Saturday, October 1, 2011

PYO Crabs: The Other Summer Blues

Snorkeling for Blue Crabs in a marsh on Southern Cape Cod. These are vicious bastards and fierce fighters. I got pinched good a bunch of times, and one even drew blood through my gloves. Nine great, big, plier-clawed monsters, 8 male and one female, hiding in the rocks at a popular children's beach.

This was a high adrenaline snorkel, because the tidal bore here was pretty strong, great for covering turf -- all you have to do is drift -- but trying to stay in one place in the current and track a crab with claws this wide, that will rip your face off in self defense, well, that requires finesse. Good density, too... I hit a crab about every three or four minutes, until I had nine -- three for each of us.

Now what I don't get is, I got these beautiful Blue Crabs at a popular beach, in three or four feet of water. Anybody and his dog could have had them. Are Blues just not really a New England thing, or am I the only one to think of looking there? This is the northern edge of their range, but blue crabs on the southern Cape are nothing new.

Friends David and Deborah and I went into these with heavy spoons and a bottle of Sri Racha. Here's going at one with the back of a cleaver, and the money shot, a perfectly split claw...

These were about the biggest, sweetest, crabs any of us remembered, and David's been eating them in Maryland since back in the day. I hadn't enjoyed crustaceans and company so much in a long time. A shout out here to my buddies from C.L.A.W., who also would have appreciated this.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Section Of A Cone

Without explanation, this might look like an ordinary ice cream cone. You may notice the cone is filled, however, and that's because this was deliberately engineered that way to maximize the cone as an ice cream reserve. I had made a textbook chocolate cone, and gave it to my wife and made her promise not to have a bite.

Now giving someone a cone like that and a promise of 'don't touch' is a cruel thing to do to someone who'd actually listen. Neither of us believed she wasn't going to work it over while I attended to something or other in the kitchen, but it didn't matter because I had a backup ice cream reservoir.

Cold Turkey Vindaloo

Quick snack: some fresh ciabatta, a single slice of turkey -- just enough to flavor a mouthful of bread -- and a smear of vindaloo paste over the mayonnaise. Or under it, I can't remember. But I do remember it was pretty tasty. I wonder, though... I'm too much of a snob to used jarred condiments, mostly. Are these crappy vindaloo but I lack the basis for comparison? It's made in India, anyway. Maybe grab a jar at an Indian market and tell me what you think.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


The chicken 'tender', that triangular one with the tendon hanging out the back, is pretty much a product of modern chicken processing. They didn't have them when I was growing up, and came on the market not much after the 'McNugget' turned the chicken processing world upside down.

I'm not crazy about them as a substitute for chicken fingers, because by the time you reduce the connective tissue in that tendon, you've totally overcooked the chicken. Or you get a chicken finger with a tendon in the middle.

Day one leftovers for the kids, a one pot microwave meal with pasta and corn. Day two is my obligation, and here's some leftover chicken fingers in a sandwich, chopped fine, avocado, mayonnaise, lettuce, sri racha, and a good squirt of lime, all on a fresh St. Joseph's roll from Virgilio's. And with a big damned spike through it, so it doesn't fall apart or lose its integrity. I hate that.

Brace of Virgilio's

There's a pretty thing, two semolina loaves from Virgilio's Italian bakery, right there on the end of mainstreet. Dish of previously mentioned garlic salt. Room temperature sweet butter. Maybe some gravy from the pot. I want a chunk of that right now, but it's Friday night so I have to wait for blessings.

I Laugh At Your Puny Garlic Salt

Durkee garlic salt is for weaklings. Dried garlic powder and table salt. Please.

If I want a salt and garlic kick, I take jarred Chinese fried garlic, and grind it in the ol' mortar and pestle with a good pinch of kosher salt. It's awesome just on bread and butter, or here sprinkled on seared vegetables, with a little olive oil.

My Small, Anorexic Greek Salad

Why Small and Anorexic? Well, first, because if you google 'my big fat greek salad', you'll find dozens of greek salads under that clever heading. Google a small, anorexic greek salad, baby, and it takes you right to me.

The other reason is that each of these is near fatally flawed for a Greek salad. They both have feta, but we barely make the cut on that point alone; this feta is probably rated higher by Consumer Reports as a caulking agent than by Cook's Illustrated as a cheese, but never mind. One of these salads has no kalamata olives, and one has no tomatoes. Now everyone knows, you make a greek salad by waving feta, kalamata olives, and a styrofoam tomato at a piece of lettuce, and serving with half a nearly stale pita and prepackaged dressing. That's how it's done. So how, you ask, can I claim these are Greek salads?

Well first, there's the feta. But there's also a handful of fresh thyme, oregano, chocolate mint, and a little sage, rinsed, minced fine, and topping both. Fresh made dressing, a pretty simple job of good olive oil, kosher salt, fresh pepper, a mild vinegar. I bet a real greek salad is whatever you have lying around, with fresh herbs from the garden or hillside, and never mind the kalamata olives.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Artichoke Hearts

They came jarred, preserved but unseasoned. About six hours before dinner, I rinsed them, drained the pickle from the jar, and replaced with olive oil, fresh, crushed oregano, thyme, and sage, kosher salt, pepper, and basalmic vinegar cut with unsweetened rice vinegar. Turn over occasionally, make them pretty on a plate, and move fast because if there are any left by the end of dinner, it's only because people are being polite...

Oh, Snap!

Don't overlook the homely gingersnap amid labels blaring 'triple stuffed!' and 'now with colored chips!' or 'glow-in-the-dark frosting!' Simple, inexpensive, plain wrapper, not too sweet, and excellent with a cup of tea. It even says so on my mug, so I remember what I'm drinking.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Caramelized Bananas: Pancake Koan

What is the taste of a banana pancake without the pancake?

It depends, Orthopteran, on how long you let them caramelize before you add the syrup... [orthopteran = grasshopper. ortho - straight, ptera - wing)

In a rare demonstration of any sort of forethought on my part, I returned the box of pancake mix to save the effort of cleaning dishes and spills. But I still had the bananas to use, and a hot frying pan, and it was a weekend morning, and this wouldn't require much actual attention. So:

So: Coarse chop perfect bananas, just starting to spot, and brown them in a dab of butter (or margarine if you must, I had to), just like you'd do with onions. The starches in the banana will caramelize exactly the same way. Stop when you run out of time or the bananas are soft enough for your taste.

Pour in a bowl steaming hot, add some real maple syrup and don't stir too much. I had mine with toast, but you could dip a tire in this and not even notice it was chewy.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Thai Style Plums

Go do this now, you'll thank me later. First, get some fruit that is really good but not truly excellent -- for example, I'd not encourage you to do this with perfect local peaches, though on second thought...

Anyway, get a small bowl and put in a spoonful or so of salt. Add enough sugar to create a nice sweet and salt balance. Nu, I'm not telling you how much. Add some. Taste it. Add some more. Taste it again. You put in too much sugar, add a little more salt.

When you get that right, add cayenne, as hot as you're willing to bear with good humor. Mix well, and dip sliced fruit before you eat it. The fruit adds acid, and you get a textbook burst of sugar, salt, sour, and hot. You might want to adjust the flavor of your mix to compensate for the sweet and acid already in your fruit; for sweet oranges, for instance, I'd probably just use salt and cayenne. Here's mine; go make yours. I'll wait.

Liftoff! We Have Liftoff!

Looks like my kitchen is about to take off, or I'm using a small jet engine to crackle the surface of a pudding, perhaps. In fact, I've used a cable tie to stick a big f*cking fan to a cabinet handle for to cool sushi rice (stirring while cooling gives individual grains rather than a single mass).

Friday, September 9, 2011

Tuna Pizza? Mais Oui! or Pizza With A Schquirt

Smadar, a cherished Israeli visitor, wanted a tuna pizza, so I brought a can down to Terry, at LaRosa's Pizza, and he kindly made a half tuna, half plain pizza for us and the kids. We do it all the time now. Some of the folks looked at me kind of funny, but it's pretty easy to sell a tuna pizza as the same thing as a tuna melt (bread, tomato, tuna, cheese, heat...). I also point out that it is tres European. My first tuna pizza was somewhere in southern France... had olives with the pits, too, wasn't that a surprise.

So here's the tuna pizza with a little crudite (elevates a pizza meal with a few jars and a little shopping, MIFLARD), and my piece halved, and topped with pitted kalamata olives and a generous schquirt (it's like a schmear) of sri racha. Uber pizza, and thank you, Terry and Smadi.

Frying Pan of Steamer Pot

Yes, I'm all for nice cookware, but a little junkyard science can save you from laying out big bucks for pan you don't need every day.

There's nothing better than cast iron for heating evenly, so to melt some margarine for a double batch of rice crispy treats, I took a cheap-assed, paper thin steaming pan, and nestled it in some cast iron on low heat. Viola, as sweet, slow, and even a heat as you could want, with the added benefits of heating the sides and not costing a bundle. Simple kitchen physics.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Off Beet

Some beautiful fresh beets from Aprilla farms via the Cape Ann Farmer's Market. Can't abide beets... just kidding.

Readers may recall my basic formula for vegan dumpling fillings is a green, a mushroom, a root, and an allium. In this case, baby bok choy (also from Aprilla farms, reconstituted dried abalone mushrooms, shredded beets, and scallions.

The filling is parcooked just enough to wilt so it folds easy. Here's a bunch of dumplings, mine and my sister-in-law protege... can you tell which is which? Most folded as gyotze, with a couple of demo shumai there in the foreground.

Here they are cooked, crisp on the bottom and chewy on the top, with a soy/sugar/vinegar/garlic/ginger/scallion/sesame dipping sauce. they looked awesome, with the beets marbelizing the translucent wrappers. And when you bit them, they looked a little like meat. But they weren't, so you could eat a million of them, steaming hot and dripping sauce over your plate. Pass me another couple.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

PYO Lobster and A Modest Proposal.

My first and as of this writing only lobster taken on snorkel. I caught this in about 12 feet of water, at low tide in Rockport. Totally worth buying the permit to have this memory. Here's the lobster, next to the guage -- you can check it yourself with photoshop, if you've a mind.

The lobster dished up proper with black bean sauce, since I had some baby bok choy from Aprilla farms, at the Farmer's Market. I didn't (ie, never) work from a recipe, but I've seen this dish and experimented a million times (up to and including cutting up the lobster before you cook it. Don't. The meat adheres to the shell, and it's a mess to eat). It's a pretty direct process for me now. And I used black beans from scratch -- not a prepared sauce.

Were you inclined to do it yourself: Steam whole lobster. Cool, clean, and crack all joints on all appendages. Set aside, keep such contents of the shell as you'd enjoy adding to the sauce later. Saute crushed garlic and ginger with soaked fermented black beans. Add broth, greens, whole lobster, a little broth with corn starch, tune sweet and salt with palm sugar syrup and soy sauce. Look at that baby... I think a shout out to Dennis Liu is due here, who took me to my first asian grocery in C-town back in the day.

Finding lobsters is not hard; find legally sized lobsters is very difficult because they are under so much pressure, between pots and divers, that they get taken the moment they molt and become big enough to gauge. Of they few lobsters I've taken on SCUBA (less than a dozen since I was certified in '88) most of them were barely legal, and soft (ie, recently molted, and I got to them first).

As much fun as catching lobsters on SCUBA can be, I don't think the environment can sustain it. Plus, divers can dig and move rocks -- you'll do anything in the heat of the moment to bring up a trophy -- in a way more disruptive than traps. To say nothing of recreational poachers, that lowest of life forms, who should be used as bait. Live bait. In chunks. I grew up friendly with a lobstering family in Hull, summers back in the 70's, and it was common knowledge that anyone fiddling with traps could expect -- and soundly deserved -- a peppering with birdshot.

I propose diving for bugs be banned and replaced with the following compromise: Divers may take lobsters only on snorkel, and in return, there will be shallow water diver sanctuaries with no lobster pots, so the take will be better in the free diver's limited range. Or maybe no sanctuaries, but give the free divers a slightly shorter limit, like 3" instead of 3 1/4" and only males, something to give them an edge. Because it's hard to hold your breath that long.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Halfshells On The Halfshell, or Neck With Me

I made sushi for my sister in law, and, well, thank goodness Intershell is open until six.

Anyway, the topnecks -- or countnecks -- whatever necks, they looked beautiful, and called to me from the ice, like the oysters in Alice. Opened cleanly, not a tough one in the batch, and I caught every drop of liquor in the scallop shell. Served cold with my world famous chili/lime/palm sugar/fish sauce and a dab of seaweed salad.

I hadn't had these in ages and they were just ... perfect. It consummates the relationship with the seashore like swimming. You go in the sea, you put some of the sea in you. I never got the hang of oysters, but these were fresh, crisp, salty, icy cold... I see another stop at Inteshell in my future.

Banana PBJ: Hit Me!

Chicken wings aren't the only thing that make me hear funky baselines. This sandwich was specifically constructed to be high calorie -- and yummy -- for a day I skipped breakfast and had a lot to do. Thick sandwich bread, chunky peanut-only peanut butter, a thick schmear of brand name strawberry jam, and sliced bananas, baby, wrapped tightly in saran for at least a half hour to get some integrity. But where I love PBJ's that have sat around all night, that's not so friendly with bananas, and this sandwich has a shelf life of only a couple hours.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Nice Cleavage!

Man, I was waiting to use that line...

I built a 'croc walk' for my kids' summer camp, using discarded lobstering rope and a couple of four by fours. I needed multiple easy, clean cuts and the cleaver is just the way to go. And more fun, too.

Line up your cut and whack! through the bottom strands. You have to think your cut what supports the object, and end with a crack to get every strand. Perfect cuts: clean, neat, doesn't disturb the lay of adjacent rope. The rest of the rope doesn't even know it happened.

That there cleaver is Onibocho. Well, one of the two knives I call Onibocho. When I finally get that big-ass gyoto from Shinichi Watanabe, that will be the new Onibocho.

Polly's Law (or Whitefish Spread)

Quick breakfast for guests when I wanted to balance getting out the door with having something nice. Quick run to Market Basket produced a chunk of Acme whitefish, flaked into a bowl, and thrown on an unset table with two ciabattas (freshest loaf at MB at the moment), a tub of cream cheese, a pickle plate (two kinds of olives, dill pickles, pepperonci) and a bagel fixin's plate (sliced purple onion, tomato, chopped dill pickles (poor man's capers; essential), carrots for border and color, and fresh minced scallions mixed into room temperature cream cheese. Get your own plate and silver and enjoy.

And you know, looking this over in contrast to the phrase 'getting out the door quick' and I'm thinking, this is what you do when you want to get out the door quick? Give me a break. Admittedly, for guests, but still...

I carpooled with Polly for a year, and we're still friends, and she'll read this. Polly was late more than once because of a breakfast that got out of hand on my part, and I'm sure saw similar behavior in preparing snacks and god knows what else. Thus Polly's law, and I quote her: 'Never let Michael near food.'

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Vindaloo Dipping Sauce

Easy. Take a spoonful of vindaloo curry from a jar, mix well with an equal amount of olive oil, and serve with a good crusty bread. In this case, it's a whole wheat, paper thin pita from a bakery in worcester, also at the Indian market. But frankly, my preferred tipple for dipping will always be a crusty baguette.

The Other Tuna Melt

Grilled cheese with fresh tomato, and a side of seared tuna, drizzled with soy and eaten right off the cutting board.

Triscuits and Stinky Cheese

I like blues, gorgonzolas, that kind of thing. I really like Saga Blue (Saga Bleu!) and Cambezola and those spreadable, high fat spreadable veined cheeses.

This is a domestic smoked blue, very nice, with triscuits, one of my favorite substrates for cheese. Yes, I said 'substrate'.


And I think this is the real deal... technically, tapenade should have capers, 'cause the nice folks at wikipedia say it's from the Provencal word for capers, tapenas.

Olives, anchovies, olive oil, capers, chopped fine but not too fine. Crusty bread, glass of wine (really, I'd probably have it with diet coke, shame), maybe a salad, and I'd be fine.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Roti Toti

Roti from an Indian grocery store, and applied roti theory: Roti first heated and softened directly on the flame of the gas burner, turn it just when you smell burn. Breakfast sandwich of an egg cooked to roti size, sharp chedder cheese (Cabot's Private Stock Extra Sharp, thank you, it comes in *black plastic*), a generous squirt of sri racha (yeah, baby) and another scorched roti on top. Flipped once or twice in the cooling cast iron to melt the cheese and seal the deal.


My homemade pita, cooked at the top of the oven between the broiler and hot cast iron. Called plierbread because I use the pliers of my Leatherman, claws, to move the hot pans around.

Puffed like a blimp, odd shapes, and steam in the morning sunlight.

Pizza Fixin's

Whipping up a pan o' stuff to add some drama to a plain cheese pizza. This is all pantry and fridge, mind, but just the thing.

This is green olives, rehydrated abalone mushrooms, onions, fried shallots, chives and oregano from the garden, kosher salt, and a little bit of anchovy. Gotta have those glutamates. Spread in a layer as thick as the slice itself (a good formula, I think).