Thursday, November 13, 2008

Lobsters, Lobsters Everywhere!

Did you know that lobster prices have gone down 25% since last year? Neither did I! Then my friend, JW, visited the office the other day and told me she has been eating nothing but lobster for weeks because it's so cheap. A quick google search revealed that not only was she right, but that I was way late to the lobster party!

Back in September, the New York Times covered the falling lobster prices. They explained that this has happened because lobster is a luxury item and in times of financial duress (ie. major world wide financial crisis) people just don't eat lobster. They also mentioned that "lobster fishermen are hauling in larger catches than ever" which means we have tons of lobster that need eating!

JR is completely and totally responsible for introducing me to lobster. I hadn't cracked a lobster shell until July 4th, 2004 when I spent my first weekend away with JR's whole family. The weekend before, he and I were hanging out in Ashford, and I mentioned I had never eaten lobster before. JR took this as permission to call his parents (who I had met MAYBE 4 times) and say "Karen wants lobster for the 4th of July, can we have it?" I was horrified!

I learned later that lobster on the 4th was a tradition and this wasn't really a big deal, but boy was I mad at him! In any case, over the course of the last few years I have watched numerous lobster dinners come together in New Hampshire. Occasionally, if we are lucky, JR's dad makes his famous baked stuffed lobster, but for the most part we have straight up steamed lobster which is nothing to cry about.

Seeing all these amazing dinners come together gave me the confidence to make a lobster dinner while on our honeymoon last summer. You know what? It really wasn't that big of a deal, it's a lot easier than I expected. So if you have been intimidated by the price of lobster in the past, now is the time to give it shot, because it's cheap!

Baked stuffed lobster is a beast all on it's own, if you are a first time lobster cooker, I recommend just steaming it. The first step to making lobster is making friends with your lobsters. They are really amazing creatures, so when you get home from buying them at the store, make sure you take some time to play with them and take photos of them. Then put them in the fridge until you are ready to start cooking.

When it's time to begin, get the biggest pot you can and a steamer basket. We are lucky because JR's parents actually have a lobster pot, but I am sure any very large pot will do. Add some water to the bottom and bring it to a boil and then place the lobsters in the steamer and lower them into the pot and cover it up. They don't scream or do anything horrible, they just take a nice steam bath. (I say that, but it's NEVER my job to put them in the pot.)

After about 15 minutes, peak in. You know they are done when they turn BRIGHT red. If you can believe it, when they are alive they are kind of a dull dark red, but when cooked they are almost fluorescent. Then comes the part where we are never sure exactly what to do. You have to cut them open. So get the biggest knife you have, and cut them straight down the belly.

I choose to clean out any gunk that is still in there, but some (like my uncle, MD) swear that is the best part. All that left is to grab some lobster (or nut) crackers and start breaking out that meat. Don't forget a plate for all the broken shells and some butter to dip the meat in, then go to town and enjoy!

Bottom line, lobsters are cheap right now. If you have stayed away because you are scared of them or think they are to expense, you don't have any excuses. Go out an get a couple of these beauties and give them a shot!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Stupid Simple Thanksgiving Dinner

It's November, it's dark and cold outside, and there are leaves all over the sidewalk crunching under my feet as I walk to work. As a result, in the middle of last week I started craving Thanksgiving dinner. I wanted mounded forkfuls of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and gravy carefully put together so that each bite had a little bit of everything.

The thing is, the REAL Thanksgiving is only a couple weeks away, and pulling together a turkey dinner in true Thanksgiving style takes time. So much time, that I can't quite convince myself to spend a Sunday, two weeks before the real deal, whipping up a Thanksgiving dinner for the two of us.

So I improvised and came up with my newest favorite weeknight meal - the Stupid Simple Thanksgiving Dinner. It was the easiest, most delicious, craving-curing meal I have had in awhile.

First, I ran over to Whole Foods and picked up a rotisserie chicken. I know it's not turkey, but it's close enough and super easy on a Monday night. Then I got some Stove Top stuffing. Do remember the Stove Top stuff commercial from the 80's? The one where the two kids do dinner twice just so they can have more Stove Top?

Well let me tell you, that commercial completely worked on me as a kid and I still think Stove Top is great. Not in a, make it for the real Thanksgiving kinda-way, but definitely in a Stupid Simple Thanksgiving Dinner kinda-way!

I threw some acorn squash in the microwave, steamed up some green beans and opened can of cranberry sauce (actually two cans, the chunky kind for me and the jelly kind for JR) and honestly I couldn't have been happier. The whole meal took maybe 15 minutes to pull together, looked beautiful (see the photos above) and it will hold me off for a couple of weeks until I can celebrate the real deal with my family.

Homecoming Meals & Thanksgiving Tryouts

My girl KF moved to Alaska not long after we finished college. She and her husband were supposed to be there 1 year and it has been much longer than that! Which means when she comes to CT to visit, it's a special occasion that I mark on my calendar and nothing gets between me and heading home to see her.

KF and I stumbled through our first cooking-to-live experiences together when we were living in Germany during our junior year of college. It's a stretch to say we were great cooks, in fact, I think we bordered on awful. At the time I blamed it on bad kitchen gear (we were using a shared dorm kitchen) and unfamiliar grocery stores, but the fact of the matter was, we had no idea what we were doing.

We did survive, mostly on pasta with frozen vegetables, salads, cereal and an occasional burger, but I think it's fair to say my cooking has improved since then. So when KF came to visit last weekend for the first time since my wedding (more than a year ago) I decided to cook her some favorites and show her how much I have improved.

Since the dinner was at my parents house, Mom and I collaborated on the menu. We planned balsamic braised cipolline onions, steaks, potato fries, salad and crunchy baked fennel. Both the cipolline onions and the fennel casserole are Food & Wine Thanksgiving specials that we were testing for Thanksgiving this year.

Jared and I headed down Saturday afternoon and Mom and I got to cooking. I haven't cooked a lot with fennel, but I like the taste of it and want to start cooking more with it, so I was excited about the experiment. The end result was good, I should have listened to the instructions and used 10 fennel bulbs (I used 6 - it looked like so much) but the flavor and crunchiness was perfect. It's a definite yes for Turkey Day.

The onions, which I had made a couple of times before, were like candy. Each tiny little onion is pillow of bliss for your to bite into. It's creamy and sweet and just melts in your mouth. They went with the steak perfectly, but they did not make the Thanksgiving day menu purely because of the time and effort it takes to peel each little onion. If you are having a small dinner, these would be a perfect addition, but for group of more than 6, this recipe is a daunting task.

As always getting to spend time with KF made me realize how much I miss her. I am constantly coming up with schemes to convince her to move back here. (For example, we are going to move our husbands to Vermont to start up a goat cheese farm just as soon as they move home.) In the mean time, I'll continue to save my weekends in Ashford to spend with her when she visits, and hope to persuade her with my much improved cooking.

If you need an additional vegetable dish for a crowd, here is the Crunchy Fennel Casserole Recipe.

If you are looking for something decadent for a smaller group, here is the recipe for the

Balsamic Braised Cipolline Onions


2lbs cipolline onions (these are the small red and white ones, small boiling onions work as well)
1 1/2 cups fat-free low sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup dry red wine
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1t brown sugar
3T heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup dried cranberries (or fresh pomegranate seeds if you are feeling decadent)
olive oil


Fill your large soup pot half with water and put over high heat. Once boiling, blanch the onions in the boiling water for 1 minute. Remove them from the boiling water and immediately submerge them in cold water.

Cut off the two ends of each onion, and peel them leaving the core intact. This should be really easy because you have blanched them already.

Heat a dollop of oil in the same pot you blanched them in, and add the onions. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and sauté until brown on both sides.

Add chicken broth, red wine, balsamic vinegar and brown sugar. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and let simmer for 15 minutes.

Turn up the heat and increase the boil until the onions are soft and the liquid is thickened, stirring frequently.

Add the heavy whipping cream and dried cranberries, simmer until the sauce coats the onions. (If you are using pomegranate seeds, add them right after you have turned the heat off.)

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Recipes to Drool Over

I have a couple foodie blogs that I love. I am frequently drooling over their recipes and photos, wishing I could cook as beautifully and that I could take such amazing photos. Last week I came across this recipe for Seasonal Stuffed Peppers on Straight from the Farm. I think I save every other recipe she posts, but this one spurred me to action and I made it the very next day.

However, since I do try to be semi-unique on my blog and not just re-write all the recipes other bloggers post, I am not posting this recipe, but I still highly recommend it. Since I save at least one recipe a day to try later, I thought it would be fun to add one of HubSpot's latest tools - a web voter - to Gormandizing and let all my faithful readers vote on what sounds the best.

You can check out the recipes I am reading and loving in the new Recipes to Drool Over section! Click the up arrow to let me know you think something sounds good, add a comment if you want me to make it when you come over, or push something down if you don't like the sound. I can't wait to hear your thoughts!

The time of year for soup recipes!

I never liked soup when I was young, and I still don't like soup out of a can, but when the weather turns chilly and fall is in the air I don't hesitate to start breaking out my soup recipes. This winter I am sure I will share many with you, but the first is a brand new recipe from AF, my sister.

I have been searching for the perfect butternut squash soup recipe for a couple years now. There was a lunch place near my first job in NY that had a butternut squash and apple soup that I ate every day for a year. I have tried to recreate it, but I always find my attempts to be bland and lacking in inspiration.

This year AF had me drooling with jealously over the amazing garden she was able to plant at her new home in Royersford, PA. A couple of weeks ago when she was up visiting, she brought me two beautiful butternut squashes and a recipe for Smoked Sausage, Butternut Squash and Wild Rice soup.

I have to admit I was hesitant at first, the idea of sausage in soup is not something that thrilled me. I waited for my mother to give it a shot first, and when both she and my sister raved about it, I decided to try it out. As I was making it, I was still skeptical about a soup that had almost no spices in it! What is butternut squash soup without cinnamon and nutmeg?

As the soup started to bubble in the pot I took a taste and was blown away. How could such a simple soup have so many flavors and textures? You could taste the smoky spiciness of the sausage and the vegetables and rice combined to give the soup an amazing heartiness. It was everything my other butternut squash soups have not been, inspirational.

Smoked Sausage, Butternut Squash and Wild Rice Soup

2 medium butternut squashes - peeled, seeded and cut into 1 inch chunks
2 T olive oil
salt & pepper
12 cups chicken stock
2 1/2 cups chopped wild rice
1 box instant wild rice
3/4 pounds sausage - kielbasa, turkey kielbasa, jalapeno chicken sausage, chicken apple sausage, anything that inspires you
2 cups frozen corn
1 1/2 cups half-and-half (I didn't have this, so I used skim milk, it worked fine)
1T chopped parsley (I think I used 4 times this, you can never have too much fresh parsley!)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss squash with 1T olive oil and some salt and pepper. Layout on flat baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes or until tender.

2. Remove the squash from the oven, allow to cool for a few minutes and then throw into the food processor with 2 cups of chicken stock and 1 cup of onions. You might have to do this in batches depending on the size of your food processor.

3. In a saucepan, cook the wild rice according to the instructions on the box except replace the water with chicken stock. Put to the side.

4. In a large dutch oven (a really big saucepan, perfect for making soups) add some olive oil and brown the sausage for 3 minutes. Add the remaining onions and the corn, season with salt and pepper and saute for 3 minutes.

5. To the soup pot, add 6 cups of stock and the squash puree. Stir well and allow to come to a boil. Reduce heat an simmer for 20 minutes.

6. Skim off any fat that rises to the surface (I used chicken sausage and there was almost none, but I expect if you use real sausage there is more.) Stir in the rice and continue to cook for 10 minutes.

7. Remove from heat, add half-and-half and season with salt and pepper. Stir in parsley and serve.