Strawberry Shortcake

This dessert recipe, like many of my grilling recipes, is a celebration of summer.  Though the production is a bit complex, the flavors are simple, straight forward, and manage to highlight one of our favorite summer foods:  strawberries.  Ripe summer strawberries are a treat.  Indescribably delicious, you cannot go through a summer season without featuring them at least once (unless you’re allergic, which is a different story).  And, of course, strawberries are also quite versatile.  They work as a breakfast item, as a dessert item, as a savory item (think arugula salad with parmesan, balsamic and strawberries), as a side, as a featured ingredient, as a puree, in drinks and cocktails, and so on.  Agricultural areas (like those just outside LA) have festivals celebrating the strawberry season.  I could go on, but let’s face it, strawberries are just an amazing ingredient.

Strawberry shortcake is almost a perfect showcase for an already great ingredient.  In restaurants (especially fine dining), strawberry shortcake remains a top seller.  Chefs can be very artistic and fancy with the presentation, adding  little dollops of purees and fancy tuilles and contrast points, some make them like actual cakes, some make them into individual cupcakes, other make them like trifles and present them in martini glasses (very impressive!), but the premise remains the same:  Some sort of shortbread or basic cake, macerated strawberries, and whipped cream.  3 things: perfection.

A few words about the actual production:  I personally like to use angel food cake.  I like the flavor and texture, and very importantly, it’s neutral enough to not overpower the strawberries.  You can very easily use vanilla pound cake, or genuine sugar/vanilla shortbread or biscuits.  When in a hurry, it might be easier to buy the cake, and save yourself the work, but that would negate the point of posting a recipe.  Angel food cake is not altogether easy to make.  Essentially, it’s a meringue based confection (or a sponge cake).  If you’re comfortable making and working with meringues, this will be no problem.  If not, you will face two challenges:  First, creating the meringue (whipping the egg whites with sugar until soft peaks form).  Second, not deflating the meringue when you add and mix in the flour.  My advice is to read through the instructions twice, consult youtube for lessons, and take your time and go slow.  In the end, you will find it’s quite easy.

Strawberry Shortcake

Prep time:  15 minutes
Cook time:  1 hr
Inactive cook time:  1 hr
Yield:  About 6 portions  

Ingredients:

For the cake:

1 3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup cake flour
1/4 tsp fine salt
12 egg whites (no yolk whatsoever) brought to room temp
1 1/2 tsp cream of tartat
1 tsp orange or almond extract

For the strawberries:

1 1/2 cups ripe summer strawberries, washed and sliced
2 tbsp sugar
1/3 cup warm water
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp orange liquor, such as grand marnier (optional)

For the chantilly cream:

3/4 cup heavy whipping cream, cold
1/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract

Method:

For the cake:

Bring your oven to 350.  Put the sugar in a blender or food processor and process until superfine.  Shift the flour with half the sugar and the salt.  Reserve the remaining sugar.  In a stand mixer fitted with a whip attachment, place the egg whites, water and egg whites and begin whipping.  Begin slowly adding the reserved sugar.  Add the sugar little at a time, and continue to run the machine at medium speed.  Whip until medium peaks have formed.  Add about 1/4 of the flour mix and slowly run the machine to incorporate.  Slowly add the rest of the flour mix and run the machine on slow until everything is just barely incorporated.  Overworking with deflate the egg whites.  Spoon the mix into ungreased tube or loaf pans.  Bake for about 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Turn out onto a resting rack and let cool completely.

For the strawberries:

Mix everything together and refrigerate for about 1 hour.

For the cream:

Place the cream in a stand mixer fitter with a whip attachment.  Run the machine at medium high speed, adding the sugar little at a time.  Add the vanilla extract.  Whip until full volume.  Transfer to a storage container and reserve until ready to use.

To finish:

Slice the cake into 1 inch pieces.  Spoon the strawberries and their juice over the cake, and top with a large spoonful of whipped cream.  You may garnish with a sprig of mint or a dusted of confectioner’s sugar.

Serve right away.

Enjoy.

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Hot Sauce

Easy money.  Infinite possibilities.  Who doesn’t (in some capacity) love hot sauce?  Some people use it sparingly, some pour it on everything, some are selective, some like mild, some like the burn – your – head off spicey… I love them all.  The reason, besides the obvious great spicy flavor, is because good hot sauce is balanced.  It’s a common theme running through my posts.  Balance is essential for any food, no matter how simple or complex.  Hot sauce is a great example.  Anyone can produce an incredibly spicy sauce, but to have it balanced is another story.  The successful mass-produced hot sauces are successful not only because they’re hot, but also because they taste good.  They have a little of everything, and have balance!

The best way to achieve this is start with a basic sweet/sour savory platform, without any initial spice.  I like to use boiled carrots, apple cider vinegar, onion, garlic, a little paprika, brown sugar, and a little of the carrots’ cooking liquid.  The carrots are the ‘secret’ ingredient, if you will.  They provide flavor, consistency, and most importantly, act as a catalyst for blending and bringing the flavors together.

Once you understand this platform, and the balance it creates, you can think about spice.  What kind of peppers do you want to use?  Do you want to use a blend of peppers?  Do you want to use a few dry peppers?  How many peppers?  Do you cook the peppers first?  Do you want seeds?  The answer is yes and no to everything.   This is where it becomes your sauce.  I am going to give you my ‘basic’ recipe, and hope that you will make it, enjoy it, and run with it.  Maybe you want to add a few raisins or dry apricots for additional sweetness and contrast.  Maybe you want a little bit of honey or agave instead of brown sugar.  Maybe you want it hotter.  Maybe you want it thinner or thicker.  Again, the possibilities are infinite, and this is just a basic recipe to give you a decent homemade hot sauce, and inspire you to create your own work of art.

As a side note, it usually takes about 2 days for the hot sauce to blend properly once it’s produced.  You should never use it right away.

Hot Sauce

Prep time:  10 minutes
Cook time:  15 minutes
Inactive cook time:  2 days

Ingredients:

1/2 yellow onion, rough chop
3 cloves garlic, lightly smashed
2 tbsp light brown sugar
Kosher salt
1/8 cup apple cider vinegar
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 3 inch pieces
1 tbsp paprika
15 serrano peppers, stems removed

Method:

In a small sauce pot, completely cover the carrots with cold water.  Add about 1 tbsp salt and bring to a slow boil.  Cook until tender and remove from heat.  Add all ingredients to a blender, including the cooked carrots and about 1 tbsp kosher salt.  Add 3/4 cups of the carrot cooking liquid and puree.  Run the blender on high speed and puree until as smooth as possible.  Cool the puree and store tightly.  Store in the fridge for 2 days, tightly sealed. Now it’s ready to use.  You can leave it at room temp at this point, it won’t spoil.

Enjoy.

The Great Pinto Bean

I don’t expect that too many people will like, let alone, make this recipe.  But I am head over heals for this, and if you like Mexican-  real Mexican, or beans, you will love this too.  This is the kind of food chefs eat at home, when they’re not making fancy purees and sauces for discerning clientele.  I find it to be delicious, cheap, healthy and versatile.  Pinto beans are of course a staple in Mexican cuisine and in America they’re most known for their role in refried beans.  And when cooked properly, that’s the flavor they assume:  Savory, fulfilling, and delicious.

Beans are of course an interesting culinary ingredient.  Why not buy canned beans and save yourself a moderate amount of work?  Why put yourself through the effort of making beans anyway?  The answer, in my opinion, is simple:  Control the flavor and control the salt.  This recipe brings out immense flavor without the salt.  If you like beans, you will like this.  If not, skip this recipe, move on, and continue your search until you find what you’re looking for.

If you choose to read on, I’d like to mention a couple things about the actual production.  First, I don’t soak the beans overnight.  Pinto beans will cook to completely tender in a few hours of relatively unsupervised cooking, and soaking them overnight doesn’t really save you any time.  Second, producing a ‘stock’ as you cook the beans is critically important.  This is base of the flavor without the salt.  Add a couple of chicken legs or wings, half an onion and a piece of bacon to the beans at the very beginning.  Start building your flavors early without sodium.  And third, and this is a personal touch, I like to puree about 1/3 of the cooked beans with some of its own cooking liquid, and add it back to the rest of the beans.  As it finishes cooking, it thickens the beans, resulting in that wonderful creamy texture and boosts the flavor.  Delicious.  A perfect side dish for any Mexican night or bbq meal.

Creamy Pinto Beans

Prep time:  5 minutes
Cook time:  4 1/2 hours
Yield:  4 portions

Ingredients:

1 cup dry pinto beans
2 chicken wings or 1 chicken leg (skinless)
1 piece smoked bacon
kosher salt
ground black pepper
1/2 tsp ground cumin
2 tbsp franks or tapatio hot sauce
1/2 yellow onion

Method:

Place the beans, half onion, bacon and chicken in a large sauce pot.  Fill the pot almost completely with cold water.  Bring to a simmer and turn heat to low.  Simmer very slowly for about 3 1/2 hours, or until completely tender.  Remove the chicken and discard.  Place the bacon, onion, about 1/3 of the beans and about 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid in a blender.  Blender until very smooth.  Add the puree back into the pot, and continue to simmer.  Add the hot sauce.  Simmer until very thick, about 1 hour.  Season with cumin, salt and pepper (there is no specific amount of salt to add).  Add salt until it tastes good, but be careful not to over salt.  We add the salt at the end because the cooking process is a continual reduction; it’s very easy to over salt if you add salt any time other than the very end.

Serve right away as a side to your favorite Mexican or bbq dishes.

Enjoy.

A Great Dip: Buttermilk/Blue Cheese/Avocado

Dips are an easy and brilliant way to make whatever you’re serving so much better.  Typically, we see the basic sour

cream/cream cheese or mayonnaise based store-bought dips, or store-bought salad dressings used as a dip (think blue cheese dressing for oven friendly buffalo wings). While there is absolutely nothing wrong with this, I think it’s implied that with a little effort, we can do SO much better, and probably healthier too!  With the summer season almost in full swing, the opportunity for great dips is here.  Something to dip BBQ ribs in, spicy roasted chicken wings, vegetable crudites, or anything else you might want a good dip for.  It’s also implied that your food, without a dip, is already delicious.  Wonderful, smokey, sticky bbq… The dip sends it over the top, adding that final amazing touch!  And the great thing about them, and this one in particular, is that they’re easy and can be made a day or two in advance.

This is one of my personal favorites!  It combines so many great flavors into one, and, in my opinion, is one of the most versatile dips you can produce.  It’s really a buttermilk ranch with blue cheese and avocado.  What a great combo!  And, regarding the ingredients themselves, you will notice a couple ‘interesting’ things.  First, use cheap blue cheese.  Strong, very good quality blue cheese clearly has its place in the culinary world, but not in this dip.  It can easily over power the dip, giving it a very strong, pungent flavor.  Second, adding a little melted butter gives the dip almost an undefinable flavor and texture, really bringing out some of the wonderful subtleties that would otherwise be masked.  Third, let the dip sit for a few hours before serving it.  The blue cheese is by nature porous, and will absorb the other ingredients, making the dip thicker, with a more well defined flavor.

Buttermilk/Blue Cheese/Avocado Dip  

Prep time:  5 minutes
Inactive cook time:  3 hours
Yield:  Approx 1 1/2 cups finished dip

Ingredients:

1 cup Hellmann’s real mayonnaise
1/4 cup buttermilk (have more on hand)
1/4 cup inexpensive blue cheese crumbles
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tbsp melted unsalted butter
1 ripe avocado
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
2 tsp lemon juice

Method:

In a large mixing bowl, mash the avocado with the lemon juice.  It does not need to be smooth- some chunks are okay.  Add the mayonnaise, buttermilk, salt, pepper, melted butter, and garlic and work vigorously until smooth (except for the occasional avocado chunk).  Add the blue cheese and continue to work.  Taste it, and add salt/pepper/lemon juice if absolutely necessary.  Next, adjust the consistency.  It should have the consistency of blue cheese dressing.  Remember, the blue cheese crumbles will absorb liquid as it sets, thickening the dip.  If it’s already too thick, add a little more buttermilk to thin it out.  When you’re satisfied, transfer it to a storage container, cover tightly, and refrigerate for a minimum of three hours.

Serve.

Best with anything spicy, anything bbq, or anything at all that needs a great dip.  Also great as a spread on wraps, burgers or some sandwiches.

Enjoy.

Pasta Salad with Creamy Red Pepper Vinaigrette

Pasta salads are of course a summer favorite.  They fit well within the summer buffet, transport well, are

relatively simple to make, and don’t put too much pressure on the cook.  It’s usually a mix of raw vegetables tossed with pasta and covered in either a mayonnaise or vinaigrette based dressing.  They serve their purpose, meet everyone’s expectations, and are rarely the focal point of the meal.  You take a little bit, pick at the cherry tomatoes and broccoli florets, determine that you can find something better on the buffet, and dig in to something else, like potato salad or cole slaw.

There are a few reasons that we don’t love pasta salads the way we should, and if I point them out, it gives us the opportunity to fix the problem and make it into something exceptional.  So, here are my three ‘problems’ with common pasta salads, and my solutions:

First, the dressing, or the base.  Mayonnaise based dressings can be too heavy, without genuine flavor or contrast.  Vinaigrette dressings give your pasta salad a heavy – vinegar flavor, without really coating or providing any foundation for the salad.   Therefore you need something that will coat the salad, adding a little bit of creaminess, something that has contrast (ie acid) and something bursting with flavor.  And, adding a splash of color won’t hurt.  I like to use a red pepper and sherry vinegar vinaigrette, thickened with croutons, honey and 1 egg.  It’s my personal favorite, and provides an excellent base for your salad.

Second, the vegetables.  Don’t forget, it’s pasta salad.  Pasta.  Vegetables need to compliment the pasta, not over power.  Throwing large pieces of abrasively large and raw vegetables into your delicate pasta salad will not work.  You mouth has to do too much work and the flavor and consistency of the salad will fail.  So forget about the raw broccoli, pepper strips and whole cherry tomatoes.  Save those for a crudite or raw salad plate.  Think more along the lines of charred corn, frisee leaves, grilled mushrooms sliced thin, grilled squashes, grilled asparagus.  Make sure to cut the vegetables into pieces small enough to be palatable.  Ease of consumption is very important!  Also, don’t be afraid to add a little cheese for added flavor.  A little crumbled gorgonzola cheese can really help the salad!

Last, be careful with the pasta you choose.  Using something like orzo or penette is great, large shells or rigatoni, not so much.  It comes back to mouth-feel.  Smaller pastas (cooked through) are more appropriate for salads.

Vegetable Salad with Roasted Red Pepper Vinaigrette

Prep time:  45 minutes
Cook time:  30 minutes
Yield:  Enough for 10 portions

Ingredients:

3 lb orzo, cooked just beyond al dente
1 can roasted red peppers, drained
1 ultra pasteurized egg yolk
1 tbsp honey
1/2 cup croutons, homemade if possible
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1 1/2 cups olive oil (not extra virgin)
2 portabello mushroom caps, stems removed, gills cleaned
1 zucchini, sliced lengthwise into 1/4 inch slices
1 yellow squash, sliced lengthwise into 1/4 inch slices
2 cups frisee, washed and woody ends trimmed
3 ears of corn
1 bunch asparagus, woody ends removed and peeled if necessary, blanched and cooled
2 avocados, sliced into 1/4 inch slices (save this for the very end)
1/2 cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese
vegetable oil
kosher salt
black pepper

Method:

Make the dressing:  Place the roasted red peppers, egg yolk, honey, croutons and vinegar in a blender and puree until very smooth.  Season aggressively with salt and pepper.  With the machine running, drizzle in the oil.  Re-season.  The dressing is now ready.

Assemble the salad:  Toss the mushrooms, corn, asparagus and squashes in a little vegetable oil and season with salt and pepper.   Grill until everything is well charred but not burned.  Let cool and slice everything into 1/4 inch slices (asparagus on a bias).  Remove the kernels from the corn cobs.  Toss everything in a mixing bowl with the cheese, frisee and cooked orzo.  Add half the dressing and mix.  Add more dressing as needed.  You do not want to drown the salad in the dressing; you want to have everything evenly and lightly coated.  You may not need all the dressing.  Check and re-season if necessary.  Assemble the salad on a platter or in a bowl and garnish with the sliced avocados.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Enjoy.

Watermelon Granita

For one of my favorite summertime desserts, we are once again going back to Italy.  Granita:  not quite a

sorbet, not quite a shaved ice, granitas are simply delicious.  As with many fruit-based frozen desserts, it’s usually a good policy to let the natural flavors speak for themselves.  Ripe melons don’t need addition ingredients to taste great.  Nature has done the work for us; all we need to do is transform these great ingredients into something frozen, refreshing and delicious.

To produce a great granita, a few rules must be followed.  First, be diligent about scraping the mix as it freezes!  The finer the shavings, the better the end result.  Second, mixing in 1 pasteurized egg white right before the freezing process will lend an incredible airy texture to the mix when it’s done.  It’s optional, but I think it makes a huge difference.  Last, and probably most important:  Use ripe fruit!  Your food is only as good as the ingredients and when you only have 4 ingredients, 3 of which are basic staples, your primary ingredient better be good.

Watermelon Granita

Prep time:  10 minutes
Inactive cook time:  3 hours
Yield:  About 5 – 6 portions

Ingredients:

1 4lb seedless watermelon, all rind and pith removed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
juice of 1/2 lime
1 ultra pasteurized egg white, lightly beaten

Method:

Place everything except the egg white in a blender and blend until smooth.  Pour out into a deep baking pan, work in the egg white with a fork, and freeze for 1 hour.  Remove from freezer and break up any freezing chunks with a fork.  Return to the freezer.  After a couple more hours, remove from the freezer and scrape/work the mix with a fork to form icy flakes.  Cover tightly and continue to freeze until ready to serve.  Give it one last scraping before serving.

Enjoy,

The Stock Market: Chicken Stock

Many (almost all) of my recipes call for stocks.  And of those stocks, the vast majority are chicken.  Rich chicken stock, homemade chicken stock, reduced chicken stock, brown chicken stock… it all comes down to one very fundamental notion:  You need chicken stock on hand.  Otherwise your sauces, stews, braises, etc will be missing critical flavor and consistency.

Who really makes and stores chicken stock at home?  Who has the time?  Why not just buy a can of swansons and make your life easy?  I agree, that does make your life easy, but the flavor and richness of real chicken stock cannot be replicated with any store bought broths, unless someone starts making and selling the real thing.  Maybe I should start…

Ingredients are easy.  Every time you have chicken bones (even if it’s from a whole roasted chicken), SAVE the bones.  Throw them in a bag, put them in the freezer and store them.  When the time comes to make your stock, you won’t need to purchase chicken bones.  After that, it’s a few aromatics and herbs, and you have everything you need.

Real chicken stock has one crucial ingredient that store bought broth does not:  gelatin.  This is the richness, the savory goodness, the flavor underneath the flavor, the desired component… This can only be derived from cooking the bones for a long time, slowly breaking down the natural collagen, releasing it into your stock.  The air in your kitchen will develop the deep aroma of chicken soup.  When it cools in your fridge, it will solidify and look like geletin.  This is what you want.  When it’s reduced, it will thicken itself.

Making the stock is easy, but it takes time.  In my opinion, if you’re going to make it, make a large batch and freeze most of it in small quantities, so when you need it, you don’t need to defrost the entire batch.  Make it on a rainy day when you feel like spending some time indoors.

A little bit about the actual production:  I like to blanch the bones.  This is an optional step, but it does 1 important thing:  removes the fat and impurities from the bones.  Now they’re clean and devoid of any unwanted particles.   Second, using wings or chicken feet produces the best stocks.  They are higher in collagen than any other part of the bird, and produce the best results.  And third, do not chop your vegetables.  Peel what needs to be peeled and leave them whole.  Broken down vegetables have a tendency to fall apart, and consequently cloud your stock.  You want a very clear and pure finished product.

Chicken Stock

Prep time:  10 minutes
Cook time:  4 – 6 hours
Yield:  2 gallons

Ingredients:

5 lb chicken wings, chicken bones, or chicken feet
1 lb yellow onions, peeled
4 ribs celery
4 carrots, peeled
1/2 bunch fresh thyme
1 tbsp black peppercorns
2 bay leaves

Method:

Blanch the bones (optional, but important).  Place the chicken bones in a large stock pot and barely cover with water.  Bring to a boil, turn heat off and strain the chicken bones.  Rinse the bones well under cold water.  Clean the pot.

Return the bones to the pot and add all other ingredients.  Cover with cold water by about 4 inches.  Bring to a simmer, turn heat to low, and very slowly simmer (a bubble or two every few seconds is perfect).  Continue to cook this way for 4 to 6 hours (the longer the better).  Do not stir or agitate in any way (that will create a cloudy stock).  Strain through a very fine strainer and put on ice to cool rapidly.

Store.

Enjoy.

A very Mexican Steak Marinade

As it is 5 de Mayo, I thought it might be appropriate to post this short blog.  It might have been even more appropriate to have posted this yesterday, but today is 5 de Mayo.  So why not?  it doesn’t need to be 5 de Mayo to make excellent carne asada.  Plus, it’s quick and easy, no hard-to-get ingredients, no elaborate preparations.  Nothing fancy, just big flavor.

Not all Mexicans believe in this marinade, just like not all Americans pour Italian dressing over steak tips prior to grilling.  But some do.  And those that do love it.  I think this has amazing flavor.  It might be a little unexpected, and you might doubt its legitimacy, but I assure you, right now in my fridge, I have carne asada marinading in the following mix:

Mexican Steak Marinade

Prep time:  1 minutes
Inactive Cook time:  Minimum 4 hours, over night is preferred
Yield:  4 portions

Ingredients:

2 lbs thin cut carne asada (skirt steak, sirloin flap or flank steak)
1/2 bunch cilantro
1/2 red onion, thin sliced
1 bottle sunny delight

Method:

Mix everything together and work into the meat.  Seal in a ziplock bag.

When ready to grill, gently pat the meat dry, salt liberally with kosher salt and grill over high heat.

Enjoy.

Sun Dried Tomato Alfredo Sauce with Mushrooms

Normally, alfredo sauce tastes so good because it’s 90% heavy cream, mixed with parmesan cheese, butter

and sometimes an egg.  All heavy ‘fat = flavor’ items, which when combines, produce the rich and creamy alfredo sauce.  Personally, I love alfredo sauce.  But I try to make mine slightly more healthy, once again relying on natural flavors, over heavy fat and rich ingredients.

With alfredo sauce, it’s tough.  But this helps:

Sun dried tomatoes.  Slightly bitter and chewy.  They’re usually thrown in some pasta dish as an after thought to add a splash of red color and tomato ‘essence’.  Do we really like them?  It’s tough to say, but in my opinion, they can come across as somewhat abrasive and unpalatable.   In reality, sun dried are pure tomato flavor.  They need to be cooked/processed correctly.  Simmered in chicken stock and pureed, they become your secret weapon.  Not only is it an explosion of tomato flavor, but it’s also a great thickener.  You won’t need to use as much cream, cheese or any butter, and it will boost the flavor.  Naturally.   

Sun Dried Tomato Alfredo Sauce with portabello mushrooms

Prep time:  5 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Yield:  3 portions

Ingredients:

10 sun dried tomato halves, drained of oil
1 cup heavy cream
2 large portabello mushroom caps, gills cleans, thin sliced
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
kosher salt
cracked black pepper
1/2 cup fresh grated parmesan reggiano cheese

Method:

In a small sauce pot, bring the chicken stock to a boil.  Add the sun dried tomatoes and simmer for 5 minutes.  Turn heat off and let stand for another 5 minutes.  Transfer the whole thing to a blender and puree until smooth.

In a saute pan, begin sauteing the mushrooms in the oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add the heavy cream and bring to a low boil.  Add the tomato puree and continue simmering until slightly thick.  Stir in the cheese. You sauce is now ready.

Best served with penne and grilled chicken.

Enjoy.

Lobster Mac n’ Cheese with Forest Mushrooms

It’s been a while since I posted something truly decedent.  Something luscious.  Something wonderful any time of year.  Recently, the focus has been

on ‘Spring seasonal food’.  And rightfully so.  I love the culinary transition from winter to spring.  It offers so much bright, vibrant and ‘new’ selections.  But sometimes we need more.  We need to splurge.

Lobster Mac n’ Cheese.  What separates mine from others?  Clearly, this is not a new or original idea.  I personally like to keep mine cleaner and simpler than others.  I don’t like the base to be a rich cheese-laden sauce, full of heavy cheeses like tallegio, brie, aged cheddars, gouda, and so on.  Though they are delicious, their naturally strong flavors and heavy consistency mask the sweet and delicate flavor of lobster, and the earthy flavors of forest mushrooms.  I prefer a light cream sauce, sweetened with garlic and shallots and contrasted with a splash of white wine.  The cheese:  high quality parmesan reggiano.  It’s all you need, and after making this, I think you will agree.

Lobster Mac n’ Cheese with Forest Mushrooms

Prep time:  10 minutes
Cook time:  45 minutes
Yield:  4 portions

Ingredients:

1 chick lobster (1.25lb)
1 cup foraged mushrooms (crimini, chantrelle, hedgehod, shitake, oysters, miatake, etc)
1 shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 cups heavy cream, reduced to 1 1/2 cups
1 cup grated parmesan reggiano cheese
1 bunch chives, fine chop
1 lb high quality elbow macaroni, cooked al dente
kosher salt
ground black pepper
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp unsalted butter, cold

Method:

Bring a large pot of salted water to a rapid boil.  Have a bowl of ice water ready.  Submerge the lobster in the boiling water for cook for 5 minutes.  Remove the lobster from the water and submerge it in the ice bath. Cool completely.  Crack the lobster and remove the meat from the claws and tail (make sure to devein the tail).  Save the shells for another time.  Go to youtube for lessons in this.  Rough chop the meat and reserve the claw meat.

Slice the mushrooms.

Bring a small pot of water to a boil.  Salt liberally.

In a medium heavy bottomed saute pan, begin lightly sauteing the mushrooms in the oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  As the mushrooms saute, add the shallots and garlic.  Cook until highly fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the white wine and reduce until almost dry.  Add the cream and bring to a gentle simmer.  Put the cooked pasta and lobster in the boiling water to reheat.  Drain the pasta and add to the saute pan.  Add half the cheese and work in well.  Remove from the heat and swirl in the butter and a small amount of the chives. Spoon the pasta into 4 warm pasta bowls.  Top the bowls with the remainder of the cheese and chives.

Serve right away.

Enjoy.