Crab Season

You may have turkey on the brain this time of year, but this weekend we didn’t go shopping for Thanksgiving fixings. Instead, we headed to Half Moon Bay for crab.

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It was a glorious day, complete with a clear blue sky and the temperature hitting nearly 70 degrees. But we weren’t here for the view. With my in-laws leading the charge, we were on a mission to buy fresh crab, right off the boat.

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The mission didn’t take long at all, just a few minutes as we strolled along the docks trying to decide on the best boat. As is custom with my in-laws when it comes to cooking, they buy big. In this case, we left the dock with 15 snapping crabs. 

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For good measure, they also bought clams and oysters. Hey, they live in a land locked state, so they were taking full advantage of the availability of fresh seafood. Plus, we are all big fans of clam chowder, and there was a Thomas Keller recipe for clam chowder that I wanted to try. As with all Thomas Keller recipes, this one was complicated and involved many, many steps, as well as lots of butter, cream, and bacon to go with the clams. 

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And it was divine, probably some of the best clam chowder I’ve ever eaten.

The in-laws were kind enough to take care of cleaning and cooking the crab.

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They cooked it two ways. Steamed and fried. While both were delicious, I’m partial to simple steaming. The girls ate with gusto, but I’m not sure what they liked more, eating it or cracking it.

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We cleaned our plates, used piles and piles of napkins and paper towels, and were over-the-top stuffed from all the good eats. And yes, we still have plenty of leftovers, which will most likely be used for crab cakes tonight. 

 

The Cook and His Sous Chef

It’s chilly here in Northern California. Not Minnesota chilly mind you, where growing up, I didn’t wear a jacket until the thermometer dipped below 40 degrees. Now after living in California for more than a decade I’m a certified cold weather wimp, and will layer up in thermal wear if it gets colder than 60 degrees. It barely hit 60 degrees today so a hearty fish stew seemed the perfect Sunday night meal to warm us up. That, and my sister-in-law sent a Vitamix, and we wanted to experiment with this new kitchen gadget.

In full disclosure, I did not lift a finger in cooking this meal. That was left to my husband. He ended up not using the Vitamix. Instead, he used Olivia who turned out to be way better than a high-priced, high-powered blender. They cooked downstairs, while upstairs I sat contentedly reading a novel. I would hear snippets of their conversation while amazing smells of garlic, cilantro, and fish wafted upstairs, causing my stomach to make ridiculous hunger noises. Most of the talk centered on the husband explaining the importance of correctly measuring out ingredients, and why you can’t rely solely on the timer to gauge whether mussels are done. My husband also tends to be more patient that me when cooking with the kids, so I only once heard him raise his voice over misread cooking instructions.

The misread mishap did not ruin the recipe in the least and everyone ate with gusto.

 

The meal not only warmed my belly, but it also warmed my heart to see my husband and daughter share their love of food by cooking together.

The recipe, courtesy of Andrew Zimmern was a hit. I highly recommend trying it even if you don’t have budding young sous chefs to help out in the kitchen.

 

Twisted Sisters

Of the three girls, Olivia hands down is the kid chef. Erin’s the eater, and Carrie, well at 4, Carrie’s just usually in the way in the kitchen. Today however, they all banded together to make homemade soft pretzels.

Since Olivia is already pretty darned accomplished in the kitchen, she started things off and made the dough.

My Dough Girl

Check out her arm muscles. She used all of them to knead this dough ball. The flowered apron also helped.

Next came the twisting, and that’s where the two younger girls entered the picture, putting their own spin on rolling and pretzel twisting.

They may have little hands, but these girls can twist!

Don’t they look good?! I can’t even say I took over and twisted these puppies. Nope, my girls got some pretzel twisting skilz.

The Final Product

And after 12 – 15 minutes, here’s how they looked. Sure, they’re not a deep, dark, golden brown, but they were still crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.

You have to eat homemade pretzels hot out of the oven right? Anything else would be blasphemy. So even though it was lunchtime, these mammoth pretzels turned into our lunch.

Who needs things like fruits or veggies for a lunch right?

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It was an all carb meal until my Jewish guilt kicked in and I cut up some watermelon triangles to go along with the mega pretzels.

Olivia’s been on a huge cooking kick recently, and as much as we want to encourage her to cook, it can be a huge pain. Sometimes, we just want to get a meal on the table, without the huge production a 9-year-old brings to that table.

At the onset of this cooking adventure, I was not excited about this, but by the end, I think I may have had more fun than the girls.

With the end of summer approaching us, I’m trying to make a point of having some memorable days on my days off work. Today was a memorable day at home, as much for me as it was for them.

Cooking Note:

This was a really simple recipe, and really good when you have some young helpers. Thanks to PBS for posting this recipe.

Passover 2012: A Few Questions and a Few Answers

I really didn’t want to put together a Passover Seder this year. I really didn’t. We had just come home from an extremely relaxing vacation at the beach and the last thing I wanted to do was stress out over a Seder meal. I almost blew it off. Almost. Then the Jewish guilt set it, and it set in hard.

So last night I toasted farfel, which for those not in the know, is crushed up matzoh that is mixed with egg, oil, salt, and pepper, and toasted in the oven for about twenty minutes. It’s basically a Jewish version of oyster crackers for matzoh ball soup because in our family you can’t have too much matzoh in matzoh ball soup. It has been a staple on my family’s Seder table for decades and it would be blasphemy to keep it off my own table now that I’m the one doing the cooking.

I also made something that I dubbed matzoh crack.

It may look pretty disgusting, but it’s totally addicting.  Come on, you’ve got to doctor up matzoh to make it edible. Drenching it with homemade caramel and chocolate does the trick.

Today, Seder Day, I went into hard-core Jewish Mom Cooking mode or JMC for short. I first got the chicken soup simmering. I’m known for never cooking the same thing twice, and chicken soup is no different. I perused epicurious.com and found a chicken soup recipe that looked interesting and decided to give it a go. So much for a stress free Passover. The recipe called for removing the skin, which I did, giving me a good excuse to try for the first time making chicken schmaltz and gribenes.

Gribenes and Schmaltz: The Dynamic Duo

These two things are a Jewish delicacy. I used the schmaltz, also known as rendered chicken fat, for the matzoh balls. When you render the fat, you still have the skin, which is the gribenes. The little pieces of greasy goodness didn’t last long. They may be small, but each bite gives you a pop of crunch and grease all at the same time. I haven’t tasted them in years, and it took all my willpower not to eat the whole plate. It’s amazing how one food can transport you back in time. As I snacked on these sumptuous morsels, I felt like I was sitting in my Grandma Ida’s kitchen fighting with my brothers over who got the last piece of gribenes. My Grandma Ida was an amazing cook, but an even more amazing woman. She was a pint-sized powerhouse who raised two sons all on her own. If you know my Dad, you know that was an even more difficult task than it sounds. From the stories I’ve heard, he was hell on wheels as a kid. Some think he still is.

The star of any Seder has to be the matzoh ball soup. I usually pop open a box of matzoh ball mix, but since I had the schmaltz, I tried a homemade concoction that included fresh herbs.

For an adult palate, they tasted great. They even tasted great to a 9-year old.

For the younger set however, not so much. My 6-year old said, “I like the soup and the farfel, but I don’t like the green stuff in my matzoh balls.”

She may not have liked matzoh balls, but she loved the grape juice. So did her younger sister.

They don’t usually get juice for dinner, so they took full advantage of the four cups of wine. (or juice in their case)

 

 

 

 

While they may not have been drunk, they were entertained thanks to these little guys:

Nothing says Passover like plague finger puppets! I bought these a few years ago, and shockingly we still have all ten. Yes, we do know our young audience. Unlike Seders from my childhood, we also do a kid-friendly abridged version, using a preschool Haggadah. It hits all the highlights from the four questions to the dayenu song in about fifteen minutes.

One thing that didn’t make our Seder however, was gefilte fish. I couldn’t do it. I don’t like it. My husband doesn’t like it. And my kids? Are you kidding me? No way.

Sure, our Seder may not have been 100% traditional, but we’re far from a 100% traditional family. All I know is it created lasting memories for me and my family. That’s good enough for me, and I’m sure it would have been good enough for my Grandma Ida too.

 

 

 

 

Homemade Cambodian Cuisine at its Finest

Having my in-laws in town means I’m eating really well, a little too well. As I write this, my stomach is crying uncle from the four extra helpings I ate at dinner. The original Mamma Meak is one mean cook, and is able to whip up some pretty amazing Cambodian concoctions.

Last night I came home to dinner waiting for me at the table, courtesy of Mamma Meak. The girls happily informed me that they LOVED Grandma Meak’s fresh spring rolls. They’ve had them before, but usually deconstructed them to avoid any green vegetables. This time, they ate the entire roll, six of ’em in the case of Olivia and Erin. The girls know good spring rolls. My mother in-law’s are about the best I’ve had with chicken, shrimp, noodles, lettuce, cucumber, and mint. She also serves them up with hoisin dipping sauce.

That was followed up with Cambodian crepes, also pretty darned delicious. I’ve eaten them plenty of times, but this time Mamma Meak shared the recipe. Rice flour, coconut milk, and water. Once it’s cooked she fills it with minced chicken, shrimp, bean sprouts, onion and garlic. I not only gobbled up a couple of them, but so did the girls. I guess I’m got some crepe making to do once my in-laws leave town.

Tonight, dinner was once again waiting for me when I came home from work. This time, she made fried rice and fried noodles. Her noodles are hands down, my absolute favorite. That’s why I’m so full now.  I don’t know what it is about these noodles, but I can’t stop eating them. I have absolutely no willpower.

There’s already plans in the works to make egg rolls tomorrow. I’ve got some pretty mixed emotions about this. While I love them, they’re definitely not part of the P90X diet. I know I can’t say no to eating one, but the question remains, will I stop at one? The odds are against me.