A Good Start

Chris and I made a resolution of sorts waaaaay back in January. We resolved to get our asses (and the rest of our bodies) out of the house more often, to experience as much of our amazing surroundings as possible, and along the way, to Get Fit. I’m a little on the cheesy side, so I aptly named this “Get Out and Get Fit 20-12”. Yup – lame as can be is me!

But whatevs. My point today is to tell you how awesome that plan’s been going so far.

Living in Northern California is nothing short of amazing – I know I’ve said that a time or two. Having the ability to hike and camp in February isn’t something I’d really considered before – but it’s more than possible here. Of course, if you’re a person of “seasons”, which I thought I was until last year, you’d surely miss the below-freezing temperatures and snows that happen elsewhere in the early parts of the year. If we ever start to miss that, we’ve realized that Tahoe is a weekend away, and loaded with snow and cold-ness right about now. But I haven’t missed it yet, and currently we are more than content with the mild winter, our down coats packed far away in the back of our closet.

So we’ve been going on these hikes around the Bay Area every chance we’ve gotten on the weekends. We hop up early one weekend morning, smoothies in hand, and head in whatever direction sounds good for the day. Chris gets to do his regular research about the area, and I get to figure out how to feed us, which is usually lots of fruit and granola, and a pre-made sandwich from Faletti’s to share. We’ve checked out the redwoods and beaches near Mt. Tam(alpais), we’ve gone down to Half Moon Bay and seen the Santa Cruz Mountains, and we’ve been to Mt. Diablo – twice.

This past weekend, get this, we went camping. Yeah! In February! Sure, it got down to the 30’s overnight, but despite the fact that we were sleeping outside, our sleeping bags kept us plenty warm. There were coyote conversing nearby, owls hooting throughout the night, and weird-sounding birds making strange puffing noises at 6 am. There were gigantic raccoons teaming up to pull open a trashbag left out by nearby campers, and shortly after we got there and started unloading the car, the fog rolled in like nobody’s business, making things look all sorts of horror movie-creepy.

With a little bit of planning, there was good food and plenty of good times. Yes, camping in May or August is sure to be warmer, but the fact that we could camp in February meant we had to camp in February. So we did.

After a night of grilled chicken, sweet potatoes, fire-toasted legit s’mores, a little beer and wine (ssshhhhh…. the park said it was against the rules..), and some tunes, we called it a night and hopped up the next morning to make breakfast, finish off some leftover bloody marys (brought over for Super Bowl fun), and hike on another gorgeous Sunday.

2012 is definitely off to a good start.

Other Bay-Area hikes (Flickr pool):
Mt Diablo – Eagles’ Peak
Mt Tamalpais to Stinson Beach
Purisima Creek & Harkins Ridge
Mt Diablo Summit Loop + Camping

 

Achiote-Marinated Grilled Chicken
Adapted from Rouxbe, serves 4

time commitment: 30 minutes active time (prep & grilling), at least 1 hour marinating

printable version

ingredients
2 oz achiote paste*
1 t dried oregano
1/2 t g cumin
juice of 2 limes
2 T brown rice vinegar
2 T grapeseed oil (or olive oil)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T adobo sauce (from can of chipotle chiles in adobo)
1 chipotle chile (from can), minced
salt and pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 T cilantro, roughly chopped

*achiote paste is essentially ground-up annatto seeds with a few other ingredients. I usually find this on the Mexican food aisle with the Mexican spices. it’s a dark burgundy color, usually sold in small “blocks”.

instructions
mash up achiote paste in a small bowl and add the oregano and cumin. Add the lime juice through the minced chipotle chile and mash/mix until as smooth as possible. season to taste with salt and pepper (1/2 – 1 t of each).

slice three small slits into the top of each chicken breast. place chicken breasts in a large ziploc bag and add half of the marinade to the bag. close bag, shake to mix marinade into chicken. refrigerate for at least an hour, up to overnight (more marinating = more flavor). save the remaining half of the marinade for basting.

heat grill to medium-high. grill chicken over indirect heat for ~5-6 minutes per side, until cooked throughout, flipping once. brush reserved marinade atop while cooking. top with cilantro 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.