The Wonder Of Store-Bought Crackers

I have a deep affinity for crackers.  Not gourmet varieties, or even homemade, but good old plain Jane everyday crackers, be it Captain’s wafers, or saltines, and especially any kind that comes two-to-a-pack.  

I don’t think anyone needs a reason to like crackers  but my fondness, I am certain, begins with my childhood memory of inexpensive family restaurants and sit down pizza joints that bring cracker baskets to the table instead of bread.   I love the cracker basket and who in their right mind doesn’t?  They hold something for everyone after all.  Remember those crunchy breadsticky thingys, the sesame rounds, or the oblong townhouse crackers shaped like flattened capsules all wrapped up, by twos,  in cellophane.

Wandering along my merry way as we do in life,  I eat crackers.  I eat crackers without much thought.  I eat Club crackers wrapped in thinly sliced bacon and then baked, I learn it is okay to drink a martini with saltines topped with pickled bologna and American cheese because they are a match made in heaven,  I will never forget having Georgia cracker salad and realizing it is nothing more than a tomato, mayo, whitebread sandwich on steroids, and my favorite, I use all kinds of crushed crackers as croutons for my salad.  To this day every time I walk past a stick of butter I can’t help but want to drag a saltine down the length of the stick before popping it into my mouth, the perforations at the edges of the cracker leaving the soft butter to look like a perfectly raked zen garden. Continue reading →

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The Lobster Roll’s Better More Lovable Brother

It is almost August.  The month in which my parents would always load me and my siblings up in the car and we would head to the east coast for vacation.  It was as much a search for a cool ocean breeze as it was a temporary reprieve from the mundane everyday Midwest.

Sometimes while on vacation when we would sit down to dinner at a nice restaurant my parents would indulge us.  When they did I would order lobster.  As a kid I loved it.  What is there not to like about playing with your food?  It is a distraction pretending the prehistoric monster on your plate is attacking the table while the adults sip their coffee and converse.  There is a silent cheer in your head after you defeat the monster with a hammer and pick leaving behind nothing but empty body parts void of flesh.

Since being a kid, I haven’t eaten much lobster because years ago my taste for it waned.  I don’t hate lobster but my feelings about it have changed.   I believe it to be over rated.  As an adult I think lobster is a pain to cook, let alone eat, and on top of that it feels like it is a foil for butter much in the same way the white is a foil for the creamy yolks of a deviled egg.  I need say nothing of the cost per pound.

On the other hand shrimp is accessible, and in this sandwich there are plenty of complementary flavors, like cucumber, celery and spice, and classics like Old Bay seasoning are perfect.  As a home cook shrimp is familiar, the fear of over cooking a lobster is a big factor to not cooking it, while shrimp are easy and take less time to prepare.  The flavor of shrimp also plays a large roll in this new favorite because it is consistent.  In other words with shrimp I know what I am going to get.

A lobster roll is a great sandwich, most assuredly an indulgence,  but a shrimp roll is no less a treat not to mention much easier on your pocket book.
Summertime Shrimp Rolls (Makes 4 Sandwiches)

  • 1 baby cucumber, cut into half moons (about 1/2 cup)
    8 sugar snap peas, cut crosswise into thin rounds (about 1/3 cup)
    1 lb. (450g) raw deveined shrimp (size 26-30)
    1 teaspoon lemon zest
    2 teaspoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
    1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 tsp. Old Bay Seasoning
    kosher salt
    fresh ground black pepper
    4 brioche hot dog buns, or whatever hot dog bun you prefer
    leaf lettuce

1. To cook the shrimp place a 3.5 quart (3.5L) pot filled with 2 quarts (2L) cold water over high heat. Add 2 tablespoon of salt to the pot and bring the water to a roiling boil.
2. Add the shrimp and cook them for 3 to 4 minutes. Drain the shrimp into a strainer and run cold water over the shrimp. Remove the shells.
3. Chop the shrimp into 1/2-inch (1.25cm) pieces.
4. In a small mixing bowl combine cucumber, sugar snaps, shrimp, zest, juice and mayonnaise, Old Bay, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of fresh ground black pepper. Mix everything.
5. Split the buns from the top being careful not to cut them completely in half, line with leaves of lettuce and top with shrimp salad. Serve.

New England Clam Chowder

A good bowl of creamy chowder has always been one of my favorites. Even when I was a little kid I would gobble the stuff up.  As I have become more refined (defined: I have stopped eating with my hands and slurping my food) I don’t care so much for the clam shack version that is thick and goopey, although I give you directions for thickening the soup with flour.

This is the real deal and anyone who says,  “but it doesn’t have whole clams in it,” eats more with their eyes then there mouth.  I have yet to find a shell-with-clam in chowder that is any better then clams from a can.  Prove me wrong is my challenge because I would love to be.  After all I like the idea of being out claming then coming in and cooking up a pot of chowder on a blustery noreaster New England eve.

Makes 8 six ounce servings

2 eight oz. bottles Bar Harbor clam juice

2 six oz. cans Bar Harbor clams, chop them if they are whole, juice drained and reserved

4 oz. bacon, diced

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 cups yellow onion, small dice

1 cup celery, washed, trimmed and small dice

1 tablespoon garlic, peeled and minced

1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme

1/8 teaspoon fennel seed, ground

2 bay leaves

2 tablespoon all purpose flour (optional, depends on if you want thick chowder or not)

2 cups yukon gold potatoes, peeled and 1/2 inch dice

16 oz half and half

salt and fresh ground white pepper

1 1/2 tablespoon chives, minced

1 tablespoon flat leaf parsley, minced

1. Place a 3 1/2 quart heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat and add the bacon. Let the bacon render its fat (you should have about two tablespoons of fat in the pan) and saute it until it becomes crispy, not crunchy, and starts to brown.

2. Add the butter, onions and celery. Saute the vegetables until they are tender but do not brown them. Add the garlic, thyme and fennel. Saute until the spices become fragrant, not even a minute.

3. If you want thicker chowder add the flour and stir it around letting it absorb the fat. Once the flour starts to smell the slightest bit nutty add the clam juice and the reserved clam juice. It is important to cook the flour taste out of the flour so be patient and make sure you cook it long enough.

4. Add the half and half. Bring the liquid to a boil and add the potatoes. Bring it back to a boil and then reduce the heat to the lowest simmer setting you stove has. Taste the soup to see how salty the clam juice is, adjust the seasoning by adding more salt if necessary. Add a few grinds of white pepper. Cover the pot and let it simmer for 30 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through.

5. Add the clams, turn off the heat and let the chowder sit, covered, for one hour to let the flavors meld.

6. Before serving add the parsley and chives. Adjust the seasoning and reheat the chowder till hot. Serve.

Old Bay Oyster Crackers (can be made a day in advance)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 tablespoon Old Bay Seasoning

a two finger pinch of fine sea salt

5 cups oyster crackers

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Combine the oil, seasoning and salt in a mixing bowl.

3. Add the crackers and toss to coat them well with the oil.

4. Spread then out on a baking sheet and bake them for 10 minutes or until they start to take on a little color. Cool.