Thursday, August 30, 2012

What to Cook for Dinner..? Crab Pillows of course!

Crab Pillows with Pineapple Chili Dipping Sauce

It's nearly midnight.

We're still at the shore but a thunderstorm is expected tonight so everyone is going to be bad-tempered hanging around the house.  

The freezer has been emptied progressively, following three week's solid of hungry house guests.  What to cook for dinner?  

Rummaging through the freezer I spot some good looking jumbo lump crab meat, which cost me an arm and a leg when I bought it from the local fish shop here in Stone Harbor.


Crab tonight.  

But everyone is sick of crab cakes as the kids tend to order these whenever we go out.

I throw down the gauntlet to our ever helpful Facebook fans and am OVERWHELMED by the response (remember it's midnight!)

  • Three people suggest different types of crab salad (thanks for your suggestions Joe and Tracy); 
  • Marjorie suggested a Crab Mac N Cheese - the idea of which sounds most tempting (next time!); 
  • Carol's suggestion of crab in a fresh tomato sauce and pasta is a definite potential. 
  • Tracy posted Shelfish and Grilled Asparagus Pasta (I'm hoping she sends in the recipe!) and Dawn a Crab and Shitake Risotto.  Yum!!!
  • But my favorites two suggestions came from Joe for a Crab Bruschetta and Darby Logan who posted her recipe for Crab Pillows. Get this...

Darby's Crab Pillows


1 cup crab meat, 
4-ounce package Boursin cheese, 
3 tsp sliced scallions, 
1 pkg. wonton wraps, 
freshly ground pepper to taste, 
Vegetable oil for brushing on wontons 

Now for the hard part - primping the wontons into little bundles


1. Combine crab, cheese, scallions, and pepper, mix well. 
2. Place 1/2 tsp of crab mixture in middle of wonton sheet and fold to form triangle, or pull all 4 sides 
up and create a flower pillow. Press and seal edges(with a small amount of water. 
3. Repeat with remaining filling and wontons. 
4. Place on prepared baking sheet and brush pillows with oil. Bake @350 until puffed and golden. 

Says Darby:  "This makes about 25 crab pillows.  These are great with a cocktail -- which I know is not for the kiddos!   OR, try them with a walnut-arugula salad for a light dinner. "

Thanks to everyone who posted their ideas.  What a fun (and democratic) way to decide on what to have for dinner tonight! 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Parrothead Salad - featuring this season's blueberries

Goat's cheese, beetroot, pistachios and nuts grace this parrothead salad

Cake in Chestnut Hill is the cafe attached to Robertson's the Florist - one of the landmarks on what is fondly called "The Ave" (or Germantown Avenue to those not in the know).

The baked goods - cupcakes, special occasion cakes, cookies, et al - on sale at this treasure of a coffee shop are exemplary.

The lunch menu includes such dazzlers as a goat cheese and beetroot salad.

Cake's salad is actually a version of a Parrothead Salad, which I decided to replicate for a summer gathering at the Jersey Shore, using the freshest ingredients from our local farm stand.

I fell in love with the salad and when I started researching recipes, hoping to emulate this awesome salad, I also fell love with the name of  Parrothead Salad.   I just can't stop saying it, or making it!

There are endless versions of this salad online.

Parrothead Salad is a catch all term which includes any brightly colored salad featuring raw nuts, blueberries, fruit and the odd vegetable: beetroot, because of its stunning coloration, seems to be a favorite.

Here are two recipes I liked the sound of.

  • The first is from a perennial source,
  • the second version also throws raisins into the mix, recipe here.
This is my version, which comprises cooked beetroot, mango, blueberries, goats cheese, pistachio nuts, red onion, bacon bits and a light honey-based vinaigrette.

You don't really need a recipe, just mix and match your raw ingredients.

Have fun and play around with the salad until you're happy with your  eye-popping mound of fresh fruit and veg.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Jack McDavid's Blueberry Peach Crumb

Glorious Summer Peaches - my favorite fruit of the summer season

Jack McDavid, Chef/Owner of the Down Home Diner in Reading Terminal Market is justifiably famous for his authentic country cooking.   

His recipe for apple cranberry crisp does not disappoint.  But as we're in the midst of National Peach Month and National Blueberry Month has just whizzed past us, we decided to amp up Jack's recipe and pay tribute to these two seasonal Summer fruits instead.

Jack's Summer Fruit Crisp

8 fresh peaches, cut into slices
Juice of half a lime or lemon
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 lb fresh blueberries

Crisp Topping:
3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 pinches salt
1 stick butter, cut in pieces
1 cup old fashioned rolled oats (NOT instant or quick cooking)
1/4 cup maple syrup
vanilla ice cream, for serving


1. Heat oven to 375.  

2. Mix filling ingredients in large baking dish.  

3. In mixing bowl, blend flour, brown sugar, salt, butter, and oats.  Blend til mixture forms pea-sized clumps.  

4. Crumble over fruit mixture and press gently.  

5. Drizzle maple syrup over crumble topping and bake 45-50 minutes.  When done, the topping is browned and crisp.  

6. Serve warm topped with Bassett's vanilla ice cream sprinkled with cinnamon and allspice.  

NOTE:  You can also use Jack's original recipe which calls for apples and cranberries in place of the peaches and blueberries.

We also added sliced almonds to the crisp topping for extra crunch.  Mmmm.

We're enjoying a fruitful Summer at the shore!  Looking forward to Fall's harvest though.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Blueberry Season! Blueberry Oatmeal Cookies

Blueberry Mini Pies from The Painted Pie in Stone Harbor, NJ
Jersey, or more particularly, Hammonton, NJ, is known as "The Blueberry Capital of the World".  The place earned this designation from Ronald Reagan, who visited Hammonton during his Presidency and the moniker has stuck thereafter.  Not surprising then to find some of THE best blueberry pies at the Jersey shore.

The ones above were snapped in a patisserie in Stone Harbor called the Painted Pie, which is famous in this area for its delectable Key Lime, its coconut macaroons and best of all its dairy-free chocolate rings.  (I meant to photograph these too, but ate mine before I had the chance.)

With blueberries understandably on the brain, I had the bright idea of experimenting with a previously tried and tested recipe for Vanishing Oatmeal and Raisin Cookies.  This recipe was kindly supplied by Quaker Original Oats on the underside of their tub of whole oats.

I'd already jiggled around with the recipe last week, replacing the raisins for semi-sweet choc chips and yep, these guys lived up to their name!

These choc chip oatmeal cookies vanished in no time.  Thanks again to Quaker Oats for your recipe. (For more wonderful ideas using whole oats, see Quaker's website.)

Cookie dough is looking good - just got to keep the kids'  fingers out of the bowl

first batch of blueberry oatmeal cookies was just too sloppy because of the berries.  I added another 1/ 2 cup of the oats and baked for 10 minutes longer which resulted in...

Perfection!  Bursting with fresh blueberries - these oatmeal cookies were divine.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

How to Make Crab Marinara

Making Crab Marinara turned out to be far more adventurous than I expected. Remember the lobster  scene in Annie Hall?

My experience was not far from that.

I asked the fishmonger for 6 crabs and a pound of lump crabmeat, figuring I'd cook the whole crabs in the sauce to infuse flavor, then add lump crabmeat before serving.  He complied, and home I went.   Imagine my shock and horror when I discovered, upon starting to cook, that the crabs were still alive.  Yup.  I opened the bag to dump them in the sizzling garlic and was greeted with snapping pincers and a flurry of legs.

I composed myself, secured a pair of long-handled tongs, and began battle.  I grabbed the first one, but as I attempted to transfer him into the pot, he fought ferociously and with such force that he separated his leg from his body.  I retained hold of the disembodied leg in the tongs, and the rest of the crab fell to the floor and scurried under the table.  I chased him, finally grasping him again, this time by the middle, and tossed him into the pot.  The remaining crabs were less feisty, and I was more prepared.  I managed the rest without incident, lost of limb (mine or the crabs') and resumed cooking.

In the end, this was a spectacular summer feast, and once I got past the fact that I had to kill my dinner, the preparation was quite simple.

Here's the recipe:

Crab Marinara

2 TBSP olive oil
2 TBSP chopped garlic
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
6 cups marinara sauce--either make your own or purchase a high quality jarred version
6 live crabs
1 bunch fresh basil (about 10 leaves)
1 lb lump crabmeat, picked over for shells

In large pot, heat oil with garlic, salt, and pepper flakes.  Add sauce, bring to simmer, and add crabs, then basil.  Simmer, covered, over low heat 1-2 hrs until sauce takes on flavor of crabs.  Remove crabs from sauce, add lump crabmeat, heat through and serve over al dente pasta.

NOTES:  For the adventurous, you can leave the crabs in the sauce; some people enjoy eating the meat from the shells.  (I am not one of those people--far too messy and labor intensive).  I personally enjoy this with a generous sprinkle of Parmesan cheese, but many purists eschew cheese with fish.  Your call!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Las Bugambillas, Authentic Mexican Food on South Street

Sometimes you just don't want to cook.  At times like those, I am profoundly grateful to live within walking distance of dozens of great eateries ranging from a grab-and-go falafel stand to a high end, five star restaurant.

Last week, I put down my spatula and headed to Las Bugambillas.  Their moderately-priced, authentic Mexican cuisine did not disappoint.

I started with the Nopales Salad.  You don't often see this cactus leaf-based dish on menus, so I was pleased to encounter it.  Vaguely resembling a crunchier roasted pepper, these vinegar infused strips were unique and tasty. The shrimp, avocado, red onion, tomato and crumbled queso fresco made for a great combination.

I then progressed to the Tacos al Pastor.  Las Bugambillas calls them a starter, but the generous portion which included a scoop of dressed, shredded lettuce topped with toothsome pickled vegetables was plenty for a main course, particularly when chasing the nopales.  This trio of corn tortillas, generously stuffed with perfectly seasoned, slow-cooked pork, chopped white onions, fresh cilantro and  pineapple was simply terrific.
My beef-eater son, he of the unadventurous palate, ordered a steak, plain, with rice and beans on the side. The chef generously accommodated this request, and even with the high maintenance order, there was nary a scowl from the server.  My son devoured the lot, save the chopped tomato garnishes, and heaven forbid, the guacamole.
I was delighted to see that this place was hopping on a Monday night in July.  In what is often considered the slowest night on during the slowest season for restaurants, this place was a fiesta.   Viva Las Bugambillas!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Salsas Galore: Peach and Mango

Peach Chili Salsa

The best thing about this time of year is the abundance of cheap fresh fruit.

I am a devotee of fruit salsas so now's the perfect time of the year to be whipping up a salsa storm; I look to see what needs using up imminently and then start to throw ingredients together, testing out endless combinations of sweet, spicy and tart ingredients.

My two top conconctions this Summer are a chili peach salsa and also a mango salsa - both play heavily on the onion and fruit combination and beautiful astringent fresh lime juice!

It's Lime Time!
Chili Peach Salsa
2 ripe peaches, diced
1/4 red onion finely chopped
1 beefsteak tomato finely chopped
Juice of 1 fresh lime
Salt and Pepper to taste
Chopped cilantro (omit, if, like me, you have picky friends who dislike this herb; I think it tastes better with, but there you have it...)
1 tsp chili oil (add more if you like heat!)

After prepping all ingredients, throw in a bowl and mix gently.  Serve immediately. Serves four as a condiment to grilled meats.  

This fruit salsa is especially good with pork, but it doesn't keep.  The fruit goes soggy if you prepare it too far in advance of your meal.

Mango Salsa

Replace peaches with 1-2 ripe champagne mangoes - these are the golden yellow, super sweet mangos, which are smaller than the normal mangoes you see in stores.

I also like to replace the red onion with a less powerful onion, such as scallions, when I make mango salsa because the fruit seems to be less intrusive and would otherwise be overwhelmed by the red onion.

Also try pineapple mango, our watermelon salsa or try slow roasting the tomatoes.  This step completely changes both the texture and the taste of your salsa.

The world's your oyster (or should I say orchard?)

Use your imagination :)

Monday, August 6, 2012

Peach Desserts

Peach season is in full swing, and I'm loving every juicy, fuzzy bite. But sometimes I get carried away at the market and buy too many of these irresistible summer treats. At such times, I churn out baked goods using the surplus.

Remember our cherry tart?  The peach version is equally delicious, and happily devoid of that tedious task of pitting all those cherries.  Peel and chop 4-5 peaches and use the same recipe.  Dee-lish!

I also inserted peaches into this basic cake.  Follow the steps indicated in the link, but substitute peeled, chopped peaches for the blueberries.  This is an incredibly versatile recipe; served plain with a cup of coffee, it's breakfast.  With a scoop of vanilla ice cream, it's a simple dessert.  With a drizzle of caramel and mascarpone whipped cream, it's a show-stopper.  (It works really well with strawberries, too, but that is a topic for another day.)

These simple, grilled peaches were stunning.  We splashed them with a couple of drops of balsamic vinegar, sprinkled them with brown sugar, and grilled them, starting with the round side down, cut side  up.  The sugar and vinegar melted into the fruit and then we flipped them to get that dramatic sear.  These were great with vanilla ice cream, but you could also reduce the brown sugar and serve them with grilled chicken or fish.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

How to Make a Cherry Tart

With summer fruits bursting at every market and farm stand, I am always tempted to buy too much.   Which is good and bad; it encourages consumption of a supremely delicious and healthy snack, but the fruit is only good for a short time and will rot if left to sit.

I had a surfeit of farm stand cherries last week, having been seduced by the rustic wooden bucket of them for a relatively modest price.  We ate our fill of them, but even with steady consumption, after 3 days, the remaining half bucket began to look tired.  Swift action was needed, and I concocted this very simple tart, riffing on the raspberry bar recipe we posted earlier this year. 


2 sticks butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 1/4 cup flour


2 cups pitted cherries have been a success
2 TBSP  brown sugar
2 TBSP butter
1 TBSP water
sprinkle of cinnamon if desired

Heat oven to 350. 

Prepare fruit--if you're pitting cherries, get comfortable;  this task is kind of the pits.
Place pitted cherries in skillet with other filling ingredients and cook over med-low until juice is rendered and cherries are very soft, approximately 6 minutes.

Meanwhile, make dough.  Mix all ingredients on medium speed until dough is crumbly and just starting to hold together.  Place 2/3 of dough into an ungreased fluted tart pan with a removable bottom; press dough firmly into bottom and up sides of pan about 1/2 inch.  Pour fruit mixture into tart.  Crumble remaining dough over the fruit and press gently into the tart.  Bake 40 minutes until crust and topping begin to brown.   Serve with mascarpone whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.