Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Crab Omelet Recipe

I can’t seem to get enough crab this season. Dungeness crab is only about $7 a pound or so at local markets. I think I’m starting to get better at removing it from the shells; it’s a tedious job but worth the effort. Rather than dousing it in drawn butter, I have been tossing it with pasta and folding it into omelets. I was inspired to make crab omelets after frequently seeing crab versions of Eggs Benedict. Omelets are much easier and less fussy.

With the exception of shrimp and feta, I tend to shy away from seafood and cheese. But I find that crab actually pairs pretty well with mild cheeses. If you’ve ever had a crab melt or hot crab dip, you know what I mean. I particularly like combining crab with a little bit of cream cheese. It adds richness and a velvety texture and it extends the flavor of the crab. 

I prefer my omelets to be extremely tender. The key is cooking the eggs over low heat, very gently. I use a non-stick pan and plenty of butter. Chives or green onions are a nice addition to the eggs but it’s really all about letting the crab shine through. To gild the lily, I strongly recommend you top your omelet with some kind of caviar or roe. I have made this omelet several times and have topped it with salmon roe, smoked trout roe and with tobiko. Either way, you get the briny flavor of the sea. Salmon or trout roe offer big juicy beads and tobiko gives a terrific crunch. Just be sure to use fresh crab. Canned crab is not nearly as tasty. 

Crab Omelet
Serves 1 


2 eggs
1 Tablespoon water
1 teaspoon minced chives or green onions
2 Tablespoons fresh crab meat 
1 Tablespoon cream cheese
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
Salmon roe or tobiko, optional 


Beat the eggs with the water and add the chives or green onions. Combine the crab with the cream cheese in a small bowl or dish. Heat a non-stick skillet over low heat and add the butter. When the butter melts, add the eggs and allow to set slightly, then push the eggs from the edges toward the center with a spatula so that eggs continue to cook evenly. Continue cooking, gently moving the eggs until they are almost but not completely set. Add the crab and cream cheese mixture to the center of the eggs and gently roll the egg using the spatula and slide it onto a a plate. Top with a generous dollop of roe, if desired. 


Disclaimer: My thanks to Whole Foods Market for suppling me with the tobiko, I paid for all other ingredients. I was not compensated monetarily for this or any other post. 

Saturday, December 31, 2016

All About Caviar

I’m pretty sure the first time I had caviar was at a wedding. It was years before I ate it again. I was in the lobby of an opera house in Budapest during intermission. There I encountered an incredible spread of elegant hors d'oeuvres, many topped with Russian caviar. I drank a Soviet version of Champagne and felt very posh. It left a more memorable impression than hearing Carmen sung in Hungarian!

According to the dictionary, caviar is the processed salted roe of large fish, typically sturgeon. Sturgeon take 10 years to reach reproductive age and are in danger of extinction in the wild. While Russian caviar is most well-known, I’m going to focus on American caviar since it is more sustainable, readily available and less expensive. American caviar was once a huge industry. In the early 19th century caviar was harvested so heavily in the United States that sturgeon almost disappeared completely. 

Recently American caviar has made a return. Today sturgeon are farmed by companies like Tsar Nicoulai outside of Sacramento, California. Their products are free from mercury found in large fish in the wild, and their production takes pressure off the wild population. While caviar is synonmous with luxury, salmon roe, trout roe, whitefish and tobiko (flying fish roe) are even more economical options than the classic sturgeon and are all very delicious. You can find seven varieties from Tsar Nicoulai at Whole Foods Market. No matter which you choose it is a splurge, so consider it for New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day (brunch!) Valentine’s Day, birthdays or anniversaries. 
Different grades of caviar are going to have slightly different flavors and textures. Tsar Nicoulai’s most expensive caviar is their Reserve Caviar, the individual beads are creamier in texture and mild flavored. Their California Estate Caviar is my personal favorite. It tastes like the ocean and has a firmer texture. Tsar Nicoulai’s Classic Sturgeon Caviar is the least expensive, but has a brinier, fishier flavor and a brighter acidity. 

Salmon caviar has large juicy salty beads, other deliciously enhanced varieties to consider included smoked trout roe and truffled whitefish roe. 

Have you ever wondered why mother-of-pearl spoons are used with caviar? It’s because they will not alter the flavor. A plastic spoon is fine too. Caviar is delicious on its own, or served traditionally with blini, but there are lots of other ways to enjoy it. Once you open a container be sure to use within 24-48 hours.

Here are a few ways to enjoy caviar or roe:

* Top deviled eggs with caviar

* Use on savory corn, potato or crab cakes

* Dollop caviar on an omelet or scrambled eggs 

* Serve caviar on sliced raw sea scallops

* Decorate a smoked salmon and cream cheese dip with caviar

* Add caviar to pasta with shellfish such as lobster, crab or shrimp 

* Serve it on potato or vegetable chips with or without sour cream or creme fraiche

* Fold caviar into hollandaise sauce and serve on eggs, asparagus or on poached seafood

* Use caviar on slices of cucumber or baby potatoes 

* Top raw or cooked oysters with caviar

* On top of steak tartare

Disclaimer: My thanks to Whole Foods Market for hosting a caviar tasting and providing me with samples. I was not compensated monetarily for this or any other post. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A Few Last Minute Gift Ideas

Are you still shopping? That's ok! I've got a few recommendations for things I really like. I hope you will too...
1. For the cook who has everything
A torch—but not just any torch, a propane high heat Bernzomatic torch. Why? It’s way more powerful than those little dinky butane torches and it is a fun tool. I’ve been experimenting with vegetables, fish, even a crust of sugar on a slice of lemon. It’s just a way cool thing to have. It’s the perfect tool for getting the skin off peppers, cooking the best steak ever or putting the slightest char on raw fish. Maybe this is the year I make Baked Alaska! Under $50 and you can get it online but better to purchase in-store and get the propane at the same time. 

2. For families and DIY enthusiasts
The Global Grub tamale kit. I’ve written about this before but I’m telling you again because this is such a quality product. You will quite honestly make the best tameles of your life from this kit and you can fill them with anything you like. This kit is the trifecta— easy, fun and delicious. Available this year from Williams Sonoma. 

3. Wannabe cooks: 
For beginngers I recommend Scratch—this is a terrifically unintimadating book. It’s encouraging in the best possible way. Recipes range from Guacamole to Crispy Skin Salmon with Herb Dressing and rarely have more than 5-7 ingredients. 

The Waste Not Want Not Cookbook - This is also good for those starting out because it includes lots of tips for how to choose, store and use ingredients. It also has some intriguing flavor combinations in recipes like Egg and Avocado Salad, Roasted Carrot Sesame Hummus and Smoked Chicken and Peach Quesadillas. 

A Recipe for Cooking. This is a book from Chez Panisse chef Cal Peternell. It’s got the Chez Panisse sensibility but the recipes feel more home cook than restaurant chef. Still, as the author himself says, “This is a cookbook for when you want to cook more than what’s just necessary.” So let’s say this is for advanced beginners or intermediate cooks. Think Asian Pear and Fennel Salad with Frico, Tender Berry Butter Tart, 15 Layer Lasagna. 
Taste & Technique—ok this is most decidely not for beginngers. It’s for someone who wants to take on a bit of restaurant chef finesse. In this case, the award-winning chef Naomi Pomeroy. Not every recipe is complicated, but designed to help you “elevate your home cooking.” Recipes include Bread Salad with Asparagus, Pickled Rhubarb and Flat-Leaf Parsley, Cabbage Veloute with Lemon Confit Creme Fraiche and Herb Oil, Buckwheat Crepes with Sauteed Apples and Toffee Sauce, 

4. Anyone and everyone who eats
Anything from Market Hall Foods. Think of this as the West Coast version of Zingerman’s. It’s a fantastically well curated specialty food store where you just can’t go wrong. Some current favorites of mine are the Villa Jerada Ras El Hanout and Harissa. I sprinkle the spice mix on a chicken, roast it and serve it with the harissa. They always have an outstanding selection of olio nuovo. Even for non-cooks you’ll find great crackers, antipasti, mustards and honey. Anything from KL Keller or Manicaretti is sure to be a hit.

5. Hostess gift
Going to a party? Instead of cookies or a bottle of wine, bring cake. Christmas cake, the best kind there is: panettone. I adore this cake because it’s fluffy but not too sweet. It’s like tender brioche rich with eggs, dried fuit and nuts and pure deliciousness. It’s also tremendously versatile. Have it with ice cream or whipped cream for dessert. Toast it and serve with breakfast or use it in French toast or bread pudding. It will not go to waste. Look for one that’s made without preservatives or artificial ingredients. I’m fond of the one from AG Ferrrari made from a starter dough dating back to 1932. It’s plump with raisins, candied fruit and almonds.

Disclaimer: This post includes recommendations for products I tried or received review copies, it also contains affiliate links. 

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Chinese Cookbook Reviews

I have a confession to make. I don't always test recipes from cookbooks I review or even recommend. Why? Because I don't generally follow recipes. I use cookbooks for inspiration, learning techniques or great flavor combinations. I don't get hung up on instructions because there are so many variables I can't control (stove, oven and cookware for example). 

Of course when it comes to baking or cooking a cuisine I am less familiar with, I do follow the directions as closely as I can. Which brings me to three new cookbooks covering Chinese cuisine.  Many Chinese cookbooks in English focus on recipes from Chinese food as it is cooked outside of China. But three new cookbooks take a deeper dive into the regional cuisine of China. Two of the books look at all of China while the third concentrates on the cuisine of the Jiangnan region. Each book provides varying degree of context about the regions.

Dong Po Pork, left to right: All Under Heaven, Land of Rice & Fish, China

I chose a single recipe, Dong Po Pork and cooked it from each book. First up the biggest book, China The Cookbook from Phaidon. Phaidon is known for publishing monumental all-encompassing books and this one has a staggering 650 recipes. None of the recipes in the book have headnotes, though there are some photos. The book does have introductions to the regions but they vary greatly in length and provide some useful information but don’t really give a great sense of place. The Dong Po Pork recipe called for red yeast rice which supposedly has medicinal properties. In cooking it is relied on primarily for color and not for flavor. The resulting dish while nicely colored, was bland and a bit disappointing. To try next? The Lamb Kebabs and Rice with Chicken and Sausage in a Casserole (clay pot) both appeal to me.

The second book is Fuschia Dunlop’s Land of Fish and Rice. The introductory sections of the book cover the history of the cuisine, flavors, ingredients and more, but doesn’t break out the individual cities or regions, so you have to read the whole thing even if you just wanted to learn about Shaoxing for example. It has some beautiful photos and the headnotes for the recipes in this book are well-written and share details about the dish beyond just simple preparation tips. And for the recipe? It was much better looking and tasting than the Dong Po Pork from the Phaidon book, but the technique of cutting up the pork made the pieces turn out to be smaller portions. The flavor was rich, but somewhat one dimensional. Perfectly good but not mind blowing. There are other recipes that look very appealing to me that I hope to try soon including the Hangzhou Breakfast Tofu and Sweet & Sour Radishes.

The third book is Carolyn Phillip’s poetically titled All Under Heaven: Recipes from the 35 cuisines of China. In additon to detailed introductions to each of the regions, the recipes also have very good headnotes. Something else that sets this book apart are the illustrations which are charming and instructive. This recipe for Dong Po Pork used less soy sauce but significantly more wine and aromatics that the other recipes didn’t include—star anise and cinnamon. The recipe instructions were clear but said the sauce should thicken after several hours of cooking. I’m not sure how it could, given that the pot was supposed to be covered. I removed the lid at the end of cooking and reduced the sauce. Maybe the lid should have only partially covered the pot? In any case, the pork itself was the most attractive and tender and had by far the most complex and delicious flavor. No question, this was the best recipe for Dong Po Pork and the cookbook I'd be most likely to go to first. I've bookmarked Spicy and Numbing Cold Noodles and Tibetan Meatballs in a Yogurt Sauce to try next.

Disclaimer: I received copies of the books for review and this post includes affiliate links.