June 30, 2008

Fluffy Battered Salt & Pepper Shrimp

1 lb peeled raw shrimp, tails intact
1 cup flour
1 cup club soda
black pepper

canola oil

In a shallow bowl, whisk together the club soda, flour, salt and pepper. Set aside. Heat about 1 1/2 inches of oil in a large saucepan or skillet, enough to cover the shrimp. Dip each side of each shrimp into the flour mixture. Fry 3 minutes or until crisp and cooked through. Drain on paper towel lined plates and serve hot.

Serve with tater sauce.

My thoughts:
I love batter that is fluffy. The trick is carbonation. Some people use beer but I like to use club soda (I use a similar technique when I make onion rings) because it has lots of bubbles but a more neutral flavor which doesn't mask the fresh, sweet flavor of the shrimp.

Double Ginger Carrot Cupcakes

1 cup shredded carrots
3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons canola oil
1/3 cup milk
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 inch knob ginger, grated
zest of 1/2 lemon
1 egg, at room temperature

cinnamon cream cheese frosting

Preheat oven to 350. Line or grease and flour 6 wells in a cupcake pan. In a large bowl, mix all ingredients together until a relatively smooth batter forms. Fill each well 2/3 of the way full. Bake 12-15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted the center of a cupcake comes out clean or with just one or two dry crumbs. Cool briefly in the pan, then remove cupcakes to wire racks to cool completely before icing with cinnamon cream cheese frosting.

My thoughts:
Until I made these, I am not entirely sure I had ever had more than a bite or two of carrot cake before, much less made it. It really wasn't something that appealed to me until I was reading a now forgotten novel in which the character ate carrot-ginger cupcakes with cinnamon cream cheese icing. There wasn't a recipe but the cupcakes sounded like a perfect idea to me, I have made carrot ginger cornmeal muffins before and a carrot ginger bread was one of the very first recipes I posted here back in 2004, but never a full-on carrot cake.

Carrot cakes are frequently made with oil instead of butter. I think it is because carrot cake was so popular in the US during the '70s when oil-based cakes were still very popular due a relatively new technique* and a renewed interest in "health food" left people feeling virtuous when eating carrot cake (no butter! lots of carrots!) although it is generally not any healthier than any other cake, especially when iced with its classic accompaniment, cream cheese frosting. Oil cakes are also quite easy to put together and there was a surge of "quick and easy" cookbooks at that time. Since this isn't a classic chiffon cake, all of the ingredients can be mixed together at once to great result and you don't have to wait until the butter softens. Older recipes (and frequently in British recipes, where carrot cakes were popular during the war due to rationing) often call for butter. For this recipe I decided to go the swinging '70s American route if for no other reason than the weather is very, very hot and my butter has been going from hard as a rock to completely melted in very little time.

I used canola oil because it a healthier choice than the more traditional vegetable oil and I think it is more neutral tasting. Using fresh and powdered ginger made the cupcakes spicy but not overpoweringly so. Unlike some carrot cakes, these cupcakes have a fine crumb and a very light and fluffy texture.

*The aptly named Harry Baker, creator of the prototypical oil-based cake he called chiffon cake, came up this technique back in the 1920s. However, wasn't until the late '40s and he revealed his secret ingredient (and sold the idea) to Betty Crocker that people began making cakes using oil instead of butter in any great numbers in the United States. Oil, even when used outside of the traditional chiffon cake which is made with lots of egg whites, gives cakes a fluffy texture. People who prefer cake mix cakes, which have a light, even texture and are frequently made with oil, often find oil based homemade cakes preferable to traditional creamed butter cakes because the texture is closer to that of a mix.

Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

4 oz cream cheese, softened
1 1/4 cup confectioners sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

Beat all ingredients until smooth. Spread on cooled cupcakes or cake.

My thoughts:
Tasty, simple icing that is great on spice cake.

Quick tip: if it is very hot weather, keep the frosting refrigerated until you are almost ready to serve, then ice the cupcakes.

June 28, 2008

Yogurt & Herb Two Potato Salad

1 1/2 lb red skin potatoes, cubed
1 1/2 lb purple potatoes, cubed
2 stalks celery, diced
1 bunch scallions, greens and white parts, diced

for the dressing:
150 g (5.3 oz) Greek yogurt
3 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup chives, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
1/4 cup chopped tarragon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon celery seed

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add potatoes and cook until fork tender. Drain and set aside. Meanwhile, gently stir together all of the dressing ingredients. Pour over slight warm potatoes and the celery and stir to evenly distribute. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

*I used the wonderful Oikos organic Greek yogurt. It is rich, creamy and fat free.

My thoughts:
This is a some what healthier version of the typical creamy potato salad; it makes the most of fat free Greek yogurt and Maille Dijon mustard and lots of green. That said, it is full of flavor from the fresh herbs and my favorite mustard. I love using a mix of red-skinned and purple potatoes in a salad, somehow it seems more festive than using just the red-skinned ones.

June 27, 2008

Seasoned Potato Wedges

1 1/2 lb red skin potatoes, cut into wedges*
olive oil

black pepper
garlic powder
smoked paprika

Bring a pot of water to boil. Drop in the potatoes, return to a boil and boil the potatoes for 3-5 minutes. You do not want to completely cook, you just want to get them started i.e. parboil the potatoes. Drain and pat dry. Drizzle with olive oil. Liberally sprinkle with spices. Place the wedges directly on the rack or in a grill pan over medium heat. Grill, turning occasionally, until cooked through, about 10-15 minutes.

*If you don't have a grill pan, make sure the wedges are large enough not to fall through the grate.

No grill?
Place the wedges on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, tossing occasionally, in a preheated 375 degree oven.

My thoughts:

my grill friday

The worse part about grilling is deciding what to make as a side dish. No one really wants to spend their time running back and forth between the kitchen and the grill. To avoid that you either have to make something to serve with the main dish in advance that can be refrigerated (think macaroni salad, potato salad, deviled eggs, vegetables and dip) or, and this is my favorite solution, make the side dish on the grill. On a recent night we were grilling hamburgers and what goes better with hamburgers than fries? Traditional thin cut fries would burn on the grill but wedges are just right-thick enough to stand up the heat and stay crisp, but small enough to cook quickly. The brief pre-cooking session ensures that the potatoes will cook thoroughly on the grill and end up with a crisp exterior and a fluffy interior.

Quick note:
While I am generally not a fan of garlic powder (why use it when the real thing is so much better?) it is perfect here adding just a hint of garlic flavor to the wedges and it doesn't burn like fresh garlic would in this situation.

June 25, 2008

Coconut Pancakes with Cardamom Syrup

for the pancakes:
1 3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
2 1/2 tablespoons melted butter
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons coconut natural flavor blend*
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs

for the syrup:
1/2 cup golden syrup
1/2 tablespoon butter
6 drops of cardamom extract**

butter for griddle

Whisk together all pancake ingredients together in a large bowl until just mixed. Spoon 1/3 cup of batter on a hot, buttered griddle. Cook until the top is bubbling, then flip. Meanwhile, place all of the syrup ingredients in a small pot and cook until hot, stirring occasionally. Cook the pancakes until the underside is golden brown, then serve drizzled with syrup.

Yield: about 8-10 pancakes

*I used this product from Silver Cloud Estates, a local spice company.
** Available from Supreme Spices.

My thoughts:
This is a Matt-created recipe. I am lucky that he both enjoys my cooking and likes to cook himself. He made this perfect-looking and scrumptious pancakes to fortify us before heading off to Great Grapes. I knew they had to be good when he insisted I take a picture of them. They were beautiful and equally tasty, not to mention very light and fluffy! The combination of the coconut flavoring and the small amount of coconut really gave the pancakes a coconut-y flavor without sacrificing texture.

June 22, 2008

Ginger Peach Streusel Cake


for the cake:

2 cups flour
2 cups sliced fresh peaches
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 drops ginger extract*
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg, at room temperature

for the streusel:
1/4 cup butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
1 teaspoon ground ginger


Preheat the oven to 375. Butter and flour or spray with cooking spray with flour 1 standard loaf pan or a 8 inch springform pan. In a medium bowl, whisk together 2 cups of flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. In large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in the egg and ginger extract. In a liquid measuring cup, whisk together the milk and sour cream. Add the flour mixture alternately with the milk to the butter mixture, beginning and ending with flour until a thick dough forms. Carefully fold in sliced peaches. Pour batter into the prepared pan. Set aside. In a small bowl, mix together all of the streusel ingredients until a rough crumb forms. You can achieve this by using a fork, pulsing a food processor or briefly mixing with an electric mixer. Sprinkle streusel evenly over the raw cake. Bake about 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry. Remove to a wire tack to cool. After about 5 minutes, release the cake from the pan and serve.

*I used the potent ginger extract from Supreme Spice. You could substitute fresh or ground ginger to taste.

My thoughts:
When I told my husband I was thinking about making a fruity coffee cake, his one request was that it had struesel. Who doesn't love streusel? My only cavaet in regards to streusel is that it can't contain an obscene amount of butter. I've seen recipes that call for nearly a cup of butter just in the topping! While this cake is really rich tasting it only uses 1/2 cup of butter (one stick, for my US readers) divided between the streusel and the cake.

Now it is a teensy bit early for peaches, but that's okay for this recipe. The long stint in the oven softens and sweetens them, so if you are like me and starved for some Summer fruit, go ahead and use those first peaches. I think the cake is better than it would have been if I went with my first impluse and used cherries.

If ginger isn't a classic pairing with peaches, it should be. The warming spice really accents the peaches' natural sweetness and keeps the cake from tasting overly sweet. I find that ground ginger I purchase at Asian markets has a stronger and more true to life flavor than the ground gingers I've purchased at the supermarket. It generally also cheaper, fresher and packaged in larger quanities so if you see it, it is worth picking up.

June 21, 2008

Shrimp & Scallop Noodle Bowl

for the sauce:
1 1/4 cup shrimp stock
2 inch knob ginger, sliced
2 inch knob galangal, sliced
1 stalk lemongrass, sliced
1 teaspoon palm sugar dissolved in 1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon cornstarch

for the stir fry:
3/4 lb shrimp
3/4 lb scallop
6 oz fresh shiitake mushrooms
2 carrots, in matchsticks
2 head Shanghai cabbage, sliced in 1/4 inch wide pieces horizontally
1b fresh egg noodles, boiled 1 minute then drained
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons canola oil

Bring the shrimp stock, ginger, galangal, and lemongrass to a boil. Boil until it is reduced to 1 cup. Strain out the solids. Stir in soy sauce and palm sugar then whisk in the cornstarch. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a wok. Quickly stir fry the garlic then add the carrot, mushrooms and cabbage. Stir fry until the cabbage is just starting to wilt. Push the vegetables to one side of the wok, then add the seafood into the empty space. Stir fry until the shrimp and scallops are almost completely cooked through. Add the noodles and sauce. Stir fry until the noodles are soft and the sauce is mostly absorbed. Serve hot.

Yield: 2-4 servings.

My thoughts:
This was one of the tastiest noodle dishes I've made in a while. The noodles absorb all of the delicious broth and accent rather than obscure the natural brininess of the shrimp and scallops. It is also an exceptionally quick yet impressive looking dish to make, especially if you have a basic shrimp stock* on hand. I like to make stock whenever we have shrimp and then freeze it. You don't even have to defrost it ahead of time, it defrosts very quickly over medium heat in a saucepan. I then flavor it to accent the rest of the ingredients of whatever I am making. In this case, I was using Asian ingredients so I used Thai-influenced add-ins. It really elevates the dish into something special.

*Basically just water, raw shrimp shells, shrimp heads if possible, lemon peel, onions, parsley etc boiled until it reduces and then skimmed of solids.

June 20, 2008

Chipotle Cheddar Spread

3 cups shredded extra sharp cheddar
6 chipotle chiles in adobo, chopped
6 tablespoons mayonnaise
4 teaspoons adobe sauce
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
white pepper

to serve:
4 hamburger patties*
hamburger rolls

Mash together all of the ingredients with a fork in a medium bowl. Grill hamburgers until almost done. Evenly divide the cheese mixture and top each patty. Allow to cook 1-2 minutes or until just beginning to melt. Serve on hamburger rolls.

*I used the sublime steakburgers from local Roseda Beef, which need no extra flavoring to be juicy and delicious.

My thoughts:
Rather than flavor your meat, top it with flavor!

I came up with this recipe as sort of an homage to that Southern staple Pimento cheese. Rather than use it as a simple cold spread, I topped my burgers with it and allowed it to melt a bit on the grill. Yum! Smoky, spicy, cheesy. What's not to love? It is also extremely tasty cold on a sandwich or on some crackers. Or wedged in the grooves of some celery. It is smoky, spicy and more than a little addictive.

June 18, 2008

Dragon Fruit Sorbet

2 dragon fruits (also known as pitaya or pitahaya)
3/4 cup cold water
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon agave nectar or simple syrup

Cut the dragon fruit in half. Scoop out the flesh. Reserve the halves for serving, if desired. Freeze the halves until you are ready to fill them (to help them maintain their shape). Meanwhile, place the pulp in the blender along with the water, lime juice and agave nectar. Pulse until smooth. Pour into an ice cream maker and churn until frozen. Spoon into halves and serve. If you are not ready to eat, spoon the sorbet into the halves, wrap each half tightly in plastic wrap then freeze until serving.

Yield: 4 servings

My thoughts:
Dragon fruit has a subtle, not too sweet taste that is great in a sorbet. It is totally refreshing on a hot day.

You could serve it in a bowl, but it is very easy to scoop the flesh out and leave the skin intact so why not use it? The outside of the fruit is so attractive and distinctive it really elevates a simple dessert to something special.

Quick tip:
How to pick a dragon fruit: The thin skin should have a bright color and when you press it, it should give like a slightly ripe avocado. The seeds are similar to that of a kiwifruit so they are totally edible.

June 16, 2008

Quick Pickled Carrot-Cucumber Salad

4 medium carrots, sliced diagonally
3 Spring onions, greens and white, chopped*
1 cucumber, peeled and sliced diagonally

1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
2 cloves garlic, grated
1 inch knob ginger, grated
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Whisk together all of the dressing ingredients. Toss with the rest of the salad ingredients. Refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving.

*I find that occasionally there is a tightly packed and slightly tough little section right where white bulb meets the green. I normally just toss that part and just use the bulb and the upper 3/4 of the greens.

My thoughts:
This is a crisp, fresh tasting salad that is a great way to show off some in season vegetables. It can be made up to a day before you serve it which makes it a great choice for picnics and parties. I got my inspiration for this salad from the little bowls of pickled vegetables that often accompany Vietnamese dinners or that adorn bánh mì. This recipe is similar in spirit to those pickles but with a slight twist: the addition of sesame, which I think lends an extra layer of flavor and texture and helps the vegetables from fully absorbing the dressing and becoming soggy too quickly.

June 15, 2008

Thai Cooler


for the syrup:
1 1/2 inch knob galangal cut into small chunks
1 handful fresh mint
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
zest of one lime

to serve:
club soda

Place the sugar, galangal, mint, water and zest in a heavy sauce pan. Bring to a boil. Continue to boil until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture thickens to a light syrup. Keep an eye on it as it can quickly go from "syrup" to "sticky candy" in just a few minutes. Strain into a heat safe container. Discard solids. Allow to cool. Spoon 2 tablespoons of syrup into each glass. Top with the juice of one lime and stir to combine. Top with club soda. Repeat for each glass.

Note: Any leftover syrup should be poured into a jar and refrigerated for future use. It can keep up to 2 weeks.

Yield: 6-8 drinks.

My thoughts:
It has been a busy weekend! So busy I haven't done much cooking or eating. I did make time to create this refreshing drink and it was well worth the little bit of extra effort. It is a wonderful treat on a hot day. If you cannot find galangal root, you can subsitute fresh ginger. Galangal root also a rhizome and has a flavor similar to ginger. However, galangal has a more complex flavor which containes some citrus notes. If you wanted to be naughty, I think this would be great spiked with some white rum as a sort of Thai mojito.

June 13, 2008

Grilled Rapini & Mushrooms


1/2 lb rapini
10 oz sliced mushrooms

for the vinaigrette
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon pomegranate infused balsamic vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Whisk together all vinaigrette ingredients. Set aside. Sprinkle the mushrooms and rapini with salt. Toss the rapini and mushrooms with the dressing. Place on a perforated grill pan. Place on the rack and cook until cooked through but not crispy, tossing occasionally-the time will depend on the grill you are using. Serve hot!

My thoughts:
Welcome to another edition of My Grill Friday!

my grill friday

I was pleased to find out that the rapini is more than hardy enough to stand up to grilling. The vinaigrette really accents the greens. I've found there aren't a lot of vegetarian/vegan recipes for the grill out there. While this one isn't exactly a main dish by itself, it could be if you tossed with with some pasta or quinoa. It is surprisingly filling. It is also a great side dish for meat or fish as-is.

grilled rapini and mushrooms

Stay tuned for more recipes for the grill including more vegetables, options for the meat eaters and even desserts every Friday until Labor Day.

June 11, 2008

Chipotle Blackberry Pulled Pork

2 1/2 to 3 lb boneless pork shoulder roast (trim off excess fat)
1 cup fresh (whole) blackberries
1/4 cup chili sauce (like Heinz)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup white rum
1 tablespoon spiced ginger preserves*
2 teaspoons black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons mesquite liquid smoke
1 1/2 teaspoons Mexican hot chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 chipotles in adobo (with at least 3 teaspoons adobo sauce, chopped)
juice and zest of one lime
2 onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil

for the spice rub:

1 teaspoon Mexican hot chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons chipolte
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon smoked paprika

Mix the spice rub ingredients together. Rub them on the pork. In a large skillet heat the oil and then brown the roast well on all sides. Place roast in slow cooker. Add all remaining ingredients to slow cooker. Cook on high in the slow cooker 6 hours**. When done, meat should shred easily with a fork. Remove roast from slow cooker. Shred with a fork (or use your fingers) and set aside. Mash any solid bits of the sauce with a potato masher. Return the pork and the sauce to slow cooker, and toss to evenly coat. Serve on rolls.

*I used Mackay's spiced ginger preserves. It is available at most well-stocked grocery stores in the jam and jelly isle.

**Or on low for 8-9 hours.

My thoughts:
That smoky mango pulled pork I made and posted a while back was so good, we're still dreaming of it. Literally, I had a dream about eating that on a homemade roll last night. However tempting making it again is however, thoughts of a different pulled pork have also been filling my thoughts. One with blackberries and chipotle peppers. Could it work? I had to try and find out.

I bought the blackberries at the store which killed me because we have a huge blackberry bush in the yard but our berries aren't quite ripe yet, but it was worth it. The ginger preserves were a last minute add in, I found a jar of it at the store recently and couldn't resist tossing some in. It added a slightly different type of spice to the pulled pork instead of just hot chile. I was a little concerned about the seeds in the blackberries, but I found that the long cooking time cooked them to the point where they were analogous with sesame seeds. If you are really concerned about the seeds, push the berries through a sieve before adding them to the slow cooker. The verdict? Smoky, spicy sweet-tart melt-in-your-mouth pork. Yum!

June 09, 2008

Pineapple-Chile Paletas

12-16 oz fresh pineapple, cut into chunks
1 dried chile guajillo, seeds removed freshly ground
3/4 cup pineapple juice
1 teaspoon chipolte chile powder
1 tablespoon sugar (if needed)
juice of 1 lime

Add 3/4 of the pineapple chunks, all of the pineapple juice, chile guajillo, sugar, lime juice and chipolte powder in blender and pulse until almost smooth. Stir in remaining pineapple chunks. Divide evenly into ice pop molds, leaving a 1/4 inch at the top for expansion. Seal and freeze until solid.

Quick note: For this recipe, it would be fine to substitute canned pineapple in juice for the fresh.

Yield: This will depend in how large your molds are. You could also use cups and wooden sticks if you don't have actual ice pop molds. I personally prefer the smaller sized and liquid tight Tupperware Ice Tups but there are a wide variety of molds available in various sizes on Amazon.

My thoughts:
Paletas are Latin American ice pops that are usually made from fresh fruit and often contain chiles. I am actually not much of a ice pop person (in direct contrast to my husband who is absolutely Popsicle addicted) but I find paletas completely irresistible. I think I love these pineapple ones most of all, but I also have a special fondness for cucumber-lime-chile and pickle paletas* as well. There is something very refreshing about a cool pop that has a bit of spice to it.

Even tiny dachshunds can't resist the allure of the pineapple and chile combination.

*I might be convinced to post a recipe for these too, if there was some interest.

June 07, 2008

Tarragon Potato Salad

2 lb red skin potatoes, cut into manageable chunks
1 stalk celery, including greens, chopped
1/2 medium onion, diced
1/4 cup parsley, chopped

for the dressing:
2 tablespoons tarragon vinegar
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 1/2 teaspoon tarragon
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon celery seed
white pepper

Whisk together the dressing ingredients and set aside. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the potatoes and cook until fork-tender. Allow to cool, then toss with parsley, onion and celery. Pour the dressing over the potatoes, gently stir to evenly distribute.

My thoughts:
Simple is best but some times you just need a twist to liven up a classic like potato salad. Tarragon is an herb I don't see much mention of and it is a shame. I love it, even enjoying a bright green Russian tarragon flavored soda called TapxyH which is a little tricky to find. Tarragon lends a fresh, lively flavor to potato salad without adding any extra time or effort to the usual prep-perfect for those hot days when one barely wants to eat, much less cook.

June 06, 2008

Pomegranate-Mint Glazed Pork Chops

for the marinade:
1/4 cup pomegranate infused balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large springs worth of mint
2 inch knob ginger, grated

4 thick cut (about 1 to 1 1/2 inch) pork chops

Mix together the marinade in a small bowl. Pour over the pork chops and marinate at least 2 hours. Prepare your grill for grilling. Cook them on high or the hottest part of your grill for 3-4 minutes on each side or until each side is well browned. Then either turn your grill to a lower temperature or move to a cooler part of the grill. If your grill has a vented cover, cover and cook for another 3 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 160. Serve hot!

My thoughts:

my grill friday
For this recipe, it is important to use thick cut pork chops, they thick enough to hold in the juices and stay moist. Thinner chops cook more quickly but they also have a tendency to dry out and get tough. The sugar content of the pomegranate molasses helps the outside of the pork caramelize and take on a glossy sheen without burning or over cooking the meat. These are some of the juiciest and most flavorful chops I have ever had!

No grill? Bake or saute these as you would any pork chop or use a grill pan.

Shown in the background: grilled rapini and mushrooms.

June 04, 2008

Pea Shoot Pesto

1/4 lb fresh, young pea shoots
1 bunch Spring onion, chopped
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup toasted pinenuts

to serve:
1 lb hot cooked pasta
3/4 lb peeled, steamed shrimp (optional)
garnish: additional pea shoots

Place the pea shoots, onion, cheese, olive oil, pinenuts salt and pepper in a food processor or blender, pulse until a thick paste forms. Toss with 1 lb cooked pasta, additional pea shoots and shrimp.

Yield: about 4 servings

My thoughts:

You can't get a quicker meal during the warm weather months than pesto. In this version, verdant pea shoots (or pea greens or pea vines depending on what you want to call them) combine with the Spring onions to create the freshest tasting pesto I've ever had. It is mild but intensely flavorful. The shrimp isn't 100% needed, but they do add a little texture interest (and little bursts of flavor!) to the dish.

Quick notes about the ingredients:
Pea shoots or pea greens are the top parts of the pea plant. For this dish, use only young, tender shoots. More mature (and fibrous) pea shoots (often found in Asian markets) need to be cooked before eating. Pea shoots taste sort of like the pod part of snow peas.

Spring onions have a larger, more rounded and defined bulb than green onions or scallions, but either of those would be an adequate substitute if Spring onions are unavailable.

June 02, 2008

How to Steam Blue Crabs

apple cider vinegar
Old Bay
kosher or coarse salt
live blue crabs

In a large boiling pot with a 2 inch raised rack add water and vinegar in equal amounts until the level is just below the rack. Bring to a boil. Drop the crabs into the pot in single layers*, sprinkling each layer with a thick coating of Old Bay and salt. The larger the pot, the more crabs you can steam at once, just make sure that the lid is still able to fit tightly. Steam in batches if you have to. Cover the pot and steam until until crabs turn a bright orange, about 20 minutes. If the shells are dark red or have reddish-green patches, then the crabs are not fully cooked and you need to keep steaming them. I found that stirring occasionally with a long handled spoon helped make sure the crabs at the top were cooked enough. Remove the crabs from the pot with tongs and serve on a newspaper lined table, preferably outdoors. Make sure you have lots of paper towels! Now, I am a Baltimore native and an experienced crab picker so I normally don't need any utensils beyond my fingers but it is often wise to have wooden crab mallets, butter knives or even nut cracking tools handy in case you need them to get the last bits of crab out of the shell. Now you are ready to get picking!

*Wear gloves! Refrigerating the crabs before you steam them keeps them alive and dopey but they still want to pinch and are stronger than you'd think.

My thoughts:
Steamed crabs are the quintessential Baltimore food. I actually have never steamed them at home until today but when I scored 16 good-sized, sweet crabs for $11 because they were packing up for the day at the farmer's market, I couldn't resist. Normally, they run about $20 a dozen. Steaming the crabs was super easy-I had seen people steam them before (mostly while I waited to pick up my order) so pretty much knew what to do. I even ran out of Old Bay 3/4 of the way through and they were still good! Of course, admitting that I ran out of Old Bay is enough to get me run out of town, but in my defense, my New Yorker husband claimed that a 6 oz tin was "more than enough Old Bay" for the Summer. I knew we needed the 1 lb tin. I found that using apple cider vinegar gave the crab a subtle tang that accentuated the crab's sweetness. I know some people like to steam in beer but I think that obscures some of the crab's natural flavor. Simple is best!

So, if you have access to fresh, live blue crabs, it is worth it to pick some up! It is super easy to steam them at home (even if you have to make a makeshift crab pot) and cheaper than getting them out. Old Bay is available in most groceries stores in the seasonings and spices isle or in the seafood department.

Learn how to get all of the succulent meat out here.

Also: a quick welcome to all of my new visitors who found me via the article this month in Baltimore Magazine! I've enjoyed all the emails and well-wishes! Thanks!