Saturday, June 29, 2013

A Perfect Saturday Night Menu... Grilled Lobster Tails & Strawberry Tart!

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 Let's face it, not everyone has access to Maine lobster tails.  That is a fact that my daughter and I have had to adjust to living here in the South.  That and not being able to grow lilacs has been perhaps the biggest adjustment we have had to make since we moved here; but then again,  we have other things.

Yes, we have had to sacrifice the lilacs for jasmin, camellias, gardenias, magnolias, wisteria, and honeysuckle, which grows wild everywhere, and Maine lobster for catfish!  On balance, the flowers have it, hands down. Now in Florida, the fish had it big time for all I had to do was go down to the docks and wait for the boats every afternoon, loaded with red snapper, yellow tail, or grouper.  Sometimes we would get the Florida lobsters which Floridians claim they like better than Maine lobsters but to me that is a cop out.  Let's face it guys, there is nothing in the world better than a fresh Maine lobster.  Admit it and get on with it!

If you shop around you will find lobster tails at the Fresh Market, Whole Foods, and Costco.  Read the labels carefully for the country of origin.  Some will say Brazil, South Africa, or Thailand.  They are kind of greyish, or maybe its my eyes, and they taste quite different from Maine lobster.  At the Publix here in town we have live ones from Maine but my daughter thinks they look sad so we don't buy them.  Who would ever think of cooking a sad lobster...

Last weekend my daughter went to Costco by herself for she claims that my coming along always ends up costing her more. So she came back with two of the biggest lobster tails I have ever seen for a hefty price she wouldn't admit to.




Now one thing I have had to learn the hard way is that you do not cook this kind of lobster the way you would the ones from Maine.  The latter you steam and enjoy with lemon and melted butter.  These ones require a little more creativity.  We argued exchanged ideas all afternoon about how best to cook them and since it had been her idea (and expense) I thought it best she tackle them herself.  And that she did, in spades!  It is by far the best way we have found to prepare this kind of lobster.





The menu that night was simple and unexpectedly elegant:  There was no planning, just pulling together a few things from the fridge such as a box of fresh strawberries I had bought for making preserves.


Grilled Lobster With Herb Butter
Cherry Tomatoes With Oil, White Balsamic Vinegar And Basil
Strawberry Tart

 If you made the watercress soup like I did a couple of nights before, all you had to do was serve it in chilled demitasse cups.  The tart came together when I realized there was nothing for me to do except watch someone else make the dinner.  That frustrates me to no end.   The recipe for the dough is from Julia Child and it was a cinch to make while enjoying a chilled glass of Sancerre.   Oysters on the half shell would be perfect if you want to splurge and impress your guests.  You can always throw them on the grill.



It is the perfect menu for when you are having special guests on a hot summer evening.




Grilled Lobster Tails With Herb Butter

Ingredients

1 stick salted butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons chopped chives
1 tablespoon chopped tarragon leaves
1 clove garlic, minced
Dash hot sauce
Freshly ground black pepper
4 (7-ounce) lobster tails
Olive oil
Kosher salt
Lemon wedges, for garnish
Chive sprigs
Special equipment: 4 metal skewers
Directions

Preheat your grill to direct medium-high heat.

In a small bowl blend butter, chives, tarragon, minced garlic, hot sauce, and black pepper with a rubber spatula. Blend thoroughly. Cover with plastic wrap and reserve.

Using kitchen shears, butterfly the lobster tails straight down the middle of the softer underside of the shell. Cut the meat down the center without cutting all the way through. Insert a metal skewer down the lobster tail so the tail stands straight. Brush the tails with olive oil and season with salt, to taste.

Grill lobsters cut side down over medium high heat about 5 minutes, until the shells are bright in color. Turn the tails over and spoon a generous tablespoon of herb butter onto the butterflied meat. Grill for another 4 minutes, or until the lobster meat is an opaque white color.




Remove lobster tails from the grill and serve with more herb butter and lemon wedges. Garnish with chive sprigs.

Recipe from The Neely's, Food Network
Photos Lindaraxa




 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Cold Cream of Watercress Soup

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There is nothing more elegant as a starter than watercress soup, hot or cold.  When I have a dinner party I serve it in demitasse cups.  About a half hour before we sit down to dinner I bring out a large silver tray with the cups and pass them around.  Not only is it a pleasant surprise for the guests but also a simple way to serve the soup. I am always thinking of ways to eliminate dishes particularly when I do not have outside help.




Watercress is in your grocery stores right now.  Don't pass it up if you see it, even if you are not entertaining.  I made some last week and we have been enjoying it since them.  Perfect for a quick lunch.




There are a few recipes out there but the one I have always made is Julia Child's.  Here is the recipe:


POTAGE CREME DE CRESSON
(Cream of Watercress Soup)

from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child


Ingredients:



1/3 cup minced green onions
3 Tbs. butter
3 to 4 cups packed cups of fresh water cress leaves and tender stems, washed and dried in a towel
1/2 tsp. salt
3 Tbs. flour
5-1/2 cups boiling chicken stock
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 to 2 Tablespoons softened butter
Watercress leaves, for garnish, optional



Directions:

Cook the onions slowly in butter in a covered saucepan for 5 to 10 minutes, until tender but not browned.

Stir in the water cress and salt, cover and cook slowly for about 5 minutes until tender and wilted.

Sprinkle in the flour and stir over moderate heat for 3 minutes.

Off heat, beat in the boiling stock. Simmer for 5 minutes, then puree through a food mill (I used a blender). Return the soup to the saucepan and correct seasoning. (If not to be served immediately, set aside uncovered. Reheat to simmer before prodeeding.)

Blend the yolks and cream in a mixing bowl. Beat a cupful of the soup into them by dribbles. Gradually beat in the rest of the soup. Return the soup to the saucepan and stir over moderate heat for a minute or two to poach the egg yolks, but do not bring the soup to the simmer.

Off heat, beat in the enrichment butter a tablespoon at a time. (I skipped this step).

Pour the soup into a tureen or soup cups and decorate with the optional watercress leaves.

TO SERVE COLD: Omit the final butter enrichment and chill. If too thick, stir in more cream
 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Blue Point Oysters On The Half Shell And How To Shuck Them

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There is nothing I love more than Blue Point Oysters.  Last week while I was marking time waiting for some lamps to be fixed, I stopped at Whole Foods.  This store is a pain in the neck for me to visit as it is far off the beaten path.  Much to my surprise it was smack across the street from the lamp store and I had two hours to kill.  Good news and bad news, for this is a place where I can really get in trouble.

After loading my cart to half full and then unloading three quarters of it (after a serious talk with myself)  I decided to revisit the fish counter where I had talked myself out of buying the oysters at least three times.    To begin with they would not shuck them, so I had to do it myself.  Secondly I had a long drive which was a major concern.  But I wanted those oysters really, really bad.

While I was in NYC last month I had dinner with my friends Reggie D. and Boy F. and we had the most delightful East Coast oysters I have had in a long time.  They were cold and fresh, as if they had just come out of the sea.  A memory like that stays with you for a long time, specially if you are an oyster aficionado like me.  One of the things I miss the most in this part of  Georgia is fresh fish and shellfish,  particularly lobster and oysters.   When I see them so close and yet so far because I don't know how to shuck them, it can be a major problem.  And these were Blue Points no less,  the cat's meow as far as I am concerned.





Now, don't let people talk you into ordering or buying the wrong thing.  The term Blue Point is often used loosely for oysters from the North Atlantic.  True bluepoints are raised in Long Island's Great South Bay where they were first found. There are others from the same genus, such as  "New Jersey bluepoints" and "Virginia bluepoints", but they are not the real Blue Points, although I'm sure they'll do in a pinch.

Luckily I had a really nice fellow at WF who took pity on me and showed me how to shuck the oysters with a special little knife they sell there.  Okay, I can do this.  If I can make a souffle I can shuck an oyster; and you know what,  I did it!!!





I encourage you to try it i only for the thrill of saying you have.  Think of all the money you'll save by purchasing them at the fish monger and serving them at home.  Can you imagine the face on your guests when you tell them you shucked then yourself!.  It really is a cinch, if you have the right tool.  Slide it where you see a little opening, usually towards the back, wiggle it until you get traction and pop!  Here's a video.  I did not have those fancy gloves, just my little oyster knife which I got a Whole Foods for $5 and a towel. Hold them like he shows you so you won't loose the juice like I did.





The guys packed them in ice for the ride home and I put them in the refrigerator until ready to eat.  Make sure you keep them very cold or they will start to open up.  You don't want that. 

The rest, as they say, is history.  I served them, to myself,  on crushed ice with some lemon and cocktail sauce.  That's how I like them.  I have never been able to eat them with a mignonette sauce.  I go into convulsions when the vinegar hits my nose, which can be quite embarrasing when you are in a nice restaurant.  Can you imagine if that had happened while dining with Reggie D? Even though he is on hiatus, I am sure a post would be forthcoming on how to keep your cool while your guest is chocking on  mignonette sauce.

Never pass up doing something you really want to do just because you don't know how.  Learn and  try it, if only for the experience.  You would be surprised at what you can do if you just put your mind to it.

Photos Lindaraxa
Oyster knife Google

 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Friday Night Dinner On The Deck...Crispy And Cheesy Zucchini

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Friday night is my favorite time to cook dinner.  Even when I worked,  it was a time to take out the pots and pans and cook something special perhaps in celebration of two days of R & R!  Now that I am retired I go at it with gusto and try to make it fun for my daughter and me.

Last night was the first Friday in a long time that we have not had a downpour.  The weather this year in this part of the country has been bad for those who work and look forward to a weekend at the lake.  Heavy rain and tornado warnings have been the order of the day and a couple of times already we have sat in front of the TV waiting for the sign to go down to the basement.  Yikes, and I thought hurricanes were bad...at least you get plenty of warning.  The only ones enjoying this weather have been the flowers in the garden; that is, except for the geraniums whose leaves turn brown from so much water.

One of my favorite dishes with steak is zucchini.  I have several ways of preparing them in the summer, usually in combination with tomatoes and onions and basil, of course.  Last night I decided I wanted them simple, crispy and with a little cheese, given the fact that my daughter had already asked for a cauliflower gratin and grilled potobellos.  You should see the amount of Parmeggiano Regiano we go through in this house!

There really is no recipe for making zucchini in this simple way;  but make plenty,  for once cooked they seem to evaporate!

If you are having company for dinner make a strawberry tart for dessert!






For 2 people

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Slice 2 zucchinis in fairly thin rounds.  Sprinkle some fresh oregano, salt and pepper.

In a skillet melt 1 TB butter and 2 TB olive oil.  Add 2 cloves of garlic, mashed and thinly sliced.  Sautee until golden and remove to a plate.  Add the zucchini rounds in a single layer and cook undisturbed until browned .  Flip and do the same on the other side.  Remove to a plate.  Cook the rest of the zucchini and if you need to add more butter and olive oil do so but sparingly.  Once all the zucchini are browned transfer to a gratin dish. Sprinkle liberally with Parmesan cheese and drizzle the oil from the pan over the cheese.  Bake for about 20 minutes or until browned on top.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Strawberry Cheesecake For A Mother To Be

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I just realized that it's been ages since I shared a dessert recipe but I have been lazy this summer and have not entertained at all.  I usually make a dessert when I have guests, a great excuse to try something new and post it on the blog.  The fact that the weather has been miserable doesn't help either.  We have had rain practically every weekend...really big downpours is a better word.

Today, looking at my now inactive lake blog, My Kitchen by the Lake,  I came across a recipe that I am sure most of you have not seen.  It was published almost two years ago shortly after my favorite neighbors moved out of town.  She loves cheesecake and I made this dessert for her farewell dinner.  The original post is here

It also gives me the chance to make it up to Ina after the bad review I gave her frozen meals.  This is her recipe and it's typical of what we have all come to expect from her.  Simple, easy, delicious and more importantly, reliable.

Strawberry cheesecake is a favorite of expectant mothers...wonder why.  If you have one in your life, this will bring a big smile to her face!




Strawberry Cheesecake

Prep 30 min Cook1 hr 30 min


Ingredients

For the crust:

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (10 crackers)

1 tablespoon sugar

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted



For the filling:


2 1/2 pounds cream cheese, at room temperature

1 1/2 cups sugar

5 whole extra-large eggs, at room temperature

2 extra-large egg yolks, at room temperature

1/4 cup sour cream

1 tablespoon grated lemon zest (2 lemons)

1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract


For the topping:

1 cup red jelly (not jam), such as currant, raspberry, or strawberry

3 half-pints fresh raspberries (I used strawberries because that is what she likes and she is expecting!)






Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

To make the crust, combine the graham crackers, sugar, and melted butter until moistened. Pour into a 9-inch springform pan. With your hands, press the crumbs into the bottom of the pan and about 1-inch up the sides. Bake for 8 minutes. Cool to room temperature.

Raise the oven temperature to 450 degrees F.

To make the filling, cream the cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Reduce the speed of the mixer to medium and add the eggs and egg yolks, 2 at a time, mixing well. Scrape down the bowl and beater, as necessary. With the mixer on low, add the sour cream, lemon zest, and vanilla. Mix thoroughly and pour into the cooled crust.

Bake for 15 minutes. Turn the oven temperature down to 225 degrees F and bake for another 1 hour and 15 minutes. Check 5 or 10 minutes before in case your oven  runs hot, like mine.  It should not be perfectly set...it should jiggle a bit in the center.

Turn the oven off and open the door wide. The cake will not be completely set in the center. Allow the cake to sit in the oven with the door open for 30 minutes. Take the cake out of the oven and allow it to sit at room temperature for another 2 to 3 hours, until completely cooled. Wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Remove the cake from the springform pan by carefully running a hot knife around the outside of the cake. Leave the cake on the bottom of the springform pan for serving.

To make the topping, melt the jelly in a small pan over low heat. In a bowl, toss the raspberries/strawberries and the warm jelly gently until well mixed. Arrange the berries on top of the cake. Refrigerate until ready to serve.


Note: Measure your springform pan. The bottom of mine measures 9 inches.

Recipe adapted from Ina Garten
Photos Lindaraxa

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Kentucky Benedictine Tea Sandwiches

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These are everything you would expect from cucumber sandwiches and more. By draining and chopping the cucumbers and incorporating them into the cream cheese mix you won't have to worry about biting into a cucumber that just won't quit!

Perfect for picnics, cocktails, receptions, tea parties, children's parties and a must for the Kentucky Derby. If you choose to serve them with wine, try a French Sancerre (white) or a dry rosé from Provence. Mint juleps is another alternative but you don't need to go overboard.

In order for these to be truly "Benedictine" they must be colored with green food coloring. You can if you must, but I try to avoid food coloring like the plague unless I am making cupcakes for my grandchildren. Instead, try adding something green and leafy like watercress.

I came across the recipe reading old issues of Southern Living and thought my readers would be interested in a variation of an old Southern classic as well as some Kentucky food history about the woman after whom this spread is named


The originals

 

Benedictine spread was developed in Louisville, Kentucky by Jennie Benedict (Miss Jennie), a Louisville caterer, sometime around the turn of the century. Miss Jennie was a significant force in the Louisville food and business community.
Born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1860, Miss Jennie trained with the famous Fannie Farmer at the Boston Cooking School and returned to Louisville to open her catering business in 1893. She began her business in a small kitchen built in the backyard of her home. She eventually did so well with her catering business that she was able to move to a larger kitchen in downtown Louisville in 1900. She later opened her own restaurant, Benedict's, which was very popular with Louisville clientele.
Jennie Benedict was a fine businesswoman, becoming the first woman on the Louisville Board of Trade. She also helped start the Louisville Businesswoman’s Club in 1897 and was active in Louisville humanitarian efforts. Jennie Benedict is credited with serving the fist school lunches in Louisville - chicken salad sandwiches that were sold from a handcart. Jennie Benedict was quite well known in her time and had opportunities to relocate to larger cities; she chose to stay in Louisville instead for her entire career.
Jennie Benedict retired to her home "Dream Acre", on a bluff overlooking the Ohio River, in 1925 and wrote her autobiography, "The Road to Dream Acre". Jennie Benedict died in 1928 and was buried in Louisville's Cave Hill Cemetery.

Jennie Benedict’s work defined early 20th century middle class cooking in Kentucky and her legacy continues to be found on restaurant menus and served on home tables across the state. Miss Benedict wrote her “Blue Ribbon Cook Book” in 1902. Many of the recipes contained in this cookbook are considered classics, such as Waldorf Salad and Parker House Rolls; many are considered Kentucky Classics. Interestingly, Miss Jennie did not include her recipe for Benedictine in her 1902 Blue Ribbon Cook Book, nor in any of the following three editions published in her lifetime. The recipe for Benedictine is first included in the 5th edition of Blue Ribbon Cook Book, introduced by Susan Reigler, published by University Press of Kentucky in 2008.

The things one learns when publishing a food blog!





Kentucky Benedictine Tea Sandwiches 

Makes 28 tea sandwiches 


Ingredients

  • 2 (8-oz.) packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup peeled, seeded, and finely chopped cucumber (I would add 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1/2 cup minced green onions
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • a few drops of Worcestershire Sauce 
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 48 white bread slices
  • watercress leaves (optional)
  • a few drops of green coloring (if you must)
 

Preparation


  1. Stir together first 7 ingredients. Spread mixture on 1 side of 24 bread slices; Add a few leaves of watercress for color if you like.  Top with remaining 24 bread slices. Trim crusts from sandwiches; cut each sandwich into 4 triangles with a serrated knife.

To make a dip add some sour cream

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Moonlight In The Garden

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Around this time last year I picked up a pot of a climbing hydrangea known as Moonlight.  It was to be a housewarming gift for my daughter's new house.  She loves hydrangeas so this was a different and appropriate gift.  Little did I know what I was getting into.




In the Fall of that year I had a lunch for my friends at the Dawson Arts Council who had invited me to do a presentation on the Art of Entertaining and  invited my friend Sandra Jonas and a couple of the members of the Atlanta Hydrangea Society whom I had met on their tour.





After lunch we had a walk around my pitiful garden exchanging ideas on what to do next.  Sandra had brought me a cutting of one of her hydrangeas,  a specimen I had marveled at during the tour, and we were trying to pick out a good spot.



All of a sudden there was a commotion at the gate leading to the garden in back of the house.  Jeepers, did someone see a snake?!  There I found the ladies marvelling at my newly planted baby bush of the climbing hydrangea.  "I have had one for six years and it has never bloomed" one said to the others.  They all looked closely and Sandra, taking one leaf in her hand whispered..."It's the Moonlight".  The WHAT?! Schizophragma hydrangeoides ’Moonlight’, also known as the Japanese climbing hydrangea. Here is an old post from Sandra. 

Well, no matter, if it didn't bloom for them, it wouldn't bloom for me.  Great excuse.  I poured over every book I could find and, sure enough,  they all said the same thing...patience.  It is the most beautiful climber you will ever find and if you are really patient it will reward you with beautiful blooms in..oh about eight years.  But don't give up.  Great, I would probably be dead by then,  although I was consoled by the fact that the leaves were beautiful and we should be so lucky as to have it in our garden. 




Well, dear readers, I didn't have to wait long.  About a couple of months ago, less than a year after my daughter had put it in the ground, this thing went from dead twigs to this:



and then this:



And finally, when I returned from New York I was greeted with this:



Talk about beginners luck! And the smell...to die for!  Goes to show you, its about a plant liking its environment.  The dryer vents a couple of feet away.  Could that be the game changer? Frankly I don't know and I don't care.  It is simply the most beautiful thing I have ever seen and I can't wait until it gets bigger and climbs all over the fence.  Yes, this is better than living in a condo.  Much, much better!




All photos Lindaraxa

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