Monday, September 10, 2012

The Summer Shack Classic Maine Lobster Roll

The Summer Shack Lobster Roll

It may not be a po’boy but it sure can make you one in a hurry unless you take advantage of a local market’s special like we did.  My sous chef pounced when Jensen’s offered uncooked lobster tails for a mere pittance.  He loves crustaceans of all kinds and attacks them with unmitigated gusto, although with far more refinement than Jennifer Beal in Flashdance.  So when he proffered his treasure with the challenge to “make something good,” I needed my “A” game.  One does not waste lobster no matter the price.

Luscious little lobster tails

Fortunately, I came up with  a great dish that both met the challenge and allowed me to take a little culinary “stay-cation” to Maine.  The Summer Shack Classic Maine Lobster Roll is a true delight and worth the splurge!  It is a lusciously creamy cold lobster salad stuffed into a light, buttery roll.  Add  lettuce and some potato chips and you can almost hear the pounding surf and smell the sweet, salt air.  And the best thing about this stay-cation  is it doesn’t set you back for airfare, hotel and all those gifts you need to bring back for those you left behind.
The start of lobster salad

A few quick notes.  Make the lobster salad first for it needs at least 30 minutes resting time.  If you can’t find New England Style hot dog buns, a longer roll with a split in the top can be used.  Just make sure whatever roll you use is light and airy and wide enough to hold the lobster salad.  Dorie Greenspan’s Café Style Carrot Salad was a refreshing accompaniment to the lobster roll.
Everything looks better with lobster

Classic Maine Lobster Roll
The Summer Shack Cookbook, Page 278

4 New England Style Hot Dog Buns
4 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter, Softened
4 Boston or Bibb Lettuce Leaves, Washed and Dried
Lobster Salad (recipe below)
Potato Chips

Heat a 10-inch skillet (or tostapane)  over medium heat.  Brush the sides of the buns with butter and place the buttered buns in the hot skillet (or on tostapane) and toast until golden.  Turn and cook other side.  (I split my rolls open and buttered/toasted the inside for a little extra buttery crispness.)

Open the buns, add lettuce  and top with the lobster salad.  Serve with potato chips.

Toasting the rolls on the "tostapane" 

Buttery, crisp roll ready for lobster

Lobster Salad
Makes 2 Cups

1 Pound Cooked Lobster Meat (I used lobster tails for ease of cooking and freezing until needed)
1 Small to Medium Cucumber – Peeled, Seeded, and Diced
½ cup Hellman’s or other quality Mayonnaise
2-3 Small Scallions
Freshly Ground Pepper
Sea Salt if needed

Cook and cool the lobsters and then remove the meat.  I love my seafood scissors for it makes this task a breeze, especially when working with lobster tails or the whole lobster.  Cut the lobster meat into chunks, preferably in the ½ inch size. 

Place the diced cucumber in a colander and let stand for about 5 minutes to drain any leftover liquid. 

Combine the lobster, cucumber, mayonnaise and scallions in a bowl.  Season with pepper to taste.  If you prefer a little salt, add to the mix but it’s not needed.  Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes or more.  Can be made up to 4 hours ahead.

Lobster Roll Heaven

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Black Summer Truffle Salad

The little black truffle season is finally here.  While most of the country is regaling in garden fresh vegetables and fruit, we have found one of the most spectacular ways to celebrate the freshness of the season with these black beauties – Italian Black Summer Truffles!

Black summer truffles are still a luxury, but are much more in the realm of splurging on as they are the “economy” truffle.  Think of it as the “Tiffany’s” of Truffle compared to the ever so coveted Alba truffles, which could be classified as the “Cartier or Harry Winston’s” of truffles.  This truffle splurge is “date night” worthy, and will last the entire week.  Truffles stuffed in chicken, garnishing pasta, salad, eggs – you name it you can truffle it!

Just like the little black dress, a simple salad can be dressed up with the addition of truffles.  This salad is an exquisite surprise when entertaining as a starter, or if it’s just the two of you it makes a wonderful summer light dinner.  The sweetness of the heirloom tomatoes and figs is offset by the salty flavor of the prosciutto.  The earthy truffle creates a perfect balance in flavors.  Enjoy the explosion of flavor and the season!

Black Summer Truffle Salad
Serves 2 as main course or 4 as a starter

2 heads baby red oak lettuce
2 heads baby green leaf lettuce
1 medium Brandywine tomato
4 small green figs
2 slices of prosciutto
½ freshly shaved summer black truffle
Freshly ground lemon pepper
Fleur del sel
Peach Champagne Vinegar
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Break baby red and green lettuce into pieces in a salad bowl and lightly salt.   Cut tomato and green figs into small wedges and place on top of salad greens.  Tear two slices of prosciutto into small pieces and place in bowl.  Grind lemon pepper over items in salad bowl.  Toss with hands.  Sprinkle Peach Champagne Vinegar and Extra Virgin Olive Oil lightly over mix and toss lightly with hands. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Cool as a Cucumber Soup

We’re having a heat wave,
A tropical heat wave.
The temperature’s rising,
It isn’t surprising.
Cucumber soup can can-can.

It sure is summertime, and out here the living is anything but easy.  We do everything possible to stay cool, and that includes consuming refreshing foods and beverages.  One of our favorites is “Cool as a Cucumber Soup.”  It can be made up to two days in advance and, chilled in the refrigerator, it is available to be enjoyed at any time.

While cucumber soup is a rather ubiquitous summer dish, this version is noteworthy because of its secret ingredient—buttermilk.  The buttermilk’s tang enhances the cool notes of the cucumber and celery adds a savory layer.  Try it this weekend to wow your guests, if you are entertaining, or your spouse or significant other if you merely intend to sit in a dark room and watch The Weather Channel.

Cool as a Cucumber Soup

1 ½ lbs cucumber(s) sliced in half lengthwise, seeded and roughly chopped
2 stalks of celery roughly chopped
1 small shallot coarsely chopped
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
½ cup sour cream
½ cup buttermilk
Freshly ground salt and pepper to taste
Chives for garnish

Place the cucumbers, celery, shallots, extra virgin olive oil and salt into a blender and puree until smooth.  Strain mixture through a mesh sieve into a large bowl, pressing out as much liquid as possible. 

Whisk sour cream and buttermilk into the mixture.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Refrigerate at least 1 hour.

Serve chilled soup with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and garnish with chives.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Do You Like Pina Coladas?

I don’t like getting caught in the rain—although that is not much of a problem here in the desert where we have already had 33 days above 100 degrees—and the only dunes around here are scorchingly hot and unsuitable for spontaneous romance, except by Gila Monsters perhaps.  But I do love Pina Coladas, maybe as much as Rupert Holmes.

With the official start of summer only days away, it is time to pull out the blender and hurricane cocktail glasses and make up a batch of this tasty elixir.  A Pina Colada always reminds me of the Islands, even if I am just floating around the pool or hunkered down under an umbrella at a sidewalk café.

Twins!  We had baby hummingbirds this month......

In my experience, the Pina Colada is to be consumed like Lay’s potato chips:  more than one is likely, if not essential.  But like so many things in life, and particularly in respect of libations, what is tasty is often packed with calories, and the regular Pina Colada is no different.  To help keep one’s bikini figure, I’ve found a low calorie Pina Colada that is packed with flavor!  Yes, you heard me correctly:  L-O-W C-A-L-O-R-I-E and F-L-A-V-O-R-F-U-L.  Trust me on this one.  The low calorie Pina Colada has become a house favorite and sous chef didn’t even recognize that there were something like 300 calories missing from the drink.

Grab a book, sunglasses, sunscreen and a Pina Colada for the perfect weekend getaway at home.

The perfect way to spend a summer afternoon

Pina Colada
(Adapted from Cooking Light, June 2012, page 48)
 Serves 8

12 ounces Unsweetened Coconut Milk (found in the refrigerated Dairy Section – it’s       something like 50 calories for 8 ounces)
2 cups Cubed Fresh Pineapple (I’ve experimented a bit with this – if you cannot find fresh pineapple, Dole has a nice canned Chunk Pineapple in Pineapple Juice that will work and you can use the liquid as well)
2 ½ cups Ice Cubes
¾ cups Gold Rum (we like the Mt. Gay)
¼ cup Pineapple Juice (or the liquid from the canned Dole Chunk Pineapple)
2 tablespoons light Agave Nectar (optional – can be left out if you prefer less sweetness)
Pineapple Slices to Garnish

Place the pineapple chunks in a blender.  Cover with coconut milk, rum, pineapple juice, and agave nectar.  Top with ice and process until smooth.  Pour into a hurricane cocktail glass and garnish with a slice of pineapple.

If you like a more icy texture, freeze the pineapple chunks for an hour before making the Pina Coladas (or you can cheat and just buy the frozen pineapple and save yourself a little clean up).

Total calories:  158 calories per 2/3 cup (approximately)

Friday, May 4, 2012

Hook, Line and Sinker

I am not aware of any flounder, or its relation sole, making it up the All American Canal to the Coachella Valley.  Maybe that’s because being a flatfish with two eyes on the same side makes navigation difficult.  Or more likely they don’t cotton to our desert clime.  So we are at the mercy of local fishmongers who occasionally truck a limited amount of fish in from Los Angeles.  Apparently flounder is not a desert favorite as none of the local fishmongers had any in stock.  After my sous chef’s patience was tested to the breaking point, we settled on a duo of related flatfish:  petrale sole and dover sole (the Pacific variety—not the real thing from off the coast of Great Britain). 

A piece of Modern Art - mixed media
To make this week’s French Fridays with Dorie challenge even more interesting, my creative sous chef suggested we do a wine tasting between Vouvray and Sancerre to determine which was the best pairing for the light, delicate fish we were about to prepare.  I am always in favor of tweaking the challenge, particularly when it involves quaffing some very good wines.  For the tasting we chose a 2009 Marc Brédif Vouvray and a 2009 Les Tuilières Sancerre.

Painting the Sole with egg - the color of this egg is so bright and sunny

We rarely cook fish at home.  First, we don’t have a great retail source for fresh fish, second, my sous chef is adverse to fish smells in the house and, third, we think restaurants do a better job cooking fish than we do.  So we generally confine our fish consumption to restaurants.  Neither of us has ever knowingly consumed flounder, but we each have enthusiasm for the sole family of flatfish.  My sous chef waxes poetic about the petrale sole served at The Tadich Grill in San Francisco.  And I am a huge fan of the sole dishes prepared by Chef Bernard Deverieux at his restaurant, Cuistot, in Palm Desert.  Chef Bernard is a classically trained French chef, so he knows a thing or two about the preparation of sole. 

Coated both sides of the Sole
Our concerns about preparing this week’s recipe were quickly dispelled.  This is one of the simplest meals I’ve prepared in my life.  Prep time was about 3 minutes and, with only 6 minutes of cooking time, dinner can be on the table in less than 15 minutes making it a perfect weeknight meal.  That is less time than it takes to order and pick up food at the local pizza joint.  And my sous chef discerned no unpleasant fish odors.

Cook 3 minutes per side in butter 
 The fish was delectable - moist, firm and succulent.  I ground slivered almonds in the food processor and left it more grainy than powdery to give the coating more color and texture.  The result was a crispy, visually appealing crust that I thoroughly enjoyed but which my sous chef felt overwhelmed the delicate flavors of the sole.  He likely would feel differently if we had used halibut as a flounder substitute since the addition of flavor would be welcomed.  We did agree this coating would make a great crust on chicken or turkey and would be better if ground more finely when used on fish.  This coating is a winner and I fell for it hook, line and sinker.

The almond crust is really fragrant with the lemon zest
There was no real winner in the wine tasting competition as both wines were excellent and worked well with either the petrale sole or the dover sole.  Although clearly siblings, there were some differences.  The Vouvray had a slightly floral nose with a  small touch of honey in taste – delicate like the fish.  Whereas, the Sancerre was crisp with a little gravel hint on the palate and utterly wonderful for the richness of the fish.  I recommend you do your own taste test.  There is no reason to limit yourself to one bottle of wine with this fish recipe.

Rhubarb Custard Pie with a little French Vanilla Ice Cream (it is French Friday after all)
To complete our meal, I made a favorite dessert that presented a nice contrast of flavors to the fish that preceded it.  I love rhubarb in many iterations, but an absolute favorite is Rhubarb Custard Pie.  Pre-Culinary Diva, my Southern California born and raised sous chef had never been exposed to a rhubarb, except during his baseball playing days.  Fortunately, he has taken a liking to the sour, tangy, sweetness of the vegetable, which allows me to indulge my rhubarb passion throughout the summer.   

Sous Chef wanted me to describe the size of the chopped rhubarb, this looks about 1/2 inch to me

This recipe originates from my grandmother, and I have adapted it slightly to my taste by including more rhubarb.  

Rhubarb Custard Pie

4 to 4 ½ Cups Rhubarb
1 Cup Sugar
2 Tablespoons All-Purpose Flour
3 Eggs

Preheat oven to 350.

Rough chop the rhubarb into half-inch pieces and place in bowl.  Add sugar, flour, and eggs to bowl with rhubarb and stir until all ingredients are combined.

Line pie plate with pie crust (use ready-made or make your own).  Place rhubarb mixture in pie crust, and top with pie crust.  Poke holes with fork or knife to vent crust while baking.  Place in oven. 

Bake approximately 45 minutes.  After 30 minutes of baking, rub top of pie crust with butter and sprinkle a little sugar on crust.  Bake another 15 minutes and check for doneness.  When pie is done, remove from oven to cool.

To read more French Friday with Dorie experiences, or to buy the book:

It's sort of like a Dump Cake but a Dump Pie - put it all in a bowl and mix well
I vent the bottom crust with a few pricks of a fork before putting the mix in

Top crust on and vented
Flaky, sugary, golden crust combined with the tart Rhubarb makes for a perfect medley

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Presbyterian and Pina Colada Friand

It could take a fortnight to debate whether a “Coconut Friand,” this week’s French Fridays with Dorie challenge, is a “French Friand,” a “Financier” or an “Australian/New Zealand Friand.”  No matter the derivation, it is a tea cake, and this makes me think of High Tea at The Empress Hotel in Victoria or Afternoon Tea at Brown’s Hotel in London.  Those occasions when we Americans try to act cultured, pinkies extended, as we sip tea and eat insipid, crustless cucumber finger sandwiches and cloyingly sweet dessert delicacies when what we really want is a strong libation after a day’s shopping and sightseeing.

Around my French Table is a staple in our kitchen
 I have become a California girl and my sous chef is a Los Angeles native.  When we hear the word “coconut” we think of crashing waves, balmy breezes and swaying palm trees, not some cute tea cake.  Give me a chair overlooking the ocean, a cocktail in hand and Jimmy Buffet on the radio and I am in heaven.  In this sunbaked part of Southern California--we have already reached 100+ degrees—it is pleasant, if not essential, to introduce the tropics into our lives whenever possible.  So I decided to create a culinary libation based on one of my favorite tropical drinks.  Ergo, the “Piña Colada Friand.”

Lightly whisk egg whites until slightly foamy

Whisk in all ingredients, being particularly gentle with flour and melted butter
The batter is super easy to prepare and can be made up to 3 days in advance.  To create this culinary libation, I took a few necessary liberties in augmenting Dorie’s recipe by adding lime zest, dark rum, and vanilla fleur de sel and using a combination of sweetened and unsweetened shredded coconut.  I put a fresh pineapple square in the bottom of each paper cup in the mini-muffin tin before pouring in the batter.  I placed the mini-muffin tins on baking pans and put them into a preheated 350 degree oven for 8 minutes, at which time I rotated the baking pans and baked for another 8 minutes.  I then removed the paper cups and let the friands cool on a baking rack.  Viola!  A “Piña Colada Friand.”

Who put the lime with the coconut????

A little pineapple for our daily fruit intake...hey, it's worth a try to make this a "health food"

24 Pina Colada Friands ready for baking

The friands looked a little naked, like the men at Muscle Beach in Santa Monica, so I decided a cover-up was needed.  I made a simple glaze from confectioner’s sugar and coconut milk and toasted some shredded coconut for color and texture.  After the friands had cooled slightly, I drizzled on the glaze and sprinkled on the toasted coconut.  The Piña Colada Friands now looked properly clothed and ready to party.

Poolside, waiting for that afternoon tea.....

Teetotalers beware!  These friands deserve more than hot tea.  An ice cold Piña Colada is a natural pairing, but I am an aspiring mixologist diva and the simple way is not my way, for better or for worse.  After many trials and a handful of Tylenols, I found the perfect cocktail accompaniment:  The Presbyterian.  This drink is not for choir boys and, despite its name, its consumption need not be limited to Sunday brunches. 

The Presbyterian
(Adapted from a demonstration by Mark Peel of Campanile at Palm Desert Food & Wine 2012)

2 Ounces Rye Whiskey
1 Ounce Simple Syrup
1 Lime freshly squeezed
Ginger Beer to top off

Place the rye whiskey, simple syrup, and lime juice in a cocktail shaker.  Fill with ice and vigorously shake.  Fill a glass (preferably a Collins glass) with ice and pour, leaving about one inch room so you can top off with Ginger Beer.

This makes a light, refreshing cocktail that goes perfectly with the Piña Colada Friands.  So make a pitcher of Presbyterians, grab a handful of Piña Colada Friands, crank-up the volume on Margaritaville and enjoy.

To read more French Friday's with Dorie or to join the group:

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Luscious Lemon Loaf Cake

Lemon Loaf Cake can be described as light, lovely, luscious, lemony goodness.   Just five minutes to make the simple batter, and after 50-60 minutes of baking you have a delectable cake for dessert or afternoon tea.  Eat it by the slice or use it as the platform for a more dramatic dessert.  Want to kick your shortcake up a notch?   Merely employ the Lemon Loaf Cake as the base and add fruit, whipped cream and a drizzle of something scrumptious!

Gorgeous Eggs from the Farmers Market

Sugar, eggs and baking powder

Add sifted flour

Melted butter


Place mixture in buttered/floured loaf pan

Ready for garnish

Spring delight - Strawberry Lemon Loaf Cake

This recipe can be found in Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan, or by visiting Treats or The Beauty of Life.  To read more or join the Baking with Julia group experiences with Lemon Loaf Cake on Baking With Julia visit Tuesdays with Dorie.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Dr. Seuss and The Big Tuna Agree: Tuna Rillettes are a Winner

I am the Culinary Diva.
A Culinary Diva I am.

I do not like Sardines,
Culinary Diva that I am.

I do not like them in a tin,
I would not like them here (Sardine Rillettes)
Or there (Around My French Table).

I would not like them anywhere!”

-adapted from Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss

Childish as it may seem, I do not like sardines!  Dress them up, disguise them, no matter:  I don’t like them.  Not even if they are a featured ingredient in my treasured cookbook Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan.

What’s a culinary diva to do?  I want to fit in; I want to follow the rules.  But at the very sight of this slimy, disgusting little bait fish I break out in hives and hot flashes.  Who knew you could have an allergic reaction just by viewing a sardine based dish on a computer screen?

In the spirit of this week’s French Fridays with Dorie challenge, I decided to make the Tuna Rillettes instead.  While the Big Tuna, Bill Parcells, won’t likely be with the Saints, this tuna dish is heavenly and amazingly simple to make within five minutes. 

Pantry staples make for a delectable treat
You will likely find the ingredients in your pantry.  And, if not, you haven’t been shopping lately.  Just take some canned or packaged tuna, add curry powder and some other spices and, voilà,
Save a step and put directly into food processor and not separate bowl like I did
 The franchise player is the curry and my star was the Japanese Curry from Williams Sonoma.  Not only is there an amazing aroma, but the subtle nuances from the curry (star anise, cayenne pepper, cumin, black pepper, fenugreek, turmeric, fennel, and coriander) played well with the tuna.  The curry did not overwhelm the palate or the tuna, but it did create a medley of flavors.  Although the recipe calls for allspice, shame on me and my grocery shopping sous chef but our pantry was bare in this regard so I decided to use a little pumpkin pie spice instead.  Happily this substitute performed like Matt Flynn, formerly of the Green Bay Packers and now with the Seattle Seahawks (at least according to my sous chef who is counting the days until football season begins).  Plus I opted for heavy cream over the crème fraiche (because of a refrigerator shortfall), and was very pleased with the texture and richness it added.  A little squeeze of lemon brightened the flavors as it always does.
Squeeze a little lemon juice

I love my Little Pro Plus - it's great for Rillettes,
So what is the perfect canvas for this delectable dip?  Raincoast Crisps!  We used the Fig and Olive and the slight sweetness of the fig complimented the curry.  Celery would also be a great vessel to enjoy the goodness of this rillettes.
Tuna Rillette with Raincoast Crisps

My sous chef thought this might be Dorie’s best recipe so far, certainly better than the Crab and Grapefruit Salad we tried before it.  He gave it two corkscrews up as a wonderful appetizer that is perfect for Spring, Summer and Fall picnics (Hollywood Bowl here we come!) and for a light meal when you don’t feel like cooking.
The unfortunate Crab & Grapefruit Salad is still a work in progress
(note, do not substitute Sambal for hot sauce with this dish)
To read more French Friday's with Dorie, or to join in on the fun: