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…

Chimichurri Draped Flank with Grilled Avocadoes and Farmer’s Market Burrata

The Harvard Farmer’s Market is in full swing on Tuesdays, and last week I pre-ordered some homemade burrata cheese (anyone who follows this blog knows my obsession with this marscapone-filled ball of fresh mozzarella) from Fiore di Nonno Cheese.  I built (I love irregular verbs) my meal around this cheese (as, I explained today to my excellent friend, Rachel, during lunch I do — find one thing and figure out how to center, or at least figure strongly, in the plat du jour) and the vague idea that I wanted meat.  Oh, and Clayton’s lettuce is coming in, so I wanted to make a salad of his freshly picked greens.  Oh, and I read a recipe for grilled avocados, and I wanted to do that, too.  Ahh, the myriad-headed monster of my nightly gustatory inspiration!  She is a tasking mistress, but she metes out such tasty pleasures!  Like tonight’s oral fixation: sharply herbaceous and garlicky bathed tender thin slices of steak, with a cracked egg of creamy curd, a warm buttery seared avocado half, and a fresh pico of perky tomatoes, and a snappy garden pasta salad.  A fresh summer meal, served with some grilled tortillas for wrapping — delicious!

What you’ll need:

1-1 1/2lb flank steak
one bunch fresh cilantro
4 fresh limes
2-3 cloves fresh garlic
3-4 sprigs fresh oregano*
3-4 sprigs fresh rosemary*
EVOO
white wine vinegar
1-2 vine-ripened tomatoes
1 small Haas perfectly ripe avocado
burrata cheese
fresh garden lettuce
1 medium carrot
1 medium stalk celery
1 small red onion
1 cup macaroni noodles
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup Greek plain yogurt
sea salt
cracked black pepper
4 flour tortillas

* Claytonious’s garden harvest

Start with your marinade, using your fresh herbs. The rosemary and oregano are ours, from the garden deck — they taste lovely!

Wash and spin all your herbs; strip the leaves off your rosemary and oregano, and chop about 1/3 of your cilantro.  Add to a large zipper bag with your steak, and use the juice from 2 1/2 of the limes, about 1 cup of EVOO and 1/2 cup of vinegar (you really want to soak that steak — you’ll see…)

Macerate this lovely, herby greenery and lemony vinaigrette into your flank steak, and then squeeze as much air out of the bag as you can before you seal it and stick it into the fridge for at least 20 minutes.  Sorry — but when I get home, I don’t have 8-24 hours to marinate my meats before I cook them, so this poor-man’s vacuum packing technique is not only necessary, but it’s surprisingly effective!  Not to ruin the ending or anything – but the meat was fully flavored and tenderific, almost as if it had soaked for an overnight span instead of just, as it turned out, 45 minutes.

While your beef is bathing in deliciousness, make your chimichurri.  This is my version (read: I forgot parsley) of the classic Argentinean steak garnish; 1/3 bunch cilantro, finely minced (you can use a food processor, apparently; I know nothing of such luxuries, so I merely chopped until I could chop no more), minced garlic, sea salt, cracked black pepper, EVOO, and the juice of 1/2 lime, and a dash or two or white wine vinegar.  Stir well, and set into the fridge to infuse into itself.

After prepping all this, Clayton asks if I had a potato or a starch to add, and I realized I didn’t, which I regretted.  He was happy with the menu as it was – steak and warm avocado/cold buratta salad – but I thought we did deserve, after all, another course.  Did I mention the garden vegetable pasta salad?  I had everything I needed for a fresh mirepoix, which is all one needs — with pasta, mayo, EVOO, white wine vinegar, sea salt, black pepper, and a scoop or so of yogurt (to enrich!) — to make a quick, perfectly satisfying, utterly necessary, pasta salad dish.  Toss all the above into a bowl, and set in the fridge to chill while you grill the meat.  Go ahead and put your steak on your hot grill — it will take about 10 minutes on each side to get to medium rare.

Avocado.  There is nothing like it.  I love avocados so much, I would marry them, and live in polygamous gluttony with my protein-enriched, green buttery stone fruits.  Lather each half up with EVOO, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  You’ll only need to grill them for a few moments, while your perfectly cooked steak rests before slicing, so set them aside until you yank that beef off the grill.

Dice up a fresh tomato or two, and toss it with some sea salt (to sweeten, and release all juices), the leaves of some cilantro, a tbs of EVOO, and some cracked black pepper.  Stir well.  This simple pico will fill your warm grilled avocado halves, and will complement your…

… burrata cheese.  Check it — this stuff is the bomb.

It looks like a fist… or the back of some tightly chignon’ed librarian’s head… but oh, it is so neither of those dry, stern things.  It is instead a sweet ball of sinewy baby’s breath, encasing the supple smoothness of creamy marscapone cheese curds.  I crack this egg in half — we each get only a portion of heaven on our plate; but even just a moment in paradise is worth the pain of loss… until next Tuesday when I can pick up another Angel baseball.

The flank is ready.  I pull it off the grill, and let it rest for a few moments so the juices can settle and the cooking can cease.

While your beef is resting, flip your avocado halves – oiled side down – and your tortillas onto the grill.  Cook for 3-4 minutes, flipping the tortillas 1/2way through.

Plate your avocado halves, and set next to some of your fantastic gardener husband’s freshly picked lettuce …

Tender slices of quick marinated flank steak, perfectly grilled to medium rare, sliced thinly against the grain, and slathered in fresh, sharp and snappy green yummy chimichurri. Warm grilled oiled avocado halves overflow with a simple pico, a river of which drapes across an open-eye of lactic softness and string cheese, sitting atop an EVOO-dressed nest of garden fresh greens.  And a cup o’ simple pasta salad on the side, just to bring the mouth back to to earth, after being shot into heaven by the divine flavors of today’s dinner.

Superbowl Sunday Sliders and Seven-Layer Dip

SUPERBOWL SUNDAY! I, like a good Bostonian, wanted to see the Patriots in the championship, but won’t eschew the whole game just because my home team’s not playing. Lacking a good Superbowl party to attend, we decided to have a wee one ourselves, and chose two of our favorite snack/sports-pub type suburban delights to enjoy during the game: the seminal seven-layer dip (which actually ended up with 8 layers, but who really cares about such technical detail), and the mini-burger, a.k.a. the “slider”. Whole Foods had some lovely wee burgers and some perfect little brioche to sandwich them in, which was all we needed to sell us on the idea. Far be it for me to use the pre-packaged spice-stuff, so let’s start with my “taco-seasoning” blend: black pepper, paprika, granulated garlic, ground cumin, and ground chile powder. If you can handle heat (which we, alas, cannot) cayenne pepper is a MUST as well.

Here are my layers for my yumdip, which is for 2 or 4, and fits into a Pyrex loaf pan. Double the ingredients for an 8×8 or 9×9 pan, or quadruple if you want to make this in a large casserole for a big group of friends. Use something clear, though, for a nice presentation…

1 15oz can refried beans
4 oz cheddar cheese
1 3oz can green chilis (if you can handle heat, go for some jalapeños, too!)
1 avocado
1 medium fresh tomato
1 small white onion
8oz or so black olives
scallions (not pictured)
sour cream (thinned with milk and salted)

And here are the ingredients for my sliders:

4 mini au poive burgers
2 slices bacon
2 slices muenster cheese
2 slices Swiss cheese
4 little buns
iceberg lettuce
tomato
white onion
mayo, ketchup, mustard, pickles… you know, whatever you like on your burgers

Start by trying out your bacon slices.

Dice your tomato, removing the juice and seeds (so as to not make your dip too sodden).

Mince your white onion, too.

Remove your nicely cooked bacon from the pan, and reserve the fat.

Dump your can of refried beans into your bacon grease, and cook through, stirring well, to nice and bubbling hot.

Add your spices, and mix well.

Layer your beans into your dish.

Then cover with your shredded cheddar cheese. It will melt slightly into your beans.

Top with your chopped chilis (or jalapeños).

Quarter your avocados, removing the pits, and dice carefully with your chef’s knife within their shells. Then, turn them inside out to distribute your green wondercubes…

… over your beancheese.

Then layer your tomatoes, ½ your diced onion, your chopped black olives, and your minced scallions over the top.

See?

Then squirt, from a bottle (or pour from the tip of a spoon) your slightly thinned sour cream, filling all the nooks and crannies with its milky goodness.

Set up your ghetto grill pan, which means you take your crooked as hell way-too-small Target flat-grill pan and kittycorner it across your uneven crappy-ass electric coils. Which, serendipitously, cancels out each item’s flaws, making two perfect hot spots on which to sear my sliders.

See? Use the flip every moment technique, instead of the cook fully on one side then flip once method. Turning them every minute allows the heat to distribute more evenly from each side, capturing more juice inside and guaranteeing the perfect medium center without overbrowning the outer edges, resulting in grey, chalky meat.

Put your cold bacon slices onto the pan, too, to heat them back through. When your burgers have been flipped the last time, put your cheese slices on top to slightly melt them through, and prep your buns with all the condiments you MUST have.

It’s almost kickoff time, and the Colts are charging up to take the field. I can only hope for a good game, whereas I KNOW I’m having a ***great*** dinner! Just look at these perfect little sliders, topped with crisp bacon, melted cheese, fresh veg and slathered with mustard and mayo. And waiting for fresh chips to scoop it up is a deep multi-layered vaguely Mexican savory fresh dip, full of flavors and snap and just the perfect finger food to feast on for the next four quarters. Go Team!