Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Sherried Lobster with Penne

It's not often that I get a gift of lobster, but last Chanukah that's what my sister gave me--specifically two well-wrapped frozen lobster tails. I put them in my freezer and, I'm embarrassed to say, kind of forgot about them. Whenever I had to move the package to get something else I would make a mental note to take them out soon and figure out a way to enjoy them, but days turned into weeks, then months.

But then, finally, I did just that. I let them defrost in the refrigerator overnight, then unwrapped them. To say there were well preserved is an understatement. It must have taken an engineering degree to get them this well protected and I wish I'd had that same degree to extricate them. Finally, I got the wrapping removed and there were these two gorgeous red-and-black lobster tails. I'm going to guess that each was about half a pound.

I already had some ideas of what to do with them. The weather was hot so I wasn't keen on turning on the broiler. Boiling? Nah. So, I thought I'd remove the meat from the shell, chop it into large chunks, then saute it all in olive oil, minced garlic, sherry, and a knob of butter for flavor at the end. Then I'd toss the meat with this sauce with whole wheat penne.

I found, though, that the lobster meat had ideas of its own. Namely that it didn't want to separate from the shell. While I was searching around for some kind of tip to accomplish this, the lobster sat on the counter for perhaps five minutes. I couldn't find anything useful so went back to the tails to try again. And, surprisingly, this time they easily yielded. So, my guess is that when you try this in your kitchen let the lobster rest at room temperature for about five minutes before removing the meat from the shell. And, don't toss the shells. Put them in a freezer bag and add other shells like those from shrimp and store in the freezer to make a seafood broth later.

After that, it was all pretty easy. First, put the water for the pasta to boil and when ready, add the pasta. Then turn to cooking the lobster. Saute the garlic in oil until it's fragrant. Then add the lobster pieces. After a couple of minutes add enough sherry to make a sauce. Let the lobster cook in the liquid until it's just cooked through. Add the butter and stir well. You can also add red pepper flakes and/or herbs and spices to make it your own--but not so much that you overpower the lobster. By this time the pasta should be cooked through. Drain and add it to the lobster and sauce. Mix well, then divide into a couple of bowls.

I also added some chopped cherry peppers to the dish. You could add chopped sugar snap peas or other vegetables. The big chunks of lobster were sweet and decadent, elevated by the luxuriousness of butter and sherry and the fragrant garlic. The penne sopped up the rich sauce. Be sure to have a hank of sourdough bread so you don't leave a drop.

Sherried Lobster with Penne
(printable recipe)
Serves 2

2 meaty lobster tails (about 8 ounces each), removed from the shell and chopped into bite-size pieces
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/3 to 1/2 cup sherry
1 tablespoon butter
salt to taste
red pepper flakes (optional)
4 ounces whole wheat penne

Fill a large pot with cold water and bring to a boil. Add the penne and a tablespoon or so of salt. Cook per directions.

While the penne is cooking, heat oil in a saute pan. Add garlic and saute until fragrant--about a minute. Add the lobster and after a couple of minutes add the sherry and red pepper flakes and any vegetables. Reduce the temperature to low, add the butter and stir well. Add salt to taste.

When the penne is finished cooking, drain and add the pasta to the lobster and sauce. Stir well and plate.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Curing the Heat Wave Blues: Favorite No Cook Summer Recipes

I know I'll just get rolled eyes and the tiny violin playing gesture from those in other parts of the country, but, hey, it's been hot and humid in San Diego, especially inland where I live. Sticky, sweaty, can't get your sports bra off weather. I don't want to cook. I don't want to eat foods above room temperature.

Fortunately, I have a bunch of recipes to turn to that require little effort and no oven. So, I thought I'd do a round-up of some of my favorites and share them with you in case you've got the summer kitchen blues as well.

Evie's Chunky Gazpacho
Okay, you knew this recipe of my mom's would be included. It's the most wonderful combination of flavors and textures. It's healthy. It's cold. Add some cooked shrimp or crab, a hank of crusty sourdough bread, and a cold beer and you've got a great meal.

(printable recipe)
Serves 8 – 10

5 - 8 large tomatoes, quartered
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
½ English cucumber, roughly chopped
1 or 2 red peppers, roughly chopped
6 – 8 scallions, roughly chopped
6 - 8 radishes, roughly chopped
½ medium onion, peeled and quartered
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped
½ bunch parsley with major stems removed and/or 1 bunch cilantro
2 tablespoons lime juice
2-6 tablespoons red wine vinegar
A few dashes of Worcestershire sauce
A few dashes of your favorite hot sauce
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon sugar
1 regular-sized can beef broth
1 can low-salt V-8 juice
1 cup corn kernels (fresh, frozen or canned – if fresh is unavailable, I like the frozen roasted corn kernels from Trader Joe’s)
1 pound pre-cooked bay shrimp, lump crab (optional)
Sour cream or Mexican crema

Pull out the food processor and a very large bowl. Process each of the vegetables until the pieces are small -- but before they're pureed -- and add to the bowl, then add the rest of the ingredients, except for the proteins and dairy, which I keep on the table separately for guests to add as they wish. Refrigerate until cold and then adjust seasonings to taste. Top when serving with sour cream or Mexican crema. Serve with fresh tortillas or even hearty sourdough bread.

Spicy Kale, Corn, and Mango Salad
I came up with this about a year ago during a killer heat wave. It was so refreshing. Add cheese or some other protein like roasted chicken from the market to bulk it up a bit, but it's a great base for some serious eating.

(printable recipe)
Serves 4

1 ear of corn, shucked with kernels sliced off
1/2 slightly ripe mango, peeled and diced
1 large tomato, diced
1 jalapeño, diced
1/2 medium onion, red or white, diced
4 large kale leaves, spine removed, chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 tablespoons salted capers, rinsed and soaked

1/2 cup of Country French Vinaigrette made from Penzeys' mix -- or your own vinaigrette

Combine vegetables, add dressing. Marinate for about an hour. Serve.

Cucumber and Radish Confetti Soup
For at least 30 years I've been making a cucumber soup with yogurt and tomatoes that's been a go to on hot summer days. But one day I found myself with radishes as well and thought that I'd change things up a bit. This is still a classic for me, but I now also add a bit of low-fat buttermilk to the soup.

(printable recipe)
Serves 4

1 large English cucumber or 3 good-sized Persian cucumbers (about 6 inches long)
1 dozen radishes
1 1/2 cups unflavored yogurt
1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 small cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fenugreek (for a different flavor, try dill or mint -- they're all equally good)
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Slice the cucumbers in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, and discard. (If you're using a conventional cucumber first peel the skin; for the other types, leave the thin skin on for color.) Cut into chunks and put in the bowl of a food processor. Trim all the radishes and cut all but one into chunks and add to the food processor. Save the remaining radish for garnish. Add the rest of the ingredients to the food processor and blend thoroughly. Remove to a bowl, cover, and chill at least two hours or overnight. Just before serving, slice the remaining radish very thinly, again with the little mandoline, and use it to top the soup. Feel free to add a little hot sauce when serving.

Stone Fruit Salsa
And now for dessert! Yes, you could use this on a taco or pork tenderloin--but it's so fabulous over a couple of scoops of ice cream!

(printable recipe)
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

2 dozen cherries, pitted
2 plums
1 large, firm peach
1/2 serrano or whole jalapeño pepper
1/4 medium red onion, diced
1 1/2 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
juice of 1 lime
pinch of salt
freshly ground pepper to taste

Chop the fruit and the pepper (removing the seeds if you want to reduce the heat intensity). Add to a bowl with the rest of the ingredients. Mix well and refrigerate for an hour. Adjust the seasonings. If you want it sweeter, add a little honey to taste.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Chocolate Cream Pie with Tough Culinary Love on the Side from Pastry Chef/Instructor Tina Luu

I first met Tina Luu in 2008, when I was researching a roundup of holiday sweets for an appearance on KPBS, which I then turned into a post for San Diego Foodstuff. At the time she was the chef at Heaven Sent in North Park and, no surprise to those who know her, she plied me with taste after taste of remarkable, decadent holiday pastries. In the years since we've become good friends. Going out for a meal with Tina is an experience in extravagance. Typically, at a meal at Bankers Hill not long after it opened, we had our savory dishes and then, with a wink, Tina ordered the entire dessert menu for us to try. Delicious insanity.

You see nothing of that impishness in the classes she teaches at The International Culinary Schools at The Art Institute in Mission Valley. There she's all business and sharp-eyed focus. I've been trying to wrangle an invitation for years to see what she does and finally got to attend her Pies and Tarts class last week. The four-hour class begins with a quiz from the previous lesson and then Tina begins a short lecture to her 25 students on the topic at hand. On that day, she launched into the differences between tart and pie doughs, how to create a flaky pie crust, the three ways to use pie dough, types of fillings, the three types of tart dough, and where puff pastry fits in with all this. She worked in French terminology, health issues related to ingredients like Crisco and lard, and environmental concerns.

Then she began the demos, simultaneously working on a pie crust and pastry cream. Sure, you may have recipes. But the nuggets and gems of information--and corresponding tastes--make these sessions the essence of education--like using a combination of vanillas, both bean and extract, to create layers of flavor; like using other extract flavors such as coffee; like making sure to use just your fingertips when cutting in the butter and shortening so as not to melt the fats; like how to temper the pastry cream; like being sure to always strain pastry cream to get rid of particles; like placing plastic wrap on top of the finished pastry cream before refrigerating it to avoid forming a skin.

Pastry chefs are, of course, the epitome of precision. She circled around the classroom as her students got to work on their pie and tart doughs correcting technique, nudging them where needed, praising where deserved. And the students seem to thrive on this tough love. I was getting off on it, too. Sure, I knew Tina as a gifted pastry chef, but seeing her teach was something else. These students and I were in the hands of a consummate professional--one who lives up to an impressive resume that includes working with world-class chefs like Michael Mina and Jeremiah Tower, working in Asia with the Stars Restaurant group, lecturing at the Culinary Institute of the Pacific at the University of Hawaii, and contributing as a writer and photographer at Gusto Magazine.

As part of my mini class experience I also got a couple of recipes--one for pie dough and another for chocolate pastry cream so you can make a chocolate cream pie. The dough recipe will make six patons--or 10-ounce pie crusts. Tina came to this measurement as a way to avoid waste. You'll have just enough to create a crust for an aluminum pie tin that will shouldn't need to be trimmed. Making six will allow you to freeze whatever you don't need. I've got two in my freezer now, thanks to one of her very sweet and charming students. Want to make a pie? Just pull out a paton or two and defrost overnight in the fridge or for 20 minutes at room temperature.

Flaky Pie Dough
Tina Luu
(printable recipe)
Yield: 6 patons

1 pound, 8 ounces all purpose flour
10 ounces pastry flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tablespoon salt
1 pound cold butter, cut into big chunks
7 ounces Crisco
1 3/4 cup ice water

Sift together dry ingredients. By hand, cut in cold butter and shortening until they are a mix of fava bean and pea size.

Add water, starting with 1 1/2 cups and only adding more as necessary. Add too much water and you'll have dense dough that won't rise and will look a little gray. Mix until the dough just comes together. It should be rough with striations of butter.

Scale (measure each piece so it weighs 10 ounces) and form patons into a short square that will make it easier to roll out later. Wrap individually in plastic wrap and chill at least two hours but preferably overnight. Or put them in the freezer.

When you're ready to make the pie, flour your surface and roll out the paton until it's 1/6th of an inch thick. If you're making a cream pie, you'll do a blind bake--meaning you'll place the dough into the pie tin and add weights like beans. Bake at 350˚ for 15 minutes or until golden. Remove the weights and bake for another 10 minutes. Let cool, then fill with the pastry cream.

Tina's Crème Patissiere/Pastry Cream
Tina Luu
(printable recipe)
Yield: 2 pies

We're adding unsweetened chocolate here to make a chocolate cream pie, but you can leave out the chocolate for a basic pastry cream that you can use for all sorts of applications, including fruit tarts.

1 quart whole milk
12 ounces granulated sugar
1/4 vanilla bean, seeds scraped (use both seeds and bean)
6 eggs
3.5 ounces granulated sugar
3.5 ounces cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3.5 ounces cold butter
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate

Create a slurry by combining eggs, 3.5 ounces sugar, 1 cup of milk, and cornstarch. Bring to a boil remaining milk, sugar, and vanilla bean, then lower the heat. Temper in egg mixture by adding five ladle fulls of the hot liquid to the cold and then adding the now warmed up mixture to the hot liquid, constantly stirring. This prevents the eggs from curdling.

Bring the mixture back to a boil, stirring constantly but gently as the mixture thickens to a cream. Be sure the bottom doesn't burn. You'll feel it coagulating. Keep stirring to smooth it out. Once it first bubbles (at 212˚), cook for an additional three minutes. Add butter, vanilla extract, and chocolate and mix well. Strain through a sieve. Cover the surface with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

To put the pie together, gently fill the baked crust with the pastry cream. You can then pipe whipped cream on top and garnish with shaved chocolate. To make whipped cream, whip together two cups heavy cream, 1/4 cup powder sugar, and 1 tablespoon vanilla.

*Bottom two photos courtesy Tina Luu

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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Your New Summer App: Thyme-Infused Steamed, Marinated Eggplant

Everyone has their fallback technique in the kitchen. Mine is roasting, especially vegetables. I love how the extreme heat   coaxes out the sugars and creates a whole new flavor profile for squash, tomatoes, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, asparagus... You name it; I roast it.

But with the current heat wave in San Diego, turning on the oven is a total turn off. So, what was I to do with these beautiful Choryoku and Gretel eggplants grown by Weiser Family Farms that I had picked up at Specialty Produce? Choryokus are a light green reminiscent of a Granny Smith apple, in a long body with sweet, white flesh. The Gretels are the white sister of a Hansel variety. They have a spongy flesh that makes them perfect for absorbing

Earlier in the week I had made a spice rub from a large finger of Buddha's Hand, some red toch garlic--also from Specialty Produce--sea salt, and thyme from my garden.

The Buddha's Hand is a marvelous citron that has all the flavor of lemon zest with none of the bitterness or the juice, for that matter. The red toch garlic is a soft neck variety with a lot of moisture.

It's got a powerful flavor without being too spicy. The blend hadn't completely dried yet but that would be fine if I created a vinaigrette with it. I noodled around online and was inspired by a recipe I found on Epicurious that steamed and then marinated eggplant to serve as an appetizer. Perfect!

I trimmed and sliced the slender green and white eggplants in half lengthwise, then put them in a steamer, skin side down and sprinkled them with a little kosher salt. While they steamed for about 10 minutes, I quickly whisked together a couple of tablespoons of the rub with aged sherry vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. By then, the eggplant were tender. I let them drain for a couple of minutes, then arranged them in a dish and spooned the vinaigrette over them. There they sat at room temperature for the next two hours and I periodically basted them with the vinaigrette they were soaking in.

At the end of the two hours, without breaking a sweat, I had a fragrant dish, each bite packed with a sensational combination of the vinegar, garlic, and thyme. It was salty and herbaceous, oily and acidic. The eggplant's texture was soft and creamy from the steaming. Pair this dish with a bowl of briny olives, oil marinated roasted red peppers, Manchego cheese, a crusty loaf of bread, and refreshing glass of Cava or Proseco and you've got a perfect light summer meal.

Thyme-Infused Steamed, Marinated Eggplant
Adapted from Epicurious
(printable recipe)

Serves 4 as an appetizer

4 long eggplants, trimmed and sliced in half lengthwise
2 tablespoons aged sherry vinegar
Kosher salt

For marinade
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped (look for Red Toch variety but any will work)
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
Zest of one finger of Buddha's Hand (or one conventional lemon)
2 tablespoons aged sherry vinegar
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Black pepper
Fresh thyme leaves for garnish

Place the eggplant skin side down in a steamer basket. Sprinkle with a little kosher salt. Fill the pot with one inch of cold water, add two tablespoons of the sherry vinegar, then cover with the steamer tray and lid. Turn the heat to medium high and steam the eggplant for about 10 minutes, until soft. Remove the steamer tray and let the eggplant drain for five minutes.

In a small food processor, blend the first four ingredients for the marinade. You can do this days ahead of time and spread the mixture on a tray to air dry. It makes a terrific rub for poultry, lamb, and vegetables--or, mixed with olive oil, a lovely dip for bread. Here you use a couple of tablespoons and whisk in the sherry vinegar and then the olive oil.

Arrange the warm eggplant on a small platter with sides and spoon the marinade over each half. Let sit on the counter for two hours, basting periodically. When you're ready to serve it, add a grind of black pepper and a sprinkling of fresh thyme leaves.

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