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Happy Easter!

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The Soup Lady has just returned from a trip to Baltimore, a city which – according to the hotel room tv channels –  seems to be composed of only the Inner Harbor and the carcasses of millions of dead crabs. One cannot escape the city without engaging a crab in some shape or form, be it food, a tshirt that says "Don’t Bother Me I’m Crabby" or some tasty claw chocolate in the form of a crab-shaped candy bar.

You can use fresh cooked, frozen or canned crab meat for this recipe. In a minimally processed recipe like this one, the quality of the ingredients – the scotch as well as the crab meat – will affect the quality of the finished product. Never use imiation crab meat, despite it’s jolly identification as  "krab".

DRUNKEN CRAB SOUP

1/2 – 3/4 pound of crab meat
1/4 cup of butter
1 cup of heavy cream
1/4 cup of Scotch whiskey
1 quart of milk
Salt
and  pepper
Old Bay Seasoning

1. Prepare the crab meat by picking through it to remove any bits of shell or cartilage  and then shredding the meat into small pieces.
2. Melt the butter in  a saucepan over low heat and then add the crab meat and the heavy cream, followed by whiskey.
3. Stir over medium low heat until the mixture is heated through.
4. Stir in the milk and pepper and then taste for seasoning. Depending in which form of crab meat you are using*, the additional salt needed  may vary.
5. Stir frequently to avoid scorching and heat until very hot throughout – never bring to a boil.
6. Serve in individual pre-heated bowls and garnish with a  pinch of Old Bay Seasoning in the center of the bowl.

WholeHeatlhMD.com lists the different types of crab – Alaskan King Crab is sold as fronzen meat and is readily availabe anywhere, but for that true Baltimore taste experience, its the Blue Claws that you need. Knowing the difference between the types and origin can help you choose the crab that is best suited for its final use:

*Crabs are sold live, and their meat–delicately sweet, firm yet flaky–is available fresh cooked, frozen, and canned. Fresh crabmeat is sold as lump, backfin, or flake. Lump crabmeat, which consists of large, choice chunks of body meat, is the finest and most expensive. Backfin is smaller pieces of body meat. Flake is white meat from the body and other parts and is in flakes and shreds. Some fresh-cooked crab is pasteurized after cooking, which helps it keep longer. Canned crab is often imported from Asia and may come from a variety of species."  wholehealthMD.com

Other helpful information on this site lists how to select, "prepare" (kill) and cook live crabs.

 

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Stuffed Grapeleaves

The Soup Lady has something you don’t have:  stuffed grapeleaves on demand. Yes, our mister was born in Egypt and when he came to the U.S., he brought along the recipes and kitchen techniques of his mother. His standards are exacting – every dish must live up to his memory of childhood perfection. I doubt very much if every dish was as picture-perfect as he remembers but picture-perfect is what he wants.

This greatly works to my advantage because whenever the menu calls for one of those classic dishes, such as babaganoush or tabouleh, he trusts no one. I don’t mind in the least giving up kitchen control especially when the end result of a labor-intensive dish as this is so delicious.

These are the grapeleaves he’s been making for all the years of our married life. Our children have been helping since they were very small and under his tutelage, have become proficient and are able to produce according to his standard. What that means for me is that anytime I want them, all I have to do is threaten to make them by my Lithuaniain self and someone with Egyptian blood coursing through their veins will intervene. Sweet!

Like all authentic ethnic recipes that have made their way to America, this one has no exact measurements. For your sake, I tried to estimate amounts but really you should follow your instincts. There are only a few things you need to know:

  • There should never be more rice than meat.
  • Never use the leanest blend of chopped meat. 88% lean is ideal, in my opinion. 93% leanis good for nothing. You need a little fat to get the right flavor for the juice.
  • The rolls must be thin and tight.
  • Never skimp on the garlic.
  • No matter how many times you tell someone that "allspice" is not "all spices in one bottle", they won’t believe you.
  • The smallest, thinnest finished rolls are the most prized.

STUFFED GRAPE LEAVES

2 pounds of chopped meat
1  1/4 cup of long-grain rice, uncooked
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
one large jar of grape leaves
5 fresh limes
two heads of garlic
dried mint leaves

(all images are thumbnails. click to enlarge)

FillingMix the meat, the rice, the allspice and the cinnamon together in a bowl. No salt is necessary because the grape vine leaves are packed in brine and that will add to the final flavor. The measurements are inexact, but the proper ratio of meat-to-rice should look like this.

RollingThe best grape leaves to use are also the easiest to find- Orlando Grape Leaves from California. It’s not unheard of to use the leaves of those pesky wild grape vines that plague your landscaping but you have to boil them first and they really are not as tender, flavorfull or as easy to work with as the bottled variety. Take the leaves out of the bottle, unroll and drain but do not rinse. Select a single leaf and start by cutting off the stem. Place the  leaf onto a plate with the smooth, shiny side down.

Ready_to_roll_1Use a spare amount of the meat filling and place it in a thin log shape onto the leaf slightly above where the stem used to be. Use a smaller amount of filling than  you think use should.

To make the stuffed grapeleaf, start by folding the lower flaps up towards the point of the leaf, covering the meat. Using your fingertips, roll the thing away from you a half-turn.

Rolling2Fold in the side flaps and then continue rolling until you reach the top of the leaf. The next part is critical to the quality of the finished product:

Line_upBring the roll close to you and use the palm of your hand to apply gentle pressure while rolling the thing away from you again. You can, if necessary, then  use a back-and -forth rolling motion to even out the filling inside the rolled leaf. This is the step that insures that the rolls are uniform and tight and will prevent unrolling in the pot and messy falling apart when you lift it up to eat it.

In_the_potThe acceptable limits, according to that high personal standard mentioned before, is that no finished roll may be bigger than your index finger. The preferred size is no bigger than your pinky finger. Place the rolls into a large stock pot, placed tightly next to one another. Fill the bottom of the pot entirely before you move on to the next layer.

Pot_fullAdd the peeled garlic cloves and enough crushed, dried mint leaves to cover the surface. Cut the limes in half and squeeze the juice on top of the rolls in the pot.

January_06_119Place an inverted plate big enough to cover most of the surface of the rolls inside the pot. (Ours is weighted with pieces of marble. I don’t recommend that, but he insists.)  Add enough water to reach the top of the rolls. Pout it gently down the side of the pot so as not to disturb the arrangement of the rolls, mint and garlic.  Sometimes he adds more lime juice at this point.

Set the pot on the burner and bring to just boiling. You don’t want to wildly boil and risk unrolling in the pot. Reduce the heat to get a slow rolling boil for 30 minutes, just enough to cook the meat and rice. Turn off heat and remove the plates. Remove the grape leaf rolls one by one with tongs.

How to eat: Consume everything. Choose the smallest ones for yourself put them on your plate with some of the pot liquor. Pick up the stuffed grapeleaf rolls with your fingers. Eat the garlic cloves, eat the mint, consume the pot liquor. Serve with warm pita bread, hummus and/or plain yogurt. Use the bread as a vehicle for the hummus, the yogurt and the pot liquor. Pot liquor. Pot liquor. I like to say that.  Refrigerate leftovers in a spot where it is hard for others to get to, assuring that you will benefit the most from others labor.

Yield: a great big potfull. These reheat in a microwave without problem. Be sure to add some pot liqour when you reheat them. Pot liquor.

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Pagach

How is it possible that the Soup Lady has lived her whole life and never even been in the same room with a pagach? It is , after all, part of my ethnic heritage and certainly fits the criteria for Salvic foods: white, cheap and greasy. Yum Yum.

During a visit to our home town, the Soup Sister (who now lives in Georgia) expressed a desire to taste pagach once more. “Whatever do you mean once more?” says I. Turns out that while I went for the bright lights/big city experience, she immersed herself in the local culture of northeastern Pennsylvania and became something of a pagach connoisseur. Not only did she know where to find them, she kept up a running comentary evaluating each local maker’s results, all while the Soup Lady was at the wheel, desperately trying to peer through the mists of memory to find the correct winding mountain road in the pitch dark.

Pagach_box_4 And what is this mysterious delicacy, you might wonder? What creation could be so delicious as to overcome its unfortunate clunker of a name and become the object of desire? It’s a stuffed bread, usually made from cabbage or potato filling baked inside of pizza dough. That’s right – the local pizza parlors all have pagach on the menu and that is what we were searching for – a pizza parlor. Here we see the pagach nestled snuggly in its pizza box on the morning after. It is nothing if not filling, so despite the longing, we were only able to consume a few cuts.

Pagach
Dough:
2-1/2 cups flour
1 cup warm water
1 pkg yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt

Cabbage filling:
1 lg onion peeled and sliced
1 med head cabbage, shredded
1/2 cup oil
salt
pepper

Potato filling:
3 potatoes
1 medium onion
1/4 lb oleo
1 tablespoon milk
5 oz cheddar cheese

The dough: Dissolve yeast in the water. add salt and 2 1/2 cups flour and knead smooth and
elastic, adding more flour as needed. Place dough on countertop, cover with
stainless steel bowl. Allow to rise double in bulk.

Potato filling: Cook the potatoes in 2 quarts salted water, until done. Drain. Fry onion in oleo until golden. Add to the potatoes. Add cheese, milk and salt and pepper and mash with the potatoes.

Cabbage filling:
Saute onion in oil until soft. Add shredded cabbage and salt and pepper and cover and cook until cabbage is tender and soft. Drain off any excess oil.

Assembly:
Punch down dough and divide into 2 parts. Cut bread dough in half. Roll out one half and place on cookie sheet. Place cooled potato filling on one side of the dough and spread the cabbage filling on the other half, leaving a 2 inch margin at the edges. Cover with the other half of the dough. Carefully pinch edges together. Brush oil over the top of the dough and sprinkle with salt or garlic salt. Place on greased baking sheet. Let rise until double.

Pagach_1 Bake at 400°F for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Around here, you can get pagach that are all cabbage, all potato, or potato and cheese. Personally, the Soup Lady likes the two fillings mixed together so that you get the goodness of each in every bite.

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The Ears of Charlie Twofish

The Soup Lady just adores the taste of Linguine with White Clam Sauce but there are so many tribulations that go along with it, aren’t there? The first set of problems comes with the making of the sauce – trying to hang on to those sneaky little bivalves to chop them up can be so tiresome. The next challenge is in the eating – the Soup Lady finds it so disadvantageous if one has to pursue the elements of a meal around the plate. All that unraveling and of course, the spectacle of the unchopped clams right there in front of you … well, it’s not for the more delicate among us, is it now?

You will be glad to know that the Soup Lady has solved these messy problems –now you can have the taste experience without the mess and bother! Here is my humble little offering – a dish equally influenced by sunny Italy and rainy Sopranoland. I could just call it Pasta with White Clam Sauce That Has Tuna Fish Mashed Up Into It, but it really deserves a more lyrical name so here it is: The Ears of Charlie Twofish .

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The Pasta: I box of orecchiette. One of the problems with the traditional Linguine with White Clam Sauce is that you start twirling up the linguine and you suddenly realize “Wait, this is mostly just linguine because the sauce keeps slipping off. What the heck?” To combat that , the Soup Lady prefers the little cup shaped orecchiette. (This is supposed to translate as little ears and I guess they do look like that if the ears you have in mind belong to Topo Gigio.) You could easily use small shells, but this bowl-shaped pasta really can carry a big load of solid bits from the sauce and that’s really what you want, isn’t it?

The fish: I can of Progresso White Clam Sauce, 1 can Italian-style tuna fish packed in olive oil. Now you can go around waiting for the clam boat to come in and start picking out just the ones you want, and then go with the scrubbing, the steaming and the chopping , or you could put your faith in a can of Progresso White Clam Sauce. Don’t be a snob – this is good, its safe and its dependable. The real taste sensation comes when you open a can of tuna packed in olive oil, mash it up with a fork and add the clam sauce to it. The tuna adds texture and flavor and is overall much richer than clams sauce alone. Don’t let your experience with the anemic Solid White Tuna in Spring water influence you against trying this – I’m telling you it’s a different thing altogether. Don’t be afraid.

The Sauce: onions, garlic, butter, salt , pepper, dried oregano, fresh parsley , red pepper flakes. Chop a small white onion into a fine dice and gently sauté it in 2 tablespoons of butter. Along with 1 clove of minced garlic. Add a tablespoon of dried oregano, ¼ cup of chopped fresh parsley and a dash of salt and stir over low heat until heated through. Add the fish mixture to this and then some fresh black pepper and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Taste to adjust seasonings – you may need more salt at this point. Add the cooked pasta and mix.

The Garnish: top with more chopped parsley. You can mix in some fresh chopped tomatoes if you like, but I’d try it my way first. Add the tomatoes the second time around.

The Compliments and the Credit: At this point, you must be prepared to receive all manner of complements. Your guests will be amazed at the familiar and yet enhanced flavors in this dish and they will thank you because they are not compelled to make awkward maneuvers to keep slippery linguine on their forks. You must tell them that this culinary marvel was created by the Soup Lady, or possibly her Italian-American neighbors and the Soup lady just copied it.

But I did invent the name

Serve an uncomplicated salad of bitter greens with this, say something with a lot of chicory and arugula. End the meal with some fresh fruit. Please don’t mess this up by trying to add grated cheese – you don’t need it and it will nullify the kick of the red pepper flakes.

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Banana Farfel

The Soup Lady doesn’t know from making a Seder, but she knows a good thing when she sees it. Debra Galant calls this dish the culinary highpoint of her Passover dinner and that’s good enough for me. She writes:

Dear Soup Lady,
My husband’s Aunt Frieda offers a very traditional Seder, using the Maxwell House Hagaddah, and the Seder is run by her very charming husband, Uncle Irv. (Of course. Most Jewish families have at least one Uncle Irv.) Frieda usually makes one chicken dish, one beef or veal, plus the farfel, plus potato puffs, plus matzo ball soup of course, plus hard-boiled eggs, plus gefilte fish, plus asparagus and sometimes a yummy black radish dish made with schmalz(chicken fat). In addition to all the ceremonial foods and the desserts, she makes the most amazing Banana Farfel – the high point, culinarily, for Passover for me. That and matzo brie, which is just French toast made with matzo. (I’ve read that Steven Spielberg has matzo brei every day.) Aunt Frieda said it was ok to let loose on the internet with this, and she made me rummage through my tin box of recipes for it:

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MATZO FARFEL PUDDING
2 cups matzo farfel
2 well-beaten eggs
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup of sugar
3 tablespoons of chicken fat or oil
1 apple, peeled and diced

1 banana, cut lengthwise
1 apple, peeled and cut lengthwise

To prevent discoloration of the fruit, place the slices into a bowl of cool water to which a small amount of lemon juice has been added. Cover the farfel with cold water and drain immediately – do not let it get soggy. Add the beaten eggs and mix. Stir in the salt, sugar, fat or oil, and the diced apple. Place in a well-greased 9X9 baking dish. Place the sliced apples and bananas on top of the mixture, alternately. Bake at 350 for 35 – 40 minutes. Watch for it to brown. It is best to use a glass baking dish so you can watch it.

I have been going to this Seder and eating this farfel dish for 19 years, since I was just my husband’s girlfriend. She calls it Farfel Pudding, but I would say it’s much more a consistency of a kugel. Farfel is just broken up pieces of matzo, I think. The taste? Out of this world.
Debra Galant

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Potato Pancakes

It’s Week 5 of the Lenten season and meat-free meals are all around. Fish, fish sticks, baked fish, tuna fish, fried fish, fish balls and Hey, how about some fish?Luckily, in this neck of the woods, the fish are outnumbered by the pierogis. Clam chower suddenly has a big presence around here now, but when I was growing up, we didn’t have clams and could barely afford fish. But honey, we had plenty of potatoes. A hot lunch of tomato soup and potato pancakes every Friday for 12 years makes me something of an expert when it comes to assessing a potato pancake.

This is not a good potato pancake: undesireable
Note the leaden appearance – can’t you just feel the grease right through the computer screen? This is a result of two things: first, the frying oil was not hot enough and second, fine grating turned the potato into unappealing pulp. A good one has a lot of unprocessed potato surface and it’s quickly fried in very hot oil until it all exposed surfaces are crisp.

admit it - you want me. Now this is a good pancake. From none other than Martha Stewart herself (What will we do without you, Martha?) comes instructions for a perfect pancake. The secret is that the potato is grated on the long side to produce lovely strips of potato that bunch together loosely. Then the oil can get in the spaces between the potato strips to do it work. the other thing that makes this a superior experience is that there is no flour used as a binder. The flavor is pure spud -not greasy flour paste- because the binder is the thick starchy water drained from the potatoes.

MARTHA STEWART’S POTATO PANCAKES
2 all-purpose or Yukon gold potatoes (about 1 1/4 pounds), peeled
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 medium white onion, finely grated
8 scallion greens, finely slivered
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable oil, for frying
1. Over a large bowl of cold water, grate potatoes into long strips, using the largest holes of a box grater. Transfer grated potatoes from water into another bowl. Pour off water from first bowl, reserving sediment. Add sediment to potatoes.
2. Add eggs, onion, and scallion greens. Season with salt and pepper. Mix well by hand.
3. Fill a large heavy-bottomed frying pan with 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch of oil until very hot, about 385°.
4. Drop 1 heaping tablespoonful of potato mixture into the pan. Cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes; the pan should hold five or six pancakes per batch. Turn pancakes over, and cook on the other side until golden brown, about another 3 minutes.
5. Can be transferred to a baking sheet and kept warm in a 200° oven for up to a half hour before serving.
recipe from marthastewart.com

Sometimes I give myself a laugh by adding sweet potatos to the mixture instead of using all white, but of course, that is not the classic P.P. experience. The Soup Lady is a card-carrying member of the Sour Cream Club when it comes to potato pancakes. Try these with a bowl of plain tomato soup for the perfect meat-free meal. Unless you happen to like fish.

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