Sweet Shark shines and shares

I hope you had a nice long weekend. Here in the Dallas area we are still experiencing endless days of rain, which definitely put a damper on holiday cookouts. In our neck of the woods, three holidays demand barbecue – Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day.   Sweet Shark is in his element here and he is totally in charge. I act as his sous chef.) In spite of the rain, he was determined that he would still smoke ribs and sausage and his signature salmon. All are delicious and he doesn’t skimp on amounts.  He makes his own rub for the ribs, his own barbecue sauce and his own sauce for the salmon. imageSalmon

So on Saturday in between downpours, he got the smoker going, made his own rub and prepped the ribs. After the ribs were on the smoker, he started making my two favorites: his  baked beans and potato salad. I couldn’t convince him to share the recipes for the ribs, salmon and sauces, but he consented to share what I consider the best supporting players. He doesn’t follow any recipes, but every time both dishes just turn out great.  After picking his brain, I put these recipes together.  The amounts are approximations, but he says they are pretty accurate.   I know that hundreds of recipes for potato salad and baked beans exist, but if you don’t have a favorite, try these.  You have until Fourth of July to practice. Check out the recipes on the Recipe Page.






Soft shell crabs: a love affair

I love soft shell crabs.  Let me repeat that: I love soft shell crabs.  I don’t know when I first bit into their crispy, crunchy little bodies and tasted their fresh-from-the-ocean (yes, I know many are available frozen) sweetness.  I suspect it was in 2002.  Sweet Shark and I attended the Preakness in May and spent three nights in Baltimore at the Renaissance Harbor Place Hotel at the Inner Harbor, eating a bunch of really good seafood in between races on Friday and Saturday.  Sunday morning, we drove around Chesapeake Bay to the Eastern Shore and spent two glorious days in the village of St. Michaels where I had booked us into the cutest little bed and breakfast, the Five Gables Inn. The weather was amazing: crystal clear skies, perfect spring fresh air, and more seafood  to eat.  Our first stop was the St.  Michaels Crab House, right on the water.  We sat outside, breathing in the smell of briny creatures and and digging into alot of crabs.  Sweet Shark bought a t-shirt that he still wears.

Soft shell crab t-shirt


It might have been that night at dinner at Bistro St. Michaels that I had my first soft shell crab.  Maybe it’s like your first taste of a sweet, briny oyster or your memory of your first bite of lobster.  That’s what it was like for me and soft shell crabs. It was love at first bite.  Our love affair has never abated and it’s fueled by the fact that we only meet for a short time each year, in April to June, when those little crustaceans (specifically, blue crabs from the East Coast) lose their shells and submit to my appetite .  But wherever our first meeting was, I love them simply prepared – lightly coated in a flour/cornmeal mixture with some kosher or sea salt, freshly ground pepper, maybe a little cayenne – just enough to promote crispiness and sautéed in a little canola oil until done, and, here’s that word again – crispy.   The whole process takes about 6 minutes, 3 minutes on each side, and you are ready to eat.  Last Saturday, while we were waiting for the grill to heat (Sweet Shark was grilling lamb chops.), I made one each for Sweet Shark and me.  We devoured them standing at the kitchen counter.  We bought our soft shell crabs fresh at Central Market. Rex’s, T.J.’s, and Whole Foods also have them.  They will clean them for you, but I always give them another rinse until cold running water.  Like any seafood, they are perishable, so be sure to ask for them to be bagged with ice, keep refrigerated until ready to cook, and cook the day you buy them.

Here’s what I did:

1.  In a pie plate, combine about 1/4 cup all-purpose flour and 1/4 cup yellow or white cornmeal.  Add a little salt and pepper, and cayenne if you like.  I actually used Tajín, a spice mixture of salt, cayenne, and grated lime, which you can find at any Mexican grocery store.

2.  Heat a large skillet – I like to use my cast iron – over medium-high heat.  I like to use a big skillet so there is plenty of room for the crabs since you do not want to crowd them.  While the skillet is heating, pat the crabs dry on both sides with paper towels.  They are going to pop anyway, but the less moisture, the better to promote a crispy crust.

3.  Add 2 – 3 tablespoons of canola or vegetable oil to the skillet until hot.  The oil should shimmer when it hits the pan.

4.  Dredge the crabs in the flour/cornmeal mixture and shake off any excess.  Add the crabs (I’m talking about 2) to the skillet, top side down, shaking the pan a few times, until browned, about 3 minutes. Using tongs, turn over and cook until brown on the second side, about three minutes.

Soft shell crabs 1

4.  Remove from the skillet and place on some paper towels a minute to drain.

5.  Plate and serve with a sauce of your choice and a squeeze of lemon juice.  For my sauce, I combined some chipotle ranch dressing that I had from MacAlister’s Deli (sometimes I cheat, too), about 2 tablespoons, about 2 tablespoons of Maille coarse ground mustard (my favorite brand), a good squeeze of lemon juice and a pinch of salt.  You could mix anything with mayo and it would be good, too.

Soft shell crab sauce


6.  Sprinkle with some chopped parsley or cilantro.  Go to heaven, but take it slow.  You want the love affair to last.  By the way, this will not be the last time soft shell crabs and I have a rendezvous this year.  I’m planning on another date tonight.

Soft shell crab plated 2

For more information on soft shell crabs and other ideas for serving them, check out the June/July issue of Fine Cooking Magazine.

Soft shell crab article

Old armoire becomes diva of the dining room

The past month has been filled with cooking classes – one featuring French cuisine, one on vegetables, and one on appetizers, a luncheon I hosted for some girlfriends (see the Recipe page for the recipes), painting, Bible study, and working in our front and back yards, trying to finish spring planting.  Before that I spent a week in Atlanta visiting family and grandkids. While there I helped daughter # 1 paint an armoire she has had since she was two years old. It was in her bedroom for years. Then while she was in college and first married, Sweet Shark and I used it in our game room.  When she and S-I-L moved into their first house, the armoire made the trip to Atlanta along with her bedroom furniture. It should the focal point in their dining room, holding china, silverware and crystal, but the brown-stained finish melted into the walls. Although a really pretty piece, it really didn’t put its best foot forward ~ it was a plain Jane who needed a make-over.  Daughter #1 had been thinking abut using Annie Sloan Chalk Paint to give it a new look, but she had not tackled such a big project before.  But mom was coming to town, so it was time to take the Chalk Paint leap.  I packed my brushes, sand paper, waxes, and buffing pads.  See how we transformed this wallflower into the diva of the dining room.

Jenn's armoire before 1


Two new recipes for lunch or brunch

I promised that I would share the other two recipes from my ladies’ lunch and they are now on the Recipe Page.  Check out the Chilled Roasted Tomato and Red Bell Pepper Soup and the Avocado and Crab Stack.  Both would be wonderful for any lunch and especially if you are cooking for Mother’s Day since both can and should be made ahead.  Happy Cooking!

Southern ladies who lunch ~ in the pink

Last week I hosted a few girlfriends for lunch.  Sweet Shark and their husbands are part of a group who have participated in an annual golf tournament for years.  This year the guys headed to Las Vegas.  I thought it was a great time for us girls to have some fun so I planned a lunch with a Southern girl theme and a color scheme of pink, including the food and drink.

Since I wanted to part of the fun and enjoy my own party, everything on the menu had to be made  ahead.  Here was the menu:

lunch menu

Pink Lemonade Champagne Cocktail

Chilled Red Bell Pepper Soup

Avocado Crab Stack

Chambord Mousse with Raspberries

For the Pink Lemonade Champagne Cocktail and the Chambord Mousse recipes and how-to’s, check the Recipe Page.  I’ll share the soup and entrée recipes in a few days.

Bourbon and biscuits

With the Kentucky Derby just around the corner – it’s this Saturday, May 2 – I am definitely in a Southern frame of mind.  What is more Southern than bourbon and biscuits?  Those two ingredients are the inspiration for my May cooking classes.  Check out the entire menu and dates on the Cooking Classes page.

More planting and cooking

Last week was busy again.  I put together Easter boxes for the grandkids and mailed them.  I finished sewing a blanket for younger granddaughter’s Lilah’s one year birthday and finished a dress that I started two years ago for granddaughter Annabelle, who is almost four, that she will never wear, but her little sister will. A fun soufflé class on Wednesday, one of my favorites to teach, was a highlight.  Two Zumba classes and tennis on Saturday morning – it was an absolutely gorgeous day. Remember in my last post I shared that I had planted 10 hay racks on our back fence last Saturday? Hay racks

I also planted some extra flowers (I usually buy too many) in a flower bed in the front of the house while Sweet Shark was planting hostas and ferns in our shady bed – it looks awesome!  We were looking forward to having a cocktail outside before grilling dinner, but by the time we cleaned up the tools, watered all our newly-planted flowers, and showered ourselves, the sun had set and we were too exhausted to fire up the grill (We did have the cocktail inside.).  I had bought some beautiful “tomahawk” Frenched pork chops

pork chop 1

at Central Market, so instead of Sweet Shark grilling them, I used the tired and true “sear/finish in the oven” technique. I love this method of cooking meat – steak, lamb chops, veal chops, pork chops.  The searing promotes caramelization to bring out the meaty flavors and creates a crusty exterior; finishing in the oven yields a tender, juicy piece of meat.  In addition, once the chops are in the oven, you are free to attend to other last minute cooking/serving tasks. This preparation is similar to the porterhouse steak recipe from my last post, but in this one the herbs and garlic are not are not finely chopped.  The key here is a great piece of meat and a very hot pan.  I highly recommend using a cast iron skillet which adds flavor and is easy to clean up.  I used my Le Creuset cast iron grill pan and it worked great. If you use a stainless steel skillet, the clean up will be horrendous.  I hope you try this method – you’ll love it.

Frenched Pork Chops with Herbs, Garlic and Olive Oil

Serves 2

2 1 1/2-inch thick pork chops
6 2-inch sprigs rosemary
6 2-inch sprigs sage or thyme
2 cloves garlic — peeled and thinly sliced
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper — to taste
olive oil — for cooking

1. Combine the herbs and garlic and place on a plate or platter to hold the chops.

pork chop 2
2. Place the chops on top of the herb/oil mixture. Turn the chops over, coating both sides completely. Cover the chops with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator for 4 – 6 hours (I only had time to marinate for 1 1/2 hours), turning once or twice so that both sides absorb the herb/oil mixture.

pork chop 3









3. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Remove the chops from the marinade and brush off the herbs and garlic pieces*. (I didn’t do that; I picked off before putting in the oven.) Thoroughly dry the chops with paper towels. Season both sides with salt and pepper. and let stand for 10 minutes to come to room temperature.

pork chop 5
4. Heat a large, oven-proof sauté pan over high heat. When the pan is very hot, add enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan by about 1/8-inch. Heat the oil for about 30 seconds. (Make sure your exhaust fan is on.) Add the chops to the pan, making sure that there is space between them. Sear for 2 to 3 minutes, until the chops for caramelized and brown. Turn to the other side and sear for 2 to 3 minutes.

pork chop 6








5. Pour off any excess fat from the pan and transfer to the oven. Continue cooking for 6 to 8 minutes, until slightly firm to the touch and medium rare. Transfer the chops to a warm platter, tenting loosely with aluminum foil and let rest for 5 minutes.

pork chop 7

I hope everyone had a lovely Easter.  Although it was a rainy, cloudy Sunday, the son shone brightly! (That’s not a typo; it’s a fact!)

Busy March full of planting, cooking, and teaching

After a February that seemed to last forever, March seemed to blow by faster than a Texas tumbleweed (Actually, I’ve never seen a tumbleweed in real life.). Teaching cooking classes,testing recipes, working on a charity luncheon in which I’m a member, and painting a bookcase (to be revealed in a future post), filled the days and sitting down to write got pushed aside.  I would wake in the middle of the night with ideas for posts, but by the time the sun rose, I was up working on some project.  Now that April is here – along with May and June, my favorite months of the year – we’ve been cleaning out the flower beds and planters, and planting this year’s tomatoes and flowers (Saturday I planted flowers in the 10 hay racks on our back fence!).  I’m happy to say that several of the needed tasks have been completed (but, of course, there are more to come), and I can write again.  I promise not to be absent.

Fortunately, in spite of the cold weather and snow, our rosemary, thyme, sage, and parsley and chives  survived, but we added onion chives to our herb garden – which is actually all in pots.

onion chives

Onion chives

Planted two types of tomatoes.

Healthy Kick tomatoes

Healthy Kick tomatoes

tomato plant

A new variety called Tycoon

spring onions

Our spring onions are growing.

Saturday a week ago, after working in the yard, cleaning out beds, adding new dirt, making a trip to our favorite Jackson’s Pottery and picking our plants for our “shady” flower bed (we have a shady side and a sunny side in our back yard), we were ready to take a break.  The evening was one of those beautiful spring nights that just lent itself to cooking outside, and Sweet Shark was eager to grill a steak with a glass of red wine in his hand.  The recipe he chose was an old favorite of ours, found in Cuisine at Home magazine in 2002.  It calls for a porterhouse steak, herbs, garlic, and olive oil.  It’s so simple, but so delicious, everything a great steak recipe should be.  We buy our meat at Central Market and the butchers will cut the porterhouse thick to the 2 inches needed.  The porterhouse is like a thick T-bone – one side has the flavorful sirloin and the other side the tender filet. It doesn’t get better than this!  We served the steak with grilled asparagus (first of the season) and a cauliflower and goat cheese soufflé – and some really good red wine.  Find the recipe and how-to on the recipe page.


Sherry tasting at Casa Rubia

Casa Rubia Sherry Dinner

Although today is officially the first day of spring, it is raining this morning – again!  Well, I shouldn’t complain since we actually got two days in a row without rain.  In fact, it was warm both days, which was really nice last night when Sweet Shark and I made our way down to Trinity Groves for a night of sherry tasting and tapas at Casa Rubia as part of the four-day food celebration Savor Dallas.  It’s been awhile since we participated in any of the events during this food festival and we were eager especially for this one.  First, we had not been to Trinity Groves, the restaurant “village”  just over the Margaret Hill Hunt Bridge on the south side of the Trinity, since we attended the grand opening of Sharon Van Meter’s entertainment venue 3015 Trinity a few years ago.  We were amazed at the growth of the area; there must be a dozen restaurants, many with covered outdoor seating.  Second, we had wanted to try Casa Rubia, picked as one of the Top 10 Best Restaurants by food critic Leslie Brenner.  Third, we love tapas, especially after our trip to Barcelona last fall. And finally, we wanted to learn more about about sherry.  In 2005, we visited and fell in love with Cadiz and La Coruna in southern Spain, the center of all things sherry.  We were not disappointed.  Casa Rubia has a rustic decor with a large rectangular bar, some communal tables and an open kitchen that is warm and inviting. The first thing we noticed when we walked in was the delicious aroma.  Some awesome cooking was definitely going on here.  We were graciously led to the communal tables to join other attendees.  We sat across from Katherine and Karl, a delightful couple who we quickly discovered were as devoted to food, restaurants, and travel as we are. Our hostess brought the 3-course menu for the evening and poured our first glass of sherry – Manzanilla, Lustau Almacenista.  We thought it was a white wine until we tasted it; then the unmistakable taste of sherry came through.  Our hostess explained that this sherry is from a very small-batch winery near Cadiz that produces only 80 barrels a year. We learned that in Spanish chamomile tea is called manzanilla, thus the slight taste of tea. Then our first course came: Esparragos, described as First of the Season Asparagus, Iberico Lardo, Quail Egg, Crispy Ham-Dill Vinaigrette.  Such a pretty dish and once again, fabulous aroma.  The asparagus had been lightly grilled or roasted ( My two favorite ways to prepare asparagus.) to a a tender crisp texture, the Iberico lardo (Iberico is the ham only raised in Spain and lardo is pork fat) lent a slightly salty, barely smokey taste to the vinaigrette.  I swear the egg was so fresh, the quail must be laying eggs behind the restaurant.

Casa Rubia asparagus

Our next sherry, Palo Cortado de Jerez, Lustau Ammacentista, had an amber color to it.  From the same vineyard as the first sherry, this one had a richer flavor.  Only 50 barrels are produced a year – you won’t find these sherries at Total Wine.  It was paired with Rabo de toro: Oxtail (obviously braised to a silky texture and rich flavor), Creamy Farro, Spring Vegetables (tiny diced carrots and a bit of spinach on top), Smoked Onion Jus.  Again, the aromas and flavors make your mouth water.  The blend of tastes and the sherry worked beautifully together.


Casa Rubia farro

Our third sherry selection was sweeter and thicker in texture, just the type of sherry to finish the evening and pair with dessert,  Pedro Ximenez, Bodegas Toro Albala Gran Reserva 1983.  This 25-year-old sherry is meant to be sipped slowly (well, aren’t all sherries meant to be sipped slowly?) and savored.  Presented in glass jars, our dessert was rich and filling with hints of vanilla, ginger and caramel:  Vanilla Bean Flan, Apple-Almond Bread Pudding, Ginger Ice Cream, Sea Salt Caramel. Our hostess ceremoniously spooned the caramel sauce on each dessert.

Casa rubia dessert

After reluctantly finishing the last sips of our sherry and the last spoonfuls of flan and caramel sauce, we bid adios to our table partners and headed outside.  The twinkling lights in the surrounding trees and the warm (what a delight after cold weather) evening air enticed us to walk down what I can only describe as a boardwalk connecting all the restaurants.  Every outdoor eating area was packed and several of the restaurants were full inside as well.  The atmosphere was lively, joyous, and I hate to say this, but didn’t feel like Dallas.  When we first heard about Trinity Groves, we were skeptical: would people really come here to eat?  Well, the answer is a resounding yes.  Which proves that people will drive to get great, creative food in a great atmosphere with outdoor seating.  We will definitely be back to Casa Rubia for a full dinner experience and hopefully try some of the other venues.  Until then, Salud!


Rainy-day soup brightens my day

Last Monday it poured down rain all day.  After finishing a private cooking class that I teach every month for a women’s organization, I started thinking about dinner for Sweet Shark and me.  With no leftovers from the class to heat up, I needed to start from scratch.  But I really wasn’t in the mood to venture outside.  So I began the search – what’s in the fridge, freezer and pantry that I could use to make a delicious, warming meal?  This is actually one of my favorite ways to cook, use what you have and be creative.  A great reason to have certain staples always on hand.  As I did my “foraging” in the kitchen, it came to me.  Soup! Of course.

Here’s what I had in the pantry: a can of white beans and a can of diced tomatoes, and one russet potato

Here’s what I had in the freezer: a half pound of ground beef and a half pound of ground turkey (that was left from the cooking class)

Here’s what I had in the fridge:  one large carrot, half a large onion and about 2 cups of stock, a head of red leaf lettuce, feta cheese, and half an apple (salad!  yea!)

And, of course, I had plenty of garlic, vinegar, oil, salt and pepper, a shallot, and Dijon mustard (Maille, my favorite brand) for a vinaigrette.  By the time Sweet Shark got home, I had a rich, comforting soup ready for dinner.  Add a salad and crusty bread, turn the fireplace on, and we ate like a king and queen.

Here is how I made this easy, but tasty soup.  It served us one dinner and four servings of lunch.

soup with carrots and onions

Dice to yield 1 cup onion, 1 large carrot and 2 garlic cloves

soup potatoes

Small dice one russet potato, or whatever potato you have on hand. Remember, this preparation is about what you already have.

soup beans

Drain and rinse the beans. This is a step you always want to do; it gets rid of the gummy liquid and added salt.

soup pot

One of my favorite pots – my Le Creuset enamel pot in Fennel.

soup meat

Combine the ground beef and ground turkey in the soup pot.

soup browning meat

As the meats cook, break up the pieces up with the back of a spoon. Stir and cook until all the pink is gone.

soup combining

Add the diced onion, carrot and garlic and cook until soft, but not brown. If you like, you can sweat the vegetables first in a little oil, and then add the meats.

soup adding potatoes

Add the potatoes and stir. Cook about five minutes.

soup liquids

Add the diced tomatoes and about 2 cups of stock. I had beef stock on hand, but chicken or vegetable will do just fine.  Cook about 30 minutes or longer – until you’re ready to eat.

soup finished

Taste and season with salt and pepper. Add any other seasoning you like, such as red pepper flakes, Tabasco, herbes de Provence, any fresh herbs, or some grated cheese. I added grated Parmesan.

The great thing about this soup is its ease, quickness, and its versatility.  Use all ground beef or all ground turkey, add a different type of bean (cannellini or black), add some corn kernels – the possibilities are endless.  Like most soups, this one got better each time we heated it up.  After dry, but partly sunny days, it’s raining again today.  I sure wish I still had some of the soup left.  Enjoy!!