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.

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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.

Monkfish, Roasted Broccoli, Vidalia Onion Wedges, Bleu Cheese Bacon Cream Sauce

DSCN5080I wanted to eat healthy, so I bought some fish.  But then I bathed it in sauce made from heavy cream cut with butter, bacon, and rich bleu cheese.  Contradiction: meet Lolita’s kitchen.

Who cares?  Tonight I decided to screw healthy and embrace HEAVENLY!!!! (In my mind, I hear boychoirs singing; timpani pulsating; swells of orchestral drama.)  A buttery, sharpcreamy, unctuous pork-bit-laden white sauce enrobes tender-but-toothsome pan-seared poor-man’s-lobsterfish and is accompanied by crunchy caramelized broccoli bites — resulting in a super-sin-fulfilling supper, one my hard-working and intensely studying (for his nursing degree) husband richly deserves, especially between a long day on the clock and a long night of hitting the books.   Warm, rich, and delicious: what else does one need as a digestif to prepare the body for future rounds of intellectual consumption?

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Monkfish, Roasted Broccoli, Vidalia Onion Wedges, Bleu Cheese Bacon Cream Sauce

1lb monkfish
3-4 slices bacon
1-2lb broccoli
1/4lb nice, sticky, quality bleu cheese
1 Vidalia onion
EVOO, sea salt, cracked black pepper, spices, flour
1 cup vegetable/canola oil
1 tsp sugar
2 tbs butter
1 cup heavy cream

DSCN5064I start with the broccoli, because it takes a while to roast — like 30 minutes at least on 350° F.  I cut it into florets, spread it on a baking sheet, generously douse it with EVOO, sprinkle it with sea salt and cracked black pepper, and finally…

DSCN5065… I very loosely scatter about a teaspoon of granulated white sugar over the broccoli crowns.  Why?  Because it makes magic! A touch of sugar + salt + oil + heat = crunchy but tender, toasted-tipped, uber-broccoli-flavored broccoli.  Just trust me — try it — and you will believe.  I shove the baking sheet into the oven and roast everything for the next 30-40 minutes.

DSCN5067While the broccoli roasts, I fry my bacon.

DSCN5068Vidalia onions are super-sweet.  You can eat them like apples – really! (Although you may not want to hook up with anyone right afterwards without a visit from Uncle Listerine.)  I saw them at the market, bought one, and had sliced it up for frying before I even really knew what I was doing.

DSCN5069I threw some flour and this seasoned salt I bought in Chinatown who-knows-when into a ziplock bag….

DSCN5070… then threw the onions into the bag, and shook ‘em up real good to coat.

DSCN5072I added about a cup of vegetable oil to the bacon grease I’d reserved in the pan, heated it it sizzling over medium high heat, and then shook my onions free of flour before chucking them into the fat. Because they are fairly thick (I cut wedges about 1/2″ thick), they contain a lot of water, so they take some time to fry — about 10 minutes, with me constantly turning them to cook them evenly.

DSCN5073When they are crunchy on the outside and tenderhot on the inside, they’re ready.  So, you get to taste test until they’re right.  It’s a hard life (and, as it turns out, this is mostly just a garnish).

DSCN5074The monkfish I cut into roughly 4 equal planks, then I toss them in salted flour.

DSCN5075I get my butter and a glug of EVOO hot in the same pan from whence I fried my onions, only I’ve wiped it out first.  I think monkfish looks like something HR Giger would dream up – but he would probably include in his twisted vision their deliciousness.  It is truly one of the sea’s ugly suckling ducklings.  (Read: it tastes good, but looks beastly – alive or filleted.)  But regardless of their off-putting appearance, I saute them in the hot fat, spooning the butteroil over the exposed surfaces while the undersides deeply pan-sear.  I flip them each time the underedge crisps to golden (so about 4-6 times, every 2-3 minutes).

DSCN5076Once the fish has cooked mostly through (about 10 minutes total), I add my heavy cream and bacon, which I’ve roughly chopped.

DSCN5078I then crumble some of my bleu cheese into the baconcream, which I let simmer until completely melted, messing impatiently with it every once-in-a-I’m-ready-to-eat-now! while.

DSCN5079If you are on a diet, don’t eat this.  But if you need to pamper yourself with rich sumptuousness, go for it.  I did.  Tender, buttery fish, creamy bleu cheese sauce, crunchy broccoli and sweet fried onions – a symphony of tastes and textures. We ate.  Lustily.  And Clayton is currently – after indulging in this soul-strengthening heartfilling repast – conquering micro-bio with determination, vigor, and intelligence.  Tomorrow, maybe I’ll make a salad.  Today: WE DINED.  You should, too.

Sous Vide Veal Tenderloin, Honey Roasted Carrots, Potato Crisps, Gorgonzola Cream, Demi-Glaze, Gremolata

DSCN4576The reason why we omnivores like veal is because of how tender it is.  Yes, the little critters are confined to a very small pen which keeps them from moving around a lot, which keeps their flesh meltingly soft by preventing the development of tougher muscles, which many people think is sad (or atrocious, depending upon your ilk).  I have no such scruples: I am gluttonous for foie gras; I revel in veal; I love lobsters boiled live; hell, I’d enjoy an ortolon if I ever got the chance to eat one.  If you consider me inhumane because of my eating habits, I certainly respect your opinion… but I’ll likely not invite you over for dinner when I’m pulling out all the stops.

All this is just preamble, though.  I bring up the tenderness of veal for one reason: to say that it’s even MORE tender when cooked sous vide.  Although not a particularly old technique, sealing foods in air-tight bags and cooking them in a water-bath set to the temperature at which the food should be served  is optimal for several purposes: by cooking the food in this manner, there is no risk of over-cooking, and there is no drying out of the surface layers of proteins by virtue of the much higher heat needed to bring the internal temp to the right degree; something magical with collagens and proteins and cellular stuff happens at a lower heat held for a long time — tissues turn to gelatin, and juices stay locked in place; and meats need only a quick browning on a hot pan at the last minute before service. But sous vide cookery generally requires the purchase of a prohibitively expensive and very space-consuming piece of equipment, since since money and space are two things I don’t have, I thought I’d have to struggle with maintaining the temperature in a saucepan on my stove, which I’ve done successfully once before, but which took lots of time standing by the stove stirring and adjusting the water with flame and ice (figuratively speaking).  Tonight’s technique was MUCH EASIER.  And the results?  Veal so perfectly cooked and tender I could cut it with a sharp glance.  Doused with demi-glaze, served with  potato crisps draped with gorgonzola cream, honey roasted carrots, and a snappy Meyer lemon gremolata, dinner transported me to Nirvana with each and every sweet sweet bite.

Sous Vide Veal Tenderloin, Honey Roasted Carrots, Potato Crisps, Gorgonzola Cream, Demi-Glaze, Gremolata

1lb veal tenderloin, trimmed
4 tbs butter
1 tbs dried tarragon leaves
1 small bunch slender carrots
3 tbs EVOO
3 tbs honey
1 large russet potato
3 oz gorgonzola cheese
1/4 cup cream
1 Meyer lemon
4 tbs minced parsley
2 cloves garlic, minced
sea salt, cracked black pepper, dried oregano, dried rosemary
1 package Classic Demi-Glaze Gold

DSCN4551Instead of a set-up shot, showing all my ingredients, I shall instead show you the star of tonight’s show: my Igloo cooler.  Based upon Serious Eats’ brilliant life hack article, I now know I don’t need to buy a ridiculously expensive piece of equipment to sous vide – all I need is a $20 cooler.  Y’see, not only do these babies keep things cool, they keep things HOT, too.  For anything that can be cooked sous vide in less than 5 hours and in less than 160° water (these are my approximations), a nice, tight sealing cooler will do the trick.

DSCN4554I start by rinsing, then patting dry, my veal tenderloin.  After rubbing it down with salt and pepper, I put a few pats of butter on the meat, along with the tarragon…

DSCN4555… before wrapping it tightly in plastic.

DSCN4556The whole package then gets set inside a large freezer zipper bag, and using a straw, I get as much air out of it as possible.  I zipped the bag up as close to the straw as I could before I started sucking like a Hoover vacuum cleaner, then I even slightly zipped across the straw while sliding it out of the bag so that as little air as possible would leach back into the bag before it was sealed completely.  SeriousEats points out that one can also submerge as much of the bag as possible in water before sealing to push out all the air, but every time I’ve tried that I’ve always spilled a little water into the bag – and I didn’t want to get my meat wet.  This worked fine.

DSCN4558I thought I would have to use a kettle to get my water hot enough, but my kitchen faucet delivers water at close to 160° – so I actually had to add a little cold water to get my temp to a little over 142° F. I then filled up my largest, heaviest measuring vessel with hot water, too, so it would submerge – which I used to anchor my bag of meat which still wanted to float.  I shut the cooler, and walked away for 90 minutes.

DSCN4559Meanwhile, I used my mandoline set at the thickest setting to slice my russet potato into substantial chips.

DSCN4560I placed them in a single layer on top of a baking paper lined cookie sheet, and then brushed them with EVOO before sprinkling some salt, pepper, rosemary, and oregano on them.

DSCN4561I also trimmed the greens off my carrots, peeled them, and spread them across a ceramic baking dish.

DSCN4562Someone gave me this lovely raw honey, which is very potent and delicious.

DSCN4563The carrots get doused in EVOO, salt, pepper, and honey, and then both they and the potatoes get placed into a 400° oven for about 30 minutes.  At the halfway point, I flip the potatoes and roll over the carrots for even cooking.

DSCN4564Gremolata is one of those condiments that isn’t used as often as it should be.  The traditional mixture of minced parsley and garlic with grated lemon zest adds snap and freshness to tons of preparations, and it goes particularly well with rich meats.

DSCN4565A little salt, pepper, lemon juice, and EVOO gets added to the veg, and all is mixed well.

DSCN4566Ahhhh – gorgonzola.  DSCN4569I melt a tbs of butter in a saucepan, add my cream, and then my gorgonzola to make a cheese sauce.  On another eye, I prepare the demi-glaze with only a few ounces of water (I want a nice, rich drizzle of flavor, and not a gravy) and a dash of minced garlic.

DSCN4568My 90 minutes have passed, and I eagerly reach into my Igloo to see how my veal tenderloin looks.  And it looks MARVELOUS.  It is perfectly cooked to a lovely medium rare – but it admittedly looks a little flaccid and unappetizing all greyish like that….

DSCN4570… which is why I’ve got an oiled, cast iron skillet smoking on one burner.  I sear my tenderloin on all sides, propping up the narrow edges (which make my meat want to roll over) by clipping the tongs in the ‘closed’ position and resting them flat against the edge of the pan.  I sear for about 1 minute all the way ’round – so 6 minutes total.  I’m looking for the Malliard reaction, which is a fancy way of saying I want to brown the outside of this tender morsel.

DSCN4571Perfect.

DSCN4575Just the extreme edges are tantalizingly browned, and the insides are exactly medium rare throughout.

DSCN4577The explosion of flavors on my plate just blew me away.  The sweet carrots, crispy potatoes and sharp, creamy gorgonzola sauce, the rich, garlicky demi-glaze offset by the fresh, green gremolata, and the oh-so-silky-and-tender-and-delicious veal medallions.  I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to prepare veal any other way, and now I can’t wait to try the same technique with strip steaks and filet mignon, and even eggs for perfect Benedicts.  But now – I EAT!