Shrimp Cakes

Forget cupcakes and cake flavored vodka (all great things!), I’ll take shrimp cakes.  They just might be one of the most crispy, delicious bites you’ll eat, especially if you make them yourself.  And I’ll never have a pre-made crab cake again.

So maybe that’s a bit drastic, but this all started last week when dinner was in the oven, an hour or so away from being served, and Jan was rummaging around the kitchen for an appetizer for us.  I asked if we had any crab cakes, because on occasion, we’ll buy frozen crab cakes as an appetizer to serve with a Sriracha-spiced mayo/yogurt sauce and lemon wedges.  After a quick look in the freezer, Jan told me that we did not have any crab cakes, to which I said “OK.”  It was just a suggestion, after all, and we had plenty of cheeses to make a mini plate, or some other “fast” foods to rustle up. Continue reading

Spring Rolls by way of Banh Mi

With a love of all things sandwich, I have been curious to try the Vietnamese-style sandwiches called Banh Mi that I’ve been hearing more and more about, thanks to all the food-related television we watch.  On our trip to Idaho last December, I finally got to sample my first Banh Mi in Boise, and of course it was delicious. How could it not be with marinated meat served with pickled, vinegary vegetables, and cilantro on a fresh French baguette? Continue reading

Colossal shrimp and quinoa

Seems like I’ve been hearing about quinoa everywhere lately, so realizing I’m probably far behind the times, I decided it was finally time to give it a try. A staple food in South America, quinoa (“keen-wah”) is a grain known for its high protein content. It can be used as a side dish, where rice or pasta might ordinarily be used, or cooked as a part of the main meal.

We found a box of organic quinoa at Trader Joe’s and cooked it according to package directions. Instructions stated that it could be cooked in rice or broth, and we used chicken broth, since we figured that would give the grain a greater depth of flavor. Continue reading

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.

A Perfect Paella

I had my first paella when I studied a semester in Spain, but it wasn’t until Jan saw it prepared multiple times on Top Chef that he quickly followed suit and we enjoyed this delicious dish together, many years later.

By now, Jan’s a paella expert, and he’s got his recipe perfected. Because the ingredients are basically mixed together and left to cook, following the proportions of rice and broth are important in creating perfectly cooked rice with a creamy consistency.

The concept of the dish is simple, and yet it makes for a sophisticated presentation. I’m always wowed by the aroma, the deep yellow color of the rice, and the abundance of seafood that seems to always be spilling over the pan.

We’ve seen special paella pans marketed to chefs at cookware shops, but a large sauté pan with a lid will do the job equally well. We start by browning the chicken in the pan, removing, and browning onions, garlic and bell peppers. The rice is added, then the chicken stock, and placed in the oven to cook. After about 20 minutes, the chicken is added back on top of the rice, along with the other meat and seafood desired. We cook this another 10-15 minutes in the oven, then add the shellfish and pop back into the oven until they open up.

Step one, choose your pan and brown the chicken
Remove chicken, brown peppers, garlic and onions, then add rice
Add broth, and then into the oven
Getting close!
After the addition of the colorful clams

We like to serve the paella family style so we can ooh and ahh over the contents of the big colorful pan. Serve along with a simple salad, with bread and butter on the side.


Jan’s Easy Paella

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Info

Serves 4

Cook + prep time: 1 hour

*Saffron is an essential ingredient in this dish.  It seems expensive but it goes a long way since you don’t have to use too much of it. It can be found at Whole Foods, World Market or online on Amazon.

Ingredients

  • ½ pound boneless chicken thighs or breast pieces
  • ½ pound large raw peeled shrimp
  • 1 hot link (cut into ¼” pieces)
  • 1 pound thawed frozen clams (I buy frozen pre-cooked clams found in most mega mart’s fish department)
  • 1 medium onion (medium dice)
  • 2 cloves garlic (chopped)
  • 1 small red bell pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 12 oz. long grained rice
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 1 pinch saffron*
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Heat olive oil in a oven safe sauté pan with lid.
  3. Season chicken with salt and pepper and sauté.
  4. Remove chicken from pan and set aside, and in the same pan, sauté onions, garlic and bell peppers.
  5. Add rice and sauté until translucent.
  6. In a separate dish, warm chicken stock and add the saffron to the warm chicken stock. Pour over rice and bring to a boil.
  7. Cover and place in oven for 20 minutes.
  8. Add shrimp, cooked chicken and hot link pieces to pan and cook in the oven, (covered) for another 10-15 minutes.
  9. Add clams and cook in the oven uncovered until clams have opened (approximately 5 minutes).

Mexican Style Shrimp Cocktail

 

This week Jan was hard at work perfecting the recipe for a different kind of cocktail, the Mexican style shrimp cocktail, and I was happy to oblige as taste tester. That is, after I had the first, delicious spoonful.
 
The reason for this: In the past, I was probably guilty of staring at one too many men in hole-in-the-wall taquerias who ordered shrimp cocktail. Not that I was checking these guys out, I was more in awe of what they were eating, and the very fact that they were eating it. Continue reading