Share this

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Feeling Crabby

Alright, folks, I feel I need to come clean.  I know in previous posts I have declared things my "favorite thing ever".  And it's true that they ARE in fact among my favorite things ever.  Peanut butter, chocolate, apple pie, a really good burger, bleu cheese, fountain sodas, coffee - these are all things that if stranded on an island I would really really miss.  But here is where I tell you what I hold as my favorite thing ever.  Seriously.  Are you ready for it?


Something you should know about me - I am allergic to oysters.  I found that out the hard way when I used to waitress at Red Lobster and tried oysters for the very first time.  Within 15 minutes I was covered in hives.  Same thing happens with clams.  Lucky for me, though, I only have issues with the mollusks, but crustaceans are still OK.  A couple months ago I had a small scare and thought that my days with crustaceans were over, but it turns out it was a false alarm.  This would have crushed me!  In my world, nothing, and I mean NOTHING beats the sweet and delicate flavor that you can only get from crab.  Now most people see lobster as the pinnacle of seafood and I get it, really I do.  A perfectly prepared lobster is hard to beat for sure.  But if given the choice between a lobster tail and a crab leg, I will choose the crab, hands down.  So last night when we were at the store doing our weekly shopping and my hubby asked me frequently asked question "what's for dinner?", I got an idea.
I try to make at least one really special meal a week. That's not to say that it's always expensive or super fancy, but something that I don't have time during the work week to pull off, especially since I work until 11 pm.  Sometimes it's a pot roast, sometimes pork and sauerkraut, sometimes a roasted chicken with all the trimmings.  One of his favorites (and one that I will blog the next time I make it) is pan seared pork chops with a creamy garlic, tarragon, and white wine sauce.  Sometimes it's themed: Asian, German, and Indian have all had their nights here.  Tonight was quasi-Mexican with Chalupas and caramel apple empanadas.  (Some weeks he gets two special meals!).  But I've gotten off track......

My idea yesterday came while standing at the meat counter at our local grocery store.  I decided New York strip steaks were in order.  After all, this was the first weekend in a month that we were able to stay home and just relax.  While waiting for them to cut me a couple thick steaks (go big or go home!) I glanced to the left and saw the seafood.  And then I saw the cans of crab meat.  And then my version of surf and turf seemed like the best idea in the world!

There was one problem - never in my life have I made a crab cake!  And I'm SUPER picky about my crab cakes. This is one of those instances where I sat back and asked myself "what do I KNOW?". Well, I know lemon and parsley are good with seafood.  I know there is mayonnaise and breadcrumbs in crab cakes to bind them. I know that crab is delicate and easily overpowered. And I HATE crab cakes with too much filler.  What's the point?  I know just a hint of heat elevates them to the next level.  And most importantly, I know a good crab cake should be able to stand on its own.  No tartar sauce, no cocktail sauce, maybe a dash of lemon.  But they should be flavorful enough that they aren't boring, but balanced enough that the crab shines through.  Then, I went with my instincts and created these super simple crab cakes.

Simple Crab Cakes
1 lb back fin crab meat (I used a good quality can from the seafood counter at my local grocery store)
1 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped fine
1 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
4 tsp lemon juice
1/3 c plain bread crumbs
2/3 c mayonnaise

3 Tbsp butter (for cooking)

Special tools:
A round cookie cutter (optional)

Makes 8 crab cakes

Crab mixture
Mixing the ingredients is E-A-S-Y.  Seriously.  You ready?  Dump all of the above things (except the butter) in a bowl and gently mix with your fingers.  There's no order, no wrong way to do it.  When it's all mixed together it kind of reminds me of a tuna salad consistency.

Cover bowl and set in the refrigerator for an hour.  I think it helps everything to blend well and the crab cakes to bind together.  Honestly, I can't really tell you why.  I just know that every time I've seen a recipe for any kind of "cake" (salmon, tuna, risotto), part of the directions have included letting the mixture set for an hour or two.  And every time I've skipped that step, my salmon/tuna/risotto cakes have crumbled into a mess.  So just do this.  You'll thank me later.

Get a round cookie cutter and set on a plate.  Pack crab meat mixture into the cookie cutter and press down so it holds form.  Then, simply lift the cookie cutter, and you have the most beautiful, perfect crab cake you've ever seen!  Repeat until all the crab mixture is used up.
Easy as 1-2-3!
Almost there.....

Heat pan with butter over medium heat.  Don't make your heat to high, because butter browns (and burns!) really quickly.  I went a little over medium heat on mine and they got a bit brown for my liking. Still GOOD, I was just going for a bit more golden than brown.

Cook on each side 2 - 3 minutes.

Serve with a lemon wedge or on its own.  (OK, OK, I GUESS if you are insistent, tartar sauce too.  But I'm telling you....totally not necessary).

See what I mean about them being a little more brown than I would have liked?  Nonetheless - they turned out crispy on the outside and moist on the inside.  Best of all, the seasoning did not overpower the crab, yet they were not at all bland!  Hope you enjoy!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Pumpkin love

It seems I've been a bit lax lately with the posts.  October has been a super busy month for us!  Between working a full time job and all of our social engagements on weekends (parties, weddings, more parties), I have found it hard to find the time to create and write.  Yesterday, we had a small gathering with friends to go to.  I was told I could bring something if I wanted to.  Really?  Of COURSE I want to!  It's what I do!  And seeing as this gathering was a Halloween party, what better way to get in the spirit of the season than with pumpkin!

Now, pumpkin rolls are one of my favorite things in the world.  But I really didn't feel like baking and cooling and spreading and rolling, not to mention finger food is much more manageable at a party.  This made me create my own version - Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese frosting.  All the taste of a pumpkin roll without all the hassle.  And it's finger food!  These are wonderful for a party, a dinner, or just because.  

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
For the cupcakes:
1 c canola oil
1 c packed brown sugar
1 c white sugar
3 extra large or 4 large eggs
2 c pumpkin puree
2 1/4 c all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves

For the icing:
1 stick of butter, room temperature
1 8 oz package cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/2 pounds of powdered sugar
1 - 3 Tbsp milk

This recipe makes about 24 cupcakes

Tools needed:
Cupcake pans
Cupcake liners

Fresh Pumpkin Puree.  Such a
pretty color!
Note:  I used fresh pumpkin puree that I made by roasting a pumpkin, peeling and seeding it, and running it through a food processor.  Canned pumpkin may be used in its place.  If you decide to use canned, make sure it is just pumpkin puree, not pumpkin pie filling.  

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

Place oil, brown sugar, white sugar, eggs and vanilla into a mixing bowl and whisk until well combined. 

Whisk in the pumpkin puree, and beat until mixture is smooth. 

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  With mixer on low speed, slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet until combined.  

Add cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves.  Mix on medium for 2 - 3 minutes.  

Place liners in cupcake pans, and fill with batter about halfway.
Like this!  

Bake for 20 - 25 minutes, until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Allow to cool in pan for about 15 minutes, then remove from the pan and cool the rest of the way on a wire cooling rack.  

You KNOW you want to eat these!
While the cupcakes are cooling, make the icing.  Combine butter and cream cheese in a bowl and beat until fluffy.  

Add powdered sugar slowly in batches.  The icing will be very thick and crumbly.  Add milk 1 tablespoon at a time until the icing reaches the desired consistency.  

Once the cupcakes are completely cooled, pipe onto cupcakes.  


 I didn't even have the lid off the container for 30 seconds before the first one disappeared.  And my hubby confessed to me that he's eaten about 5 between yesterday and today.  So, yeah, they're that good! I promise, these will not disappoint.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Better with Chocolate!

I have a theory.  I'm not sure if it's a sound theory, but I do spend a lot of time trying to prove it.  What is this theory, you might ask?  Well, I pretty much think that there is no problem in this world that chocolate can't solve.  Or at least make you feel slightly better about.  And if you don't have any problems?  Then you should definitely celebrate your problem free existence with some chocolate.  I would say that it is on my list of the world's most perfect foods (right up there with apple pie, crab, and peanut butter).  And besides - it's high in antioxidants, so I'm practically doing my body a favor!  At least that's what I'm telling myself.....

I've been noticing a trend lately of flourless chocolate cakes.  I know, I know.  The increase in recipes for these cakes is probably due to the gluten free necessity of a lot of people, and the low carb demands of others.  But I see flourless chocolate cake, and all I can think is "how rich is THAT?". That's like chocolate overload, without the pesky filler.  I'm in!  But, of course, I couldn't stop there.

Here is my other obsession - cheesecake.  I.  Love.  Cheesecake.  If there is no chocolate or cheesecake involved  I call it a "dessert tease".  Sure, it appeases your sweet tooth, but if I'm going to eat dessert, I want decadence.  So I figured, why not a flourless chocolate cake with a cheesecake layer?  (Genius, I say!).  So, off to the kitchen I went to make this decadent dessert adventure happen.  (Warning:  this is not for the faint of heart or diet conscious.  The mere amount of butter is enough to send Paula Deen into a happy fit, y'all.)  

Flourless Chocolate Tuxedo Cake

For the crust:
2 c chocolate graham cracker crumbs
1 stick of butter, melted
1 Tbsp sugar

For the cheesecake:
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/3 c sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

For the chocolate cake:
1 stick of butter
8 oz semi sweet chocolate, chopped roughly
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
5 eggs, separated
1/2 c sugar

Tools needed: 
Springform pan (9")

As always, start by preheating
your oven to 350 degrees.
Place graham crackers in a food processor and grind to a fine crumb.  Add melted butter and sugar and mix well.  Press buttery, graham crackery goodness into the bottom of your spring form pan and bake at 350 for 10 minutes to set.  Remove from oven and allow to cool. 

Once your crust is out of the oven, it's time to start that cheesecake!  In your mixer, place cream cheese and sugar, and beat on medium until well combined and fluffy.  Add in the egg and vanilla, and continue mixing until everything is incorporated and smooth.  Be sure to scrape down the sides and scrape up the bottom of the bowl so that you don't get chunks of cream cheese that haven't been incorporated.  Now, take that velvety cheesecake and pour into the middle of your cooled crust, spreading outwards towards the edge leaving about a half inch of space between the cheesecake and the sides of the pan.  Set this aside while you build the chocolate layer.

I'm not going to lie:  this part is FUN!  You get to employ many baking techniques here, and, of course, I will have pictures.  (Did you expect anything less?)  First, place a sauce pan on medium heat and plop a stick of butter into it.  Once that butter is melted, reduce heat to low and add your chopped chocolate. Once the chocolate starts melting, remove pan from heat and keep stirring to melt the rest of the way. Here's an important tip - make sure the spoon you are going to use to stir the chocolate is completely dry.  Make sure your pan is completely dry.  Make sure if you've washed your hands, they are completely dry.  I cannot stress this enough.  The problem with chocolate is that it is temperamental. If you get water in your chocolate, it will seize up.   If you heat it too high, it will seize up.  And once that happens, you're done.  There's no coming back.  I know this from experience. You will have a lumpy, curdled looking brown mess on your hands, and no one wants that!  You want a velvety smooth chocolate/butter mixture.  And if you are patient and pay attention and keep stirring, that is exactly what you will have.  Once the chocolate is melted and smooth, set aside to cool a little while you go on to your next step.  

Get out your five eggs.  These need to be separated.  I do this by grabbing two bowls and my mixing bowl.  The easiest way I have found to separate an egg is to crack it into your hand, then slightly separate your fingers to let the whites run through into the bowl.  I then place the yolk in the other bowl, then dump the white into my mixing bowl.  Repeat this four more times.  I always put each egg white into the mixing bowl so I have an empty bowl each time I crack and separate.  There is nothing more frustrating to me than getting four eggs in and having a bit of yolk drip into your pristine egg whites.  This will mess up your meringue.  Again, I know this from experience.  This way you know if you break one yolk, you're wasting ONE egg, not multiple eggs.  
Separating eggs can be easy....I promise!
Once all your eggs are separated, set aside the mixing bowl full of egg white, and dump the yolks into a large mixing bowl.  Whisk the yolks, sugar, and vanilla together until smooth.  Now, add the chocolate.  Because the chocolate is still slightly hot, you need to temper it.  If you were to dump the warm chocolate into the egg mixture, you'd get chocolate scrambled eggs. (EW!).  So, take a scoop full of chocolate (I usually just use a dry measuring cup), and pour into chocolate mixture while stirring constantly.  This will cool down the chocolate mixture.  You can do this a couple times to be safe, then pour the cooled down chocolate mixture into the remaining egg mixture in your mixing bowl.  Stir until well combined and set aside.  

Now,we make meringue.  I know, this all sounds pretty complicated, but I promise it's not!  Just breathe....this will all be worth it in the end.  Place the whisk attachment onto your mixer and whisk those egg whites!  Same principle as making whipped cream.  The aeration will stiffen up the whites and give you meringue.  So, place your mixer as high as it will go, and watch the eggs go from liquid to a fluffy little egg cloud. 
Hard to believe that egg whites turn into THIS!

See how it almost looks fluffy?
Once you have stiff peaks, it's time to add to the chocolate mixture.  I took about a quarter of the egg white and just stirred it in the chocolate with a whisk.  I then dumped the remaining egg whites into the chocolate, and with a rubber spatula, gently folded it in until well combined.  Then carefully pour the chocolate on top of the cheesecake layer and spread evenly in the pan.  Place the pan in the oven and bake for 45 minutes.  You'll be able to tell that it's done by gently shaking the pan.  If the outside is set and the center jiggles ever so slightly, you're good to go.

Once the cake is done baking, remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool.  Once the cakecools a bit, run a butter knife around the edge and gently remove the side of the pan.  Allow to cool completely before serving.  
Oh my!

I'm not going to lie, when I was taking the ring off the spring form pan, I was a little nervous.  All I could think was "did this work?".  I was half wondering if I was going to remove the ring and have a molten chocolate cake effect.  But, lo and behold, I could not have asked for a more beautiful cake!  The texture is amazing.  It's light and decadent all at the same time.  It's kind of like a mousse, kind of like a custard, kind of like a cake.  The crunch of the graham cracker combined with the creaminess of the cheesecake with the lightness of the chocolate is absolutely perfect.  And the top of the cake kind of cracks and forms yet another crunchy layer.  I served mine plain, but you could also top with whipped cream or raspberries or strawberries, or even just a sprinkling of confectioner's sugar.  This cake could definitely get me through a bad day.