I’m a Maryland girl, so crab is in my blood. I grew up on summer crab feasts, the Maryland version of a New England clambake. Imagine a picnic table covered with newspaper and filled with whole steamed crabs coated in Old Bay Seasoning. It’s a hands-on meal, where you crack the shells open and painstakingly pick the meat from the crabs. The seasoning clings to your fingers, conveying a spicy burn with every bite. It’s communal and festive and delicious!
For fancier occasions, there was crab Imperial, typically restaurant fare, though my mother was known to make it on occasion. Lump crabmeat is mixed with mayonnaise, the requisite Old Bay Seasoning, stuffed into a crab shell (or a baking dish), topped with breadcrumbs and cheese, and baked until bubbly. What an indulgence.
And of course, life wouldn’t be complete without Maryland crab cakes. While hardly everyday fare, crab cakes were a special occasion dinner we ate at home, the kind of thing you might pick for Mom to make for your birthday. Crab meat is bound together with egg and mayo, and of course that Old Bay Seasoning, and formed into patties, then fried or baked.
Clearly, my relationship with crab leans towards serving it warm with Old Bay.
This week’s recipe choice for Cook the Book Fridays went in another direction. Fennel, radish, orange, and crab salad is served cold and combines a set of flavors I’d describe more as California than Maryland.
This recipe fit perfectly into my weekly cooking schedule. Our tradition for many years is to spend Christmas Eve with friends celebrating the Italian Feast of Seven Fishes. This year we had 10 different kinds of fish or seafood. Typically, Howard makes a gravlax and I make mini-crab cakes. (This year, I also brought a batch of brandade.) Knowing I would be making this salad, I set aside some of the crab meat before I mixed up the crab cakes.
I loved the vibrant colors in the salad. Though the fennel and crab were neutral, the rich burgundy leaves of radicchio, the pink radish skins, the green flecks of parsley, and, at least on my plate, the accents of orange segments created a festive palette. It tasted good too. The salad is in the “First Courses” chapter of My Paris Kitchen, but a larger portion served for lunch makes a healthy, light, yet satisfying meal after the many indulgences of December.
My only complaint is with the quantity of dressing. As instructed, I tossed the crab and parsley with the dressing. However, after I spooned the mixture over the greens and other vegetables, no dressing remained in the bowl to spoon over said greens and other vegetables, leaving them a little bit dry. I was too lazy, but simply doubling the amount of dressing would have solved the problem. To be sure to have some left, I’d mix half (the original amount) in with the crab and reserve the other half to drizzle over the vegetables before adding the crab mixture to the plate.
Wishing you a Happy, Healthy, Peaceful New Year in 2018! Happy Cooking!
Based on the multitude of blogs in Internet land, it’s easy to feel inadequate in the kitchen. So many bloggers project an image of detailed menu planning, access to picture-perfect locally grown seasonal ingredients, and impeccable housekeeping. I realize it could be illusion, but it highlights my own reality of day-to-day (sometimes last minute) meal planning, a clean but “lived in” kitchen, and the ever-present feeling of trying to catch up.
True confessions: being part of a cooking group like Cook the Book Fridays, I like that the various recipe selections eliminate a decision to be made, though I’m always losing track of the schedule. My lack of pre-planning means that I often don’t think about how to incorporate these recipes into our meals in a logical way.
This week’s recipe for French Lentil Salad with Goat Cheese and Walnuts is a side dish that could go with almost anything. I adore lentils, especially the tiny French lentils. If you take care not to overcook them, they are perfect in a salad. I’ve made lentil salads similar to David Lebovitz’s recipe from My Paris Kitchen, but there are a few takeaways that I particularly liked with this recipe. For example, I usually add raw crunchy vegetables (i.e. carrots, celery, and red onion). In this recipe, they are added the pot of lentils for the last few minutes of cooking. The veggies retain their crunch but the brief cooking softens them ever so slightly for a texture that feels just right. Minced shallots in the dressing add an extra oniony note. The toasted walnuts were also a delicious touch.
While the goat cheese was complementary to the flavors, I think I might have liked the salad more without it. It would keep a little better too. Goat cheese is also the only ingredients that isn’t reliably on-hand in my fridge, allowing this to be made on a whim. Overall, this is a nice version of lentil salad that I might make again.
Speaking of lack of planning, I also made the Hummus that my friends made a couple of weeks ago. I made it on time, but didn’t have a chance to write a post about it. Wow! I’ve been making hummus for decades, but there is something about this recipe that takes it to a new level. It could be the ridiculous step of peeling the chickpeas, which sounds extraordinarily fussy. I’ve been reading that peeling them results in a silkier texture, but it’s time-consuming. I used canned beans (related to lack of planning) so I talked myself into the peeling step. It turned out to be easier than I thought. And the hummus turned out extra creamy. I did have to add at least half a cup of liquid to move it beyond pasty, but I was thrilled with the end result. David’s recipe had many suggestions for adorning the hummus. I sprinkled my bowl with sumac and toasted pumpkin seeds and the all-important glug of olive oil. This is hands-down the best hummus I’ve made at home. At some point, I’ll try it with home-cooked chickpeas. In the meantime, I stocked up on cans of chickpeas to make more.