One of the perks of this “job” is that I often get invited to restaurants for a peek into their offerings. I can’t and don’t always go. Even when they’re in the town I live in. But I did say yes to Experience Columbus recently. They were arranging a culinary tour of that city in Ohio and I knew I wanted to go. I’ve been there before. Columbus is not the kind of city you can go to once and feel you’ve done it. Especially when it comes to the Columbus Food Scene. It’s vibrant and constantly getting better and better.
So despite the fact that I’m not really a restaurant blogger, I hoped a plane and asked for reservations all over town. Because this trip I wanted to eat a lot and I wanted to learn about what I was eating.
I should tell you that one of the reasons I don’t say yes to a lot press trips is this– I can be a bad guest. I know you think I’m a nice guy. But something happens when someone lays a plate of something particularly delicious in front of me. I almost immediately flip whatever it is upside-down. Waiters have gasped and giggled. Some have even asked me what was wrong. But nothing is wrong. I’m just bad sometimes. Partly because I’m constantly deconstructing whatever is served to me. Dissecting it on the plate and trying to get to the bottom of how it was made. I’m an embarrassment to my fellow diners and a whole lot of publicists have removed me from their lists because of this appalling habit.
But I can’t help it. I’m a cook first. I just am.
Fortunately for Columbus, I behaved myself this time. I got in and out of the nicest restaurants in town without making a scene. Because this time I wised up. This time I had the brains to ask for recipes from some of the restaurants and chefs I enjoyed in Columbus. And guess what? I came with recipes to try myself. Which helps me learn just how the heck they did that! Which means I’ve cooked them up and I photographed them. Now I’m going to share two of my favorites with you.
This can be served as a first course chilled soup. But Basi Italia served it as an amuse bouche in little shot glasses whose striking red color was a playful way to start the meal.
- 2 red beets washed and quartered
- 1 pt strawberries, washed and dried
- 2 large shallots, peeled & halved
- 1 stalk celery, quartered crosswisw
- 1 orange, zest only
- 1/2 t crushed red pepper, or to taste
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 c white wine
- 1/4 c white wine vinegar
- 8 c vegetable stock
- 1/2 c grated fresh horseradish
- 1/2 c very good extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 lemon, zest only
- 3 strawberries cut into very tiny dice (optional)
- 6 or more fresh mint leaves, or chives stalks, as garnish
Place beets, strawberries, shallots, celery, orange zest, red pepper flakes, cinnamon, white wine, vinegar, and vegetable stock in a large stock pot, set over medium low heat. Bring to a boil, simmer and reduce to 4 cups, about 1 1/2 hours. Remove from heat and let liquid steep for at least 1 hour before straining though fine mesh sieve. Chill liquid well and season with salt and white pepper to taste. Consommé may be made up to one day ahead, stored covered and refrigerated.
Add 1/2 cup grated fresh horseradish, olive oil, and lemon zest to a small saucepan set over medium-low heat. Bring oil to a simmer for 5 minutes. turn of heat and let oil steep for at least 1 hour. Strain oil through fine sieve. May be made up to one day ahead, stored covered and refrigerated.
To serve divide tiny dice of strawberries (if using) between 6 chilled soup bowls or 16 shot sized glasses. Pour the consommé on top. Drizzle with horseradish oil to taste just before before serving, garnish with mint, chives or an herb of you choice.
Buying wild Alaskan crab legs that are steamed almost immediately after the catch then flash frozen ensures the freshest product possible. It also makes this tasty appetizer a snap to prepare.
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, cubed and at room temperature
- 2 large steamed, frozen and thawed Alaskan king or snow crab legs, or as needed
- 1 bay leaf
- 5 whole black peppercorns
- 1 pn salt, optional
- 16 sli toasted baguette
Set a medium sized, heavy bottom sauce pan over medium heat. Make sure it is dry and clean. Place the butter in the pan, and cook uncovered until the butter melts. You will notice a white foam sitting on top a clear yellow liquid. At this point you will hear the butter crackle. This is the water in the butter cooking off. It might also bubble irregularly and that is fine.
Once the crackling begins, lower the heat to low and cook swirling the pan occasionally until the butter fat and foam begin to very lightly brown and sink to the bottom. Watch it carefully you want all the butter fats to get light brown but you don’t want to scorch or burn them. I usually remove it from the heat when most of the white foam has sunk and colored but a bit remains on top as it will continue to cook once it leaves the heat.
Let cool about 20 minutes, then strain though a fine sieve lined with a double thickness of cheesecloth. Make sure all the milk solids are strained out; strain twice if needed.
Store the clarified butter in a clean, dry jar. But don’t put the lid on until fully cooled. May be kept at room temperature or refrigerated.
When ready to serve. Cut the bulbous knuckle ends from the crab claws using a serrated knife. Cut the legs on either side of all the joints. Then cut all the pieces into 4 or 5‑inch length. Save the knuckle and joints for another use.
Starting on the narrow end of each piece of crab, carefully but firmly push the crab meat out of its tubular shell. Try to get it out in one clean piece. Discard the shells. Cut all the crab meat into bite-sized, cleanly cut chunks. Move the pieces of meat to a shallow serving bowl, just large enough to hold them in a single layer.
Place the clarified butter into a small saucepan. Add 1 bay leaf, 5 black peppercorns and a pinch of salt (optional) to the clarified butter. Set over very low heat to gently warm it. Your goal is warm enough to infuse its flavors but not so hot as to further cook the crab. Bath temperature is about right. You should be able to stick your finger in it and notice that it is quite warm but not scalding.
Pour this liquid, spices and all over the crab pieces. Serve warm with toasted baguette slices on the side.