Monday, September 28, 2009

Crab Cakes at Home

For dinner, I had homemade crab cakes with a side of fava beans and a nice Chianti Sicilian red.

I used the same recipe as last time. The recipe comes from a tiny, poorly copy-edited cookbook labeled "A Taste of Charleston, South Carolina Restaurant Recipes" that we purchased while visiting several years back.

I always follow the recipe rather loosely, especially considering they forgot to include the unit of measurement for the Worcestershire sauce. "1/4" what?!? I stick with this mangled recipe only because it is relatively unadulterated by weird fillers, and because it calls for much less (gloopy, disgusting) mayo than other recipes- 1/2 cup per pound crab. I could just make my own mayo, but it's messy and takes a ton of oil, and I'm lazy sometimes.

The crab cake mixture tasted boring this time, so I quadrupled the amount of hot sauce called for. I was using Louisiana Hot Sauce, which proved to be overpoweringly distinctive. Not bad, but next time I'll try using Marie Sharp's. I suspect its citrusy undertones would yield a less obtrusive heat.

I was also slightly disappointed with my crab. I used canned crab from Trader Joe's, which was about $8 for a pound; previously, I used canned crab from Costco for about $12/pound. It could be completely random, but there were no stray shells in my Costco crab and a TON in TJ's.

Overall, it wasn't bad, and relatively quick and easy to make. The Sicilian wine I had with it was the 2006 Fourplay- a blend of four traditional Sicilian grapes (including my much-loved Nero d'Avola). It was, predictably, a little heavy for this meal, but I had been dying to try it after I found it at the (awesome) local Italian market and couldn't wait. It's a nice, slightly tannic wine, with candied fruit undertones, but it could have a little more structure- it seemed to wilt after a few hours of air.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Italian Beef in St. Louis

For lunch, I had half an Italian beef sandwich and "Italian broccoli slaw", with an iced tea to drink. The location was Adriana's on the Hill, an Italian sandwich shop in the old Italian neighborhood of St. Louis, The Hill.

I've never had two Italian beef sandwiches that taste the same. Jon is from Chicago, so he is very picky about his Italian beefs. His favorite outside of Chicago is at Chicago in Denver. I am not a fan of Chicago's Italian beef, instead preferring the olive oil-soaked version from Fontano's. A quick read of the wiki confirms that Italian beef is in the eye of the beholder; Jon scoffed at today's sandwich because it contained cheese, but it appears that this isn't necessarily verboten.

In any case, this Italian beef was pretty tasty, despite its lack of Chicago street cred. The beef was on the bland, lean side, with roasted red and yellow peppers, Provel cheese, and a sparse coat of olive oil and au jus, on dense sub bread flecked with sesame seeds. The bread lacked chewiness, and the cheapskate in me is bothered that Adriana's charges extra for au jus, but no major complaints. I ordered the lunch special, so my half-sandwich came with slaw. I've never seen anything like it, and am still not clear on what, exactly, it was. I suspect it's not very unusual, but I am working on a decades-long hatred of slaws, so it was new to me. I think it consisted of pickled, julienned broccoli stems with red onions, shredded carrots, italian seasoning, and a ton of salad oil. Its great potential was drowned by said salad oil, but the concept was interesting.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Indian Food at Home

For dinner, I had awadhi aloo mutter with basmati rice and tofu. I also had some kale on the side and a walnut, chocolate, and butterscotch chip cookie for dessert.

Aloo mutter is potatoes and peas seasoned with turmeric, coriander, and chili powder. This particular one was vacuum-packed from Kohinoor. We've had them sitting around for years, and are trying desperately to eat them all before they expire. Unfortunately, the one I ate tonight expired in April. It was so spicy, I couldn't tell. The basmati (thank you, rice cooker) and soft tofu made it more interesting, and blunted the heat a little.

The kale was prepared using this recipe I couldn't wait to try. Baking the kale at such intense heat has the effect of oven-frying the leaves into delicious garlicky bar snacks. It's simple and awesome, but beware: it makes eating a pound of kale in one sitting very, very easy.

Finally, the cookies. After much internet soul-searching and cookbook-scouring, I decided to go retro and use the famous Toll House recipe printed on the bag of chocolate chips, which I hadn't made in perhaps fifteen years. I balked at the cup of butter and teaspoon of salt it contained, and compromised by baking only half a batch. A moment of weakness befell me at the grocery store, so I had a bag of butterscotch chips to contend with as well. Butterscotch chips are synthetic little blobs of vegetable fat (in this case, partially hydrogenated palm kernel oil), but I have sick nostalgia for them. I ended up using this butter/oil blend instead of all butter, white whole wheat flour (my new favorite thing) instead of ordinary flour, and a blend of chocolate and butterscotch chips, along with walnut pieces. The cookies turned out perfectly, but I never realized quite how bad Toll House's recipe is for you.

Pursuant to my grocery store critiques: today I went to Schnucks (yes, Schnucks), the local grocery store. Their veggie selection was as good as, or better than, both Whole Foods AND Trader Joe's. Also cheaper. Also approximately the same amount of organics. I'd love to know why WF here can't seem to find decent produce in this town. From now on, I'll be making the trek to Schnucks for produce, at least until I find a good Mexican grocery store a la Avanza.

The bonus? When I was accosted by a woman in the checkout line about the squash I was buying- how much she loves it, asking me for cooking tips. She came across as sweet, if overly friendly and a little eccentric, until I looked into her shopping cart. 2pm, and her only purchase was a very large bottle of vodka. Interesting.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Tapas in St. Louis

For dinner, I had some homemade tapas, with a tinto de verano.

The idea came from today's trip to Whole Foods- my first here in St. Louis. I was hoping for a wider variety of produce than Trader Joe's, and was somewhat disappointed. In any case, they were having a sale on vinegar-cured anchovies (aka boquerones) that I couldn't pass up, so I decided to go for tapas.

First, I need to pontificate about tinto de verano, aka "tinto verano". It's crappy Spanish red wine mixed with European Fanta, or whatever facsimile one can find in the U.S. The idea is to find something with at least 8% real orange juice (EuroFanta does, American Fanta does not), and mix it in 1:3 or 1:2 proportions with red wine. It's supposed to be cold and refreshing, and not terribly sweet. It's brilliant, and I love it, but no one in the U.S. seems to know what it is. Outside of the 9th Door in Denver, I've never been to an American tapas place that has even heard of it. Waiters and bartenders look at me like I'm crazy. Granted, it took more than a month living in Spain before I heard of it, and most American tapas places are in it for marketing rather than a passion for Spanish food, but still. It's too simple and yet delicious to remain unknown.

In any case, I made my tinto with Condesa de Sarabella 2007, a grenache I found at Trader Joe's for $6. It was good enough to drink alone, but I made my tinto anyway, mixing it with some "Club Orange" soda from Ireland I found at the Global Market a few days ago.

In addition to the boquerones, I roasted some red peppers and topped them with goat cheese, and marinated some mushrooms in a garlic and wine broth. It made for an interesting and relatively easy dinner.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Ful at Home

For lunch, I had ful mudammas, some miniature heirloom tomatoes, and greek yogurt with pomegranate syrup.

The ful has been sitting around in the pantry through two moves, so I figured this was a good time to finally eat it. To clarify, ful (pronounced "fool", also spelled "foul") is an Egyptian breakfast/lunch item made from fava beans cooked with olive oil and spices to the preferred degree of mushiness, served with pita. The ful I had on hand was simply canned favas pre-seasoned for ful. I'd never tried canned ful before, and quickly decided the seasonings were too sweet. To remedy this, I mixed in about a teaspoon of sumac. When that wasn't sufficient, I added several huge pinches of Ethiopian berbere powder I had lying around, along with a little olive oil. The result was interesting and a little spicy. If I'd wanted to make a pita, my Greek yogurt probably would've been a nice contrast to add.

Instead, I prepared the Greek yogurt with my favorite obscure condiment, pomegranate molasses. Pomegranate molasses is just pomegranate juice, cooked down into a thick syrup for use in cooking, but the flavor is like the best tart, bright, earthy, fruity candy you can imagine. Really tart. The effect is similar to passion fruit puree, with a less acidic finish. It's excellent over yogurt or ice cream, and I've even used it to successfully sweeten olive oil & oatmeal cookies. It's one of my favorite snacks that's vaguely healthy yet delicious.