Monthly Archives: July 2012

Crab season

red rock crab

I wouldn’t call 4:30 a.m. a friendly time, but if you see it enough – say, growing up in a family dedicated to the first chairlift, or rowing crew in college – it becomes familiar. So when my alarm went off in the pre-dawn calm last Saturday, way before the hours I call human, I popped right out of bed. It was time to fish.

As a kid, we seasoned river trout in a paper bag. My father or brother would catch the fish – if I remember correctly, I never, ever caught one – and we’d pour flour into the bag, douse it with salt and pepper (or lemon pepper, if we had it), add the fish, and fold the top of the bag over twice. Dad set a cast iron pan over the open fire, glazed it with butter, and pan-fried the fish right there, next to the river. Or something like that. I think my father loved it because if we cooked by the water, my mother couldn’t complain about the house smelling of fish. I liked shaking the bag.

But river fishing, to me, always seemed like the easy way. (Don’t tell Dad, okay?) I romanticized deep sea fishing. Catching a fish in a river made you coordinated or perhaps just lucky; catching a fish in the ocean made you A Provider. So when my husband’s family arranged a salmon fishing trip for a group of curious relatives with All Washington Fishing, a local guide company with a slip about 2 miles from our house in Seattle, I was thrilled to join them.

I’d love to say it was a scintillating adventure. I’d love to say I caught three monster king salmon while battling rogue waves, each fish testing my strength to its limits. I’d love to say I came back with windburn, or sunburn, or both, or that I worked for my catch at least a little, but none of that really happened. The fact is, it was an easy, relaxing, calm, quiet morning. Like going to the farmers’ market, only less walking. We didn’t go out far – just across Puget Sound toward Bainbridge Island, where the kings and cohos were hungry and plentiful. The morning was almost absurdly pleasant. I drank coffee and ate Fritos. (It’s not a bad combo at 7:30 in the morning, if you’ve been up for a bit.) I learned how the fishing rods work, and reeled in the occasional fish, and drank in the shifting grays of the sky between our group’s successes. And in the end, perhaps because I was the only one who didn’t land one of the 7 keepers, or because I managed to pee off the bow because I was too proud to make the guide extract the women’s toilet from the hold, or because I’m the only one with a huge freezer, or because I have passable knife skills, I went home with 30 pounds of gorgeous salmon flesh. That, combined with my husband’s huge salmon-eating grin, was worth the wake-up call. I didn’t catch much myself, but my freezer is full.

A man and his fish

But then, on the way home, there was crab. The recreational season apparently opened July 1st here. The boat’s captain cruised by his pots with the same sense of idle convenience I use for getting gas or picking up a half gallon of milk. By then, I’ll admit I’d sort of stopped paying attention because I was focusing on the fish. But with each haul, he drew big tangles of sharp, angry legs out of his crab traps. About half were red rock crabs (pictured above), red-tinted, cranky things whose leg meat is apparently delicious but, besides the pinchers, quite difficult to retrieve. The other half were healthy full-size Dungeness. We took our Dungeness limit, 10 crabs, thinking the sweet, flaky meat could supplement our big family dinner.

What we didn’t realize, hauling in the crab, was that given a good labor force, two hours, and a few beers, the product of 10 pounds of crawlers is about 4 pounds of meat – enough to eat a bunch straight from the shell, stir some into crab salad, make a dozen jumbo crab cakes, pile crab curry over rice, and still have enough left for a hot, bubbling crab dip spiked with jalapeños two days after the catch.

Unlike waking up early, an overabundance of fresh-picked Dungeness crab meat is not a problem I’d call familiar. But if you should find yourself, like I did, with a healthy half pound of the stuff, and you can’t stand the thought of eating plain old crab salad for the third day in a row, and you’re longing for an indulgent appetizer that highlights the shellfish without scrimping on creaminess, this dip’s for you.

And guess what? You don’t even have to set the alarm.

Fishing photos by Adam Corcutt.

Crab Dip with Pickled Jalapeños and Goat Cheese 2

Hot Crab Dip with Pickled Jalapeños and Goat Cheese (PDF)
Active time: 10 minutes
Makes 6 servings

10 ounces fresh-picked Dungeness crabmeat
4 ounces fresh goat cheese, softened
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sliced pickled jalapeño peppers
Juice of 1 large lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Tortilla chips, for serving

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Gently squeeze the crabmeat in small handfuls over the sink to discard any excess liquid. Transfer the crab to a mixing bowl, add the remaining ingredients, and stir with a big fork until more or less blended. (This is a good time to think about something else; there’s nothing exact about this process.)

Transfer the mixture to an ovenproof dish just large enough to hold it all. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until bubbling and browned on top. Serve hot, with the tortilla chips for scooping.

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Filed under appetizers, fish, gluten-free, husband, recipe, shellfish, side dish, snack

The trappings of summer

My favorite fork

“COMFORT IS A TRAP,” read the road graffiti on the bike path in front of me. My thoughts bounced first to my bicycle seat (I was, in fact, comfortable, which isn’t always the case), then rattled around beside the author’s annoying negativity, and eventually settled around the last few weeks.

This summer has been comfortable for me. I’ve been riding my bike, and making an ass of myself on a stand-up paddleboard in Montana, and reading Suffering Succotash on a bench in the park. I’ve been working at a patient, delicious pace. I’ve been calling this The Summer of Jess, because my goal for July (and maybe August) has been to relax and rejuvenate. Because I’m trying to revel in summer in a way I haven’t over the past few years. Because I’m celebrating the effects of my new lupus drug. (And because everyone wants a holiday named after them, right?) I’m firmly against using “summer” as a verb, but that’s really what I’m doing. I’m summering.

But back to comfort. It sounds bad, but it’s true, it’s a trap. Right now I can’t imagine working after Graham goes to bed, which has been the norm for me for so many months. I can’t imagine holing up to work in a coffee shop, because these days, the windows are always open. I can’t imagine washing doughnut dishes until my fingers crack, because it hasn’t been necessary. In so many ways, it’s bliss. But every time I feel my brain starting to relax, I instinctively tense up, just a little. My brain works like an engine; it has to be warm to move forward efficiently. It’s hard to trust that it will restart again.

My body feels the trappings of comfort, also. These days, living is easy. The Benlysta is working, and it’s wonderful. I usually wake up with zero pain. I love how the body delivers a dose of amnesia with discomfort; I’ve almost forgotten how much it hurt, just months ago, to pour milk into my coffee first thing in the morning, or to type, or to pick up my hefty 3-year-old. I’ve been picked for Team Lucky in the side effects department, but the effects I do have are a little shocking. They come snaking off the end of my hairbrush, and curling into the corners of the bathroom, and twisting, rather disgustingly, around anything that will stand still in the shower stall. I have thin hair to begin with, but honestly, having to trade the mane for a shiny new Benlysta body has come as a bit of a surprise. I feel a little betrayed by my scalp. I’ve spent far too many minutes surfing Pinterest for a new, shorter hairstyle.

But oh, that body. For July, I am focusing on the body. I’m feeding it whatever it wants – these days, spoonfuls of the parsley pesto I’m hoarding from the garden’s dramatic bolt, wrapped around potatoes, whirled into vinaigrettes, dolloped into soups. I’m working this body, and resting it. In August, or maybe September, when the brain starts up again, I’ll decide on a haircut, and just see what comes next.

Parsley Pesto (PDF)
Serving suggestions: Fold into pasta. Spread inside a panini. Whisk into vinaigrette. Slather on toast. Stuff into chicken breasts. Layer inside caprese. Stir into soup. Mix with goat cheese for crackers. Eat with a spoon. Toss with fresh vegetables and nuts for a pretty salad, nestled into Bibb lettuce: tomatoes and pine nuts, roasted beets and walnuts, etc. Make chicken salad. Or freeze, for another season, when we’re not so produce-lucky.

TIME: 15 minutes (more if toasting pine nuts)
MAKES: About 1 1/2 cups

2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
4 cups parsley (packed into a big 4-cup liquid measure)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup loosely packed freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Whirl garlic and pine nuts in a large food processor until very finely chopped. Add the parsley in three additions, pulsing until chopped between each addition. Add the lemon juice, salt, and pepper, and blend. With the machine running, add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a plastic spatula, add the cheese, and blend just until combined. Serve immediately, or store in an airtight container* in the refrigerator up to 2 weeks or in the freezer up to 6 months.

*The less air the pesto is exposed to, the less chance there is of it turning brown. I put mine in Ball jar, then either press a small piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the pesto underneath the lid, or cover the pesto with a layer of olive oil before sealing. I find plastic wrap works better when freezing, just be sure to tuck all the plastic neatly under the lid, so no air gets in.

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Filed under garden, gluten-free, Lunch, recipe

This cherry’s got moves

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I like to think of myself as open-minded, but I’ve always considered myself above Jell-O. I’m above Rainier cherries, also, in part because they’re too damned sweet and too damned pretty, but mostly because once, on Cape Cod, I overheard a woman telling her daughter that “rainy-er” cherries come from the rainier part of Washington. If there’s a way to kill a fruit’s glamour, that’s it, right there. I know I’m a loner for it, but I don’t like Rainiers.

But oh, the Orondo Ruby. When a friend in Wenatchee, WA – a fruit guy and cider maker I met writing Dishing Up Washington, which, for the record, is completely, totally, 100% finished and heading to the printing press – offered to send me some new kind of cherry, I assumed it would be red. Sure, I said. I’ve only met one cherry I didn’t love. I didn’t have time to consider a wooden crate full of jumbo-sized cherries that must be the love child of Rainiers and something much darker and spunkier, like a Benson or a Vans. But by the time I’d bitten through his crisp scarlet skin (yes, with a name like Orondo, he has to be male), the tartness had taken hold, and I couldn’t fault him for the light flesh. This cherry, he’s more striking than any I’ve seen – Orondos aren’t native latinos (they’re from Orondo, WA), but the name fits because deep down, this cherry is a flamenco dancer. This cherry moves. He’s sweet, but he’s also quite sassy. I am in love.

But before all that, when the box landed on my doorstep, I knew the Orondos were too pretty for pie. (Nobody puts Baby in the corner.) So I decided to pile them up in a tart, sliced any which way, to show off the contrast in color between the skins and the flesh. Simple enough right?

Not really. Because in my cooking lexicon, a tart piled with raw fruit has always had a crust made with wheat flour and a filling made with eggs. And I’m not eating wheat flour or eggs these days.

Here’s where the Jell-O thing comes in. The crust was easy enough – a quickly-stirred mixture of quinoa, coconut, and almond flours, along with some chia seeds that work amazingly well as a binder, and I had a beautiful, sweet crust that was much easier to handle (no pie weights!) than many traditional ones.

But the filling. (Damn the egg thing.) I wanted to stay away from dairy, not because I’m avoiding dairy, but because I’m suddenly hyper-aware of food allergies. (You read this, didn’t you?) Well, that, and the coconut flour in the crust had me hankering for something more exotic. So that blushing, sweet center? It’s essentially homemade coconut-cherry Jell-O. As in, made with gelatin. As in, creamy tart filling I can eat. As in, I am suddenly a fan of using gelatin and of cherries with light, sweet flesh.

New things are wonderful, aren’t they?

Coconut Cream Tart with Cherries and Chia Seeds (PDF)
You can use any type of cherries for this slightly quirky tart, but note that dark red ones (rather than the light-fleshed Orondo Ruby or Rainier cherries) will bleed their juices onto the filling a bit. Look for ingredients like coconut, quinoa, and almond flours and chia seeds in the baking section of a health foods store, or in a large yuppie market like Whole Foods.

Note that because nut and seed flours have such different textures, it’s best to measure them by weight, if you can.

Active time: About 1 hour
Makes 1 9-inch tart

For the crust
1 tablespoon ground flax seeds
2 tablespoons hot water
1/2 cup (30g) coconut flour
1/2 cup (60g) almond flour
1/2 cup (60g) quinoa flour
2 tablespoons chia seeds
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup brown rice syrup
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil

For the cherry-coconut cream
1 pound fresh, firm cherries, pitted
1/2 cup sugar
1 (13.5-ounce) can coconut milk, stirred
1/4 cup cold water
1 packet powdered gelatin (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)

1 pound fresh, firm cherries, pitted and halved or sliced, for topping the tart

First, make the crust: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place a nonstick 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and set aside.

Blend the flax seeds with the hot water in a small bowl and set aside. In a mixing bowl, whisk the coconut, almond, and quinoa flours together with the chia seeds and salt. Add the brown rice syrup, brown sugar, olive oil, and flax mixture, and mix and mash the crust with a large fork until no dry spots remain and the mixture looks like cookie dough.

Dump the crust into the tart pan, and use your hands to squish it into a roughly even layer on the bottom and sides, taking care not to make the corners too thick. (It should be about 1/4 inch thick on all sides.)

Bake the crust for about 20 minutes, until lightly browned. Set aside.

Meanwhile, make the cherry-coconut cream: Pulse the pitted cherries in a food processor until finely chopped, about 10 one-second pulses. Transfer them to a medium saucepan, add the 1/2 cup sugar, and bring the mixture to a strong simmer. Cook for 5 minutes. Add the coconut milk, and simmer for 12 to 15 minutes more, until thickened slightly.

Transfer 2 cups of the cherry-coconut cream to a medium bowl. (You’ll only need the 2 cups. Eat the rest.) Place the 1/4 cup water in a small bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin into the water, stirring until the mixture looks like applesauce. Place the bowl in a pan filled with about an inch of boiling water, and stir the gelatin mixture until it turns clear. Add this clear liquid to the warm measured filling, stir well, and pour the filling into the tart crust.

Let the tart cool to room temperature, then transfer the tart to the refrigerator. Chill until the filling is firm, about 4 hours.

Just before serving, pile the halved or sliced cherries on top of the crust (you can be fancy, if you’d like, but plopping them on works just as well), and serve.

Note: Here’s a great primer from David Lebovitz on how to use gelatin.

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Filed under Cakes, dessert, farmer's market, gluten-free, recipe