Beach Vacation - Rita's Crab Dip

Remember when Rita brought over a warm crab dip? I guess you had to be there. It was delicious and simple. Here's her recipe:

6 ounces of crabmeat
8 ounces of cream cheese
1 tablespoon finely minced onion
1 tablespoon mayo
Tabasco sauce - 5-10 drops.

Warm it in the oven. OK - I forgot what Rita told me specifically. I guess about 350 for 20 minutes. I'd brown the top under a broiler if I had the chance too.

This recipe is so basic, you'd initially want to doubt it. But don't. If you use GOOD crab, it will work. If you're stil skeptical, do this......

- replace the onion with 1 tablespoon of shallot, and a tablespoon of really finely diced green onion.
- cut the cream cheese by 1/3 and add a tablespoon of lemon juice
- add a dash of salt and a good grinding of fresh ground pepper

But honestly, Rita's version is really, really good.

Fresh Vegetable Dip

Margie needed a vegetable tray to share with her teaching team last week, and instead of putting out a jar of commercial salad dressing or dip, I made this for her. It was good.

OK - this picture is awful (and not in focus) - but the dip is REALLY tasty

Fresh Vegetable Dip

2 cups sour cream
2 scallions, chopped finely, white and green parts
1 tablespoon dried dill (I wish I could grow fresh dill in my herb garden - it doesn't seem to be able to handle the Texas heat).
Juice of one small lemon
A total of 1 cup vegetables chopped very finely - carrots, red pepper, poblano pepper, celery
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
4 teaspoons horseradish
Salt and fresh ground pepper

Make this dip a day in advance to let flavors develop.

Beach Picnic Menu

The first big dinner at our South Carolina beach house was a "Beach Picnic". It had been running 95 degrees or so, and though a little cooler on the oceanfront, it wasn't necessarily expected that we'd eat on the beach per se. This is our picnic menu, inspired by my sister in law Meghan.

Potato Salad with Haricot Vert
     --- Largish potato chunks. Haricot vert blanched then ice bath.
     --- Diced shallot. Subtle vinaigrette.
Tarragon Chicken Salad
     --- Chicken pieces poached in chicken stock.
     --- 50/50 mayo and sour cream, with dried (ugh) tarragon.
Tomato Salad
     --- Plum tomatoes, red onion, fresh thyme, olive oil
Seafood Cakes with Remoulade
Grilled Andouille Sausages
Grilled Port and Alligator Sausage
      --- Sausages from Poche's in Breaux Bridge, LA
Fruit Salad
     --- Apples, Pears, Oranges, Plums, Strawberries, Blueberries, Raspberries.
     --- Simple syrup, fresh mint

Beach House Staples - Granola, Marinated Olives, Pesto, Tuna Escabeche

Some of the dishes made in advance for our beach house vacation:

Granola - Inspired by a recipe shared by the Oriental Mandarin hotel group. I first made this granola on Mother's Day 2010. the proportion of dried fruit, and use of a high quality variety of nuts are the secrets to success. Recipe below.

Marinated Olives - The recipe can be found in printer friendly format here on or to browse the recipe on the Be A Better Cook blog, link here.

Pesto - Our garden was already overgrowing with Basil before we left, and now it's even more jungle-like. I think I'll be making a commercial quantity of pesto later this month. Recipe below.

Tuna Escabeche - This was almost an afterthought for the happy hour spread - but so popular I had to make it a second time during the week. The recipe come from Rick Bayless and can be found here. However, it's so simple - here's what you do, in summary:
  1. Cut an onion into 1/4" slices and cook in olive oil for 10 minutes.
  2. Drain two cans tuna (preferably packed in oil), and break apart.
  3. From a 12 ounce can of pickled jalapenos, which includes carrots and onion, reserve liquid and remove 2-3 jalapenos and all the vegetables.
  4. Remove the seeds and chop the jalapenos and vegetables. Add to the tuna. Add cooked onion. Add 1/4 cup of the reserved liquid.
  5. Serve with small tortillas, chips or crackers.

Homemade Fruity Granola

3/4 cup brown sugar
1 stick unsalted butter
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon'
     --- melt butter, sugar and spices.

1 pound dried uncooked whole cut oats (plain ole' Quaker Oats in the cardboard cylinder are just fine)
2.5 cups mixed nuts - use a high quality mix and be sure to include cashews, almonds and a larger nut like brazil or macadamia
     --- Combine nuts and oats. Add sugar/butter mixture and toss to coat evenly.
     --- Spread mixture onto two rimmed sheet pans (lined with foil).
     --- Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Do not overcook and brown. Turn pans if needed.

1/2 cup dried currents
1/2 cup sour cherries
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup dried mango (cut into small cubes)
1 to 2 teaspoons salt - taste.
     --- Combine fruits with oats
     --- Store in an airtight container or ziploc bag for up to two-three weeks.

Note: Of course you  can substitute different dried fruits - but I strongly recommend including mango and the sour cherries or cranberry. Great combination.

Tom's Pesto

I'll never forget the night I made fresh pesto for the first time. I was so excited by the intense and (to me) unique flavor, that I wrote raving enthusiastic notes in the cookbook from which I got the recipe.

4 cups fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 teaspoons kosher salt
generous grinding of fresh black pepper - about 1 teaspoon
     --- Combine all ingredients in a food processor.
     --- Scrape down sides several times to create a consistent cut
     --- For storage, coat a plastic freezer bag with olive oil, then fill with pesto and press out all air.

South Carolina Beach Party

We just returned from another great vacation at Pawley's Island, South Carolina. We had our extended family, this time with a nephew who didn't make it last year - and was the life of the party. Most nights I cooked for 16 people or so. I'm still collecting pictures from the family, and will publish each night's menu - in part becuase we ended up not so sure what I made last year, despite my keeping a detailed menu / recipe book (which is now unable to be found!!).

Theme menus for the week were:

Saturday: BBQ brought in from Hog Heaven - a great local joint
Sunday: Beach Picnic
Monday: Girl Night Out / Burger Night for Boys
Tuesday: Chinese Night - Authentic Dishes from Sichuan Province
Wednesday: Leftover Night
Thursday: Steak Night
Friday: Leftovers and Pizza

Menu Celebarting the First Day of School (for teachers)

Margie started a new teaching job yesterday, after a 10 year retirement. While the kids don't have to start classes for 2 weeks, and teachers in the district don't start until next week, Margie's considered a new teacher, despite her 20 years of prior experience in Illinois.

To get her over the excitement, stress and drudge of the indoctrination proceedings, at home we did what we always do to celebrate a momentus occassion. We cooked. Alex picked steak, Amy picked Edamame - becuase it made her say "edible mommy". I ran across a recipe for crispy potato skins, brushed lightly with roasted garlic butter. Not all the toppings, etc. Just the flavored butter. Here's the whole menu:
  • Cosmopolitans
  • Edamame in the shell (kids)
  • Roasted pencil-thin Asparagus with garlic, shallot and lemon zest
  • Crispy Potato Skins brushed with roasted garlic butter
  • Grilled Ribeye Steaks
  • Roasted Peaches with Vanilla Syrup
Here's a summary of the interesting dishes above:
  • Trim asparagus, drizzle with olive oil on a sheet pan, top with 1 shallot, 1 garlic clove and zest of one lemon, all finely diced/chopped. Broil for 3-5 minutes, checking doneness carefully.
  • Bake potatoes, approx. 1 hour at 350 degrees. Simultaneously, roast on head of garlic, top sliced off, drizzled with oil, covered with foil. Let cool. Cut potatoes in half lengthwise, then scoop out potato flesh, leaving as much or as little flesh on the skin as you prefer. Cut again into strips. Melt butter in saucepan with roasted garlic squeezed from head. Brush over potato skins. Broil 2-4 minutes, untile crispy.
  • Roll whole peaches in mixture of superfine and regular sugars and a small amount of cinnamon. In a baking dish, mix ith 3 tablespoons white wine or water with 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract (or scrape seeds from a fresh vanilla bean over peaches). Bake 15-20 minutes depending on firmness of peaches. Every 4-5minutes baste the peaches with the sauce.  
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