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…

Ravioli and Lobster with Garlic Roe Cream

Lobster roe is under-appreciated in our philistine American culture.  Along with the greenish black tomalley, it’s what’s found inside the lobster meat – either under the carapace (tomalley) or running down the seam of the tail (roe).  It is not lobster shit, as many people erroneously think – instead, it is the liver and eggs of the seabug, and it’s all edible – and in some cases quite delicious.  For tonight’s simple pasta dinner, I decided to use the roe in the sauce to amp up the lobster flavor, and to add to the beauty of the dish, since I think all those little orange dots are super pretty.  And since lobster season is almost over, I need to get me as much of it as I can…

Star Market, of all places, had a good sale on lobsters the other day ($5.99/lb with free steaming), so I picked up a couple bugs and…

… harvested all the meat out of them using my kitchen shears.  Only one was female, so I only pulled out about a tablespoon of roe – which was just enough.

Ravioli and Lobster with Garlic Roe Cream

10-12 oz fresh steamed lobster meat (harvested from 2 lobsters)
1 package fresh cheese ravioli
1 tsp tomato paste
4 tbs butter
3 cloves garlic
1 cup half & half
1 tbs lobster roe
parmigiano reggiano cheese (as needed, but about 1/2 cup will do)
chopped scallions for garnish

I’ve made several recipes quite similar to this one – which illustrates quite clearly how I like to eat my lobster: in cream sauce.  (You can check those out here, and here, and here for starters.)  To make this garlic cream, I start by melting my butter.  (Meanwhile, I bring a pot of water to a boil so that it will be ready for my pasta.)

I’ve minced my garlic…

… which I add to my melted butter to gently saute for a few moments…

…. before straining out the solids (both garlic and butterfats), to make a garlic scented clarified butter.

To this I add my broken up roe…

… and my cream, which I whisk together over medium heat.

I add my tomato paste to give it a little acidic balance…

… and my cheese (about 1/2 cup), since – well, it’s cheese, and I never need an excuse to add cheese to anything!  I add my lobster meat to the sauce for a few moments to heat it back through.

And that’s it!  After whipping up a quick salad and cooking off my pasta for a few minutes (until they just float), I plate up this simple, elegant meal and dive into it face first.  The pink sauce is studded with flavor-intensifying roe, and is gently scented by garlic and cheese.  The raviolis soak up the cream, and the tender lobster meat is buttery and rich and sweet.  My salad compliments all this richness with tangy feta and briny olives, making a perfectly light seafood supper.

Dublin Lawyer, Tiny Potatoes, Frisee and Maytag Bleu with Hot Bacon Dressing

Lobster.  I just can’t get enough of it.  And, while it’s only $3.99 at Al’s Seafood in North Hampton, NH, I can get as much as I like!  Heck – it’s cheaper than chicken breast right now.  Of course, we’re talking new shell lobsters, which don’t pack as much meat as their less-freshly moulted brethren, but even at $4.99 for the hard-shell babies we’re talking great prices.  Clayton’s been working on a friend’s landscaping up by the beach for the last couple weeks, and after finishing up yesterday he brought home 2 one-pounders for me to have my way with.  And have my way I did: I got those babies drunk on whiskey and cream, and I served them up in their own shells, along with some teenie tiny roasted potatoes, grown by the man himself in our little backyard raised bed, and a frisee salad doused with warm bacon dressing.  Dublin Lawyer is apparently the name of this preparation, and I have Maggie Cubbler at  The Loaded Kitchen to thank for showing me this little lovely.  Much appreciation, dear woman – because this was DELICIOUS!

Dublin Lawyer, Tiny Potatoes, Frisee and Maytag Bleu with Hot Bacon Dressing

2 1-1/2lb lobsters, steamed
2 tbs butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup whiskey
1 cup cream (this is half & half, but heavy would work very well)
20 or so small potatoes
1 tbs dried chives
2-3 slices bacon
1 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup honey
1 small head frisee
3-4 tbs crumbled, good quality bleu cheese
sea salt, cracked black pepper, snipped fresh chives

These are second generation potatoes, grown from sprouts picked off of potatoes bought at the store but never eaten.  Although the skins are a little tougher than your store bought spuds, the miniature-ness of these home-grown babies is charming.  I scrubbed them very well before dousing them in EVOO, sea salt, black pepper, and dried chives, wrapping them in foil, and chucking them on Little Red for 30-40 minutes to roast through.

Meanwhile, I twist the arms off both my lobsters, then, using my sharp chef’s knife and some kitchen shears, I split ’em up the middle of the underbelly before flipping them over and cutting through the outer tail shell and carapace, essentially separating the exoskeleton from the meat and innards.

After removing the tail meat and setting it aside, I carefully pull the cephalothorax and abdomen out as well, to free the carapace.  I now have four shell vessels from each bug.

These I wash out and pat dry, reserving them for service later.  The tail meat I chop up after removing the tomalley, and mix it with the meat from the knuckles and claws.

I get a couple thick, beautiful rashers of bacon cooked off in a small pan.

Using a couple tablespoons of the bacon fat, I add 1/2 my minced garlic, my cup of red wine vinegar, and my honey to the pan, which I bring to a roiling boil.  I add my bacon, which I’ve chopped up, back to the pan, along with 1/2 of my fresh snipped chives.  I let this boil down and, voila! warm bacon dressing.

Right before service, I dump the hot dressing over my washed and dried curly endive, which will wilt slightly in it’s bath.  This gets set aside for a few moments, while I bring the rest of dinner together.

I carefully set up my lobster shells; they will act as the vessels by which this gastronomic pleasure is served.

I bring my butter to foaming in a medium, non-stick pan and add the rest of my minced garlic to sweat and sweeten for a moment or two.

Next I add my whiskey.  Tilting the pan away from my face, hair, and eyebrows, and away from anything flammable…

…I ignite the contents of the pan and allow all the alcohol to burn off, which extinguishes the flames.  I love doing this – it’s super-sexy.

Finally, I add my cream.  I bring everything to a healthy boil, which thickens the sauce…

…before tossing in my lobster to heat through.  Since my lobsters were already steamed, I didn’t want to over-cook the meat; if they had only been par-boiled (partially cooked), I would have thrown in the lobster sooner.  But over-cooked lobster is tough and chewy – not at all what these scarlet bugs deserved.

Gently simmered, succulent lobster meat swims in whiskey-soaked garlic-butter cream, and is dressed with snipped fresh chives.  Tender tiny EVOO roasted potatoes help sop up the goodness, and a sharp/sweet/smokey salad of wilted frisee, bacon, and bleu cheese complements the richness on the plate.  My only criticism?  NOT ENOUGH!  Next time, I’m using some 2 pounders, and only serving in half the shell.   As it was, each bite transported me to a magical, halcyon, seaside resort, and when I’d picked all the meat out of the shells I picked them up and poured the sweetsavory cream out of them right down my gullet.  Elegant, but simple.  If this is what Irish barristers enjoy for their dinners, then they’ve got it mighty 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.

Tea-Smoked Scallops with Panzanella

This recipe is the result of several weeks of brain stewing.  You know the kind — where one dreams up an idea, and then thinks about it constantly, shaping it and sculpting it, falling to sleep with it, all before finally making it so.  Tea-smoking is something I’ve only done once before, and that time with duck legs, but I reckon’d it would be a delightful preparation technique with my favorite bi-valve.  Luckily, or unluckily as the case may be, I spent a little bundle on some peach black tea at Tealuxe in Harvard Square recently, which once brewed I found I perfectly hated.  Too much vanilla  – and I even asked if there were vanilla notes in the tea, and the scruffy dude behind the counter was all like, “Uh, no, it’s *peach* tea lady. D’uh.”  So based on his dubious recommendation, I bought it, brewed it, hated it, and then needed to find something else to do with it since I didn’t want to drink it anymore.  I also have wanted to make panzanella for a while as well, which I’ve also only made once before – so it was high time I did it again.  I imagined the sweet, slightly smokey flavor of the firm scallops would be perfectly offset by the sharp, fresh, verdant flavors of a tempting bread salad – and holy hell was I right!

Tea-Smoked Scallops with Panzanella

8oz large dry sea scallops (I used about 12 of them)
2 cups black tea
2 cups sugar
Bread, cubed (about 4 cups)
Salad fixins: Cucumber, onion, scallion, tomatoes, red leaf lettuce, green olives, radishes, fresh basil, etc.
1/4lb sharp provolone cheese, diced
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 Meyer lemons
EVOO, sea salt, black pepper

Traditionally, Panzanella is made with only a few simple ingredients: stale bread, onions, EVOO, salt and pepper.  I didn’t have any stale bread,  but I had this lovely loaf of white perfection from Eldo Cake House in Boston’s Chinatown (where you must try their ambrosial Hong Kong tea!) I had purchased on Sunday.  It would do.

In order to approximate the “staleness” I cut about four slices of bread into cubes and chuck them into a hot non-stick skillet with a glug or so of EVOO and a sprinkling of garlic salt.

It takes about 10 minutes of tossing, and I gots me some croutons!  I throw these babies into a large bowl and let them cool.

Meanwhile, I dice my cucumber, quarter my little tomatoes and my tiny little radishes, halve my pimento-stuffed green olives, chop my scallions and onion, rip up a handful of basil, and dice my super-sharp provolone cheese.  All this gets added to the bread in the bowl, then dressed with EVOO, the juice of one of  my Meyer lemons, sea salt and cracked black pepper.  I toss everything very well to coat, and set it aside to marinate.

Scallops, baby.  These ping-pong ball sized beauties come straight from the sea, and they are “dry” – meaning they haven’t been treated with any wet preservatives that will make them rubbery.  After dinner, Clayton and I remarked that the small bay scallops might have worked for this meal, too, but I usually avoid those because they can turn tough so quickly.  Still – it might be worth a try, especially if I ever want to make this as a party offering – which I might, since it was so good.  But I’m getting ahead of myself here….

I’ve lined my wok with two sheets of foil paper and in it I’ve dumped my black tea and my  sugar.  For the purposes of this photograph, they are separate here, but I blended everything thoroughly before turning on the heat.

I set my steam baskets directly over the sugar/tea combo and press firmly down to sort of seal the bottom of the stack by virtue of crimping the foil paper.  After trimming the tough bits from my scallops, I lay them in my baskets, leaving plenty of room for the smoke to circulate.

I wrap the stack of baskets with a damp kitchen towel, and turn the heat on to high.  This will slowly melt the sugar, which will toast the tea leaves, which will start to smoke.  I keep my eye on my contraption, since I want to turn off the heat almost the minute I see any smoke seeping through the towel – which I do after about 10 minutes.  Then I let the baskets sit, covered, for another 10 minutes so that the smoke can truly permeate my mollusks.  Oh, and I open ALL my windows, even though it’s February, because I don’t want the house to fill with smoke.  Poor gimpy Clayton was so cold I had to wrap him in a makeshift Snuggie until dinner-time.

Voila!  When I lift my lid and check my scallops, they have firmed up slightly and clearly show the darkening of the smoke.  See how they are sweating?  I didn’t want to fully cook these through; I just wanted to kiss them with the flavor of sweet peach smoke, so I was *very* happy with this result.

The last step is to sear them in super-hot browned butter, which I do – about 2 minutes on each side.

I layer a few sweet leaves of red lettuce on my plates and serve up a healthy portion on each of my delightful bread salad.  Mmm-mmmm-mmmm!

After whipping up a quick lemon juice/mayo/salt/pepper dressing, which I squirt on my smoked scallops, I am ready to dig in.  The mollusks are fork tender but firm, and their uniquely sinuous flesh is redolent with sugary smoke and crisp-edged with brown butter.  The salad is tangy and filling, and each bread cube is crunchy in all the right places and sodden in all the other right places.  The provolone cheese was a stinky batch, but on the tongue its saltysweetsharpness was the perfect compliment to the peachytasty scallops, while the different bits of crudite in the salad provided a variety of welcome textures.  Light, fairly quick and easy, and absolutely delicious.  I will be making this again – soon!  And I highly recommend you do, too, dear readers.  It’s worth every bite.

The Shiznet Cheezit Baked Flounder with Farm Fresh Garden Salad

I’ve been second guessing myself lately.  In the face of other home chefs I’ve met, what I see other bloggers do in their kitchens, what’s been on the covers of magazines and on the menus of fine restaurants, and what folks’ve been whipping up on the myriad cooking competitions I watch on TV, I’m thinking that my cooking has become too pedestrian lately.  It’s not been haute couture.  It’s not been “gourmet”. It’s not been particularly inspired, or overwhelmingly challenging, or slavishly time-consuming. I haven’t suffered, or bled, or burned, or cried over deflated souffles.  At least — these are the self-deprecating remarks that have been echoing inside the caverns of my brain recently.  And I don’t like them.  Because, frankly, this blog is about what Lolita eats, and this is what I’ve been eating — and enjoying, dammit! — all summer long.  Why should I feel guilty about freshly picked vegetables, locally sourced meats and seafood, and cooking al fresco on my little electric grill to save energy and escape the stifling indoor heat?  Why should I spend more money than I can afford on ingredients to compete with the black truffles and sharks’ fins and lobes of foie gras I see on cooking shows?  Why should I eschew deliciousness if it isn’t hoity-toity?  I shouldn’t!  And I won’t!  So I’m taking my second guesses and I’m throwing them in the compost pile, where they can fester for themselves before they eventually disintegrate into the earth, and I’m going uber-pedestrian today with this little gem: a slap-yo-mammy fantastic combination of farmer’s market flounder and fruit, with some Star Market crushed Cheezits for a buttery topping.  Cheezits, you say?  Like, those little square crackers in the big red box?  Clayton loves ’em for his lunches, and so, having these one hand — the Swiss cheese variety, no less, oooh la la! — I subbed them for the more suburban-traditional Ritz Cracker topping with an outstanding result!  Sharp and savory crunchy crackers coating a buttery, flaky, so-fresh-they’re practically still wiggling flounder filets served with a sumptuous salad overflowing with tender sweet berries, plump tart tomatoes, and creamy North End mozzarella cheese.  There’s nothing like a light, ultra-quick, and super simple dinner of fish and salad to get your motor running.  Hoity-toity be hanged — this was the shiznet!

The Shiznet Cheezit Baked Flounder with Farm Fresh Garden Salad

1 lb fresh flounder filets
1 cup Cheezit crackers (this is the Swiss Cheese variety, but I venture to guess they’ll all work)
3 tbs butter
green leaf lettuce
golden and ruby raspberries
tiny tomatoes
red onion
fresh mozzarella
the juice of 1 lemon
sea salt and cracked black pepper

This meal was so easy to make I barely had enough images to shoot for pedagogical purposes, but I snapped some nonetheless.  I started by putting my Cheezits into a zipper bag before I pounded them with the flat of a large spoon.

The result is a coarse breadcrumb, already salted and perfectly crunchy.

WARNING!  The next image is grody.  Grody, but instructional…

The delicate pink little figure eight you see here is called Phocanema decipiens — commonly known as nemotodes, or the cod, or round, worm.  It’s a tiny wee parasite that enjoys living in the flesh or stomachs of white fish, and it’s pretty dang common.  It’s got a real interesting lifestyle, and if you want to know more, here’s a good description of how this bugger found it’s way into my kitchen.  The average supermarket consumer doesn’t see them – or really know about them – in their cod or flounder or hake because these buggers die off when fish is frozen, which most of it is before coming to market.  Even the “fresh” fish sold at Whole Foods was frozen before it got to their glistening displays, although it was likely frozen at sea during the haul and brought to market within a few short days of the catch.  But for fish sold fresh off the boat, yanked right out of the water, never frozen and delivered same day, by folks like my new old friends Carolyn and Chris Manning at Fresh Fish and Lobster (from whence I purchased my filets, at the Harvard University Farmer’s Market), one or two of these little wigglers is par for the course.  This guy was inching across my cutting board searching for escape when I saw him, squealed like a frightened child, and then snatched him up with my paper towel. But before I threw him in the trash, it occurred to me that you, dear readers, might not be aware of this arc on the cycle of sea-life – despite how unnerving it is to know about.  So I opened my paper wad and took focus while I watched him wriggle and coil – still *very* much alive.  But cooking fish well will kill off these guys; you don’t really want one setting up shop in your innards (which they can, albeit rarely, do).  OK – ’nuff gross stuff.  Let’s get back to the yummy.

I’ve patted dry my fish filets and laid them out in a single layer in a large oblong pyrex baking dish greased up with butter.  They get sprinkled with salt and pepper before I blanket them with pulverized snack crackers.

 I’ve melted my butter, and I now pour it over the crackers and fish as evenly as possible.  My oven has been preheated to 400°, and I slide my dish – uncovered – into its maw to bake for 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile – I assemble my simple, but elegant, salad.   These golden and ruby raspberries are from a Concord farm nearby, the lettuce and onion from Busa Farms, the tomatoes from our roof-deck garden, and the mozz from The Cheese Shop in the North End.  We’re talking super-fresh, totally organic, completely locally sourced, and ma-and-pa business purchased.  A squeeze of lemon juice and a dousing of EVOO is all the salad needs.

After about 15 minutes, my cracker-crumb crust has toasted perfectly, and my fish is fully cooked and sizzling on bottom.  NICE.  Using two flat spatulas side by side, so that the fish don’t break in half (and since I don’t have a super-large fish spatula), I gently lift each filet and place them on my plates.  There’s two for each of us.

Flaky, buttery, mild fresh fish topped with a Swiss Cheezit crust and baked to perfection; firm lactic mozzarella draped over crisp leaves of lettuce and studded with thumb-sized, supremely sweet, bursting juicy red and golden berries and tiny little grape tomatoes. Both warm and cooling, of the sea and of the land, tonight’s dinner satisfied even the gourmand in me with its freshness and flavor.  I plan to put on the ritz when the weather turns colder and cooking for hours indoors help keep heat in the house, but for now, Ritz’s poor stepcousin the Cheezit is a welcome house-guest, and can come to my dinner table any time.

Grilled Veal Chops, Sweet Buttered Corn, and Heirloom Tomato Caprese

A summer’s night dinner on Lolita’s deck in Cambridge is always a delight, but after a day of bicycling through Boston it’s even better!  We had planned on having guests tonight, but alas, said plans fell through – so the husbandman and I decided to take a whirl around town straddling our steel and spoke steeds to see what sort of goodness we could find.  Starting by riding along the Charles, then zooming past the Museum of Science, tripping by the canal locks under the Zakim heading towards the Garden, skirting by Charlestown on Commercial Avenue, turning into the labyrinth North End, sailing along the Rose Kennedy Greenway, speeding across the Northern Avenue Bridge, passing the pedestrians into South Boston, gliding along the South Bay Harbor Trail to the newly developed Fan Pier, and settling into a lunch at the new Legal Seafoods Harborside: about 7 quick, city miles full of sights and sounds and smells and sea-fresh air.  On our way back home, we re-visited the North End to buy something special to eat with the fresh veggies from the farm waiting in our fridge.  We ended up with heaven: fresh, elegant, and easy for our al fresco dinner under the darkening sky.

Grilled Veal Chops, Corn, and Heirloom Tomato Caprese

2 12oz veal chops
2 ears fresh super-sweet corn
1 boll fresh mozzarella
2 large cucumbers from the garden
2 bright Heirloom tomatoes
5oz Greek yoghurt
1 bunch fresh mint
4 tbs minced red onion
fresh basil
good balsamic vinegar
sea salt and black pepper
white bread and fresh butter

I had two things to buy: meat and mozzarella.  The first item I hunted for here, at the Sulmona Meat Market, a bastion of butchery still serving the North End after 40 years in the business.  It has taken me a while to learn how to order meat at one of these tiny shops: when one enters, one sees that the counters and cases are surprisingly bare, and for most of us accustomed to portioned steaks and chops and ribs cut in all manner of ways displayed prettily in oxygenated glass refrigerators to make the meat redder and more “meat-looking,” the lack of product is disconcerting.  I admit, the first few times I walked in to see what they had, I walked back out again – a little unsure how to proceed when there were no prices and no product.  But this time, I persevered.

The two men pictured above were the day’s butchers.  The younger guy in the back (who was, I must admit, unexpectedly easy on the eyes – I hope the 6-foot tall blonde wife he was describing isn’t reading this) kept disappearing into the old-fashioned wooden-doored walk-in, emerging moments later with huge hunks of perfect meat in his hands for his customer.  I asked the older gentleman what they had in stock; he asked me what I wanted.  I said I didn’t know, but did he have pork?  Did he have beef?  Did he have lamb?  He said yes he had pork.  Yes he had beef.  Yes he had lamb.  Humph – he wasn’t making it easy. But watching the other guy come in and out, it suddenly struck me: he probably had a veritable menagerie of barn-yard animals back there, all just waiting to be *freshly* cut to order.  He was’t going to haul a whole carcass out for me – I had to know what I wanted.  But all I knew was that we wanted to grill, and that I wanted something special, so I went through my mind’s register of elegant meats I’d not eaten in a while, and I finally blurted out “veal chops”.  He nodded sagely, slowly disappeared into the cooler, and reappeared a few minutes later with the sweetest pink side of veal I’d ever seen.

A whacking cleaver, a big-ass bone-saw, and a deftly handled chef’s knife later, and I had two perfect chops trimmed and wrapped and ready to be weighed.  At Whole Foods, veal like this would cost me $22/lb; at Savenor’s even more.

Using a pencil likely brought over on the Mayflower, my new best friend slowly inscribed the price of each of my two items (I also bought two links of sweet Italian sausage) on the inner wrapper, and using long-hand, he added up my price.  My veal weighed in at 1.5lbs, and at a miraculous $13 per pound, it cost less than $20!  The gamble – ordering hand cut meat from a butcher sight-unseen and price-unknown – paid off.  These would prove to be the best veal steaks I’d ever eaten, and for the best price I’ve ever paid!

I know my last post included Greek yoghurt, too, and that maybe I’m getting a little repetitive here, but that was a basil sauce for salmon, and this time I’m making a fresh cucumber, mint salad.

I start by peeling, slicing, and de-seeding my cukes — plucked just moments ago from the vines overhanging our roof-deck.  Clayton’s green thumb has never been more verdant.

A tutorial on how to chiffonade is never out of place; let’s do one here.  I’ve washed my mint leaves and patted them dry with paper towels, and now I’ve got them all stacked loosely together, stems aligned.

Then I take that bundle and roll it into a loose cigar.  Using my just sharpened chef’s knife, I slice as thinly as I can.

The results: crispy, very thin, very long ribbons of snappy, minty freshness.

Along with salt, pepper, and the yoghurt, I add my mint to a bowl with the cucumbers.

I mix the contents of the bowl together very well, adding more salt and pepper as needed to taste.  I also add some minced red onion.  Lemon zest would be good here, too – but I was out of lemons.  Curses!  Anyway, this goes into the fridge to chill.

The corn has also been a theme around here lately — it’s just so sweet, fresh, and good right now!  These two ears were specifically picked for us by the farmer from whom we purchased them; Clayton told him about my blogging, and he wanted to really put forth a good display.  (I’ll change the preceding sentence with info on the actual farmer and his farm once I get that info from my ol’ man.)  We grill them simply by just removing all the outer husk – leaving only the inner-most leaves intact – and placing them directly on the hot grill.   They take about 25 minutes, so we give them a small head-start over the veal which will only take 15 or so.

Speaking of veal – here’s how the steaks look just sprinkled with pepper and basking in the early evening’s setting sun.  Pepper is all these babies need; veal is so tender and delicious on its own, and I really wanted to enjoy just the unadulterated flavor of the meat.  Besides, my thought is that the cucumber salad will be a lovely accompaniment to this dish – sort of a riff on lamb and tzatziki.

These lovely heirloom tomatoes – one a black crimson, I think, and the other a big yellow –  hail from Kimball’s Fruit Farm stand.  If the tomatoes I’m eating I haven’t grown myself, then I’ve purchased them from these guys — they really know their fruit!

I mentioned earlier that the only other thing I needed to buy for this meal was mozzarella cheese, and the North End helped me out there, too.  The Cheese Shop at 20 Fleet Street is the new incarnation of Purity Cheeses, which was closed when it’s bona-fide wise-guy goodfella owner got indicted for something decidedly non-cheese related (unless you use “cheese” as a euphemism for laundered money).

These three beautiful bundles of lactic dreaminess cost $9; it is the best goshdurn cheese in the state.  Sorry, artisanal cheese-producers selling your stuff at farmer’s markets and at chi-chi restaurants – previously Purity has got you beat.

A caprese salad might be a tired concept – showing up as it does *everywhere* – but more often than not these days it’s made with crappy, tasteless tomatoes, pre-packaged pesto sauce, dry, rubbery mozzarella cheese, and “ay-tail-E-anne” dressing.  When it’s made with real quality ingredients like these rich, sweet, meaty heirloom tomatoes, my own garden’s abundant Italian basil, true fresh mozzarella gently formed from curds and floating in brine, nutty EVOO and thick, viscous balsamic vinegar – it is a revelation.  Topped with some exotic flakes of black salt (blended with volcanic ash, a gift from my sweet sister), this colorful salad is as strikingly beautiful as it is devastatingly delicious.

I plate this next to a cold mountain of my creamy, minty, crispy cucumbers.

After 10 minutes on the grill, my peppered veal steaks are browning perfectly, and are ready to flip.  The smell of sizzling meat is making me salivate.

We’ve been rolling the corn around pretty regularly, too, so it can cook on all sides.  The husks become nice and papery, and the silks crisp and dry.  It only takes a moment, when the cobbs are ready, to peel back the paper and string and snap everything off at the base, leaving nothing but hot, steaming corn ready to be rolled in butter.

Now that’s a plate.  Sorry, my dear friends who didn’t make it to dinner tonight (we’ll reschedule soon!) – but you missed something really amazing.  Except for the pat of butter adorning the corn (which we laid on our slice of bread, to give it a good place to wallow), there is very little fat on this filling and full platter of supper!  Lean veal, simply grilled, two light salads – both fresh and locally sourced – and super-sweet corn come together in a symphony of salubrious satisfaction.   Well worth the 14 miles biked there and back, this repast is a rich reward for another work week down, and just the right way to rev ourselves up for the work week just on the other side of Sunday.  As the sun slowly sets in the west, streaking the sky with brilliant azure and fierce crimson, Clayton and I tuck into our dinners with enthusiasm – oooohhhing and aaaahhhing on each outstanding bite.

Grilled Veal Chops, Corn, Cucumber Mint, and Heirloom Tomato Caprese