Reconstructed Deconstructed Seafood Paella

DSCN4546Last week wasn’t a great one for Lolita.  While Nemo buried us in two feet of snow, the tumultuous passage of a delightful kidney stone began its painful descent through my bowels, knocking me out for almost 4 days.  Needless to say, I missed Valentine’s Day; it passed me by in a Percocet fueled haze.  I had promised the husband-man to make him whatever he wanted for V-Day, and he requested paella – something very difficult to make in the traditional way with the crappy electric stove I’ve got. But never one to back down from a challenge, I did – in my more lucid moments – ponder how I could create a paella -type meal for the ol’ man given my kitchen’s limitations.  By Saturday, I’d both birthed that stone and had figured out this dish: a deconstructed paella construct, replete with all the flavors we’d tasted that glorious spring in Barcelona when we ate panfuls of the stuff along the sparkling Mediterranean coast.  My creation contains all the seafood I could pack into the dish — scallops, shrimp, cod, clams, and lobster – along with deep roasted peppers, a chicken chorizo risotto, and a saffron butter-cream.  With a some toasted baguette served ala pa’ amb tomaquet, each bite transported us back to our Iberian adventures in a way only good food can do.

DSCN4528

Reconstructed Deconstructed Seafood Paella

1 red pepper
1 green pepper
1 cup arborio rice
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup minced onion
1/2 cup dry sherry
1 tbs tomato paste
1 quart seafood stock
1 large chicken chorizo sausage
chili powder, hungarian paprika, black pepper, sea salt, EVOO
2 tbs butter
1 cup heavy cream
4-5 threads of saffron
4 littleneck clams
2 lobster claws
1/3lb cod
2 large scallops
4 large shrimp

DSCN4532aBecause it takes a little while, I start by roasting my peppers.  It’s easy: roll them around in EVOO, lay them on a baking sheet, and sprinkle them with salt and pepper before throwing them in a 400° oven.  Roast for about 10 minutes, rolling them over every few minutes so the skins blacken.  Remove them from the heat, toss them and all the juices from the pan into a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap until cooled.  Then you can remove the skins very easily.  Set this aside for now.

DSCN4529I make risotto all the time — just search for it here on my blog and you’ll see several different preparations.  This one was different for me, though, since I usually aim for a white risotto and not a red one, but it still started the same: I sauté my minced garlic and onion in EVOO in a small saucepan until just translucent, then I add my rice.  I stir everything to coat well with the oil, and to toast the grains of rice a bit to make them more receptive to the liquids I’ll be adding.

DSCN4530First addition is wine: a nice glug or two of dry sherry, which I stir in well, cooking over low heat, until all the liquid is absorbed.

DSCN4531Then I start adding my seafood stock, which is simmering in another pot on the stove.  You want to use warm stock, which will keep the rice cooking instead of cooling it down with each addition.  I add about 4 ounces at a time, stirring well continually, until each batch of liquid has been absorbed by the rice.  It takes about 30 minutes to stir a good pot of risotto.

DSCN4532At about the halfway point, I decide to add a tablespoon of tomato puree.  Traditional paella always has a bit of tomato in it, and this concentrated condiment gives just the right of sweetness and acidic kick to the dish.  Oh, and I keep adding stock and stirring.

DSCN4533My risotto is almost done.  It has increased in volume significantly, and when I test a grain with my tongue and teeth it is just tender all the way through, with a slightly al dente center.  At this point, I add all the juices from my roasted peppers, which have been sweating all their delicious goodness into the bowl all this time.

DSCN4536I’ve cooked my chicken chorizo and chopped it up real good like.

DSCN4537Along with my chopped roasted peppers, the chorizo adds the unctuousness needed for a good paella – where chicken and sausage definitely belong.  I keep this warm on the back burner until I’m ready for it.

DSCN4538To prepare my seafood, I create a poaching liquid, starting with butter and saffron and the last 4 ounces of my seafood stock.

DSCN4539I whisk the contents of the pan vigorously, emulsifying the butter and stock into a rich base.

DSCN4541I then add my cream, and layer my seafood into the pan to gently poach.  My cream/butter has been tinted a thrilling yellow from the saffron threads, and the scent emanating through the kitchen is divine.  I cover the pan, shaking it from time to time to encourage the fishy stuff to swim around, before using tongs to flip each piece so it can cook through thoroughly.

DSCN4543When the clams are open, and the shrimp and scallops are opaque, everything is ready to serve.

DSCN4542Here’s where the “reconstruction” bit comes in.  I’ve been obsessing about forms these days, ‘cuz I love the idea of stacked meals.  I’m too cheap to spend the $20 or so on real cooking forms, so I have a tendency to cannibalize all sorts of stuff in my kitchen to make shapes I can work with.  This is a tea canister from some swanky over-priced tea shack, but with the bottom removed it makes a decent, entree-sized form for my purposes.  I start by laying my strips of pepper out on the plate, before spooning a layer of rice into the form, followed by bits of the cooked cod, another layer of rice, then a layer with my shrimp and scallops, before topping it off with more risotto.

DSCN4547Crowning my tower of delight is my succulent lobster claw, which is flanked by eat-me clams and standing in a rich, sweet pool of saffron butter-milk.  I’ve toasted some slices of baguette, rubbed them with garlic, and served them with a tomato half doused with EVOO, garlic, and sea salt – which is scraped across the crusty bread, leaving a swathe of tasty red yumminess to compliment the dish.  All the component parts of a paella are here: fresh, tender seafood, rich, creamy rice, roasted peppers and spicy sausage, chicken, and of course, saffron.  An elegant meal in honor of a long love affair: with both my husband, and food glorious food.

Apple, Onion, Sausage and Sage Stuffed Baked Pumpkins

Dinner tonight was, in a word: WOW.  It was visually stunning, imaginatively simple, flavorful and hearty, crisp sweet and rich meaty, herbaceous and vegetal and positively porcine.   I’ve been wanting to eat out of a pumpkin for years, and finally had Farmer Clayton and the Busa bounty provide me with two  perfect specimens of gourdeliciousness.  (Admittedly, Clayton’s first attempt yielded pumpkins too small for our purposes, but once I’d Marcel Marceau’d my intentions, the next night he bought two beauties he’d freshly picked from the field, after planting them several months ago.)  The title says it all: Apple, Onion, Sausage and Sage Stuffed Pumpkins — with some heavy cream to spectacularly soupify the savory sweet roasted filling, and some toasted pumpkin seeds to add crunch and spice.  I will dream of this meal until I make it again, and make it for friends or family or lovers or heroes or anyone who deserves to tuck into a steaming sphere of sweetsavorysaltyspicy deliciousness like this.  Perfection – simple perfection.  And SO EASY.  Eating this was like ascending to Asgardian heights of gusterrific euphoria.  If it’s not the same for you, I fear you might be dead…


Apple, Onion, Sausage and Sage Stuffed Baked Pumpkins

2 medium pumpkins (these were each about 4lbs, and the size of a soccer ball)
1 lb sweet Italian sausage
1 bunch fresh sage
2 slices of white bread
1 medium red onion
1 crisp fresh apple (this is a Lincoln Honeycrisp)
2 eggs
sea salt, cracked black pepper
heavy cream (not pictured)

I start by removing the sausage from it’s casings (by flaying them open with my kitchen shears, a technique that always makes Clayton cringe with sympathy — for the sausage) and searing the seasoned meat in my wok.


Meanwhile, Clayton sacrifices his pumpkin progeny by decapitating them with my chef’s knife.  Well, he did plant the seeds, propagate the vines, raise the pumpkins and then pick them himself – therefore: progeny.  It’s only fitting that he split them open for us to eat, too.  (He also grew the sage and onion, the apple is from a nearby orchard, and the eggs are from Chip-in Farm.)  Resting the gourds on a kitchen rag set on a cutting board (to stabilize them), he uses a rocking motion with my sharp blade to saw the tops off.  It’s OK if they’re not exactly straight – just as long as there is a nice sized, self-contained bowl left over to fill later.


Using a large spoon to scrape, and my shears to snip the sinewy threads, Clayton cleans out both bowls.  I have him save the seeds, ‘cuz I’m planning on using them, too.


In another large bowl, I prepare my filling.  I’ve ripped two slices of bread and a handful of sage into chunks, cut my apple and onion into large bite-sized pieces, and have cracked two eggs into the mix.


My sausage is mostly browned, with just a little pink still in the center.  I’m going to bake this for an hour, so the sausage will cook through – I just don’t want it to dry out, which is why I’m not fully browning it now.


This gets added to the bowl, and mixed in well.  I season with a little salt and pepper, too – just ‘cuz.


Time to stuff.  I’ve rubbed the cavities with EVOO, sprinkled with some salt and pepper, and then I loosely spoon enough filling into each pumpkin bowl to bring it almost level to the top edge.  I place them, with their “lids” on a large foil-lined baking sheet, which I place into a preheated 400° oven for about an hour.


Apparently, Clayton’s mother never made pumpkin seeds, and parsimonious farmer-type that he is, he always wants to save these for planting later.  Hello?  Why should I trade a cup of snack-food now for the potential yield of several hundreds of pounds of pumpkins later?  I mean, really… !  Despite my flawed sense of economy, this time he allows me to do with the seeds what I will, so I pull the threads from them (it’s easiest to do this by putting everything in a bowl of water; the seeds will float to the top, and you can pick them out of any nests of pumpkin strings more easily when they-re wet), then spread them between several lengths of paper towels to dry.


After tossing them with some EVOO, sea salt, and garlic powder, I spread my seeds across another foil-lined baking sheet, then I place them in the oven – stirring occasionally - to toast for about 20 minutes.


At the hour mark, I check my pumpkins, and they are beautiful!  The tines of my testing fork easily slide through the thick orange flesh, and the filling has started to caramelize.  Final step: I add about 1/2 cup of room temperature heavy cream to each bowl, then place the pumpkins back in the oven for a final 20 minutes (while my seeds toast).


At the last minute, I decide to fry a few sage leaves as garnish.  Using an inch of corn oil in my smallest pan, I quickly sizzle a few leaves off, before draining them on paper plates and sprinkling them with sea salt.  Fried sage leaves are delicious and crisp, and they made a nice compliment to the fresh sage already baked off inside the filling.

My pumpkin seeds are crunchy, too – perfectly roasted and sizzling hot.  I eat a few handfuls right when they come out of the oven.  Clayton thinks they’re a little too sinewy and fibrous.  I think he’s loopy.


Piping hot, creamy and crunchy, sweet-tart apple and sharp onion crisp, spicy meaty and earth scented, this cornucopia of fall flavors is a bundle of delicious delight.  We double-fist dive into each amazing orb, using a fork in one hand and a spoon in the other, scraping pumpkin flesh from the sides and scooping savory cream stuffing at the same time.  We can’t stop ourselves; we barely speak; we sup with equal measures of abandon and enthusiasm. It’s headslappingly heartwarming. It’s belt-unbucklingly filling.  It’s epic.  Enjoy!

Bloomsday Bangers and Colcannon with Brown Sugar Guinness Gravy

Bloomsday: a celebration of all things James Joyce – and, more specifically, everything Leopold Bloom.  June 16 is the day James Joyce first enjoyed a date with Nora Barnacle, who would become the love of his life, and in tribute, June 16, 1904 is the day during which all of the story in Ulysses  takes place.  I read Joyce at Harvard Extension several years ago, to fulfill one of my ALM elective credits, and I fell in love with his voice almost immediately.  Ulysses is a masterwork of English Literature – a simple day-in-the-life-of story, but a complex tapestry of passion, imagination, symbolism, patriotism, spirituality, and erudition.  Joyce’s hero, Leopold Bloom, is a lusty, vigorous man fraught with insecurities and obligations — far too human for me to sum up in a few words.  But I can say this – Bloom ate with gusto:

 “He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods’ roes.  Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.”

For breakfast, 107 years ago yesterday morning, Bloom enjoyed a pan-seared pork kidney:

“…[he] crushed the pan flat on the live coals and watched the lump of butter slide and melt.  … [H]e unwrapped … and dropped the kidney amid the sizzling butter sauce.  Pepper.  He sprinkled it through his fingers ringwise from the chipped eggcup…. He prodded a fork into the kidney and slapped it over…  [later]… pungent smoke shot up in an angry jet from the side of the pan.  By prodding a prong of the fork under the kidney he detached it and turned it turtle on its back.  Only a little burnt.  He tossed it off the pan onto a plate and let the scanty brown gravy trickle over it… He shore away the burnt flesh and flung it to the cat.  Then he put a forkful into his mouth, chewing with discernment the toothsome pliant meat.”

My apologies to James for my clumsy editing, yet this is a food blog – not a literature blog – and it’s Bloom’s breakfast at the onset of Calypso (and not Molly’s awakening, or Milly’s remembrances) I’m mulling over today.

Yet, dear readers, surely you can see that my picture above is not one of pork kidneys!  Alas, neither Whole Foods nor Savenor’s had the requisite innards on hand – nor, to be quite honest, do I relish said innards as much as Bloom does. (Clayton – even less so.)  But I had to honor the Irish muse and his Bloom and Dedalus and Molly and Dublin somehow – so I took to the internet to find a recipe for an appropriately themed Irish dinner by which to pay homage to Joyce and his creations.  Thank you, Tara, at Smells Like Home for your excellent rendition of bangers and colcannon: your recipe’s beguiling picture (as displayed on the third page of Tastespotting.com’s search engine return for “irish”) simply called out to me, arresting me in my tracks, compelling me to make her — as Joyce’s faux-chapter-heading’s namesake did to her Odysseus.  On the plate, Ogygia is represented by a mountainous island of craggy white mashed potatoes, stubbled throughout with bacon and cabbage and spring onion, surrounded by a chocolate stout and brown sugar sea.  Like the lotus-eating sailors lounging with lassitude on the water’s edge, seared brown in the sun, my tender pork and garlic sausages lay tanned and glistening on the spud surface, sweating savory juices, just begging to be eaten.

Bloomsday Bangers and Colcannon with Brown Sugar Guinness Gravy

1lb yukon gold potatoes
4 oz bacon
1 head cabbage
3-4 spring onions
EVOO
3/4 lb pork sausage
12 oz Guinness beef
brown sugar
butter
flour
salt and pepper
sour cream
milk

My basics tonight were thick cut bacon, sausages, potatoes, and cabbage.  Almost everything else I had on hand, so on top of being a celebration of a literary masterpiece, this was cheap enough a meal for even Stephen Dedalus to afford (in today’s economy – relatively speaking, that is).  Whole Foods used to carry bangers, but when I asked the butcher why I didn’t see them in the window, he said no one had ever purchased them or even showed any interest — until they no longer had them.  But they did have a non-Italian styled “garlic and pork” sausage, which was mild enough to stand-in for the traditional banger, even if they were larger.  I purchased 3, knowing I’d split them later.

I start with my potatoes, which I peel, cut into 8ths, dump into salted water, and bring to a boil for about 15 minutes, or until I can easily pierce them with a fork.  Meanwhile…


… I dice my bacon…

… and very thinly slice my cabbage.

The bacon goes into a hot pan, along with a generous helping of fresh cracked black pepper, to render all the fat and crisp.

But oh – there’s not enough fat yet!  I add a couple tablespoons of butter to the pan, and let it melt and foam…

…before I add the cabbage shreds.  I toss this very well, coating all the greens with slick bacon fat, then I set the heat to medium and let this sizzle and sautee for about 10 minutes, until the cabbage is just tendercrisp.

This bundle of spring onions wasn’t the greenest — they felt more like small leeks — but the flavor was fine.  I chop them roughly, reserving and inch or so of each of the ends to julienne for a final plate garnish.

The chopped onions go into the cabbage pan, where they get tossed in well, too.   After about 5 more minutes, salt and pepper to taste, mix one or two more times, then remove the cabbage mix from the pan and set aside.

Now these are some beautiful sausage.  They are a bit understuffed (read: limp) actually, which works rather well in the long run,  since they have some steaming room inside the casing, resulting in more tender meat.  It also keeps them from splitting open during the cooking process, even after you pierce the membrane to release some of the inner juices.

I’ve got my large skillet set over medium high heat, and I’ve got a few glugs of EVOO shimmering hot on the surface.  In go my links, which I let sear on each side until they’re each striped with brown.

See?

When my links are nice and browned, I add my bottle of beer, set the heat to medium, and let my links steam the rest of the way to cooked-fully-through.  My Guinness will reduce and condense, concentrating all its malty chocolate Irish flavor as it goes, getting ready to become gravy.

Meanwhile, I’ve drained, then mashed my potatoes with a fork, and it’s time to cream them up.  I add a couple tablespoons each of butter and sour cream…

… and about a cup of milk.  I return the pan to low heat, and whisk this well into a nice, creamy whipped potato – adding milk as needed until it is just the right consistency.

It’s time to make colcannon out of mashed potatoes.  I add my reserved bacon and cabbage and onion and black pepper and butter mix to my spuds, and stir well, fully blending the two delicious side dishes into one.

My beer has reduced by 2/3rds, and my sausages are perfectly cooked.  I remove them from the pan, and set them aside, leaving the beer boiling over the heat.

I take about a tablespoon of softened butter, and a tablespoon of flour, and I mash it together to form a paste.

I also have about 2 tablespoons of rich, sticky brown sugar ready.  I whisk the butterflour and brown sweetness into my boiling, thickened Guinness, lowering the heat to medium, and I let this ambrosia simmer down to a glossy syrupy glaze.

Clayton O’Fountain and I dig into our bangers and mash with much boisterous toasting and smashing together of our Guinness-filled mugs; we sop our sweet sausages with the savory sugary thick brunette gravy, holding our forks overhand and our knives like spatulas;  we spread our hot baconcabbagepotatopulp over our forkfulls and jackknife our loads heartily into our open mouths; we grunt with satisfaction, and dive in again and again and again, only pausing to swig malt beverage and to mutter our full-mouthed approval.  Afterwards, we lean back in our chairs, loosen our belts, strokepat our tummies, and sing “The Harp That Once through Tara’s Halls” a few times, remembering Dublin at the turn of the century, remembering Joyce.  Ahhh…. Bloomsday!
Bloomsday Bangers and Colcannon with Brown Sugar Guinness Gravy

Butter Poached Lobster and Seared Salami over Gruyère Polenta


Last week, I felt like Bradbury’s Margot, weighed down by perpetual rain, locked away from a sun which surely had to be shining somewhere – as it hadn’t been seen in Boston in almost 10 days.  But this weekend … this weekend it is BEAUTIFUL (and I don’t use my capslock lightly); and today… today it was warm and sunny and breezy and the weather and warmth simply begged me to take a long, leisurely, athletic bike ride.  I’d been seeing, lately, all sorts of  buzz on one of our usual destinations — Boston’s Seaport — to which we used to ride to visit the Barking Crab, previously the only real fun lunch place and bar to be enjoyed down there.  But this winter, at least 4 new restaurants have opened overlooking the water — a Legal Seafoods, an upscale Mexican joint which offers roast suckling pig (which I *will* have, oh yes I will), a sports bar with every seat simultaneously facing the sea and huge TVs, and a fancy shmancy steakhouse — all on one pier.  But more on that later.  The last, best place Clayton and I discovered down there before the winter set in last October was the Yankee Lobster Company, a seafood counter (where the fish was good but where both soups floury and disappointing) and a fish market — where the prices are at least $1 less per pound/item then their more urban uptown neighbors, James Hook and Co. So after we indulged in our lunch, we rode over to Yankee’s unassuming and almost unwelcoming retail door, hidden somewhat behind their only slightly less unassuming restaurant facade (Clayton thought I was breaking in, misremembering our last visit), walked past the surprising swimming pool sized lobster pens, to order our 2# bug (@ $7.99/lb) and our two stuffed quahogs (@ $2.50/each) from the friendly but barely conversant and seemingly bewildered fisherman behind the floating counter, and to pay our money to the official looking, but congenial, man behind the glass door.  It’s all very DMV, but it’s worth the experience – given the fresh product and reduced price.

I realize this is a very lengthy introduction, and I’ve not yet even touched upon the plat du jour.  My apologies, dear reader — I am deep into Byatt again, and she is one of very the few writers who truly fertilizes my (perhaps misguided) literary loquaciousness.  (See what I mean?)  So to dinner: our Stan’s sweet inner meat was drowned in fennel scented butter, and served over a fluffy bed of baked polenta that had been stuffed with a nutty Comté and studded with a spicy seared salami.  This riff on my Boss Grits (see here, here, and here) is an incredibly simple, thoroughly elegant interpretation of one of our favorite meals.  It’s shrimp and grits, people — only much, much better.

Butter Poached Lobster and Seared Salami over Gruyère Polenta

1 2# fresh, kicking lobster
1 cup polenta
1 1/2 sticks butter
1/4 lb comte de forte gruyere cheese
1/4 lb rosette de lyon salami
fennel salt
minced garlic
sea salt and black pepper
2 stuffed quahogs (optional)
fresh snipped chives

There’s out little guy: I called him Stan.  He’s glaring at me from within his cold bag, knowing his number is up.  But we will love you, Stan — we will eat every bit of you with worship and thanks, because you are not only beautiful, you are delicious.

Stan goes into my deepest pot.  I don’t want to fully cook him yet, but I do need to loosen his meat from his shell, and I got some great advice about how to do that from a marvelous blog named French Laundry at Home.  Stan sits waiting while…

… I get enough water boiled with which to cover him (I’m using both my large saucepan and my kettle).

Right before I douse my lobster, I spill about a tablespoon of distilled white vinegar into the scalding water.  This is the same principle as adding vinegar to egg poaching water – it helps solidify all the foamy bits, and encourages the meat to shrink away from the shell.

Then, I pour all the hot, vinegar’d water over Stan, covering him completely.  He wiggles around a bit, I’m sorry to say, but I am merciless when it comes to my meals, and so I hold him under his jacuzzi bath, whispering soothing words about how with butter and spice I will treat him, and oh so how lovingly I eat will him.  He blanches for about 3 minutes.

See?  His hard outer shell is turning a nice deep red, but not the hot crimson it would if I were cooking him totally through.  I’ll be doing that when I poach his naughty bits later.

After my 3 minutes, I remove Stan from his bath, and break off his claws (using the point of my chef’s knife right at the flimsy joint where his arms meet his torso — to define him in human physiological terms — where’s a professor of organismic and evolutionary biology when you need one?) …

… and I set his body aside, re-submerging his arms for an additional 5 minutes or so (they require more cooking to separate from their shell).

Using my kitchen shears, I cut the semi-cooked tail meat out of Stan’s back-end, and rinse it quickly (in the hot water that is still cooking the claws) to remove the green tomalley.  After 5 minutes of steeping, I remove the claws from said water, and snip out their meat, too (including the knuckles.  Mmmmm, knuckles…)  I set Stan’s marvelous meat into a bowl, and set it into the fridge to hold until I need it later.

One of Central Square’s newest coolest corners is at Mass Ave and Albany Street – where the Paradise has always been, and where the new bakery Flour, and – more pertinent to tonight’s meal, – Central Bottle has recently opened.  Central Bottle is this great wine boutique and salumeria, with excellent charcuterie and cheeses.  As two key components in any Boss Grits is cheese and smoked meat, I stopped there to buy some tidbits that would more perfectly compliment the luscious lobster we carried in our bike panniers.

 I selected a lovely, nutty, firm comté le forte, which is a delightful Gruyère …

… and I also purchased a healthy hunk of Rosette de Lyon, a hard, French dry sausage sweaty with its own oils, flecked with pepper and paprika.

Using my sharp chef’s knife, I cut my sausage into a small 1/4″ dice.

I do the same with my cheese – cutting the dry edges off.  There’s enough meat and cheese for a wee bit of picking… and it is good.

Polenta is just grits’ older, more urban, more refined, more connected (read: congealed) cousin.  I start with 3 cups of salted water on boil, and one cup of polenta.

I dump my cup of corn into 3 cups boiling salted water, and whisk well to break up all the chunks.  It takes about 30 minutes for my polenta to cook to the right consistency over very low heat; I stir it constantly to keep it from clumping.

When it’s ready, I dump 1/2 my cheese cubes into my pan (now removed from the heat), and stir well.

A little sea salt, black pepper, and butter later, stirred in well…

I immediately pour this cheese studded golden goodness into two buttered ramekins, and let them cool on my counter…

… so that they can set – which takes about 15 minutes.  When the slight pressure of my fingertips pulls the pudding cleanly from the edge, it’s ready to bake.

During that time, I’ve lined a baking sheet with foil and have placed my stuffed quahogs on it into a 350 degree oven.  They need to cook for at least 20 – 25 minutes, and I want my polenta to bake for at least 15, so the stuffed clams need a 10 minute head start.

It’s also time to start my salami, which I’m searing over high heat with black pepper, for 8-10 minutes, or until nicely heated through.

Perhaps I missed a link somewhere in French Laundry at Home’s post, but I seemed to need to go elsewhere – namely, the always reliable Jaden Hair’s The Steamy Kitchen –  to find out exactly the process for “poaching in butter”.  I surmised it would be more than just butter, but was surprised that it was no more than simply a tablespoon of water added to butter which constituted the poaching liquid, and, ultimately, the final sauce.  I dump my wee bit of water into my small saucepan, which is just large enough to hold my lobster meat in a single layer.  I bring this to a simmer over medium heat.

I’ve taken a stick of butter out of the fridge at this last moment, and have sliced it into tablespoons.

Whisking constantly, I add my cold butter slices, one at a time, waiting ’til the previous tablespoon is fully incorporated, to my sizzling 120 drops of water.  Constant whisking over low heat will emulsify the water/butter blend, making a thick cream that will coat and soak up my lobster.

Clayton bought me this marvelous fennel salt some time ago, and I add about a teaspoon to my butter blend.  My Boss Grits usually calls for an ouzo cream sauce, but I don’t want to go that route entirely – so I add a smidgen of the anise flavor ouzo imparts by substituting my fennel salt instead.

I’ve but Stan’s tail into smallish bites, and have now layered all his lovely meat into my smooth, silky, butter emulsion.  My heat is set to medium low, and I stir this around periodically, over the next 8 minutes, to cook my lobster thoroughly through.  My meat turns opaque, and my sauce turns lobster pink.

 Right before service, I take my polenta ramekins out of the oven – where they have delightfully risen in the heat – and turn them out onto my large plates.  They are steaming hot, slightly softer in the center, and firmly set at the edges.


Puffy pillows of polenta are stacked with sweet lobster meat, salty peppery bits of French pork sausage, semi-melted tidbits of stringy, savory cheese, all swimming in a supple butter sauce, scented with fresh snipped chives and served alongside a steaming hot stuffed quahog.  Summertime means seafood in Lolita’s casa, and this light, sublime, spectacular supper is just the first sunshine meal of the season.  Oh hai, Sun God – bathe me in your glory, and set the world in fire with your warming summer rays.  I salute you with this offering of gastronomic delight!  Do you dig it?  ‘Cuz we sure did.

Weeknight Wondermeal: Portuguese Mussels with Sausage, Fennel, and Ouzo Cream

Ahhhh… mollusks.  I do wonder about the first intrepid gastronome (or malnourished neanderthal) who pried open a bi-valve and sucked up the briny, bursting mouthful of innards locked inside.  I am a lover of all shellfish, but mussels usually see the inside of my kitchen (and belly) less than their thicker-shelled cousin, the clam, or their gnarly rich uncle, the majestic oyster – mainly because I was never that blown away by their preparation or presentation.  Until we went to the Wellfleet OysterFest a few years back and tried an offering called Portuguese Mussels.  We must have seen 5-10 heaping, steaming, aromatic bowls walk by, jealously clutched by people who looked more like wolves guarding their kill than happy-go-lucky festival patrons, before we happened upon the booth that spawned these schools of black, white, and green bowls.  I have never been able to find this anywhere on the Internet (hence, why I’m memorializing it here), and therefore never able to verify it as a traditional Portuguese dish (most that I do find call for white wine, peppers, chorizo or linguica, and no cream).  But the recipe is simple simple; I charmed it off the guy who made the plate, while Clayton hung back, so as to not impede my mojo. Four ingredients (plus a few pantry items), and you’ll have an effusion of flavors; serve it with some bread for sopping, and you’ve got an uber-quick, super-cheap, weeknight wondermeal you’ll consider serving to company!

Portuguese Mussels with Sausage, Fennel, and Ouzo Cream

3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb Italian sausage (I used sweet, but hot works, too)
1 medium bulb fennel
olive oil
1/4 cup ouzo (optional, but *really* nice)
1 lb fresh mussels
8 oz heavy cream
sea salt and cracked black pepper

I start by adding a few glugs of olive oil to a large hot pan (large enough to fit all my ingredients, including my mussels, later on — a wok would have worked, too, if I’d another one to use), and then lightly sauté my minced garlic before adding my sausages, from which I’ve removed the casings.  Using a wooden spoon, I break these meatwads up into smaller pieces.

Meanwhile, I separate my fennel from its fronds, which I set aside to add later, then chop the bulb into nice-sized pieces.

I also wash my mussels, scrub ‘em, rap any open ones sharply to see if they close (if they don’t, they’re dead, and I chuck ‘em), use a paring knife to cut off any beards, all to prepare them for steaming.  It will only take about 8 minutes to do so, and I want them to be ready when I need them.  I set enough water into my wok to reach just under my bamboo steamer baskets, and bring it to a boil…

… before setting the basket over the bath and covering to start the steaming process.

I now add my chopped fennel bulb to the pan and toss everything well.  I want my fennel to still be toothsome when it comes to table, so I sauté it first with the sausage for about 5 minutes…

… before adding my ouzo for the last 3-5 minutes, which will sweeten the meat and soften the fennel.

The fun thing about steaming mussels in bamboo is that when they start to yawn, they push the top off the steamer — sort of like a pop-up button in the breast of a roasting turkey.  See how eager they are to be eaten?  I remove the steamer from the bath, trying not to drain all the milky broth inside the mussel shells; it’s not just condensation, that’s yummy, flavorful mussel juice, baby! I dump all them gaping maws, their tender little tongues, and their sweet, salty sweat over my fennel and sausage, and toss it all very well, introducing all the ingredients to each other until they’re ready to get even more intimate.

And what’s more intimate than swimming in heavy cream?  Luscious, silky, rich and thick, I generously drown the inhabitants of this hot tub with their ultimate sauce, then stir the pot to get the co-mingling a’ going.  I bring up the heat to high, and let the cream, sausage, and fennel come to a boil briefly to thicken.

At the last moment, right before plating, I add the chopped fennel fronds, some sea salt and a heavy serving of cracked black pepper, until the slick on my spoon tastes perfect to the lick.


Not to be all First Lady of New York or anything, but I do admit to keeping a can or two of easily adulterated quick biscuits in my fridge these days to make sure I always have something to satisfy Clayton’s constant bread craving.  But I really don’t like the uneven way they cook; my crappy oven always yields biscuits that are overcooked on top,  undercooked inside, and burned on the bottom.  I’ve learned that cutting them up, drenching them in spiced butter (garlic, pepper, parmesan, etc. for savory; cinnamon, brown sugar, nutmeg, lemon zest, etc. for sweet), and stuffing them in muffin tins makes  really nice puffy, perfectly cooked bread nuggets which compliment many a quick meal.

Since sopping was in order for the night’s meal, these were just the ticket.

Sweet Italian sausage, tender mussels and barely crisp slices of fennel all swimming in a delicately scented milk, a satisfying supper that warms the tummy.  I forgo the use of the tablespoon next to my plate, and find myself using a mussel shell as a slurping and scooping aid, catching the cream dribbling down my chin with the soft pillow of my buttery biscuit puffs.  This is a hands-on meal; you have to tease each morsel of mussel out of its ebony cage, you have to dig for sausage and stab bits of fennel with your fork, but if it didn’t take the effort to eat, I think it would be inhaled as if caught in the whirlwind of a black hole.  Clayton and I sure dug in with abandon.  And to think — this is essentially fair food, first enjoyed out of styrofoam with paper napkins at a belly-up high-top on an autumn afternoon.  The atmosphere might be different now, but the deliciousness remains the same.

Portuguese Mussels With Sausage, Fennel, and Ouzo Cream

Super-easy Sausage, Collard and Black Eyed Pea Saturday Night Soup

It’s COLD outside, and there’s another snowstorm looming.  I don’t freak out every time it snows like so many of my neighbors do; I mean, really, there are 5 grocery stores within walking distance of my pad.  And this is BOSTON – it snows here *every* winter.  People panic – I just do my thang.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t like me some heartwarming soup on a day like today, and a jar of my husband’s mother’s black-eyed peas called out my name from the depths of my pantry.  I’d picked up some collard greens at the local Johnny’s Foodmaster, and a pack of sweet Italian sausage.  A box of chicken stock, and some other basics, and I had me some super-easy, super-satisfying, super-yummy-in-the-tummy soup for dinner.

Super-easy Sausage, Collard and Black Eyed Pea Weeknight Soup

1 lb sweet Italian sausage (links cut from their casings, or bulk)
1 lb collard greens
1 qt black eyed peas
1 qt chicken stock
1 lemon
1 bunch cilantro
1 cup EVOO
sea salt, black pepper

… and that’s it.  Really. I said it was super-easy…


Here are my basics: the collards, the peas, and the stock.  But first…

… I split these 6 sausages out of their casings…


… and I crush them up in my hot wok, browning all the delicious bits through, so they’ll release all their inner oily goodness into the pan.  Sizzle and simmer on medium low for 5-8 minutes, until most of the pink is all gone…

…and all the meat has been kissed with crusty brown caramelization.


The collard greens were sinewy and leafy – just like they should be.  I washed ‘em…


… removed their stems (to the worm bin), rolled ‘em into cigars, and cut them into 1″ thick ribbons.  A few cross-cuts later, and I had nice wide chopped leafage.

 


I dump my greens into my wok over my pork, and I give everything a good toss or two.

See?


Then I douse the whole pot with my chicken stock, stirring well to mix and cover.


I lower the heat to medium, cover my pan, and let everything simmer for about 10 minutes.


See how my greens have melted and my broth has broken up my sausage?  Already the soup smells and tastes delicious, but I’m not done yet.

My mother-in-law’s black eyed peas are some of my favorite legumes; they taste like green peanuts, and their texture is firm and smooth, like starched butter.  I add all the contents of one large jar to my pan and mix well with my greens, sausage, and broth.  I cover, and walk away for another 10 minutes at least, set to simmer on medium low.

Meanwhile, I whip together a quick cilantro oil as garnish by first washing then blanching a bunch of cilantro leaves.  I should have removed more of the stem than you see here — there was a wee bit of stemmy string to my finished product I could have avoided.  Anyway, a few moments dunked into salted boiling water, then drained, then whirred in a blender and whisked with EVOO and sea salt — this greener than collard green snappy peppery herb turns into a fragrant flavor to squirt across my soup.

In the last few moments, I squeeze the juice and scrape the zest from half a lemon into my soup, then – using the flat of my wooden spoon – I systematically crush and blend at least half my peas into a thick sauce.  I add a dash of sea salt and a dash of cracked black pepper, just ’til a smuggled spoonful tastes right.  Another 5 minutes of simmering, and I remove from the heat and let sit for a moment before spooning up.


Served with slightly garlicky pumpernickel toast, my mound of greens and beans and spiced sausage sits in the middle of a moat of savory smooth broth.  A squirt of warm cilantro oil adds brightness and zest, picking up the complimentary citrus in the broth, but the flavor is warm and filling and savory homestyle.  Clayton and I dig in to fortify ourselves for the weather to come.  Dinners like this — they make winter something sweet to be enjoyed from indoors by keeping the cold away, and warming one to their very Bones.

 

Black-Eyed Peas

Sausage Chicken Lovejoy with Creamed Leeks and Breadcrumb Crust

Today was a beautiful day, and I’m looking forward to my first ride of the season tomorrow morning. Penelope, my purple bike is out of the basement, and all I have to do is add some wind to her sails (read: tires) and I’ll be coasting my way into work with the peace and rush only a brisk pedal can produce. It always makes life so much better… that workout in the morning … that skimming along the surface of the Charles River, which winds silently alongside my path, as if it’s actually my magic carpet, leading in the morning westward, towards paying the mortgage, and in the warm evenings eastward, to fly away home. A BBC America episode on one of my new celebrity crush’s, Gordon Ramsey, Kitchen Nightmares, introduced me to the simple concept of creamed leek. A desire for one of our favorite simple home meals – a variation on what we call “Warm Chicken Lovejoy“, usually a blend of chicken, sausage, greens and beans – led me to combine Gordon’s idea with my own, so tonight I fit the bill with this a bean-free, light and delightful simmer of chicken and sausage coated with creamed leeks and topped with a crispy parmesan breadcrumb crust.

What you’ll need for two, for rock-bottom cheap, with leftovers (I swear, the meats were like, $4 total at McKinnon’s, the leeks $2, and the rest was pantry):

1lb leeks
8-10oz sweet Italian sausage (4 links)
8-10oz chicken thighs, bone-in, skin-on (4 thighs)
1 qt chicken stock
EVOO
1 cup parmesan cheese
1 cup panko cbreadcrumbs
1 cup heavy cream
4 cloves garlic
2 tbs butter
sea salt
cracked black pepper

Cut the ends of your leeks off, and then slice the heads off at about 8″. Aren’t they beautiful?

Then slice them lengthwise in half.

Then slice them into ½”-1″ long strips.

Heat 2 tbs EVOO in a hot large pan.

Add your thighs, skin side down, and your sausage links.

Shake…

… the

… pan

… well.

Sear each side of the sausage, and the skin of the thighs. My links have sort of split open, so I kind of mush the exposed yum into the sizzling oil.

Flip each thigh, and sear the other sides. About 4 minutes on each side will do.

Add your sliced leeks. Sizzle.

Stir well, pushing the leeks down, under the meats. Let sizzle for a few minutes.

Add your 4 cloves garlic, chopped well. Let sizzle for a few more minutes.

Add your quart of chicken stock.

Let simmer, and slowly bring back to a boil over medium high heat.

Boil and let boil. Set this baby to cook all that pork and chicken through thoroughly, on rolling boil for about 20 – 30 minutes, until the liquids have reduced by over half, stirring every once in a while.

Meanwhile, melt a few tablespoons of butter.

Dump your melted butter into your panko, and using a fork, blend very well, coating each crumb in sweet salty melty fat.

Dump your parmesan into your panko next, and using a fork, blend very well, coating each crumb in savory salty cheese.

Spread over a piece of parchment paper, spread over a cookie sheet. Set into a 350° oven, to toast.

See how your chicken and sausage and leeks are cooking? Nice!

See how your breadcrumbs are browning? Nice. Remove from heat after about 10 minutes, or until completely toasted.

When the liquids in your chicken/sausage pan have reduced and the meats are thoroughly cooked (you can tell when the chicken has spontaneously pulled itself, in the bath, from the bone), remove from the leeks and broth, plate, and set aside.

Add your cup of cream to the reduced stock, stirring well…

… and bring to a boil to reduce even further.

When thick enough to coat the back of your spoon, pour the leeks and sauce over your chicken and sausage, and sprinkle your cheesy browned breadcrumbs on top. A set of subtle flavors, with slightly sweetened leeks, savory sausage, only the best bits of the bird, and a crispy, crunchy, crumbly crust. Nothing fancy, but oh so fantastic!