Sunday, July 23, 2017

ARE YOU FEELING CRABBY TODAY?



San Francisco is known for their Dungeness crabs and it was there that I first had one.  What I loved was the amount of crab meat from both the legs and body.  It didn’t seem as salty as snow crab or Alaskan king crab and enjoyed the taste even more than lobster. Would you believe that back around 1990, I was able to find a small fish market on College Point Blvd with a price of $2.99 per pound?  Fuhgettaboutit!
 
There is much more versatility with crabs then other shellfish.  Steam them, boil them, fry a soft shell, or prepare crab cakes.  Use them for chowders, soups, and casseroles. 

With all of the varieties on the market it is difficult to know just what to get and how they might differ in taste or texture.   Can you get a whole crab or just the legs or claws?  How about just getting a can of crab meat?  Except for “live crabs” are the frozen ones already cooked?  Crabs are best purchased at a fish market such as Crossbay Sea Shell Fish Market in Howard Beach.  You may get better answers on both how long the products have been on the ice or the freezer as well as personal service. 

Let’s look at some info beginning with Blue Crabs, found in the Atlantic Ocean and sold live, cooked whole, frozen or picked meat in a container.  You see them as either claw meat or lump.  Sometimes you can get the claws themselves.  Restaurants tend to use the lump crab meat to make crab cakes.  Claw meat is less expensive and sweeter.  Both are great for cocktails. When sold in containers it is pasteurized.  Once opened the refrigeration shelf life is 4-7 days. 

Soft-shell crabs are blue crabs that have molted.  In other words, they shed their old shell and begin forming a new one which only occurs for a few days before the hard shell starts to come in.  This delicacy is eaten whole and can be most delicious if cooked properly.  There is minimal cleaning which your local fish market vs. a supermarket can do, if you choose.  Keep in mind that they are alive in the fish market and NOT after they are cleaned.

One idea is to simply dredge the crab in flour and seasoning (if you want) . I used butter rather than olive oil making sure that the pan was very hot.  Saute about 5 minutes on each side.  That’s it.  A pinch of salt was just enough. You may want to squeeze some lemon juice.  I found the shell to be quite “chewable” and not as if I accidentally left a shell of a crustacean such as shrimp. 

Jonah Crabs are the Atlantic’s substitute for Dungeness, although they do not look alike. They are found off the coast from Maine to North Carolina and are sold in clusters, as legs or claws only.

Alaskan King Crabs are the largest in size. Most likely you have never seen the whole crab as it is usually sold cooked and frozen in legs and claws.  Even if you were to buy one, you would not be picking meat from the body.  The meat is known for being moist and sweet.  Excessive saltiness is a sign that the cooked crab wasn’t chilled properly prior to brine freezing. The average crab harvested weighs about six pounds and can grow much larger. Due to its delicate  flesh it deteriorates quickly. If you purchase it frozen, keep it frozen until ready to cook.
Snow Crabs come from both Atlantic and Pacific coasts in the United States.  They are typically sold frozen in clusters of legs to include some attached meat from the body.  These are the most common crabs found in restaurants that are featuring crab. 
                                                                   
Stone Crabs, found along the Atlantic Coast are known for their claws as that is the only part that is eaten. Crabbers will remove one claw and return the crab to water as these crustaceans regenerate a new claw.  Claws tend to be sweet and succulent. 

Fish markets and restaurants tend to purchase crab legs in frozen form. Once they have thawed out, they need to be eaten within two days. Take note that they cannot be refrozen.  Get the frozen legs home and to your freezer asap unless you are preparing to eat them that day.  Keep in mind that they are already cooked, especially if you are preparing a cocktail appetizer, for instance.   
Live crabs need to be kept alive until you’re ready to cook them unless the fish market cleans them for you.  Otherwise, place them in a pan of water, cover them with a wet cloth and place in the coldest section of your refrigerator where they’ll keep for up to two days.  If you want to freeze a whole crab, cook it first. Once cooked, drop into ice water, quickly dry and place in a freezer bag, first removing the air. 

If you have leftover crabmeat, remove it from the shell and store it in the fridge for up to two days or stored in the freezer in plastic bags from which the air has been removed. The crabmeat will keep in the freezer for up to four months.
FYI…there are no carbs in crabs.

THE LAUGHTER GOES RIGHT IN THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG



I am so glad that it wasn’t just me that was screaming with laughter last week at Broadway’s Lyceum Theatre.  I was sure that I would end up with a huge headache and no air left in my lungs.   The secret was in not holding anything back.  The Play That Goes Wrong has got to be the most hilarious play that I have ever experienced. 
 
Originally from London The Play That Goes Wrong is ingeniously written by three of its cast members Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields.  It is both brilliantly and painstakingly directed by Mark Bell.  First, let me explain the whole setup. 

This is a play within a play where the members of the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society are seriously attempting to perform, The Murder at Haversham Manor, by Susie H.K. Brideswell.   Let me first give you the characters.  Annie Twilloil (Nancy Zamat) is the company’s stage manager.  Trevor (Robert Falconer) is the company’s lighting and sound manager who is searching for his lost cd of Duran, Duran.  Chris Bean (Henry Shields), the head of the drama society, directed the murder mystery and portrays Inspector Carter.  Jonathan Harris (Gregg Tannahill) plays Charles Haversham, the deceased.  Robert Grove (Henry Lewis) plays Thomas Colleymoore, Charles’ old school friend.  Dennis Tyde (Jonathan Sayer) has the role of Perkins, Charles’ Butler.  Max Bennett (Dave Hearn) portrays both Cecil Haversham, Charles’ brother and Arthur the Gardner. Sandra Wilkinson (Charlie Russell) has the role of Florence Colleymoore, Charles’ fiancĂ© and Thomas’ sister.   The action takes place the evening of Charles and Florence’s engagement party in the year 1922.  As far as the murder mystery it is opening night when every possible thing will go wrong.
Aside from the main stage, there is a Tech Box where Trevor sits. Situated in an actual box seat area, this is in view of the audience. Littered with empty drink cans and other garbage, it is complete with computer and faders for lighting and sound. 

There are two floors to the manor of which has an elevator.  A pillar extending down to the ground is used as a support beam.  

The Play That Goes Wrong actually begins prior to the murder mystery.  Actors will be going about the audience in a subtle manner and the set is not quite finished as well as having difficulty in getting it completed.  Aside from trying to locate Trevor’s Duran, Duran CD, they are also trying to locate Winston, a dog that is supposed to be used for later in the show.   Annie is trying to get the mantelpiece together and it keeps on falling apart.  An audience member is asked to come up and assist her.  Just as it appears to be fine, the mantelpiece falls off the wall.  This is the running gag of the show as everything, especially the sets, will go wrong. 

What you now have is a theatre group bent on doing the play no matter what happens or how they have to adlib the faults and still stick to the script. We are talking errors such as incorrect props, this live dog that they cannot find (and will substitute a chain) and parts of the sets falling down throughout their play.  With all plays, those that are not part of the cast or on stage at the moment are trying their utmost to not make it obvious that they are present. 

The first of the hilarity occurs when Jonathan enters in the dark, trips and falls.  Lights go up and he is on the floor.  Lights dim. Lights go up and he is now on the couch and dead.  He is trying to portray a dead person but having people step on his hand is just a small problem compared to leaving the stage.  At first he is placed in a canvas stretcher and when lifted goes right through it.  The cast, not wanting to acknowledge the error, continues with the dialogue and movement while the actor now needs to find an inconspicuous way of getting off the stage as if the audience doesn’t see that he is doing this.  In other words the characters carry off the poles leaving Jonathan on the floor….face down…due to his falling off the couch and not reacting.  

As in many acting company casts there is that one actor with the big ego.  This prevails in the character of Max Bennett.  The first time he does something that gives the audience a pause to applaud, he welcomes it.  In fact, he milks it each time laughter or applause is directed toward him. 

Another great running gag is about a bottle of scotch that gets switched for a full plastic bottle labeled White Spirit with a large Flammable symbol on it.   This gets poured many times, drunk, reacted to and spit out…even when the characters already know that it will happen, they continue to follow the script. In fact one person does this following with the line, “That’s the best whiskey I’ve ever tasted.” 

I think I’ve given you enough of an idea on how this play goes wrong.  I certainly don’t want to write about all of the errors that will have you bursting in laughing, chuckling, cackling, giggling and certainly roaring.  The entire cast needs to be applauded not just for their acting but for the physical endurance they go through.  As for me, seeing The Play That Goes Wrong has kept me awake some nights.  I think about the play and burst into laughter.  A few times more, I have to get up to pee. 


Running time for the show is about 2 hours. No matinee on Wednesday but do have them on Saturday and Sundays. 




Monday, July 3, 2017

SAMARKAND TRAVELS A SILK ROAD TO REGO PARK


Traveling outside the United States can be quite expensive with the high cost of transportation and lodging alone.  One thing that Queens can afford you is being able to spend a few hours taking in a country’s atmosphere and authentic cuisine.  That is the one thing that immigrants have certainly brought here.  As the years have gone, countries have split into smaller ones.  Thus the cuisines are even a bit infused.

Taste of Samarkand sits on the border of Middle Village and Rego Park with a cuisine from Samarkand, a city from the Asian bordered country of Uzbekistan.  Samarkand sits along the ancient Silk Road, where travelers and merchants traded their culinary goods from China to the Mediterranean Sea, thus we get some of the imported spices.    


David Abramov, a Bukharan Jew from Tajikistan, met up with Rasul Hoshimov, an Uzbek Muslim from Samarkand during a construction project.  It was just a few years ago that they decided to open Taste of Samarkand and keep a kitchen kosher.  They hired chefs Cholpon Turganbaeva and Mahmud Shokirov and redecorated with imported objects. 


Music fills the air via tv screens and many evenings of a singer/guitarist.   The female waitstaff are dressed in what appears to be a traditional and very colorful long tunic and long pants.  








BYOB is almost expected in this sometime “party” atmosphere.  There was a table of men nearby eating, drinking and in much discussion.  Dim sum came to mind as that Chinese tradition stemmed from businessmen getting together and eating appetizers.  In this case it was like a Russian banquet as the appetizers, soups, entrees, etc. just kept on coming out from the kitchen while shots of vodka was the main beverage.  That is not to say that pots of green tea did not get placed on their table. 

General Manager Lina Binkauskaite was most helpful in assisting me with the menu.  A pitcher of punch suited my thirst   It is prepared daily from various fruits.  



Now, to the food.  Uzbek is noted for their grain farming, thus the use of noodles and bread products.  Squash, eggplant and tomatoes are significant and black cumin seeds, imported from Uzbekistan, are a dominant spice as it has a much stronger and sweeter flavor than the white ilk.  

“Man cannot live by bread, alone.” Though true, you may want to taste all three.  Lepyoshka, a standard of Uzbek made from water, yeast and flour, is round and airy with a “semi-hole” in the middle. Shish kebob makes for a perfect accompaniment.  Lamb, lamb ribs, lamb chop, ground lamb, veal liver, ground chicken, chicken thighs, quail, vegetable, beef skirt steak, and wild salmon are some of the options.  I sampled a skewer of lamb ribs, beef skirt steak, and lamb chunks.  Thanks to the marinade and use of pieces of lamb fat with the chunks, it was quite savory. Beef skirt steak had a marinade and with just the cut alone, produced a very tender piece of bbq.  




A bowl-shaped matzah thin bread is made by patting and slapping dough around what is called a “kazan”, a Chinese wok looking frying pan.  It is then baked over the stove until it gets that matzah crisp texture.  I detected the flavor of cumin in this one. 



Fatir, a puffy bread, is baked with layers of a butter substitute as dairy is a no-no here.  This particular one, “made from scratch” is most outstanding. The texture is sort of a cross between phyllo dough and bread.  My perfect use for this was with two of the spreads: babaganush, that begins with smoked eggplant; and hummus made with mashed chickpeas and tahini.  This was topped with paprika and chick peas. 




Let’s get to some appetizers such as Samsa.  Layered dough wraps over finely chopped veal and lamb meat, onion and spices wrapped in the dough and cooked in the oven. Sauce on the side has a tomato base and not spicy, but has lots of garlic....I'll pass. Very inexpensive and filling, not to mention delicious!  Uzbek manti is comparable to a large broth-y steamed dumpling with the same ingredients as the Samsa.  





With many salads to choose from I opted for the Samarkand Salad 2, their winter salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, pickled cucumbers, potato chips, beef, dill, dressed with a drizzled mayonnaise. Potato chips shaped like noodles, rather than chips, provided the perfect "crunch" to the palate.



Stand up and applaud the chef who is in charge of the soups. I sampled what all Uzbekistanis beckon for; Lagman Soup.  Thick homespun stretched noodles are the highlight.  Chunks of tender, slow-cooked beef with onions, sweet peppers, carrots, in a savory beef stock.  I could taste both the cumin and dill.  The noodle idea comes from nearby Korea.  In fact there are a few Korean dishes served here.



Nakhot  Garmack, one of the main dishes is another must to try (You either keep coming back here or bring a group and share everything).  I never had or heard of eating veal tail.  They braise it for hours producing a broth worth dipping the provided crusty bread into. The second compote is chickpeas.  This dish is topped with thinly sliced red onions.   As for me, I’ll take veal tail over oxtail any day!  



Baklava was my dessert choice.  I didn’t even ask if there were options.  Excellent.  When you order a pot of tea a small tray of a sort of “trail mix” accompanies it on one side.  It was a mix of  candied pineapple, sugared chickpeas, raisins, and nuts that were coated with honey and sesame seeds. The other side had small cubes of sugar.  




Taste of Samarkand is located at 62-16 Woodhaven Blvd. Hours are: Sun-Thu: 11am - 11pm, Fri: 11am-5pm, Sat: 8pm - 12am.  718-672-2121. 

On another day I had food delivered.  This time I tried the Chebureki and their pilaf dish.