Kumquat Digestif

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I’ll be honest. The reason why I made this digestif to begin with is because it looked so pretty. Bright orange kumquats floating in a pool of vodka – in a gorgeous decanter, no less. I adapted this recipe from Sunset magazine, but with a few tweaks. Less sugar, more kumquats, and I doubled the batch.

I haven’t used this as a digestif, either. Served on the rocks or with a bit of seltzer, it makes a great before-dinner drink. Play around with the recipe as you wish; I might make it with Meyer lemons the next time around.

Kumquat Digestif

Ingredients:
3/4 cup sugar
4 cups vodka
20 kumquats, cut in half lengthwise
7 small branches fresh thyme

1. In a medium saucepan, heat sugar with 3/4 cup water, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. Let cool to room temperature.

2. Stir in vodka. Pour mixture into a decanter and add kumquats (halves first) and thyme. Chill at least 3 weeks. Serve ice-cold, in shot glasses, or in a tumbler over ice.

Dungeness Crab Cakes

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Crab cakes may be a Maryland tradition but I can’t think of a better way to enjoy them than with San Francisco Dungeness crabmeat. I’ve been making this recipe for more than ten years now – they make a perfect appetizer and are just as good in a sandwich.

I usually serve these without any sort of sauce, since the crab cakes themselves are flavored with Parmesan cheese, garlic and herbs. I know cheese usually doesn’t pair well with seafood, but there’s an exception to every rule, right?

Crab cakes

Ingredients:

3/4 pound cooked crabmeat (shelled from one Dungeness crab)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons minced parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup dry bread crumbs
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1 egg, beaten
1/4 half and half or heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons olive oil

1. Break crabmeat into flakes. Place in a bowl, add cheese, parsley, oregano, garlic, crumbs, onions, egg, and cream. Mix lightly.

2. Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Mound two tablespoons of the crab mixture with a spoon, spreading to make a 3-inch cake. Place in pan and repeat until pan is filled. cook patties until lightly browned on bottoms, about 3 minutes. Turn and cook until other side is lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Remove from pan and arrange on serving plate. Repeat until all crab cakes are cooked, adding more oil as needed. Serve warm.

Singaporean Chili Crab

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I haven’t been to Singapore (yet), but it’s one of the countries (well, city-states) that I really want to visit. With one of the most diverse cuisines in the world, it’s a street food heaven offering Malay, Indonesian, Indian, and Chinese flavors and there really is something for every palette. If that doesn’t sound enticing, well, then I might be judging you.

One of my favorite Singaporean dishes is chili crab and it’s also one the most popular dishes in Singapore’s ubiquitous hawker stalls. The best time to make this in the Bay Area is when local Dungeness crab is in season; buy two or three because these will go fast. Chili crab is messy, spicy and saucy, but well worth the trouble.

Singaporean chili crab

Ingredients:

3/4 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon chili garlic sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
2 Dungeness crabs, cooked and cleaned
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 red jalapeno chili, seeded and minced
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 green onion, thinly sliced

1. Mix chicken broth, ketchup, soy sauce, chili garlic sauce, rice vinegar, and sugar in a bowl and set aside.

2. Twist off the claws and legs from the crabs and crack them with a cleaver or mallet. Cut the body into 4 pieces.

3. Place a wok over high heat until hot. Add oil, swirling to coat sides. Add garlic, ginger, and chili; cook, stirring for 1 minute. Add crab and stir-fry for 2 minutes.

4. Add the sauce and reduce heat to low; cover and simmer, stirring once, until crab is heated through, about 5 minutes. Stir in egg and cook until it begins to set, about 1 minute.

5. Arrange crab pieces on a serving plate. Pour sauce all over and garnish with green onion.

Potato and Porcini Mushroom Gratin

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If there is one ingredient in particular that signifies fall to me, it’s mushrooms. I love them year round, but come October, I start to use more of them in my cooking than usual, especially the dried kind. And no dried mushroom is arguably more flavorful and more prized than porcini mushrooms. Layered between thin slices of potatoes and garlic-flecked cheese, this gratin makes for a decadent side dish to any cold-weather meal.

Potato and Porcini Mushroom Gratin

Ingredients:

2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms
1 cup boiling water
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup mascarpone cheese
3/4 cup whipping cream
3 garlic cloves, chopped
Pinch of grated nutmeg
2 1/2 pounds russet potatoes (about 5), peeled, cut crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick slices

1. Place porcini and boiling water in medium bowl. Place small plate atop bowl to keep covered and let soak 20 minutes. Drain and coarsely chop mushrooms.

2. Melt butter with oil in medium skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms and sauté until beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and remove from heat. Whisk 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, mascarpone cheese, whipping cream, garlic and nutmeg in a bowl; season with salt and pepper.

3. Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter wide shallow 2-quart baking dish. Arrange 1/4 of potato slices in bottom of dish. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Scatter 1/4 of mushrooms over. Repeat. Spread half of cheese mixture over, shaking dish to settle. Repeat with remaining potatoes and mushrooms in 2 layers each; spread remaining cheese mixture over. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons Parmesan over. Place gratin dish on rimmed baking sheet.

4. Bake gratin until top is brown and sauce is bubbling at edges, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Let gratin rest 15 minutes before serving.

Baked Pasta and Cheese with Radicchio, Pancetta and Porcini Mushrooms

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I have four macaroni and cheese recipes that I keep in regular rotation, and this is the most frequently requested of the bunch. It’s also the most labor intensive, so I tend to make it one or twice a year, usually during the holidays. Radicchio is not the most traditional ingredient in baked pasta dishes, but it lends a beautiful light purple hue to the dish and despite all the cheese and other not-so-good-for-you ingredients, you’re getting your vegetables too.

I adapted this dish from a Food and Wine magazine recipe. I use less than half the butter and cream than the original, making it not too unhealthy for a special occasion dish.

Baked Pasta and Cheese with Radicchio, Pancetta and Porcini Mushrooms

Ingredients:

1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
Boiling water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 ounces sliced pancetta, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2 heads of radicchio, each cut into 8 wedges through the core
Salt and ground pepper
2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
1 pound medium shell pasta
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups low-fat milk
1 1/4 cup heavy cream
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 pound Asiago cheese, grated
5 ounces Fontina cheese, grated
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter a 3-quart baking dish. In a heatproof bowl, soak the porcini in boiling water until softened, about 15 minutes. Rinse the porcini to dislodge any grit, then drain and chop them. Discard the soaking liquid.

2. In a large skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in the olive oil. Add the porcini, pancetta and one-third of the garlic and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is fragrant, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a plate.

3. Add the radicchio wedges to the skillet and cook over high heat until wilted and beginning to brown, about 4 minutes. Add the remaining garlic, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until the radicchio is slightly caramelized, about 5 minutes longer. Stir in the porcini mixture and the sage. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.

4. Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, melt the remaining butter. Add the flour and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until foamy, about 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in the milk and bring to a boil; cook, whisking until thickened, about 3 minutes. Add the cream and nutmeg and season with salt and pepper. Transfer the sauce to the bowl with the radicchio.

5. Add the pasta to the bowl along with the Asiago and Fontina; toss to combine. Transfer the pasta to the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese. Bake for 20 minutes, or until heated through.

6. Preheat the broiler. Broil the pasta for 2 minutes, until the top is golden and bubbling. Let stand for 10 minutes; serve.