Friday, April 12, 2019

Eat Like an Empress! (or Emperor)

"Crab imperial" is a classic American dish popular along the east coast. Although it's not the healthiest of dishes, it is luxurious and I love it! The original crab imperial was created in the late 19th century at Thompson's Sea Girt House, located in Baltimore, Maryland. It was a gratin of back-fin lump crab in a mixture of diced onions, green bell pepper, and pimiento, all bound together in a thick cream sauce (bechamel) and topped with a slather of mayonnaise. This version remained very popular until the opening of Crisfield's Seafood Restaurant in Silver Spring, Maryland in 1945. It was then that Lillian Landis (matriarch of the family) created Crisfield's version, called "Imperial Crab," which remains popular to this day. After Lillian complained that the original version of crab imperial was too heavy and that the other ingredients masked the gently sweet flavor of the crab, she created her version which consists of back-fin lump crab lightly bound together with Hellman's mayonnaise, flecked with minced green bell pepper, minced onion, and a topping of fresh bread crumbs. Although I have yet to visit Crisfield's, I plan on popping in the next time I'm in the area to check out the old-timey decor and try their Imperial Crab. FYI: I've heard their crab cakes are awful, referred to as tasting like sawdust!

Until then, I can always make my own version of crab imperial! Like Crisfield's, I like the crab meat to be the star, so I don't use green bell pepper, pimiento, or even add any onion. Instead, I gently fold together the crab with a seasoned mixture of Hellman's mayonnaise and spices, then instead of stuffing the mixture into crab shells or baking dishes, I mound the mixture on large portobello mushroom caps, top each with buttered bread crumbs and bake until golden. Delicious! I serve each with a lemon wedge and a small spinach salad on the side. (A glass of Champagne is also nice!) The result is a simple and luscious meal that, thanks to the portobello and spinach, somehow seems healthier and more modern. This is an excellent recipe for company, to be reserved only for people you really like!

Crab Imperial Stuffed Portobellos with Spinach Salad

Serves 4
*This recipe can easily be halved to make a romantic dinner for 2. Prepare for kisses!*

For the Crab Imperial
1 pound jumbo lump crab meat, picked over for any shells or cartilage
1/2 cup Hellman's mayonnaise
1 large egg
1 teaspoon Sherry wine
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper sauce (e.g., Tabasco)
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard (e.g., Grey Poupon)
1/2 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/4 cup minced Italian flat leaf parsley
1/4 cup bread crumbs
Melted butter, about 1 tablespoon or enough to moisten the bread crumbs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to season breadcrumbs
Paprika, to sprinkle on top

For the Portobellos, Salad, and Serving
4 large portobello mushroom caps, 4-5 inches in diameter
Extra virgin olive oil, to drizzle on mushrooms
12 ounces baby spinach, tough stems removed
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 lemon, cut in wedges

For the Crab Imperial
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, egg, Sherry, cayenne pepper sauce, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, Old Bay Seasoning, flour, and parsley until smooth. With a spatula, carefully fold in the crab meat, trying not to break up the pieces. Set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together the bread crumbs and melted butter. (I find the back of a spoon very efficient to help smoosh it together.)  Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.

For the Portobellos
Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil or parchment paper. Place each portobello cap, stem side up, on the baking sheet and drizzle with some olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper.

Top each evenly with the crab imperial mixture. Sprinkle each stuffed portobello with some of the moistened bread crumbs. (Use as much or as little as you prefer, but remember not to let it taste like sawdust!) Sprinkle the tops with paprika, to give it some color and extra flavor.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden and bubbly. Remove and let sit for a few minutes before serving. It's hot!

For the Salad and Serving
Whisk together the tablespoon of lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Toss enough of the dressing to lightly coat the spinach leaves.

Place one stuffed portobello on each of four serving plates. Divide the salad evenly next to the stuffed portobellos. Add a lemon wedge and prepare for an excellent dining experience!

Friday, April 5, 2019

Home Away in Santa Fe!

Entrance to my charming adobe on Canyon Road!
I just returned from a spectacular visit to beautiful Santa Fe, New Mexico! I started my visit with a walk along the historic plaza with it's overpriced and mostly imported goods for sale. I then strolled along the Palace of the Governers, which is the oldest continuously occupied government building in the US, built 1609-1610. The Palace of the Governers is your best bet to purchase authentic Native American jewelry, which is strictly regulated by law. Along with visits to the St. Francis Cathedral, the Loretto Chapel with it's magical staircase, the Santa Fe School of Cooking, the Blue Mesa Alpaca Ranch, endless art galleries, and a road trip to Taos, my favorite part was staying in a hundred year old adobe on Canyon Road! I found this authentic adobe gem online for a steal! Not only did it provide very comfortable accommodations for my family of four, having a kitchen provided a nice respite from what I felt were some pretty disappointing restaurant faire, except for The Teahouse, which was the best meal we had and steps from my adorable casita! 

After returning home with a heavy heart, a Navajo bracelet, and ristras in tow, I wanted a delicious meal that payed homage to the vibrant colors and flavors of my beloved Santa Fe. I searched through my spiciest cookbooks and decided to make "Seared Salmon with Spinach and Creamy Roasted Peppers" from Mexican Everyday, by Rick Bayless. While this recipe utilizes delicious roasted poblanos, it is the surprising addition of spinach that makes it truly spectacular! Rick suggests serving this with roasted potatoes, but I feel a light salad and baguette is all that's needed for a vibrant meal that echoes the Santa Fe experience! If I had a restaurant in Santa Fe, I would serve this!

Seared Salmon with Spinach and Creamy Roasted Peppers

Serves 4

2 fresh poblano chiles
10 ounces cleaned spinach (about 10 cups)
3 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
3 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
1-2 tablespoons masa harina (Mexican corn "flour" for making tortillas) (or all-purpose flour)
1 1/2 cups milk, plus a little more if needed
Four 4-5 ounce (1-1 1/4 pounds total) skinless salmon fillets (snapper, halibut and catfish are also good here) (I didn't bother removing the skin.)
Salt and ground black pepper

Roast the poblanos over an open flame or 4 inches below a broiler, turning regularly until blistered and blackened all over, about 5 minutes for an open flame, 10 minutes for the broiler. (See Techniques for more information.) Place in a bowl, cover with a kitchen towel (or plastic wrap) and let cool until handleable.

Place the spinach in a microwaveable bowl, cover it with plastic wrap, poke a few holes in the top and microwave on high (100%) until completely wilted, usually about 2 minutes. (If your spinach comes in a microwavable bag, simply microwave it in the bag.) Uncover (or open the bag) and set aside.

Turn the oven on to its lowest setting. Heat the oil in a very large (12-inch) skillet, preferably nonstick, over medium. Add the garlic and cook, stirring regularly, until soft and lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, scoop the garlic into a blender. Set the skillet aside.

Rub the blackened skin off the chiles and pull out the stems and seed pods. Rinse the chiles to remove bits of skin and seeds. (Fyi: I was taught to NEVER rinse the chiles under water, so I never do!) Roughly chop and add to the blender, along with the masa harina and milk. Blend until smooth.

Return the skillet to medium-high heat. Sprinkle both sides of the fish liberally with salt and pepper. Lay the fillets in the hot oil and cook until richly browned, about 2-3 minutes. Use a spatula to flip the fillets, and cook until the fish barely flakes when pressed firmly with a finger or the back of a spoon (you want it slightly underdone), usually a couple of minutes longer for fish that's about 1 inch thick. Using the spatula, transfer the fish to an ovenproof plate and set in the oven.

With the skillet still over medium-high, pour in the poblano mixture and whisk until it comes to a boil and thickens, about 1 minute. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes to blend the flavors. If the sauce has thickened past the consistency of a cream soup, whisk in a little more milk. Taste and season with salt, usually a generous 1/2 teaspoon. Add the spinach to the sauce and stir until it is warm and well coated with sauce.

Divide the creamy spinach among four plates. Top each portion with a piece of seared fish. (Or, if it seems more appealing to you, spoon the sauce over the fillets.) Serve without delay.