Saturday, October 30, 2010

Oysters and crab have a long season in New England (the Island Creek Oyster Festival was the second week of September this year), and they are always delicious. 

The last time I bought raw oysters for home serving, I asked about shucking them myself and man behind the counter (somewhere near Haymarket) expressed such doubt about whether I possessed sufficient strength that there was no way I was not going to do it.  By the time I finished, I was so tired and cut up that I could barely enjoy the oysters.  That was about ten years ago.  And the memory didn't fully come back until I was sitting in front of a dozen closed oysters, a shucking knife in one hand and a thick towel in the other.  Luckily, either I've gotten a lot stronger or the Island Creek Oysters from New Deal Fish Market were much more ready to be cracked.  It was pretty easy to find the sweet spot at the small end of the shell, it took a little elbow grease but nothing impossible to stick in the shucking knife, and then it was easy to turn the knife counter-clockwise and lift off the top shell.  I even managed to save most of the prescious salt water in each shell.  I'm not sure if it's the oysters themselves or something in the preparation, but these didn't have a grain of salt, were the perfect balance of sweet and salty, and were so tender that anyone who doesn't love to turn a raw oyster once, whole, on tonge and then let it slip gently toward back of mouth and down throat, could just bite right into it.  The perfect enhancer to such delicate delights is the traditional French oyster sauce: shallots and vinegar.

For one dozen oysters, mince 1 shallot.  Stir with 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, 1 tsp. balsamic vinegar, and 1/2 tsp. salt.  Let sit for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Jonah Crabs are fairly common across New England.  The meat is delicate and sweet, but the shell can be very very hard.  But of course a good fishmonger knows this and sells the meat already pried out.  And a few cups of crab meat chunks just beg to be cooked into a rich bisque.  This matches the sweetness of the meat with a similar tone in corn and onion, balanced with a nice cayenne kick in the broth.  The corn biscuits use the rendered fat from the bacon that goes into the soup, and are perfect for dipping, calming the firey tongue, and just generally nibbling on.

Crab Bisque
2 lbs small potatoes, sliced into 1/4" rounds (skins can stay on)
4 cups stock of any variety
4 thick slices bacon, cut into 1" pieces.
1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
2 cups crab meat
1 tsp. pepper
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/4 cup milk, cream, or 1/2 and 1/2
1 large onion, roughly chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 T oil

Cook bacon until just beginning to become crispy.  Bring stock to a boil.  Add potatoes and cook until tender. Add corn to bacon and cook until tender.  Lift bacon and corn out of pan with a slotted spoon, reserving fat for biscuits (below), and add to stick.  Add crab meat, salt, pepper, and milk or cream.  Bring to a low simmer.  Saute onion and garlic in oil until browning and just beginning to caramelize, about 15 minutes, and add to bisque.  Add in a dash of paprika, cayenne, and thyme.

Corn Biscuits
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

Cut in 2 T butter (slice butter into thin pats and drop into flour, then mix in with a pastry cutter or with two butter knives cutting across and against each other, until the butter is cut into about pea-sized pieces and spread throughout the flour mixture).

In a separate bowl, mix:
2 eggs
3 T bacon fat
1/2 cup plain yoghurt
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels

Mix wet ingredients into dry.  Plop dollops of about 1/3 cup each into a cookie sheet.  Bake at 400 for 10-15 minutes.

Dressed Broccoli

A few vegetables actually thrive in the colder part of Fall.  Broccoli and cabbage seem to get sweeter at the end of the season, or maybe I'm just starting to cling to whatever remains plentiful at the last few farmers' markets.  It's a perfect time for broccoli soup, but simple steamed broccoli takes on a Fall heartiness when dressed with this lovely sauce.

Serves 4 as a side

Cut 2-3 heads broccoli.  Break florets into small pieces; peel stalks and cut into 1/2" rounds.  Steam until just tender.

2 T minced ginger
1 1/2 T minced garlic
in 2 T vegetable oil and 2 tsp. toasted sesame oil until light brown .
Add 3 T soy sauce and 1 T lemon juice.  Pour over steamed broccoli.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A New Guest Brings a New Cocktail: Aren't We Lucky!

This past Whatever Night Dinner Club dinner brought a new guest, Renée's sister, Amy. And she brought with her the fixings for a lavender cocktail. It went well with our lamb and salad and roasted veggie risotto, though it probably would have accompanied most dishes nicely. It is a perfect pink color.

Lavender Vodka

3 hours (or longer) prior to drinking, soak 3 TBSP lavender flowers in 750 ml vodka. Let sit 3 hours. Strain  out flowers (they can be reused to make more of the vodka).

Lemon Syrup

1/2 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup simple syrup
1/4 cup water

Lavender Cocktail

this makes 4 single-sized cocktails. Or 2 doubles. That's good math.

In a shaker add:

1 cup lavender vodka
1/4 cup lemon syrup

Top with ice and shake until cold. Strain into 4 single-sized, chilled glasses.

Lamb Shoulder

Preheat oven to 350.


In a bowl mix all herbs (fresh if possible):
1 TBSP chopped rosemary
2 TBSP chopped mint
2 TBSP minced garlic
2 teas. chopped thyme
1/2 teas. salt
1/2 teas. pepper

Add 2 TBSP olive oil and the juice of 1/2 of a lemon. Mix well.

Salt and pepper 2 lbs. lamb shoulder chops.

Heat an oven-proof pan on the stove. Add 1 TBSP olive oil and sear chops on one side for 1 minute.
Turn over and cover chops with the rub. Put the pan in the oven and cook until done (~15 - 20 minutes), checking after 15 minutes.

Pressure Cooker Risotto

This recipe assumes familiarity with a pressure cooker. If you lack that, use ingredients to make a traditional risotto.

Saute 1 chopped onion, in 1 TBSP olive oil.
Add 1 smashed garlic clove and 2 cups arborio rice. Stir to coat.
Add 5 cups chicken broth and lock lid.
Bring to high pressure and cook for 4 minutes.
Slow release.

Open and stir in:
4 cups previously roasted veggies (make extra when cooking roasted roots or fries and save in the fridge for a few days or freeze until needed)
1 head chopped and wilted bok choy (saute in olive oil for a few minutes)
1 cup grated romano cheese

Spinach salad

Saute 4 oz. bacon cut into 1" pieces, reserving fat.

Meanwhile, add into a large bowl:
Cut 1 apple into quarters and then into 1/4" slices.
Thinly slice 1/2 cup assorted sweet peppers.
Rip 4 oz. spinach into bite-sized pieces.

Add bacon to bowl and toss salad with 1 TBSP of the bacon fat. Season with black pepper.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Squash Apple Soup

If you had to pick two items that are most plentiful this time of year in New England, you'd pick squash and apples. They are spilling out of my fruit bowls and taking up valuable counter space. I steam the squash and serve it with butter, and give the kids apples for snacks and make various baked items, but finally I'd had enough.

Squash and Apple Soup

6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 squash, or ~ 6 to 8 cups, peeled and deseeded (seeds can be roasted for a yummy snack)
4 apples
2 densely packed cups raw spinach
cayenne pepper

Steam squash until starting to soften.

In a large pot, heat stock to near boiling. Add apples and steamed squash.

Cook for ~20 minutes, until apples and squash are falling apart when stuck with a fork. Add spinach.

Cook a few minutes more and then use an immersion blender to blend until completely smooth. If you do not have an immersion blender, which I highly recommend for ease of blending hot things, blend in a blender or food processor, being very careful to not overfill because hot liquid expands and explodes when blended.

Add spices to taste.

Can be served with croutons or crusty bread, and a salad.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Traditional, Revisited

The other night, lacking any other ideas and needing to use some lovely bacon, we decided to make BLT sandwiches. They were ridiculously good as a photo would show, but, just as the shoemaker's children have no shoes, this blog has few photos, despite that the rest of my time when not parenting is happily taken up doing photography. Sorry. You'll just have to believe me. We followed it up with a nameless but noteworthy dessert.

Bacon, Pea Green, and Tomato Sandwiches with Pesto Aioli

serves 4 or 5 hungry adults

Spread 1 lb. bacon out on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 until done to your liking, ~ 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the pesto aioli.

Make the pesto. Blend the following in a blender until smooth:

1 cup basil leaves
1/4 cup olive oil
3 TBSP walnuts
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teas. salt

Make the aioli. In a bowl, whisk one egg yolk until it is starting to lighten in color.

Add olive oil in a VERY thin stream, whisking very hard (if you have another person on hand, have one whisk and one drizzle oil), constantly until it is the consistency of mayonnaise. The amount of oil will vary depending on your idea of mayonnaise, but a very vague guideline is somewhere around 2 to 3 TBSP.

Stir the pesto into the aioli.

Next, heat a frying pan over medium heat. Thickly slice nice crusty bread. Add a TBSP of butter and a TBSP of olive oil. When hot but not smoking, fry each piece of bread on both side, until lightly browning. Add more butter and oil if needed for browning the rest of the bread.

Spread pesto aioli on one side of each slice of bread. Add bacon, pea greens (we miraculously got them from our CSA, bringing a touch of spring to an otherwise thoroughly fall day) or other greens, thickly sliced tomatoes, and a dash of ground black pepper. Top with other slice of bread.

Pudding Cups?

This dessert consists of cups made of pie crust, filled with chocolate, a light pudding, and fruit.


In a bowl, add 1 cup flour and a dash of salt.

Cut in 1 stick unsalted butter. Use your fingers to gently break the butter up until the mixture is the consistency of cornmeal. Do not over-mix.

Sprinkle in 3 TBSP ice cold water, gently mixing with your hands, until it sticks together.

Form into a disc and roll out into a circle that is approximately 12 to 14 inches in diameter.

Cut into 6 squarish sections and drape each of the six pieces over an upside-down popover tin or muffin tin, gently molding to form a cup shape.

Cook in a 375 degree oven until lightly browning, ~ 15 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let cool on the upside-down pan. When cool, gently remove and place upright on a serving platter.

In a double boiler, melt 1/2 cup of the chocolate of your choice (we did ~ 1/3 baker's unsweetened and 2/3 semi-sweet chocolate).

Drizzle the chocolate into the cups.

Meanwhile, bring 2 cups of milk with 1 stick of vanilla to a boil.

In a bowl mix the following:

3/4 cup powdered sugar
2/3 cup flour
2 egg yolks
1 whole egg

Pour the boiling milk slowly into the flour mixture, whisking constantly. Return to the pan and, stirring constantly, bring back to a boil, then immediately turn it off. If it is at all curdly or lumpy, strain it. Let cool.

When cool, spoon pudding into the crust cups. Top with the fruit of your choice. We used thawed Maine blueberries. Yum!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Homemade Ravioli with Spicy Pumpkin and Mushroom-Squash fillings

Some things are worth making from scratch, and some things are not. But how do you tell which is which? The money I save is balanced by the time I spend baking my own bread, but then when I add in the baker’s triceps, the air freshener, and the warmth of the oven, it’s definitely worth baking my own bread Fall through Spring. But homemade pasta has always seemed to me really not a great investment. I hold some traumatic early memory of a rubbery, chewy glop that my mother spent hours mixing and rolling (no idea, mom, if that’s a real memory or something I invented), and fresh local “homemade” pasta is so readily available and reasonable priced at the Central Square Farmers’ Market and Capone’s that I just haven’t even really considered trying. Forget that a few years ago my mother gave me a wonderful, simple, hand-crank pasta maker and even led me through a ravioli-making session. All I remembered was that it was indeed more complicated than she’d said. But last week we made a pumpkin puree that brought back a much better memory - the creamy inside of a ravioli savored at kitchen table in Tuscany years ago, the rich Siena flavor cut just perfectly by tender dough and bright peals of laughter. The puree was way too rich as a side, but with a dash of cayenne and a wrapping of perfect homemade sheets, it was as good as my best memory.

Amy’s Basic Ravioli Dough

3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp. salt
3 whole beaten large eggs
2 ½ tsp. cooking oil
½ c lukewarm water

Sift flour in large bowl, make a well in center and add salt, oil, eggs, and water. Mix liquid and flour gradually until absorbed. Place dough on floured board and knewad thoroughly for 3-5 minutes until dry and smooth (add more flour if dough is still sticky). Make into 8 balls, wrap in plastic wrap and set aside in fridge 30-60 minutes. After the dough is chilled, feed it through the sheet part of a pasta maker set at the thickest setting (1). Repeat, shifting up the setting each time, until the dough is one step away from becoming weak (that’s setting 7 on my pasta maker, but they do differ). After the first or second pass, it becomes difficult for one person to hold both the dough going in and the dough coming out of the pasta maker: this is definitely best done with a friend. When the pasta reaches the desired thickness, lay it flat on a lightly floured surface. Drop about a teaspoon of filling onto the bottom left corner of the dough. Cut the dough off with ½-1/4 inch left around the filling. Fold the dough in half over the filling, letting as little air as possible remain between the filling and the dough. Using the tips of your fingers, firmly close the dough around the filling. Repeat until you’ve gotten through the whole piece of dough, then roll out another and keep going. As the ravioli are filled, set aside on a lightly floured pan or counter. When they are all done, cook in batches of 12 or so 3-5 minutes in rapidly boiling water.

Spicy Pumpkin Filling

Peel, chop, and steam the flesh of one medium pumpkin or orange-fleshed winter squash. In a large bowl, mash with a potato masher. Add 1-2 sticks butter, ½-1 cup milk, 1-2 tsp. salt, ½ -1 cup grated parmesan, 1 tsp. pepper, dash nutmeg, and 1-2 tsp. cayenne and mash.

Squash and Mushroom Filling

Reconstitute 1 oz dry porcini mushrooms in 1 -1 ½ cups white wine. Cover and let sit 1 hour.

Cut a winter squash in half, seed, and turn cut-side down in a roasting pan with ¼-inch water. Roast at 350 for 40 minutes or until tender.

Remove cooked squash, scrape it out of the shell and mash until smooth.

In a frying pan, heat 1 T olive oil. and 1 T minced garlic. Remove mushrooms from wine (save wine), squeeze until dryish, coarsely chop, and add to pan. Then add ½ tsp. dried or 1 tsp, fresh chopped sage, ½ tsp. black pepper, ¼ tsp. salt, 1 tsp. butter. Cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Then add 1 T mushroom liquid and stir. Remove from pan and mix into squash.

Serve the ravioli with a tureen of mushroom sauce:

Make a roux : heat 2 T butter to melting, stir in 2 T flour and whisk. Add, whisking constantly, the reserved mushroom liquid, 2 T milk, salt, pepper, dried basil thyme, tarragon, and parsley. Simmer for about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in ¼ cup grated parmesan.

Serve with a fall greens salad (chickory, argula, etc.) with a sharp vinaigrette.

To round out the fall meal, finish with apple sauce upside down cake

In a pan, sauté:

1 T butter
1 cup peeled, thinly sliced apples
¼ cup sugar
1/8 cup rum
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix

1 cup apple sauce or apple butter
2 eggs, beaten
½ cup sugar
1 tsp rum
1 tsp. baking powder
1 cup flour
1 cup apples peeled and cut into 1/3-1/2” cubes

Pour the sliced apple mixture into a bundt pan and spread evenly. Pour the batter over the sliced apple mixture. Bake at 375 for about 60 minutes.

Drizzle with homemade caramel just before serving

Melt ¼ cup demerara or white sugar until hot and bubbling. Drop in 3 T butter. Stir 30-45 seconds, until melted. Remove from heat and stir in ½ cup heavy cream.