Category Archives: Seafood

Lobster Mac and Cheese featuring Castello Aged Havarti Cheese

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Food trends are endlessly fascinating to me.  The Tunnel of Fudge Cake was a Pillsbury Bake Off Winner in 1966.  This is a chocolate cake with a molten center of fudge.  Sound familiar?  In the mid 1980s, molten chocolate cake became a staple on every dessert menu.   Items somehow surface, peak and slowly fade. Some fade forever (fondue, anyone?), others just become menu staples, like calamari or spinach artichoke dip.  The New York Times did an excellent article on the trend of food trends.  Of course, being the New York Times, they insisted the most trends start off in metropolitan cities and then spread elsewhere.  If you take the time to read the article and are from Maryland or Louisiana, you will laugh out loud at the idea that crab cakes originated in a metropolitan area.

I mention food trends because somewhere along the way “lobster mac and cheese” became a thing. I find this combination of lobster, pasta and cheese sauce odd.  One, it’s lobster.  Lobster is awesome.  Lobster is perfection with melted, clarified butter.   Why mess with this exquisitely simple recipe? Two, in this era of low carb, gluten free anything, how is this dish even surviving, much less thriving?

From a restaurant’s point of view, I see the appeal.  Charge a premium for mostly a pasta dish with a few chunks of lobster with a cheese sauce.  I regularly see this dish around $20 and marvel at the price of something that is essentially a $2 box of pasta with a few nuggets of lobster and a bechamel sauce.   I’ve tried various incarnations of the dish, as others of my party have ordered it.  Mostly, I seem to miss the “lobster” of the dish.  I taste the cheese and the pasta, but little in the way of lobster.  I would imagine this result explains the general food rule of no cheese with seafood.  The cheese just overwhelms the delicate lobster.

I got to thinking about this dish when I was selected to promote Castello Aged Havarti Cheese. Honestly, when I got this cheese, I really just wanted to eat it as is.  The cheese is really good and has these really interesting crystals dispersed throughout that occur due to aging.  If you look really closely, you can see small sparkles in the cheese.  I’m not professional cheese tester.  Really.  But here’s what I love about this cheese, it’s got real depth.  It’s not one dimensional. Also, the Havarti melts superbly.

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I know this because we’ve used it to stuff jalapenos and make awesome grilled cheese sandwiches.  Plus, it’s a well known fondue cheese.  After tasting the cheese, I decided that it just might be the perfect cheese for lobster mac and cheese.

Creating a recipe with the internet is a bit overwhelming.  You are inundated with ideas. Chefs want to make things so complicated. It can feel like a conspiracy designed to keep people from cooking.  Make easy things ridiculously complicated and discourage people from trying.  In the alternative, you just have some rather, um, interesting ideas.  Why would anyone add Chipotle to lobster mac and cheese?  Why bother putting lobster in the dish if you add that strong spice? Or bacon? Again, lobster isn’t really supposed to have competition. So, I got my inspiration from one of my favorite lobster dishes:  lobster bisque.  Velvety smooth, rich, creamy and most of all, lobster-y.

This dish is everything you want in comfort food:  rich, thick and sinful.  It combines the best of lobster bisque and macaroni and cheese.  You will not be disappointed!

Note: To make the lobster broth, save the lobster shells and simmer them in water as you are making the pasta. Super easy, but key to this dish.  Without this touch of broth, the lobster taste can be overwhelmed by the rich and cheesy sauce.

Lobster Mac and Cheese
Serves: A Crowd

Salt, to taste
12 oz. hollow pasta, preferably elbow macaroni
4 tbsp. unsalted butter
¼ cup flour
4 cups milk
11 oz. grated Castello Aged Havarti (about 4 cups), divided
8 oz. mascarpone (about 1 cup)
3 tbsp. lobster or fish broth
3 tbsp. Dry Sherry
1 tsp. hot sauce
¼ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
8 oz. cooked lobster meat, cut into 1″ chunks

Heat oven to 375° fahrenheit. Spray 9×13″ baking pan with cooking spray, set aside.

Cook pasta in salted, boiling water for half of the recommended cooking time (about 3 minutes). Drain and set aside.

Melt butter in a heavy bottomed, 4 quart saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and whisk constantly until smooth. Add milk, and whisk often, until sauce has thickened and coats the back of a spoon. About 10 minutes. Remove pan from heat and stir in 2 cups Castello Aged Havarti, along with the mascarpone, broth, sherry, hot sauce, and nutmeg. Adjust seasoning as needed with salt and pepper. Add reserved pasta to cheese sauce. Stir in half of the lobster.

Pour mixture to the 9″ x 13″ baking dish and sprinkle with remaining Havarti. Bake until golden brown and bubbly, about 30 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes. Garnish with remaining lobster.

Inspired by a recipe found in Saveur.

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Tuna Salad

 

 

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I’m not a tuna fan.  Opening a can of tuna is one of my least favorite things to do in the kitchen.  My husband, however, is a huge fan.  HUGE.   We have very different tastes, to put it mildly.  One day he came home with tuna salad from the Whole Foods deli.  He remarked about how amazing it was and how I should try it.  I did.  For tuna salad, it was pretty good.  Then I saw the price.

$10,99 a pound.  Seriously!?!?  Are there gold flakes in it?  I pay less for steak! That’s right, you can go to the meat counter and get a nice steak for less money.  And I’m paying more for tinned tuna?  Consider the gauntlet thrown.  Can I make this cheaper?  Yes, I can! Even using dolphin safe, pole caught, made in America tuna. Although, this recipe would be much, much cheaper using less expensive tuna.  Not that I would.  I’m all for made in America.

First, I had to deconstruct the Whole Foods salad.  Corporate espionage, if you will.  The tuna was definitely higher end, and the salad was studded with olives.  Where go olives, there are usually capers.  The usual suspects of onion and celery were there in the salad as well.  Seriously, this was no big deal.  And, I got to customize it.  My husband likes a wet salad, so I added lemon.  I also added garlic powder.  I’m not a fan of biting into raw garlic.  Finish the whole thing off with some mayo, salt and pepper, and….. mission accomplished!

These measurements are relative.  It’s not like you can really mess this salad up.  If you like more onion or celery, by all means you more!

Tuna Salad
Makes about 2-3 Servings

2 5 ounce tins of tuna, drained
1/2 stalk celery, chopped fine
1/4 onion, chopped fine
1/4 cup olives, medium chop
1 tablespoon capers, drained
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/3-1/2 cup of mayonnaise (to taste)
Salt and Pepper to taste

Combine the tuna, celery, onion, olives, capers and garlic powder in a bowl. Break up the chunks of tuna if they are too large.  Add mayonnaise until you reach your preferred consistency. Sample the salad and salt and pepper to taste.

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Sardines

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This post was a really hard one to do.  Look at those pictures.  Sardines are not really “photogenic”.  However, they are incredibly delicious.  And SOOO simple to make.   I was walking through my local Whole Foods and came across fresh sardines.  $5.99 a pound.  For wild caught, fresh fish.   So, I bought a half a pound and figured why not?  They are incredibly heart healthy, they’ll cook quick for a weeknight appetizer splurge, and it’s about $3.00. I’ll take a chance for $3.

Marinated them in olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper and thyme.  Threw them on a screaming hot grill pan.  At 20 degrees outside, I thought it was a touch cold.  After the thick smoke abated from my “open concept kitchen/dining room/living room”, I decided next time they would cook on the grill.  A scant few minutes later, we had an amazing appetizer.  They were gone in seconds.  To say that tasted amazing would be an understatement.  Again, didn’t look like much, but tasted great.

I was inspired by this recipe and the author’s incredible photos.  While I should have probably left the fish whole for picture purposes, I’m pretty sure the kids wouldn’t have eaten them with the “guts”.

As this is a fish recipe, please be careful to avoid eating the bones. Sardines have bones, and lots of them. Bones can pose a choking hazard.

Grilled Fresh Sardines
Prep Time: 1 hour (marinating)
Cook Time: about 6 minutes

¼ cup olive oil
½ teaspoon fresh thyme
2 cloves of garlic, minced
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
½ pound sardines, cleaned, tails and heads intact.
finishing salt
lemon wedges to serve

Place the first 5 ingredients in a container and mix together well. Place sardines in container and marinate in the refrigerator for an hour.

Heat grill or grill pan moderately hot. If using grill, these fish are small, use a basket or some other device that won’t allow the fish to go through the grates. Place fish on grill, cooking on each side for about 3 minutes,  until done. Remove from grill, sprinkle with a bit of finishing salt (large crystal salt) and serve with a lemon wedge. Best eaten with hands, picking the fish from the bones. As with any fish, be careful with the bones!

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New England Clam Chowder

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As a kid I LOVED Campbell’s New England Clam Chowder.   As I began cooking more for myself, there’s no comparison between canned soup and homemade.  Gumbo is the biggest example of this disparity.  Canned gumbo and actual gumbo are two entirely different species.  Would homemade New England Clam Chowder be that much better?  I had to find out.

I also vividly remember the moment when I, as a child,  ordered Clam Chowder at a restaurant and something very much not New England Clam Chowder was put in front of me:  Manhattan clam chowder.    For the longest time, I just thought it was me who found the Manhattan version awful.  When searching for a recipe to try for New England Clam Chowder, I came across James Beard’s opinion on the Manhattan Version.  In his introduction to Miss Farmer’s Recipe for Rhode Island Clam Chowder his American Cookery:

This is the closest bridge I have found to that rather horrendous soup called Manhattan clam chowder.  It is a sensible recipe and takes away the curse of the other, which resembles a vegetable soup that accidentally had some clams dumped in it.

Pretty much sums up my feelings on the non-New England version.

Now, I am usually all about using the traditional old recipes.  But in this case, a slightly more modern version ended up being more simple and easily done.  Traditional clam chowder has the following narrative:

Cook clams, chop clams, reserve cooking liquid.  Render fat from salt pork, sauté onions in salt pork fat.  Parboil potatoes for 5 minutes.  Arrange onions in the bottom of a heavy sauce pan and top with a layer of half of the potatoes.  Add the salt pork pieces, chopped clams, second layer of potatoes and salt and peppers.  Cover with boiling water and cook.  Add scaled milk, bring to a boil, add crackers soaked in milk and the reserved clam liquid.  Lastly, add a bit of flour and butter that have been kneaded together, return to the boiling point and serve.

You can find the above version in Fannie Farmer and other famous New England cookbooks.  I agree with James Beard that it appears this recipe allows the clams to cook for too long.  Plus, I would worry the onions would burn.  I’m sure they wouldn’t, but didn’t see the point of testing it out.

So, I came across a little recipe in Beard’s American Cookery that seemed easy, yet captured the spirit of the New England Clam Chowder.  As a plus, it is cracker (and gluten) free!  As an extra bonus, this recipe is shockingly cheaply made.  At Whole Foods, I grabbed a pound of frozen clam meat for $6.99.   Heavy Cream was an additional $4.99 for a quart (I don’t use it all), add a couple of potatoes, an onion, few stalks of celery, and a few strips of bacon and you are good to go!    The recipe below was inspired by Beard’s “My favorite Clam Chowder” recipe from American Cookery.  The family loved it and I’ll never eat canned chowder again.  It was really, really good!! It also makes a great weeknight dinner!

New England Clam Chowder
Serves 4
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes

3 slices of thick slab bacon
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 stalks of celery, finely chopped
2 cups of water, salted
2 medium potatoes, thinly sliced
Salt and Pepper
1 pound frozen clam meat with frozen clam juice (or cooked clam meat with juice)
3cups heavy cream (may substitute half and half)
Butter
Thyme
Chopped parsley

Cook the bacon in a sauté pan over medium heat, until fat is rendered and bacon is crisp. Remove bacon and add the onion and celery and sauté until translucent, or just slightly brown and remove from heat. In a 4 quart sauce pan, bring the salted water to a boil. Add the potatoes, cooking until just tender. Add the bacon, onion, celery, salt and pepper to taste, and the clams and heavy cream, simmering until the clams are no longer frozen. Bring to a boil and remove from the heat. Correct the seasoning. According to Mr. Beard, serve with a “dollop of butter, merest pinch of thyme, and a bit of chopped parsley”.

Clam Chowder

Clam Chowder

Lobster Newburg

Lobster NewburgWe have a small football pool in our house.  We pick for winners only.  The winner of the weekly pool gets to pick either a special dinner or a special dessert.  My kids, being rather awesome.  They “saved” their wins and pooled them so they got a special dinner and dessert on the same night.

Now, my kids don’t eat the same, at all.  I never thought in a million years they would agree on anything dinner-wise.  So, imagine my surprise when they did.  Want to guess what they picked?  Lobster.  Yup.  One’s never had it, but wanted to try it.  The other one has had it once.

Lobster.

At the same time, I haven’t really done a historical recipe for a while.   So, the first one that came to mind was Lobster Newburg (or Newberg).  What’s not to love?  Lobster, cream, sherry, some kind of wonderful bread.  Sheer Nirvana.  I could eat a sherry cream sauce everyday.  Love it.

But, the kids didn’t want a “recipe”, they wanted plain lobster with butter.   So, two of the lobsters were steamed “plain” and two were turned into Newburg.  For dessert, they requested a banana split.  Odd pairing, but given it’s ease to make, I’ll take it!!

Lobster Newburg has a fascinating story, depending on which one you believe, if any of them.  The dish originated in the late 1800s in America, believe it or not!   All renditions of the origin story are tied to Delmonico’s, a very famous restaurant in New York City at the time.  One version has a French chef departing Delmonico’s to open an inn in Pennsylvania.  He wanted to serve very continental cuisine and came up with Lobster Newberg to serve at the Hotel Fauchere in Millford, Pennsylvania.

The traditional story is a bit more colorful.  Ben Wenburg was an avid traveler, successful businessman, and reliably regular customer at Delmonico’s.  To boot, he was a favorite diner of Delmonico’s owner, Charles Delmonico.  One version has Ben swooping in and, with great showmanship,  making his new favorite dish over a chafing dish in the middle of the dining room and serving it to Delmonico.  Delmonico loved the dish and added it to the menu, naming it Lobster Wenburg.  Delmonico and Wenburg subsequently had a falling out and the item was removed from the menu.  However, as it’s delicious, there was a great cry to bring it back.  So, the Delmonico transposed the W and the N and renaming Lobster “Newburg”.  Other versions have the Delmonico naming the dish in honor of Wenburg, and Wenburg politely declining to have his name on the menu.  Wenburg then suggests the N and W swap to disguise his name.

No matter what the story, the dish was an amazing success.  When you see how simple this is, you will be amazed. It is an awesome romantic dinner. You know, when the kids are eating their steamed lobsters next to you and everything.  Ah, romance.

Lobster Newburg
Serves 2-3

1 sheet of Puff Pastry, divided
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3 egg yolks, beaten well
3 Cups Cooked Lobster Meat*
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon sherry

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Place pastry on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the pastry has risen and is golden.

While the pastry is cooking, turn your attention to the sauce. Ok, you may want to use a double boiler if you are skittish about heating a high fat milk product, but if you promise to use a heavy bottomed pan and cook the cream over medium low heat, you may be fine. I was. I hate using a double boiler, too many pans!  Slowly heat the cream in a larger sauce pan, stirring frequently, but don’t let it boil. When it is moderately hot (like hot chocolate hot), temper the egg yolks (add a tiny bit of the hot cream to the yolks incrementally until the yolks are rather warm), and add the yolks back to the cream. Return the pan to the heat and allow to simmer gently, again with frequent stirring. Add the lobster to the pan and continue to cook until the lobster is warmed through, about 5 minutes. Add the butter and sherry and stir until the butter is melted, about 1 minute. Serve over puff pastry (can also use rice or toast made from great French bread).

Wasn’t that easy?

*You can have your market steam your lobster. You can boil the lobster yourself in a deep kettle of boiling water for 5 minutes for the first pound, and 3 minutes for each additional pound until the lobsters are done. You can steam the lobsters until they are a bright red. However you cook your lobsters, you just need to shell them afterwards. As a Marylander and a voracious crab eater, picking lobsters is a walk in the park compared to crabs. This step should not be a deterrent!!

Dead Lobster Walking So Red!! Puff Pastry

Smørrebrød- Shrimp

smørrebrød shrimpI have more than a few close friends that don’t eat chicken, beef, pork, etc.  They confine their meat sources to seafood, for health and ethical reasons.   On the other hand, husband is an unabashed carnivore.   So, this blog won’t veer too far from animal meat sources.  However, every once in a while, I will come across an awesome sounding recipe and make a seafood dish as tribute to my wonderful seafood eating friends.  When research items for my smørrebrød post, I came across this pretty amazing version of the Danish open faced sandwich and couldn’t resist giving it a go.

If you are looking for an easy appetizer, or luncheon dish, this is it.  It’s pretty much just assembly.  No real work of any consequence, yet you end up with a very high impact dish.  This is a fairly minimal, clean dish and the flavors work very well together.  While the look is amazing, the taste is not overly complicated.  Some of my taste testers preferred a pinch of salt added to the sandwich, so you may want to consider that as a finishing touch.

This recipe is inspired by a recipe I found on Epicurious.

Shrimp Smørrebrød
Makes 8 Sandwiches

1/4 cup chilled heavy cream
1/4 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons drained bottled horseradish
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
8 slices rye bread
2 firm-ripe California avocados
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
8 leaves Boston lettuce, rinsed and dried
1 pound large-jumbo shrimp (16), steamed, peeled, chilled and deveined
Cut Chives
1 1/2 tablespoons drained bottled capers

In a mixing bowl, whip heavy cream to soft peaks. Add sour cream and horseradish and whip until stiff. Set aside.

Cut the crust off of the rye bread and make uniform squares or rectangles. Generously butter bread. Set aside on serving plate.

Peel and slice avocados, place in a bowl and toss with lemon juice until thoroughly covered. Set aside.

Place a lettuce leaf on each piece of buttered bread. Layer avocado, shrimp, cream, chives and capers on each sandwich. Serve.

Hot Crab Dip

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I live in Maryland.  We love our blue crab here.  When our beloved Ravens were in the Superbowl hunt, crab was scarce because everyone was making hot crab dip for the big game.

Seriously.

You think I’m exaggerating? During the playoffs, I ventured to 4 different stores to find lump crab meat on game day, and STILL came up empty.  I totally learned my lesson and bought some earlier in the week for the next game.  Hot crab dip is like buffalo wings here.

Everyone has their own recipe they make at home, but one thing you’ll find is that generally, people are unhappy with restaurant dip.  It’s mostly “filler”,  with too much cheese or mayonnaise.  Nary a “jumbo lump” to be found.  Disappointing.  I realize crab can be expensive.  Around here, crab goes for $16 to an eye popping $44 a pound.  But, when you are paying $14 for a very shallow bowl of dip, you should be able to identify a few chunks of crab!

My recipe is a bit different from others.  I don’t like green or red peppers in my dip.  Peppers, to me, are overwhelming, especially to the sweet and delicate crab meat.  I also don’t like cheddar cheese.  You can sub the Monterey Jack cheese I use in the recipe below if you prefer cheddar, but the reason I don’t use cheddar is that it’s not a smooth melting cheese and tends to clump together.  Especially as the dip cools. When you dip a cracker in a hot dip that uses cheddar, you sometimes get an unsightly mass of cheddar cheese.  Not ideal. Also, and this is a pearl-clutching statement for a Marylander, so brace yourself: I don’t like Old Bay. It’s just too much. To me, it ruins everything it touches. Old Bay is a bold and aggressive seasoning that lacks sophistication, especially for a very subtle dish like crab dip. I realize what I’ve uttered is heresy in these parts. I’m ok with it.

I also used pasteurized crab meat in this dish. I know, gasp! Look, I could spend 1/2 an hour picking through meat looking for shells. Or, not. Pasteurized meat tends to not have shell in it (you still need to be careful with it, as you do get a few), but some think it has a slightly off flavor. There’s so much spice and flavor in this dish, the pasteurized crab won’t make a difference. Now, were this a no filler type crab cake or a cold crab dish, I probably wouldn’t use it. I don’t really taste much of a difference between pasteurized and fresh crab meat, honestly. Let me clarify that I mean pasteurized crab. It’s usually right next to the fresh crab. Not canned crab. I’ve never used that, so I can’t comment on it.

My perfect crab dip is creamy, loaded with crab, with a touch of spice hitting at the end.   A completely ultra lux experience.  So, in my dip I have mayonnaise and, optionally, cream cheese.  I made two versions of this.  One was slightly runny, but excellent.  The other was thick and creamy and also excellent.   I went with thick.  The only difference is the addition of the cream cheese.  If you don’t want an extra thick dip (or don’t have cream cheese handy), leave it out.

Hot Crab Dip
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Serves a large crowd

3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 cup Monterey Jack cheese
2 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup shallots, diced fine (may substitute onions)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon hot sauce (more if you like it spicy!)
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature (optional)
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1 pound jumbo lump crab meat, picked for shells
Crackers or toast points

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

Combine all the ingredients in a baking dish except the crab and crackers. After the mayonnaise mixture is thoroughly combined, gently fold the crab meat into the mixture. This preserves the “jumbo lump” you paid for. Bake until bubbly, about 40 minutes. Serve with crackers or toast points.

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