Saturday, November 1, 2008


A birthday always starts out well when you get a delivery of gorgeous flowers that has a cute little bear attached to the vase. Seriously!

The morning/early afternoon passed by in a flash with a flurry of birthday calls. My mother reminded me that I had to eat noodles (a Chinese superstition of some sort; I don't ask why, it's easier to just do and not ask any questions), which was just as well this year, because I had plenty of chicken broth and making noodles is a snap. Plus, crab isn't really that filling, so I figured it would be good to have both. I packed up some broth, sliced mushrooms, washed spinach, and black vinegar. I pre-boiled a huge container of noodles. I took out my stock pot and crab crackers and put them in a box along with the other stuff, then set out for the market. I went to 99 Ranch, which is the only supermarket I know of that sells fresh, live Dungeness crab. Since they're in season, they were selling for $3.99/lb, which is not bad, but also not the best price I've ever seen.

This little guy's just waiting to become a delicious meal. And what a good job he did, too!

When I got to my cousin's, I realized that I forgot all the noodles I had pre-boiled at home! D'oh!! That's a lot of noodles I'm going to have to eat on my own. Sigh. Luckily, I had bought more dried noodles while at the market, so I made more.

I have this little tradition whenever I make crab. Something traumatic always happens. This was probably one of the least eventful crab feasts I've ever had, but it wasn't event-free.

To begin with, I filled my stock pot full of water, then poured in a good amount of salt and set it to boil. I also set about heating up the soup, while my cousin made a salad and sliced some bread to warm in the oven. When the water was boiling, I took the first crab out of the bag, except it didn't really want to come out, and it took some wrangling from both my cousin and me to get it out, with its claws getting dangerously close to our fingers. Sadly, I learned too late that Kim (who is subletting the house her family's in while they renovate their house) didn't have any chopsticks, which would have been good both to eat noodles with and to keep the crab's claws occupied so that it couldn't get us instead. Its limbs were flailing around, and I got it to the pot and dropped it in ... except one of its claws had caught the lip of the pot and was hanging on for dear life. It was also splashing the water a bit, trying to get out, and I was trying to put the lid on so that the boiling water would do its job and make it let go, but it took an interminably long time, with both me and Kim screaming like girls. Finally it let go and fell to the bottom of the pot, and I turned to see that Dan, Kim's husband, had their 3-year-old in his arms. She had been watching the terrible proceedings and had a look on her face that was a mix of horror and intrigue. The second crab went in on top of the first crab with nary a protest, which was a relief.

The pot was only big enough to hold the two, so while they were boiling, I prepared a small bowl of noodles for Kim's two little girls. After 15 minutes, I pulled the crabs out of the pot and my cousin rinsed them with cold water, so that they'd be easier to clean. We put the third crab into the pot (they each weighed about 1.75 pounds), and it too gave very little resistance. I quickly cleaned the cooked crabs -- my cousin, who has never done anything like this, was very impressed.

Here the crabs have been cleaned, rinsed, and cracked into pieces for easy eating.

Now, I LOVE crab butter. It's not for everyone. But for me, there are few things finer in life than fresh, pungent, creamy crab butter. Mmm. Kim and Dan didn't want it, so I took the pieces that had the most crab butter on them, and rinsed the others under cold water so that they were butter-less.

While the girls chowed on noodles, the three adults devoured the crabs, which were absolutely delicious, the meat firm and sweet. Soon there was nothing but the sound of shell cracking and the occasional slurp as someone sucked out some hidden bit of succulent crab meat. The briny water dripped from the shells off our hands and wrists when we weren't fast enough to wipe it away. We paused only to occasionally dip our crab into our respective dishes of vinegar -- my cousin's white, mine black. In Chinese households, vinegar, not butter, is traditionally the condiment of choice for eating with boiled or steamed crab. It's equally delicious and much healthier. (However, with steamed or boiled lobster I have to have drawn butter.) We let the girls try some of the crab, and the 3-year-old enjoyed it while the 1-year-old wasn't a fan.

After we were done with dinner it was just about time for the girls to be in bed, so Dan took them to have their baths while Kim cleaned up and set out the pear and hazelnut frangipane tart, which was made by a woman in their general neighborhood. Apparently, a few months ago Kim had won a charity silent auction in which this woman, who is an avid baker, had donated a year's worth of desserts, one per month. Every month they correspond and agree on a dessert. Kim had seen this recipe in Gourmet magazine, and asked if the woman would make it; she agreed. The only change she made (that we know of) is that at Kim's request she lowered the sugar from 1/2 cup to 1/3 cup.

The tart was AWESOME. It was sooooo good -- nutty and flavorful, with a light and delicate crust. Kim served it with vanilla ice cream. If you compare the picture of the tart the woman baked with the picture Gourmet has on their site, you'll see they're practically identical. Hats off to the baker, seriously. It was a great dessert. And even though Gourmet says that it's a fairly simple tart to make, as a new baker, I can safely say that nothing is ever as easy as a cooking magazine tries to make it seem. I've reproduced the recipe here (with the change in sugar amounts), just in case Gourmet ever changes their links or removes the recipe entirely. This one is definitely a keeper.

Then, after the tart was eaten (well, not all of it; I brought a huge slice home) and the girls were in bed, Kim and I ate noodles. Well we didn't have any other choice! We still had to eat it due to our cultural tradition and we didn't have time to have it before dessert! I was super full by then, but she wasn't (she is pregnant), so she had a big bowl and I had a little one. Yeah, after that I was pretty much ready to be rolled home.

Pear and Hazelnut Frangipane Tart (recipe adapted from here)

Serves 10
Active time: 30 min
Start to finish: 2 1/2 hrs


  • 1 cup hazelnuts, toasted, loose skins rubbed off in a kitchen towel, and cooled
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • tart shell (recipe below, or use pre-made shell)
  • 3 firm-ripe Bosc or Anjou pears
  • 1/4 cup apricot preserves, heated and strained


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Pulse hazelnuts with 1/4 cup sugar in a food processor until finely ground, then add flour and pulse to combine.
  3. Beat together butter and remaining 1/4 cup sugar with an electric mixer at moderately high speed until pale and fluffy.
  4. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in vanilla extract.
  5. Reduce speed to low and mix in nut mixture until just combined.
  6. Spread frangipane filling evenly in tart shell.
  7. Peel, halve, and core pears, then cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices, holding slices together to keep pear shape intact.
  8. Arrange pears decoratively on filling, fanning slices slightly.
  9. Bake until pears are golden and frangipane is puffed and golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes.
  10. Brush pears (not filling) with preserves and cool tart completely in pan on rack, then remove side of pan.

Tart Shell (recipe originally found here)

Makes 1 (11-inch) tart shell
Active time: 25 min
Start to finish: 3 hrs
Special equipment:a pastry or bench scraper; an 11- by 1-inch fluted round tart pan with a removable bottom; pie weights or raw rice


  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 stick (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/4 cup cold vegetable shortening
  • 3 to 5 tablespoons ice water


  1. Blend together flour, sugar, salt, butter, and shortening with your fingertips or a pastry blender (or pulse in a food processor) just until most of mixture resembles coarse meal with small (roughly pea-size) butter lumps.
  2. Drizzle evenly with 3 tablespoons ice water and gently stir with a fork (or pulse in food processor) until incorporated.
  3. Squeeze a small handful: If it doesn't hold together, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring (or pulsing) until just incorporated, then test again. (If you overwork mixture, pastry will be tough.)
  4. Turn out mixture onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 6 portions.
  5. With heel of your hand, smear each portion once or twice in a forward motion.
  6. Gather dough together with scraper and press into a ball, then flatten into a 6-inch disk.
  7. Chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, until firm, at least 1 hour.
  8. Roll out dough with a floured rolling pin into a 13-inch round on a lightly floured surface and fit into tart pan. Trim excess dough, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang, then fold overhang inward and press against side of pan to reinforce edge.
  9. Lightly prick bottom and sides with a fork. Chill 30 minutes.
  10. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  11. Line tart shell with foil or parchment paper and fill with pie weights. Bake in middle of oven until pastry is pale golden along rim, 20 minutes.
  12. Carefully remove foil and weights and bake until pale golden all over, 10 minutes more. Cool in pan on a rack.

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