Archive for December, 2008

Quick one: Try these potatoes!

Holiday busy-ness is upon me and I don’t have time to write a Real Post just now, but if you love potatoes as much as I love potatoes, you must try these:

Crash-Hot Potatoes, courtesy of the excellent Pioneer Woman Cooks (the rest of The Pioneer Woman’s blog is pretty entertaining, too).

So, so good. Also easy. But mostly good.

December 21, 2008 at 7:31 pm Leave a comment

From scratch: Creme fraiche

A reader looked at last night’s recipe and e-mailed me to ask:

“I see that the creme fraiche is optional, and I’ve never seen it in stores here. What purpose does it serve? Is the sauce as good without it?”

Creme fraiche is nothing more than cream that’s been inoculated with naturally occurring bacteria that thicken it to the consistency of sour cream. Besides adding a subtle nutty, tangy flavor to sauces, it has the added quality of helping sauces thicken up nice and smooth without curdling or separating the way commercial sour cream often does.

Like you, I have a hard time finding it in stores. I hear it’s a regular item at Trader Joe’s, but the nearest TJs is an hour’s drive from here. Locally, it shows  up in  the supermarket once in a while with the gourmet cheeses. But it’s really easy to make at home, and I do so when I have extra cream and buttermilk on hand – for instance, in the aftermath of a recent bout of holiday baking.

Here’s how:

Creme fraiche


  • Two cups of heavy cream (I try to avoid the ultrapasteurized kind, because it doesn’t seem to thicken as much).
  • 1/4 cup of cultured buttermilk


Have ready a clean glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Canning jars work great.

In a small saucepan, heat the cream until it’s just lukewarm – no more than 85 degrees (F). If it gets too hot, it’ll kill the friendly bacteria that do the work, so use a candy thermometer and if it overheats, let it cool to 85.

Stir in the buttermilk, and pour the mixture into the glass jar. Cover it with a piece of waxed paper held on with a rubber band. Set the jar somewhere warmish – I like to use the cupboard above my oven, which is one of those eye-height models. Leave it alone for 24-36 hours, until it’s nice and thick, like sour cream.

Remove the waxed paper, screw on the lid and refrigerate. It will thicken a bit more in the refrigerator. Use in sauces, soups, dips, or anywhere you’d use sour cream (it’s great on baked potatoes). I’m told it will keep for up to 10 days, refrigerated, but mine never lasts that long.

You can use active culture sour cream in place of the buttermilk, but in my experience, the flavor isn’t as good. My favorite cornbread recipe uses buttermilk, so I tend to have it on hand, especially during the winter.

I’ve been pondering how best to use this blog during the winter months, when local produce is scarce. I’m thinking of writing more entries like this one, talking about things we can make from scratch to stretch our cooking repertories. And perhaps some about garden planning, and interesting/unusual food crops you can grow at home to expand your range. What, after all, could be more local than your own back yard, patio or kitchen?

I’d welcome suggestions from readers (both of you!)

December 11, 2008 at 10:21 am Leave a comment

Crab season

Dungeness crab ...

Dungeness crab pasta in saffron cream sauce

The local farmers’ market may be closed till spring, but that doesn’t mean the end of locally harvested food. Here in the Willamette Valley, we’re just a hop over the Coast Range from the Pacific Ocean, where December marks the start of Dungeness crab season.

Say what you like about the scary-big Alaskan King crab, or the cute little crabs of the Atlantic coast: to my taste, nothing beats Dungeness crab for briny-sweet crab goodness.

Before the season’s over, I’ll make it to the coast to pick some up at my favorite crab stand, The Crab Pot, just south of the Yaquina Bay Bridge in Newport, where the catch is mere hours from boat to boiling pot. For now, I’m satisfied to buy them at the local supermarket, cooked and iced and ready to eat.

And inexpensive. With crab selling for under $5 a pound, little wonder that it’s something of a holiday tradition here. Lots of Oregonians feature crab cocktail as a prelude to Christmas dinner. Me, I prefer to enjoy it alone, simply prepared and lightly sauced. I’ve been known to spread newspaper on the dining table, tie a dish towel around my neck and sit down with a whole crab, some melted butter, a cut-up lemon and my indispensible crab-cracker and not get up from the table till all that’s left are the shell fragments.

But crab is also suited for more elegant fare, as long as the treatment is simple enough to let its flavor shine through. Served over pasta, for instance, with a delicate cream sauce scented with saffron, which has a real affinity for seafood. (I’ve been growing my own saffron crocuses for four years now, and each fall my neighbors can see me squatting by the front garden bed, carefully plucking the three red stigmas from each little crocus as it blooms. Like most bulbs, saffron crocuses naturalize easily, so every year my harvest grows; after drying, I wound up with roughly four tablespoons of saffron this year; at market prices, this stuff is worth more than its weight in gold.)

Dungeness crab pasta in saffron cream sauce


  • Meat from one fresh, cooked Dungeness crab, carefully picked over to remove shell fragments. (If you don’t know how to clean and pick crab, search YouTube for “crab cleaning” – you’ll find several great how-to videos).
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 Tbsp chopped mild onion or shallots
  • A pinch of real saffron threads
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 Tbsp cognac (optional)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tsp lemon zest, minced
  • 1 Tbsp creme fraiche (optional)
  • 1 Tbsp fresh Italian parsley, minced
  • salt, fresh-ground pepper to taste
  • Spaghetti, linguini or angel-hair pasta


In a small skillet over medium melt the butter; add garlic and onion and sauté, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent.

While the onion and garlic are cooking, sprinkle the saffron threads onto the wine (saffron is water-soluble, and letting it soak in liquid for a few minutes will release more of the flavor and color).

Put pasta on to boil according to package instructions. When done, drain and return to pot.

When onion and garlic are soft and fragrant, add cognac; raise heat and cook, stirring, until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add the saffron and wine, reduce heat back to medium and cook until reduced by half.

Stir in the cream, creme fraiche and lemon zest and simmer until the sauce is reduced enough to coat a wooden spoon (2-4 minutes). Stir in the crab to coat throughly; heat gently until warmed. Taste before adding salt – you may not need it.

Plate the pasta and cover with a generous helping of crab and sauce. Sprinkle with parsley and black pepper.

Serves two, but also makes great leftovers.

December 10, 2008 at 10:01 pm Leave a comment

December 2008