Lockdown Hash

DSCN4852It has been one hell of a week here in Boston.  Bombings set off on Monday, our noble Marathon violently marred, death and dismemberment brought home to children and other innocents, and terror injected into our Beantown lifeblood like intravenous drugs designed to heighten anxiety and stress.  Last night and all of today has been all about police action, high emergency, and triage; one cop has been killed, others are seriously injured, shootouts have exploded and explosions have been hurled, and there has been an unprecedented complete and total lockdown of 6 different communities — including mine — within our fair borders.  We have been held captive all week in a true siege perilous, literally and figuratively: this most ancient seat of our young nation is undeniably under attack.   I worry about my neighbors, I worry about my Harvard kids, I worry about my friends.  I worry about this boy, this fresh-faced, nice looking, by-all-accounts good boy who is hiding among us somewhere… waiting, maybe?  Planning, maybe?  Or scared and alone and hurt?  I can’t not care; he looks so much like he could be one of my students.  My little haven, my home, is 5 blocks away in one direction from the merciless fatal shooting of MIT policeman Sean Collier, and 5 blocks away in another direction from the merciful release of the carjacking victim which the news is, at this time (6:57pm EST), still surprisingly silent about.  Needless to say, Clayton and I have stayed safely indoors, and totally glued to the TV, waiting until our beloved neighborhood is safe again.

Luckily, we had a dozen eggs and a handful of random items in the fridge to make both lunch and dinner, since we’ve been locked indoors and all stores are closed anyway.  But after an onion & bacon omelet with cheddar grits for breakfast, I wanted something a little more vegetable for dinner.  My pantry isn’t fully stocked, but I do try to keep some basics on hand, like canned beans and tomatoes and stock and stuff.  I found a few carrots in the fridge, some just-about-to-turn-rubbery small colored potatoes, I had 1/2 an onion, and bacon is always welcome more than once a day anyway – so I came up with this skillet:  Potato bacon hash, carrot studded tomato sauce, with baked egg, melted farmhouse cheddar, and garlic Texas toast for dipping.  Super hot, *really* comforting, and served in a cast-iron skillet heavy enough to use as a weapon to beat back terrorists: just what we needed to feel safe and satisfied after a surreal day.

DSCN4831

Lockdown Hash

8-10 small potatoes (these are purple, red, and creamer)
1 can peeled tomatoes
1/2 onion, diced
1 cup diced carrots
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup red wine
1/2 cup EVOO
4 sliced bacon
4 tbs butter
2 eggs
4 thick slices of toast
garlic powder, sea salt, cracked black pepper, crushed red pepper, oregano

DSCN4832I start by dicing my onion, carrot…

DSCN4833… and garlic.

DSCN4835I throw them in a hot pan with a glug of EVOO to sauteDSCN4836I add a dash of salt, pepper, and oregano, and cook on medium heat until just translucent — about 4 minutes.

DSCN4834I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: San Marzano canned tomatoes are the best.  I crack me a can.

DSCN4837And dump all the contents into the pan with the aromatics.

DSCN4838Then I add my wine and about 1/2 cup of EVOO.

DSCN4840I set the heat on low, cover the pan, and let my sauce cook for about 30 minutes until thickened.  At some point, since I’m anxious watching the news unfold, I end up breaking down the tomatoes into smaller pieces.  Meaning, I just sort of stand there stabbing at them with my wooden spatula, splattering my clothes since my eyes are riveted on the TV.  After the 30 minutes, I remove the lid and let the liquid start to boil off, to make a nice, thick, chunky sauce.

DSCN4841On one of my back burners, I boiled my potatoes in salted water for about 15  minutes, or until I was able to pierce them easily with a knife.  I drained and cooled them, and have now cut them into small pieces.

DSCN4842I get my two small skillets nice and hot on my burners, and I fry off two slices of chopped bacon in each.  I add a LOT of cracked black pepper to each pan, too – just ‘cuz.

DSCN4843Once my bacon is nice and crisp, and all the fat has rendered and is sizzling, I split my potato pieces evenly between the two pans, laying them in a single layer across the surface, to let them sear for a couple minutes.  After they’ve crisped on the hot edge, I stir gently to flip, and sear again.  I do this for about 8 minutes, stirring every once in a while so that the pulpy cuts of potato can crisp and brown against the iron heat.

DSCN4845When the home fries/hash browned potatoes are perfectly crisped, I push them to one side of each pan.

DSCN4846On the other side, I layer my nicely thickened chunky tomato sauce.  Sort of a yin-yang thing.

DSCN4847I’ve shaved several nice thin sheets of cheddar off the block, which I layer on top of my potatoes and tomatoes.

DSCN4848And in a well between them all, I crack a single egg.  My oven is preheated to 400 degrees, and I throw the pans onto the bottom most shelf, and let them bake for about 7 minutes — until the egg whites have just set, and the cheese is melted and bubbling.

DSCN4851Since I started writing this post 20 minutes ago, there has been another volley of gunshots, and the media is hopeful that that heralds a resolution to today’s drama.  There hasn’t been any movement in hours; but now something seems to be happening.  This blog is as much to show off my cooking as it is to remind me of my life, like a diary; each meal brings me back to a moment in my past in ways no other experience can do.  Tonight’s meal was heartwarming, comforting, true homestyle, delicious, and filling — as many of my meals have been; but, given the historic events unfurling within hearing distance of my humble little condo, I doubt I could ever forget it, even if I hadn’t written it down.  But I felt a need to share – and if I could have made this for every one of my local peeps, waiting like me for news that the suspect has been caught, and that all is safe (more or less) – I would have.  These pictures, and this insignificant story, are my small way of sharing.

Stay safe, my dear readers.  Lolita out.

Farmer’s Market Lobster Two Ways: Brandied in Alfredo Ravioli and Slow Butter-Poached

For those of you who follow my blog, you may have already figured out that I work at Harvard University — America’s mecca for the uber-mentally endowed.  But we do more here than just hunker down in carrels at Widener library studying esoterica – we also enjoy the pleasures of the flesh, or in this case – the fruits of the sea.  The University has been hosting an absolutely *lovely* farmer’s market for the last few years, every Tuesday during the summer months, and it is one of the best in the area.  Not for its size, mind you — it’s a fairly small venue, the strip of land in front of the Science Center, at the corner of Oxford and Kirkland Streets — but for its richness and variety.  The folks at HUHDS (that’s Harvard University Hospitality and Dining Services, for the uninitiated) do a spectacular job finding vendors to fill the ranks, varying the offerings every week to keep things fresh and exciting.  There are usually a couple of bread/pastry vendors, and several local farms represented, but there are often also items like locally made chocolates, fresh-made pastas, community cheese-makers, kombucha (which I can’t stomach, but I hear it’s good for you), meat purveyors (see this earlier recipe, in which I used John Crow Farm’s steaks), and this week, Carolyn Manning, a bona-fide lobsterman’s wife, had just-plucked-from-the-sea ocean bugs for sale at an enticing $5.99/lb.  Along with some brandied lobster ravioli purchased two stalls down from Hollis, NH’s pasta-maker Valicenti Organico, I had me the basics for an elegant, but relatively easy to make, meal – all for about $25.  With just a few items from my pantry and fridge, as well as some scallions from the backyard garden, I pulled together a mouthwatering saucer of ravioli in alfredo cream sauce, topped with butter-poached lobster meat, and served with a crunchy cheesy garlic bread.  Par-boiling and removing the meat from the lobster took the most effort and time, but the plate itself came together in less than 20 minutes – practically a weeknight wondermeal, and one I plan to make again whenever I can!

Farmer’s Market Lobster Two Ways: Brandied in Alfredo Ravioli and Slow Butter-Poached

1 package fresh lobster ravioli
2 live lobsters (about 2.5 lbs)
1 1/2 sticks butter, divided
heavy cream
parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
sea salt, cracked black pepper
garlic powder
small loaf french bread
cheddar cheese


These two bugs had a journey before they hit the pot; I purchased them at noon, stuck them in fridge until 3, then carted them on my back all the way downtown and back home again.  Luckily, Carolyn loaned me an ice-pack so they’d stay chill and alive the whole way, and when I got home they were still sprightly and kicking.  Hello little buggers… are you ready for your hot bath?

Butter-poaching lobsters is a multi-step process.  You first need to get the lobster meat out of the shells, but in order to do so your lobster has to be at least partially cooked.  To do this, I filled a couple of receptacles (my kettle and a large saucepan) with water and brought them to a boil.  My lobsters I stuck in my largest pot, and I spoke soothingly to them as they flailed about and tried to escape.

Quickly, but ruthlessly, I pour the boiling water over my lobsters, and I let them slowly, gently par-boil for about 5 minutes (or, er, until they stop moving around).  Some recipes call for adding a few drops of white vinegar to the water, to help the lobster meat congeal so it will come out of the shell more easily; I forgot to do that, but it didn’t seem to matter.  Go to sleep, little lobsters… just let your Calgon bath *really* take you away…


After 5 minutes, I quickly take my bugs out of their bath and snap off their claws and arms by putting the tip of my chef’s knife into their “armpits” – the moon-sliver of semi-translucent membrane in the exoskeleton where their arms meet their torsos – and slicing through, while twisting their arms to break them free.  The armclaws go back in the hot water for another couple minutes, while I remove the meat from the tails.  Sorry – I don’t have any pictures of this; I had to work fast while the lobster was still hot, and my hands got all gunkified.  The easiest way to remove the meat is to use kitchen shears and slice down the middle of the entire length of the undertail.  You can then pry the meat out carefully.  After two more minutes, I remove the still-steeping claws from the water, and use my shears to cut the meat out of all four claws and all four arms (or knuckles, which is what I think they’re technically called on a lobster).

What I end up with is just slightly cooked lobster meat.  It’s still practically raw, actually – it will cook the rest of the way in it’s second bath, the BUTTER bath. (Cue angel song!)  But I set it aside for right now…


Lolita approves of the lovely packaging Valicenti has here.  It took me a few glances to see, but the open-mouthed graphic is tres awesome.  I get a large pot of salted water set on my back burner to high and bring it to a boil.  The ravioli will take only 5 minutes to cook, so everything will come together quickly right before plating.

In my smallest saucepan – which will be large enough for all my lobster meat to lay in a single layer – I get two tablespoons of water set to boiling.


To butter-poach, one needs, well – butter.  I think I might should have used unsalted butter, but this was what I had on hand, so salted it was.  I kept it in the fridge until the last moment; it should be cold before adding it to the water.

Which I do, with the pan set on medium low heat, one tablespoon at a time, whisking well after each addition, until the butter is fully incorporated.

This simple action – whisking cold butter into a small amount of hot water a little bit at a time – results in a thick, viscous, but aerated butter sauce; it has the consistency of a milk-shake, or melted ice-cream.

When all the butter has been added, I gently lay my lobster meat – the tails of which I’ve split up the middle, removing all tomalley (the green innards) – in a single layer on the bottom of the pan.  It only takes about 5 minutes for this to cook through (flipping a few times with tongs), so I add my pasta to the boiling water at this time, too.

Oh, I made some quick garlic bread too.  I had a nice mini French loaf, which I split lengthwise and drizzled with melted butter (yes – more butter).

I then sprinkled some garlic powder (I was out of fresh garlic, dammit!), over the loaf halves before covering them both with shredded sharp cheddar cheese.   These go into my hot oven for about 8 minutes, until the cheese has melted and the bread is toasted.

Finally, starting with a few tablespoons of the butter-poaching liquid, I make my alfredo sauce.  Using a large skillet set over medium-high heat, I take the lobster-infused butter…

… whisk in about 3/4 cup of heavy cream, which I bring to a simmer…

… then I add in about 1/2 a cup of grated parm/reg cheese, sea salt, and a nice amount of cracked black pepper…

…continuing to whisk to incorporate and thicken.

I’ve chopped my scallions, yielding about 1 cup, and 1/2 of them go into my sauce.

When my ravioli is floating, it’s ready.  Using a slotted or mesh spoon, I carefully lift each ravioli out of the water, drain it well, and lay them…

… into my alfredo sauce.  I let them simmer for just a few moments before plating.

Using tongs, I gently place my tenderrific, yummylicious, super-sweet, and perfectly poached chunks of lobster meat over my bed of heavenly stuffed raviolis and my blanket of rich thick wonderful cheese and cream sauce.  A final sprinkling of chopped scallions and a tower of garlic bread power rounds out the plate.  The sauce is simple and dignified, the pasta just al dente and filled with savory (barely brandied) lobster meat, and the butter-poached tidbits practically melt in my mouth, making this meal something truly special.

Chicken n’ Dumplins Cordon Bleu, with Arugula and “Cheater” Cheese Muffins


One of the first jokes I heard when I moved up here to Boston sounds more like a mantra than the one-liner it is: If you don’t like the weather here in New England… wait 5 minutes.  This week has, thus far, personified that way of life.  The down-home-cooking pictured here was prepared by yours truly and served up on Monday night, after a long, dark, dreary, windy, extremely wet and surprisingly cold August day. Tuesday was patches of the same, interspersed with random periods of clear blue sky and warm breezes.  But today… today it’s brilliant, cloudless, sunny, and HOT – a true summer day. I’ve gone from a long-sleeve sweater and sweatpants to tank-top and tap-pants in a matter of hours.  So even though just thinking of turning on my oven today makes me all sweaty and anxious, I sure am happy I did to make Monday’s dinner – even if we were too sodden to shop, and so only used the few things we had in the house and a boner recently bought at our go-to ghetto grocery store, Johnny’s Foodmaster.  But as this is Lolita’s riff on a standard chicken n’ dumplins, I did fancify it with a bit of ham and swiss cheese (stolen from Clayton’s luncheon meats supply) – just to make the mundane a bit more special. With a quick, two-ingredient salad and some garlicky “cheater” cheese muffins, this steaming hot and supremely satisfying pot-pie au gratin totally took the cold out of our bones, while culinarily combining our old Southern roots with our new Northern exposures. In the background, on the telly, Brigit Fonda is ostensibly contemplating killer crocodiles loose in Northern Maine (ala Lake Placid, a little gem of a movie), but she’s really thinking about the steaming chicken goodness just waiting under that crust of bubbly baked Swiss cheese. Back off, blondie!  This bowl’s MINE.


Chicken n’ Dumplins Cordon Bleu, with Arugula and “Cheater” Cheese Muffins

1 large bone-in, skin-on chicken breast (about 1.5 lbs)
2 stalks celery
2 carrots
1 onion
1 stick butter
1 qt chicken stock
garlic powder
1 package flour tortillas
arugula
fresh mozzarella cheese
EVOO
white balsamic vinegar
sea salt, cracked black pepper
1 can large buttermilk biscuits (yes, I used a can.  Sue me.)
shredded romano cheese


I started with a pat of butter and a large hot pan.


Just as my butter started to froth, I placed my large washed, patted dry, salted, and peppered chicken breast skin down into the pan, and I let it sear for a good 10 minutes, until the skin was brown and crispy and the breast had started to cook through. Meanwhile, I peeled and chop my onion, carrots, and celery.


I flipped my bird, moved it to the side of the pan, and dumped my aromatics into the pan, stirring well so the browned butter coated all the veggies thoroughly.


After the veggies softened slightly, I flipped my bird breast down again, added the quart of chicken stock to the pan, and using a wooden spatula to scrape up all the buttery fond, lowered the heat to medium, and put on the lid.  I let my chicken cook for 30 minutes this way, trying hard not to keep lifting the lid to inhale the amazing aroma.


Although I know they’re likely full of preservatives and stuff, I have always loved bread from a can – from the light and flaky crescent rolls to the super Grande buttermilk biscuits.  We try to keep a can on hand, just for days like Monday when going to the market just isn’t on the agenda.  They’re great in a pinch.  Still, as you may have seen before, dear reader, if you follow this blog, Lolita doesn’t like to just slap them on a cookie sheet — oh no!  I do a little something something to make them extra special.  A can comes with 8 biscuits; I used 4, and put the rest back in the fridge with the hope that I’d use them the next day (which I did, actually).  I first cut them into quarters…


… then I tossed them with the dry ingredients into a large zipper bag: a few shakes of garlic powder (not garlic salt), and some shredded romano cheese (about 1/2 cup).  I threw all this around until each little bread nugget was studded with flavor.  I then added 2 tbs of melted butter, sealed the bag, and tossed it around some more to fully coat everything.


Four nuggets per tin transformed these biscuits into savory muffins, and an extra helping of cheese on top makeed them crisp up.  See?  “Cheater” muffins – not from scratch, but they taste like it! They took 15 minutes to bake on 350° — just as much time as I needed to bake off the casseroles, so I set them aside until I was ready.


After 30 minutes, my chicken was fully cooked through and ready to be pulled off the bone.  Using tongs, I removed the breast from the pan, and set the heat to high so the chicken broth could continue to boil off and concentrate.


I carefully removed the meat from the bone, and it was luscious, juicy, and tender.  I roughly chopped it, making sure to keep some of the flavorful skin attached, and blended what little dark rib meat there was with the abundant white meat.

Using the ramekins I planned to serve in as templates, I cut perfect little discs of tortillas out of their larger selves.  My country mother-in-law revealed to me many years ago how well tortillas work in place of traditional dumplins – they have the same basic ingredients, and since they’re not dried like pasta-style dumplins, they don’t need as long to cook.  (I could make them from scratch, but it wasn’t that kind of night.)  They also create the unique texture one wants from the starch in this dish – soft and pillowy and a bit sticky.

These ramekins are 12 ouncers, I think (I don’t know why volume isn’t imprinted on the bottom of all kitchen items), just large enough for a decent sized dinner each. I buttered them down completely.  I did the same with a large muffin pan, so I could cobble together my white-trash “cheater” cheese muffins.

 


The first layer was an ounce or so of chicken broth, with a few of the veggies, too.


Then, I fit a layer of tortilla over that, studded the tortilla with a handful of chicken, then drowned it in chicken stock and veggies.  I repeated this layer about 5 times, until I reached the inner upper edge of the dish.


Knowing these would settle during cooking, I topped them with more chicken and veggies and set them on a cookie sheet and – along with my muffin tin – I threw everything into my oven for 10 minutes.


After that time, I pulled them out and happily saw that the top tortilla was fluffed and sodden but still intact, and that the edges had started to bubble over a bit.  I layered one slice of ham on top of each ramekin…


… and two slices of Swiss cheese, allowing the edges to hang off, on top of that.  I removed my muffins from the oven, turned the heat up to broil, then set my ramekins (on their cookie sheet, to make them easier to handle, and to keep the cheese from dripping) right under the heating element for 3-4 minutes.

 

I whipped together some arugula, the last of my North End fresh mozzarella (see Saturday’s post), some EVOO, white balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper for a salad – just the cold peppery milky compliment for the rich, savory main course.   A crispy, melted crust of nutty Swiss cheese and sweet ham revealed a steaming casserole of tender, flavorful chicken chunks nestled in between layers of ethereally soft white dumplin blankets, pillowed with pieces of barely-firm carrot and chunks of softened celery. My muffins bloomed on the plate; four little nuggets of buttery, garlicky,and cheesy stuck together to create crunchy outside/flaky inside bundles of joy.  It may have been cold outside, but with our favorite killer crocodile movie as the backdrop, and this yummy on the plate, it was warm and welcoming inside – and that’s all that counts.