Dinner for One: King Crab and Avocado Tian with Antipasto

Clayton’s working tonight, so it’s all Lolita time.  Although he’s a great consumer – as in he eats what I make without (much) complaining – there are dishes I prepare for myself that I don’t seem to ever make for him.  I don’t know why; there’s no real reason or rhyme, frankly – it’s just the way it is.  Tonight’s meal began with the leftovers from some huge-ass king crab legs we enjoyed for last night’s dinner, and a couple of odds and ends I picked up today at Trader Joe’s.  The result? An elegant but simple salad of nutty avocado and tender sweet crab meat, accompanied by an easy antipasti: a light but rich supper as delicious as it is beautiful.

King Crab and Avocado Tian with Antipasto

1 ripe avocado
1/3 lb fresh picked cooked crab meat
juice from 1 lemon
1 tbs mayonnaise
1 handful maché (lamb’s lettuce)
1 boll burrata cheese
2 slices prosciutto di parma, split and rolled into 4 tiny cigars
EVOO, sea salt, cracked black pepper, balsamic vinegar

Whole Foods had a special on King crab legs this weekend – something I’ve had a hankering for for a while now.  We bought 2 pounds, not realizing just how much meat these bad boys were going to yield.  I think we’ve established that we’ve never actually had King crab legs prior to these — likely only snow crab clusters — since neither of us can remember ever seeing such huge unbroken chunks of leg and knuckle meat before.  And it was so dense and packed that the discarded shells weighed next to nothing; we easily ‘harvested’ 30 oz of succulent pink deliciousness.  After gorging ourselves on not much more than crab and butter, we had about 1/2 lb leftover.

I pull my crab meat into nice sized hunks, and mix it with a little mayo and several teaspoons of lemon juice, along with some salt and pepper.  I just want the mayo to bind the crab – not make it gooey; I also just want the lemon juice to cancel out the egginess (eggyiness? eggyness?)  of the mayo – not make it lemony; and I just want the salt and pepper to brighten the salad – not overpower it.  The idea is crab and nothing but that which is needed to ‘hold it together’ for the sake of shaping the tian.

Speaking of which — here is how I’m shaping this “tian” – my stacked, formed salad of crab meat and avocado.  I’m not sure why it’s called a tian — in fact, although I see several examples of this term being used in this context online, traditionally a tian in French cooking is something completely different – either more like a vegetable tart, or an earthenware cooking device.  But when I envisioned this dish, it was as a perfectly shaped cylindrical layered salad.  And when I order a perfectly shaped cylindrical layered dish in a restaurant, it’s usually called a tian on the menu.  Hence my usage of the term.  Anyway, using my kitchen shears, I cut the ends off of a beer can to make a perfect form.  It would have been better to use a soup can, but all the cans I have in the house are designed to stack, so my can opener won’t work on their bottom sides.  (I figured this out only after dumping the contents of several cans of soup.)  Using a beer can just meant I had to be careful not to cut my fingers on the sharp edges.

I start by pressing my avocado, which I’ve blended with a dash of lemon juice, some salt, pepper, and EVOO, into a more-or-less flat 1″ thick layer on the bottom of my can.

Then I layer in the crab meat salad.

I vary carefully slide the can up and off the filling so it maintains its shape, pressing down on the crab meat to keep the filling on the plate.  Oiling the can a bit beforehand helped.

A basic antipasto of rolled prosciutto di parma, burrata cheese, capers, EVOO, and balsamic vinegar, along with some EVOO and lemon juice dressed maché, add extra dimensions to this already sophisticated presentation.  Crab and avocado, although not meant to co-exist in nature, seem destined for each other’s company on the plate: the sweet, tender sinews of crab absorb the buttery texture of the stone fruit’s green goodness, creating a harmonious marriage on the palate unrivaled in the realm of simple pleasures.  Along with a cold glass of sparkling rosé, this delectable dinner is truly a treat – tonight, for one, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make it for your sweetie whenever the mood strikes you…

Weeknight Wondermeal: Hake with Olive Tapenade and Arugula Salad

Those of you who follow my blog know that I am a total fish-head this time of year.  If it swims in the ocean, bottom-feeds off the sea-floor, or otherwise spends its life in salt-water, I want it during the summer.  Perhaps it’s because I’m a pretty poor swimmer; maybe if I eat more sea-creatures, I’ll absorb their floating abilities and be able to improve my dog-paddle.  I know, I know – suggesting that ingesting swimming things to make me a better swimmer is as logical as thinking that pears and avocados would taste good together because they have the same silhouette, but they DO taste good together, so…. (I’ll leave you to construct an irrefutable ratiocination for my syllogism).  Anyhoo – after the super-hot, thoroughly humid, and completely unpleasant weather recently (which threatened violent thunderstorms that never came, leaving us without the welcome break from humidity rain usually brings), I wasn’t too hungry either – so a light dinner was in order.  Hake is a nice, flaky white-fish, kind of like cod or haddock, and is perfect for a pan-sear.  Along with some quickly minced olives for a garnish and an easy side salad, this fresh, healthy supper was just right: it took only about 15 minutes to make, used very little heat (only one pan to quickly sear the fish), and cost only $20.  Technically, I made it on the weekend, but it shares all the right characteristics for a Weeknight Wondermeal (cheap, easy, and quick), so I trust you’ll forgive the misnomer…

Hake with Olive Tapenade and Arugula Salad

1 lb fresh hake filet
1 tbs butter
seasoned salt, black pepper
fresh arugula
burrata cheese
fresh basil
EVOO, white balsamic vinegar
4-6 oz mixed olives, the brinier the better

I love this product, even though I have no idea what it really is.  OK – I have an idea: it’s fine sea salt blended with chinese-five spice and some sort of hot pepper, likely schezuan.  But despite the fact that the label is replete with English language errors (they marinated the powder?), it is truly hot and flv. and salty — and it is a really delicious seasoning.  I start by splitting my filet into two roughly equal sized halves (which requires that I cut it lengthwise, since it is thicker at one end – and I need to pieces that will cook in the same amount of time), and dousing them with this salt before dusting them thoroughly with flour.

A glug of EVOO and a pat of butter go into my largest non-stick pan over high heat.  You’ve seen me use this combination before: the EVOO alone can smoke and alter the flavor of the fish, but the butter alone can over-brown.  A mix of the two makes just the right balance of milk-solids to foam and straight oil to sizzle.

See?  Once it’s foaming…

… I gently lay my planks of fish on the froth.  Since these pieces are irregularly shaped, I’ll need to sort of roll them so that they brown on all sides, and I sear for about 3 minutes each time.

Like so.  I’m aiming for a nice golden brown, and for fully-cooked through fish — which takes about 10 minutes total.

Me and my burrata cheese.  I know I am a freak for it, but what can I say?  It’s DELICIOUS!  These three ingredients – tomatoes, basil, and burrata – are the makings of a lovely caprese salad…  …but I had some arugula, too, so I added that to the mix.  Oh – and these are OUR tomatoes, grown in our little garden in the sky, just in case you were wondering.  Their skins are a little thick, but they are wonderfully sweet.  I toss everything together with a little salt and pepper, some EVOO, and some white vinegar.

I honestly don’t know what I did before grocery stores started stocking antipasto bars.  Whole Food has a particularly good selection of olives, and I like to pick and choose some of the sharpest, briniest, and strongest varieties they have.

To remove the pits from those that had ’em, I smash the olive with the flat of my blade, which sort of cracks them open and allows one to fish out the stone from the center.  Then I chop them all up to make a nice relish sort of thing.

My delicate, flaky fish is blanketed by a healthy sprinkling of salty, flavorful olives – a perfect marriage of mild and strong sensations.  The creamy burrata, peppery arugula, fragrant basil, and sweet tomato salad is a nice compliment.  Since I realized I was hungry nary 20 minutes ago and am now sitting down to dinner, I’m pretty happy with myself.  And the husband?  Why, he’s THRILLED – mostly because it tastes so damn good.

Lobster Risotto with Buratta, Pluot, and Mint Salad

My oh my but I’ve been busy — way too busy to blog lately, which I admit with regret.   That doesn’t mean that I haven’t been cooking, though!  Quite the opposite, actually, since last week I catered a party for about 70-80 people, and I’ve been cranking out the home-cooking for the husband since I last spoke to ya’ll as well.  But taking the pictures and birthing them on the web has been a labor I haven’t been up for, and for that I apologize.  Today is a new day!  It’s warm outside my Cambridge windows, and the sun shone all the livelong day – the first of my bike-riding season.  Penelope the Purple Bicycle ventured out with newly inflated wheels and a recently lubed chain on her inaugural ride to Whole Foods and Alive & Kicking Lobsters for the fodder needed for tonight’s feast.  Home-roasted red peppers blended with creamy risotto studded with chunks of lobster and fresh Italian peppered cheese, served with the magical fresh flavors of cool mint, milky burrata, and juicy red plums and purple pluots.

Lobster Risotto with Buratta, Pluot, and Mint Salad

1/2 lb freshly shelled, parboiled lobster meat
1 red bell pepper
EVOO, sea salt, cracked black pepper
1/2 cup diced red onion
1/2 cup diced shallots
1 qt vegetable stock
1 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 oz fresh peppered Italian farmer’s cheese
2 tbs butter
1 cup dry white wine
1 pluot, 1 red plum
1 boll burrata cheese
8-10 leaves fresh mint
1 cup baby greens
balsamic vinegar
chives, for garnish

Today’s lobsters came from Cambridge’s best kept secret – Louie’s Lobster, a.k.a. Alive & Kicking. It’s nestled at the back of a deepset driveway just north of the corner at River and Putnam.  They have the best lobster sandwich, um, anywhere… and they always have fresh and well-priced bugs available for purchase.  I grabbed a 2 lber, which I par-boiled and shelled, and which yielded about 1/2 lb of tail, claw, and knuckle meat.  I didn’t take pictures of this process, but you can check out my recipe for butter-poached lobster to see how it’s done.  This is my new go-to technique for my most delicate and sophisticated lobster preparations.

If you are a loyal Lolitaist, then you’ve seen my risotto before, too (here and here and here, for example), but I’ll give a little refresher course now.  I start by melting my butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, then gently cooking my shallots and onion in the hot fat until they transluce.  I add my short grain rice, and toss thoroughly over the heat to warm each kernel to just-before-toasted.  That all takes about 6-8 minutes.

I lower the heat, and add my wine, stirring well so the rice absorbs all the delicious liquid.  I let this simmer and evaporate for about 3-4 minutes.

Adding 3 oz at a time, my warmed vegetable stock gets gently stirred into the pot, teasing the thickening starches off each kernel of rice, plumping every grain with its flavorful moisture.  This simmers on low, each new scoop of stock added only when the last scoop is absorbed by the rice, turning it into risotto.  30 minutes, more or less.  It is a labor of love.

Meanwhile, my pepper gets doused with EVOO and sprinkled with salt and pepper before roasting on all sides in a 450° oven.

After about 10 minutes total on roast, my pepper is blackened all ’round, and I chuck it into a paper bag to cool, and to loosen the skin for easier removal with the flat of my chef’s blade.

A quick chop later, and they’re ready for the risotto.

At the 25 minute mark or so (or when a random grain of rice tasted on the tongue is just still barely firm in the center), I add the pepper and stir well.

The Cambridge Winter Farmers Market is in full swing, and Clayton and I had fun checking it out on Saturday.  This lovely product is from Wolf Meadow Farm; it is a peppered version of their Primo Sale, one of their youngest, freshest cheeses.  The super-sexy cheesemaker sampled his wares with gusto, and I was charmed into purchasing this beautiful 6oz block for a very reasonable $6 with the vague idea of cooking with it this weekend.

I cut 1/2 the cheese into small hunks, and stir it into my thick, rich rice.

Finally, my lobster is lovingly chopped…

… and stirred into the pot.

The heat is off, and the final ingredient is a couple tablespoons of chives, to add green and tang to the risotto, a shot of heavy cream to add silk to the sauce, and a bit of salt and pepper to taste.  Sitting off the heat will thicken everything up perfectly, but with the lid on it will stay piping hot for the last 5 minutes before plating.

The final component is a sweet, light salad to be the cool complement to my hot, rich rice.  I’m all about the basics of a caprese salad: a sweet or tart juicy fruit or vegetable, a green fresh herb, and a milky mozzarella cheese.  Tonight’s variation was inspired by the ruby red plums and perfect pluots Whole Foods hawked in today’s market.  I’d sub their silky sweetness for the ubiquitous tomato, freshen those fruit slices with leaves of icy mint, and blend them with burrata cheese.

A slice of fruit, a pinch of baby greens, a wedge of ricotta-stuffed mozzarella, and a leaf of mint – I layer this horizontal Napoleon across my plate, drizzle it with balsamic glaze, and sprinkle it with salt, pepper, and EVOO.  It is as sumptuous as it is beautiful.

My creamy risotto sports mouthfuls of sweet, tender lobster meat, all bathed in a rich sauce redolent of roasted red peppers and milky farmer’s cheese.  It’s all warm and thick but light and herbaceous — just the right balance of flavors, just the perfect blend of textures.  The sweet juicy pluots and plums sugared the curds and cream, spiced with the fragrant mint leaves and concentrated molasses of the thick balsamic glaze.  What a wonderful platter of perfection — warm and cool, hearty and light, fresh and homey.  It may have been a while since I cooked for you last, my friends, but if you could but taste this meal, I think you’d agree it was worth the wait.

Weeknight Wondermeal: Rustic Lamb Steak Skillets with Tomatoes, Brussels, Potatoes, and Burrata



Seldom do I find the Twitter generation’s vernacular useful, but tonight is one of those occasions where the treasure trove of Lolita’s vocabulary only detracts from the unpretentious pleasure of roasted meat and vegetables in a cast iron skillet.  Wait – that was pretentious, wasn’t it?  Let me rephrase: holy shit – my dinner was delicious!  1″ thick lamb shoulder chops, with tomatoes, potatoes, and Brussels sprouts, guest starring pepperoni and burrata cheese, all nestled in an iron bathtub and roasted to smokin’ hot in the oven until bursting, juicy, tender, and robust.  So freakin’ good — so freakin’ easy to make.

Rustic Lamb Steak Skillets with Tomatoes, Brussels, Potatoes, and Burrata

2 1″ thick lamb shoulder steaks
8 tiny wee potatoes
8-10 Brussels sprouts
6 baby tomatoes on the vine, split into clusters of 3
16-20 slices pepperoni
1 boll burrata cheese
sea salt, cracked black pepper

These 8″ cast iron skillets were the only bounty Black Friday yielded, but they’ve already proven themselves worth their weight in gold (metaphorically speaking; because they are wrist-breakingly heavy).  I’ve heated them for 20 or so minutes (about as long as it took for me to stage my set-up shot above) in a 400° oven before setting them on my hot stove-top with a shot of EVOO in each.

This is a Weeknight Wondermeal, which means it is easy easy easy.  Here are the few steps I followed to make this deliciousness happen: I rinsed, patted dry, salted and peppered my steaks, and set them along the edge of their respective pans.  I’ve trimmed and halved my sprouts, which I set cut-side down on the hot surfaces to sear, and I’ve skinned only the middles of my tiny wee potatoes and have nestled them within.  The sprouts immediately start to sizzle.

I layer my slices of pepperoni over the sprouts and spuds, then throw the pans in my hot oven to roast for 15 minutes.

After said 15 minutes, I pull out the pans, flip the steaks, move my spuds to one side, my sprouts and pepperoni to the other, and snuggle my tomato stems in between.  I douse them (and everything else – ‘cept the lamb) with EVOO, and throw it back in the hot oven for 10 minutes.

After said 10 minutes,  my tomatoes have split, my potatoes are tender, my sprouts have caramelized faces, firm middles, and crisp edged wilted humps.  My steaks are cooked through and juicy, so I halve my boll of burrata — modern cheesemakers most perfect homage to cow’s milk — and place one in the middle of each pan, topped with another slice of pepperoni.  Back in the oven my skillets go, but I crank the heat up to broil for the final 5 minutes to finish.

Gamey lamb steaks sizzling in their own melted fat juices, coupled with the savory liquid balance only roasting tomatoes bring, flavored with spicy pepperoni and herbaceous iron-seared miniature cabbage halves, and studded with russet potato thumbs.  A cracked egg of curded and stretched cow cream blends with the various drippings, forming a gravy that is pink and milky, meaty, starchy, and vegetable-y, and which spears a sumptuous feast on the each tine of every fork.  And I didn’t even stop at the grocery store this evening — everything was in my fridge.  Veggies from the farm stand, lamb from Blood Farms, burrata, pepperoni and potatoes from Trader Joe’s: all in all, $20 worth of ingredients.  But the experience of diving into this cauldron of comely comestibles?  Priceless!

Farmer’s Market Summer’s Night Salad with Grilled Steak, Burrata, Boston Lettuce, and Blackberries

It’s farmer’s market time here in New England, when the rich, colorful, and plentiful bounty of our local farms and gardens are lovingly displayed in quaint wooden boxes and cartons and coolers under sun-blocking canopies arrayed throughout various well-placed urban spaces all over town.  Harvard has it’s own market on Tuesdays, a really lovely affair parked right in front of the Science Center, with vendors hawking everything from teas to chocolate to baked goods to grass-fed beef to fresh goat cheese to honey to vegetables and seedlings, and everything in between!  My hungry hungry hands clamped onto a thick steak and a knot of cheese to bring home to fashion into some dinner.  Clayton was at the Lexington Farmer’s Market yesterday, where he picked up some lettuce, tomatoes, and a loaf of bread.  And our own garden yielded super-sweet blackberries and a heady supply of flavorful herbs.  With that cornucopia of fresh ingredients at my disposal, I created a delicious dinner of grilled steak, sliced thinly and served with a crisp Boston Bibb lettuce salad topped with homemade herb ranch dressing, blackberries, and burrata cheese.  Orgasmic organica!

Farmer’s Market Summer’s Night Salad with Grilled Steak, Burrata, Boston Lettuce, and Blackberries

1lb grass-fed fresh ribeye steak
1 boll fresh burrata cheese
Boston Bibb lettuce
baby tomatoes
basil, tarragon, rosemary, cilantro, and oregano
white balsamic vinegar
half & half (or milk)
sea salt, black pepper
garlic powder
fennel salt (optional)
arrowroot (for thickening)

Today’s grass-fed ribeye beefsteak hails from Groton’s John Crow Farm.  It was at least an inch thick, beautifully marbled, and tender to the touch.  At $17.99/lb, it was comparably priced to Whole Foods and Savenor’s, and I felt a little happy inside knowing I was supporting a local organic farm directly, sans middleman.

Our garden in the sky is bursting with verdant herbage, and here are just a few snips off each planter: oregano, cilantro, basil, tarragon and rosemary.  These last two flavors will be perfect for my steak, and the rest I’ll use for my homemade ranch dressing.

Since what I want here are the purest and most honest flavors I can get (I want to taste that steak, and not just a bunch of Montreal seasoning or anything), I merely douse my beef with EVOO, a sprinkling of pepper and sea salt, and two washed sprigs each of rosemary and tarragon, which I rather press hard into the meat to make them stick there.

Little Red has been heating up for a while now, and it’s ready to sear off my steak.  I place the beef in the middle of the rack, making sure my herb sprigs stay put on top and underneath the slab of yum.  I lower the lid and walk away for 10 minutes.

I admit it: I love ranch dressing.  There — I’ve said it.  But I didn’t have any in the house, although I did have an almost empty jar of mayo (there was about 3 tablespoons left).  That got me thinking: ranch dressing is usually a mix of mayo, buttermilk, and sour cream with garlic and fresh herbs.  I had the fresh herbs, plenty of garlic powder, and mayo and cream, so I thought I could make a pretty good facsimile of a ranch dressing that would compliment my salad.  I stripped my basil, tarragon, cilantro, and oregano leaves from their stems, chopped all that up really well, chucked it all into my jar (why dirty a bowl?) with a few glugs of half n’ half and about a tablespoon of white balsamic vinegar.  I added some salt, pepper, fennel salt, and garlic powder, then put the lid on and shook the whole thing until everything was well mixed.  I totally eyeballed this, which is why I don’t have measurements here, but I kept tasting as I went until I had the flavor profile I wanted: creamy, with a little tang, and a lot of blended herb flavor. If it is too thin (as mine was, slightly), add a little bit of arrowroot as a thickening agent, shake well again, and then place in the fridge to chill and mix.

This loaf of bread from Hi-Rise Bread Company, given gratis to my husband at the Lexington Farmer’s Market (thanks, folks!), was so big I could barely fit it into my camera’s viewfinder (without also picking up ugly details of my kitchen in the background which I aim to keep hidden from you, dear readers).

We split the loaf into large slices, and shove plenty o’ butter pats between them, before wrapping the whole loaf in foil paper so we can heat it up on the grill.

Speaking of which, it’s time to check the steak!  Oh baby, it smells amazing, and given the lovely grill marks already charred into the down-side, it’s time to flip my meat so it can sear on the other.  We had to rather place the herb sprigs on the grill face and flip the steak over on top of them, to keep them in place so they’d continue to scent and flavor my meat, but that was easy enough to do, and totally worth it when we finally dug in.

Since the steak is so thick, and since Little Red’s heat maxes out at 375° (read: not as hot as a real fire-fed grill), it will take another 7 minutes or so for this to cook to medium rare.  I put the bread onto the grill so it can warm up and butter melt, then I lower the lid and head inside to make the salad!  (Although it is a beautiful day in Cambridge, it’s HOT AS HELL, so we’re hiding inside tonight.  Our old broken down air-conditioner has suddenly decided to start working again, giving us an option we rarely have.  I expect it will fall through the floor or spontaneously combust or something else equally tragic any day now, but until then Clayton and I are sending our thanks to the gods of Freon and enjoying a cool(ish) indoor experience.)

Clayton picked this head of lettuce and all these perfect little tomatoes at Busa Farms in Concord several hours before they headed to the Farmer’s Market in Lexington.  Talk about farm fresh – these beauties were so much more than the leaves of grass and spheres of flavorless nightshade on sale at the grocery store.  The Boston Bibb required a very good washing, tho – a little more than I gave it, since I admit to tasting a bit of grit when I finally forked my first bite.

Anyone who follows my blog knows I have a perpetual hard-on for burrata cheese, and any time I see it any where, I can’t resist buying it.  This little boll of Fiore Di Nonno hand-made cheese purchased at the Harvard market set me back $6.50 – a good deal more than the $3 for Trader Joe’s double sized offering, my regular go-to burrata.  It is also much more dense, with considerably less filling.  The ingredients are much finer, and the hand-pulled quality of the cheese much more artisanal, and it makes me happy to support this very local company.

I wasn’t as thrilled by the density of the product as I’d hoped; I like my burrata to split open like a cracked soft-boiled egg, whereas this cheese was more like a hard-cooked egg.  But it was quite good, and a perfect compliment to my sweet sweet fresh-from-my-backyard blackberries.  These two items will form a sweet side next to my salad; a dessert course, if you will.

The steak is perfectly cooked, so I yank it off the grill and let it rest for a few minutes before slicing into it so the juiciness will settle and not drain off when the knife pierces the whole.  When it does, I slice this very thinly against the grain.

Fanned out across my plate, just touching my dressed lettuce leaves and flanked by my berries and burrata, my steak surrenders its pink to my lascivious gaze.  The meat is so tender, it falls apart at the sound of my voice whispering dirty words about what I’m going to do it.

Locally harvested, locally grown, organic, fresh, seasonal, and absolutely delicious! Steak salad never tasted so good: the meat is fragrant, beefy, and earthy (by virtue of the rosemary), the dressing is creamy and mild, perfect to cool the meat and coat the salad, the tomatoes have been split and salted, and the berries and cheese bring a sweet balance to the plate.  With hot buttered bread on the side, Clayton and I dive into our dinners happy to have such excellent fare to enjoy from our friendly neighborhood farmer’s markets.

Beet, Burrata, and Basil Mosaic with Garden Herb Grilled Chicken

After almost a week of unrelenting rain and gloom, the sun finally emerged from hiding yesterday, and the day – and night – were simply glorious!  The temperature in Boston was just under 80, the breeze was light and sweet, and the skies were almost totally clear, except for a couple of comfy cumulous clouds doh-see-doh’ing overhead.  Clayton and I also made some very-needed adjustments to our little sky-deck; this winter’s ravaging winds all but destroyed the privacy trellis which separates us from the creepy old guy whose windows are a scant few yards from our pad.  Times being tight, we couldn’t afford to bring in a handyman to replace it, and since we’re 3 stories up, with the trellis attached to the outside of the deck – a dead drop of 30′ – we couldn’t replace it ourselves.  Enter Clayton, my handsome husbandman and high-functioning hoarder.  Years ago, he worked in retail fashion, and the company often staged high-impact merchandising campaigns with elaborate props and whatnot – all which would just get chucked into a Dumpster when no longer in use. A devoted Dumpster-diver, Clayton once fished out a whole case of plexiglass panels, and has been carting them around (to the soundtrack of my constant kvetching, no less) for over a decade.  Well, dear husband — love of my life — my heart and soul — my partner in the world — the man of my dreams — I apologize.  I apologize, here in writing for all the world-wide-web to see, for all that bitching and moaning about your compulsive collecting, because this time it paid off.

With $20 worth of hardware, a measuring tape, and some basic math skills, we were able to convert those multi-colored panels of plexi into a lovely mosaic partition, beautifully blocking our revels from the inquisitive gaze of the kooky Cambridge irregular who inhabits the house behind us.  With our potted edible plants above and our potted edible plants below, our wall of colors — and this particular picture — was all the inspiration I needed for tonight’s delicious dinner: a roasted beet, bursted buratta, be-ribboned basil, and balsamic vinegar salad with fresh garden-herb marinated grilled breast of chicken.  Simple sophistication; easy artfulness.  All for about 15 bucks, too!

Beet, Burrata, and Basil Mosaic with Garden Herb Grilled Chicken

4 purple beets (small to medium)
4 golden beets (small to medium)
2 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
1 boll burrata cheese
white balsamic vinegar
garden herbs — I used tarragon, rosemary, and oregano
an excellent quality balsamic vinegar
sea salt and cracked black pepper

Beets are beautiful.  I *never* ate them growing up, and remember that – up until relatively recently – I stuck my nose up at the concept of them.  But they are ubiquitous here in Boston, and I’ve learned that the globs of purple fished from a can is nothing like the ruby splendor purple beets represent, and that golden beets are just as bedazzling.  I wash my roots carefully first.

Each color gets packed into it’s own foil package; I don’t want the purple to bleed into my golden just yet.  Each set of beets gets bathed in EVOO, sea salt, and black pepper, before being wrapped tightly and completely into 3 layers of foil.

These babies go out into Little Red, which has been preheated to high (about 375°).  I lower the cover, and sit back and relax for about an hour – or until I can easily pierce my biggest beet with a toothpick.

While my roots roast, I have to marinate my bird.  Whole Foods butchers are wonderful; they provide the home chef with so many various cuts of chicken to choose from.  For $4.99/lb, I could have purchased split breasts, but for 50 cents less per pound (which equated to about $1.50 on this bosom), I purchased one whole torso. I’d just split that baby myself — it’s easy!

After rinsing then patting these DD’s down, I flip ’em over and line my chef’s knife up with (what I presume is called) the sternum (as it’s called on we people types).

One quick thwack later, and my bazookas have been cut in twain.

I’ve harvested some lovely herbs from the roof garden.  I strip my oregano, tarragon, and rosemary leaves from their stems…

… then toss said leaves, roughly ripped by hand (I see no need to buy an herb mincer), with my chicken breasts into a ziplock bag.  In goes a few glugs of EVOO and white balsamic vinegar, too — Lolita’s quick marinade.  I seal this bag, removing as much air as possible, and set it into the fridge so everything in there can get to know each other better.  My chicken will only take 25 minutes, and I don’t want to start it until the beets are practically ready.

As the sun starts to set in the background, Clayton places the now nicely marinated chicken onto the hot grill, breast side up, and the beets come off so they can cool a bit before I prepare the salad.  Hello, honey.  You look darn handsome with the sun in your hair.  Don’t forget to flip the birds after 15 minutes, so that the skin can hit the grill and get nice and crispy before serving.  Good man.

See how lovely they are?  There’s no need to peel them, since I’m cutting them into cubes anyway, which I try to do maintaining the same basic size for each bite.  Then I assemble my mosiac: three rows of alternating cubes of purple and gold, handled carefully so the colors don’t bleed.  Then I top each assemblage with 1/2 a boll of burrata, coaxing the fluffy filling to spill slightly over the edges.

The  final flavor for this salad is my basil, fresh picked from the garden, which I want in perfect chiffonade.  The best way to do that is to wash and dry your leaves thoroughly before loosely stacking them together.

The next step is to roll that stack into a loose cigar.  Using a blade with a very sharp edge (which I just honed with my steel)…

… I slice through the cigar as thinly as possible, noting where the leave spines have lined up, so I could remove those stemmy bits.  You must have a sharp knife for this, or you’ll end up bruising your basil, which adversely affect the flavor, IMHO.

Parti-colored pedestals of sweet roasted beets topped with creamy, curdy cheese, slender strips of basil, nutty EVOO and rich, thick balsamic vinegar are the perfect salad course to go with my simply spiced but succulent, juicy, tender breasts of grilled chicken.  Served with a full-bodied red wine, and under the early evening lights over my paradise in the sky, this dinner filled my eyes with explosions of color and my mouth with explosions of flavor.

Ahhh… dinner on the deck.  Now that our privacy has been restored, more or less, it’s time I start bringing some folks over for dinner.  Who’s game?

Macaroni alla Telefono

Clayton’s been working hard on the farm, poor boy; he’s coming home all spattered with mud, smelling like livestock, with a big fat tired grin on his face. Today he got bit in the ass by a goat, he carried around fluffy baby lamb, played with the freshly hatched baby chicks, moved a whole chicken coop, sloped hogs, etc.  Tonight I needed to whip together a hearty something something to make my man’s man all fortified for his supreme acts of labor, and I thank Mario Batali for introducing me to this super simple super satisfying dinner on the fly.  I, of course, did my own thing to it, but the concept is based on something I saw him make on one of his old shows on the FoodNetwork over a decade ago.  The macaroni is obvious: noodles, and squiggly ones to boot!  The “alla telefono” refers to the stretchy stringy cords of fresh mozzarella cheese melted into this delicious pasta and sausage baked dish.    With my quick-made basil marinara sauce, dinner is red and good and gooey and rich and fresh and hot and yummy and awesome.  ‘Nuff said.

Macaroni alla Telefono

1 lb sweet Italian sausage
1 carrot
1 stalk celery
1 small onion
4 cloves garlic
a handful of fresh basil
2 tbs tomato paste
1 large can crushed San Marzano tomatoes
burrata cheese
2 cups noodles (your choice, but something squiggly works best)
salt and pepper
fennel seeds (optional)
caraway seeds (optional)

I was cheeky today, I admit it.  I noticed that Savenor’s afternoonFacebook posting was a link to a blog – an excellent blog, to be sure – but it got me thinking: I gots me a blog, and I shop at Savenor’s, too.  Methinks perhaps I just need to say “Here’s what I do with your meats, yo'” (to mix my vernaculars) and maybe they’ll dig my blog, too.  So I slid the stud behind the counter my cool biz card, and I’m sure any day now they’ll offer me half their profits to compensate for all you rich browsers discovering them through my portal into the world of FOOD.  That’s right.  Lolita’s a trendsetter, she is.  Today I bought my cheese (they were out of fresh mozzarella, but burrata served the purpose of both ricotta and mozz at the same time), my sausage (which was heavenly), my tomato paste, and a loaf of french bread at their Cambridge joint.  After slipping the dude my card.  In shameless self-promotion. ‘Cuz that’s how I roll.

I start with a simple mirepoix and minced garlic and stir it around in a hot oiled pan.

I add a few dashes of sea salt, some cracked black pepper, and a teaspoon each of fennel seeds and caraway seeds.  I toss this around for a few moments to toast and soften.

I’d left the camera on; Clayton walked by at a random moment, and saw this image in the viewfinder.  I agreed it was… compelling.  So I snapped.  And so I share.  My stemless wine glass dripping with cava, our scratched kitchen table surface, and one of Clayton’s paintings coloring the background.

To my pan I add two tablespoons of tomato paste. I blend it well with my sauteed veggies.

I add my can of crushed tomatoes, blend well, and let this mixture simmer, covered, for the next 20-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, I’ve heated a glug or glugs of EVOO in a pan, and now I’ve laid  my fresh sausage over the sizzle.  I’m going to rotate them regularly, so that they cook evenly through without splitting with too much heat drying out and fracturing the membrane.  Using tongs…

… I roll my sausages…

… every minute or so, just as the surfaces start to brown…

…and I finish off with some wrist-flip rolling, until my sausages are perfectly golden all over their little cylindrical bodies, all plump and toasty, all heated fully through, still bursting with savory pork juices.  Oh mama.

See?  As I slice my sausages, they ooze with juices and are perfectly cooked throughout, without being too browned and blistered on the outside.  And as I sneak a mouthful, and one for Clayton, we revel in the peppery, garlicky, flavorful, distinctive deliciousness before I…

… dump them disks into my thick rich tomato sauce.

I stir this all up, then add a handful of ripped fresh basil leaves to the blend, and I turn off the heat.

I’ve boiled off my pasta to just slightly underdone (I always think of Joyce’s  “Underdone’s”), since they’re going to bake for a while, which will bring them to just the right al dente.

I mix this all up real good like.  *Real* good like.

This plump ball of mozzarella (a wee wee bit rubbery at just the apex of the curve) stuffed with ricotta ended up being the *perfect* diary for dinner.  It comes from “The Mozzarella House” in Everett, MA — but they’ve got no website!  Technological deficiencies aside, their cheese is damn good (even if a little pricey, at $7.99 in comparison to Trader Joe’s more consistently produced, just as tasty, $2.99 8oz portion).  Anyway, the mozz will melt and stretch, and the ricotta will melt and cream.  I slice it, then roughly chop it, then scoop it up with the flat of my blade and…

… dump it into my hot saucesausagepasta.  I mix this up real good like…

… and I scoop it into an oiled baking dish, and throw it into a 350° oven for 15 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, I slice my beautiful baguette down the middle and cut it into planks.  I douse each slice’s surface with melted butter, sprinkle them with garlic powder, and grate some fresh parmigiano reggiano on top, then stick this on a sheet pan over parchment paper into the oven (which is already baking off my pasta) to toast.

I pull my pastabake out when I see the bubbling heat crawling up the sides of my glass baking dish.  This is about 15 minutes later.  This is about 10 minutes away from being devoured.

As I spoon the warm deliciousness into my bowl, I can show you why this is called “alla telefono” — see how the mozzarella stretches into supple cords, like telephone wires, as I serve up my dish?  It’s almost a struggle; I have to use another spoon to cut the wires, or they’d stretch, it seems, until eternity.

Spoonfuls of macaroni and mozzarella and tomato goodness are perfectly gloopy, with firm springy noodles laced with rich sauce, dotted with savory sausage, and threaded with creamy chewy cheese. Served with buttery baked cheesy garlic bread, served with love, served with hard working man man in mind. Clayton husband needed something from the heart to fill his stomach, and judging by the love-looks he’s been shooting my way since we walked away from the dinner table, he’s happy as can be.  Mission accomplished!

Macaroni alla Telefono