Thursday, January 31, 2013

Crab Cake Sliders for the Super Bowl

Maryland-Style Crab Cake Sliders
listening: “Luna” by Ed Gerhard*

Another secular feast is almost upon us. I refer to Super Bowl Sunday. Let’s face it, for an occasion that requires food the choice of foodstuffs often leaves a lot to be desired. I do understand the logistics; you want to be able to pick something up and take it with you while you’re in front of the television. But the food offerings are never as exciting as the actual game; they are usually as forgettable as the half-time entertainment, except for the Janet Jackson debacle.
And please, no more wings! Isn’t there a shortage this year anyway? Let’s give the chickens a rest.
This year the game takes place in one of the major eating cities (New Orleans) and it’s being played between two teams each with their own home food story.
I am going to leave New Orleans for Mardi Gras (New Orleans seems to own that event) and look at San Francisco and Baltimore, even if it means forgoing oysters, shrimp po’ boys or fried oyster po’boys.
San Francisco is another one of our great eating cities but choosing something distinctly of that city to serve is difficult.
Baltimore, and the entire Eastern Shore, has a rich history with crab so why not serve crab cakes for the Super Bowl? To make it even easier, or game friendly, make them into crab cake sliders.
This is the way I make crab cakes. I just altered the recipe to include cracker crumbs instead of bread crumbs which I understand is the regional twist. The crab cakes can be made in advance and warmed in the oven before serving, which shouldn’t draw you away from the party for too long. With the recent interest in “all things slider,” you should be able to locate small buns for the crab cakes. While it’s not traditional, I make a spicy mayo to wodge on top of the crab cakes if you so desire.
So what to do for San Francisco? Serve something from Anchor Brewery, of course.
Around here “football” for our youngest daughter is that other game played throughout the rest of the world. She would gladly pass up the Super Bowl for a broadcast of her beloved Arsenal F.C. Go Gunners!

Crab Cake Sliders, Maryland Style
1 pound crabmeat
½ cup onion, cut into small dice
½ cup red bell pepper, cut into small dice
1 cup mayonnaise
juice of ½ lemon
2 Tablespoons chopped parsley
½ cup crushed saltine crackers (about 9 square crackers), plus about 1 cup for forming the cakes
salt (taste and add as needed if using salted crackers) and freshly ground black pepper
vegetable oil or a combination of vegetable oil and unsalted butter, for cooking

1. Drain the crabmeat, if necessary. Place the crab meat into a bowl with the onion, and bell pepper; mix to combine. In a second bowl, mix the mayonnaise with the lemon juice. Pour this over the crab mixture, add the parsley, and mix to incorporate. Add the crushed saltines and mix until the crab mixture comes together. Taste and season with salt, if needed, and ground black pepper.
2. Sprinkle another cup of crushed saltines onto a plate.  Form the crab mixture into cakes (I used a rounded Tablespoon to fit the size of the buns I used) then roll the crab cakes in the cracker crumbs until lightly covered. This crab cake mixture is delicate, so work gently. This mixture should make 27 to 28 small crab cakes.
3. Place a medium-sized nonstick sauté pan over medium-high heat. Swirl 2 to 3 Tablespoons oil into the pan (You could also use half oil and half butter). Place the crab cakes into the pan and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, until nicely browned. Turn the cakes and cook for another 4 to 5 minutes. Remove crab cakes from pan and drain on a paper towel lined baking tray. Wipe the sauté pan and add fresh oil as needed. The crab cakes can be kept on a tray then warmed in the oven before serving.
4. Lightly butter and toast the rolls before serving. Place a crab cake onto a roll, dollop with the spicy mayo, and serve.

Spicy Mayonnaise
2/3 cup mayonnaise
juice from ½  lime
1 to 2 chipotle peppers, finely chopped (adjust to your heat preference)
1. Place all of the ingredients into a bowl and mix until combined. Serve with the crab cakes. Store leftover mayo in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

*Full Disclosure: I have known Ed since high school so perhaps I am more than a little biased. He has shaped a career as a solo acoustic guitarist, composer, and teacher, performing both nationally and internationally to glowing praise, wining a Grammy award and releasing nine solo recordings along the way. He is a remarkable musician, imbued with a quiet virtuosity that is always at the service of the music. For more about Ed, here’s the link:

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Steak and Guinness

“I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer.”
                                                            -Abraham Lincoln

If you live in a culture that produces wine, chances are some of that wine will end up in the food, hence Coq au Vin or Beef Bourguignon or Osso Bucco.
If you make beer, some of it will end up the same way; think of the beer-laced dishes of Belgium or in this case, Steak and Guinness.
The steak in the title doesn’t necessarily mean using what we think of as steak, a nice piece of beef  usually  reserved for grilling or pan searing; it would be a waste in a braised dish like this one. Any beef used for stewing is what you want to use, such as chuck, top round, or as I found recently, sirloin. If you prefer, you can cut your own beef cubes, but there it was, sirloin already cut and trimmed. Hey, I’ll take a short cut every now and again, too.
Like all stews, this begins with taking time to brown the meat. Don’t overcrowd the pot with too much meat at one time.  Brown the meat in stages. All of that browned goodness at the bottom of the pot means flavor.
There are several ways to go with this recipe. You could serve it as is along with mashed potatoes, or under a crust of pastry as a Steak and Guinness pie. Cheese, such as Stilton or Cheddar is often added to the pie but you could just as easily omit it to your preference.
When I most recently made this, I used a bottle of Brooklyn Brown Ale that was in the ‘fridge, so you don’t need to adhere to the use of Guinness; what is important is the flavor imparted by a dark beer of your liking. George Washington, a beer drinking man of the people brewed his own porter and I like to think that it might have made it into some of the cooking at Mount Vernon. We know it made its way into him.

It is snowing. Nothing I like more than watching the snow fall while the smells of slow cooking fill the air. Talk about perfect timing.

Steak and Guinness (or Steak and Brooklyn Brown Ale)
This recipe makes four servings

2 pounds stewing beef, cut into 1” cubes
1½ cups chopped onion
3 carrots, sliced, about ½ “ thick
2 ribs celery, sliced lengthwise, then across into ¼" pieces
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
1 Tablespoon all purpose flour
2 or 3 fresh thyme sprigs and 3 fresh rosemary springs, tied in a bundle
12 ounces Guinness stout or other dark beer
1 cup water or beef stock
olive oil, for cooking
salt and ground black pepper

1. Heat oven to 275 degrees. Pat the beef dry with paper towels. Season the meat with salt and ground black pepper. Place a 4 quart Dutch oven on the stove over high heat. When hot, swirl in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add some of the beef; avoid overcrowding it in the pot. When browned on all sides, about 7 to 8 minutes, remove the meat to a plate and continue browning the rest of the meat. As the pot gets hotter, the amount of time needed for browning the meat will decrease. Replenish the pot with additional olive oil, if necessary. After all of the meat has been browned, remove the pot from the heat to cool for a few minutes before adding the vegetables.
2. Return the pot back over medium heat. Swirl in 1 or 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the onion, celery and carrots to the pot.  Season with salt and pepper and sauté the vegetables for 5 minutes to soften the onion. Push the vegetables to the outside of the pot. Add the tomato paste and garlic. Stir, cooking until the garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the flour and mix it with the vegetables.
3. Return the beef and the accumulated juices to the pot. Add the thyme and rosemary bundle, pour in the beer and the water or beef stock. Stir and season with a little more salt and black pepper. Bring the stew up to a simmer. Cover and place into the oven. Cook for 2 ½ hours, until the beef is tender. Remove from oven.

The completed stew can be served as is, or refrigerated and served the next day or after it cools it can be made into a Steak and Guinness Pie

Steak and Guinness Pie

Pie Crust (alternatively, you could use store-bought pie crust or puff pastry)
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup (4 Tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
¼ cup vegetable shortening
6 Tablespoons ice cold water

For the pie: I used half of the stew for our pie. You may choose to use the total amount, which will serve four. If you are adding cheese, add these amounts per person: 2 Tablespoons Stilton (or other) blue cheese or grated Cheddar cheese.

1. Mix together the flour and salt. Blend the butter into the flour either using the paddle attachment on a stand mixer or by hand using a pastry blender or fork. Work until the butter is broken down into small pieces. Add the vegetable shortening to the bowl and mix, leaving the shortening in larger lumps. Add the water and mix until the dough comes together. Remove the dough from the bowl and shape it into a disk. Wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour before using.

2. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Mix the cheese, if using, into the completed cooled stew. Place stew into a 4 cup baking dish. Roll out the crust and fit the crust into the dish, over the stew and draping over the side. Trim any excess. Mix one egg with 1 tablespoon water. Using the point of a knife, cut a steam hole in the middle of the crust. Brush the crust with the egg wash. Using the point of a knife, mark the edges of the crust and make a crosshatch design on top of the crust. Place the baking dish onto a baking tray. Bake the steak and Guinness pie for 30 minutes, or until the crust is browned and the filling is bubbling. Remove from the oven and serve.



Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Not So Cheap Cuts: Short Ribs Braised in Port

                                     “Joy, health, love, and peace, be all here in this place.”

While the rest of you may have been busy stringing lights, festively festooning a fir, macerating mincemeat, filling the lawn with inflatable or plastic illuminated figures, lighting the menorah, spinning a dreidel, wassailing, caroling, rolling your struedels, well, you get the point, some of us have been busy working to make your holidays happen. Such is the day–to-day routine of working at a restaurant during the holidays, which has meant no time to work on this.
Now before you offer me a choice of cheese to go with my whine, let me say that it was a great holiday. Youngest daughter was home from college and her older sister and sister’s southern beau were here. The tree was decorated. A sprawling gingerbread chalet appeared on the dining room table. (This is the third year of gingerbread houses with the unwritten rule that each year has to outdo the previous creation). We had our Christmas morning champagne brunch, followed a week later by our new tradition (started at the same time that gingerbread villages began springing up) of New Year’s Eve dinner with guests. And more champagne at midnight.
Plus there was the snow that made the snowman possible. (They named him Bernard. No idea why).
So it’s back work. (Cue the short ribs).

Short ribs used to be among a group of cuts of meat often referred to as the “cheap cuts.” These were the ones that were seen as less desirable as others and therefore, at one time, they cost less.
Not so much anymore.
They may be harder to find because most people would rather pitch a steak on the grill. Or you can blame the chefs (“God made the food, the devil the chefs”*) who have turned to them for variety in their menus, which drove up demand (and in turn the price) over the past decade. I often have to try several places before I find them.
You can find them either on or off the bone. I recently saw mammoth-sized on-the-bone, grass-fed short ribs (with a correspondingly mammoth price). Boneless short ribs, also called “English” short ribs, are cut from the chuck. There is a variety called flanken style, which are cut across the rib, not down the length. They're not what I like to use but there are recipes that call for flanken style short ribs. Use what you can find. Short ribs on the bone should have a good portion of meat on them. Sometimes they don’t, so look carefully. You can also befriend the butcher in your local store who can get you what you’re looking for, too. But remember, they’re no longer “cheap cuts.”
Short ribs benefit from long, slow braising. After the initial preparation, the oven does the rest of the work breaking down the collagen and making the meat meltingly tender.

You can easily expand the recipe depending on the amount of short ribs you find by adding more vegetables and stock.

This makes four serving. Carnivores may see this as two serving.

Short Ribs Braised in Port or Red Wine
1½ pounds beef short ribs **
1 medium onion, halved and sliced lengthwise
3 to 4 carrots, cut crosswise into ½” slices
2 or 3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
1 Tablespoon all purpose flour
1 bunch of thyme (about 8 to 10 stems) tied together
2 or 3 bay leaves
1 & ½ cups port or red wine or a combination of both
1 cup beef stock
salt and ground black pepper
olive oil

1. Heat oven to 275 degrees. Place an ovenproof 4 quart Dutch oven over high heat. While pot is heating, pat the short ribs dry with a paper towel. Season the ribs generously with salt and pepper. When the pot is hot, swirl in 2 or 3 Tablespoons olive oil. Add the short ribs. Don’t over crowd the ribs; it’s better to cook them in two batches then all at once. Brown the ribs on all sides; this will take about 7 to 10 minutes. Remove the well- browned ribs from pot and set aside. Slide pot off the heat to cool for a minute or two before adding the vegetables.

2. Return the pot to the heat. Add additional olive oil, if needed. Add the carrots and onions, scraping the bottom of the pot to loosen any of the “brown bits” that accumulated while cooking the ribs; season with salt and pepper. After 2 or 3 minutes of cooking, add the garlic and continue cooking. After the onions have softened, move the vegetables to the outer edge of the pot and add the tomato paste. Stir and toast the tomato paste in the center of the pot for 1 to 2 minutes, then mix the tomato paste together with the vegetables. Add the flour and mix it into the vegetables. Cook the flour for a minute.

3. Add the port/ red wine and stir. Add the thyme and bay leaves. eturn the short ribs to the pot with any juices that may have accumulated. Add the beef stock and season lightly with salt and pepper. Bring the pot up to a simmer, cover it and place it in the oven and cook the short ribs for 2 ½ to 3 hours- low and slow. The ribs are done when the meat is tender, ready to fall of the bones. Remove from the oven.

This is a dish that is better the next day so if you can wait, refrigerate the cooled contents of the pot over night and reheat when you are ready. Taste for seasoning. When you reheat the short ribs you might want to add a fresh splash of port or red wine (about 2 or 3 tablespoons) and a little beef stock. Remove the thyme and the bay leaves before serving.

Short ribs are great with mashed potatoes or for a change, try soft polenta

Soft Polenta
For two servings-
1 cup water or milk
2 Tablespoons instant polenta
salt and ground black pepper

1. Place the water or milk into a medium-sized saucepan. Place over medium heat and bring liquid to a simmer. Whisk in the polenta one tablespoon at a time, whisking throughout. Lower heat and cook until polenta has thickened, about 3 to 4 minutes. If the polenta gets too thick, you can thin it with additional liquid. Season with ¼ teaspoon salt and ground black pepper to taste and remove from heat until ready to serve.  You can enrich the polenta with a tablespoon of unsalted butter and/or 1 tablespoon grated cheese (parmesan, cheddar, etc.).

                             “Old Christmas is past, twelve tide is the last,
                                    And we bid you adieu, great joy in the new.”

*from  Ulysses by James Joyce
** this is a perfect example of “recipe confusion.” It’s all a matter of what type of short ribs you find. Don’t worry if it’s too much. Leftovers are great.