August 27, 2014

Garlicky Grilled Artichokes with a Kick

In the realm of 'can't get enough of a good thing," artichokes top my list. Thankfully, Mr. B and I live so close to artichoke country that these thistled delicacies are never in short supply.

I've written about artichokes before and shared my recipe for a family favorite--New Orleans Stuffed Artichokes--but, truth be told, artichokes need little more than seasoning and a dipping sauce to make them a welcome addition to any meal.

But, before I divulge the secret to my spicy honey mustard dipping sauce, I'm serving up a little artichoke trivia to brighten the day. First off, the artichoke is truly a Mediterranean culinary contribution. First discovered in Sicily, the ancient Romans candied the hearts with honey and cumin seed.

The person who first ventured to try eating an artichoke likely had a steep learning curve. It must have been hell to figure out what was edible among the sharp, prickly leaves and fuzzy chokes, especially since the early artichoke eaters were likely going to the task with raw artichokes.

Anyhow, discover a better way to them, they did, and the artichoke moved around Europe gaining popularity, eventually riding the seas to Louisiana with the French and then soon after, taken by the Spanish to California. Now, virtually every artichoke eaten in the United States originates from Monterrey County, which just so happens to be 90 minutes up the road.

About 80% of all the artichokes are grown in a little town called Castroville, which is located in Monterrey County. Finally, just to note, in 1947, Marilyn Monroe was crowned the Queen of the Artichokes in Castroville, which is a bit ironic since at one point the artichoke was considered an aphrodisiac and women were forbidden to eat them.

History and sex aside, let's discuss one of our favorite ways to dine upon these delicacies: grilled with plenty of garlic, olive oil and lemon and charred over a hot grill. Mr. B adds a few wood chips to the mix while I whip a simple, yet tasty hot honey mustard sauce that goes equally as well with a pile of fried shrimp.

August 14, 2014

Get Crabby!

Ours is a house divided. Mr. B will go to great lengths to eat his favorite crawfish, including flying them in by the sack each spring for his one and only boil. I, on the other hand, would like for nothing more than to have blue crabs arrive at my doorstep, hamper after hamper.

But, alas, that never happens--though, I will give it to Mr. B since he's always willing to entertain the idea.

To me, eating crabs is a summer pastime, but living in California, our crab season doesn't arrive until December, and even then, it doesn't build momentum until the cold, rainy (hopeful, here) days of January. Then, Mr. B will surprise me with dinners of his famous garlic roasted Dungeness crab with plenty of French bread to soak up all the marvelous juices.

I've no complaints about my winter crab feasts, except, perhaps that we don't have them every night. But, I do miss those long summer days when I would sit outside, wilting in the humidity and heat, a tray of boiled crabs before me, an icy cold beer nearby, pick and nutcracker in hand, and the radio playing in the background. Time would seem to come to a standstill and the afternoon would hang endlessly in the heavy air, and me, well. I'd happily pick away at my crabs, extracting every last possible piece of meat from within their shells.

I don't recall whether or not there was ever enough crab meat leftover to fashion a single crab cake, but I'm betting there wasn't; I was a thorough and methodical picker. That said, I'm fairly certain that my love of crab cakes didn't develop until New Orleans was but a distant speck in the rear view mirror and I was forced to feed my crab cravings in other ways.

Years ago, I discovered canned crab meat in the refrigerated section of a grocery store and ever since then, I'll pick a can or two up and whip up a batch of crab cakes. They're a perfect summer supper served under a blanket of remoulade sauce, or topped with a fried egg, the yolk still runny.

Since they're tedious and time consuming to make and form, I tend to go big and make rather large batches so that there are always extras in the freezer. It may not be the same as picking a tray of grabs, but I can still eat them in my swimsuit.

August 04, 2014

Whole Latte Love

One of the things I miss the most about summer in New Orleans--and only someone who had never lived there wouldn't question that there was anything to miss about New Orleans in the summer--is being so hot and sweaty that the only thing that mattered was a trip to the nearest Sno Ball stand.

Sno balls are not snow cones. Sno balls are not Hawaiian shaved ice. Sno balls are not slurpees. And although I have nothing against any of these, they just can't match a Sno ball--a combination of soft shaved ice and homemade syrup and if you like, a healthy dose of thick condensed milk on top.

The beauty of the Sno ball is that it only existed during summertime when all around the city, tiny little shops that were boarded up the remainder of the year, suddenly sprang to life. Almost magically, people would appear and long lines would snake around the block in the oppressively muggy evenings.

Depending on what Sno ball stand I happened to be at was the sole determining factor in my favorite flavor--usually, grape or cherry, but sometimes, I'd chance upon a coffee Sno ball, drenched in thick condensed cream that was like coffee ice cream, but far more refreshing.

We're a long way from the nearest Sno ball stand and while I wouldn't even know where to begin in recreating that soft shaved ice, I like to relive those long ago memories by indulging in an iced coffee--a sort of granita--that's far removed from a Sno ball, but none-the-less, pretty damn good. Admittedly, however, this is not very sweet, since I opt for heavy cream instead of the condensed milk.

It may not be a Sno ball, but in the end, it is every bit as refreshing, especially on a hot August day.