Crab Legs Save the Day

I had a disheartening day of baking.  (Note: if you just want to hear the crab legs, skip to the last paragraph of this post.  Keep reading to see why the simplicity of boiled crab legs is sometimes the only answer.)  I thought I would be brilliant and make Czech Kremrole, a cream-puff-type dessert Jan has been talking about wanting to eat for months.  I found a recipe in my Czech cookbook and Googled Kremrole, to see what the dish should look like.  I made a trip to Sur La Table to get stainless steel cannoli tubes around which I would wrap pastry dough, bake, then fill with whipped cream and top with powdered sugar.

It didn’t seem too tough, until I realized the dough the recipe book called “puff paste” was the painstakingly made puff pastry.  But I was determined to make these treats for Jan.  I made my two doughs, the butter dough and the strudel dough, and followed the tedious steps of folding the butter dough into the strudel dough, folding in thirds, thirds again, and refrigerating for an hour.  Three times I did this rolling-out, folding into thirds then thirds again, then refrigerating.  When it was time to wrap the dough around the tubes, everything looked beautiful as I placed them in the oven.

Despite following each of the recipe’s steps, the Kremrole was a disaster—the butter was literally melting off the dough and pooling in the baking sheet.  I can’t even share a picture, it’s just too sad to show.  To make matters worse, I realized I could have just bought premade puff pastry earlier in the day at the store.  But of course, that was before I read through all the recipe steps, experienced it firsthand, and now know that puff pastry is not something for the amateur to attempt at home (or else something that takes a lot of practice to master).

I thought I could save the day by making something else that involved filling a pastry with whipped cream, something I was craving, and that I’d made many times before.  Semlor, or Swedish Fat Tuesday Buns are the Swede’s version of indulgence before Lent, something my mom and I used to make every year around this time of year.  They are basically a cardamom-spiced sweet roll that has been filled with marzipan and whipped cream, and I thought I could redeem my failed cream rolls with a successful batch of Fat Tuesday Buns.

I baked the buns, no problem.  I cut the tops off the buns, removed the inside, and got to work making the filling.  Only problem was, I was distracted and grabbed the container of what I thought was powdered sugar in the pantry.  When I tasted my whipped cream to see if I’d achieved the correct level of sweetness, I knew something was terribly wrong.  It was then that I turned the container around to read the dreaded words: corn starch.

It was just not my day.  But then, as I too was about to turn into a sobbing mess of puff pastry gone melty and whipped cream gone chalky, Jan pulled out a 2 pound bag of snow crab clusters from Fresh and Easy.  In a matter of minutes, he boiled the crab legs, boiled some shrimp, and boiled some corn on the cob.  And the day was saved by Jan and a big boiled feast.  I was so hard at work with the shell cracker, trying to get the crab meat out so I could squeeze lemon juice on it and dip into melted butter, all my baking problems faded away.  Well, of course, after I strategized my game plan for reattempting those baking projects another day.

My Kind of Thistle

I’ve always loved artichokes.  It may have something to do with the fact that any time I’ve eaten an artichoke, there’s always another rich ingredient involved, whether that’s mayonnaise, butter, oil, or cheese.  Growing up, I dipped the leaves of the steamed artichoke in plain mayonnaise, scraping the soft bit at the bottom of the leaves with my teeth.  At a friend’s, I ate grilled artichoke drizzled with lemon butter, at home, marinated artichoke hearts from a jar full of olive oil.  And of course there’s always the wonderful spinach-artichoke dip that adds in cream cheese and Parmesan cheese.

But it’s not just the fattening toppings that make artichokes great.  There’s something special about them—not only do they look unique, but the way they’re eaten is also unusual.  Artichokes are thistles, plants whose flowers develop into large, edible buds.  And the first person to figure out that this scary looking thing was edible?  They were brave.  I love the earthy flavor of artichokes, and after recently learning that they are full of fiber and antioxidants, I feel even better about eating them.

Last year we planted an artichoke plant in our garden, which produced one large artichoke and one mini artichoke.  However, I left both on the plant too long, and they developed purple flowers at the top, becoming inedible.  The master gardener at the Vineyard Farmer’s Market said this particular plant would bear three artichokes the first year, ten the next year, and possibly more in the years after that.  With the plant now in its second year, I have high hopes for my ten artichokes (though they haven’t yet to make their appearance).

Artichoke growing in our garden

Though we’ve been using a gas grill for years, after the excellent dinner Jan cooked with an original Weber in Los Osos (see Favorite day in Morro Bay), he had to buy his own, and has been having fun lately using charcoal to barbecue just about anything.  I was skeptical of the artichokes that had been steamed to cook about two-thirds of the way (about 30 minutes), then sliced in half and finished on the grill.  But of course, they were excellent with the added flavor from the charcoal.

Great smoky flavor from the grill

Still, my favorite way to eat them is the simple way.  I cut the stem to leave about an inch at the bottom, cut an inch off the top, and use scissors to cut the sharp points from the leaves.  Then the artichokes are placed stem-side up in a steamer basket and left to steam for about 50 minutes.  The artichokes are done when the lower leaves can be removed easily and are tender.

And continuing to keep things simple, the artichokes are served with balsamic-lemon mayonnaise, whose title reveals three of the sauce’s four ingredients.  Despite all the delicious possible ways to eat an artichoke, in my opinion, this is the easiest and best.

Balsamic-lemon mayonnaise

To be served alongside steamed or grilled artichokes

Print recipe


  • 5 heaping tablespoons light mayonnaise
  • ¼ teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ teaspoon lemon juice
  • ¼ teaspoon finely ground black pepper


  1. Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and stir well.
  2. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Browned Butter Brownies

When I saw the cover of February’s Bon Appétit, I knew the editors were speaking directly to me.  The cover of the latest issue proclaimed “Best-Ever Brownies,” with the warning: “You will eat the entire tray.”  The delicious-looking brownies exploded from the page, calling to me, and since had every ingredient I needed already at home, it was just a matter of time before I baked them.

But I spent a good week debating.  After all, with that kind of warning, I was scared.  I certainly didn’t want to eat the entire tray.  Then again, if I did, wouldn’t I only be following instructions?

I’m usually a lazy brownies-out-of-the-box kind of girl, with the exception of Blondies, which is the brown sugar version I most often make.  But the technique of the recipe reminded me of the Blondies (soon to be featured on the blog), since it started with melting the butter over the stove.  The recipes featured in the cover story were all about using unsweetened cocoa powder to make better chocolate desserts, and considering my love for dark chocolate, I had to give one a try.

I was warned that I would eat the entire tray

I cut the original recipe’s sugar down a bit, but not enough to change the consistency of the batter.  I also substituted pecan pieces for the original recipe’s walnuts, and ended up having to add 15 minutes to the original recipe’s baking time.

Browned butter brownies

Recipe adapted from the Bon Appétit recipe for Cocoa Brownies with Browned Butter and Walnuts

Print recipe


  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder (spooned into cup to measure, then leveled)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons water
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs, chilled
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
  • 1 cup pecan pieces


  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Line an 8”x8”x2” pan with aluminum foil, allowing the foil to hang over the edges of the pan by about 1 inch.  Coat the foil with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Stir constantly for about 5 minutes and remove from heat when butter stops foaming and small browned bits begin to form on the bottom of pan.
  3. Immediately add the sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla extract, water and salt.
  4. Allow mixture to cool for 5 minutes.  Then add eggs, one at a time, stirring until each is combined into the batter.
  5. Add the flour and stir until combined, about 80 strokes.
  6. Add the pecan pieces, and pour into pan.
  7. Bake about 40 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out nearly clean (with only a few crumbs attached).
  8. Allow to cool in the pan, and remove by lifting the sides of the foil.  Cut into 16 squares.  Store airtight at room temperature.

Verdict: I did not eat the entire tray.  I ate three brownies; two right after the batch came out of the oven when the brownies were still warm and gooey, then one later once they had cooled (I had to make sure the final result was the correct consistency, right?)  The brownies were excellent, and now I can never go back to making brownies from a box.  They were that good.

As promised, they were the perfect blend of crispy top and fudgy center.  But the brownies were so rich and chocolatey, I don’t think I could have eaten the whole tray if I tried.  It was like my daily lunchtime dessert of one Dove dark chocolate square—satisfying, and just the right amount.  Unlike milk chocolate which just leaves me wanting more, the brownies were like the dark chocolate in that one small serving satisfied my chocolate craving.  Lucky for me (and everyone else with whom I could now share the brownie tray), I was more in danger of finishing the entire carton of milk.

Favorite Day in Morro Bay

Morro Bay, California gets to claim a lot of my favorite days, actually.  For me and Jan, it’s been host to relaxing weekends, our wedding, and even a lunch destination when we were craving fresh seafood and were willing to drive two-and-a-half hours to get it.

This past weekend we stayed at a friend’s beach house in Los Osos to celebrate our four year wedding anniversary.  We escaped the fog in Fresno for sunny and warm weather at the beach, accompanied by lots of great food.

Seagull scavengers at Giovanni's in Morro Bay

Our first stop in Morro Bay was Giovanni’s Fish Market and Galley, home of my favorite clam chowder and Jan’s favorite raw oysters.  The fish and chips is also excellent, and the attached market is the perfect place to buy a half bottle of wine for a picnic in the outdoor seating area overlooking Morro Rock (just remember to bring a corkscrew).  This time, there was something new on the menu that we just had to try: fried Twinkie.  Battered, fried, and topped with a sweet berry sauce, the warm, gooey dessert did not disappoint.

Seaweed salad at Giovanni's

Oysters at Giovanni's
The fried Twinkie

The next stop was Coalesce Bookstore and Garden Wedding Chapel to wander and reminisce in the garden, and report to the folks at the bookstore (and also our wedding officiants) that we are, in fact, still married.  The bookstore is a great place to stop even if you’re not getting married, as it regularly hosts concerts, classes, and of course, offers a great selection of used books.

It was takeout for dinner from Noi’s Little Thai Takeout in Los Osos.  The restaurant has a small space and limited hours (Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-7 p.m.) but makes some of the best Pad Thai I’ve had.  In addition to Pad Thai made with small rice noodles, chicken, egg, ground peanut, bean sprouts, and cabbage, we also ordered egg rolls and Pad Kee-mow, which is flat noodles with chicken, egg, chili paste, basil, tomato, red bell pepper.  I think when we were ordering the Pad Kee-mow and confirming that it was, in fact, spicy, we were actually ordering the dish extra spicy, which I don’t recommend.  The flavor was great, but I could only take a few bites before my mouth was on fire.

Takeout from Noi's: Pad Thai
Super-spicy Pad Kee-mow

The next day we headed to Cambria for lunch at Indigo Moon, a great café with fresh, simple dishes and a beautiful outdoor (heated) patio.  I ate a Cobb sandwich with grilled chicken, bacon, blue cheese, tomato and romaine on a warm ciabatta bun, with mixed green salad tossed with mustard lemon vinaigrette.  I was in sandwich love.  But I think Jan was even happier with his sandwich: duck confit, bacon and slaw served on ciabatta bun, with sweet potato fries and spicy pepper aioli on the side.

Cobb sandwich with grilled chicken, blue cheese, bacon, tomato and romaine
Duck confit with bacon and slaw, served with sweet potato fries

When it was time for the necessary walk on the beach, we headed to Cayucos, where the beach was populated only by a few other people.  When I spotted a swing set and no children nearby, I jumped at the chance to be a kid again, if only for a few wonderful minutes.

After a day of walking and eating, we were ready for some rest, so we headed to the grocery store so we could cook a relaxing dinner back at the beach house.  Jan bought a rib eye steak for us to share, spicy Italian sausage, prawns, a lobster tail, asparagus, and French bread.  We cooked everything on the charcoal grill while looking out on the ocean at night.  It was just the kind of surf and turf that perfectly completed the weekend.

Barbecue on the balcony
Rib eye steak and prawns

We didn’t make it to all our favorite stops on the Central Coast this time (not enough meals in the day!), but there are a few other favorite spots worth mentioning:

La Parisienne French Bakery located on the ground floor of the Front Street Inn in Morro Bay offers excellent desserts and pastries, and even has mini-sized cakes for the perfect two-person celebrations.

Tognazzini’s Dockside Too, is a fish market in Morro Bay offering outdoor dining, with live music on Saturdays and Sundays.  They make my favorite fish and chips.  The dining area offers dog-friendly dining, so when we’ve got Benny with us, it’s his favorite place too.

Jan likes to stop and get saltwater taffy to bring home to his brothers. Carousel Taffy in Morro Bay has giant bins full of different flavors, and you can try samples while you fill your bag full of all your favorites.

Canoeing and kayaking is a fun activity in Morro Bay, and it’s great to oar our way back to check out an alternate view of all the places we’ve walked before.  We’ve launched our own canoe from The Kayak Shack at State Park Marina, but rentals are also available there.

Sailor Benny hits the high seas (more like low tide in Morro Bay)

Driving north past Cambria, Sebastian’s General Store and Cafe is a great stop for beer and ice cream.  Open daily until 4 p.m. at W.R. Hearst State Beach, the café was recently remodeled and reopened, serving sandwiches made with Hearst Ranch beef.  It’s a great place to watch elephant seals in January.  And this section of beach seems to always be sunny when Pismo Beach, Morro Bay, and Cambria are overcast.

And we even discovered a new place to try in the future.  The Gold Rush Steakhouse at the Madonna Inn was not open when we peeked our heads in for a look, but with its pink booths and floral pink carpet, it’s at the top of my list for our next visit.

Thinking pink at the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo