Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Welcome summer: Lobster rolls

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Find an updated version of this recipe on my new blog, white plate blank slate lobster rolls.

I love lobster. As a kid I loved tearing into a whole steamed lobster, starting with the claws and ending by sucking the meat out of each little leg. My dad probably did most of the work... It reminds me of summer vacations on Martha's Vineyard and in Maine, where those yummy red creatures always held a starring role.

Lately, lobster prices in New Jersey hit rock bottom in May and June. A couple years ago, they went as low as $3.99 per pound (I pay $7 a pound for smoked turkey!). A week and a half ago, they went down to $5.99. We've had them 3 times since... First time, we grilled them. Second time, I made lobster mac 'n' cheese. And yesterday, to celebrate Memorial Day in style, I made lobster rolls for lunch. I like to keep them simple - a few ingredients so the lobster really stands out. And as you can see from the picture, I like big chunks of meat, no wimpy little bits for us.

I steam the lobsters the night before, let them cool and then shell them in the morning. Toss them with the dressing a little while before serving. Serve with some good chips and a dill pickle for a terrific summer lunch or dinner.

And a tip for getting every juicy bit of meat: use a rolling pin to squeeze the meat out of the legs... it's tender and sweet!

(Prices are back up today... but I'll find another way to prepare them if the price goes down again, so leave a comment with your favorite way to enjoy lobster to give me some ideas!)

Lobster rolls

Meat from 2 1.5-lb steamed lobsters
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. capers
1 celery stalk, diced

6 long rolls, preferably New England style or top cut hot dog buns
Butter
Lettuce, optional

Stir together the mayonnaise, capers and celery. Add about 2/3 of it to the lobster meat and stir to combine. If needed add some more, but don't overdress the lobster.

Heat a large frying pan over medium heat. Spread each side of the buns with a little butter then brown the buns in the heated pan, turning so both sides are crisp and golden.

Line each bun with a bit of lettuce, the scoop the lobster into them. Serve immediately.

Makes 6. Enough for 3 adults for lunch or dinner.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Ricotta and spinach ravioli with butter and sage

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I don't often tout other companies and services here, but as a cookbook lover, I have become obsessed with Eat Your Books. It's a web-based service that catalogs thousands of cookbooks by recipe and ingredient. I have 140 cookbooks, more than most people, but a lot less than some collectors. Digging thru them for ideas is a time-consuming task to say the least.

Until I found EYB. I quickly added all of my books to my bookshelf and was happy to find most of them are indexed. The site quickly reported that I have more than 20,000 recipes. But here's the good part: if I have an ingredient I want to use, I no longer have to pull out a pile of books and search the index of each. I simply type in the ingredient and within seconds, I have a list of recipes that use it. That's how I found this recipe for Eric Ripert's Spinach and Ricotta ravioli with butter and sage. I had a big bag of baby spinach in my fridge so I did a search on spinach. After narrowing my search to exclude salads and such, I hit the perfect accompaniment to a grilled veal chop.

Of course, I cheated. I didn't have time to make the fresh pasta so I used wonton wrappers - my go-to trick for quick, light homemade ravioli. They're thinner than most pasta so they let the filling really shine...

I'd recommend EYB for anyone with a lot of cookbooks and a hatred for wasted food. (Watch this space ina few days to see what I did with leftover buttermilk.) There are days when nothing but a pile of my friends (Mario, Giada, Laurent, Eric...) will do - when I flip lovingly thru the pages getting ideas. But most days I don't have the time to spend sifting thru cookbooks, so it's EYB to the rescue!

Leave a comment and let me know what tricks you've found for sorting thru recipes and cookbooks...

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Ricotta and Spinach Ravioli with Butter and Sage
adapted from Avec Eric by Eric Ripert

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
4 oz. baby spinach, washed
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1 egg yolk
16 wonton wrappers
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. torn fresh sage leaves

Heat oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute briefly until soft and aromatic. Add the spinach and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook until just wilted then remove from heat. When cool enough to handle, squeeze out excess moisture.

Chop the spinach then combine with the ricotta and Parmesan. Season to taste with salt and pepper then stir in the egg yolk.

Working on a lightly floured surface, place one scoop (about a tablespoon) of filling on each wonton wrapper. Moisten the edges of the wrapper with water or the leftover egg white. Fold over, then press firmly to seal, making sure there are no air bubbles. Repeat with remaining filling and wrappers.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the ravioli and cook until they float (about 1 to 2 minutes). Gently drain and place in a large bowl. Toss them with the butter and then mix in the sage leaves. Garnish with freshly grated Parmesan and service immediately.

Serves 2 (can easily be doubled).

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Goat cheese and tomato tarts

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Last weekend, we rented the latest Mission Impossible flick. Not really a movie that'll go down as one of the greats but I don't mind Tom Cruise and I was reminded of the old MI series I liked as a kid... But it brought to mind the fact that I'm on a mission. And this time I'm serious about it. I have a lot of cookbooks; maybe not as many as some collectors, but I have more than 140. And sadly I've only made a couple recipes from most. Some I've never even used. So my mission, should I choose to accept it, is to make at least 5 recipes from each.

Maybe I'll get there, maybe not. But I've enjoyed dusting off a number of them and perusing them again. I have a bunch of the Barefoot Contessa books and I've made only a few recipes from the lot. I scanned "Back to Basics" and there are some great simple ideas in the book. Take these tarts: store-bought puff pastry transformed to a delicious tart filled with goat cheese, sauteed onions, fresh tomatoes and fresh herbs. I made a modified version for my little girl without the onions and goat cheese and she gobbled some of it and then enjoyed ripping apart the puff pastry!

I paired these with a simple marinated flank steak and some sauteed mushrooms. I'll be making them again soon with some veal chops I've got hidden away... They'd also make a great appetizer in a smaller version or an accompaniment to a salad.

We'll see how my mission progresses. At last count, I've only actually made 5 or more recipes from about 25% of my collection. I've got some work to do, but impossible? I think not.

Goat Cheese and Tomato Tarts
adapted from Back to Basics by Ina Garten

1 package (17.3 ounces/2 sheets) puff pastry, defrosted
Good olive oil
4 cups thinly sliced yellow onions (2 large onions)
3 large garlic cloves, cut into thin slivers
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons dry white wine
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves
4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan, plus 2 ounces shaved with a vegetable peeler
8 ounces plain goat cheese
2 large tomatoes, each cut into 4 (1/4-inch-thick) slices
3 tablespoons julienned basil leaves

Unfold a sheet of puff pastry on a lightly floured surface. Cut into 4 equal pieces. Repeat with second pastry sheet. Place them on sheet pans lined with parchment and refrigerate until ready to use.

Preheat the oven to 425F.

Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium to low heat and add the onions and garlic. Saute for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are limp and there is almost no moisture remaining in the skillet. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, the wine, and thyme and continue to cook for another 10 minutes, until the onions are lightly browned. Remove from the heat.

Using a sharp paring knife, score a 1/4-inch-wide border around each pastry square. Prick the pastry inside the score lines with the tines of a fork and sprinkle a tablespoon of grated Parmesan on each square, staying inside the scored border.

Place 1/8 of the onion mixture on each circle, again staying within the scored edge. Crumble 1 ounce of goat cheese on top of the onions. Place a slice of tomato in the center of each tart. Brush the tomato lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with basil, salt, and pepper. Finally, scatter 4 or 5 shards of Parmesan on each tart.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown. The bottom sheet pan may need an extra few minutes in the oven. Serve hot or warm.
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