Maryland Home Cooking: Seafood, More Seafood…& Amazing Apple French Toast
Living so far away from fresh, affordable seafood has been one of the most challenging aspects of adjusting to life in the Heartland . I’m a coastal girl, raised just a short drive (sometimes, a short walk) from the Atlantic Ocean. So, whenever I travel near the sea, all I want to eat is all seafood all the time. Happily, my cousin Spencer and his partner Adam were ready and willing to indulge my seafood obsession when the Midwestern Gentleman and I visited their home in the Baltimore area. In addition to some great dining out, we were pampered by exceptional home cooking.
The night we arrived, Adam cooked Maryland crabcakes, his own riff on an old family recipe. As the Midwestern Gentleman can attest, I didn’t eat any other crabcakes for the rest of our trip, because I was certain they wouldn’t live up to Adam’s culinary handiwork. First, I love that he shapes his crabcakes into luscious scoops that are brushed with butter and broiled, instead of flattened patties that are fried. Second, I love that they were packed with crabmeat (both backfin and lump) with very little distraction — just a hint of carby goodness to bind them, some herbs, and of course, Old Bay Seasoning. Finally, the crabcakes were cooked just long enough — leaving the crabmeat still tender, without over-browning or drying out.
Next, Adam delighted us by grilling thick, hand-cut Alaskan halibut filets (caught by a generous friend). He marinated the filets simply, in lemon juice and olive oil with a little salt and freshly cracked pepper, to let its natural, grilled flavor shine through. The side dishes were as delicious as the fish, including roasted potatoes seasoned with rosemary and a bright, marinated salad of sprouted beans, cucumbers, and tomatoes.
Since discovering Spencer is gluten intolerant, the guys have been testing every gluten-free baking mix available at their local markets. The gluten-free dinner rolls Adam baked that evening — in muffin cups to give them structure — tasted surprisingly good, with a pleasantly chewy texture.
The next evening, Spencer got in on the cooking action with his signature New Zealand greenshell mussels dish. He diced up onions and garlic, which he sweated in some butter over low heat in a large pot. Carrots, tomatoes, and finely minced herbs (rosemary, oregano, thyme) soon followed. A generous addition of wine created a flavorful broth, in which the mussels were heated thoroughly.
After scooping out the cooked mussels, Spencer simmered the broth still in the pot for a few more minutes, removed it from the heat, and finished it with a splash of cream. He served the broth on the side as a dipping sauce for the mussels (and for large hunks of absorbent bread). The mussels were wonderful, but the broth itself was so fragrant and delicious that it took all of my self control not to drink the stuff straight from the bowl.
Finally, the title of this post promises one non-seafood item: apple french toast. Adam’s impromptu variation on french toast was akin to a bread pudding, with just the right amount of sweetness for breakfast. I can’t wait to try recreating this dish at home. Adam roughly diced up the leftover gluten-free dinner rolls from the previous evening. Next, he peeled and chopped an apple into chunks about the same size as the bread cubes. To this mixture, he added spices — cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and a hint of ginger — and then tossed everything up with a light batter of beaten eggs and hazelnut milk. He spooned the mixture into muffin cups, and sprinkled his homemade vanilla sugar on top before popping the muffin tins into the oven. The french toast cups turned out moist, fruity, and lightly sweet, with just a bit of crunch from the vanilla sugar. These tasted amazing on their own, but drizzling them with a little bit of apple glaze (a bottled reduction of apple juice into a dark, thick syrup) took this breakfast over the top.
Adam sent me home with a precious tube of Madagascar vanilla beans, so I can make my own vanilla sugar. As soon as it’s ready, I’ll be setting to work experimenting with french toast cups. Big thanks to Spencer and Adam for being such warm, gracious hosts, and for taking such good care of us while the Midwestern Gentleman and I were their lucky guests.