Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Not Just Because It’s Lent...
What’s cooking? No-Fuss Crabby Cakes with Tartar Sauce

It’s Lent. And despite the solemn nature of the season, the Kitchen Goddess confesses that she is better at denial than self-denial.

I am not now nor have I ever been a Catholic. But I was buoyed recently by learning that Pope Francis has sort of redefined the self-denial bit for anyone who wants to participate in Lent. He says we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others, then he quotes Saint John Chrysostom, who said, “No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.”

Now let me say here that the Kitchen Goddess has no intention of sleeping on the floor or eating ashes. (The sighing part is familiar.) But I like the idea of putting in a little extra spiritual time during Lent by doing good for others in ways that connect to food. That Father Frank is my kind of guy.

If you are similarly inclined in this season before Easter, and want to think of Lent more in terms of sharing than despairing, here are some ideas that might inspire you. A quick Google search under “food bank” or “food pantry” followed by the name of your state or city will lead you to a wealth of more specific opportunities.

❶ Volunteer:
– to deliver for Meals On Wheels
– to help serve or cook at a soup kitchen
– to work checking in food/repackaging at a local food bank
– to pick up food donations from restaurants or grocery stores going to homeless shelters or food            banks.
❷ If you’re in the Newark/New York City area, make bag lunches for any of the several programs that feed the homeless.
❸ Donate food to animal rescue programs (checking first to see what they accept/need).
❹ Participate with organizations like Caregiver Volunteers of Central Jersey or DriveASenior ( in Austin, operations that help seniors or otherwise homebound folks with grocery shopping.
❺ Make dinner for a sick or housebound friend.

* * *

Even if you’re into self-denial, you have to eat sometime. And many people like at least to observe meat-free Fridays during the Lenten season. The Kitchen Goddess likes to do her part with a handful of recipes for non-meat dishes.

Today’s dish is so easy you’ll wish you could afford to eat crab every week. I adapted this version from one on the very excellent blog, SPOON FORK BACON. I particularly like it because the cakes are light and crabby, without that dense, bready/mayonnaise-y texture you often find. One reason is that the recipe calls for lump crabmeat, which, yes, is more expensive than backfin crabmeat, which consists of broken lumps and flakes of white body meat. It’s a question of texture. And use of the measuring cup to form the cakes means more uniformity but less mess on the hands – both factors high on the Kitchen Goddess’s list. The tartar sauce I’ve listed here is from a previous Spoon & Ink post and is courtesy of my friend Joy.

No-Fuss Crabby Cakes

Adapted from the food blog, SPOON FORK BACON.

Makes 11-12 cakes. Serves 4 as a main course, or 11-12 as an appetizer along with a salad of mâche or microgreens.

1 pound lump crabmeat
1 ear sweet corn
1 medium red bell pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
⅓ cup panko breadcrumbs
¼ cup mayonnaise
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons Aleppo pepper (or 3 teaspoons sweet paprika plus ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper)
1 tablespoon minced fresh tarragon (or 1 rounded teaspoon dried tarragon)
2 teaspoons fresh chives, chopped
½ lemon, zested and juiced
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste (start with ½ teaspoon salt and 8-10 grinds pepper, then taste and adjust)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

Using a sharp knife, cut the kernels off the corn cob and discard the cob. Cut the bell pepper into ¼-inch dice. In a large mixing bowl, combine all crab cake ingredients except the butter and gently stir together until evenly mixed. Take care not to overmix, so that the crab lumps maintain their structure as much as possible.

Preheat the broiler.

In a large, ovenproof skillet (like cast iron or Le Creuset), melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Using a ⅓-cup measuring cup as a mold, make a (gently packed) mound of crab mixture and unmold it into the hot butter. Repeat five more times to get six of the mounds into the skillet, at least an inch apart.

Let the crab cakes cook in the skillet without disturbing them for 4-5 minutes, or until you can see a brown crust forming on the bottoms of the cakes. Transfer the skillet to the broiler and broil 3-4 inches from the heat for 3-4 minutes or until the tops of the cakes get lightly browned.

Yes, I know there's one less in the skillet. We liked them so much I made them twice and added the bell pepper.

Remove the cakes to a plate lined with paper towels and place an aluminum foil tent over the first batch while the second batch cooks.

Wipe the skillet out with a paper towel and repeat with the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and the rest of the crab mixture.

Serve the crab cakes accompanied by lemon wedges and/or tartar sauce.

Kitchen Goddess notes on the tartar sauce: (1) Make the tartar sauce at least an hour before you serve it, so that the flavors can bloom. (2) For the herbs, I don’t think there’s any comparison between the flavor of fresh parsley and dried, so treat yourself to a bunch of parsley. Rinse it off, spin it dry, roll it in paper towels, and stuff it into a zip-lock bag, and it’ll last at least a week. FYI, the Kitchen Goddess always has fresh parsley in the crisper. Tarragon is another thing altogether, so if you have some growing in your garden or you bought some for another reason, by all means use fresh. But I wouldn’t buy any just to get a single tablespoon of the stuff, in which case dried tarragon is fine. (3) The sauce will keep for at least a week in the fridge, so you may want to double it to have available for next Friday’s fish.

Joy’s Tartar Sauce

Makes about 1½ cups.

1 cup mayonnaise, light or regular
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, chopped (or a rounded teaspoon of dried tarragon)
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons heavy cream (or half-and-half)
2 tablespoons dry white wine
1-2 tablespoons minced scallion
1 tablespoon capers, drained, plus ½ teaspoon of the juice
2-3 tablespoons dill pickle relish
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Mix thoroughly, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Soup Swap
What’s cooking? Provençal Soupe au Pistou

The Kitchen Goddess is well aware that all the world is focusing on Valentine's Day. And she has already sent off her cookie tins filled with love and sprinkles. This post is about sharing a different sort of love.

When a friend and neighbor was recently diagnosed with cancer, several friends in the area wanted to help. As usual, our first thought was of food – that unintrusive but universal offering that says, “We care.” Soup is a particularly good choice, being both a comforting food and one that requires very little in the way of accompanying dishes to complete the meal.

I figured that if I was going to cook enough for the couple in question, I might as well cook enough for my husband and me. One thought led to another, and – you can see where this is going, can’t you? – eventually, the words “Soup Swap” popped into my mind. Okay, maybe “Soup Swap” isn’t the most logical conclusion, but that’s how the Kitchen Goddess’s mind works.

About a year ago, I participated in a Food Swap that I thoroughly enjoyed. It was much more elaborate than the Soup Swap idea – involving lots of people bartering a wide variety of foodstuffs – but the basic concept remained: a trade of my cooking for your cooking. In the Soup Swap, each person contributes a container of one soup to each of the other cooks, and emerges with containers of as many different soups as there are participants in the swap. For this particular swap, we would tack on an additional container for the sick friend and his wife.

It turns out that not all of my friends are enthusiastic about cooking large amounts of soup, regardless of the bounty they’d receive in return. But I did get three other friends in on the act. Frankly, that was probably just the right number – once you’ve made a quart of soup for four friends plus yourself (16 cups – yikes!), you can start feeling sort of souped out.

The soup I chose to make is a vegetable soup from Provence with a totally marvelous pistou, the Provençal cousin to pesto, but made without pine nuts.

I think what I like most about this soup is that it covers almost the full spectrum of vegetables:

• legumes/podded vegetables (green beans, lima beans, cannellini beans)
• bulb and stem vegetables (onion, garlic, fennel)
• leafy vegetables (cabbage, spinach)
• fruits (squash, zucchini)
• root and tuberous vegetables (carrot, potato, turnip).

Yes, all that and more. You feel healthier with the first bite. The limas and cannellini beans give this soup a thickness that makes it feel more substantial than most vegetable soups – more like a stew, less brothy. It’s got great color, and really works for any season.

Kitchen Goddess note: There are two absolute musts for this soup to succeed. (1) Do NOT decide to forego the Parmigiano-Reggiano rind. The Kitchen Goddess, who wouldn’t be caught dead without Parmigiano-Reggiano in the fridge, saves the rinds of leftover parm in a plastic bag in her freezer. But these days, quite a few grocery stores sell parm rind in little plastic containers, so even if you threw your rind away (and shame on you if you did), you can easily get more. Or just buy a wedge of the cheese and cut the rind off. Parmigiano-Reggiano rind (the real thing) works a kind of magic in soups, especially vegetable soups, where it adds flavor and body. So you WILL SAVE IT from now on. (2) Even with the rind, nothing you can do will take the place of the pistou. It completely changes the dish, from good vegetable soup to, “Ahhhhh....”

In the spirit of Valentine's Day, I should also note that this is one of my darling husband’s favorite soups.

Provençal Soupe au Pistou

Adapted from Gourmet magazine, May 2001.

Makes about 16 cups.

For the soup:
1 small fennel bulb
¼ pound sliced pancetta, chopped
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium turnip, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice
3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice
¼ small cabbage, cored and chopped (2 cups)
1 (2-inch) piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano rind
1 small yellow summer squash, cut into ½-inch dice
1 small zucchini, cut into ½-inch dice
1 medium boiling potato, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf (not California)
1½  teaspoons salt
9 cups water
1 (10-ounce) package frozen baby lima beans
½ pound haricots verts or other thin green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 (15- to 19-ounce) can cannellini or other white beans, drained and rinsed
5 ounces (about 5 cups) baby spinach

For the pistou:
3 large garlic cloves
½  teaspoon kosher salt
1½ cups fresh basil leaves
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 ounce grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (⅓ cup)

Mis en place, friends. This soup is infinitely easier if you do all the chopping first.

Make the soup:
Cut the fennel stalks flush with the bulb, and discard them (or stick them into a plastic bag with the other veggie scraps you’re saving to make veggie broth one day). Trim off any tough outer layers from the fennel bulb, and cut it in half lengthwise. Chop each half into ½-inch dice.

In a 5-6-quart heavy pot (I use a Le Creuset 5.5-quart French oven), heat the olive oil and add the pancetta. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 7 minutes, until the meaty edges start to curl/brown.

Add the fennel, onion, turnip, carrots, and cabbage and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage wilts, 5 to 7 minutes.

Add the cheese rind, squash, potato, thyme sprigs, bay leaf, salt, and water and bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low (whatever heat allows you to maintain a simmer), and cook uncovered, for 10 minutes.

Stir in the lima beans, green beans, and cannellini, and return the soup to a simmer. Simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes. Discard the cheese rind, thyme sprigs, and bay leaf. Stir in the spinach and season with salt and pepper.

While the soup is simmering, make the pistou:

Chop the garlic fine, then using a fork, mash it to a paste with the salt. Combine the basil and garlic paste in a food processor until the basil is finely chopped. It will have a vaguely mealy look. With the processor running, slowly add the oil. Add the cheese and process the mix to a purée.

Serve each bowl of soup with a healthy dollop of the pistou. The pistou should be stirred into the soup before eating.

And a Happy Valentine's Day to you all!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Any Day Is a Party Day
What’s cooking? Corn and Black Bean Relish

Ok, so I missed giving you a recipe for SuperBowl snacks. But that won’t be the last time you gather a group of friends together, will it? Even just in February, there’s President’s Day (February 16), Mardi Gras (February 17), Chinese New Year (February 19), and Oscar Night (February 22).

Then we have the lesser lights, the geeks of the holiday list, that you and your friends might just use as an excuse to lighten the mood on one of these grim, wintry days. Like Hoodie-Hoo Day. Seriously, folks. It’s February 20, and the idea is that everyone goes outside at noon, waves their hands in the air and shouts “Hoodie-hoo!” to chase away the winter and encourage spring to show up. It makes as much sense as Groundhog Day, and sounds more fun. Or celebrate Umbrella Day (February 10) or Random Acts of Kindness Day (February 17) or World Thinking Day (February 22), started by the Girl Scouts, of all people.

At least for the purposes of this post, I want to focus on February 24, which is... [drum roll, please]... Tortilla Chip Day. Now, how cool is that? Gather some friends to watch one of the old Oscar winners (Annie Hall, Casablanca, Lawrence of Arabia, The Sting,...), line up a bunch of dips, and pass the chips around. As a party format, nothing could be easier.

So if you decide to celebrate Tortilla Chip Day – or any of the others, or maybe just TGIF, the Kitchen Goddess has been saving just the recipe for you. She got it from a friend in San Antonio, so it naturally has a bit of a Tex-Mex or Southwest flavor. This “dip” isn’t really a dip – more like a relish – but it goes really well with chips of any kind. And it looks healthy. In fact, it actually is healthy, having no sugar or other sweetener and being very low in fat. And it’s gluten-free for those of you who care. Regardless, it’s delicious. Sweet and crunchy from the corn, tart from the lime juice, and then there’s that smoky flavor you get from black beans.

This is one of those great recipes where you just pile everything into a bowl and stir. It takes almost no time to assemble. The Kitchen Goddess has one friend who often makes a batch of this stuff up and just eats some with a salad for lunch.

Kitchen Goddess notes: (1) The Kitchen Goddess is a big fan of cilantro, so she often doubles the amount she puts into this relish. Cilantro is a critical ingredient in this dish, so if you don’t like cilantro, you should find something else to make. (2) On the other hand, the Kitchen Goddess doesn’t like raw onion, and the amounts in this recipe can easily be reduced to accommodate that preference without damaging the flavor profile. Soaking the chopped raw onion in water for 5 minutes, then draining it before adding it to the relish, will go a long way toward removing its pungency. (3) This recipe is a fabulous way to use field-ripened tomatoes in the summer. In winter, the Kitchen Goddess prefers to use grape tomatoes or the bite-sized sweet tomatoes that many stores now carry.

Lisa’s Corn Relish

1 16-ounce package frozen corn, thawed
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
½ cup (or more) chopped fresh cilantro (stems and leaves)
¼ cup (or less) thinly sliced spring onion
¼ cup (or less) chopped red onion
½ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon cumin (or more if you like cumin, which I do)
salt/pepper to taste

1 cup diced fresh tomatoes (in winter, grape tomatoes work nicely here)

Stir together the first nine ingredients (all but the tomatoes) and refrigerate 2-3 hours, to allow the flavors to meld. Just before serving, stir in the tomatoes. Serve with chips.