Main dishes, Recipes, Travel

Fresh Abalone

I usually like to write up my wild culinary adventures right away, but when you’re camping, you’re not likely to have an internet connection capable of handling a big upload (or is download?).  That was the case with our five days in Cleone, California, a tiny hamlet just a couple of miles north of Fort Bragg in Mendocino County.

We go to Mendocino County (and camp in Cleone) at least once a year, twice if we can manage it, so Dennis can dive for abalone.  For those who don’t know, abalone is a shell fish, but not a fish.  It’s basically a big sea snail.  They look disgusting and taste divine when prepared properly.  So today’s post is about preparing abalone the way we like it best, and we’ve tried many different methods.

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For the past couple of years, we’ve been camping in April with our dear friends, Karen and Louie Fortino, as a birthday celebration for Dennis and Karen, whose birthdays are only days apart.  It’s a good excuse to get together with friends we don’t get to see that often.  They live within two hours of the coast.  For us, it’s an eight-hour drive, but the haul is worth it.

Many years ago, Louie taught us a method for breading and cooking abalone.  It’s the best.  Louie’s a fabulous Italian cook, and this is the way he prepares squid for calamari.  It works equally well with abalone.  But before you get to the breading, there are some essential steps to take to make sure the abalone is tender enough to chew.

First, Dennis pries the abalone out of the shell, cleans away the gut (full of ground kelp), and trims off the black “lips” around the edge of the creature.  These lips are actually the abalone’s feet.  They help it move around on the rocks on which it lives under the surface of the sea.  The meat is pounded a few times with an ab iron (the tool used to pry the abalone off the rock) or a mallet, or even a two by four, if that’s all that’s handy.  This helps that incredibly strong muscle to relax.  Then the meat is rinsed clean, sliced thin into steaks, and pounded again, this time with a meat mallet, bumpy side down.  It’s necessary for the abalone steaks to be tenderized this way, and Dennis usually pounds them until he can see the muscle fibers breaking down.

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Then it’s time for breading.  When we’re camping, we set up the breading station as follows:

*Put a cup of white flour in a paper plate and spread it out (for gluten-free abalone, I use brown rice flour here and homemade gluten-free breadcrumbs, seasoned the same way I season wheat flour breadcrumbs).

*Beat 3 eggs with a 3 tablespoons of water in a shallow bowl (or large paper plate) Mix with a half cup of chopped, fresh parsley if you have it.

*Pour a cup of Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs into another paper plate and spread them out (my recipe below).  If breadcrumbs are store-bought, add ¼ cup of grated Parmesean cheese and mix well.

This is enough breading for two medium abalone, which is enough abalone, with sides, for four hungry adults. The abalone steaks are dipped first in flour, then in the egg-parsley mixture, then in the seasoned bread crumbs.  After breading, they should be laid out in single layers on paper plates, waxed paper, plastic wrap, what-have-you, so that the breading doesn’t get soggy.

We usually have two people working the cooking process, one to bread and one to fry.  (Louie did the breading this time, and Dennis did the cooking, while I sat by the fire and drank wine with Karen!) As soon as breading starts, the cook should start heating some olive oil in a large skillet.  (Regular olive oil, not extra-virgin, is best for frying because it has a higher smoke point, but all I had this time was EV, and you just have to watch the temperature of the oil and clean the pan between batches.)  When the oil is hot but not smoking, it’s time to fry.

It only takes a few minutes to fry breaded abalone steaks.  By the time the breading is browned, the meat is tender and done.  It’s ideal to put the cooked abalone on a cooling rack and cover with paper towels to keep it warm, but when we’re camping, we just put it on paper towels in a paper plate and cover it loosely with foil to keep it warm.  If done right, the breading won’t become soggy while the rest is cooking.

Abalone is best fresh out of the ocean, but it can be removed from the shell, cleaned, and frozen in water (or a mixture of water and milk, Louie says) in freezer bags and eaten later.  We don’t bring it home any more.  It’s eaten on the spot!

We’ve tried other ways of preparing abalone.  It doesn’t have much flavor on its own, so it needs the seasoning in the breading, in my opinion, for best taste.  Dennis used to bread it in cracker crumbs, but the Italian bread crumbs are much better.  We’ve tried it sautéed in garlic and butter.  Blah.  We’ve tried it rolled in a flour and cornmeal mixture like fish.  Blah.  We’ve tried it in panko.  Blah.  We’ve tried it grilled.  Blah and yuck.  Basically, we’ve tried every way anybody who dives for abalone has said it’s good, and we’ve always come back to Louie’s calamari method.  It’s simply the best.

My apologies for the lack of photos with this post, but when you’re about to eat a once-or-twice-a-year delicacy, photos are the last thing on your mind!  I had to jump up and grab my camera just as we were ready to dive in, and I didn’t get pictures of the breading and cooking process because I was drinking wine with Karen.  🙂

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Homemade Italian Seasoned Bread Crumbs for Abalone Breading

*4 cups dry breadcrumbs

*1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (I do use the fine stuff in the green container for this)

*1/4 cup crushed, dried oregano

2 tablespoons crushed, dried basil

2 tablespoons crushed, dried parsley

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon paprika (optional)

Mix all ingredients thoroughly.  Store in cool, dry place in airtight container.  Can be stored in fridge or freezer if tightly sealed.

I save heels, stale bread, hot dog and hamburger buns, dry ends of French bread—whatever I have—in the freezer until I have a gallon bag of it.  Then I dry it in the oven at 170-200 degrees.  I cool it, then run the pieces through the food processor with the blade in place.  I store this in ziplocs in the freezer and make up a batch of seasoned bread crumbs before we go to the coast.

For gluten free breadcrumbs, save the heels and stale pieces of bread and dry and grind them as above.  Then season away!

Earlier in the day, we stopped at Cowlick’s Ice Cream Parlor in Fort Bragg, and I had a scoop of Candy Cap Mushroom ice cream.  It sounds weird, but oh my, was it good!  It tasted like Butter Pecan or Butter Brickle ice cream.  I could have used another bowl of it for dessert!  (Not that we were lacking desserts, with homemade blueberry-topped cheesecake and homemade pineapple upside-down cake, neither of which were photographed!  We ate the evidence!)

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Remodeling the Kitchen

Rule

First rule of construction:  What can go wrong, will.  And it did.

The countertops were supposed to be installed on Friday.  Nope.  The installer ran into a problem at his morning job, and he never showed up on Friday, after calling to say he would come, even if it was late.  Neither Dennis nor I were happy about that, because we’d gone to the effort of moving the stove, the cutting boards that were my makeshift counters, the essentials like salt and pepper and olive oil that I need for cooking, and the utensil containers, and we’d covered the floor with paper again to protect it from the workboots that tend to pick up gravel and mud outside and bring it in.  But these things happen, right? We called and rescheduled for first thing Monday morning (today).

A new set of installers showed up a little earlier this morning than we expected them, and they got right to work.  The lead installer seemed to know what he was doing.  He was training a new helper, a gofer, who has aspirations of becoming a lead installer himself.  But it didn’t take long for the first problem to manifest itself.

The lead installer had not brought the bracket they use to secure the dishwasher under the granite countertop.  He said he’d let his boss know, and he’d come back to put the dishwasher in.  In the meantime, they’d go ahead with the installation.  I got so excited when I saw the first top in place, and that was before the dust was cleaned off.  I love the granite I chose with its beige and gray background, black veining, and dark red flecks.

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And then the next problem surfaced.  The hole for a top mount sink is usually cut on site and outside because it creates a lot of stone dust.  But because our sink base cabinet is HUGE (bigger than a lot of kitchen islands), the installer decided he would have to cut the top for that area in situ to minimize the chance of it cracking.  Okay, that’s reasonable.  However, we didn’t know this was going to be the procedure because we’d been told otherwise, so we didn’t have a chance to curtain off the kitchen with plastic to keep the rock dust out of the rest of the house.  And as soon as the saw started up, the dust billowed out into the living room and down the hall.  Fortunately the doors to the bedrooms were shut, but the office door was open.  Rock dust all over the computer and printer, as well as the leather sofa and recliner, the coffee table and TV cabinet, etc., in the living room, along with the open boxes of kitchen accoutrements that I’d been using and couldn’t put away in the cabinets yet.  Not that that would have made any difference, because everything I did put away in the cabinets is also covered with rock dust.  It’s going to take some serious cleaning to get rid of it all.

All the countertops were installed, the only seam filled with epoxy, and off the guys went to their next job, while Dennis and I started our tasks.  Dennis worked on putting in the sink, and I started cleaning the rock dust off the outside of the cabinets.  (I couldn’t clean the insides because I didn’t have any water yet to wash the dishes before I put them back on the clean shelves.)

Dennis discovered that the sink wasn’t in exactly the same position it had been, so he needed to get a longer length of drain pipe.  I asked him to put the stove back in before he left to get his plumbing supplies, so I could start on dinner while he was gone.  And that’s when the next problem surfaced, and this one is a doozy.

The stove doesn’t fit in the space left for it between the countertops.  In looking at that run of granite, we discovered that the slab is about 3/8ths of an inch out of position.  The seam isn’t in the right place, the sink base countertop isn’t in the right place, and the piece that abuts it and the stove is therefore too long.

We didn’t discover this problem until after 5 o’clock, so we can’t call U.S. Granite until tomorrow morning.  After hearing about how strong the industrial grade silicone is they stick the countertops down with, we’re worried about our new cabinets.  We don’t know yet how they are going to fix this problem, but in the meantime, I’ll be cooking on the stove that’s sitting out in the middle of the kitchen.  At least I can cook in the kitchen, and the sink is now plumbed (my hero is multi-talented), so I have water again in the kitchen after how many weeks?  I’ve lost track.

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The first rule of construction applied today. What could go wrong did.  But Dennis is mad enough that he’s going to make sure it’s fixed right.  And in the meantime, we’ve chosen the backsplash tile.  It’s going to look great with the new countertops and cabinets.

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Dairy, Gluten-free, Main dishes, Recipes

Buttermilk Pancakes

Until I started making buttermilk pancakes and sourdough pancakes from scratch, I really wasn’t all that fond of pancakes.  I’m sure I enjoyed them as a kid, because what kid doesn’t like pancakes?  But when my husband would make them for our kids, from pancake mix, they were always just so heavy and doughy, I didn’t really enjoy them.  I had to start making them from scratch to fall in love with pancakes again.

I love sourdough pancakes.  I like to make them on holidays when I’ve activated my sourdough starter to make sourdough rolls. But I don’t always have my sourdough batter activated and ready to go every time I want to make pancakes.  You either have to keep your sourdough always growing on the countertop (which I don’t), or you have to plan ahead and activate your refrigerated starter the night before so you can make pancakes the next morning (which I don’t).  And that’s why I love buttermilk pancakes, made with real buttermilk.  They are light and airy and tender, like sourdough pancakes, and they have a similar flavor.  And believe me, the flavor and texture of real buttermilk pancakes is nothing like the flavor and texture of a buttermilk pancake mix.

I make my own buttermilk now, so I always have it in the fridge. I usually only make 2 cups at a time, so I can use it up and keep making it fresh.  (Click the link to see how easy it is to make your own buttermilk.)  Also, my fridge is kind of small, so it helps with the space issue to keep just a pint jar going, and that’s enough for a big batch of pancakes, or a small batch of pancakes and a batch of biscuits.  (Yeah, real buttermilk biscuits are the bomb, too.) Because I always have buttermilk on hand, I don’t have to plan ahead to make delicious pancakes.

I have also used milk kefir in place of buttermilk with the same results.  I tried this because I had some kefir go a little alcoholic in the fridge when I was ill with the flu and unable to eat dairy.  I didn’t care to drink it when I got better, but I didn’t want to waste it.  The kefir made wonderful, light, fluffy pancakes, just like buttermilk, with no adjustments to the recipe.

I often make pancakes on the weekends.  I use a gluten-free, bean-based flour, and Dennis loves them.  He usually pours maple syrup on his.

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I like to change it up.  Sometimes I like maple syrup, but I often will open a jar of my blackberry syrup or another fruit syrup I’ve made, or I’ll spread my pancakes with my old-fashioned, low-sugar, strawberry jam made with whole berries. (You can tell this picture was taken recently during the kitchen renovation, because of the paper plate and plastic fork!)

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Or maybe I’ll pile them with apple butter or pumpkin butter and then drizzle them with maple syrup. Here’s a pic of one spread with apple butter and then rolled up like a blintz.  Then I coated it with maple syrup.

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I like them in the summer with sliced fresh strawberries, or fresh raspberries or blueberries, or fresh peaches or nectarines, and whipped cream.  And if you add an extra egg and thin the batter out a bit with more buttermilk, you can use this batter for crepes as well.  Then you can fill them with sweetened cream cheese and fruit for blintzes.  Oh, my.  If you omit the sugar, you can use the crepes for a savory dish.  I’ll have to dig out my old recipe for chicken or turkey main dish crepes!

Here’s my gluten-free buttermilk pancake recipe for two (double the recipe for a family), and after that, I’ll share an old buttermilk pancake recipe that uses wheat flour.

Gluten-free Buttermilk Pancakes

Wet ingredients:

1 large egg

2 tablespoons melted butter or vegetable oil (I use grapeseed, olive, or avocado oil)

1 cup buttermilk or milk kefir (Regular milk can be used, but the flavor will be different. Omit baking soda if using milk, and increase baking powder to ¾ teaspoon.)

½ tsp. vanilla extract

Dry ingredients:

1 cup gluten-free baking flour (I use Bob’s Red Mill from bulk bins at Winco.)

1 Tbs. sugar (any kind, or can be omitted; I use coconut palm sugar)

½ tsp. baking powder

¼ tsp. baking soda

¼ + pinch of salt

1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum (can be omitted; I’ve forgotten it, and the pancakes still held together)

Mix dry ingredients.  Mix wet ingredients in separate bowl; mix wet ingredients into dry. Let batter rest and get bubbly for a few minutes before baking on a hot, greased griddle or skillet.

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I spread the batter out a little bit with the spoon to get a neater circle and a thinner pancake, although obviously they are not always the same size!

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I cook at just hotter than medium in a little butter (and I really do mean a little) so they brown nicely and don’t have to be buttered after cooking, which can make pancakes soggy.   Allow bubbles to form and break before trying to flip, and make sure the pancakes are fully set and browned on the bottom before you flip them.  Don’t crowd the pan or griddle like I always try to do at least once.

You can make about a dozen small pancakes or 6-8 medium sized ones from this amount of batter.  We usually have a couple left over that I save and reheat for a weekday breakfast.

Buttermilk Pancakes (with wheat flour)

Wet ingredients:

1 egg

1 ¼ cups buttermilk or soured milk* (or milk kefir)

2 tablespoons melted butter or vegetable oil

Dry ingredients:

1 ¼ cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

Beat egg.  Beat in buttermilk and melted butter.  Combine dry ingredients and beat into wet ingredients until batter is smooth.  Bake on hot, buttered griddle or skillet.  Flip when bubbles have formed but before they break.

*If you don’t have buttermilk or milk kefir, you can approximate the flavor and acidic action of these by souring milk.  To one cup of sweet milk, add 1 tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice.  Stir and let stand a few minutes to curdle.

Notice a few differences in techniques between these two recipes.  With gluten-free flours, you almost always mix the wet ingredients into the dry.  The gluten-free pancakes also need to cook a little longer before you flip them.  With wheat flour, it’s nearly always a case of mixing dry ingredients into wet.

If you’ve been eating pancakes made from a commercial mix, I hope you’ll try making buttermilk pancakes from scratch.  It really takes only a couple of minutes more to measure out the extra dry ingredients, and the taste and texture of the real thing is worth the tiny bit of extra time.

 

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