VDay Din: Crab Cakes + Dill Scalloped Potatoes + Asparagus a la Dre <3

Last Valentine’s Day, Dre outdid himself with delicious fried chicken cordon bleu and asparagus-champagne risotto. This year was even better, as Dre spent the afternoon crafting another impressive dinner. I may let him take the reigns in the kitchen more often!

Crab Cakes + Dill Scalloped Potatoes + Asparagus

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Restaurant Rewind: Phillips Seafood in AC

On May 19th (bear with me, folks! I just started a new job!), I had the pleasure of attending a food blogger dinner hosted by Breslow Partners and Phillips Seafood. I have yet to share my personal philosophy on sharing my restaurant dining experiences, so what better time than the present. It pretty much boils down to a commitment to post only about positive encounters (gratis meal, as in this case, or not) and our evening at Phillips definitely fits that criteria.

Dre & I rushed to AC after work that Wednesday, checked into our amazing room in the new Chairman Tower at the Taj Mahal (thanks, Mike!), and hurried over to the Pier at Caesars. We arrived at Phillips first and were greeted with smiles from Tina & Jennifer, the dynamic mother-daughter duo behind Breslow Partners. Our server, Mike, took drink orders as we got to know our hostesses and perused the amazing menu of food coming our way. How could you not be excited for this?

Phillips Seafood Blogger Dinner Menu

Cocktails arrived and so did 5 other new friends. It was so great to meet the people behind the local food blogs I enjoy, let alone dive into an indulgent seafood feast with them. Lisa & Lisa joined us first, from Jersey Girl Cooks and John and Lisa are Eating in South Jersey, respectively (har-har!). We then welcomed Allie of A Food Coma and her guest Mikey with Elaine of Elle Eats rounding out the group. No sooner did we finish our introductions when our first course arrived, Steamed Mojito Clams.

The GM, Brian Fountain, and Executive Chef Paul Drew were nothing short of hospitable, informative, & accommodating through out the meal. They joined us between each course to explain the history & philosophy of Phillips along with all the juicy ingredient and prep details that really  make foodies like us drool.

Steamed Mojito Clams from Phillips

We all had already dove into the tender clams while Chef Drew recapped the Mojito-inspired ingredients that flavored the dish. Phillips excels in freshness when it comes to their seafood and these middle necks fit the bill. They were cooked in butter, rum, mint (which I believed is mis-mentioned on the menu), slivers of garlic, & anaheim peppers and served with a ramekin of extra Mojito butter on the side. We happily sopped up the remaining butter with the warm bread we were served. I appreciated learning that Phillips strives to maintain the option for sustainable seafood by returning all clam shells to the Chesapeake.

Next up was a raw bar lovers dream, The Chilled Plateau. Its top tier featured fresh Maine Lobster and Alaskan King Crab Legs, each steamed with cinnamon, cloves, lemon, Phillips seasoning, pickling spice, & orange and served chilled. Melpac & Blue Point Oysters and Middle Neck Clams on the half shell outlined the bottom tier with fresh lemon wedges and a red wine, shallot, & garlic mignonette. Bowled in the middle, were Tuna Tartar (ahi poke style), U15 Shrimp, and Jumbo Lump Crab Meat with sides of cocktail sauce & mustard sauce for dipping. It was a tower of raw seafood indulgence and I loved every bite (and swallow in the case of the oysters) of it!

The Chilled Plateau from Phillips

The penultimate course for our dinner were the famous Phillips Chesapeake Crab Cakes,  packed with their own pasteurized crab meat, a process first developed by Phillips. 300 million tons of their crab meat are canned each year with 1/3 of that coming from our Gulf. The effects of the current outrageous oil leak saddens me beyond words and I’m sure this will have a grave effect, short & long term, on Phillips crab meat distribution. Let’s all hope for the best that can come out of this unimaginable disaster. But, this afternoon, it’s back to the crab cakes…

Chef Paul Drew explained that Phillips variety includes jumbo lump, back fin, & special lump crab meat for a variety of taste & texture. The whole chunks of crab are seasoned and bound with Phillips seasoning, lemon, mustard, Worcestershire, egg, & mayo. They’re formed into mounds and chilled at 40degrees until broiling them at 450degrees. Dre inquired about their cooking approach, as growing up in Maryland he was used to the deep-fried variety. Without solicitation, the Chef was happy to whip up a batch of fried crab cakes for comparison.  Their table was split on their cooking preference, but I think Lisa (of John & Lisa) summed it up perfectly – “They’re really good baked, but ethereal fried!”

Chesapeake Crab Cakes, Potato Gratinée, & Broccolini

The crab cake entree was well-rounded with sides of Potato Gratinées with Swiss cheese and tender Broccolini. We discussed our final thoughts on the meal over a palate-cleansing dish of mango sorbet. Overall, it was a great experience to try a restaurant I normally would not have with great fellow food bloggers. It was a refreshing experience, as sometimes a classic presentation of a seafood indulgence truly hits the spot. I couldn’t ask for a better meal that this beachside feast to kick off my Spring/Summer!

Blogger Dinner Contacts

Breslow Partners

Phillips Seafood AC

Jersey Girl Cooks

John and Lisa are Eating in South Jersey

A Food Coma

Ell Eats

Restaurant Rewind: Varga Bar w/ Sunshine

Easter came & went and I’m finally resurrected from the blogging dead. Between a full hardrive and an external crash, I was graciously interrupted by a perfect vacation to Miami with Dre. I’m back in Philly now with some catching up to do, so here goes!

In early March, Sunshine suggested meeting up for dinner snacks at Varga Bar. I’ve been wanting to give it a try and surely looked forward to catching up with one of my favorite people. There was some Yelp! drink special going on so I went for the Cadillac Margarita & Sunshine chose the Renegade Root Beer, both $4 apiece.

Soon after our cocktails arrived, the waitress presented a marble slab with 5 cheeses & accoutrements. I’ve blanked on the specific cheese varieties, but I know we had (2) raw goat cheeses, a goat’s milk sharp cheddar, a creamy blue, and a gouda that was definitely not a gouda (but still delicious!). The platter included pairings of garlic dolce de leche, some other dolce de leche, bourbon honey mustard, grapes, granny & gala apple slices, & a fruit relish. We each had our favorites and surely appreciated the server who graciously brought us a 3rd plate of baguette.

Next up, a tower of crisp fries topped with melted white cheddar, parmesan, & tender jump lump crab. With or without the peppery homemade ketchup, they were quite tasty. Overall, the service & ambiance were ok, the food was good, & the company was certainly great!

Cheese Plate & Jumbo Lump Cheese Fries - Varga Bar

Leftover Lightning! Chinese BBQ Chili Chicken & Lump Snow Crab Egg Rolls!

Dre got me an awesome deep fryer for Christmas and it took some debate on what to christen it with. Making Egg Rolls is new to me but seemed easy enough. Dre & I popped over to our local Asian market and picked up some ingredients to make the basic cabbage filler. Thank god for my Frankenberry so I could pull up some pics to discern Chinese Cabbage from the wall of greens in front of me. I love how it looks crimped when you slice it thin.

Chinese Cabbage

I added some shredded Carrot, Bean Sprouts, minced Ginger, Garlic & Shallots, Sesame Oil, Soy Sauce, and S&P. After a quick toss, it was a perfect fresh slaw to begin my egg rolls. I had some leftover Pan-seared Chicken Breast from Thursday’s dinner and leftover Snow Crab from Friday’s dinner. Both seemed like perfect proteins to add to my Egg Rolls. I chopped the Chicken and tossed it with Chili-Garlic Sauce, Chinese BBQ Sauce, & Clementine Zest. Half of the Cabbage mixture was mixed with the Chicken and we piled the fresh lump Crab Meat on top of the rest.

Chinese Chili BBQ Chicken & Cabbage Egg Roll Filler

Chili BBQ Chicken & Cabbage Egg Roll Filler

So far, so good! Rolling was easy enough as Dre took over with the crab and I rolled the chicken mixture.

Soon to be... Chinese Chili BBQ Chicken Egg Rolls

Once we got in a rhythm, we banged out almost two dozen perfect egg rolls sealed with an egg wash and love.

Egg Rolls

I heated some (very expensive!) peanut oil in my Presto Cool Daddy and dropped in batches of 2-3 egg rolls at a time. Dre whipped up a Ginger-Hoisin-Soy Sauce from scratch and poured some Sweet & Sour Chili Sauce for us to dip them in. I’m proud to see him turn into such a great kitchen helper. Once the Egg Rolls crisped, drained, & cooled, we were ready to snack!

Fried Chinese Egg Rolls

Chinese Egg Rolls ~ makes about 18-22 egg rolls

  • Chinese Cabbage – (2) bunches, shredded or sliced thin
  • Fresh Bean Sprouts – (1.5) dry cups
  • Carrot – (2) large, shredded – about 1.5 dry cups
  • Garlic – (2) T, minced – about (3-4) cloves
  • Ginger – (2) tsp, minced
  • Shallots – (1) large, minced
  • Soy Sauce – (2) T, preferably low sodium
  • Toasted Sesame Oil – (1) T
  • S&P
  • Egg – (1) whisked in a dish for an egg wash
  • Egg Roll Wrappers – (18-22) – usually in the frozen section, not be mistaken for spring roll wrappers, lumpia wrappers, etc.
  1. Toss all ingredients (except egg & egg roll wrappers) until mixed thoroughly.
  2. Add chopped protein if desired – semi-cooked shrimp, crab meat, chicken breast
  3. Lay an individual wrapper on a hard surface so it’s shaped like a diamond. Paint the edges with the egg wash using a pastry brush or back of a spoon.
  4. Spoon cabbage mixture towards the bottom point of the wrapper, I’d say what looks like about 2-3 hot dogs put together. Make sure to squeeze any moisture from the mixture before spooning on wrapper to avoid sogginess!
  5. Fold bottom point on top of mixture and roll once, tightly. Fold in each side and continue to roll and seal.
  6. Deep fry 2-3 at a time at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes or until crispy.
  7. Shake out oil and then drain on paper towels.
  8. Enjoy with Soy Sauce, Sweet Chili Sauce, or the Asian Dipping Sauce below.

Asian Dipping Sauce

From the Best Answer on Yahoo! Answers for an “egg roll” dipping sauce

  • Soy Sauce – (1/4) cup, preferably low sodium
  • Toasted Sesame Oil – (1/2) tsp
  • Garlic – (1) tsp, minced – about (1) clove
  • Green Onion/Scallions – (1) tsp, minced – about (1) stalk
  • Hoisin – (2) T
  • Ginger – (1/4) tsp, minced
  • White Sugar – (1/2) tsp
  1. Combine ingredients in a small bowl, cover, & chill for 1-2 hours so flavors can marinate.
  2. Serve warmed or at room temperature with egg rolls, spring rolls, wontons, dumplings, potstickers…

Family-Style: Build Your Own Pizza

Last season of Top Chef, we started a tradition of “Family Dinners” at my house to watch each week’s episode along with a home-cooked meal! Tom, Dre, & Lex were the regulars at last season’s dinners, but couldn’t be happier to add Sarah to this year’s season. She brought along her homemade pizza dough for the return of Top Chef AND the return of “Build Your Own Pizza Night,” my favorite dinner theme!

The original plan was to do grilled pizzas, but after a summer of cooking and roasting Grape Tomatoes (via The Bitten Word’s amazing recipe) & Yellow Bell Peppers for pizza toppings, my grill ran out of gas. At least we always have the oven for back-up. I also prepared sauteed Zucchini, Chicken Andouille Sausage, Crab Meat, & Creole Shrimp, along with shredded Mozzarella, Smoked Gouda, Asiago, & Ricotta Cheeses, as topping options. Can’t forget some tomato sauce, as well! We all got to loading our shells with Dre opting for a Crab White Pizza & Tom piling on just about everying!

We were 3 episodes behind with all of our busy schedules, so we got together on a Thursday night to cook & recap via the DVR while the pizzas baked to perfection…

Dres Crab White Pizza - Pre-Baked

Dre's Crab White Pizza - Pre-Baked

My Pizza w/ the works

My Pizza w/ the works

Build Your Own Pizza Night

Homemade Pizza Dough a la Sarah

Roasted Tomatoes, Yellow Bell Peppers, & Zucchini

Chicken Andoille Sausage

Crab Meat

Creole Shrimp

Mozzarella, Smoked Gouda, Asiago, & Ricotta

Fresh Basil & Lemon-Thyme

To Taste: Grilled Snow Crab Legs

Wasn’t too long ago that I was just sayin’ that you shouldn’t grill in the dark… especially crab legs. So I took another stab at grilled snow crab legs for a Sunday late-lunch/early-dinner with Dre. I decided to get all the sides started before I threw the crabbiness on the grill, so I could give it my undivided attention.

Earlier that week, I bought 2 large bunches of Collard Greens from the Italian Market. It was alot of greens for only $2! I rinsed & chopped them before sauteing in garlic, shallots, EVOO, & butter and simmering in chicken stock. I didn’t have any turkey bacon on hand as a usual ingredient in my greens, so just settled for some Sriracha & Worcestshire to jazz it up. I STILL had Grape Tomatoes from my Spicy Fish Tacos & Avocado-Salad and Sweet Peppers from my Mexi-Risotto, so I tossed them into a Rice-a-Roni Spanish Rice Mix.

Dre whipped up a batch of Cornbread using trusty ol’ Jiffy mix. We tossed in some sliced jalapenos & the leftover sweet peppers, and sprinkled with shredded sharp cheddar halfway thru the baking process. With the greens sauteing, rice simmering, & cornbread baking, it was time for crab!

After a few knife pokes, a brush of butter, & 5 minutes on each side, we had ourselves a summer afternoon feast. Oh, and MOJITOS! After some experimenting, Dre mixed up a perfectly refreshing batch using Apple Mint from my garden.

Grilled Crab Legs, Spanish Rice, Collard Greens, Jalapeno-Cheddar Cornbread, & an Apple Mint Mojito

Grilled Crab Legs, Spanish Rice, Collard Greens, Jalapeno-Cheddar Cornbread, & an Apple Mint Mojito

Jalapeno-Cheddar Cornbread

Jalapeno-Cheddar Cornbread - Photo: Dre

Grape Tomatoes

Grape Tomatoes

Fresh Collard Greens from the Italian Market

Fresh Collard Greens from the Italian Market

Summer Grilled Crab Feast:

Grilled Snow Crab Legs – Brushed in butter before grilling, dipped in Butter after

Sauteed Collard Greens – Wilted w/ Shallots, Garlic, & Olive Oil, simmered in Chicken Stock w/ S&P, Worcestershire, Dried Herbs, & Sriracha

Spanish Rice – Sauteed Garlic, Sweet Peppers, & Grape Tomatoes added to Rice-a-Roni Spanish Rice

Jalapeno-Cheddar Cornbread – Sauteed Sweet Peppers & Jalapeno added to Jiffy mix, topped w/ Shredded Sharp Cheddar

Classic Mojito w/ Apple Mint from my Garden