M&M Dinner Series Part 2

I begin my second installment of the M&M dinner series with a correction and apology.  I was too quick to slight my grandmother’s early cooking skills.  She protests (and I take her at her word) that she did in fact cook many things as a young mother, and that her family’s meals did not consist entirely of canned products.  Of course, as she points out, the availability of fresh produce and many of the other wonderful ingredients that we are used to nowadays, and that inspire my cooking to a large degree, was not then what it is now.  For the record, she thinks canned peas are awful.

This dinner begins with Penzey’s.  Now I’m guessing that one of two things happened when you read that sentence; either a) your eyes lit up and you thought, “oooh I love Penzey’s”, or b) you frowned and thought “what the heck is Penzey’s?  Is this going to have something to do with pirate cooking?”  Penzey’s is a spice company with a retail and catalog business which, due to the somewhat unusual distribution and location of its stores, seems to have a bit of a cult following (at least around here, the case could be different in the Midwest where it is based).  My initiation came in the form of a Christmas gift from some family friends, a box set of baking spices which practically had me running into the kitchen and whipping out bowls and pans willy-nilly.  This spurred me to make a pilgrimage to their one store in Oregon, and when I say a pilgrimage, I only slightly exaggerate as it was in a part of town I had heard of but never been to, and I planned several hours of my day around the trip.  But it was worth it.  The store, while not much to look at, is a spice-lover’s paradise, full of big jars of herbs, seeds, powdered substances, and colorful mixtures to smell.  It was at the store that I also found the catalog.  Now the Penzey’s catalog cannot compare to the store experience for interactivity, but they sweeten the deal by publishing recipes sent in by customers.  The recipes tend to be basic and hearty, not too adventurous or full of exotic ingredients, but since many of them are of the passed-down-through-generations sort, you do find an interesting variety and some unusual twists.  I found the first recipe I tried – brownies with a spicy kick – quite successful.

In the latest issue, I spotted a recipe for Lobster (or crab) Cantonese and suggested it to M as it sounded like something she would like, and I never cook Chinese food, so it was a bit of a stretch for me.  She was game, and we decided to go with crab rather than lobster as we live in the Pacific Northwest, where the former is . . . well just better in my opinion.  M insisted on purchasing the crab from Costco because a friend had recently touted the crab that they had gotten there.  I was highly skeptical, but we needed a pound of the stuff, and I also wasn’t particularly interested in a) cracking and digging the meat out of several whole Dungeness crabs, or b) paying $30-some-odd a pound to do the work for me at a regular market.  As it turned out, the Costco-crab was not so bad; a little fishy and briny on its own, but once you mixed it in with a sauce, it served quite well.

Never one to let a recipe go untweaked, I also looked up other recipes for Lobster Cantonese, a traditional dish.  I found one in particular that looked good (from a 2006 issue of Gourmet Magazine on Epicurious.com).  I decided to incorporate a couple of things from that recipe, although at the end of the day, I didn’t have the motivation to drive to an Asian market to get fermented black beans, so those will have to wait for next time.  Mushrooms were also a last minute addition since I had purchased them on the same day for something else but decided on the way to M’s that they would probably complement the dish well.  I will end the editorial commentary here, as the actual preparation of the dish was fairly simple and drama-free (thank god after last time).  Suffice it to say, it was quite good (although not for the sodium-averse), and I would happily make it again.

Lobster/Crab Cantonese (Based on recipe from Rachelle Chong in Penzey’s Catalog, Summer 2010).  Serves 4.

3 TB. vegetable oil

2 cloves garlic, crushed or ½ tsp minced

1⁄2 lb. pork, finely minced (pork loin, butt

or boneless chops)

3 TB. light soy sauce

1 Cups stock (chicken, fish, veggie, or whatever you’ve got . . . but I wouldn’t recommend beef)

¼ cup dry sherry or rice wine

1 tsp. honey or granulated sugar

1⁄4 tsp. white pepper (optional)

1⁄4 tsp. ground ginger (optional)

1 lb. lobster meat—meat from 2 1-lb. lobsters or 11⁄2 lbs. lobster tail, cleaned, shelled and cut into 2-inch pieces (may substitute equal parts crab)

2 TB. cornstarch

2 TB. cold water

½ cup chopped mushrooms

2 green onions, washed and chopped

small (green part only)

1 egg, slightly beaten

Heat the oil in a large wok or skillet over high heat. Add the garlic, pork & mushrooms and stir-fry until the pork loses its pink color.* Stir in the soy sauce, chicken broth, wine, honey, pepper and ginger (if using); bring to a boil. Add the raw lobster (or crab) pieces, cover, reduce heat and cook for 10 minutes.*  Stir the cornstarch and cold water into a smooth paste. Add to the lobster and stir until the gravy is thickened. Stir in the chopped green onions. Pour the beaten egg over the lobster and stir until the egg is just set. Do not overcook! Remove and arrange on a platter. Serve with rice

Okay so it might not look beautiful, but it tasted great!

Two Additional Notes:

  • If you prefer not to eat meat, as I do, you can remove the pork from the pan to a separate dish at this point and add it back when you serve the dish to those who want it.  This, of course, defies tradition, and if I had any Chinese ancestors, they’d be turning over in their graves, but I don’t, so I did it.
  • If you are using pre-cooked crab or lobster, as we were, you don’t need to cook it for the full 10 minutes, but you should still simmer it for a few minutes at least to let the flavors get happy.
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