If you have read my blog here at southbyse.com or the blog I write for the Hilton Head Island V&CB, you know I love blue crab. I like to catch blue crab and I like to eat blue crab. This time of the year is especially great because it is the three to four-week local softshell crab season. Blue crabs molt throughout the year but this time of year many are molting at once. The in-between time of losing their hard outer shell and growing a new one they are, well, soft and yes, you can eat the whole dang crab (well pretty much most of it). It is interesting to note that crabs will mate only when the mature female crab has just molted and is still a soft or buckram crab.
Since we live in an area where blue crabs are abundant we can buy softshell crabs fresh – they are in fact, still alive. We are so lucky here in the Lowcountry to have access to such fresh crab, as most Americans who go to the trouble and expense of purchasing and preparing softshell crabs at home will have to settle for frozen. Not to belittle this, as I have had frozen softshell crabs and they can be quite delish, but fresh is a true delicacy.
Have the seafood market clean your crabs for you – they know just what to do. If you happen to catch your own or have live softshell crabs given to you, I suggest you use the great cleaning instructions found in the New Basics Cookbook (by Rosso & Lukins) or you can follow the instructions on the food blog called Coconut & Lime.
Be prepared to cook your fresh, softshell crabs the day you purchase them, as they do not keep unless they are cleaned and frozen. I have a very definite idea of how to cook fresh softshell crabs (of course I do!) and I’m passing this along to you now. Do not ruin your crabs with some kind of fancy batter or Heaven-forbid, a deep fryer (!) These are not onion rings…
Simple is best with fresh softshell crabs. My favorite recipe is based on the one found in the The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook (also by Rosso & Lukins) and while it does include some herbs in the soaking mixture, you could leave those out without losing any appeal. You must use real butter (Ghee is great because it is already clarified) and real lemon. Soaking the crabs in the milk makes them plump and this is especially important if using previously frozen crabs. Add a light coating of seasoned flour and a hot pan, and you will have a seafood dinner that contends with the best restaurant in town!
Softshell Crabs “Sterling”
Technique based on a recipe in the Silver Palate Good Times cookbook.
- 1 cup milk (no less than 2%)
- 2 tsp dried tarragon
- 1 tsp Herbs de Provence
- 4 fresh soft-shelled crabs*, cleaned
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- salt and fresh ground pepper
- 1/3 cup + Ghee (clarified butter) OR ½ cup unsalted butter
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Fresh parsley, washed, dried and minced
Place crabs in one layer in a shallow dish. Combine herbs and milk and pour this mixture over the crabs. Cover the crabs with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Allow the crabs to soak in the milk mixture about 1 hour.
Drain the crabs and discard the milk. Season the flour with salt and pepper and dredge each crab in the seasoned flour. In a large sauté pan (the pan should be large enough to cook all 4 crabs at once) over medium heat melt all but 2 tablespoons of the Ghee (or all but about 3 tablespoons of regular butter). Bring up heat to high and add the crabs. Cook 4 to 5 minutes per side.
Top the crabs with the fresh lemon juice. Remove crabs to a warm platter. Melt rest of butter in the sauté pan and stir. Pour this over the cooked crabs and sprinkle them with the parsley. Serve at once.
Serves 2 crabs per person as an entree or 1 each, as a first course. Doubling the recipe is fine as long as you only sauté 4 crabs (at the most) in the pan at one time. * You can use frozen crabs but allow to soak in the milk mixture at least 1 hour and up to 2 hours.
So with this post southbyse.com has reached its 100th post. Honestly I had hoped to hit this mark a few months ago but c’est la vie. After pondering a few ideas of what this milestone post should be, I decided to throw out all ideas and just go with a favorite recipe. I am a lover of all things lemony and lemon squares are one of my favorite recipes because they are both forgiving and easy – so easy a kid can make them with just a little assistance. It’s hard to screw them up in other words, and well, they just plain taste great.
This recipe is an oldie from a fundraising cookbook from the “Medical University of SC Student’s Wives Organization” dated 1979 and given to me as a gift from one of the wives – I was 15. As antiquated as referring to the organization as a “wive’s” club is today, it does contain some really awesome recipes like pecan pick-ups, scalloped oysters, Sally Lunn bread and these lemon squares.
One can use plain all-purpose flour, however, in this version I decided to include sorghum and white whole wheat flours in the shortbread crust. If your diet is gluten-free I’d think lemon squares could be a great dessert-fit, since you could easily substitute gluten-free flour (or a combination of gluten-free flours to make a substitute for all-purpose) and the rest of the recipe would follow along just fine. I simply added the sorghum to try it out, as luckily my family has no gluten issue.
My only tips in making these is to not over bake, and slice after they have cooled – it’s easier that way.
- 1 ½ cup white whole wheat flour*
- ½ cup sorghum flour*
- ½ cup confectioners (powdered) sugar plus extra
- 1 cup of butter, softened
- Juice of 2 large lemons – plus zest from both
- 2 cups sugar
- 3 tbl all-purpose flour
- ½ tsp baking powder
- 4 eggs
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix the first 4 ingredients (except the extra confectioners sugar) in a mixing bowl. Press this dough into an oiled 10 x 13 baking pan. Bake for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl whisk eggs lightly. In a separate bowl mix the sugar, flour and baking powder. Add this to the eggs and mix until very well combined, then stir in the lemon juice and zest.
Remove the shortbread from the oven and pour the lemon filling over the crust. Bake back in the preheated oven (350 degrees) for 25 minutes – until center has just cooked through – do not over bake!
Remove to a rack to cool. Sprinkle with confectioners sugar while warm and slice into squares after completely cooled. Makes approximately 30 lemon squares.
* You can also use 2 cups of regular all-purpose flour or try a combination of flours to see what you like best. This is one recipe that is very forgiving.
I read somewhere recently that this spring is “bursting with story angles;” the opening of baseball season and PGA TOUR golf (including our own fabulous RBC Heritage on Hilton Head); Earth Day, Passover and of course, Easter just to mention a few (I’m leaving out tax day folks!). Growing up in my parent’s southern home, Easter was all about tradition, starting with choosing just the right outfit for Sunday services, bringing the Easter baskets out of storage, coloring eggs and “being good” so the Easter bunny would look favorably upon me with a BIG chocolate bunny (hopefully bigger than my younger brother’s!).
And no doubt it was about the food we would eat at that big Southern Sunday dinner: baked ham, scalloped potatoes, deviled eggs, green beans, fresh asparagus, homemade rolls and a seemingly light but rich dessert like strawberry shortcake, lemon pie or maybe a baked-from-scratch poundcake with local berries and whipped cream. Little did I realize that our household was in fact being ‘green’ to a certain extent – reusing the same Easter baskets (made out of wicker or wood) year after year, picking strawberries for our dessert at the local berry farm, and coloring eggs gathered by my Aunt Janice at her family farm. All those customs that at the time seemed very old-fashioned are by all accounts “cool” these days. It’s good – and hip – to be green!
If you’re doubting me on incorporating a greener Easter here are some tips I found. I’m hopping, errrr… hoping to try out some natural derived red, purples, pinks and greens for our eggs this year.
- Buy farm raised eggs: If you are buying eggs, look for farm-raised eggs. This means that the chickens were not living in boxes or crates plus you’re supporting local farmers. If they’re organic then all the better.
- Make your own Easter egg dye: If you choose to dye eggs this Easter, consider making your own and giving your kids (and yourself) a fun learning experience. Here are some examples of ingredients: Beets & Cranberries for Pink, Red Cabbage or Blueberries for Blue, Red Onion Skins for Red, Yellow Onion Skins for Orange, Grape Juice for Lavender, Orange or Lemon Peels for Yellow, Spinach for Green, and Coffee for Brown. Boil the eggs and any of the mentioned ingredients for color with a teaspoon of vinegar for 15 minutes…and voilà you have beautifully dyed Easter eggs!
- Don’t buy cheap plastic Easter baskets: If you don’t already have Easter baskets, consider buying a nice well-made basket of wood or other sustainable material that can be used year after year.
- Use real grass clippings or recycled paper in baskets: If you are making Easter baskets this year, don’t buy the plastic grass, consider using real grass or find some old magazines (funny pages or old tissue paper works great!) & cut up the pages to be used as a colorful filling.
- Buy fair trade and organic candy: To fill those baskets, choose fair trade and/or organic candy! That way you are supporting fair working conditions and keeping pesticides away from your loved ones. If it is locally produced then all the better!
Traditionally, my Southern Easter dinner includes scalloped potatoes, which are by all accounts richly holiday-worthy indeed. However, if you’d like to mix it up a bit, try Potatoes Anna, similar to scalloped potatoes minus the cream and cheese. Potatoes Anna certainly makes an impressive presentation either on a large platter, as I show in today’s post, or as individual servings that can be created by using small ramekins. The top tips for cooking this dish and having it come out perfectly are:
- use the most uniform slices for the bottom layer (which will be the top) arranging them as perfectly as possible
- use good quality butter (to make the clarified butter) or organic Ghee
- use a well-seasoned cast iron skillet (or a heavy duty, oven proof non-stick fry pan)
Will the uses for the cast iron skillet never cease? I think not!
- 3 lb. potatoes – boiling type like Yukon gold or red or your favorite variety of similar size
- ¼ lb. clarified butter* or Ghee
- About 1 ½ tsp. salt
- Fresh ground pepper
If you do not have Ghee or would like to use your own clarified butter, here are the instructions. *Melt best quality butter (about 10 tablespoons) in a heavy saucepan. Slowly bring up the heat to a simmer. You will see foam forming. Skim this off with a spoon. Keep skimming off foam until all that is left is a yellow butterfat. Voila, you have clarified butter. Note that the skimmed foam is very good on popcorn! Set aside the clarified butter.
Peel the potatoes and slice into uniform 1/8” slices using a mandoline or the slicer insert in a food processor.
In a heavy frying pan – I use my handy cast iron skillet – add a tablespoon of clarified butter. Swirling it to coat the pan. Starting in the middle, place the potato slices radiating out toward the sides and overlapping slightly. After adding one layer, drizzle with another 2 tablespoons of the butter and sprinkle lightly with salt and several cracks of fresh pepper. Start the next layer on the outside, in the opposite direction working toward the center. Sprinkle with salt, more butter and cracks of fresh pepper. Keep making layers in this way until all the potatoes are used.
Place a piece of aluminum foil that is slightly larger than the skillet and has been oiled, over the potatoes. Place a very heavy pot that is slightly smaller than the circumference of the skillet you’re cooking the potatoes in, over the skillet. This will help hold the potato slices together as they cook. Heat the skillet over medium high heat on the stove top for about 10 minutes. Do not allow the potatoes to burn but you should see a good crispy crust.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. After 10 minutes, check the potatoes by removing the heavy pot and carefully lifting the aluminum foil along one side to get a peek. If you do not see a crust forming, place the aluminum foil back over the skillet, the heavy pot back on top, and continue cooking on the stove another 2-4 minutes, increasing heat slightly if necessary.
Remove the skillet (with the heavy pot) to the preheated oven and roast another 30 minutes. Remove heavy pot and aluminum foil and roast uncovered an additional 8-10 minutes. Remove from oven, run a knife around the edge and invert onto a warm serving platter. Serves 6-8.
I like to top mine with a dollop of light sour cream, plain yogurt, or crème fraîche (for you Francophiles out there).
Today’s recipe is my family’s favorite bread, nudging out 1,2,3 Bread by a slice. I first came across Challah bread many years ago at Signe’s Bakery & Café on Hilton Head Island, SC. Signe Gardo makes many fine breads including a fantastic 8-Grain and during the holidays, a spectacular traditional Stollen with real marzipan – one of my other favorites! She is a veritable institution (36 years plus!) of breakfast and lunch deliciousness, so if you’re ever on Hilton Head Island, I highly recommend a stop here.
Challah is a rich, egg bread eaten on the Jewish Sabbath and Holidays. While I am not Jewish, I love to eat and make Challah bread. It is a fun bread to make with kids as the resulting loaf is pretty impressive (especially if you take the time to create the 4-braid loaf) and tastes great. Girly Girl could not stop eating this loaf, exclaiming, “Mommy it tastes even better today than it did yesterday!” Challah is wonderful plain, warm from the oven, apparently excellent the “next day”, and makes great French toast and bread pudding…it there’s any left for those purposes!
One can make the Challah with vegetable oil to remain Kosher, or as I did use Ghee. I’ve made the recipe both ways, this last time trying out the Ghee, which was given to me by my friend Greta over at the Herban Marketplace. Ghee is a clarified butter that is commonly used in south Asian cooking, has an amazingly long shelf life and requires no refrigeration. Ghee is a real epiphany if you enjoy the nutty richness of clarified butter and can buy an organic brand.
Replacing the vegetable oil in Challah actually makes the bread non-Kosher like I stated above, and this switcharoo means the Challah is now actually Brioche, for all intents and purposes. For any Francophiles out there; Yes, you can bake this dough in a fluted and flared tin and place a small ball of dough on top and voilà, you have classic Brioche à tête.
So today you’re getting a sort of a two-fer recipe. Hey, I’m all about value!
Challah Bread (or Brioche if using the Ghee)
Based on a recipe from King Arthur Flour
- 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 cup water
- 2 teaspoons instant yeast (basically 1 pkg of yeast)
- All of the starter
- 3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 3/4 tsp salt
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup Ghee (or vegetable oil to remain Kosher)
- 2 large eggs + 1 yolk (save 1 egg white for the wash, below)
- 1 egg white 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 tbl water
- poppy seeds (optional)
Make the starter by mixing 1 cup flour, 1 cup water and yeast together in a large bowl. Let the mixture sit for about 45 minutes.
Add the dough ingredients to the starter and mix and knead together — by hand, or with a mixer– until a smooth, supple dough is formed. I knead mine about 3 minutes after it has come together. Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning it over once to coat it lightly with oil. Cover it and let it rise for about 60 minutes, or until it’s doubled in size.
Punch down the dough. Divide the dough into four pieces, and roll each into a snake about 18 inches long. On the lightly greased or parchment-lined sheet pan, braid a four-strand braid (see instructions below) or fashion a simpler three-strand braid.
NOTE: How To Make A Four-Strand Braid: Lay the strands side by side, and pinch them together at one end. For instruction purposes, think of the far left strand as #1, next is #2, then #3, and the far right is #4. Take the left-hand strand (#1) and move it to the right over strands #2 and #3, then tuck it back under strand #3. Take the right-hand strand (#4) and move it to the left over strands #3 and #1, then tuck it back under strand #1. Repeat this process until finished.
Make the wash by mixing together, in a small bowl, the reserved egg white, sugar, and water. Brush the loaf with this mixture, reserving some for a second wash. Cover the loaf with lightly greased plastic wrap and allow it to rise for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until it’s almost doubled in size.
Brush the loaf with the remaining egg wash (this will give the finished loaf a beautiful, shiny crust, as well as provide “glue” for the seeds), sprinkle with poppy seeds, if desired, and bake in a preheated 375°F oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the Challah is lightly browned. Remove it from the oven, and cool completely before slicing.
Yield: 1 large loaf, about (16) 1-inch slices.
Over the weekend I was a witness to a spectacle of human fortitude, sportsmanship and an incredible amount of mud. It was the inaugural Face Your Fears mud run, held in the neighboring town of Bluffton, SC.
Apparently mud runs are becoming quite popular, a thrilling step up from the run-of-the-mill 5k or 10k races that occur with regularity here in the Lowcountry (and probably everywhere else in the US). Our area, i.e. the ‘low-country’ is well, low and muddy, so it’s the perfect locale for this kind of adventure race.
We even have different kinds of mud here – sandy mud, red clay mud, and our own indigenous “pluff” mud. Pluff mud is the bees knees of mud. It is heavy yet fluffy with a sticky viscosity that will suck the Keds right off your feet. Pluff mud is found in the salt marshes – it’s the rich, organic matter formed from decaying plants, sea creatures and every other critter that’s ever lived (and died) in the estuary. Pluff mud has it’s own distinct aroma too – as native son Pat Conroy says, “I don’t know of any place that smells like this. It’s a magnificent smell. It’s the smell of where all life comes from. I love that all shrimp, all crab, all oysters are born in the marsh.”
When I was young I didn’t care for that smell myself, but as I grew older pluff mud forever linked my brain with the coast. Its smell became sweeter and instantaneously recognizable as soon as it hit my olfactory cortex. To me that smell equals “home.”
Now, back to the race. So although our area was fashioned perfectly for a “mud run”, lo and behold if it seems that even a mud run has become passé – enter the “fear” part of the equation. Rumors were running rampant prior to the race, regarding the obstacles being added to induce ‘fear’. I heard there may be some electric shock(s) and perhaps live animals. While I discounted electric shock figuring the liability cost would be prohibitive, I thought, “hey, live animals could occur even if the event producers didn’t plan any.” Alligators, poisonous snakes (eastern diamondback, cane brake rattle snakes and water moccasin are common here) and leaches and eels are indigenous in our rural (and not so rural) landscape.
Luckily our temperatures have been quite cool over the past couple of weeks, consequently the likelihood of any reptiles lurking out and about on a cold morning was low. So here trudged our group (Girly Girl and I were the support staff) into the rainy, cold morning at Palmetto Bluff Resort. Now Palmetto Bluff has been named one the top resorts in the U.S. (2012 Conde Nast) and it IS quite impressive with an atmosphere replete with Southern nuances and an extremely accommodating staff. But the Face Your Fears mud run was on the OTHER side of the resort – the decidedly “natural” side. Other than a few dirt roads weaving throughout, several shorn acres of corn and an irrigation pond or two this part of Palmetto Bluff looks the same as it did 20 years ago, probably the same as it did 100 years ago.
As the race grew closer the rain drizzled on and off and the mud got muddier. Perfect. When it was all said and done my sis and Dear Hubby made it through and received their ‘dog tags’. Obstacles included a 20-foot high dirt ‘mountain’ climb, a vat of ice, an army-style crawl under barbed wire, straw bail jumping akin to a Mario-brothers game, and lots and lots of mucky pluff mud! No gators or snakes were reported to have joined in the fun. Almost as soon as they were through the finish line, Dear Hubby told me he was ready to take on
more ‘fear” next year, while my sis may chalk this up to the bucket list… one and done!
About the Face Your Fears Mud Run: Face Your Fears is the creation of Thomas Viljac of Bluffton, SC. Challenge yourself to face your fears both physically and mentally!
The course options included:
Course “B” (the Courage Course) with 3 miles and 16 obstacles and Course “A” (the Valor Course) with 10 miles and 25 obstacles, not including 2 mystery obstacles, the “Game Changers”.
The Face Your Fears Foundation supports four charities. All proceeds are equally distributed to The MARSOC Foundation, US Navy SEAL Foundation, Lone Survivor Foundation, and Brothers In Arms Foundation (SOCOMM).
Mushroom madness has hit my house. Well, maybe not the whole house since I am the only one who will eat them… At least, in a few cases the only one who knows they are eating them. Ha! I have been known to sneak them into dishes without telling Dear Hubby and Girly Girl. But before you starting thinking I am some kind of maniacal mushroom maniac, please settle down. It’s not like either one of them are allergic or anything like that.
As far as my husband goes, mushrooms are right up there with mayo in the “things I will not eat” category. I have quizzed him about both several times, asking if either were part of some kind of frat hazing or wrongly implicated in a case of food poisoning (but more likely a virus as most people know, its just way more dramatic to say, “I’ve got food poisoning!”).
Dear Hubby has never divulged the details, so I in my mind, both were most definitely part of some college shenanigans-type hangover incident. I attended college in the 1980’s – when the legal age to drink was 18 in my state – so folks, that makes me qualified to know about such things. And as far as Girly Girl goes, she is 5 years old. Of course she doesn’t like mushrooms – “Euwww!”
But none of this kept me from purchasing my very own mushroom farm after it popped up on an email from the shopping site, Open Sky. Actually I saw a list of recommended products from one of my favorite chefs, Hugh Acheson, and this was on that list. I had a credit also so I took a chance and here I am harvesting fresh oyster mushrooms a mere 3 weeks later. Thanks Hugh!
This is a fun winter-time project in my locale as it is cool and dry enough to grow these in the perfect indoor conditions now. In a couple of months it will be humid and hot – perfect to grow mold but not great mushrooms.
It took about a week or so for the first tiny ‘shrooms to appear. Once they popped up, it was go time. They grew very, very quickly – my husband is convinced he could see them growing before his eyes, so that was a tad freaky. My harvest was 4 days after they broke ground, although I could have taken them after the third day. But I had to time the harvest to coincide with making my favorite mushroom recipe – mushroom goat cheese toasts from the Mustards Grill Cookbook.
Chef Cindy Pawlcyn created a wondrous restaurant called Mustards Grill in Napa, CA and having been lucky enough to dine there (a long time ago) I can attest to that. I am glad to know she and the restaurant are still going strong after almost 30 years. This recipe relies on fresh ingredients and simple techniques, perfect to showcase those awesome mushrooms.
Mushroom and Goat Cheese “Toasts”
Mustards Grill Napa Valley Cookbook
- 2 tbl extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tbl butter, divided
- 2 shallots, sliced paper thin
- 4 cups fresh mushrooms, cleaned and chopped/sliced
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme, minced
- ¼ cup Madeira, Calvados, Cognac or Applejack
- ¼ cup goat cheese
- 2 tablespoons cream or half&half
- 12 round slices of French or rustic bread, toasted
- ¼ cup fresh minced parsley
Heat the olive oil and 1 tbl butter in a sauce pan over medium heat. Sauté the shallots until transparent – about 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and sauté another 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour in the Calvados or Applejack and stir to combine. Sprinkle with the thyme and season with salt and pepper. Remove form heat and stir in 1 tbl butter.
In a small bowl mix the goat cheese and cream until smooth. Spread each toast with a helping of goat cheese, top with warm mushroom mixture and sprinkle with parsley and serve at once.
Makes 4-6 servings.
Note: Any leftover mushroom mixture makes a superlative omelet filling or burger topping too!