn with tongs until coated with fat. Stir in sherry vinegar, water, sugar, caraway seeds, 3/4 t salt, and 1/4 t pepper and braise cabbage over moderately low heat, covered, stirring occasionally, until tender, 25 to 35 minutes.

Meanwhile, pat pork chops dry and sprinkle both sides with remaining salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then brown seasoned chops, turning over once, 5 minutes total, and transfer to a shallow baking pan (1 inch deep). Roast chops in oven until thermometer inserted horizontally 2 inches into center of a chop (do not touch bone) registers 145 F, 5 to 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, stir half of bacon into cabbage, then finely chop remaining bacon for sprinkling.

Let chops stand in pan, loosely covered with foil, 5 minutes. Serve chops over cabbage, with any pan juices spooned over and sprinkled with bacon.