It's a Martha marathon! Five recipes in one day! I invited my writing buddy, Annie, her husband, Charles, and my BFF Ryan over for some seasonal summer specials.
Boiled and Steamed Lobsters (p. 239)
I may have missed soft shell crab season, but I hit lobster season right on the nose. I've been to Fairway at least a million times, but I've somehow managed never to notice the lobster tank at the end of the fish counter. I even walked the whole fish department and missed it. But then it occurred to me that I shouldn't be looking at the ice, I should be looking for water. (Sometimes I can be so brainless!) And I went back, and there was a giant tank! Duh! And to top it all off, I think the price was pretty good too! ($10/pound)
It somehow slipped my mind that I'd be carrying these home alive, and that they'd be in my refrigerator alive. But when the fishmonger poked breathing holes in the bag, it came rushing back to me that the idea was to keep them alive until being cooked, i.e. I'd have to murder them myself. Well, at least I wouldn't have to do what Julie Powell (Julie and Julia) did, i.e. cut into their brains while they're still squirming.
I decided to serve Lobster Two Ways: cook two lobsters for lobster rolls, and serve the other two hot with tarragon butter. I wanted to try both steaming and boiling, so I steamed the ones for the lobster rolls and boiled the ones for dinner.
Steaming is less confronting in that you can gently place them in a steamer basket, put the lid on the pot, and not be distracted as they squirm themselves to death. I thought that steaming might also make for a better, more tender texture, but I think the opposite ended up being the case. The steamed lobsters were a little more rubbery, and they didn't have the benefit of the salt in the boiling water. Time-wise, it's pretty similar, with boiling going a little faster than steaming.
All in all, it's quite easy to cook lobsters, as long as you can get past the concept of putting something alive and squirming into a boiling hot pot.
How to Remove Lobster (p. 240)
I was happy for this lesson, as I have little experience with removing lobster meat. And as I didn't have any special lobster tools, I appreciated the fact that you can do this with just a knife and kitchen shears. Who knew that you could cut through lobster shell?
Martha doesn't get fussy and have you look for meat in weird places. She just explains dealing with the tail and the claws. I think I spent the most time trying to get little pieces out of the claw knuckles (the skinny part that connects the meaty claw to the body). Otherwise it went pretty well and pretty quickly.
When I was getting ready to serve the two boiled lobsters with dinner, Charles suggested that I cut them in half, as we'd be splitting them between the four of us. He explained that I could do it with a chef's knife, a great idea that I never would have thought of myself. The only downside was dealing with all kinds of crazy stuff coming out of the main body cavity, which I could have lived without seeing.
There was green stuff (tomalley, i.e. liver), red stuff (lobster roe), and black stuff, which Charles' research reveals is undercooked lobster roe, although I'm suspicious. Why would some of the roe be red and solid, and the other roe be black and runny, in a lobster cooked for the same amount of time? In any case, it's pretty disgusting with all that barfy looking stuff squirting everywhere. (If you're going to do this, do it next to the sink.)
The boiled lobster was good, better than the steamed by a hair, but overall, I wasn't that impressed. But I think this is a personal thing. I've never been one of those people that lives and dies for lobster, and I don't imagine I'll be plunging any other lobsters to their bubbling death anytime soon.
Lobster Rolls (p. 239)
I've never had a lobster roll before, so this concept was new to me.
It's traditional to serve lobster rolls on hotdog buns, but I couldn't bear to put my freshly cooked lobster meat in a store-bought bun, so I made some from scratch with this recipe. I was going to skip the part about buttering the outsides of the bun, but then I mentioned to my mother that I was serving lobster rolls, and she said, "Of course you going butter the buns, right?" and I thought, oh geez, I guess I have to go through with it.
I'm so glad I did. I actually had to slice off the sides of my homemade beauties, to create surfaces that could be buttered and grilled. But it was so worth it, adding a nice element of richness/decadence to the sandwich.
The only ingredients in this lobster salad are lobster meat, a small amount of mayo (I made homemade mayo too!), chopped chives and tarragon or chervil (I used tarragon). Martha says the herbs are optional, but I would completely disagree. I think the herbs really drove it home.
I served these as the first course with potato chips, just in case I had any purists in attendance. (Confession: I didn't make the chips from scratch. One has to draw the line somewhere!)
This course, really a meal in itself, was a total success: delicious, unique, special. Come to think of it, maybe there will be more lobster killing in my future. :-)
Side Note: I also served some homemade cole slaw with the sandwiches. I'm generally not a cole slaw fan - it's always too mayonnaise-y. But my Nana Hilda made a famous cole slaw, the recipe for which she took to the grave. My cousin Mindy and I have oft lamented the absence of that cole slaw (and Nana) in our lives. Given my new kitchen savvy, I attempted to recreate the recipe, and I think I got pretty close!
Here's what I did: shred a head of cabbage and a couple of large carrots. Add roughly a 1/2 cup of fresh lemon juice, 1/2 cup of mayo (homemade in my case), a tablespoon or so of honey, a heaping tablespoon of celery seed, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir until blended, and for best taste, let sit overnight in an airtight container, stirring a time or two. Very light and lemony, and not like picnic cole slaw at all.
Sautéed Zucchini and Corn (p. 325)
Again, I'm capitalizing on some very in-season foods. I couldn't choose between yellow squash and zucchini, so I used a little of each in this. (I sliced the rest of the squash and served it with my homemade hummus. Yes, that's right: homemade hummus, made with homecooked chick peas. What can I say? I'm amazing.)
This vegetable dish is deceptively complicated. Not in how it's prepared, because it looked easy to prepare and it was easy to prepare. But more in how it tastes. On the page, it looks like your average veggie dish, fresh garden flavors, no big whoop. But on the plate, it's like an explosion of flavors, delicious but veering toward overkill.
There are very few ingredients here: leeks, squash, corn, butter, a bit of cream, basil, salt and pepper, and lime juice. The end. There's a layering of flavors, and it's an interesting combo, but I was surprised how assertive they all were. It was like leeks vs. corn vs. basil vs. lime vs. cream, and instead of playing well together, they all sort of said "Notice me!" I don't think I helped matters, with my overly generous addition of lime juice. I should probably try this again without the heavy lime push.
Jeff: A- (for overliming)
Sour Cherry Pie (p. 444)
Ever since I read the dessert chapter in this book, I've thought, What the heck are sour cherries? Who sells sour cherries? I'd never seen or heard of a sour cherry in my life!
So when sour cherries popped up at Fairway last week, I grabbed two containers lickety split! They've probably been there every summer, and I just never noticed them before. Because unless you're looking for them and you're going to cook with them, why would you ever want to eat a sour cherry?
I find it fascinating how different these are from the sweet cherries that I love (and eat pounds of every summer). They're smaller, a whole other color and texture, and not even in the same galaxy of sweetness. (Duh #2. They're sour.)
Pitting these is an ordeal, and that's even with a cherry pitter. I'm still finding little red spots of cherry splatter on my countertop and everything in the vicinity of the pitting ceremony. You have to pit a lot of sour cherries to get to two pounds, so you want to leave some time for that.
This was my first crust in an air-conditioned apartment, and Paula was right, it did make a huge difference. She had also suggested that if I floured my work surface more, I'd have a better result, and again she was right. I actually rolled out these crusts with no drama! It was almost easy! But I was too hasty to finish things up and get it in the oven, and I did a terrible job of crimping the edge, so the pie looks pretty clanky. Not sure if you can see this in the picture below, but I had some leftover dough so I cut out some star shapes and decorated the pie with them. (Awwwwww.)
(There was still a bunch of dough left after that, and you know me, I can't bear to throw anything away. So I rolled it out, filled it with peach preserves, folded it over, and baked it like a pop tart. And then I ate it. Yum! I'll suture my mouth shut tomorrow....)
I was worried about this pie, pre-baking, because the cherry filling wasn't as abundant as the other fillings I'd made. I was also surprised that there was only one cup of sugar in the filling. Seemed like sour(!) cherries would require a little more sweet support.
But all my fears were unfounded. The pie filling level was just right, and the degree of sweetness was, to me, perfection. As far as I'm concerned, this was my first home run pie. The fruit tasted fresh, the filling was a great consistency (none of that weird cornstarchiness or wateriness), and the crust was buttery and flaky. An excellent pie, all the way around.
I should mention another tip Paula passed on to me, having to do with the filling. Because I'm the type to follow a recipe to the letter, I never leave anything out. And in the case of fruit pie fillings, that has included using all the juices that collect in the bowl with the fruit. But my pies and tarts are consistently overly runny. Paula suggested I reserve the fruity liquid, and only use it if it seems necessary. (Duh #3!)
With the cherries, a lot of liquid had collected after the pitting process, so I strained it off. Then, once I had made the filling, again a fair amount of liquid collected at the bottom of that bowl too, so I used a slotted spoon to fill the pie, leaving the juice behind. And I'm so glad I did. I think that the extra liquid only leads to a watery filling, and by leaving it out, I got a perfect filling consistency.
Side Note Part 2: I had some extra sour cherries, and I noticed that another recipe in the book (Sausage and Sour-Cherry Stuffing) called for dried sour cherries. So I found and used these instructions for drying fruit. One especially interesting part of the process was making a pectin dip to keep the fruit from turning brown.
Until we eat again....
Earlier in the day, the steamed lobsters await being made into lobster salad, as the pie and the buns cool...
Annie and Charles are excited to try the lobster rolls!
Ryan helping himself to some Sautéed Zucchini and Corn (Corn? When did I have corn?)