Search This Blog

Monday, February 28, 2011

Crab Bisque, French Bread, and Laird Chardonnay

I began working on this recipe during Monterey’s Dungeness crab season (November – January). It quickly became a great lunch recipe I made when having company. However, Mike and I have found it hearty enough to eat for a delicious dinner too. Now that crab season is over, I wanted to see if I could find a decent alternative to cheap, fresh crab. First, I tried some refrigerated Chicken of the Sea crab meat from Trader Joes. I would not try it again. Second, I tried Whole Food’s Whole Catch Crab Meat. I got the claw meat as it was significantly cheaper (~$12 lb). This was fantastic as I did not notice much difference from the fresh crab. Of course, you can always get crab legs and pick the meat. However, you would need roughly 4 lb of crab legs to get 1 lb of crab meat.

For me, the most difficult part of this recipe was making a proper roux. My first attempts at making a roux where not as successful as I would have liked. In fact, the first time I made this recipe Mike complimented the flavor, but told me it was not a bisque. Practice makes perfect, and I now feel confident that I can make a roux that will lead to a nice, thick bisque (this has been confirmed by my husband). Here are some strategies I have adopted to make a good roux.

• Once butter is melted, I set the timer for five minutes. I then whisk flour and butter constantly until the timer goes off.
• While whisking I make sure no flour is left unincorporated into the roux.
• It is crucial that the roux does not burn. If it does reduce heat, throw away the burnt batch, remove any burnt residue from pan and start making a new roux.
• Once the five minutes is up, I taste a little of the roux to make sure I can’t taste flour.
• When finished the roux should be light brown, but not burnt.


An oaked, creamy Chardonnay is a great wine to have with this bisque. I also think that it could stand up nicely to a Pinot Noir. Tonight we enjoyed A Chardonnay from Laird. The nose has notes of butterscotch with a hint of lemon. On the mouth, the elegant texture is both round and silky balancing notes of pineapple and vanilla. This wine is also blessed with a wonderful long, still silky finish.

Servings: 4 bowls (more if serving cups as an appetizer)


• 5 tbsp butter, divided
• 1 cup carrots (matchstick or chopped into pieces)
•1 small onion
• 4 tbsp flour
• 16 oz. chicken broth
• 1 cup half-n-half
• 1/3 cup Sherry (I use Paul Masson Pale Dry Sherry which I got a Whole Food for $6)
• 1 tablespoon lemon juice
• 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
• 1 tbsp. tomato paste
• 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (more if you want is spicy)
• 1 tsp salt
• 1 tsp white pepper
• 1 lb crabmeat, picked if necessary
• OPTIONAL: fresh chives, minced


1. Rough chop onion and chop carrot, if necessary.
2. Over medium heat, sauté onion and carrot in 1 tbsp butter until soft. Set aside.
3. In large pot over medium-low heat, melt 4 tablespoons butter and add flour, whisking constantly for five minutes. DO NOT BURN! See notes on making a roux above.
4. Slowly add chicken broth (about 4 oz at a time), whisking constantly to ensure mixture stays smooth. Pick up one side of pan, revealing bottom of pan, to check that all roux gets mixed in and is not sitting on bottom of pan. Repeat with other side.
5. Add onions and carrots, cover, and simmer for 1/2 hour. After 30 minutes, you should have a thick bisque base.
6. Add half-n-half, sherry, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, cayenne pepper, tomato paste, salt, and white pepper.
7. Blend with hand blender or put into blender/food processor, blend into a smooth consistency. Transfer back to pan if you used a food processor or blender.
8. Add crab and simmer an additional 10 minutes.
9. OPTIONAL: Garnish with fresh chives.



• 1 cup warm water
• 1/2 tbsp yeast (a yeast packet is usually ¾ tbsp)
• 1/2 tbsp olive oil
• 1/2 tbsp sugar
• 1 tsp salt
• 2 1/2-3 cups bread flour


1. Grease a large bowl with oil or butter.
2. Dissolve sugar and yeast in warm water in a different large bowl; allow yeast to foam (about 10 minutes).
Foamy, bubbly yeast
3. Stir in salt, oil, and 2 cups flour.
4. Transfer to a floured surface.
5. Knead, adding flour as needed (you can stop adding flour when no dough is sticky). Knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.
6. Place in greased bowl, turn dough to coat all sides, cover with a towel and let rise until doubled (about 1 hour).
7. Punch down and shape dough into a long slender loaf on baking sheet.
8. OPTIONAL: Cut diagonal gashes on top of the loaf and sprinkle with corn meal.
9. Cover and let rise until doubled (about 1 hour)
10. Bake at 375 degrees for about 25 - 30 minutes until bread is golden brown.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Spiced Chocolate Cake with Coffee Cream Filling and Ventana Rubystone

Last Cinco de Mayo I found a recipe for a Mexican chocolate cake that contained cayenne pepper. It was a vegan recipe, but I thought, “What the hell?” The cake was a little dry for me, but I found the flavor profile interesting. So every couple of months, I have experimented with different recipes and ingredients to hoping to create my own version of this cake, and each time the cake was a little dry.

Last month, someone suggested trying a mayonnaise cake as the base recipe. I was reminded of a moist chocolate cake my mom made when I was a child. My friends used to tease me that my favorite dessert was a mayonnaise cake. Unfortunately, my mom lost her recipe years ago, but I cruised the Internet reading several mayonnaise cake recipes. Last Saturday when I made the Spinach and Mushroom enchiladas, I made this cake for dessert. I cut out a little piece to sample and finally felt that I nailed the flavor and the texture. I made a coffee whip cream frosting to serve on the cake at dessert time. Unfortunately my guests were too full from dinner, so the cake did not get cut into until after a trip to a local watering hole. The cake was extremely moist and the whipped cream and strawberries I spooned on top were very tasty. However, I decided that as much as I liked the coffee cream, it needed a chocolate icing. Sunday morning, I made up chocolate sour cream frosting. Jean and Joe stopped by, so I gave them a couple pieces with each icing to take back home with the condition that I wanted feedback. As soon as they left, it hit me…put the whip cream in the center and then ice the cake. I sent a text with my suggestions to Jean and Joe. Ding ding ding, eight months later we have a winner!

Making an icing and a cream filling may seem daunting, but they are both easy!!! It takes no more than 15 minutes to do both. And of course, you can make one or another, but I recommend both. So I present to you an unusual list of ingredients, but I swear it yields a moist chocolate cake with subtle spice notes and a complex filling. Just a little different that it makes one wonder, but can be enjoyed by all.

WINE: 2008 Ventana Rubystone, Arroyo Seco (Monterey)

Forty percent Grenache and 60% Syrah this wine begins with flavors of strawberries and cherries, followed by a cinnamon spice mid-palate. It finishes with a late hit of vanilla.
Red wine and chocolate are a natural pairing, so you probably can’t screw this up. I also think Port would pair beautifully with this dessert. If you want to go non-alcoholic, coffee is another great accompaniment. Not that I had any leftovers for breakfast, nor did I put a spoonful of the extra cream filling in my coffee cup.

RECIPE: Spiced Chocolate Cake with Coffee Cream Filling

Ingredients for Cake:
• 3 eggs
• 1 1/2 cup sugar
• 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
• 1 1/4 cups mayonnaise
• 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
• 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
• 1 3/4 teaspoons baking soda
• 4 tsp cinnamon
• ½ tsp cayenne pepper
• ½ tsp chili powder
• 3/4 cups cocoa powder
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1 1/3 cups hot water
• Strawberries, for garnish

Ingredients for Filling:
• 1 cup whipping cream or heavy cream
• 1/2 tsp instant espresso powder
• ½ tsp vanilla
• ½-1 tbsp powdered sugar

Ingredients for Icing:
• 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (the mini chips melt the best)
• 4 tablespoons butter
• 1/2 cup sour cream
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar

Directions for Cake:
1. Preheat your oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9" cake pans.
2. Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs and sugar in a large bowl on medium-high speed until thick and very light in color; about 6 to 8 minutes. Don’t be afraid or get impatient, think about the nice moist result.
3. Add the mayonnaise and vanilla extract, and beat on medium speed until combined.
4. Sift the flour, baking powder and baking soda into bowl.
5. Add the cocoa powder, cinnamon, chili powder, cayenne pepper, and salt, and beat on low speed until combined. The mixture will look thick and fudgy.
6. Add the water and mix on low speed until well blended.
7. Pour the batter into the pans and bake for about 20-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean. My oven bakes things quickly, so adjust as needed.
8. OPTIONAL: I’m not sure if this is necessary, but I took an extra step to help with moisture. I boiled water in a tea kettle and poured into a pan that I placed in the oven under the cake will it baked. I’m not sure how much a role this played since the ingredients themselves have a lot of moisture.
9. Allow the cakes to cool.

Directions for Filling:
1. Put medium bowl and beaters in the fridge until they are cold.
2. Put whipping cream, vanilla, espresso powder and powdered sugar in cold bowl.
3. Begin to beat on medium speed.
4. You can add more sugar, vanilla or espresso powder to your taste.
5. Beat until stiff peaks form.
6. Spread cream on top of one of the 9’ cakes. Place second cake on top.

Directions for Icing:
1. Melt chocolate and the butter in microwave. I check this at 30 second increments.
2. Once melted stir together.
3. Let cool a couple minutes then blend in the sour cream, vanilla, and salt.
4. Slowly add the confectioner's sugar until the frosting of the consistency and sweetness you like. You can use more sugar if you like.
5. Beat well to remove powdered sugar lumps.
6. Ice outside of cake.
7. OPTIONAL: Garnish cake with fresh strawberries.
8. Refrigerate finished cake.