Friday, September 16, 2016

Beef! It's What's for Dinner!

Steak night!  Well, that might not be exactly what you think of when you are at the beach but at some point during your seafood extravaganza, you might find yourself craving beef.  I have the perfect solution.

Marinated Flank Steak.  First, and possibly most importantly, make sure you have access to a grill.  If not, and you think you’ll be doing a lot of grilling, consider picking up an inexpensive one at Walmart. 

Next, and also very important, purchase the flank steak.  I buy the flank steak two pack at Costco.  I like flank steak for a couple of reasons.  It doesn't take up much space in the cooler and it is less expensive than some other cuts of beef.  Especially if you can catch a sale. 

You might be thinking that 2 steaks is way more than you need, but I would go ahead and get the two pack.  The leftovers make amazing steak sandwiches later in the week.  

The first thing you want to do is open the flank steak up so that it is lying flat and put each steak into a gallon size zip lock bag.  By opening the steak up, you'll insure that the marinade makes contact with all surfaces.

Mix up the marinade.


½  cup soy sauce
½ cup ketchup
½ cup dry red wine
¼ cup honey
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 t minced garlic
(if you are so inclined, add a bit of crushed red pepper flakes)

Put half the marinade in each bag.  Seal the bags and pop in the freezer. 

You can do this weeks ahead of time.  Just toss in the cooler the morning of departure.  You can keep it frozen or allow it to defrost on the trip.  As it defrosts, the marinade will work its magic and tenderize the steak and add great flavor.  Once defrosted, use within a day or two.  Just grill as usual to medium rare and slice thin.  Fabulous.

 What to have with your amazing flank steak?  How about a super simple potato gratin? No complicate sauce required here.

2 ½ pounds russet potatoes, peeled and sliced in 1/8” slices
½ stick butter, melted
10 oz grated Parmesan (or Swiss or whatever you like)
2 cup whole milk (or 2% or 1%)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Butter a 13 x 9 glass dish.  Layer with 1/3 of the potatoes.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Drizzle with 1/3 of the melted butter.  Top with 1/3 of the cheese. Repeat 2 times.  Pour milk over evenly.  Bake 15 minutes.  Reduce heat to 350 and continue to bake 1 hour.  Remove and let stand 10 minutes.  I haven’t tried it but if your rental doesn’t have a glass 9x13 baking dish, pick up a disposable when you do your local shopping trip. 

I’m not saying I have done this (I have) but consider making at home and just reheating at the beach.  I will admit to even making way ahead, freezing and reheating. 

Need a green vegetable?   Pick up a few of those skinny green bean packs.  Sometimes they are called haricots verts.  You can microwave them in the bag for a few minutes (read the directions) and just toss with butter and salt and pepper.  Delicious. 
Pour your favorite red wine and toast another great beach day!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Crab Cakes - The Perfect First Meal

Fact:  Everyone loves crab cakes.  Ok, maybe not a fact.  But, for most people, they are a delicious treat.  And so easy to make.  I think people shy away from crab cakes because of the cost of quality crab meat.  Yes, it is not cheap, however, home made crab cakes are much cheaper than restaurant crab cakes and many times, better.

I highly recommend getting your lump crab meat from Costco.  It is pasteurized and in the refrigerated section - where the cheese is.  I'm really not sure who else has it but I'm guessing it is not exclusive to Costco. I think the price hovers somewhere around $20 a pound.  I hear you.  That is more than beef tenderloin.  Keep in mind that one pound of crab meat makes 8 generous crab cakes.  So, for about $5 a person, you have a delicious meal.  Under no circumstance should you use canned crab meat (where the canned tuna is).  You will not be happy.

I love the taste of crab so I like to keep my crab cakes basic.  Here's the recipe I use.

Crab Cakes

3 slices of white bread, cut the crusts off and crumble or cut into small pieces.  You can even use a food processor to make fresh crumbs if you want
1 egg
6 T mayo (sorry, but please use Hellman's - crab meat is too expensive to use anything else)
1 T fresh parsley (I have omitted this without serious consequence)
1 t Worcestershire sauce
1 T Dijon mustard
1 t Old Bay
salt and pepper to taste
1 pound lump crab meat

1.  Make sure there are no pieces of shell in the crab meat but try to keep the lumps as large as possible.   
2.  Add all the remaining ingredients and gently toss until blended.

At this point, I put the mixture into a plastic storage container.  Don't use a bag for this because you don't want to break up those delicious lumps.  You can do this the day before you travel but I wouldn't recommend any earlier.  Honestly, as simple as this is, you could do it the morning of departure.  Or, take 5 minutes and do it at the beach while your rice is cooking. 

Your rental unit will probably have a cookie sheet, but you will absolutely want to bring parchment paper.  Not waxed paper.  The parchment paper serves two purposes.  One, it will prevent your crab cakes from sticking to the sheet.  Two, clean up is minimized since you just toss the paper.  You can just tear one baking sheet sized sheet and bring that.  No need to bring the whole roll.

3.  Form into 8 equal sized cakes, place on parchment papered baking sheet and broil until nicely browned and heated through.

If you like tartar sauce, by all means bring some.  I could go either way. 

Crab cakes are very rich so it is possible that someone will only want one.  (I know...crazy!).  There is no better lunch than a crab cake sandwich.  Just warm gently in the microwave or a skillet and put on a bun (toasted if you are feeling ambitious) with some tartar sauce and lettuce and tomato.  Just the crab cake on a plain bun is not bad either.  Neither is just a leftover crab cake on a plate.

I haven't tried it but I think crab cake eggs benedict would make a great breakfast. 

Rice Pilaf is the perfect side dish to Crab Cakes.  You probably have a favorite recipe but here is the one I use.  You can make this a day or two ahead and reheat in the microwave for that first dinner.  Of course I know that everything tastes better when freshly made but we are on vacation after all. 

Basic Rice Pilaf

1/2 cup orzo
1/4 cup butter
1 onion, diced
1 cup rice (I don't normally use Uncle Ben's but I think it works best here and seems to reheat better)
2 1/4 cup chicken stock

Brown the orzo and onion in the butter.  You don't want to burn it but you do want to nicely brown the orzo and onions.  Add the rice and broth, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes.  The Uncle Ben's takes less time to cook which prevents the orzo from overcooking.  Regular long grain rice takes longer. 

After the rice cools, you can put this in a bag or plastic container.

Both the rice and the crab mixture will go in the cooler the morning of departure. 

Add to this some salad greens with your favorite dressing.  Here is a dressing that I like. 
I use a Magic Bullet and then just put the lid on for travel.  If you want to get fancy, add some cherry tomatoes and thinly sliced red onion. 

Balsamic Vinaigrette

1T garlic - a couple of good sized cloves
1/4 cup balsamic
2 t brown sugar (light or dark) - I think this makes less expensive balsamic taste better
1/2 salt
1/2 t pepper
1 t Dijon
3/4 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil

Put the garlic in the Magic Bullet ( or chop by hand).  After the garlic is finely minced add the balsamic, brown sugar, salt, pepper and Dijon.  Blend well.  Add the olive oil and blend until nicely thickened. 

Open a nice bottle of white wine and enjoy that first beach meal on the deck listening to the waves and watching that beautiful sunset! 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

My Motivation

As I sit here, working on a menu and developing a shopping list for our next beach vacation, it dawned on me.  Someone really needs to develop a comprehensive guide for planning meals at a beach (or anywhere really) vacation house or condo.  Maybe someone has already done it but I couldn’t find it so I nominated myself.  Keep in mind, this guide is really for those people that drive to their destination.  If you fly, it is a little harder to prepare to this degree.
So what was my motivation?
When we go to the beach, our favorite time of day is sunset.  We take a few simple snacks, a bottle of wine and our beach chairs and sometimes sit on the beach and gaze at the horizon until well after sunset.  At this point in the day, we are not much interested in showering and getting dressed to go out to dinner.  Our kids are grown now, but when they were younger, it presented even more of a challenge.  Plus, typically we are staying off the beaten trail so going to a restaurant involves a 20 to 30-minute drive.  Not to mention the cost of eating out for a week. 
However, we are not a “box of pasta and jar of sauce” family.  I love to cook and my entire family loves to eat and appreciates good food.  Plus, when at the beach, we have access to fresh seafood (caught that morning) that we simply cannot resist.  Eating well on vacation, to us, enhances the experience tremendously.  I do realize that this approach is not for everyone.  Many people consider cooking a chore and really want to avoid cooking on vacation as much as possible.  I get that. Maybe I can change your mind.  Just a little.
Planning ahead is crucial if you want to prepare fast, delicious meals at the beach.  I am excited about spending a week at the beach so it doesn’t really seem like work.  More like vacation prep.  Kind of like packing.
It is also helpful to plan your menu for the week and be sure to include dinners out.  You want to be prepared but you don’t want to bring a ton of food back with you or even worse throw it away.  Also, be sure and find out if you’ll have access to a grill.  Gas or charcoal?  If it is charcoal, I wouldn’t haul charcoal from home.  For two reasons.  One, a bag of charcoal takes up a lot of valuable car space.  Two, there is a good chance that the previous renters left behind their charcoal.   Use that.   If no grill is available, consider heading to the local Walmart and buying an inexpensive charcoal grill.  You can leave it for the next renters.   
Casseroles (like lasagna) can be prepared ahead and frozen.  Meats can be placed in plastic bags along with marinade and frozen.  Baked good, like cakes and cookies, can be made ahead and frozen.  Or, if you like your cookies fresh from the oven, prepare the dough and freeze that.  I like to review each recipe and make sure I take whatever spices and staples I need.  Otherwise, be prepared for sticker shock when you go to the local grocery store for your favorite spice.  Assuming they even have it.  I even go so far as to measure out the exact amount I need and put it in a resealable plastic bag.  If a recipe calls for multiple spices, by all means, combine them into one bag or plastic storage container. 
I try and take small sizes of Dijon, olive oil, vinegar (you’ll probably need that if you steam seafood anyway), mayo, ketchup etc.  Partly because I know I can buy it for less at home but also I like to keep my local shopping list as short as possible.  I also buy one of those disposable salt and pepper sets.  Don’t assume your rental has a Keurig.  Bring ground coffee. 
Since the first dinner will likely be on a travel day, you’ll want to keep it ultra-simple.  Last trip, I premade crab cakes (did not form them, just mixed the ingredients together) and brought along a boxed rice mix (not something I normally use but it is vacation after all) and a box of salad greens.  I also premade the dressing.  Alternatively, I could have made a rice pilaf and just reheated in the microwave.  Maybe next time.  Anyway, after unpacking, checking out the beach and toasting the beginning of a wonderful vacation we were not interested in getting back in the car to go out to dinner or spending a lot of time preparing.  I formed the crab cakes and broiled them (parchment paper comes in really handy here – just bring one sheet, not the whole roll), made the rice and added dressing to the salad.  Super fast.  Super tasty.  If you have access to a Costco, their pasteurized crab meat (in the refrigerated section) is excellent.  It isn’t cheap but it is less that you’d pay at a fish market.  And it is less than eating out.
I'm excited to share how we prepare for and enjoy great meals on our beach vacations.