Crab cake on Costco Thai Chili Mango chopped salad

It’s been a long, hard week, and you want something delicious and fancy, but also reasonably healthy, and also you don’t want to spend a lot of money, and also you want it to be fast. If you happen to have a bag of Costco Thai Chili Mango chopped salad kit on hand, this is what you do:

1) Go to Carnivore Oak Park and ask them for one of their luscious crab cakes ($9).

2) Come home and heat a little oil in a pan. While that’s heating, pull out the Costco salad and empty the greens, dried mango, nutty bits, and about half of the chili-mango dressing into a big bowl. Taste — if you want more dressing, you can add it, but about half was right for me.

3) Take crab cake and sear on one side for a few minutes, then sear on the other side for a few minutes. If you really want, you can try to brown the edge a tiny bit too, but that’s hard to do without it falling apart, and it’s really not necessary.

4) Place crab cake on salad. If you have some fresh tomato, slice it and add it to the place. If you have fresh ripe mango, even better, but that can be hard to come by in Chicago in the winter.

Enjoy your little feast. (If you are feeding two, just make two crab cakes — the salad will likely be enough for two. Although it comes in a two-pack, so if you really want, you can make two bags of salad…)

Classic Food Combos

Made Sri Lankan grilled halibut yesterday to eat with the grilled eggplant and mushrooms from the other day — tasty, but string hoppers are dry without sothi!

It was all right with some yogurt sauce, but today, I made sothi and pol sambol, and it was so much better. Some food combos are just classic, and shouldn’t be messed with too much. 🙂

Sri Lankan Swordfish Curry

(30 minutes, serves 2)

I’m trying to start eating fish a little more regularly again — when I lived alone, it was one of my standard proteins in rotation, but Kevin doesn’t like seafood (alas), and so I’ve gotten out of the habit.

But fish is so good for you, and I do love it, so I think I’m just going to start making it more often; thankfully, Kevin’s perfectly capable of feeding himself (and the kids) as needed. The kids also aren’t so used to fish as a result of all this, aside from fish fingers, which they do like, so I feel like I need to start just including fish on the family rotation. Tuna noodle casserole, perhaps, to ease them in.

But for me, it’s hard to beat a Sri Lankan fish curry. I did a quick weeknight version of this on Tuesday, and less than 30 minutes later, was sitting down to eat fish curry and uppuma. Yum.

I just made enough for a few meals for me, so this is a pared down amount, compared to my usual recipes which are typically intended to feed 4-6 people. Dinner, plus lunch at work today, plus dinner again tonight, probably with a vegetable added. I’m thinking broccoli varai.

1 lb. swordfish (or other firm whitefish, like tuna), cubed
2-3 T oil
1 onion, chopped
1 t. black mustard seed
1 t. cumin seed
1 T garlic/ginger paste (you could chop fresh, of course, which is even tastier, but we keep a jar of the paste in the fridge for ease on busy nights — find it in the Indian store, or locals, they have it at Pete’s)
1/2 t. cayenne
1 t. Sri Lankan curry powder
1 T lime juice
1 c. water

1 t. salt

1. Marinate swordfish with cayenne, curry powder, and lime juice — this will flavor the fish and also firm it up a bit. If you have time, marinating it for 20-30 minutes will add even more flavor, but it’ll be just fine if it just sits while you’re prepping the onions.

2. Sauté onions in oil on medium, stirring occasionally, with mustard seed, cumin seed, and garlic/ginger paste. (If you’re being fancy, you could also add in a 2-inch cinnamon stick, 2-3 cloves, 2-3 cardamom pods. And 6-12 fresh curry leaves are always welcome.)

3. When onions are golden-translucent (5-10 minutes), add marinated fish, water, and salt. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until fish is cooked through and liquid has reduced to a nice curry sauce. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired — if it’s too spicy for you, a little coconut milk is always a nice addition.

4. Serve hot with rice, roti, pittu, uppuma, idli, or whatever grain your heart desires. If you’re making uppuma, you can do it in 5 minutes while the curry sauce is cooking down. Efficient! If you’re looking for an accompaniment, a bright mango pickle will go nicely.

Tender seafood curry

Finishing up the California launch party photos on my phone. Basic process for making a tender seafood curry — make the curry sauce, get it to just the way you like it, slip the seafood in, and cook it just long enough, uncovered, to cook through. A little water will usually come off the seafood, thinning the sauce, but then as you cook it through, that will evaporate again, so you should end up with deliciousness in just a few minutes. Works for salmon, other fish, scallops, shrimp, crab, squid, etc.

You can also cook longer, and sometimes I do, esp. if I’m making more of a mixed seafood stew, and that’ll help get the seafood flavor to really permeate the sauce, but it also ends up making the seafood itself more firm, so there’s a bit of a tradeoff there.
I suppose you if you were being really fancy, you could make a stock first, with seafood that you planned to discard, and use that as your base, then only simmer a fresh batch of seafood a little while in the stock-based curry sauce. I do sometimes do that with shrimp shells, if I’m being fancy. But it would feel wasteful to do it with actual seafood. I don’t know if anyone ever does that at fancy restaurants. I kind of hope not.

Little Gem

Lunch with Roshani yesterday before she went off to Florida for a few weeks of glorious vacation. I am not going to lounge on a beach, but I did get a very nice seafood risotto at Little Gem (half for lunch, half saved to fill out dinner).

Party Tip

Costco has shrimp cocktail, also cilantro-lime shrimp. If you alternate them on a pretty platter, they look trés fancy, with almost no effort on your part. 🙂 This is half of each container, so you can set aside the rest in the fridge for refilling if needed.

Sometimes You Just Want to Indulge

Sometimes you just want to indulge yourself, even if no one else in your house will eat crab cakes. (Fools.) I had stopped by our local butcher and food store, Carnivore Oak Park, to drop off some hand-sewn masks for the staff, and they had these gorgeous ramps in the refrigerator case.

Now, I’ve never eaten ramps before, or even seen them, but they were so pretty, I had to try them. I brought them home, along with some asparagus and fresh made crab cakes from Carnivore, looked up recipes, and discovered the consensus was to treat them like leeks or scallions, and that they would respond well to grilling.

A little olive oil, salt, and pepper later, voila! I even plated it up pretty, even though it was just for me. Well, and for you guys. I did the asparagus and crab cake in the toaster oven, sliced the ramps in half (both because they wouldn’t fit in my grill pan otherwise, and because I thought the onion-y parts and the greens might need different cooking times), and twenty minutes later, I tore into this deliciousness.

The white and red ends of the ramps are sweet and onion-y; the green leaves are just slightly bitter, and they pair beautifully with the the roasted asparagus and crab cake (which I tossed on the grill pan a bit at the end, just to brown it nicely), esp. accompanied with a bit of tartar sauce.

There’s lots of both roasted asparagus and grilled ramps left (crab cake all gone, thank you very much), and my tentative plan is to take some of the chicken stock I froze a month or so ago at the start of all this madness, and turn it into a soup. Toss them in a pot, add the stock, add cream, simmer for a bit until blended, then use a hand-blender to puree into creamy deliciousness.

The only problem is, I really would like to top that with a little fresh crab — I might have to go back to Carnivore later today…

Grilled shrimp spread

This was ALMOST very frustrating. I grilled these beautiful jumbo shrimp with chili-salt-lime, thinking I’d make a sort of mango-shrimp salad with them. The shrimp themselves were fabulous; I ate three of them straight off the grill pan because I just couldn’t resist. But when I chopped them up and combined them with chopped mango, the result was v. disappointing. The mango was quite green, and somehow the end version was just meh. I hate eating meh food. It was late by then, so I went crabbily to bed, complaining to Kevin that I’d ruined the shrimp.

But in the morning, I took another stab at it; I pulled the chopped shrimp and mango out and put them in the food processor, figuring I’d aim for more of a spread, rather than a seafood salad. I added some mayo and processed a bit — better. But the seasonings seemed off — it needed more lime, more salt, and something sweet. Mango jam to the rescue — mango chutney would’ve been even better, I suspect, but I was out of that, and I had a bit of the jam left.

I don’t have a picture of it, but the end result was respectable enough that people at brunch were complimentary and asked me what was in it. Whew. Rescued! This is the result of 20+ years cooking, you know — ten years in, I don’t think I would’ve had a hope of knowing how to fix this dish, which would have been very sad!