Saturday, May 21, 2016

Soft Shell Crabs & Homesteading Hints

Again, we are in the middle of that time of year when fabulous and delicious seasonal treats are available.  But the “season” for so many of these wonderful treats is very short lived (see my last two Blogs). And, unlike some of the other things I’ve discussed here, you are not going to preserve the amazing Soft Shell Crab - well at least most of us won’t. 

So get yourself some soft shells, follow the guideline/techniques below - and create your own options.  

Following the soft shell crab guidelines, I have posted a few earth and human friendly alternatives to the commercial products we use for everyday activities.  I intend to make these alternatives a regular part of this Blog and of my Facebook page.  Not only can you save money using some of these alternatives, you can also avoid being bombarded by aluminum, chlorine, chemicals and other additives on a daily basis.

Technique:  Soft Shell Crabs

Fresh, Live Soft Shell Crabs


Soft Shell Crabs.  We usually go with two whole crabs per person.  When feasting on these crabs, you are really not too interested in eating a lot of other sides, so if they are small, go with three per person!

Whole Milk
Seasoned Flour - preferable Wondra Flour
Clarified Butter for frying

Get your soft shell crabs from a good seafood shop.  I don’t recommend buying them in supermarkets.  The crabs in the seafood shop will be live. They should be prepared very close to when they are cleaned.  If you are not comfortable dispatching the crabs (by cleaning them), have your fish monger do it for you, but start preparing them soon for optimum flavor.

Soak the cleaned crabs in the milk.  Use enough milk to have the crabs submerged.  Let them soak for 30 minutes or so.

In the meantime, make yourself some clarified butter.  Clarified butter is very useful for high temperature frying and if you make a batch of it you can keep the unused portion in a jar in your refrigerator for a month or two.  If you are not familiar with clarifying butter, the clearest directions I know of are provided here:

While the crabs are soaking, season the flour with whatever you wish.  Certainly add some salt and freshly ground pepper.  After that, it’s up to you. You can add some heat with cayenne, some smoke with smoked paprika - whatever flavor you want.  Don’t over do though.  These crabs are delicious with just salt and pepper.

Heat a cast iron pan on medium high and add some of the clarified butter
You want very hot butter in the pan

Lift the crabs from the milk, dredge them in the flour and drop them into the pan.  For good sized soft shell crabs allow 2 - 3 minutes per side, flip them over once.  Do not crowd the pan.

As the crabs are done, turn them out onto paper towels or bag paper to drain and continue cooking the other crabs. If you have a good number of crabs to cook, you can keep the cooked crabs in a very low oven - but not for too long!

When the crabs are all cooked, serve immediately with lemon wedges.  You can offer a simple tartar sauce or an aioli for dipping.  Remember all of the crab is edible and delicious.  Enjoy!

NOTE:  Another option is to make Tempura Soft Shell Crabs.  Use your favorite tempura batter, dip whole crabs into the batter and fry up in the clarified butter.  

Some Worthwhile "Rules"
Homestead Made Alternatives

1.  Tooth Whitening Toothpaste
(you can certainly alternate this with a commercial paste if you are worried about cavity prevention - but that doesn’t necessarily have to come from toothpaste).

1/2 Teaspoon of Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon of water

Put the baking soda in the palm of your hand, add the water until a paste forms.  Dip your toothbrush in to the mixture and brush as usual. It takes a little getting used to because we are accustomed to being overwhelmed by flavoring. 

2.  Wine Glass “Sparkler”
(If you note a cloudy hue on your glasses, this will really revive them)

1 quart of Vinegar

Arrange glasses - stems up -  in a dishpan or clean bucket 
Add enough vinegar to keep the actual glasses covered
Let the glasses soak for 1 - 2 hours.  Rinse.  Hand wash in warm water and dry with a lint free cloth.  You will be surprised!

3.  Dishwasher Cleaner
(Food gets stuck in nooks and crannies and odors linger in dishwashers. Every once in awhile, they need a cleaning)

Make Vinegar ice cubes by filling an ice cube tray with vinegar and freezing
Place 6 cubes in the bottom of the dishwasher and run it - empty - on its highest heat setting. Once a month or so will do wonders. 

I hope you try some of these less expensive and healthier alternatives!  Share any of your favorites too, please.

Cherish Real Food!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Getting Ready Now for a Year of Real Food/Recipes


Fiddlehead Ferns

Local Asparagus

Morel Mushrooms
Now that Spring is really here, the weather is beautiful, great fresh foods are starting to appear and all of the area Farmers Markets will soon be open for the season.

It’s that time of year when we growers are amending soil and planting and worrying every seed and seedling - and enjoying every minute of it, of course.

But you don’t have to “grow your own” to enjoy the taste and health benefits of Real Food.  Many folks whom I have advised have no outside space at all and yet they maintain a Real Food philosophy, do a lot of cooking for themselves, and preserve seasonal foods for enjoyment later on in the year.

NOW is the time to start!  If you know that it would be a wonderful thing to have some local, delicious asparagus in mid winter, buy it now and freeze it or pickle it or can it.  Pickling keeps asparagus “snappy”.  If you do it right, freezing asparagus will provide you with a vegetable that you can use in the same way as fresh.  Canned asparagus makes a wonderful soup or sauce and can be used in stews and with pasta as well.  The point is - the season is short.  If you want to eat a Real Food diet, you won’t be able to buy factory asparagus in the off season.  

Remember: Real Food folks eat Seasonally and Locally.

Also on the “get ‘em now” list:  Ramps, Morel Mushrooms, Strawberries and Fiddlehead Ferns. Also, if you love fresh water fish, now is the time to eat and freeze or preserve the ever wonderful Shad.

Ramps can be frozen and are great pickled.  Morels can be frozen or dried.  And start making room in your freezer now for seasonal berries.  This past winter we used up lots of locally grown strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, cherries, and sour cherries.  There is nothing better in the dead of winter - we made pies, used berries as a granola topping and topped our favorite ice cream with berries, of course.

Recipe:  Berry Buttermik Cake (adapted from The Animal Farm Buttermilk Cookbook)

If you find yourself with a lot of preserved blueberries, strawberries, cherries - or all of those -  this delicious cake is something worth making.  It has an almost pudding like consistency and wonderful flavor. The last time I made this I used a lot of blueberries and about 1/2 cup of raspberries.


1 cup of all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
1/4 teaspoon of salt
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter
3/4 cup, plus 2 tablespoons of sugar
1 tablespoon of Cointreau
1 egg
1/2 cup of real buttermilk (do not buy supermarket buttermilk.  Buy it at a Farmer’s Market or if you make your own butter you know that buttermilk is a by product of the butter making process).  
2 cups of defrosted and drained berries - whatever you have in your freezer.


Preheat oven to 400 degrees/375 degrees convection
Butter and flour a round 9 inch cake pan

In a bowl mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt
In a separate bowl cream together the butter and 3/4 cup of the sugar; beat it until it’s nice and fluffy - 2-3 minutes
Mix the Cointreau and egg into the sugar and butter mixture
Beat in the Buttermilk
Stir the flour mixture into the wet mixture - stir just to combine

Turn the batter into the cake pan and sprinkle the berries and the 2 tablespoons of sugar all over the top
Bake for 25 minutes/conventional oven or 20 minutes in a convection oven

NOTE:  depending on the moisture in your berries, the cake may take a bit longer to cook all of the way through

The cake is done when a toothpick comes out of the center clean.  Let the cake cool for a few minutes before slicing. Sprinkle confectionary sugar over the top if you wish.

Additional Toppings:  whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Berry Buttermilk Cake

Recipe:  Things to do with fresh asparagus

Fry them!  Just dip spears into beaten eggs, some seasoned flour, back into the beaten eggs and roll in bread crumbs.  Fry in your favorite frying medium and serve with aioli.

Shave them!  Using a vegetable peeler, shave each stalk into thin ribbons.  Dress with your favorite vinegar and oil dressing and add some shaved parmesan cheese and sea salt and pepper.

Wrap them!  Blanch spears in salted water - just to get a nice green color, not too long.  Drain the spears, wrap thin slices of prosciutto around each spear. Drizzle lightly with extra virgin olive oil and sea salt.  Serve with fresh mozzarella slices and good crusty bread.

Cherish Real Food!