Lemony Crab Dip

lemony crab dip

For everyday dining, I don’t usually serve an appetizer.  But for guests and parties and special occasions, I’ll trot out a few to keep everybody happy.  They are nice to nibble on while the main attraction finishes cooking, with a cocktail or a glass of bubbly in hand, and no one goes hungry before the meal is served.

This crab dip is versatile and great any time of the year, although in winter, the light, citrusy note is particularly welcome as a contrast to heartier cold-weather dishes.  A light hand with the mayonnaise ensures that the flavor of the crab shines through.  You can heap the dip in a bowl and surround it with a platter of accompaniments, or serve it in small individual bowls, with baskets of crackers, bread and raw vegetables on the side.

This dip travels really well – you can make it up to a few days before, it packs up quickly to take on the road, and no cutlery is necessary (although a knife for spreading is nice). For a fun twist, pre-cut your bread into shapes, add a few leaves of watercress, and turn the dip into crab sandwiches.  With the addition of a few other small bites, these little nibbles make the perfect picnic.

lemony crab dip picnic pack

Lemony Crab Dip
Serves 4-6 as an appetizer.  Adapted from Coastal Living, here.

2 1/2 cups fresh lump crabmeat, picked over for shells and gently flaked
1 cup finely chopped shallot
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1/8 teaspoon celery seed
kosher salt, to taste
scant 1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

In a large bowl, combine first eight ingredients and toss well.  Add in mayonnaise and stir until fully incorporated.  Top with chopped parsley and refrigerate in a covered container for at least two hours.  Dip will keep for up to three days, refrigerated.

Serve with baguette slices, crackers and assorted raw vegetables.

Quick Jambalaya

You know that “one-pot meal” bandwagon?  Yeah, I’m still on it.

It functions as a sort of flip side to all those multi-course extravaganzas the holiday season brings.  So easy, with minimal clean-up, and a whole lotta taste.  Casual, delicious and comfortable, when a quiet evening in is something you are really looking forward to.

This quick jambalaya fits the bill nicely.  There are likely as many “traditional” recipes for jambalaya as there are cooks, but it nearly always resembles a thicker rice stew, as opposed to a soup. This is a spicy version, for a little less heat, just omit the cayenne pepper.  Use a good quality andouille – I’ve had great results with Aidells Cajun Style Andouille.

The most unique thing about this jambalaya is the cherry tomatoes – they really add a lovely flavor that other types of canned tomatoes don’t even come close to replicating. Taste has the very best canned cherry tomatoes I’ve ever sampled, and I use them whenever I can get them.  Until I went looking for them, I had no idea that canned cherry tomatoes were so hard to find – I’d just assumed they would be as readily available at my local market as other canned tomato products.  If you can’t locate them, fresh cherry tomatoes make a good substitute – just dip them in a pot of lightly salted boiling water for about 90 seconds to soften the skins.  Using a slotted spoon, remove the tomatoes from the pot and place them in a bowl.  Allow them to cool, then crush them lightly with a pestle or the back of a spoon.  Set them aside at room temperature until the recipe calls for them to be added.

One pot + one hour = dinner.  Dining while in your pajamas is, of course, optional.

Quick Jambalaya
Makes four servings.  Adapted from Martha Stewart, here.

1/4 cup olive oil
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into one-inch pieces
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound andouille sausage, cut into 1/4- inch rounds
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
3 celery stalks, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup water
2 cups chicken broth or stock
14 ounces crushed cherry tomatoes with juice
1 cup long-grain rice

In a large heavy stockpot, heat oil over medium-high heat until shimmering.  Season chicken pieces with salt and pepper, place in pot and cook, stirring frequently, until golden brown (about 10 to 12 minutes).  Add vegetables and sausage and cook an additional 8-10 minutes.   Stir in garlic, cook 1-2 minutes. Add Old Bay seasoning and cayenne pepper and stir through to combine.  Mix in stock, tomatoes and water and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.  Add rice, stir through to combine, cover and simmer on low heat until rice is cooked through, about 30 minutes.  Remove from heat and let sit, covered, for five minutes before serving.

Note:  Jambalaya can be made up to two days in advance.  Reheat, covered, on medium-low temperature.  If jambalaya has become too thick, thin with a tablespoon or two of stock or water while reheating.

Corn Chowder with Bacon

My good friend, Mike, has a t-shirt that reads “Bacon Makes Everything Better”. He wears it frequently, especially when our group goes out for breakfast. Every so often, whatever restaurant we happen to be eating in brings him an extra side of bacon, gratis, usually with a big smile and a compliment for his shirt.  Whenever this happens, we are all ecstatic, because there is more bacon, free bacon, which Mike graciously shares with us (one of the many reasons we all love Mike).

I think his tee resonates because it’s true – practically everything is better with bacon. Yes, I said practically, because I never could jump on that bacon-in-desserts bandwagon.  I’ll take a pass on that bacon and chocolate ice cream.  I don’t want meat in my trifle, pudding, or cake.  But bacon on everything else, everything savory?  Yes, please.

This creamy chowder marries the salty smokiness of bacon with fresh, sweet corn. Although it contains bacon fat, butter, milk and cream, which makes it sound as though it would be heavy, it is surprisingly quite light.  In a pinch, you can substitute frozen corn for the fresh – just add it straight from the freezer without thawing.  I often use two large jalapeños or one jalapeño and one serrano, but you can easily adjust the spiciness to your taste by using milder or hotter peppers.  For helpful information on choosing peppers, check out this graphic Scoville Heat Index (via Greg Emerson Bocquet), here.

This soup can stand alone as a meal, but if you want to up your bacon ante (and really, who doesn’t?) it is terrific paired with the classic bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich.  For those over their bacon limit, the chowder is also great with a simple grilled cheese.

Corn Chowder with Bacon
Makes four servings.  Adapted from Martha Stewart Living, here.

6 ounces bacon, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon butter
3/4 cup onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup shallot, finely chopped
3/4 cup celery, finely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1-2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and minced
3 cups chicken stock or broth
2 1/2 cups fresh yellow corn (kernels from about 3 ears)
1 1/2 cups small white potatoes, diced
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup whole milk

In a medium stockpot, cook bacon over medium-high heat until fully crisped.  Remove bacon with tongs or a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel.  Set aside.

Discard all but two tablespoons of the bacon drippings.  Add the butter, onion, shallot, celery and thyme to the stockpot.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and cook over medium-low heat for four to five minutes.  Stir in garlic and jalapeño pepper and cook about three to four minutes more.  Add chicken broth or stock, increase heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium and simmer for an additional 15 minutes.

Add corn and potatoes and cook until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes.  Stir in cream and milk until incorporated, and simmer, stirring frequently, until soup is heated through.  Ladle into bowls and serve hot, garnished with the reserved crisped bacon pieces.

Nicoise Salad

nicoise salad


As a child, anytime we ate canned tuna my dad would always place the sandwich or salad in front of me with a somber admonishment to “watch out for bones.” Despite his sterling intentions to avoid my choking to death at the table, this was not a particularly appetizing prelude, and any warm or fuzzy feelings I might have had about eating the tuna were immediately replaced with a certain (and totally understandable) antipathy.  Eventually, I stopped eating it altogether.

That is, until several years later (all grown up, and no longer squeamish about the bones or whatnot general foodstuff may/may not contain).  Lunching in a small cafe, I ordered the Salade Nicoise, and fell in love with it.  I’ve tried many variations, and this one is my absolute favorite.

I should mention that while in the past I’d not been an ardent fan of green beans, these little French filet beans were a whole different story.  Although they are commonly called haricots verts (vert being French for “green”) they are also available in yellow and purple varieties.  I find this very funny, but any of the varieties work well here. They are small, sweet, tender snap beans and are typically available from mid-March through September. If you must, you can substitute with another type of green bean, just be sure to do so sadly (and adjust the blanching time accordingly).

While there is much debate among purists, especially in France (I know, shocking!), about whether or not it is okay to include cooked potatoes in the salad in order for it to be deemed “authentic”, this recipe contains the potato. I say go with what you like, and I like these potatoes a lot.  In the interest of full disclosure, I should also point out there is no artichoke or red pepper in my version, and the anchovies are incorporated into the vinaigrette, instead of placing the fillets on top.  So, while this Nicoise may be a bit of an anarchist, its also really, really good.

Here, I’ve plated the salad in individual portions, but it is quite nice presented on a big platter, especially for groups or parties.  I serve the olives and the remaining dressing passed on the side – just add a loaf of fresh, warm bread with butter and a dry, chilly rosé and you’re all set for a fabulous, French-style fête.

Oh, and yeah, watch out for bones.

Nicoise Salad
Serves four.

2 ounces anchovy fillets (about 8)
1 large shallot, finely minced
1 celery stalk, finely minced
2 1/2 tablespoons dijon mustard
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
3/4 cup olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

4 large eggs, hardboiled, sliced
1/2 pound haricots verts
1 pound small red potatoes
1 head romaine lettuce, roughly chopped
1 bunch of radishes, sliced thinly into rounds
8 ounces grape, pear or cherry tomatoes, halved
1 six-ounce can water-packed solid white tuna, drained and flaked
4 ounces Nicoise olives

For the dressing:  In a small bowl, mash the anchovies into a paste using the back of a fork.  Add the next four ingredients, one at a time, stopping to mix thoroughly after each addition.  Whisk in the olive oil, and adjust seasoning to taste with salt and pepper.  Set aside.

For the salad:  Blanch the haricots verts by adding them to a medium saucepan of boiling water for 1-2 minutes.  Drain, plunge into a bowl filled with ice water, and drain again. Pat dry and set aside.

Refill the saucepan with fresh water and add the potatoes.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer until potatoes are cooked through and tender, about 20 minutes.  Drain, and let cool for ten minutes.  Cut potatoes into bite-sized wedges and place in a bowl, and gently toss with just enough of the reserved dressing to coat (about 3-4 tablespoons).  Set aside.

To assemble, arrange lettuce on plates or a platter, and mound the lettuce in the center. Fanning out from the center, arrange reserved potatoes, radishes, tomatoes, haricots verts, egg slices and flaked tuna, and drizzle with about half of the dressing.  Pass remaining dressing and olives on the side.

Note:  If you are looking around for a good canned tuna, I highly recommend American Tuna and Island Trollers.