Monday, June 19, 2006

Father's Day Feasting

Usually on Father's Day, we take Dad out someplace nice for dinner. This year, I decided we were going to stay at his house and grill some yummies. When my family grills, it's always festival of meat, so in keeping with that theme, I decided on flank steak, baby back ribs, and bratwursts.

The flank steak was simply marinated in a savory bath consisting of a couple of glugs each of Worcestershire and soy sauces, ketchup, and 2 large cloves of garlic, crushed. I didn't get a photo of it before we tucked in, and as you can see from the photo, there was very little left over. The dog ended up with those few morsels.

I like to use Alton Brown's recipe for oven braised ribs. In a nutshell, this entails wrapping each rack of baby backs in heavy duty aluminum foil after coating them generously with a dry rub. After marinating overnight, each foil packet gets 1/2 cup of some sort of flavorful liquid; I've used iced tea in the past, but this time I used orange juice. I did three racks each with a Chinese-style rub (brown sugar, powdered onion, garlic, and ginger, paprika, cayenne, Chinese five spice, salt, and black pepper, in roughly equal portions but triple the sugar), and three racks with a more standard bbq rub (minus the ginger and five spice and adding chili powder and cumin). These braise for 1 hour at 350, then 2 more hours at 250; this produces fall-off-the-bone tender meat. As I was grilling these babies, I cooked them for 1 hour and 1 hour 15 minutes so they wouldn't fall apart on me.

On the grill, the Chinese ribs got a basting of a hoisin concoction, and the others got good old KC Masterpiece. They were AMAZING. I had never used that much cayenne in a rib rub before, and the kick it gave was really a nice touch.

Another spicy dish was our side of Spicy Pesto Soba, adapted from Nina Simonds Asian Noodles.
Spicy Pesto
Blend to a paste in a food processor or blender:
1 1/2 teaspoons Korean hot pepper flakes
6 cloves of garlic
1 cup fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

Rice wine dressing
Whisk together:
1/2 cup soy sauce
6 tablespoons rice vinegar
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons mirin

3/4 lb soba noodles, cooked until just tender, rinsed under cold water, and drained.

Mix the pesto with the noodles. Add the dressing a bit at a time, until noodles are coated but not sopping wet. You probably will only need half the dressing.

I also made a standard cole slaw with a dressing of mayo, rice vinegar, celery seeds, and sugar. Dad provided egg potato salad and corn on the cob. Needless to say, with all of the other food, we never got to the bratwurst! And there are a ton of leftovers. I kept two racks of ribs for Neal and I. I am going to pick the Chinese-style meat off the bones and give it a quick stir fry with some pea shoots. We went to the Han Ah Reum the other day and bought a ton of vegetables, so we're also having some Asian eggplants and string beans tonight, along with the leftover soba. Later in the week, we'll make pulled pork with the other ribs and serve it on the potato rolls we bought for the uneaten bratwurst. Dad ended up with two full racks of leftover grilled ribs and the slaw, so he doesn't have to worry about dinner for a couple of nights.

It was a lot more work than taking Dad out for dinner, but in the long run, it was worth it!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Crabcake that Ate Baltimore

But it was an enormous crabcake! Seriously!

We took my Mother-in-Law out for her birthday yesterday (and despite celebrating on 6-6-06, she's a lovely person and the sweetest MIL anyone could ask for). She chose a new-ish restaurant called By the Docks, way out on Eastern Boulevard in Essex, past the waste water treatment plant, past Martin's airport, and almost to Bengie's drive-in. Pretty much the edge of the universe, and just about as far East as I am willing to travel. Mom told me that when she made our 6 p.m. reservation, she was informed that it would be held for fifteen minutes only and would be given away after that point; I laughed. Why would a hole-in-the-wall in Essex have a crowd at 6 o'clock on a Tuesday? But when we got there, the parking lot was packed. Luckily, we arrived a mere 10 minutes late and were ushered by a bored teenager to our window table in the cramped and noisy dining room.

My friend Jill, who had eaten at By the Docks on her birthday just two days prior, said the restaurant wasn't very relaxing. She didn't elaborate, so I assumed that the decor was spartan or ugly and the chairs were hard. It was rather drab - a large square room painted a pale blue, with little ornamentation but for a large sailfish and a couple of small prints. Not exactly cozy, but it was actually the noise factor that made the place un-relaxing. Customers, packed cheek-to-jowl at tables both in the main dining room and upstairs, chattered quite loudly, laughing and having a good time. It was irritating, but the most annoying sound was the clatter of ceramic dishes and flatware being tossed into plastic bins by the busy busboys. I cringed every time a table was cleared. The din was so bad, I had to strain to hear my brother-in-law speaking, and he was mere inches away. Across the table, the conversation between my husband and his mother sounded like faraway whispers.

But let's get to the food here, shall we? By the Docks is your typical Baltimore seafood restaurant: crabcakes, a broiled seafood platter, and stuffed shrimp, a couple of steaks, and some token pasta dishes. Entrees came with a salad and a choice of "vegetable." I put the word in quotes because I don't consider baked potatoes, french fries, or applesauce to be veggies. Cole slaw barely passes. And the veg du jour - corn, most likely canned and served in a bowl of it's own juices - is an insult. Would making some steamed broccoli or asparagus really hurt that much? Don't Baltimorons *like* green vegetables?

Anyway.... Jill recommended the crabcakes, saying they were very large and full of meat, but rather light on the seasonings. Three of us opted for that, and my BIL Craig decided on scallops.

The crabcakes were absolutely huge. A normal entrée had two golden-brown softball-sized mounds of meat, garnished with an unattractive pile of shredded carrot and two lemon wedges. My crabcakes were stuck together, and they had ragged square edges, as did those of Neal and Flo. I imagine that huge ice-cream scoops of crabcake mixture were placed side-by-side on a baking sheet and broiled en masse. Whatever the method, the cakes were obscenely large. And...they were good. There was very little filler and the meat actually seemed to be backfin. There was even a little crab mustard here and there. It was almost as if they picked the crabs themselves, the lumps were so large and intact. They were very mildly seasoned, but the restaurant thoughtfully provided shakers of Old Bay along with the usual salt and pepper on every table.

The cole slaw, which came in a separate bowl, diner-style, was minced so finely it was practically a puree. It was fairly dry and mostly flavorless.

Craig's scallops also arrived as a large portion, a bowl heaped high with half-dollar sized shellfish dusted with an afterthought of paprika, garnished with more shredded carrots. They were perfectly cooked, but a tad on the bland side. Our waitress, who had never eaten much seafood in her youth, wanted to know how we'd describe scallops to someone who had never eaten them before. She said the best she could come up with was "Old Bay-flavored Jell-O," a description I found extremely unappetizing.

I was able to eat one of my crabcakes and Flo could only finish half of her single. Neal did a more admirable job and got partway through cake #2. The rest was packed into foam take-out containers. And I will feast on my leftovers for lunch today.

So after reading about our orgy of crab, you probably want to know the bottom line. Well, the crabcake platter, with a salad and "vegetable" cost a whopping $21.95. The whole bill, for four dinners, two iced teas, a Scotch and water, and a glass of wine was just under $92. No wonder the place is crowded on a Tuesday - bountiful seafood at ridiculously reasonable prices.

Maybe next time we'll try the $18.95 24-ounce Porterhouse....

By the Docks
3321 Eastern Blvd
Middle River, MD 21220
(410) 686-1188

By the Docks Restaurant and Lounge on Urbanspoon
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