Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Ringing in Autumn with a crab boil

I live in Los Angeles, a city that does not experience four distinct seasons. There are, maybe, two: "hot/smoggy" and "cool enough for a sweater at night". Before Los Angeles, I lived for eight years in Austin, so it's been a good thirteen years since I've needed to own an ice scraper or an engine heater. (For my Austin and LA friends, those are, respectively, gadgets used to scrape ice off of one's car windshield, and little heaters that keep one's car engine warm so that it starts up easily in the morning).

My internal rhythms still turn with the seasons, however, and my urge to start drinking warm liquids, go to bed earlier, and have cozy meals indoors with friends kicks in, regardless of the blazing and persistent sunny weather. In the absence of colorful Fall leaves and much cooler weather, I think it's important to mark the passing of seasons with food. From a locavoric, slow food movement viewpoint, it makes sense, sure, but I'm talking from a more atavistic place. It feels good to change (our schedules, our activities, our meals) with the season, because our ancestors' survival depended upon being able to do just that.

This Autumn Equinox I was treated to something I've never had before: a crab boil!

I don't have much (ok, I don't have any) experience cooking with crab, so this was fascinating to me. It was so easy, and so delicious, and even inexpensive.

one pound of crab legs (we used snow crab)
one lemon cut up in quarters
one box of Zatarain's Crab Boil

Boil a big pot of water with the bag of Zatarain's Crab Boil spices, when it boils, toss in crab legs and lemon wedges. Let boil for five minutes, but then let stew for another 25. Delicious! st. and I enjoyed this with Harvest Moon Pumpkin Ale, from Blue Moon Brewery's Seasonal collection.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Hot weather fare: chilled lemon soup and heirloom tomato salad

I've never been very handy at grilling (luckily I have BBQ masters in my life who can grill for me), so summer cooking is a bit of a challenge. Without air conditioning, I'm reluctant to do nearly anything in my kitchen, and I only want to eat foods that cool my body. What follows is a list of my top three hot-weather foods.

1. Cherry tomatoes with cilantro and sesame oil. When Mark Bittman published an article in the NYTimes about 101 Simple Salads, I immediately went about trying out several of them. The winner, which I have made many times since the article was published in July, is so simple. I prefer mixed heirloom cherry tomatoes - Durst Farms ( has a lovely cherry tomato mix that I was able to purchase at Vons. Heirloom cherry tomatoes are so VERY superior in flavor to the regular supermarket variety, so do yourself a favor and stop buying the regular ones....forever. I cut the cherry tomatoes in half so they can soak up the flavor...add chopped cilantro (basil will work well, too) and then drizzle sesame oil. The sesame oil adds a smoky taste to this lovely salad. Enjoy!

2. Chilled Greek Lemon Soup from Silver Palate Cookbook I love a good cold soup, but don't have a full-sized food processor so gazpacho is just not happening. Greek Lemon Soup is simple, inexpensive, and super fast. It's also good hot, but I suggest making the day before and chilling overnight. If you have a lemon tree, even better! This is a velvety, light soup. I've made it countless times over the past year.

Greek Lemon Soup

6 cups of chicken broth (I did try this with veggie broth - was very bland!)
1/2 C long grain rice
3 egg yolks (this is what makes it velvety)
1/4 C lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
sliced fresh lemon as a garnish

Bring broth to a full boil. Pour in the rice, reduce to simmer, cover. Cook for 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks and lemon juice together in a small bowl until well combined.

When rice is done, remove soup from heat and ladle 2 cups of hot broth into egg and lemon mixture. Whisk this back into the remaining soup.

Return soup to medium heat and stir constantly, until steaming. Do not let it boil.

Season and serve immediately, or remove from heat, cool to room temp, and cover and refrigerate.

Serves 4-6