Monthly Archives: February 2012
Eric and I don’t make seafood at home very frequently, and that’s something I really want to change. Way back when I thought I didn’t like seafood, crab was always my exception. I’ve always enjoyed crab cakes, but the few recipes I’ve tried were never quite right. Crab cakes are simple, but there are several things that can go wrong when making them. Too little binder will result in cakes that fall apart when cooked, while too much binder masks the flavor of the crab. The texture can quickly go from chunky to pasty if you overwork them, and they can fall apart during cooking if you’re not careful. Obviously the right recipe would suffer from none of these problems, and I’m happy to report that this is that recipe.
These crab cakes are exactly what crab cakes should be. They’ve got a wonderfully crisp exterior and a chunky, creamy and flavorful interior. What’s the secret to making these so perfect? First, only adding enough bread crumbs to hold the cakes together. The seasoning is minimal but is all meant to enhance the flavor of the crab. A quick stint in the refrigerator helps hold the cakes together during cooking, and a light dredging in flour ensures a well-browned crust. These come together quickly and cook even faster. Served with a side of steamed asparagus, this was an elegant and easy meal. If you’re still looking for something to make for a Valentine’s Day dinner at home, I highly recommend giving this recipe a try. You definitely won’t regret it.
For best results, use fresh or refrigerated/pasteurized crabmeat in this recipe.
Pan-Fried Crab Cakes with Homemade Tartar Sauce
Serves 4, Sauce makes about 1 cup
For the crab cakes:
1 pound jumbo lump crab meat, picked over to remove cartilage and shell fragments
4 scallions, green parts only, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2-4 tablespoons plain dry bread crumbs
1 1/2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
Salt and white pepper
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup vegetable oil
Lemon wedges, for serving
For the tartar sauce:
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 shallot, minced
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and minced
2 tablespoons sweet pickle relish
1 1/2 teaspoons white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, gently fold together crabmeat, scallions, parsley, mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons bread crumbs and Old Bay, taking care not to break up any crab lumps. Season with salt and white pepper to taste. Carefully fold in egg using a rubber spatula. If cakes don’t bind, add additional bread crumbs, 1 tablespoon at a time, until they do.
Divide mixture into four portions. Shape each into a fat, round cake, about 3 inches across and 1 1/2 inches thick. Place on prepared baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or up to 24 hours.
Meanwhile, prepare tartar sauce by combining all ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and allow to sit for at least 15 minutes to allow flavors to blend. Stir again before serving. Sauce can be refrigerated up to 1 week.
When ready to cook the crab cakes, place flour in a shallow baking dish or pie plate. Lightly dredge each cake in flour and return to baking sheet. Heat oil in a large (12-inch), nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Very carefully lay cakes in oil and cook until exteriors are crisp and browned, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Serve immediately with lemon wedges and tartar sauce.
Source: The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook
I wanted to make something extra special for Valentine’s Day, not really because of the holiday itself but more because I’ll take any excuse I can to make something I wouldn’t normally make. Such was the case with this cake. Chocolate mousse is one of my favorite desserts, so this cake was a no-brainer for me. Plus, Valentine’s seemed like an appropriate time to make something consisting of three layers of chocolate. Since I’m pregnant, I figure it’s okay to tell you that I licked the whisks and spatulas several times while preparing this (for those I’m sharing it with – don’t worry, I washed them each time). :)
This cake, upon first glance, seems incredibly involved. When you break down each step, though, it’s really not that difficult. The most annoying part for me was having to wash my stand mixer’s bowl between steps. This dessert starts out with a flourless chocolate cake base. Next comes a layer of chocolate mousse, followed by a layer of white chocolate mousse. The texture of this cake is unbeatable. You’ve got an incredible combination of rich, dense cake, light and airy mousse layers and a crisp bite from the chocolate curls. This cake is the epitome of decadence. It was a struggle not to eat the entire piece when I was done photographing it. If you’re looking to make something special for your valentine, look no further.
One thing I didn’t do that I wish I had done was to dip the knife in hot water before slicing this. I was so excited and didn’t think about it until it was too late. I definitely recommend using that method if you don’t have any cheese wire to use. Your slices will come out looking much neater and smoother if you cut with a hot knife.
Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake
Serves 12 to 16
For the bottom layer:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into six pieces
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
3/4 teaspoon instant espresso powder
4 large eggs, separated
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Pinch cream of tartar
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
For the middle layer:
5 tablespoons hot water
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, chilled
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
For the top layer:
3/4 teaspoon powdered gelatin
1 tablespoon water
6 ounces white chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, chilled
Shaved chocolate or cocoa powder for decorating, optional
To prepare the bottom layer, preheat oven to 325º. Grease a 9- or 9 1/2-inch springform pan. Combine butter, chocolate and espresso in a large heatproof bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water. Stir occasionally until melted and smooth. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly, about 5 minutes. Whisk in egg yolks and vanilla and set aside.
Using a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip egg whites, cream of tartar and salt on medium-low speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Add half of sugar and continue whipping until combined, about 15 seconds. Add remaining sugar, increase speed to high, and whip until soft peaks form, 1 additional minute, scraping down bowl halfway through. Using a whisk, fold one-third of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it. Fold in remaining egg whites using a rubber spatula. When no white streaks remain, carefully transfer batter to prepared pan. Smooth top with spatula. Bake cake until it has risen, is firm around the edges and just set in the center (cake center should spring back when gently pressed with finger), 13 to 18 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely, about 1 hour. Do not remove cake from pan.
While cake is cooling, prepare middle layer. Combine the hot water and cocoa in a small bowl and set aside. Place chocolate in a large heatproof bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water. Stir occasionally until melted and smooth. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly, 2 to 5 minutes.
Using a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip cream, sugar and salt on medium-low speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Increase speed to high and whip until soft peaks form, 1-3 minutes. (It helps to chill the mixing bowl before whipping the cream.) Whisk cocoa mixture into chocolate. Using a whisk, fold one-third of the cream into the chocolate mixture to lighten it. Fold in remaining cream using a rubber spatula. When no white streaks remain, spoon mousse onto cooled cake. Smooth top with spatula and gently tap on counter to release any air bubbles. Wipe inside edge of pan with a damp cloth or paper towel to remove any drips. Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes while preparing top layer.
To prepare the top layer, sprinkle gelatin over water and let sit for at least 5 minutes. Place white chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl. Bring 1/2 cup of cream to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Remove from heat and stir in gelatin mixture until completely dissolved. Pour cream mixture over white chocolate, cover and allow to sit for 5 minutes. Whisk gently until smooth. Let cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally (mixture will thicken slightly during this time).
Using a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip remaining cup of cream on medium-low speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Increase speed to high and whip until soft peaks form, 1 to 3 minutes. Using a whisk, fold one-third of cream into white chocolate to lighten it. Fold in remaining cream using a rubber spatula. When no white streaks remain, spoon white chocolate mousse into the pan over the middle layer. Smooth top with a rubber spatula. Return to refrigerator and chill until set, at least 2 1/2 hours. Cake can be refrigerated up to 1 day. Allow to sit at room temperature for about 45 minutes before slicing.
To serve, garnish cake with chocolate curls or dust with cocoa if desired. Run a thin knife between the cake and sides of pan. Remove sides and run the cleaned knife along the outside to smooth. Cut using cheese wire or a hot knife, cleaning and drying between each cut.
Source: The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook
I had grand ideas to make fancy, decorated sugar cookies for Valentine’s Day. However, with an only partially completed nursery and plenty of things to sew before Baby C arrives, it just wasn’t feasible. Not wanting to miss out on the fun that is holiday sugar cookies, I decided to make these simple ones instead. I saved this recipe last year, and I have seen it on countless blogs since then. It was about time that I tried this recipe for myself, and let me tell you that the wonderful reviews it’s received are all well deserved.
These cookies are a better version of the ones you see at grocery stores. You know the ones I’m talking about – they’re always decorated for each season/holiday. Now you can make them at home and customize them with whatever colors and sprinkles you want. As you can imagine, these are oodles better than the store-bought version. They lack that off, artificial taste and instead are rich and buttery. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, these will definitely satisfy it. The cookies are delicious enough on their own, and with a thick layer of frosting they’re hard to beat. Because of their simplicity, I think these would be incredibly fun to make with children. What kid doesn’t like to roll cookie dough and shake on sprinkles? The most difficult part of making these is having the willpower not to eat too many. :)
Soft Frosted Sugar Cookies
Makes about 2 dozen large cookies
For the cookies:
For the cookies:
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
5 teaspoons vanilla extract
For the frosting:
5 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1/3 cup (5 1/3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
7-8 tablespoons milk (plus more, as needed)
Food coloring (optional)
Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats and set aside. Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Blend in the vanilla and reduce mixer speed to low. Gradually add in the flour mixture until just incorporated. Cover and chill the dough for one hour.
Once the dough has been chilled, preheat oven to 350º. Scoop a scant quarter cup and roll into a ball. Flatten into a thick disk and place on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough, spacing the cookies at least 2 inches apart. Bake for 10-12 minutes until just set, taking care not to overbake. The edges will be barely browned, if at all. Allow to cool on the baking sheet for several minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
To make the frosting, place the confectioner’s sugar in a medium bowl. Whisk in the melted butter, vanilla and milk. Continue whisking until smooth, adding more milk as needed, a tablespoon at a time, to reach your desired consistency. Tint with food coloring, if desired. Use an offset spatula to frost the cookies, and top with sprinkles if desired. If the frosting becomes too thick to be workable, whisk in additional milk. Store in an airtight container.
As seen on Annie’s Eats, originally adapted from Hostess with the Mostess
Now that the Super Bowl is over, I’m ready to share a few Valentine’s Day goodies with all of you. I know that not everyone celebrates it, many saying it’s just a consumer driven holiday, etc. I thought the same thing until I realized that Valentine’s Day can be more than just a romantic holiday when you make it about all the people you love. If I were closer to my family, I can promise you I’d make them something special. Since I’m not, and since Eric and I are expecting a little one in less than a month (eek!), I decided to make the best of this holiday by making some seriously delicious treats that I’ll be sharing throughout the week.
This French toast is obviously meant to be a breakfast item, but it could easily double as a dessert. It’s blissfully decadent with soft challah bread, rich Nutella and sweet strawberries. Also, chocolate for breakfast is always a major win in my book. This recipe was inspired by one I saved last year for strawberry stuffed French toast. I knew I wanted to somehow incorporate chocolate since the combination of it and strawberry is one of my favorites. Using Nutella was a natural progression, and that’s how this French toast came to be. Instead of stuffing the challah with strawberries, I decided to macerate them to use as a topping. It was perfect. This French toast isn’t plagued by problems of other recipes I’ve tried. It doesn’t get soggy or overly eggy. Instead, the exterior gets golden and crisp while the interior remains soft. Whether I’m stuffing it or not, this method of making French toast will be my go-to from now on. I want to tell you to plan ahead so that you can make this for someone special on Valentine’s Day, but it’s so amazing that it would feel wrong to tell you to wait that long. If you can, I promise this breakfast will be worth it.
Nutella Stuffed French Toast with Strawberries
1 cup sliced strawberries
2 teaspoons sugar
Juice of half a lemon
4 thick slices (1 1/2 to 2-inches) bread, such as challah or soft Italian bread
About 1/2 cup Nutella
1 large egg
3/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
Powdered sugar for serving
Combine the strawberries, sugar and lemon juice in a bowl. Toss to coat and set aside to macerate at room temperature.
Cut a pocket into each slice of bread, taking care not to cut all the way through. Fill each slice of bread with about two tablespoons of Nutella (I totally eyeballed this part, so this is just an estimate). Heat a large skillet over medium heat. In a shallow dish or pie plate, whisk together the egg and milk. Whisk in the melted butter and vanilla. Add the flour, cinnamon and salt and whisk until smooth. Working with one or two pieces at a time, place the filled slices into the egg mixture. Soak for 30 to 40 seconds per side, allow excess to drip off and transfer to a plate. Repeat with remaining slices.
Add 1 tablespoon of butter to the heated skillet and swirl to coat. Add the slices in a single layer, taking care not to crowd the skillet. Cook for 1-2 minutes, until light golden brown. Flip and continue cooking an additional 1-2 minutes. Add more butter as needed and repeat with remaining slices. Transfer to a plate, dust with powdered sugar, then top with macerated strawberries. Serve immediately.
Source: Adapted from Annie’s Eats
Ranch dressing is something I loved as a kid but could mostly live without now. When it comes to salads, I much prefer lighter dressings like vinaigrettes. However, I’ll occasionally get a craving for vegetables and ranch dressing. As much as I love other dressings, they don’t really work well for dipping vegetables. The thing is, bottled ranch dressing kind of makes me gag. It’s just so thick and gloopy, not at all what I want to dip my carrot and celery sticks in. Homemade ranch dressing, on the other hand, is everything the bottled kind isn’t – fresh, light in texture and absolutely delicious.
If you’re anything like me, you probably have all the ingredients you need for this dressing in your refrigerator. This dressing beats anything you can buy from the store because it’s made fresh when you want it. Plus, making it is as simple as tossing all the ingredients in your food processor and hitting the pulse button a few times. I loved this dressing as is, especially the bit of tang from the Dijon, but I may try adding a handful of parsley next time just to up the herby flavor. I bet the basil could be replaced with dill for a different spin, too (which I’m guessing would be fabulous with fried pickles). I’ve enjoyed having this and carrot sticks as a snack every afternoon, and it would be a wonderful addition to any crudités platter you may be serving this weekend for the Super Bowl. Even if you’re not serving vegetables, imagine how good wings would taste dipped in homemade ranch. I definitely plan on having a jar of this around (with plenty of fresh vegetables) when the baby comes so that I can snack to my heart’s content.
Buttermilk Ranch Dressing
Makes 3 cups
3 scallions, white and green parts, chopped
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves, lightly packed
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1/2 cup buttermilk, well shaken
Place the scallions, basil, lemon juice, Dijon, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the mixture is smooth, about 15 to 20 seconds. Add the remaining ingredients and puree until smooth. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving to let the flavors develop.
Source: Barefoot Contessa How Easy Is That?by Ina Garten