Dinner for One: King Crab and Avocado Tian with Antipasto

Clayton’s working tonight, so it’s all Lolita time.  Although he’s a great consumer – as in he eats what I make without (much) complaining – there are dishes I prepare for myself that I don’t seem to ever make for him.  I don’t know why; there’s no real reason or rhyme, frankly – it’s just the way it is.  Tonight’s meal began with the leftovers from some huge-ass king crab legs we enjoyed for last night’s dinner, and a couple of odds and ends I picked up today at Trader Joe’s.  The result? An elegant but simple salad of nutty avocado and tender sweet crab meat, accompanied by an easy antipasti: a light but rich supper as delicious as it is beautiful.

King Crab and Avocado Tian with Antipasto

1 ripe avocado
1/3 lb fresh picked cooked crab meat
juice from 1 lemon
1 tbs mayonnaise
1 handful maché (lamb’s lettuce)
1 boll burrata cheese
2 slices prosciutto di parma, split and rolled into 4 tiny cigars
EVOO, sea salt, cracked black pepper, balsamic vinegar

Whole Foods had a special on King crab legs this weekend – something I’ve had a hankering for for a while now.  We bought 2 pounds, not realizing just how much meat these bad boys were going to yield.  I think we’ve established that we’ve never actually had King crab legs prior to these — likely only snow crab clusters — since neither of us can remember ever seeing such huge unbroken chunks of leg and knuckle meat before.  And it was so dense and packed that the discarded shells weighed next to nothing; we easily ‘harvested’ 30 oz of succulent pink deliciousness.  After gorging ourselves on not much more than crab and butter, we had about 1/2 lb leftover.

I pull my crab meat into nice sized hunks, and mix it with a little mayo and several teaspoons of lemon juice, along with some salt and pepper.  I just want the mayo to bind the crab – not make it gooey; I also just want the lemon juice to cancel out the egginess (eggyiness? eggyness?)  of the mayo – not make it lemony; and I just want the salt and pepper to brighten the salad – not overpower it.  The idea is crab and nothing but that which is needed to ‘hold it together’ for the sake of shaping the tian.

Speaking of which — here is how I’m shaping this “tian” – my stacked, formed salad of crab meat and avocado.  I’m not sure why it’s called a tian — in fact, although I see several examples of this term being used in this context online, traditionally a tian in French cooking is something completely different – either more like a vegetable tart, or an earthenware cooking device.  But when I envisioned this dish, it was as a perfectly shaped cylindrical layered salad.  And when I order a perfectly shaped cylindrical layered dish in a restaurant, it’s usually called a tian on the menu.  Hence my usage of the term.  Anyway, using my kitchen shears, I cut the ends off of a beer can to make a perfect form.  It would have been better to use a soup can, but all the cans I have in the house are designed to stack, so my can opener won’t work on their bottom sides.  (I figured this out only after dumping the contents of several cans of soup.)  Using a beer can just meant I had to be careful not to cut my fingers on the sharp edges.

I start by pressing my avocado, which I’ve blended with a dash of lemon juice, some salt, pepper, and EVOO, into a more-or-less flat 1″ thick layer on the bottom of my can.

Then I layer in the crab meat salad.

I vary carefully slide the can up and off the filling so it maintains its shape, pressing down on the crab meat to keep the filling on the plate.  Oiling the can a bit beforehand helped.

A basic antipasto of rolled prosciutto di parma, burrata cheese, capers, EVOO, and balsamic vinegar, along with some EVOO and lemon juice dressed maché, add extra dimensions to this already sophisticated presentation.  Crab and avocado, although not meant to co-exist in nature, seem destined for each other’s company on the plate: the sweet, tender sinews of crab absorb the buttery texture of the stone fruit’s green goodness, creating a harmonious marriage on the palate unrivaled in the realm of simple pleasures.  Along with a cold glass of sparkling rosé, this delectable dinner is truly a treat – tonight, for one, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make it for your sweetie whenever the mood strikes you…

Lamb Steaks and Lamb’s Lettuce with Sweet Goat Potatoes

This is my cloven hoof version of “duck duck goose” for dinner: lamb lamb’s goat. An inexpensive cut of meat—the arm steak—makes a lovely dinner when you take the time to marinate it quickly before pan-searing it. Add some sweet potatoes draped with goat cheese, and some lamb’s lettuce (otherwise known as corn salad, or maché) dressed simply but elegantly, and some Greek yogurt with garlic and green onions, and you have a fresh, cheap, satisfying, and extraordinarily flavorful meal of the best of basics: meat, potatoes, and salad.

What you’ll need:

2 lovely lamb steaks – these are from the arm blade
2lbs or so of slender sweet potatoes (I only needed 4)
lamb’s lettuce (which is completely different from arugula or watercress or baby greens, all of which, though, will work if you can’t find the maché)
a healthy handful of dried garden herbs (see below for blend info)
dried rosemary
crushed red pepper
a few cloves of garlic
three or four scallions
1 small white onion
2oz goat cheese
white vinegar
8oz Greek yogurt
salt and pepper
pita bread

Lamb. My mother never made it; didn’t care for the gamey taste. So, rebellious as I was, I immediately took the opportunity to make and eat the stuff I never had at home as soon as I started cooking for myself. Here are two lovely arm blade steaks, about 8oz each, with the bones in.

Salt and pepper them, and chuck ’em into a zipper bag. Introduce about a cup of EVOO.

Clayton’s 2009 Summer Garden Blend: sage, purple basil, Italian basil, oregano, and tarragon leaves, dried at the end of the season. I also have some of his rosemary set in a jar, and some crushed red pepper.

Crushing my two hands together over the meat/oil filled zipper bag, with a 1/2cup or so of the fluffy, stemmy, dehydrated-but-still-voluminous herb blend between them, I end up with about 4tbs of pulverized herb flakes. Add about 2tbs rosemary and as much crushed red pepper as you can handle (I use about ¼tsp, ‘cuz I’m lily-livered).

White vinegar: this helps take the gamey edge off, but still preserves the luscious sweetness of the lamb. Add a few tablespoons to the bag.

Crushed garlic: this, er, just tastes good. Add ¼ of your minced 4 cloves to the bag, too.

Squeeze all the air as you possibly can out of the zipper bag, being sure not to inadvertently pierce it with the bones of the lamb. You know the concept of a vacuum-pack? You’re sort of making its poor red-headed, buck-toothed relation here, but it works! Set it aside until just 15 minutes before service.

Potatoes! I’ve selected 4 slender 8oz/ea sweet potatoes for tonight’s meal. What you want are spears.

Using a LARGE knife (this is a Chinese cleaver), split your thin spuds into 1/4s or 1/6s .

Then, slathering them in EVOO, spread them in a single layer over a cookie sheet.

Generously shower them with sea salt and cracked black pepper.

And set them into a 350° oven, on the bottom rack, to roast.

Make your garlic sauce. Here’s the rest of your garlic, and some scallions.

Add the minced garlic to the Greek yoghurt, then chuck in the sliced scallions, some salt, and some pepper.

And some EVOO. A healthy ¼ cup’s worth.

Mix well, and set aside, so the flavors will blend and mellow.

Slice 4 mini (or 2 regular-sized) pitas into quarters (or 8ths).

Pull them into single-layer pieces.

Chuck ’em in a bowl, and toss them with some olive oil.

And some salt and pepper. Then chuck them in the oven until they’re toasted – about 10 minutes.

And into that selfsame bowl (which is lovingly studded with salt and pepper and olive oil), add a few handfuls of your maché.

Here’s my ghetto stove: all 3 mini, 1 maxi, all uneven eyes with a super-compact profile.

And here’s my ghetto grill pan, all crooked and warped and scratched and probably poisoning me with Teflon bits. But its whats I gots.

But, I’ve found out that if I wedge my ghetto pan under the decorated lip of my ghetto stove, and caddycorner said crooked pan across my two uneven back mini-eyes, why, I get a relatively flat hot non-stick surface with two individual hotspots just about big enough for two individual steaks! Now THAT’S making lemonade! (Thumbs up!)

However, if you’re lucky enough to have a full kitchen and fancy pants equipment, you can set up your flatgrill pan to high heat.

Lamb bits basted in EVOO&WWV and garden grown herbs (GGH?). Unlock your zipper bag and relish in how the spices have stuck-sucked themselves to the steaks.

Set them onto your hot pan, and let them sear.

After about 5 minutes, your steaks should be bleeding through the top, and browning on the bottom. What? There’s really no simpler way to describe it! Lamb should be served medium to medium-rare. I flip them when the browning from the bottom, by looking at the steaks’ sides, has worked its way almost all the way to the top.

Steaks seared; herbs adhered. Perfect. Push down on the edges which may curl and lift off the surface of the pan, sizzling each section. Let it cook for another 3-5 minutes.

Pull your potatoes out of the oven; see how they’ve softened on the upside and caramelized on the downside? Using tongs and a spatula, carefully lift each spear off the pan and layer in a nest on your service plate.

Topped with softened sharp goat cheese, your roasted sweet spud spears are sugar and cream and sinew and skin. Studded with garden grown herbs, your panned lamb is a medium rare slab of savory flavor. Dressed in extra virgin white wine and slivers of onion, your corn salad is crisp succulent. And mounded in the middle, garlicky and green, your yummy yoghurt is the cream to your fresh pita crisps. The coup d’etat of the extraordinary meal is the bargain basement ingredient list. Firing a shot across my bow, Sir Sean Connery Quartermaine tries to compel me to share my dinner. Sorry, friend, but that seat’s taken by Clayton, and he doesn’t have to threaten me to eat (of) me.