Monthly Archives: February 2015
Greetings from the frozen white tundra!
For years, we’ve used Valentine’s Day as an excuse for a special homemade dinner. The menu varies from year to year, but it’s a nice tradition. Vanilla Butter-Braised Lobster, this week’s recipe for French Fridays with Dorie turned out to be the star of a perfect romantic meal.
I live in New England which is “Lobster Country”, so finding a lobster without breaking the bank was not an issue. The plan was to spend the long weekend in Maine where the lobster would be even cheaper, but yet another snowstorm kept us off the road and safely nestled at home.
Local lore tells that, once upon a time, lobsters were so plentiful that they were cheap and eaten mainly by the poor. In fact, I’ve heard one story where inmates in a prison revolted because they were so tired of a daily menu of lobster. Lobsters have come a long way to become the luxury food it’s now considered to be. Because they are still caught locally, we enjoy lobsters all year long, especially summer weekends in Maine where we eat it at home on a picnic table on the porch.
Lobster is so good steamed or boiled in its shell that I’m not sure I’ve ever had it as a fancier preparation. Sure, we’ll cook an extra one or two to make next-day lobster salad with the meat. Or I’ll often save the shells and bodies to make a simple lobster bisque (more on that this weekend). Beyond that, steamed lobster is my favorite way to go. It’s so rich, we don’t even bother dipping it in melted butter.
The French Friday recipe, though very simple to prepare, was much more elegant than our usual “lobster in the rough”. First, you clarify some butter. Once clarified, the pulp and pod of a vanilla bean infuses in the butter while the lobster is cooking. Finally, after shelling the lobster to extract the claws and tail, the lobster meat finishes cooking in the vanilla butter bath. The lobster is plated (without all the butter) and sprinkled with fleur de sel and fresh pepper. Simple yet fancy at the same time.
I made a few minor adjustments, but all in the same spirit of the recipe.
First, it turns out that lobster must be popular Valentine’s Day fare because when I went to the grocery store on Saturday morning, all the smaller lobsters were sold out. The fish guy had a 3½ pounder, which was big enough to share, so I brought her home instead. At $8 a pound, it was still a good deal. Because of the size of the lobster, we changed up the cooking method a bit. Instead of partially cooking it then ripping it apart, we just steamed it whole for 25 minutes, until it was nearly cooked, then took out the claw, knuckle and tail meal.
Also, the recipe calls for a pound and a half of butter. We were making about the half the lobster, but even so, I used only 1½ sticks which was plenty to cover all the meat and impart its vanilla flavor. I saved the leftover vanilla butter, and I’m thinking of bathing some cooked shrimp in it to serve over rice for dinner tonight.
To round out the Valentine’s Day meal, we started with a bottle of Veuve Cliquot, served the lobster with potato rösti, and finished with molten chocolate cakes. As the snow fell outside, staying nestled inside our (not so) warm house was just the thing for the evening.
This has been one of the snowiest winters in my recent memory. Not only does it feel like it’s snowing endlessly, every snowstorm seems to dump another foot of snow on us. The banks on either side of our driveway and our front yard are four to six feet high. There’s really nowhere left for more snow.
During last weekend’s snow storm, I made this week’s recipe for French Fridays with Dorie: Chicken Couscous. This warm and hearty stew was the perfect fare for a snowy blowy day. First, chicken thighs are sautéed with a fragrant spice mix made from turmeric, saffron, cinnamon, ginger, and cumin. The turmeric and saffron turns everything a lovely yellow hue. Then a slew of vegetables and broth are added to the pot to simmer until everything is tender. Chick peas are the finishing touch. The stew is served over couscous, which is cooked in the lovely-colored broth from the chicken pot.
The recipe is meant to serve four, but we typically eat small portions of meat. That means eight pieces of chicken translate to eight servings at my house. To ensure that every bowl made a meal, I doubled the vegetables and the chick peas. The balance was perfect for us. Also, I omitted the zucchini because someone doesn’t like that particular vegetable. I had the best intentions of making some quick harissa and adding some raisins to my bowl, but we enjoyed the chicken, veggies, and broth ladled over couscous with no further adornments.
Next time I make this, I will skin, bone, and chop the chicken into chunks. Because the chicken was braised, the skin was not crispy and so wouldn’t be missed in my book. Also, I really disliked having to cut the chicken off the bone as I ate. It would have been more appealing be able to eat this with just a fork (or a spoon) and not have to deal with the knife. Maybe that’s because I served the chicken couscous in wide shallow bowls, and I feel like knifes and bowls aren’t naturally compatible.
Last weekend, before the snowstorm, we saw The Second Girl at the Huntington Theatre and finally checked out Bar Boulud, which opened at the Mandarin Oriental hotel here in Boston last fall. This was our third attempt to go. We had to cancel our reservations the last two times we planned to go. Third time’s the charm, and it was well worth the wait. I adore bistro food. We started with a charcuterie platter with the chef’s choice of pâtés, sliced meats, and pickles. I think I’m glad I didn’t know exactly what was on it, because I tasted head cheese for the first time. It was delicious, though I doubt I would have willingly tried it if it had been clearly identified. It was our favorite item on the platter, so we asked what it was when we finished it off. Then we shared a salade Lyonnaise with sautéed chicken livers along with the traditional lardons and egg on top. We finished with cassoulet. Oh, and dessert. Howard had chocolate ice cream, of course, and I had a tarte Basque, garnished with brandied cherries. Oh la la!
As I write this, we’re waiting for yet another storm tomorrow. We were supposed to go to Maine, but now I’m looking forward to a weekend homebound with my sweetheart. I’ve laid in supplies for cooking a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner followed by other hearty fare for the rest of the weekend.
Wishing you a Happy Valentine’s Day!