Mortadella de Tartuffo Carbonara

2014-02-02 19.18.41Those of us who live in Boston know (or, rather, should know) the gastronomic mecca that is our North End.  And not just for eating — no, the SHOPPING there is epic.  My favorite store, which my dear loyal readers know, is the Salumeria Italiana.  NYC has Eataly, a massive shopping extravaganza where you can select from hundreds of varieties of olive oils and pastas and other delectables, all at varying price points.  But I don’t have that kind of time or money, which is where the Salumeria steps in; their wizened old owner, a clever fella often found wearing his three-piece suit and fedora, wandering his small shop kissing pretty ladies on the cheek, hand-picks only the best products for the shelves on his tiny store, and his handsome chefs will woo you with samples and information enough to know what to buy and how to make it.  They have never steered me wrong.  This past weekend, I sidled up to a group of people all tasting bits of something meaty offered to them from a piece of butcher paper in the hands of one of their incredible staffers, but was leered at by them when I reached for a piece for myself; apparently, they were on a paid tour, and I wasn’t one of them.  (The chef felt bad, and he slipped me a piece when they weren’t looking.  It’s good to be a regular.)  The speckled black slice of pink thin meat I placed on my tongue burst into my consciousness with earthy unctuousness; it was an unusual mortadella: porky, mildly spicy, and — this is the best part — laden with BLACK TRUFFLE.  I immediately ordered half a pound, purchased some pasta, and ran home to figure out how to best to showcase the umame meat-loaf waiting to be eaten in my bag.  I believe simple is best, and this bastard carbonara proved my point.  It was creamy, rich, fragrant, filling, and delicious.  And super easy – which made it all that much better.

Mortadella de Tartuffo Carbonara

1/2lb of Mortadella with black truffle
1/2 onion, finely diced
1 tbsp butter
1 cup half and half
1/2 cup grated parmigiano reggiano
2 egg yolks
crushed black pepper
1/2lb of egg pasta

2014-02-02 18.02.38These two ingredients made the meal.  First: the mortadella…

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Mortadella is a type of bologna, but this ain’t your mamma’s Oscar Meyer.  It has the same soft texture, but instead of the traditional pistachios, this lovely cured meat is studded with ample black truffle.  AMPLE.  After 15 minutes in my refrigerator, *everything* smelled like truffle.  There are worse things in this world…

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I rolled it up into a cigar and sliced it thinly – aka: chiffonade.  Then I diced my onion very finely.

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In many ways, it was this brand of pasta that really elevated this meal experience to something truly special.  I was at first daunted by the price – I mean, $9 is a lot to pay for a box of pasta – but after making it, I was converted.  I may never make spaghetti with any other brand again.  It comes in halves, each one nestled in its own paper folder.  Charming.  These noodles only needed 1 1/2 minutes to reach the perfect al dente texture, so I get some salted water boiling on a back burner and wait until the sauce is almost finished before cooking off the pasta.

2014-02-02 18.59.34I first saute the onions in my butter with a healthy dash of black pepper.

2014-02-02 19.00.20Once the onions are just translucent, I add the mortadella ribbons.  I cook this very well, stirring constantly; I don’t want to onions to brown, but I do want the mortadella to leech off all its fats, which will enrich the sauce.

2014-02-02 18.46.03I freshly grate my cheese…

2014-02-02 19.10.06… then add it, and my cream, to the pan, stirring well over medium heat, until the sauce thickens and the cheese is melted.  At this point, I add my drained pasta, and stir well so it can absorb some of the sauce — which this tagliolini does like a champ.

2014-02-02 18.58.11This isn’t a true carbonara, but the egg yolks in the sauce do make it something of a relative.  But it’s easy to screw up an egg sauce by adding the yolks to a too hot pan — they’ll scramble before they can be incorporated into the dish.  So, I remove my pan – with the sauce and the pasta – from the heat, and make a little well in the middle of the noodles.  I wait a few moments for the heat to dissipate ever so slightly before adding my whisked yolks to the pasta with a splash of cold cream (this is called “tempering” the egg, more or less).  I stir this very well, making sure the golden goodness of the yolks blend with the creamy sauce – then I put the pan back on the burner for a few moments (stirring constantly) to reheat through.

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Toothsome, perfectly individualized flat spaghetti noodles drip with thick, aromatic, earthy cream sauce and are entangled with tender morsels of sweet pork perfection.  The onions add texture to the sauce, a dash of black pepper adds a mild heat, and a final sprinkling of cheese takes the place of salt.  This isn’t for dieters or the lactose intolerant, but luckily I am neither of those things – so I dug into my plate with abandon, twirling pasta on my fork before shoving mouthfuls into my gullet.  This can be made with regular mortadella, or even a good quality bologna if that’s all you have, but believe me when I say that with truffle, everything is better.

Truffled Lobster Macaroni and Cheese with Panko, Pancetta, and Chive Crust

DSCN5234 When it comes to cooking, I’m a creature of whim.  I often ask Clayton what he wants for dinner, but unless he says something that *I* actually want, too, I rather flippantly dismiss it.  Considering the quality of the items I generally produce, however, he has little room to complain.  But today’s suggestion –  in his simple terms, “a mac n’ cheese; you know, something warm” – actually did resonate with me, and my mind clicked into gear and rattled quickly through its catalog of flavors until settling quite quickly on a combination of lobster, and unctuousness, and crunch, and cream, and a dash of green.  Hence: tonight’s silky sweet truffled macaroni and cheese, studded with tender poached lobster meat, and crispy on top with crumbled pancetta and bread crumbs and chives.  And, since I could, I served it up in two searing hot iron skillets, which kept the sauce bubbling hot from bite one to bite last.  As the days grow shorter and the air cooler outside here in New England, so does the appetite reach for comfort food that warms from within.  This fit the bill just right.


Truffled Lobster Macaroni and Cheese with Panko, Pancetta, and Chive Crust

meat from 1 1/4lb lobster, just barely poached (about 1 cup)
6-8 slices thinly sliced pancetta
2 cups (uncooked) elbow macaroni
1 tbs butter
1/2 tsp minced garlic
2 cups cream
1/2 lb white American cheese
1 tbs white truffle pate
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/2 cup snipped chives

DSCN5223Poaching a lobster is easy: just chuck your bug in a large enough bowl or pan, then pour boiling water over it.  Let it sit for a few minutes, then remove from the bath.  Twist off the arms and claws, and chuck them back into the water while you remove the tail and leg meat with shears.  Then cut the claws and arm meat out, setting all the sweet quivering pinkness into a bowl before throwing into the fridge until you’re ready for it.

DSCN5226In a large skillet, pan-fry the pancetta until it is brown and crispy, removing the slices to a paper plate when they’re done to drain.

DSCN5227Wipe the pan pit with a paper towel, and set it back over medium-high heat.  Chuck your breadcrumbs in, and toss them over the heat until they’ve turned golden brown.  Set aside, off the heat.

DSCN5228After cooking the elbow noodles in a deep saucepan according to the package directions, return the drained pan to the heat, melt the butter, then add the cream and cheese – which can be cubed or shredded.  A big fat helping of crushed black pepper is a good idea too.  Whisk constantly, until the cheese is fully melted and the sauce is smooth and creamy.

DSCN5229I was given this little pot ‘o gold by a good friend for my birthday back in August, and I’ve had the pleasure of using it a few times.  All one needs is a tablespoon of this super concentrated umame bliss to infuse any dish with the essence of truffle.

DSCN5230Add the drained, cooked noodles to the sauce, stir well. and then heap a  spoonful of mushroom caviar into the mix and stir well some more.  Fold in the the lobster meat, which should be cut into small bites, and split the pasta into two cast iron skillets.  Crumble the pancetta over the top, the sprinkle the breadcrumbs over that, before smattering the dish with snipped chives and throwing in a 350° oven for 10 minutes.

DSCN5231When the edges are bubbling, it’s ready.

DSCN5233Succulent, buttery lobster… rich, hearty truffle… creamy white percolating cheese sauce, and tender al dente noodles, encrusted with crisp unctuous Italian bacon, toasted crunchy breadcrumbs, and the sweet snap of snipped chives.  Clayton didn’t expect anything this good when he thought about mac & cheese this morning, but he’s damn happy this is what he ended up tucking into tonight.  He’s smiling sweetly right now, washing the dishes while I type, already nostalgic for the deliciousness that just filled his being with pasta and cheese.  I’ve made lobster mac before, but this one, so far, has been my best.

Valentine’s Veal T-Bone with Herbed Velouté, Truffled Fontina Risotto, Wild Mushrooms, and Cherry’d Foie Gras

This Valentine’s day, my one true love bought me two dozen perfect roses and two bottles of lovely champagne.  I may be a harpy to him from time to time, but my needs on silly days like this are simple – and he met them with just want I wanted: beauty and booze.  Considering that he is still healing from knee surgery and had to hobble on his crutches to and from Whole Foods in freezing weather to do this, it was actually super-nice.  So I had to make him a super-nice dinner to show him my love for him.  Thanks to Savenor’s on Kirkland, I decided to do so with veal steaks, risotto, and foie gras — I mean, what says love better than that?  Topped with a little tart cherry, an herbalicious veloute, and some oyster mushrooms, and this didn’t just say love, it said SEX, baby.  (And I leave it to you to take from that what you will…)

Valentine’s Veal T-Bone with Herbed Velouté, Truffled Fontina Risotto, Wild Mushrooms, and Cherry’d Foie Gras

2 veal t-bones, about 12 ounces each
1/4 lb fresh foie gras
1/2 wild mushrooms (these are oyster)
2 shallots
1 cup arborio (short grain) rice
1/4 lb fontina cheese
1 bunch rosemary
1 bunch thyme
1 cup cream
2 tbs butter (not pictured)
1 tsp truffle oil (not pictured)
1 qt chicken broth (not pictured)
1/2 cup white wine (not pictured)
1/4 cup dried bing cherries (not pictured)
EVOO, sea salt, cracked black pepper

Despite the highbrow nature of this meal, it doesn’t really take too long.  The most time is spent on the risotto, which takes about 30 minutes to get just perfect, so I start there.

Half my minced shallots get sweated in a couple glugs of EVOO in my small saucepan before I dump my rice on top and stir well.  You have to sort of toast the grains before adding any liquid; this coaxes them into absorbing the wine and stock more effectively.  All this is done on medium heat, by the way.

On my other back burner, I set the chicken broth to a medium simmer; I want to add it warm to my risotto as I go, which will also help the liquid absorb.  But first, I add my wine, then stir well until all the liquid has disappeared.

I then drop the heat to its lowest setting, and add 4 oz of broth.  I stir well consistently, and add more broth each time the last batch disappears.  I revel in the plumpifying of my wee rice grains, and bask in the sauce that forms and thickens with every stir.  It takes 30 minutes to do this, requiring regular – but not constant – attention.  Stir and add, stir and add, until the rice is tender but still toothsome and bound together by its thick, fragrant, flavorful rice gravy.

As my risotto works, I get started on my velouté.  This is a mother sauce, traditionally made with white stock and roux, to which I’ve added some cream, herbs, and aromatics.  Ideally, it should be made in advance, cooled, and then reheated before service in order to really concentrate its delicate flavor.  1/2 of my remaining shallots get sweated in two tablespoons of simmering butter along with a tablespoon each of thyme and rosemary leaves.

Once the shallots transluce, I sprinkle two tablespoons of flour over the butter and whisk well to incorporate all the ingredients and simmer on medium low until the roux begins to turn beige.

Like so!

Finally, I add about 1 cup of my warm broth, and my cup of half and half (which is not traditional, but yummy nonetheless), and bring this to a simmer to thicken for about 8 minutes.

After seasoning with salt to taste, I removed my sauce from the heat, strain all the solids, then chill it in the fridge until I’m ready to plate – when I will gently heat it back up before service.

My steaks will take about 15 minutes to make total, so I get a pan all hot and ready before greasing it up with a glug or two of EVOO.

I salt and pepper my steaks, and smack them down on said smoking hot pan to sizzle and sear.

I sear not just their backs and fronts…

… but also the ribeye edges…

…and the tenderloin edges.  Then I stick the whole pan into a 425° oven for 8 minutes, until they are a perfect medium rare.

After I remove my steak pan from the oven, I move my steaks to a warmed platter to settle, and I through the rest of my shallots, another teaspoon each of thyme and rosemary, and another glug of EVOO into the pan along with my chopped fungus of the day.  2 minutes of tossing to melt these babies into umame joy is all it needs.

The piece of resistance (BTW – I totally do that on purpose; I know the phrase is pièce de résistance, but I like it may way bettah) is this delightful hunk of foie gras, which I didn’t notice was heart-shaped until I got home and took it out of the bag.  How apropos! I split it in half thickness-wise, so that I can maintain the shape for each of us. (After all, neither of us wants to eat a broken heart (shape) on Valentine’s Day!)

Foie only take a moment to sear, but it needs a superhot non-stick pan, and it not only releases a lot of delicious fat, but it smokes like hell.  I made the mistake of inhaling open-mouthed some of that smoke, and it sort of choked me up for a while.  But the foie needs nothing but a sear on each side to transform it into the quivering, sexy, hunk of haute cuisine junk it is.

Foie gras benefits from something sweet/tart to compliment it, so I grabbed a handful of dried red cherries and chopped them into a sticky, simply compote sort of thing.

As I plate my steaks and mushrooms, I throw my fontina cheese and a teaspoon of black truffle oil into my perfectly tender risotto and stir will to melt.

Tender, delicious veal steaks, topped with the sumptuous unctuousness of seared foie gras, tempered with the tangy sweet bite of scarlet cherry.  Served with a delicate herbed cream sauce, silky, nutty, and fulfilling risotto, and the woody chew of buttery mushrooms – this plate of passion really got our motors running.  Take about a bodacious plate.  Happy Valentine’s Day, friends!

Beef Wellington with Cream and Sherry Duxelle Sauce

What a weekend!  I’ve been busy busy busy – socially, professionally, culinarily, and intellectually.  I’ve been grading the scholarly work of others, and others have been grading me in a vastly different arena.  Challenges abound.  But I’m thrilled to say that it’s been a good weekend, one I will be proud of for quite some time.  You don’t necessarily need to know why, dear reader, that I am so happy right now, but you do have lots to do with it, and I thank you for loyally visiting Lolita’s dinner table week after week to see what I’m serving for my supper.  I’m plumb tickled every time someone tells me they tried one of my recipes, and tickled to hot pink whenever I hear someone say they felt comfortable enough to futz with my how-to in order to make the dish their own masterpiece.  Teaching you all how to enjoy the fruits of the land, the sea, and the grocery store is almost as good as eating my own creations.  Cooking is creativity, friends — nourishment for the body and for the soul.  Cook, eat, drink… and be happy!

Tonight’s dinner was launched on something of a whim.  I wanted to use some perfect tenderloins purchased again at Blood Farm, in West Groton, MA (our new favorite meat purveyor – sadly, but charmingly, lacking a website) as our main course, and I wanted to do something technically challenging, stick-to-your ribs, rich and delicious, but elegant, too: to celebrate! What else but Beef Wellington?  Several recipes I looked up called for mustard, several for foie gras; I couldn’t reconcile the sharp,vinegar taste of the former with the savory, ethereal aspect of the latter, so I split the difference by purchasing a slab of pure duck liver paté mousse with black truffle.  Fancified home-cooking, here we come…

Beef Wellington with Cream and Sherry Duxelle Sauce

2 1 1/2″ thick fresh filet mignons (beef tenderloin steaks)
1 stick butter
4 shallots, diced, divided (about 1 cup total)
an assortment of beautiful wild mushrooms (about 2 cups total, chopped)
4 oz chives (about 1 bunch), chopped roughly and divided
1 pint heavy cream
1 cup dry sherry
4 oz paté (this is duck liver mousse, with cognac and black truffle)
3 cloves crushed garlic
8 oz puff pastry, thawed
1 egg, beaten with a dash of water
watercress, tossed with EVOO, salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lemon juice

This is the second set of tenderloins I’ve eaten from Blood Farm, and it is the second best steak I’ve ever eaten at home.  Seriously.  Not only because of how tender and flavorful it was, but because at a little more than $8/lb, it’s cheaper than any tenderloin I can find.  Anywhere.  And this was seared, cooled, then baked in pastry – not an easy thing to get just right, requiring really fresh, wonderful meat to make it happen.  I pat these very dry before sprinkling them liberally with fresh crushed black pepper and sea salt.

In a hot, bubbling mixture of EVOO and butter (a glug of the former, 2 tbs of the latter), I sear all the sides of my steaks for about 1 minute each: that’s top,…

… bottom, and – using my tongs…

…I rolled them across the heat on all their cut edges.  I’m looking for a lovely brown fond on all surfaces – sealing in the juices and par-cooking the steaks before the final bake.

Meanwhile, I’ve scrubbed and trimmed my mushrooms, and skinned and chopped my shallots.  I have a delightful blend of fungi: shitake, chanterelle, and wood ear mushrooms.  Whole Foods had ’em, and I bought ’em.  Given that the tenderloin was so cheap, these represented the largest chunk of tonight’s bill, but mushrooms don’t weigh much, so a handful of each (at from $10.99 – $21.99) at the market still only rang in at less than $10.00.  Totally worth it.

I remove my steaks from the pan and set them aside on a dish to cool (they need to reach room temp before they are wrapped in pastry), collecting all their lovely red beefy drippings to use in my sauce later.  My ‘shrooms and shallots get chucked into the hot pan where the fat is still sizzling, and I stir everything around really well to get it sweating.

A dash of chopped chives add color and snap.

If you haven’t already guessed it, this lovely fungi mixture is my duxelle, to which I’m adding the sweetness of sherry and the weight of cream.  Once the fungus has begun to soften…

 … a little of both (about 1/2 cup of sherry, and 1/4 cup of cream) gets added to the pan, which I set to a low simmer to reduce, burning off all the liquid.

 Like so.  I remove this from the heat so it, too, can cool before being layered into my puff pastry.

Speaking of which, it’s time to prep the pastry wrapping: that which makes this beef “Wellington.”  I break out my rolling pin, and dust my crappy Formica counter with flour.

I admit, this is just Pillsbury puff pastry, and I didn’t love it.  It lacked the buttery flavor I expected, but it certainly puffed nicely.  I’ve been defrosting it in the fridge for a few hours, then on the counter until it reached room temp.  I carefully unfold it, then roll it out to a nice, square, uniform thinness.

Using my paring knife, I cut two nice squares, just large enough to fully encase each steak without leaving too much overlap.

It’s high time I gave credit to The Review Lady, whose Beef Wellington posting largely contributed to this recipe.  Thanks for the inspiration, especially the great instructions on how to wrap the steak: I’d screwed that up before.  Based on her recommendation, I start by spooning a few tablespoons of my creamed, sherried, sauteed wild mushrooms in the center of each pastry square.

Foie gras is the idealization of the flavor of rich duck deliciousness, and it is expensive and not usually found in your workaday supermarket – including Whole Foods.  I can get it at Savenor’s, usually in small enough cuts to not blow the bank, but I couldn’t get there today.  I’ve made this recipe before, but have been turned off by the flavor of mustard with the duxelle, thinking it overpowering and out-of-place.  Lacking liver, but rejecting mustard, I opted for a savory, whipped mousse of foie savored by cognac and studded with flecks of black truffle, wrapped in aspic.  I have to resist the urge to just dive into this with a water-cracker and a side of triple-cream brie…

 A layer of paté is laid over the mushrooms…

 … and the steaks are layered over that.

 I first wrap each corner of pastry over the steak’s center, sealing everything with beaten egg/water wash and a basting brush.

I entirely seal the steaks in pastry dough, using the egg wash to glue all the seams together, and forming the Wellingtons with my hands by shaping the dough package into smart squares.

I have too little experience forming shapes with dough. What I thought would be a vaugely off-set layered leaf effect ended up looking like a swollen nipple – to be blunt. I’ve learned: don’t cut your pastry shapes too small.  Still, it looked promising!  I brush the whole package down – top and sides – with egg wash, then I set both Wellingtons on a parchment lined cookie sheet before throwing it into a 400° oven for 25 minutes to roast through.

Now to the sauce.  A few tablespoons of butter melted in a large saucepan…

 … and my minced garlic, sweetly sweated over medium heat.

Remember how I said to reserve the drippings off the steaks earlier?  The Review Lady’s recipe called for beef stock, but I just used these couple tablespoons of lovely lovely juices.

Beef juice + garlic butter = one hell of a gravy base.  I add 1/2 cup of sherry, and reduce to half.

Here I deviate more from The Review Lady, since I have another 1/2 cup or so of duxelle leftover from topping my steaks.  It seems such a waste to not use it, so I add it to my pan and stir well.

For the last long simmer, I add about 1/2 cup of heavy cream.  With a sprinkling of salt and pepper to taste, and another shot of chopped scallions, my sauce makes for a perfect douse.

After my sauce has thickened, and my puff pastry has browned, I have a perfect package of protein shot through with savory deliciousness and layered on a bed of tender mushrooms enrobed in creamy sherry sauce.

With a simple salad of salted and oiled watercress, my Beef Wellingtons sit pretty on their pillow of umame enjoyment.  From start to finish, this meal took only 90 minutes to make, but the impact was timeless.  A perfect, flaky pasty shell wrapped around a tender, medium rare (if only the picture had turned out!), thoroughly juicy, mushroom caked and richly-moussed prime steak — a dinner perfectly suited to crown an excellent weekend.  Dear friends, my readers, how I hope you begin and end each span of time in your life – be it a moment, or an eon – with such eager anticipation and equally enriching fulfillment, as I enjoyed these past few days.  Eating well, by the one’s own labors, is one of life’s true pleasures.  Try it for yourselves — you won’t regret it.

Tenderloin Steaks over Truffled Potato Puree with Veronica Romanesco Mornay and Greens

Steak.  Potatoes. Cauliflower.  Three basic ingredients – but tonight’s purchases are superlative ingredients: super fresh, totally unmitigated by pesticides or hormones, and completely locally sourced.  Melt-in-your-mouth fresh filet mignons, simply spiced and pan-seared, over silky truffled potato puree with buttery Veronica mornay, snappy greens two ways, and a rich demi-glace.  Simply delectable.

Our day started early on the Concord Farm.  The sun rose over just-still-green, autumn-crop filled fields, where flocks of geese pecked through the brush looking for their breakfast.

After stocking the farm stand with fresh picked veggies, I zoomed in on these fascinating and beautiful veronica romanesco cauliflower.   Geometry never looked so delicious.

After we finished at the farm stand, Clayton and I headed northwest, driving about 20 miles to the very wealthy country town of West Groton, where the provocatively named Blood Farm has been doing business for over 100 years. One wonders which came first: the family name, or the family business: butchery.

A lovely farm on one side…

… and an unassuming side building…

… inside of which bustle workers in white coats busily butchering beef, pork, lamb, goat, and veal into every cut imaginable.

They have several freezers laden with their wares, but if you don’t want frozen you can get anything cut fresh that you want.  Anything.  The place is kind of a disorganized mess, with very little logical business flow.  The white-coated lady in front of my smiling husband is weighing that dude’s meat cuts – stuff he’d pulled out of the freezer.  She writes the weights on a slip of paper, then walks around to a tiny office, pushing through the people fishing through the freezers, where there is a calculator, and she adds up the total.  No register.  No counter. The place looks more like a storeroom where regular folks really don’t belong than a storefront – but man o’ man are the prices amazing.  More on that later — let’s get to the recipe.

Tenderloin Steaks over Truffled Potato Puree with Veronica Romanesque Alfredo and Greens

2 8oz tenderloin steaks (filet mignon cut)
2 russet potatoes
2 small veronica romanesco heads of cauliflower (these are about 6oz each)
2 large shitake mushrooms
1 bunch watercress several leaves of kale
black truffle oil
1 stick butter
1 cup 1/2 & 1/2
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
sea salt, black pepper
1/2 cup concentrated beef stock
1/2 tsp flour

I met a young mathematician the other day; I’d love to serve her these.  We don’t see naturally occurring fractals often — unless we look at frost formations regularly — but these members of the Brassica oleracea species give us the opportunity to EAT MATH.  I mean, look at them!  Technically, all broccolis and cauliflowers are fractals, but these are so regularly shaped in such reducing dimensions…

 … see what I mean?  This little nub is about 1/20th the size of the head, but it is truly an exact replica of the whole, as is each of its nipples, and its nipples nipples. Fascinating.  I trim the outer leaves away from the base, and cut as much of the stem off as I can so that each head will sit upright, but flat.

Then, since I’m steaming these, I cut a cylindrical core out of each head, too — thinking that might help the steam permeate the whole thing more evenly.  I dunno — maybe it was unnecessary, but it did ultimately steam perfectly.  But I’m getting ahead of myself again.

 I set my heads into my bamboo steamer, and get it going.  15 minutes into steaming, I add my two mushrooms to the rack, then cover and steam for another 15 minutes – until the cauliflower is tender.

These steaks are easily an inch thick, and together they weigh in at a little more than a pound.  At an amazing $16.09/lb, and freshly cut from the beast just hours earlier, this may be the best steak I’ve ever purchased.

But the proof will be in the final product, and I don’t want to adulterate my meat with anything too strong, so I very simply salt and pepper the steaks before putting them on my hot non-stick skillet to sear.

For pan-seared steaks, I prefer the flip-once-a-minute technique – as those of you who read my blog know from previous posts (like this and this and this).  For steaks this thick, I lower the heat to medium high, so that they’ll cook more slowly, but still thoroughly, holding in the juices as they redistribute each time I flip the meat.

I watch the progress of the heat by keeping an eye on the cut edge; the redness through the middle thins towards the center as the cooking cooks closer to well.  But we like it medium rare – so I flip these babies about 10 times total (that’s about 5 minutes on each side), until they’ve surrendered the upper and lower outer thirds of their pink.

Using tongs, I sear the remaining cut sides of my two perfect pieces of beef.  Another 3 or 4 minutes total, then I remove them from the pan, tent them with foil, and let them rest.

I neglected to take pictures of me peeling, chopping, boiling in salted water, draining and mashing my potatoes, or mixing that mash with black truffle oil for savor.  I also neglected to take pictures of me roasting off a few kale chips, and adding some concentrated beef stock and some softened butter mashed with flour to the steak pan to make a rich beef sauce. Oh, and I neglected to take pictures of adding some more softened butter mashed with flour to my small skillet, adding half and half, and simmering with parmesan cheese to make a mornay sauce for the cauliflower.  Sorry. I was hungry.

What I didn’t neglect, dear reader, was to dive into this amazing platter of New England’s best farm fresh beef and produce with gusto and abandon.  Using our daintiest knives, we easily shave tender slivers of steak off our loins, sandwiching them between bi-layers of umame flavor – the shitake from above, and the truffled mash below.  Each wee cone of cauliflower bursts with nutty vegetal flavor, and the blanket of salty creamed cheese sauce is the perfect compliment.  A rich, glassy puddle of savory silken beef gravy, some snappy fresh cress and crispy roasted kale add the finishing touches.  The steak is so juicy, so meaty, so fresh and delicious – I’m convinced.  It IS the best steak I’ve ever purchased, and the best steak I’ve ever eaten.  Blood Farm – you’ve made a believer out of me.  See you soon!

Weeknight Wondermeal: Truffle Salt and Pepper Steak with Mystery Spiced Potatoes Au Gratin

Meat and potatoes.  Has there ever been a love affair more lasting, more perfect, more inspirational to the masses?  Has there ever been a better blending of the flora and fauna, of the vegetable and animal, of the cow and the root?  Simple and easy, a couple of steaks and a handful of spuds (freshly harvested from Busa Farms in Concord) need very few accoutrements to be made into a splendid meal.  Tonight’s weeknight wondermeal was thrown together with only 7 ingredients, for less than $15, and in about 30 minutes – you just can’t beat that!

Truffle Salt and Pepper Steak with Mystery Spiced Potatoes Au Gratin

2 bone-in ribeye steaks
1 lb fresh potatoes (these are 1/2 yukon gold 1/2 red russet)
mystery spice (or a blend of garlic powder, onion salt, dried parsley, crushed red pepper flakes, and a dash of sugar)
1 stick butter
1 clove garlic, minced
2 slices swiss cheese
black truffle salt, cracked black pepper

Other than simplicity, today’s dinner was inspired by the spice blend pictured above – a gift from my dearest of girlfriends, brought home from a recent trip to Japan.  Said girlfriend entrusted her 17 year old son to our care this past weekend (hence, why Lolita hasn’t blogged in a week), and we had a rollicking good time showing him Beantown and enjoying his excellent company.  He carried to us several wonderful items from his lovely mother, this mysterious spice blend being only one of them.  A google-search for “Kayanoya,” the only word in English anywhere on the bottle, revealed that it is a natural food store in Tokyo, an offshoot of their restaurant of the same name in Hakata.  What Google did not reveal was a translation of the Japanese characters on the bottle — leaving it up to my taste buds to determine the ingredients.

To do so, I sprinkled a teaspoon of the blend onto a plate, then added a dash of EVOO.  I dunked a piece of white bread into the savor, closed my eyes, and engaged my taste buds: salt, heat, slight sweet, brine (maybe bonito flakes?), and a bit of green – all lingering on the center and back of my tongue, a full-mouthed flavor with surprising snap and a rising warmth.  This, I thought, would be the perfect spice for my spuds.  I can see it working with all sorts of veggies and meats, frankly — sort of like a Japanese version of Mrs. Dash.  Thanks NLHH!

I set a pot of water over high heat and add a generous helping of salt.  When it comes to a boil, I drop in my potatoes and let them cook until they are tender…

… and easily pierced with a fork.  I toss them roughly with about 2 tablespoons of mystery spice and a fat knob of butter.

I rather let the red potatoes split and mash a bit, but keep the golds more or less intact.

I just love swiss cheese. I want to go spelunking through those holes, and eat my way through that rubbery deliciousness until I emerge fat and happy back in the real world.  But until then, I’ll just eat it every chance I get.

I drop my spuds into two monkey dishes, then settle a single slice of swiss over each plate.  These go under my pre-heated broiler for about 10 minutes — just long enough to sear off my steaks!

These babies come from Star Market — our sort-of ghetto grocery store, where the meat is usually not very good.  Still, a liked the look of these thin-cut bone-in ribeyes, and I knew that with enough seasoning and a quick sautee, they could be delicious.  I rinse then pat them dry before dousing them heavily with cracked black pepper and black truffle salt.  All meat is better with black truffle salt.  So sayeth Lolita.

I drop both steaks into a *very* hot skillet, and sear them on each side, flipping them every minute.  This technique holds in all the yummy juices, and results in perfectly cooked meat.

Meanwhile, I mince my garlic clove and have it at the ready.

When my steaks a perfectly cooked through, I remove them to their plates and let them rest for a moment before serving.

In the still hot pan, I add another knob of butter and my minced garlic.  I’m not making a pan sauce, exactly – but I’m keeping the so-so quality of the meat in mind, and these last few flavors will add just the finesse these steaks will need.  I allow the butter to melt and just froth before spooning a half of the now cooked garlic over each slab of meat.

This mediocre meat is now a full-flavored steak, ladled with garlic butter and seared with pepper and umame richness…

… and cooked to a perfect, juicy medium rare.  Nice!

My spuds have baked up into perfect little crispy au gratin casseroles.  I add another dash of mystery spice for good measure, reveling in the steaming heat radiated from the plate.

After a long, busy, exciting, but exhausting weekend, something simple but hearty was what El Husbandious and I needed.  The sudden rainstorm kept us from grilling out, but it didn’t keep me from grilling in – and this healthy plateful of vittles proves that Lolita can do lots with very little.  We tucked into this dinner as if it was the plat du jour at a tory steakhouse, and I daresay we enjoyed it more than Ruth Chris or Capitol Grille simply because it cost a fraction of what they charge, but packed the same delicious whallop they dish out.  Quick, cheap, and delicious – what more could you ask for?

Creamy Curry Cheese and Macaroni with Langostino Tails and Black Truffle Oil

Macaroni and cheese: are there any other three words that go together better?  Is there any other phrase more evocative, anything else that inspires in each and every person an urgent yearning for whatever sinful, pseudo-sexual gastronomic glut the dish means to them? Tonight, to me it meant succulent, tender, mouthfuls of sweet seameats, and creamy stringy scented cheeses, and crispy crunchy crust.  Paired with a sexy simple arugula salad with parmesan croutons, and dabbled with fragrant, earthy, and enlightening black truffle oil, this Sunday night dinner is elegant and hearty, soulful and seductive, and exactly the adornment our peaceful, productive weekend deserved.  Welcome, Monday: we’re ready for you.

Creamy Curry Cheese and Macaroni with Langostino Tails and Black Truffle Oil

12 oz Trader Joe’s frozen langostino tails
4 oz fontina cheese
4 oz cheddar cheese
heavy cream
2 tbls butter, divided
1 white onion, 1/2 diced, 1/2 thinly sliced
chili curry powder
2 cups uncooked fusili pasta
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
fresh grated parmesan cheese
fresh arugula
an excellent EVOO
a high quality white balsamic vinegar
sea salt
cracked black pepper
black truffle oil, for garnish

Trader Joe’s came through: their 12 oz bag of frozen langostino tails are an excellent alternative to lobster, but more indulgent than shrimp.  I’d also use crawfish tails; or Maine shrimp, since they’re so tiny and sweet, and so unlike their bigger, brinier, ubiquitous tiger cousins.  See how sweet and pink and plump they are?  I defrost them, rinse them, then drain them over a screen set over a bowl, to separate all the liquids from the meat.

Since I only have one suitable pan (my Ikeawok), I start with my breadcrumbs, which I can set aside for use later.  I melt a tablespoon of butter of medium high heat until just turning brown…

  I throw my panko breadcrumbs, about 1/2 a cup, into my hot butter, and toss in my wok…

… until all the crumbs are uniformly toasted.  I remove them from the pan, setting them aside on some parchment paper, where I flavor them with salt and pepper, until I need them later.

Along with fontina cheese, I have a nice mild Wisconsin cheddar.  I shred about 4 packed ounces of each onto a plate.

OK, I shred about 6 oz of each; Clayton is on the prowl, and he pinches when (he thinks) I’m not looking.

Along with grated nutmeg, simple salt and pepper, and a dash of chili curry powder, these are the spice components of my sauce.  To me, the best macaroni and cheeses are the simple ones: firm pasta, flavorful cheesy sauce, and a crisp crust.  The addition of too many flavors and veggies just mucks up perfection.

 But the addition of  1/2 a white onion, nicely minced, is a must — shallot would do nicely, too, or garlic.  In this case, we went simple…

… and sweated and softened the minced onion (about 1/2 cup) in a tablespoon of sizzling (but not browned) melted butter.

After a moment, I add a tablespoon of flour to the sizzling butter, and stir well to make a roux.

Finally, I add my cream, and bring this to a simmer to thicken.  See how the butter-sauteed onions float to the top?  They will be tender little bursts of flavor on the tongue later in the meal.  Stir well, and thicken over medium heat.  My pasta is cooking on the back burner, and will be ready in a few minutes.

Meanwhile, I throw my cheese into the sauce, and…

… I briskly whisk over medium heat to melt and blend.

I add my just slightly undercooked pasta to my cheese sauce, and blend well.  I then add my drained langostino tails, mixing well, and simmering until heated through.

Finally, I spoon my sauce, seafood, and noodles into buttered 8oz ramekins.  I sprinkle a healthy portion of my breadcrumbs over the top of each dish, then place in a 350° oven to bake through for 15-20 minutes.

For the last five minutes, I put a cookie sheet, lined with parchment paper, and mounded with fresh shredded parmesan cheese, into the oven to make some cheesy croutons for a simple, snappy, arugula, onion, salted kumato tomato, EVOO, and white balsamic vinegar salad to serve on the side.

Right before service, I dribble some black truffle oil, a delicious gift given to me by my close friend and superpartner, Tom, over the top of my bubbling baked crispy topped macaroni and cheese.  My salad is fresh and light and sharp, topped with a wafery salty savory parmesan cracker, the perfect compliment to my rich, fragrant, slightly hot and wonderfully spiced creamy macaroni and cheese, studded as it is with sweet, briny mouthfuls of tender langostino tails, and topped with just the right buttered toast texture.  Clayton and I dig in with abandon: our noses fill with the umame aroma of melting cheese, our mouths with the gooey heat of pasta cream, and our brains fire synapses hard-wired to supreme excitement and titillating pleasure.  Thank you –  gods of the heath, spirits of the kitchen – for introducing cheese to pasta, and letting them  make their particular brand of love on the porcelain pillow of my plate: it is beautiful.

Creamy Curry Cheese and Macaroni with Langostino Tails and Black Truffle Oil