Brain Food

July 24, 2008

I’m down to five full study days left before the bar exam, folks. As the X in “T minus X days” continues to shrink, I am pulling out all the stops. And I don’t just mean studying night and day (but there’s that too). For instance, I’ve started searching for good omens everywhere—a lucky penny! I’m going to pass the bar!—and even lodging wishes every time the clock hits 11:11, 2:22, etc. (a habit I took quite seriously during high school, even though the success rate was desperately low). I haven’t gone so far as carrying a rabbit’s foot (because, um, ick) or hunting for four-leaf clovers, but I haven’t ruled either option out.

And then there’s the food. That’s right: I’ve even managed to find a way to make our meals a part of my bar preparation. For one thing, I’ve definitely been eating energy-rich meals and snacks. And, though I didn’t realize it last week when we made the dinner you see pictured here, I think it too did its part. It’s fish, after all, and haven’t you heard? Fish is good for brain power! In other words, I ate grilled tuna two weeks before the bar. Ergo, I’m going to pass the bar!

(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos & the recipe.)

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Mine is a family who likes to tease. And, when it comes to my mom, my sister and I can be a wee bit relentless. But we kid out of love, I assure you. For instance, we like to tease my mom when she sometimes inadvertently reenacts a scene from the movie What About Bob. Have you seen What About Bob? If not, close your browser, shut down your computer, and proceed to the nearest Blockbuster. Seriously. If you have seen it: so good, right? And, do you remember that scene where Bob (Bill Murray) wins himself a dinner invitation at Dr. Leo Marvin’s (Richard Dreyfuss’) vacation home? And Dr. Marvin’s wife, Fay, cooks up a feast, which is apparently the most delicious thing that Bob has ever eaten? Which leads Bob to dissolve into incessant “mmm’s” and “Fay! Fay! Fay!’s,” to the extent that Bob’s swoon eclipses the entire dinner?

Well, when my mom really loves something she’s eating, she has a habit of being very Bob: lots of oohing and ahhing. My sister and I of course treat this rather endearing habit with merciless ribbing. Clearly, we should be disowned.

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Today’s recipe is the kind of recipe that probably has Rachael Ray shaking in her boots. This recipe will see her 30 minutes, and raise it with its 10 minutes (max) results. Seriously, if you want to serve this with rice or steamed vegetables, I suggest you get a jump on those dishes, because this sesame-ensconced tuna will be done before you can say ohmygodthisisdelicious.

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And, that’s what you’ll be saying. Trust me. It’s a recipe that is not only fast, but it’ll turned heads too, with its chic sheath of black-and-white sesame seeds. And, because looks are of course never enough, I can assure you that the recipe is as delectable as it is quick.

(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos & the recipe.)

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In honor of the final season premiere of HBO’s “The Wire,” which is set in Baltimore, I decided to make crab cakes for dinner last night. I suppose this is where I could use my The-Kitchen-Sink-Soapbox to expound about how this is the most original, heartbreaking and haunting show on television. I could treat you, dear reader, like I have treated friends and family over the past couple years—hounding them incessantly until they finally, finally NetFlix Season One. (And then there are those, ahem: Emily and Suzy, who are still holding out.)

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But since this is a cooking blog, not a television blog, I’ll tell you about the crab cakes instead. Basically, I’ve never been all that satisfied with crab cakes I’ve ordered in restaurants or made at home. But I do love the crab cakes at Minneapolis restaurant Oceanaire. Luckily, my parents took a cooking class where they learned the Oceanaire recipe and can now recreate the meaty wonders at home.

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But while I adore the Oceanaire crab cakes, both at the restaurant and at my parents’ house, they’re a bit on the decadent side. And I was confident I could create a version that was a little less special occasion-y (read: contained less than a week’s worth of mayo).

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The liberating thing about creating your own recipe is that you can draw on the things you love from other versions. For instance, I knew I couldn’t sacrifice the crab for filler; like the Oceanaire crab cakes, I wanted a meaty end result. Along the same lines, I like crab cakes that don’t fall prey to bulky, chewy breadcrumbs. So I traded traditional breadcrumbs for the crunchiness and nuttiness of whole wheat panko.

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But you can also nix other elements of most recipes that don’t suit you. For instance, I think bell peppers, a staple of many crab cake recipes, tend to do too much show-stealing, detracting from the main event: the crab. So I omitted them all together and instead used an ample amount of green onions and chives. And I rarely cook with mayonnaise, so I swapped in Greek yogurt in its place. Similarly I like crab cakes with a kick, but hot sauce, I think, is often too harsh and acidic. I opted for the subtle heat of cayenne in this version.

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To serve along the side of these crab cakes, I created two dipping sauces: whipped avocado and horseradish cream. The avocado sauce was the clear winner—offering just the right amount of cool creaminess and tang. The crab cakes were delicious and I’d like to say they stole the show on the evening. But , in truth, several beats into the theme song of The Wire, we were transfixed and the crab cakes were more of a side dish. So make these crab cakes, but maybe first, order yourself some back seasons of The Wire.

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Last night was Family Dinner. My sister was coming over for the evening to not only dine but to help us trim our Christmas tree (which is fake–point of contention–and on it’s very last leg, after moving from DC to Chicago and then again across Chicago) and otherwise decorate our place for the holidays (or Chrismakkah, as this “blended household” likes to call it).

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What was on the menu, you ask? One might guess I had planned a festive meal—something pure holidays or perhaps just seasonal. Something that fit the holiday color scheme at the very least (but that’s probably a little too “semi-homemade” for my taste; what’s next? a tablescape & a cocktail?). But, because I am the Grinch, I eschewed these thoughts and instead opted for one of my favorite summer meals–an Asian pan seared/oven roasted salmon recipe. You see, I’m on a mission to make my sister a salmon fan. Yes, I repeat, I’m the Grinch. She comes over once a week and I made her a dinner featuring a protein about which she’s on the fence.

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I also chose this recipe because it’s insanely quick and easy—perfect for this evening, because I didn’t want to miss too much of the tree trimming. I also was pretty sure it would win my sister over. The flavors in the glaze are some of her favorites. The same tactic (smother a potentially un-popular item in ingredients sure to please) worked with my husband when he began to eat more fish.

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Operation Make-a-Salmon-Fan-out-of-Ali was a success. She cleaned her plate (which also included steamed edamame, tossed with sesame oil, black sesame seeds and chili flakes, and brown rice). And our place looks gorgeous, decked out with a tree (fake), menorah (a little too early, I know, but it’s all in the same box), garland and wreath. In retrospect, maybe I should’ve at least served some egg nog or glogg …. no, no, no. Who am I kidding? The wine was just fine.

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