Grab a mallet, honIf it's summer in Baltimore, it must be...


July 18, 1993|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Staff Writer

Grab a mallet, hon

If it's summer in Baltimore, it must be time for crabs. It's a snap to round up a mess of crabs, steam 'em up and invite friends and neighbors in to share the treat. But there are a few things you should keep in mind about safely preparing and serving all types of seafood. Here are some tips on crabs from Noreen Eberly, a dietitian and seafood marketing specialist with the Aquaculture/Seafood Office of the Maryland Department of Agriculture:

* Buy your crabs from a reputable dealer.

* Make sure they're alive and kicking when you buy them, and check each one again before you put it in the steamer.

* Never put cooked crabs back in the container that live crabs came in.

* When the crabs are steamed, check again to make sure each was alive when steamed. Hold up the crab; if its mouth droops open and the limbs droop, discard it.

* Live crabs can be kept overnight in the refrigerator or in a cool, shaded place (a basement will do). Usually the maximum storage time is eight hours. If you've stored the crabs in the refrigerator, bring them to room temperature before steaming; make sure each one perks back up and is still alive.

* If you store the crabs in a bag, be sure to punch many holes in it so air circulates; crabs need to breathe.

* Never store crabs on ice or in water.

Here is the agriculture department's traditional recipe for steamed crabs:

Steamed crabs

Serves 8 to 10

3 dozen live blue crabs

1/2 cup seafood seasoning, such as Old Bay

1/2 cup of salt, preferable kosher

3 cups white vinegar

3 cups beer or water

Mix salt, vinegar and beer or water in a very large pot with rack and tight-fitting lid. Put half of crabs in pot in layers, and sprinkle with half of seafood seasoning. Steam, covered, until crabs turn bright red, 20-30 minutes. Repeat with second batch. Serve with extra seafood seasoning, for dipping, if desired, and with plenty of cold beverages. Bert Greene, who died in 1988, was one of the most beloved figures on the American culinary scene. Three of his books, "Greene on Greens," "Honest American Fare," and "The Grains Cookbook," won Tastemaker awards from the International Association of Culinary Professionals. But people who knew him seem to remember Greene as much for his skills as a storyteller as for his skills in the kitchen. Now his protege, Phillip Stephen Smith, a New Yorker and cookbook writer himself, has compiled 150 of Greene's syndicated newspaper columns into a book so the rest of us can spend some time with this chef and charmer.

Greene began writing the columns in 1980. He writes engagingly of his sister's early attempts at "gourmet" food (a failed Welsh rarebit), about traveling with a radish lover, about getting lost in Los Angeles, about the scanty size of public phone booths (Greene was 6 feet 4). This sample recipe accompanies a sort of gustatory tribute to a former pet cat. It seems the cat liked jambalaya, brownies and brie, but went simply wild over yogurt.

Lemon yogurt cake

Serves 8 to 10

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 1/2 cups sugar

4 eggs

1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup plain yogurt

3/4 cup finely ground blanched almonds

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch tube pan.

Beat the butter in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Slowly beat in 1 cup of sugar. Then add the eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Beat in the lemon zest and the vanilla.

In a medium-sized bowl, sift the flour with the baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture in three parts, alternating with thirds of the yogurt. Then fold in the almonds.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool the cake, still in the pan, on a wire rack for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the remaining 1/2 cup sugar with the lemon juice in a small saucepan and heat until the sugar dissolves. Slowly pour this over the cake, allowing the syrup to soak in. Cool the cake completely in the pan before unmolding. Saturday's always potluck at Aunt Jane's, and you've promised to bring that new fruit salad that was such a hit last time. You clipped the recipe out of the paper -- but where is it?

Most cooks have trouble keeping track of favorite recipes. Meadowsweet Kitchens has a couple of solutions. The "Collected Recipes Cookbook" has 36 two-sided, plastic-covered pages, so clipped recipes can be arranged somewhat like photos in an album. There are also eight tab dividers in the three-ring binder. Prices range from $14.98 to $17.98, depending on cover material. The "Recipe Card Cookbook" is easier to use than a card file, and comes with 50 clear plastic protectors, nine divider pages, and 25 two-sided 4-inch by 6-inch recipe cards. It costs $11.98, and refills are available. For a free copy of the Meadowsweet Kitchens catalog, or to place a credit card order, call (800) 877-8312. Or write Meadowsweet Kitchens, ESM Inc., 44 Cross St., New Canaan, Conn. 06840-4821.

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