Maryland Crab Cakes

just-broiled crab cakes

My only goal for my week in Virginia Beach was to eat a good crabcake. Thanks to Dockside, I did. Broiled, lightly seasoned, meaty, the Dockside crabcake embodies everything I hope for in a crabcake.

Finding myself dreaming about this delicacy upon returning home, I called Dockside to find out the details, which they so graciously offered: crabmeat, mayonnaise, panko bread crumbs and Old Bay seasoning. They keep it pretty simple, which came as no surprise. Had they told me they used nothing but crabmeat, I wouldn’t have questioned them.

Recreating the Dockside crab cake was surprisingly easy. Because the cakes are broiled — as opposed to pan fried, which (and sorry for stating the obvious) involves flipping — the cakes can (and should) be delicately and loosely formed. In fact, if your cakes are almost falling apart as you’re placing them on your broiling pan, it’s probably a good sign. A nearly falling-apart crab cake will ensure that the mayonnaise and panko (or pulverized Saltines or bread crumbs or whatever you are using) are doing their job as binders but nothing more.

These cakes broiled for five minutes and disappeared in two. They were delicious.

Final note, crabmeat is expensive. Like, pit-in-your-stomach expensive. Like, oh-shit expensive. Like, how-can-I-rationalize-this-purchase expensive. But, it’s worth it. A good crab cake starts with good crab. The rest is simple.

crab meat

unbaked crab cakes

ready for the broiler

just-broiled crab cakes

Maryland Crab Cakes
Yield = 8 cakes, serves 2 to 3

Note: This crab cake recipe is inspired by the crab cakes served at Dockside in Virginia Beach. Dockside uses Old Bay seasoning in their crab cakes, but I could barely taste it and because I’m not a huge fan of it anyway, I just omitted it. If you like Old Bay, go for it, but don’t over do it — the crabmeat is so tasty on its own. Also, I used tarragon mayonnaise (because I had it on hand), which I feared might be overpowering, but which definitely was not. The tarragon adds a lovely flavor. If you don’t feel like making the tarragon mayonnaise, however, some freshly chopped tarragon or other herb — parsley or chives, perhaps — would be a nice addition to the crab cake mix.

1 lb. jumbo lump or backfin crabmeat
kosher salt
1/4 cup mayonnaise, preferably homemade with tarragon
6 tablespoons (1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons) panko bread crumbs
squeeze of lemon (less than half of a lemon, so maybe a teaspoon)
a couple of tablespoons of freshly chopped tarragon, parsley or chives (see note above), optional

melted butter, for brushing

lemon wedges, for serving
tartar sauce (recipe below), for serving, optional

1. Place crabmeat in a large mixing bowl. Being careful not to break up the lumps too much, spread out the crabmeat into a single layer in the bowl. Season lightly with salt. Add the mayonnaise, panko, lemon juice and herb (if using). Gently fold all of the ingredients together using your hands or a spatula. The mixture should barely hold together when formed into a cake.

2. Preheat the broiler. (Rack should be about 4 inches from the heat source.) Lightly grease a sheet pan with butter. (Note: Before doing this, take a look at your broiler and make a visual note about where the burning elements will line up with your pan. For instance, I have two coils in my broiler, so when I greased my sheet pan with butter, I greased only the parts where I was planning on placing the crab cakes, which would eventually line up with the two heating elements in the broiler. Hope that makes sense.) Portion your crab mixture into 8 cakes. I used my 1/4 cup measuring cup as a portioner and used my hands to gently form the cakes. Place cakes on sheet pan and chill in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes.

3. Brush each cake with melter butter. Broil five minutes. Serve with lemon wedges and tartar sauce on the side if desired.

Tartar Sauce

I didn’t measure — sorry! — but you kind of can’t mess this up. Also, this can be made days in advance. It tastes better with each passing day.

1/4 cup mayonnaise, preferably homemade with tarragon
8 cornichons, minced
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 small shallot, minced
pinch kosher salt

1. Place all ingredients in a bowl. Stir. Taste. Adjust accordingly.

tartar sauce

just-broiled crab cakes

No-Knead Oatmeal Toasting Bread

cut loaf

Before heading to the beach last week for a little vacation with the family, I spent some time in the kitchen preparing a few items to pack along: granola, granola bars (which, unfortunately, were inedible) and this no-knead oatmeal toasting bread, a tried-and-true family favorite. The goal was meal supplementation — to avoid eating every meal out — and in retrospect, I wish I’d prepared more, namely biscotti, which were sorely missed, and something chocolaty to satisfy our post-dinner sweet tooths — midweek we caved and stocked up on chocolate-almond Hershey bars from the local convenience store … never have they tasted so good.

But this bread was a savior. We ate it every morning toasted and slathered with peanut butter and nearly every afternoon, at times with lettuce, tomato and bacon wedged in between, at others with nutella and peanut butter, and at others with a thick layer of melted cheese and sliced tomato.

It is a cinch to prepare — true to the title, no kneading is involved — and the bread, chewy in texture and slightly sweet, is just straight-up delicious, a treat to have on hand on vacation or not. My only goal tomorrow is to restock my freezer with another two loaves, and thanks to the 100ºF forecast, I’m almost certain to achieve it. Perhaps insufferable heat isn’t all that bad? Just trying to stay positive. Hope you’re all staying cool.

soaking oats, brown sugar & butter

mixed dough

dough, risen

dough, punched down

generously buttered loaf pans

splitting the dough into loaves

loaves, about to rise

loaf, rising

baked loaves

baked loaves

baked loaf

No-Knead Oatmeal Bread

Yield = 2 loaves
Adapted from Kathleen’s Bake Shop Cookbook

3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 3/4 cups old-fashioned oats
3 cups boiling water
2 tablespoons of butter
1 pkg active dry yeast = 2.25 teaspoons
1/4 cup warm water
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 cups whole wheat flour

1. Place brown sugar, salt and oats in a large mixing bowl. Add boiling water. Add butter. Let stand till lukewarm. Note: This is the only place where you could mess up the recipe. The mixture must cool to a lukewarm temperature so that it doesn’t kill the yeast.

2. In a small bowl, sprinkle yeast over the 1/4 cup warm water. Let stand for about 5 minutes. Stir. Add this yeast mixture to the oat mixture and stir.

3. Add the flours a little bit at a time. My old recipe says to add it one cup at a time, but I’m never that patient. Add it as slowly as you can tolerate, stirring to combine after each addition.

4. Transfer dough to a lightly greased bowl and cover with a damp tea towel or plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm spot until doubled in bulk, about 2 hours. This is what I always do for my “warm spot”: preheat the oven to its hottest setting for 1 minute. TURN OFF THE OVEN. (Note: Only preheat the oven for 1 minute total — in other words, don’t wait for your oven to heat up to 500ºF and to sit at that temperature for 1 minute. You just want to create a slightly warm spot for your bread to rise.) Place covered bowl in the oven to rise until doubled.

5. Grease two standard sized loaf pans generously with butter. When dough has risen, punch it down. I use two forks to do this. I stab the dough in the center first, then pull the dough from the sides of the bowl towards the center up onto itself. Then I take my two forks and, working from the center out, I divide it into two equal portions. Place each portion into your prepared loaf pans. Let rise until dough creeps above the rim of the loaf pan.

6. Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Bake loaves for 10 min. Reduce heat to 350ºF. Bake for another 40 to 45 more minutes or until the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped — you have to (obviously) remove the loaf from the pan to test this. Turn loaves out into wire racks immediately to cool.

We had a wonderful time on vacation. We stopped in Williamsburg on the way to Virginia Beach (obviously to give Ella and Graham a little history lesson); we stayed in awesome cabins; we bought as-fresh-as-fresh-can-be fish (rockfish and sea bass) every night from Dockside, which we grilled whole and devoured; and we spent hour upon hour at the beach.
vacation

cut loaf

Homemade Tarragon Mayonnaise + A Squeeze of Lemon = Unbelievable Lobster Rolls

lobster roll

With lobster rolls on my brain for weeks, it was high time to brush up on my homemade mayonnaise making. I took my mother’s advice and made Mark Bittman’s food processor mayonnaise, which, as my mother promised, was both delicious and foolproof thanks to a teeny hole in the food-pusher insert (see photo below). From start to finish (including cleanup), the whole process took five minutes, the mayonnaise itself coming together in less than one minute once the blades started spinning.

In preparation for the lobster rolls, I threw in some tarragon at the end, an ingredient I’ve always associated with a good lobster roll — a good lobster roll made at home I should say. It has been too many years to say for sure, but I don’t recall any tarragon present in the $3 lobster rolls my mother and I inhaled three times a day for a week straight at the various roadside stands dotting the Maine coastline during one summer road trip. Those were the best lobster rolls I’ve ever tasted, ones I’ve never even tried to replicate at home.

At home I make lobster rolls just as my mother does with nothing more than homemade mayonnaise, fresh tarragon and a squeeze of lemon. They are so simple — with the exception of the whole killing/boiling/cracking of the lobsters process — and so delicious. It never feels like summer till I’ve had my first lobster roll, at a roadside stand or not, and these, despite arriving just days before the Fourth, were no exception. Happy Fourth Everyone!

A few notes on buying/killing lobsters: The consensus seems to be that it is more humane to kill a lobster by thrusting a sharp knife through the lobster’s shell behind its eyes than by dropping the live lobster into boiling water. A little internet research led me to a youTube video featuring Eric Ripert, whose comments and demonstration finally gave me the courage to kill the lobsters before boiling them. If you have any inclination to do this, watch Ripert’s video, and then go for it. As Ripert says:

“It’s not a pleasant experience, but when you eat lobster and when you eat any kind of animal, that animal has been alive and it’s very important to be aware that we are taking that life away and that we are going to eat it, and if we do a good job, we are actually paying homage to the lives that we sacrifice.”

I’ll be honest, it wasn’t a pleasant experience, and I had the jitters before, during and after the process (they seemed to linger all afternoon in fact), but it was worth it.

Finally, Seafood Watch’s Ocean Friendly Seafood App lists wild-caught lobster from California or Florida as the “Best Choice” and trap-caught lobster from the Northeastern U.S. and Canada as a “Good Alternative.” Wild-caught lobster from Brazil is on the SW’s “Avoid” list.

lobsters

lobster meat

lobster meat

lobster meat mixed with tarragon mayonnaise

See this teeny hole? It’s this hole that allows the oil to enter the food processor in a slow steady stream, allowing the mixture to emulsify perfectly into mayonnaise.

Cuisinart stopper

mayonnaise ingredients

homemade mayonnaise

fresh tarragon

tarragon mayonnaise

You all know how to cut a lemon, right? I mean the pretty way? Not sure? Check this out. It’s not necessary to cut lemons this way but it makes for a nice presentation.
lemon slices

Unbelievably Delicious Lobster Rolls
Serves: 3, but the recipe can be multiplied as necessary

3 lobsters, about 1 lb to 1.25 lbs each
kosher salt
homemade tarragon mayonnaise (recipe below)
fresh squeezed lemon juice, to taste
additional lemon for serving (cut like this for a pretty presentation)

hotdog buns (or homemade brioche hotdog buns)

1. Bring a very large pot of water to a boil. (Since I do not own a lobster pot, I used my two largest stock pots.) Kill lobsters, as described above (if desired), then plunge into boiling water. Boil for 10 to 11 minutes. Remove lobsters from pots, let cool briefly, then start cracking. Remove meat from lobster, chop coarsely and place in a large bowl.

2. Spread the lobster meat out in the bowl into a single layer. Season with kosher salt. Add tarragon mayonnaise to taste. To give you an idea, my three lobsters yielded 13.5 oz of meat, and I used a quarter cup of the homemade tarragon mayonnaise. Add lemon juice — I used about half a lemon — to taste. Gently mix the ingredients with a spatula. Taste. Adjust seasoning as necessary.

3. Toast hotdog buns, if desired. (My buns had been baked that day, so I did not toast them.) Spoon lobster meat into buns. Serve with additional wedges of lemon on the side.

Homemade Mayonnaise
Source: Mark Bittman and The New York Times

1 egg yolk or whole egg (I used a yolk)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice or sherry or white wine vinegar (I used white balsamic vinegar)
1 cup neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn, or extra virgin olive oil, or a combination (I used extra-virgin because it was all I had)

fresh tarragon (optional) — I threw in a whole bunch (5 to 6 tablespoons maybe?)

1. Put the yolk or egg, mustard, salt, pepper and lemon juice or vinegar in the container of a food processor and turn the machine on. While it’s running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream. (Your food processor should have a teeny hole in the food pusher insert in the top). When an emulsion forms you can add it a little faster. (Again, the little hole makes this unnecessary.) Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Add the fresh tarragon (if desired) and pulse until chopped.

Homemade brioche hotdog buns:
brioche hotdog buns

Lemon Blueberry Crisp

blueberry crisp

Several months ago I watched Dorie Greenspan make madeleines on the Martha Stewart Show. While the madeleines looked divine, what struck me most from her demonstration was her handling of the lemon zest. Rather than whisk the zest directly into the dry ingredients, she placed it in a small bowl with the sugar and massaged the two ingredients together with her fingertips until she had created a moist and fragrant citrus sugar, a technique, she says, that serves to release oils from the zest into the sugar, making the lemon flavor twice as pronounced.

I still haven’t made the madeleines, but, when I remember to, I employ this citrus-sugar technique when appropriate when I’m baking. While it’s not critical — freshly grated zest, massaged into sugar or not, always adds a nice flavor — I have found that the technique does heighten the citrus flavor, which is especially nice in cakes and muffins and cobblers. Moreover, making the citrus sugar is kind of fun. Try it. It smells so good! And it makes just about the best fresh squeezed lemonade you could ever imagine.

The most recent dish I’ve given the citrus-sugar treatment to is my mother’s blueberry crisp, one of my favorites. Like most crisps, this one takes no time to prepare, and if you have a food processor, the topping — a mixture of flour, sugar, almonds and butter — comes together in seconds. The absence of oats and brown sugar in this crisp topping makes it particularly light and allows the lemon-sugared blueberries to really shine. Have a Happy Fourth Everyone.

crisp topping ingredients

Cuisinart with crisp topping

colander with blueberries

blueberries and lemon sugar

Lemon Blueberry Crisp
Serves 8-10

6 cups blueberries (3 pints), washed and stemmed
zest of one lemon
1/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/4 teaspoon table salt (or 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt)
1 stick (1/2 cup) cold, unsalted butter cut into 1/2-inch cubes

vanilla ice cream for serving

1. Preheat oven to 425ºF.

2. Place blueberries in 9×13-inch baking pan. In a small bowl, rub zest and sugar together with your fingers until sugar is moist and fragrant. Spread over blueberries and toss to combine.

3. Pulse sugar, flour, almonds and salt in food processor until nuts are chopped. Add butter and pulse until mixture begins to clump. Spread over blueberries. Bake 25 minutes or until crisp topping is browned and blueberries are bubbling.

4. Serve with ice cream if desired.

unbaked crisp

Benriner Mandoline & Turning Slicer, Kevlar Gloves

sliced cucumbers, potatoes and summer squash

Shortly after posting the summer squash spaghetti entry, I received a message on Facebook from a reader. It said: “I just ordered the mandoline! My husband is shaking his head. Just wait!” Shortly after reading the comment, a few images flashed through my head: a dismembered finger, an angry husband, and a couple sitting in the ER waiting room cursing my name. What had I done?! Statements and suggestions from that post had to be followed up, sooner rather than later.

Let’s start from the beginning. In that post, I noted that I prefered my Benriner mandoline to my Benriner turning slicer for the long thin wisps it creates. This is true. The Benriner mandoline is great for, among many reasons, creating julienned summer squash and cucumbers, for slicing potatoes into rounds to be baked or fried into chips, and for thinly slicing radishes and kohlrabi for salads. Moreover, it, unlike some mandolines, can be adjusted so that it truly makes paper-thin slices (others stop at 1/4-inch or 1/8-inch).

What I perhaps love most about the Benriner mandoline, however, is its size, which measures only 13.5 x 6 x 1-inch, making it compact enough to fit right against the inside wall of any of my kitchen cupboards, allowing for easy access and stowage. Having never owned any other mandoline, I have only my mother’s to compare, which sits in the same cumbersome box in which it was packaged and lives someplace in her basement. It’s no wonder she never uses it.

The Benriner mandoline is not perfect, however, and if you decide to get one, it is important to keep a few things in mind:

1. Because it is handheld, it is necessary to have some way of securing its bottom edge while you are using it. I have a wooden cutting board with a back raised ledge (see videos below), which works perfectly, but a wall (if your counters aren’t too deep) or a brick (maybe?) could serve the same purpose.

2. Because it does not have one of those protective plastic shields — or if it came with one, I have no idea where it is — it has the potential to seriously injure whoever is operating it. With this is mind, reader Dee G left a great comment on the pasta post: “Love my mandoline, and I use it with no fear after purchasing kevlar gloves from Amazon. I could never make the pushing thing work for me and always used my fingers…a dangerous proposition. Those gloves are simply fantastic! And you really only need one, so buy a pair and share with a friend. I promise you’ll use that mandoline much more often!”

Dee G was right. The gloves give you all the confidence you need to pass any vegetable swiftly down the mandoline plane right through the razor sharp blade. I purchased these kevlar gloves and would like to share one half of my pair with one of you. Leave a comment if you are interested.

3. Finally, Kevlar glove on or off, the Benriner mandoline is not the best tool for certain jobs. Julienning potatoes, for instance, I found to be very challenging with the Benriner mandoline. In contrast, the turning slicer seemed to magically and effortlessly multiply my single potato into a beautiful web of thinly sliced strands, the perfect shape for frites (or a frites nest I should say).

In sum, if you’re in the market for a mandoline, I highly recommend the Benriner, but I would sleep better knowing you purchased a pair of kevlar gloves along with it. And if you have room for another gadget, the Benriner turning slicer (I’ve discovered this past week) does in fact have a place in the kitchen — for certain vegetables it is a much safer and better tool to use than a mandoline, and if you’re at all frightened by the idea of using a mandoline, the turning slicer might be the way to go.

fried potatoes

slicers & kevlar gloves

This salad is so summery and refreshing, perfect aside grilled meat or fish.
cucumber, feta and mint salad

potatoes & slicers

Benriner slicers

One note: I used a cucumber that I had sliced on the turning slicer for this salad. It was beautiful but a little bit awkward to serve — the turning slicer creates insanely long strands of whatever it is slicing up. One way to avoid this situation is to either use a mandoline or a knife (neither a turning slicer or mandoline is necessary to cut up cucumbers — just slice the cucumber into thin rounds or small dice) or to chop up the cucumber “nest” created by the turning slicer before tossing it with the feta, mint and dressing.

Cucumber, Feta and Mint Salad
Serves: However many you like

cucumbers, julienned or diced or sliced into rounds
feta cheese
mint, thinly sliced
extra-virgin olive oil
white balsamic vinegar

1. Combine cucumbers, feta and mint in a bowl. Toss with equal parts olive oil and white balsamic. As a reference, I used 1 tablespoon of olive oil and one tablespoon of vinegar for the 1 cucumber I sliced up. Season with salt if necessary — I found that the feta added enough saltiness so I didn’t add any additional salt.

cutting board

cucumber, feta and mint salad

fried potatoes

The Bran Muffin To End All Bran Muffins

Nancy Silverton's bran muffins

Many of you already know of this bran muffin, a Nancy Silverton creation served at the widely adored La Brea Bakery. Made with toasted wheat bran, freshly grated orange zest, and simmered and puréed raisins, it is one of the most delicious muffins — bran or otherwise — out there. This is a true bran muffin, not a brown muffin under the guise of bran muffin. Despite being nearly one hundred percent whole grain in makeup, it is perfectly sweet and super moist. This is a muffin you feel almost OK about eating by the half dozen and one you feel truly OK about packing into lunch bags and taking on road trips.

Is it a little fussy? Toasted bran, grated zest, plumped and puréed raisins? Yes, a little bit. But I would argue that the bran muffin to end all bran muffins deserves to be so. I think you’ll agree.

orange and raisins

puréeing simmered raisins

batter

scooping batter into the pan

scooping batter

Nancy Silverton’s Bran Muffins
Adapted very slightly from Nancy Silverton via More Than Burnt Toast and David Lebovitz
From Nancy Silverton’s Pastries from the La Brea Bakery

Notes: Because I don’t love the texture of raisins in baked goods, I puréed all of them in step 3 versus saving a half cup to fold in at the end. If you like the texture of raisins, however, by all means, save a 1/2 cup to be folded in at the end.

2 cups (125g) wheat bran
1 1/2 cups (190g total) dark raisins
1 1/2 cups (370ml total) water
1/2 cup (120g) buttermilk or plain low-fat yogurt (I used buttermilk)
zest of one orange
1/2 cup (105g) packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup (125ml) vegetable oil (I used canola)
1 large egg
1 large egg white
1/2 cup (65g) flour
1/4 cup (35g) whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners or grease with butter or oil or use these free-standing paper liners, which are fun and pretty.

2. Spread the wheat bran on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for six to eight minutes, stirring a few times so it cooks evenly. Let cool.

3. While the bran is toasting, heat 1 cup of the raisins with 1/2 cup of the water. (Note: I simmered all of the raisins (1.5 cups) at once with 3/4 cups water, then added the remaining 3/4 cup water to the batter (step 4) afterwards.) Simmer for ten minutes, or until the water is all absorbed (I simmered for 10 minutes and all of the water was not absorbed, but I figured it was OK, and it was). Puree the raisins in a food processor or blender until smooth.

4. In a large bowl, mix together the toasted bran, buttermilk or yogurt, 1 cup water (or 3/4 cup water if you have simmered all of the raisins with 3/4 cup water), then mix in the raisin puree, orange zest, and brown sugar.

5. Stir in the oil, egg and egg white.

6. Mix together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and sift (or not) directly into the wet ingredients. Stir until the ingredients are just combined, then mix in the remaining 1/2 cup raisins (if you haven’t puréed all of them already).

7. Spoon the batter into the muffin tins, making sure the batter is mounded slightly in each one. Because muffin tins can very in size, if your tins are larger, make fewer muffins.

8. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the muffins feel set in the center.

Nancy Silverton's bran muffins

Summer Squash Spaghetti

zucchini spaghetti

Several years ago I bought a Benriner turning slicer. It is a ridiculous (but fun) tool that sits in my cupboard 364 days a year. To justify hanging on to it, I pull it out every year, just once, at the start of zucchini season, when I set out to make one of my favorite spaghetti recipes, the very dish that inspired its purchase.

I had read about the turning slicer in Michael Chiarello’s Tra Vigne Cookbook, which extolled the tool for its ability to cut vegetables into long spirals, perfect for making cucumber salads or for preparing potatoes for the deep fryer or for turning out zucchini slices for this very spaghetti recipe. That sounded like fun, I thought, and I ran out to Fante’s to see for myself.

While the gadget works beautifully and while it, unlike some of my other slicers, poses no risk to my fingers, my experimentation has extended no further than this single recipe. Truthfully, I prefer the shape of the long thin wisps created by a mandoline.

While neither tool is required to prepare this pasta recipe, having one helps. The beauty of the dish lies in the delicateness of the zucchini and summer squash strands, which cook in the final minute of the assembly process while they’re being tossed with the just-boiled spaghetti.

The sauce for this pasta is simple: extra-virgin olive oil heated briefly with minced garlic and crushed red pepper flakes. Lemon zest and lots of chopped basil and parsley add a touch of freshness. Grated Parmigiano Reggiano is a must.

I love this pasta. It’s simple and summery, and it always inspires me once again to unearth such a promising gadget. Maybe this summer will be different? Maybe we’ll take to feasting on whimsical cucumber nest salads and carrot and daikon radish slaws? Maybe we’ll grow accustomed to sliding our grilled steaks onto beds of crispy potatoes? It’s unlikely, but I’ll be sure to keep you posted.

benriner turning slicer

sliced zucchini

zucchini & summer squash

Love my Benriner mandoline:
benriner mandoline

ingredients

adding the parsley & basil

Zucchini Spaghetti
Adapted from Michael Chiarello’s The Tra Vigne Cookbook
Serves 2 to 3

Notes: The original recipe called for 3/4 lb. spaghettini, 3/4 lb. zucchini and 1/2 cup olive oil. I have reduced the amount of pasta and olive oil, but essentially kept the amount of squash the same. I also added lemon zest, which goes nicely with zucchini and adds a touch of brightness. Also, don’t be confused by the photo with the halved lemon and reamer — I don’t actually add any lemon juice, though I can’t imagine a squeeze would do too much damage. Your call.

1/2 lb. spaghetti
kosher salt
1/2 lb. or more zucchini or yellow squash (I used 11 oz. weighed after being trimmed sliced)
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil (or more or less)
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
zest of one lemon
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
¼ cup finely chopped parsley (optional — sometimes I just use basil)
½ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
freshly ground pepper

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a big pinch of salt. Meanwhile, using a mandoline or Benriner turning slicer, cut the squash into long thin strips. Alternatively, cut the squash with a knife as thinly as you are able. Place the sliced squash in a colander in your sink. Cook the pasta until al dente, reserving ½ cup of the pasta cooking liquid (though you might not even need it — I never seem to with this dish).

2. Place the oil, garlic and red pepper flakes in a small skillet and turn heat to high. When the oil and garlic begin to sizzle, turn off the heat. (If you have an electric burner, as I do, remove pan from the heat source if the garlic begins to brown.)

3. Drain the pasta over the colander containing the squash, then transfer pasta and squash to a large bowl. Add the garlic-red pepper oil to the bowl. (Note: I add all of the oil at once, because I like the pasta to be nicely coated, but I could see how some people might find it too oily. If you are wary of oil, add about half of the oil to start, then add more as needed.) Add the zest and the herbs. Add the Parmigiano. Toss. Taste. Season with kosher salt (if necessary — I add a lot of salt to the pasta water so I usually don’t have to add any extra salt) and pepper to taste. If necessary, add some of the reserved cooking water (I didn’t need any), more olive oil (didn’t need it) or salt and pepper.

Have a nice weekend.
graham & ella

Butterscotch Budino Ice Cream

butterscotch budino ice cream sandwiches

This is what happened. My husband, who dislikes butterscotch, went out of town. I took the opportunity to make butterscotch budino, a dessert I discovered at Pizzeria Mozza several years ago, one that (along with the pizza) inspired many a 70-mile drive up to LA despite the inevitable, incessant, insane traffic.

I made the New York Times recipe (adapted from Pizzeria Mozza), which I discovered (too far along in the process to turn back) yields enough budino for a small village. My husband was only out of town for one night. I’m not sure what I was thinking.

After four too many budinos, I needed to take action. I couldn’t toss such a delicious creation, but eating it at the rate that I was seemed excessive. To prevent myself from assuming the role of small village, I dumped the remaining budino into my Kitchen Aid ice cream attachment and let it churn.

Never has such an intervention been more rewarding. I’ve never tasted salted caramel ice cream, but I’m pretty sure this is exactly how it would taste. And it is absurdly delicious. Budino, in its new frozen carnation, prevented me from becoming a small village, but only for one day. The ice cream disappeared from my freezer as quickly as the budino had from my fridge. And the recipe was revisited shortly thereafter, the new batch made with a few adjustments, namely without butter — I mean, butter in ice cream, as delicious as it was, is kind of gross.

The new butterless batch was just as, if not more so, delicious. I don’t know if it’s the relatively high amount of cornstarch or the presence of rum, but there’s something about this custard that produces the nicest textured ice cream. I made a third batch, too, and decided, just for kicks, to make ice cream sandwiches with about half of the batch. The cookies, made from a Fine Cooking recipe, taste just like the soft chocolate cookies flanking classic ice cream sandwiches. I have a feeling I’ll be making them all summer long.

Finally, Commenters, five of you — Trish, Kamilla, Elisa, Judy, and Dorothea — will receive a bag of Tipo 00 flour. With the exception of my friend Bates, who foremost deserves a bag, I used a random generator. I have emailed you. Wish I could send you each a bag.

ice cream maker

butterscotch budino ice cream

My aunt sent me these Everything Clips in the mail a few weeks ago. They are awesome for everything, but especially for securing parchment paper to pans:
pan clipped with parchment

batter spread in pan

baked batter

soft chocolate cookie, ready to be cut

cookie cut in half

fluted cutters

cutting cookies

cookie rounds ready for ice cream

sandwiches, ready to be topped

Butterscotch Budino Ice Cream
Adapted from the butterscotch budino recipe served at Pizzeria Mozza

If you just want to make butterscotch budino (versus the ice cream) follow this recipe.

for the custard:
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup milk (I used whole)
2 egg yolks
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon rum

1. Combine cream and milk in bowl or pitcher, set aside. Whisk egg yolks and cornstarch (read note in next sentence first) in medium bowl, set aside. Note: There has to be a better way to whisk egg yolks and cornstarch than what I have been doing, which causes the yolks to clump all around the whisk. This is what I’ll do next time: Crack yolks into bowl. Spoon a little bit of the cornstarch into the yolks. Stir with a spoon until incorporated, then add more cornstarch and continue this process until all of the cornstarch has been added.

2. Combine brown sugar, kosher salt and 1/4 cup water in pot. Place over medium-high heat and let sit until edges start to brown. Tilt pot as needed to even the browning until caramelized, nutty and deep brown, about 10 minutes. Notes: The mixture should be bubbling (not crazily, however) the whole time, so adjust heat as necessary. Do set a timer. It’s hard to tell visually when the mixture is ready, but every time that I’ve made this, 10 minutes seemed to be the magic number.

3. Immediately whisk in cream mixture, mixture will steam and caramel will seize. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium. Whisk a cup at a time into egg mixture until half is incorporated. Remove from heat, and immediately whisk egg mixture back into pot until custard is very thick, about 2 minutes.

4. Whisk in rum. Pass through a fine mesh strainer. Transfer to a storage container (preferably glass or pyrex). Cover with plastic wrap, allow to cool, and refrigerate until completely chilled, the longer the better.

5. Transfer mixture to ice cream maker and freeze according to your machine’s instructions. Freeze until ready to serve.

for the ice cream sandwich cookies:

I followed the recipe on Fine Cooking for the cookie recipe.

Notes:
I used my 2.5-inch round fluted cutter to make individual sandwiches, which is fun, but also wasteful. If you go this route, you’ll get about 12 sandwiches per batch of cookie recipe. What is nice about this method is that the ice cream doesn’t have to be too soft — mine was a little too soft, in fact — in order to start the assembly process. If your ice cream is scoopable, you are good to go. Also, I froze my scraps from the cutting process. These could be crumbled up and sprinkled onto the sides of a cake or toasted and crumbled onto ice cream or … I’m sure you have some good ideas? Again, what isn’t nice about this method is the waste as well as the extra steps cutting/scooping/etc. Next time, I think I’ll stick to the traditional method. Also, the flavor of the butterscotch budino ice cream I found got a little masked by the cookie. Next time, too, I would choose a different flavor ice cream, probably vanilla, to use for the sandwiches. I’m thinking the best vessel for the butterscotch budino ice cream might be a thin chocolate wafer cookie bowl or something of the like? Will report back if I discover something.

ice cream sandwiches

Straining the custard after it thickens is important — it removes all of those curdled little bits.
straining the custard

Tipo 00 Flour — Worth Paying For Shipping

fig jam, caramelized onion and blue cheese pizza

A series of fortuitous events in the past few months have led to a number of wonderful discoveries: an ingredient — Tipo 00 flour; a technique — minimal handling of dough; and a reward — the best pizza I have ever made at home.

Let’s start from the beginning. Five trips in three weeks to 2Amys Pizzeria in NW Washington DC (over an hour drive from my house) convinced me it was finally time to get my hands on some Tipo 00 flour, a soft-grain flour requisite in the production of D.O.C. Neapolitan pizza, an ingredient I’ve been thinking about for five years now.

I hate to admit it and in retrospect it pains me, but a $7.25 shipping charge has been the sole barrier between me and Tipo 00 flour for about a year now. Am I wrong to expect everything to ship for free and arrive the next day? (I know, so bratty! Sorry.) Anyway, to soften the blow, I ordered 10 bags, which made the total price per bag $4.22, a nominal fee especially when each bag yields six pizzas.

About the time that my flour arrived, I received a text message from a friend who had been experimenting with the Jim Lahey pizza dough. The message read: “Help!” While she had been having great success flavor-wise with the Lahey recipe, her pies were less than picturesque. (Click on the link…it will make you chuckle. I love you, Bates.)

I had to come to my friend’s rescue. She had requested video guidance, which I was certain was out there and which I was determined to find for her. My quest for her, however, may have proven to help me equally as well. A video and a note published on Serious Eats made me realize that for all these years that I have been making homemade pizza, I have been majorly overhandling my dough, at least for the sort of pizza I strive to make.

The note from Lahey read as follows:

While I’m not picky about the flour — either bread flour or all-purpose is fine — what does concern me is how the dough is handled. Treat it gently so the dough holds its character, its texture. When you get around to shaping the disk for a pie, go easy as you stretch it to allow it to retain a bit of bumpiness (I think of it as blistering), so not all of the gas is smashed out of the fermented dough.

Having just spent $42 on 10 bags of flour, I sort of wished Lahey felt more strongly about the type of flour he used, but ultimately I agree that the handling of the dough is more important than the type of flour used. As soon as I began really paying attention to how I shaped my pizza rounds — gently/minimally — I noticed a difference in the finished product. The air pockets pervading the unbaked round (video/photo below) really affect the flavor and texture of the baked pizza.

I’ve made the Lahey dough many times now, and it is always delicious, regardless if I use bread flour or Tipo 00 flour. I do feel strongly, however, that the Tipo 00 flour produces a superior product, especially in texture. The unbaked dough is softer, more delicate and easier to shape — it doesn’t resist the shaping as much as the dough made with bread flour. The crust of the baked pizza, too, is a bit more tender, and the outer edge has a bit more chew.

Again, regardless of the flour, with the Lahey method, I’ve finally been able to achieve that quintessensial Neopolitan ballooned and blistered outer edge. I think I’m ready for my wood-burning oven. Santa, I hope you’re reading.

Finally, Readers, as you might imagine, I have a few extra bags of Tipo 00 flour on hand. Since you won’t be able to find this product without paying for shipping, I’d love to share my remaining bags with a few of you. Leave a comment if you’re interested. Just tell me you’re favorite thing to eat or you’re most valued kitchen tool (one of mine is commercial-grade plastic wrap, see below) or what’s next on your to-make list. Thanks so much for reading.

fig jam, caramelized onion and blue cheese pizza

fig jam, caramelized onion and blue cheese pizza

2Amys Pizzeria serves D.O.C. Neapolitan pizza, which means they follow the strict requirements outlined by the Italian government for producing authentic Neapolitan pizza. The guidelines cover all the bases: the oven (wood-burning); the shaping (by hand); the final size (no larger than 11 inches); the ingredients (dough must be made with tipo 00 flour, fresh yeast, water and salt and the toppings extend to Italian plum tomatoes, mozzarella di bufala, extra-virgin olive oil, fresh basil and dried oregano).

2Amys Menu

If you’re looking for more information on Tipo 00 flour, this link on Forno Bravo is helpful.
Antimo Caputo tipo 00 flour

dough rising

Jim Lahey dough, ready to be divided

dough, divided

dough balls

I know it is terribly ungreen of me, but one thing I cannot live without is heavy duty plastic wrap. Nothing makes me want to tear my hair out more than a box of super market cling wrap. If you’re OK with having a hideously large shape sitting out in your kitchen for all to see, this product might just change your life.

commercial grade plastic wrap and dough balls

I made this video for my friend, Bates, who was struggling with shaping her dough. I advise watching the one on Serious Eats first. My main goal with this video was to capture the air pockets that pervade the dough when it is handled minimally — the presence of these air pockets make a difference in the final product.

dough with tape measure

pizza, just out of the oven

fig jam, caramelized onions & blue cheese pizza

Fig Jam, Caramelized Onion & Blue Cheese Pizza with Jim Lahey Dough
Pizza Dough Source: Bon Appetit vis Jim Lahey’s book: My Pizza.

Note: If you buy Tipo 00 flour, this recipe comes together in seconds — each bag conveniently weighs 1000g, which is what the recipe calls for.

For this pizza you’ll need:

caramelized onions
fig jam, thinned out with a little bit of water for easy spreading
blue cheese, any type you like
Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
Jim Lahey Pizza Dough (recipe below)

7 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (1000 grams) plus more for shaping dough
4 teaspoons fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast

1. Whisk flour, salt, and yeast in a medium bowl. While stirring with a wooden spoon, gradually add 3 cups water; stir until well incorporated. Mix dough gently with your hands to bring it together and form into a rough ball. Transfer to a large clean bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let dough rise at room temperature (about 72°) in a draft-free area until surface is covered with tiny bubbles and dough has more than doubled in size, about 18 hours (time will vary depending on the temperature in the room).

2. Transfer dough to a floured work surface. Gently shape into a rough rectangle. Divide into 6 equal portions. Working with 1 portion at a time, gather 4 corners to center to create 4 folds. Turn seam side down and mold gently into a ball. Dust dough with flour; set aside on work surface or a floured baking sheet. Repeat with remaining portions.

3. Let dough rest, covered with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel, until soft and pliable, about 1 hour. DO AHEAD: Can be made 3 days ahead. Wrap each dough ball separately in plastic wrap and chill. Unwrap and let rest at room temperature on a lightly floured work surface, covered with plastic wrap, for about an hour or two before shaping.

4. To Make the Pizzas: During the last hour of dough’s resting, preheat oven to its hottest setting, 500°–550°. Working with 1 dough ball at a time, dust dough with flour and place on a floured work surface. Gently shape dough into a 10″–12″ disk handling it as minimally as possible. Arrange dough disk on parchment-lined baking sheet; top minimally with desired toppings: to make this pizza, first spoon some of the thinned out fig jam over top, then top with caramelized onions, the blue cheese, and finally the Parmigiano Reggiano. Bake pizza until bottom of crust is crisp and top is blistered, about 7 minutes. Transfer to a work surface to slice. Repeat with remaining pizzas.

Shots from our lunch at 2Amys a few weeks ago:
Green tomato, ramp, Grana & egg pizza:
green tomato, ramp, Grana & egg pizza at 2Amys

The margherita pizza at 2Amys is just about the ideal — pizza, food, meal, everything. It is so unbelievably delicious.
margherita pizza at 2Amys

Norcia pizza:
Norcia pizza at 2Amys

Two Ways to Cut an Onion

onions, diced & sliced

OK, I know most of you know how to cut onions. If you’re one of them, please stop reading. I don’t mean to bore you.

This post is intended for those of you who might just like a little extra guidance at the chopping block. The way I cut onions is the way I learned many years ago while working at a restaurant. When I was there, the chef at the time made the most beautiful salads, relishes, ceviches, and most notably, salsas. Depending on the season and on the celebration (and on his mood), the star ingredient of the salsa always changed — from tomato (of course) to roasted poblano pepper to grilled pineapple to jicama to mango to corn to pickled red onion to tomatillo. The supporting cast, however, remained constant or nearly constant: there was always some sort of herb (cilantro, mint, Thai basil), some sort of acid (lime juice, lemon juice, vinegar), some sort of heat source (jalapeno, Thai bird chili, Tabasco) and always red onion.

The red onion — diced into perfect little arched diamonds — was always the prettiest of all of the shapes comprising the salsas. Sometimes it was super thin (when used in a delicate mixture topping a fresh oyster, for example) and sometimes it was super thick (when used in tomato bruschetta, for example). But the cutting method was always the same. I’ve included a video below. The key, which might be hard to pick up in the video, is in the final slicing step: when the half moon slices of onion are stacked, and you are ready to start creating your dice, you always want to keep your knife 90º to the curve. Does this make sense? I know this is nothing earth shattering, but once you learn out how to do this, you’ll be so happy (I was at least) to see those little red diamonds amassing on your board — they make the prettiest additions to salsa, of course, but also to potato salads or whole grain salads or bean salads etc.

finely diced onions

Note: This is not a technique to improve speed — the goal is to create beautiful delicate red diamonds.

sliced onions

There’s no story to go along with the second method, slicing, but I also learned this method at the restaurant. A video is probably unnecessary, but I’ve included one below anyway. When I need to sauté an onion or to caramelize it or to slice it for a Greek salad, for example, this is how I do it:

cutting board