Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I'm Going on a Picnic and I'm Bringing...

Here is my take on "gourmet picnic food." When I think about it, gourmet picnic food is kind of an oxymoron. Designed to be eaten outdoors, maybe on a blanket or a wooden table, picnic food to me has always been casual and portable; delicious, but the opposite of anything too fancy or exotic. Even Ina Garten must not get too extravagant when making up a picnic for herself and Jeffrey in the Hamptons.

The biggest challenge here was just trying to strike the right balance, and to me nothing does that quite as well as the lobster roll. When it comes to being gourmet, what could be more so than lobster? Put it into a sandwich bun and it’s like changing from a gown into a pair of jeans: casual but still sexy.

I love a good lobster roll. Here on Long Island, they are pretty popular on the east end where lobster fishing is prevalent, but everyone knows that New England holds the lobster roll crown. Whether served warm with drawn butter Connecticut-style, or cold with a mayo base like they do in Maine, the New England states set the standard.

Lightly dressed with homemade lemon aioli, mine is a Maine lobster roll. Fresh herbs, celery, and a sprinkle of paprika mixed in give it great flavor and a little crunch. For more of a gourmet edge, I made the potato roll and chips from scratch.

Jordan Lobster Farm is my favorite place to get a lobster roll in the summer and a part of the inspiration behind my own. The wholesale and retail seafood distributor has been in business for over fifty years with locations in Island Park, Long Island and Brooklyn. In the summer, they have an outside patio right on the water where I’ve often sat and enjoyed their roll filled with huge chunks of lobster meat.

Lobster Roll with Lemon Aioli:
Yield: 4 servings
- 2, 1-2 pound lobsters
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 teaspoon garlic, finely minced and mashed into a paste
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 1 cup olive oil
- ½ cup finely chopped celery
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- 1 tablespoon chopped chives
- Salt, pepper, and paprika to taste
- 4 potato rolls
- About 3 tablespoons of melted butter for buns
• Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Submerge lobsters into the water and cook for 8-9 minutes. When done cooking, submerge the lobsters into an ice batch. Remove meat from the shells and chop coarsely.
• To make the aioli: in a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolk, garlic, lemon zest and juice, and red wine vinegar. In a very slow stream, vigorously whisk in the olive oil until a thick mayo is formed. Season with salt and pepper and chill. *If your first attempt fails, whisk another egg yolk and once again, in a very slow stream, incorporate the broken mix. You can also make the aioli in a food processor.
• Add celery, parsley, chives, and seasonings to the lobster meat and lightly coat with the lemon aioli. Slice potato rolls in half and brush the sides with a coating of melted butter. Spoon the lobster salad mixture into the rolls. Serve with homemade potato chips.

Potato Rolls:
Recipe adapted from Annie’s Eats
Yield: 6-8 hot dog bun-sized rolls
- 1 russet potato (big enough to make 1/2 cup mashed potato), peeled and chopped
- 1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 2 tbsp. granulated sugar
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup milk, warmed
- 1 1/8 tsp. instant yeast
- 1/4 cup reserved potato water, lukewarm, with 1 teaspoon sugar added to it
- 2 1/2 – 3 cups bread flour
• Boil potato until tender. Drain cooking water, reserving 1/4 cup for use in the rolls. Finely mash the potato and measure out 1/2 cup. Let cool to nearly room temperature.
• In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the mashed potato, butter, sugar, salt and egg. Mix together on medium speed for about 2 minutes.
• Combine the yeast with the warm milk and reserved potato water; pour into the mixer bowl. Mix on low speed until incorporated. Gradually add the flour, about 1/2 cup at a time, until a soft dough forms. Switch to the dough hook attachment on knead on low speed for 5 minutes, adding more flour if necessary to achieve a soft dough that is slightly tacky but not sticky.
• Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, turning once to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 60-90 minutes.
• Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and punch it down. Separate into 6-8 equal pieces and shape into long rolls. Place the rolls on the prepared baking sheet, about 1 1/2 inches apart. Sprinkle the rolls with a dusting of flour. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let the dough rise again until the rolls have grown into each other, about 30-45 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
• Bake in the preheated oven for about 12 minutes, until golden.

Homemade Potato Chips:
Yield: 4 servings
- 3 unpeeled cleaned russet potatoes
- Vegetable oil for frying
- Salt to taste
• Heat the oil in a deep dryer to 375-380 degrees and line 2 sheet trays with paper towels.
• Slice potatoes paper thin using a mandolin. Place the slices into a bowl of cold water.
• Drain the potatoes from the cold water and lay out on one of the paper-towel lined trays. Blot the slices until they are very dry using several layers of paper towel.
• In small batches, submerge potatoes into the hot oil, turning occasionally until golden and crispy. Make sure that the oil comes back up to temperate after each batch.
• Drain the cooked chips on the other paper-towel lined tray. Season with salt while still hot.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Get Your Greek On: Zucchini Feta Fritters

A few months ago, I was watching Food Network and got caught up in an episode of the special, "Giada in Paradise: Santorini."

With its famously photographed cliff side, breathtaking sunset view, and deep blue ocean backdrop, the beautiful Greek island is one that she justly described as “heaven." From what I saw, she was just about right.

After watching the hour-long historical and culinary tour, I put a mental checkbox next to Santorini on the bucket list of places I hope to visit someday. Then, I put a bold mental underline beneath the checkbox that has been already been there for years now, that says, “Get a job like Giada’s.”

At one of the many food stops during the episode, Giada is served an assortment of Greek meze, or a sampling of different small dishes put out before the main course. Among the meze were these amazing fried zucchini and feta balls with mint. Can you say instant obsession?

Check them out for yourself at the 3:11 mark:

So there was Giada in the middle of heaven and the one thing that stuck in my mind more than anything else in the entire episode was these zucchini balls. Zucchini, feta, and mint—oh, my! I couldn’t wait to deep fry my own inspired version of the delicious trio.

I made Easter dinner this year and decided that it would be the perfect occasion to try these babies out. They ended up looking a little different than what I had pictured, but tasted just as good.

At first, I tried making balls which were sort of tricky because the outside would cook way faster than the inside, so I made them flat and it actually worked out for the best.

Served warm, the delicate sautéed garlic and zucchini mixture holds up well beside the just-melted feta cheese. I also added lemon which really brightens up the flavor.

Zucchini Feta Fritters
Yield: About 15 fritters

- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 medium zucchini, shredded thin with mandolin
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 10 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
- ¼ cup chopped mint
- 2 eggs, whisked
- 1 cup breadcrumb
- 1 ½ cup flour
• In a large skillet, sauté garlic in olive oil until fragrant; add shredded zucchini and cook at medium-high heat until soft. Season with salt and pepper.
• The zucchini will have released a lot of liquid during cooking; remove zucchini from the pan with a slotted spoon into a large bowl.
• To the bowl with the zucchini: add lemon juice and zest, feta cheese, mint, egg, breadcrumb and flour. Mix until all the ingredients are distributed and well bound. You should be able to shape patties with your hands; if not, you may need to add more flour and/or breadcrumb until your mixture reaches the right consistency.
• Use an ice cream scoop to create equal-sized portions and flatten into patties with your hands. In a fryer or a deep pan, heat oil to around 325 degrees and fry until golden on the outside and cooked through on the inside. You may need to play with the temperature of the oil to see what works best.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Roasted Red Pepper Crostini

Sweet bell peppers are just fine on their own; roast them, and you bring them to an entirely new dimension. Their thick skin takes perfectly well to a bubbling, blistering beating from a direct flame, which once peeled away, yields juicy soft flesh with a pronounced sweetness and light char flavor.

There are so many great ways to enjoy roasted peppers. Here is one of my favorites:

Roasted Peppers with Pine Nuts and Raisins Crostini

This recipe is one that is frequently made at the cooking school where I work. After tasting it for the first time, I loved it so much that I made sure to snag it for my own collection; and now, I’m sharing it with you.

Roasted peppers with plump golden raisins and toasty pine nuts all mingled together in olive oil with garlic and fresh parsley—that is love at first bite if I've ever heard it. On top of a slice of crusty Italian bread? Whoa! Forget about it.

This recipe calls for roasting your own peppers. It uses the broiler method, but there are several other ways to achieve the same result.

The many ways to roast a pepper:

Over an open flame: just like roasting a marshmallow; hold the pepper directly over a burner, turning until the skin is completely blackened on all sides.
Grilling: sticking with the direct flame, but allowing you to do more than just one at a time. Grilling also incorporates a little bit of a smoky flavor.
Broiling: same idea as the previous two, but upside down. Lay the peppers out on a tray lined with foil and stick them under the broiler; keep a watchful eye and turn to singe all sides.
Oven roast: on a foil-lined sheet tray, rub peppers with olive oil and cook at 450 degrees for 30-40 minutes; turn to singe all sides.

No matter how you roast your peppers, they are always:

• Cooked until the skin is charred BLACK on all sides.
• Steamed at the end, typically in a bowl covered with plastic wrap. This allows the inside to cook further and also helps to get the skins off easier. When peeling, some spots may be hard to remove; whatever you do, don’t rinse the peppers under water or else you’ll be rinsing all the tasty juices away too.
• Delicious

Now, had I roasted my own peppers this particular time…Wait, what? What do you mean I didn’t roast my own peppers? After all that, I went and used jarred?

Yep. I’m not even going to act like I didn’t. I’ll even be so bold as to recommend that you do so as well (gasp!) in certain situations. This is great to put out for company; if you are busy with lots of others things, want to make a ton, or are scrambling for something to make with last minute notice, the jar can be your friend.

BUT, I also recommend that you at least try this recipe with freshly roasted peppers. Like all things made from scratch, there’s just something about it!

Anyway, as I was saying…Had I roasted my own peppers this particular time, I might have made up a nice little picture demo for you, but I think that the recipe and previous descriptions do it justice.

This crostini recipe has become quite a hit around here—I even get requests!

A few weeks ago, we had family over so I made a bunch of crostini and pita chips and served the roasted pepper mix along with a schmorgasboard (great word) of other toppers like caponata, hummus, and marinated feta. It was a lot of fun; I love all that picky stuff.

Measurements aren’t really necessary for this preparation, but here they are as a general guideline:

Roasted Peppers with Pine Nuts and Raisins Crostini
Recipe adapted from the A La Carte Culinary Services adaptation of Frank Pellegrino, Rao’s Cookbook, Random House, 1998.
Yield: 6 servings

- 6 red bell peppers (or for a quicker preparation use 2, 12 oz jars of roasted red peppers)
- ½ cup olive oil
- 3 tablespoons golden raisins
- 2 tablespoons of pine nuts, toasted*
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- Salt and pepper to taste
For the crostini:
- 1 loaf Italian bread sliced ½” thick
- 4 large garlic cloves, peeled
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
• To roast peppers: heat broiler. Line a sheet tray with foil. Place the peppers, skin side up, on the pan and set 5-6 inches under the broiler. Broil, turning until the skin starts to blister and blacken all over, watching closely. Remove peppers from heat, place into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap; let stand for about 10 minutes. Remove the seeds from inside the peppers, and remove skin. Cut peppers, lengthwise, into ¼” strips.
• Combine peppers with oil, raisins, nuts, parsley and garlic. Season to taste with salt and pepper; stir. Allow to marinate for at least 1 hour before serving.
• For the crostini: on the grill or in a 350 degree oven, toast the bread until golden. Rub bread slices on one side with garlic and drizzle with olive oil.
• To serve, spoon the roasted pepper mixture on each toast.

*To toast pine nuts, toss them in a hot skillet until fragrant. Watch carefully; they burn easily and do not need to brown. Immediately remove from pan to cool.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Happy Cinco de Mayo! Margarita Sorbet

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

How about a margarita?

This margarita sorbet, tequila and all, is just like having a frozen margarita. It is so refreshing. Every spoonful tastes like a party…on the beach…in Mexico!

I’ve been celebrating Cinco de Mayo for as long as I can remember, just because; just because it is a fun excuse to eat Mexican food, drink Mexican drinks, listen to Mexican music and catch the fiesta vibe.

Everyone loves a reason to celebrate, even if they’re not quite sure of what that reason is…

Many people tend to think that Cinco de Mayo is the Mexican Independence Day (you can count me in on that; guilty as charged), but it’s actually the celebration of the victory of the Mexican army over French invaders at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Mexico was already a free nation at that time, having declared their independence in 1810.

Over the years, Cinco de Mayo has become more and more popular in the United States. But while much of us are donning sombreros and clinking our Coronas together on May 5th like “yeeeah!” it’s not as big of a deal in Mexico; while Cinco de Mayo is still commemorated in small celebrations around the country, it can’t be compared to their actual Independence Day.

As you might guess from last summer’s “Fiesta Week” dedicated entirely to posts on Mexican food, I love Mexico and its culture and traditions. So pass the margaritas (or the margarita sorbet!) and let’s have a Cinco de Mayo party. :-)

Margarita Sorbet
Recipe adapted from, Bon Appétit, August 1996

- 2 cups water
- 1 cup sugar
- 2/3 cup lime juice
- 6 tablespoons tequila
• Stir water and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and bring to a boil. Pour into a medium bowl. Mix in lime juice and tequila. Refrigerate until cold, about 2 hours.
• Transfer the sorbet mixture into an ice cream maker and process according to manufacturer’s instructions. Serve immediately or transfer to a container, cover and freeze.
• Fun serving suggestion: serve in a margarita glass with a wedge of lime. To “salt” the rim, run a slice of lime around the rim of each glass and dip into granulated sugar.