Sunday, April 22, 2012

Lobster Canapes

My husband's church had scheduled one of its small potluck dinners for Friday. These gatherings feature about eight to twelve people, singles and couples, gays and straights, who try to get together once a month for dinner. They are usually extremely interesting and the food is always great. Of course, you know where I am going with this. They are an opportunity to serve shellfish. I had been hearing about it for a couple of weeks, but it was unclear what we were supposed to bring. Each household unit is assigned either salad, dessert, hors d'oeuvres, veggie or starch. The hosts cook the main course.
Various possibilities crossed my mind. If dessert wasn't taken, I could make the last non Passover cheesecake. I could make a cabbage salad. Finally, Tuesday or Wednesday, my husband told me it was hors d'oeuvres. Ah ha, thought I. Lobster canapes.
I seem to run hot and cold with this project. Some months I am full of energy and crank out many dishes. Other months, I couldn't care less. Well, this month, I caught a spurtof energy after the two dinner parties, and am now mentally trying to figure out where and when I could make and serve various dishes.
 On Thursday, my husband volunteered to go buy the lobster at the Fishery, our local seafood store on Connecticut Avenue. True to form, the employee tried to sell him two lobsters, even though he said  firmly he only needed a cup and a half of lobster meat. When he realized that two lobsters would cost $88, he said no, one lobster, and the guy picked out what must have been the largest lobster in the tank, a gigantic, alien looking creature so big it was hard to pick up.
My husband took the thing home and deposited it in the refrigerator, where it remained alive until around 10:00 pm, when I came staggering up bleary-eyed from the basement, having attempted to write my comments for the third advisory and failed in the attempt. I put my largest pot on the stove and began to boil water to cook the thing. After about 15 minutes of The Big Bang Theory, a show on Comedy Central about a bunch of scientists who live together, the water was boiling and I went to deposit lobster into the pot.
It was still alive, waving its tentacles and moving its beady little eyes around. I guess I would rather drop a living being into boiling water than stab it to death and watch it flail about in its death throws, but it's not my favorite activity.
Lobster went into the pot reasonably compliantly, not reaching out to grab the sides of the pot as my first lobster did. That lobster also crawled around the floor of the kitchen. I dredged it out after 15 minutes more of socially dysfunctional scientists, and put it in the sink to run cold water on it, which Joy of Cooking says retards the cooking process. Joy says to cook the average lobster for 20 minutes. Boil it for five, and then simmer it for 15. Good old New York Times Heritage Cookbook just assumes you know this stuff.
Then I went to bed, after sticking the wet cooked lobster onto a platter in the refrigerator.
At 5:30 the next morning, I was up and prepared to deal with the lobster. I get up at 5:00 am most days to write lesson plans for the daily read aloud, or concoct phonics lessons for the aw sound or whathaveyou. Friday, I kept my pyjamas on in order to deal with the lobster and not get lobster juice all over my school clothes.
This lobster was a tough old thing, at least his shell was. I had to smack it many times with the meat mallet to crack the claws. Finally the meat was deposited in a container and placed in the refrigerator, and the lobster shell was dispatched to the alley. (Do not just chuck your lobster shells in your trash can and wait until it fills up. Lobster shells stink.) Then I went to work.
At lunchtime, I had planned to run out and get both Parmesan cheese, which I needed and sherry. Then, I realized I left my purse upstairs. I did have $10 in my pocket, enough to get the Parmesan cheese, but not the sherry. I actually drink sherry, a legacy of my trip to Europe in 1973 when I spent a lot of time in bars drinking sherry and eating free tapas. So I wasn't going to get cooking sherry. I drink Dry Sack, which costs around $20 a bottle.
I left school at 5:00 pm and, after eluding the truly amazing traffic on 11th Street, got home around 5:45. The hosts of the potluck had left precise instructions that the person with the hors d'oeurves was to be there at 7:00. One of the other guests was picking me up at 6:30. I deposited the dog outside and informed him I would be unable to walk him and began to mix everything up and put all the other hors d'oeurves in a shopping bag.  While lobster anything sounds grand, it is not difficult, and I had everything ready by 6:15 so I had time to call the stable about the horse who is lame.
At the potluck, a truly wonderful 1911 house in Adams Morgan, I put the lobster mix on the toast bits and slid them into the oven. There was enough for a second round, but I just kept it in its bowl. The guests raved about the canapes and ate them all up.   When we got home around 10:30 son, daughter in law, daughter, and daughter's friend Bethany were all there having a cookout. They ate the rest of the canapes, especially prepared for them.
When I asked my son if they would like left over lobster, he made claws and did a lobster dance.

Lobster Canapes

3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg yolk
3 tablespoons dry sherry
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 cups cooked lobster meat, finely chopped
48 one-and-one-half-inch to two-inch rounds toasted bread (These can be bought at Whole Foods and are called mini toasts.)

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
2. Cream the butter and cheese together. Stir in the egg yolk, sherry, cayenne, and Worcestershire sauce. Add the lobster and mix well.
3. Place a spoonful of the lobster mixture on each toast round. Place on a baking sheet and bake five minutes.  Makes 48.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

French Silk Chocolate Pie

On Sunday, Tavis and Conrad, two of my daughter's friends, came to dinner along with Tavis's parents and his sister and my son and his wife. So we spent most of Sunday unloading and reloading the dishwasher and setting the table. Daughter leafed through the cookbook to find an acceptable dessert recipe and selected this one from Oklahoma.
One should banish any idea of the pioneer families eating this pie. There's no making it without an electric mixer. It would be impossible. More think of oilmen's wives of the 60s serving it at their Oklanhoma City dinner parties. Daughter is allergic to gluten, so I had to return to Whole Foods to buy a gluten free pie crust. I've got to hand it to Whole Foods. They have gluten free everything. Pasta, cookies, pizza, you name it. What they don't have is Baker's Chocolate. Grrr. I scoured the baking aisle, looking for the stuff or its whole foodish approximation. No. I finally asked a worker, who sent me to "Specialty."
"Specialty" is a huge counter right where you come into the store where they have fancy cheeses, the kind wrapped in straw or served in little crocks. They also have chocolate. The young man directed me to a display of chocolate cut into large chunks. I said I would really like it in a box, since I didn't have a scale to measure it with. He sent me to a display of high end, ethically sourced, movie star produced candy bars. So I bought two dark chocolate candy bars and went home muttering imprecations about a store that is so fancy it does not sell anything normal.
My husband warned me when I got home that dark chocolate does not mean unsweetened chocolate. So I used the three ounces of Baker's Semi sweetened Chocolate that we had in the cupboard, and about a third of a dark chocolate bar and cut the sugar in half. It worked fine. If you let the butter soften on the top of the stove, it creams better with the sugar.
This pie is somewhat time consuming as it requires the cook to beat each egg into the melted chocolate for five minutes. That's a grand total of 20 minutes spent moving an electric mixer around a bowl. It was worth it, though. You will note that the eggs are not cooked. I don't know what to say. We ate the pie 24 hours ago, and no one is complaining. You will have to make up your own mind about the wisdom of eating raw eggs.
The end product is really delicious. I spent the whole 20 minutes of beating moving my finger around the edge of the bowl to catch and eat splatters. That was all the pie I got because it served 8 and we were 10 at dinner, so my husband and I nobly refused. Everyone seemed to like it.

French Silk Chocolate Pie

1 cup butter
1 1/2 cup sugar
4 ounces (four squares) unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 eggs
1 baked nine-inch pie shell, cooled
whipped cream

1. Beat the butter with the sugar until very well blended. Mixture should be smooth, fluffy and pale yellow.
2. Blend in the chocolate and vanilla.
3. Using an electric mixer at medium speed, beat in the eggs, one at a time, taking five minutes to incorporate each.
4. Turn the mixture into the pie shell and chill several hours. Decorate with whipped cream before serving.
Makes eight servings.

Curried Avocado Soup

This is a great soup. You will read a reference to a food mill. Ignore it steadfastly and use the blender. Works great. Mechanization will win out every time. (Or almost.) I made the soup after the cheesecake. It took maybe half an hour, and then sat demurely on the back of the stove waiting to be warmed up. It's really good. It does not taste particularly of avocado. Delilah, my friend from school, thought it was asparagus soup. Liz thought it was spinach soup.
But when supermarket has ten avocados for $10, this is definitely the recipe to try. One thing more, when it says don't let it boil, the author really means don't let it boil. Something funny happens to avocados when they are overcooked. They get bitter.

Curried Avocado Soup

1/2 cup finely chopped onion
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon or more curry powder
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup heavy cream
2 ripe avocados
1 tablespoon lemon juice
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
cayenne pepper to taste
1/2 cup sour cream

1. Cook the onion in the butter until wilted. Sprinkle with the curry powder, add the broth and simmer five minutes. Stir in the heavy cream and simmer five minutes more.
2 Peel each avocado and remove the seed. Put the flesh through a sieve or food mill. (Not unless you love work.) Or blend the avocado in an electric blender, adding one half to one cup of the broth.
3. Stir the avocado into the soup and stir in the lemon juice. Heat thoroughly but do not boil. Add salt, black pepper and a little cayenne. Serve in hot soup bowls with a generous dab of the sour cream on top of each serving.
Makes six to eight servings.

Cottage Cheesecake

Back to the great Cheesecake Experiment! This is the third cheesecake I have made in the past thirteen months. Deluxe and Evelyn's are cream cheese cheesecakes. This one is, as the name would indicate, made with cottage cheese. Lacking test kitchens and a food chemist I cannot give you a calorie count, but it stands to reason that a cheesecake containing a pound and a half of cottage cheese has fewer calories than one made with either 32 or 40 ounces of cream cheese.
Cheesecake of any kind is time consuming. It ties up the oven for over two hours. Make it the night before so you don't get jammed up the way I did. We invited some old friends from the neighborhood, who have since moved to Montgomery County and a friend from school and her husband to dinner. I had planned to make as many dishes as possible from the cookbook, and settled on three, avocado soup, cheesecake and roast chicken with cornbread stuffing.
Close students of the cookbook will realize that avocados do not grow in New England and cornbread isn't a staple food of that region either.
It's the old shellfish conundrum. Bill and Liz, the old friends from the neighborhood, had a summer house on the Cape and thus were prime candidates for lobster. But, when I invited Delilah, my friend from school and her husband, they didn't eat shellfish. Good, my husband, who doesn't eat it either, and probably doesn't like to have to cook his own dinner at the last moment before a dinner party, said.
Anyhow, when I settled down to cook Saturday afternoon, I should have made the cornbread for the stuffing first. Then, the cheesecake could have tied up the oven to its heart's content. But I didn't. I made the cheesecake first. The cheesecake proved to be a time consuming project even before it got into the oven. Number one, it requires zwieback.
Zwieback, we are told by that essential Internet resource, Wikkipedia, means twice baked. It is a kind of sweet bread made for children and invalids that is baked once, sliced and baked again. I remember it mentioned in novels of the 30s and earlier as food for babies. However, tracking it down can be tough. It's not available at the Safeway in Potomac, where I do some minor shopping on my way home from the stable, and it's not available at Whole Foods, where I encountered the polite, "I have no idea what you are talking about, but I will do my best to be helpful," response from the staff.
Apparently quite a few people want zwieback, some of them for cheesecake recipes, because a post on some kind of Internet site not affiliated with Nabisco received 68 entries from people who had scoured the shelves at their local markets asking for it. One person reported that they had called Nabisco and been told it was discontinued in 2007.
If you must have zwieback, you may buy it in bulk from Amazon (?) ( I thought they sold books.) for $27.60 for ten 8 ounce packs of a German brand. Gerber, the baby food company, also makes zwieback, but it wasn't available in the baby aisle at Safeway or Whole Foods.
So, after making two stops, I said the hell with zwieback and used graham cracker crumbs. Another time devouring aspect of the recipe is having to mush the cottage cheese through a sieve to smooth it out. My husband suggested the food mill, which is a cone shaped object with a stand that one uses to make applesauce, tomato sauce and other vegetable concoctions. Always being one to ignore helpful suggestions, I tried using the hand held strainer. Not terribly easy. He was right. The food mill was easier, but once I forced all the liquid out of the cottage cheese, I was left with a mass of curds, which I just dumped in with the strained cottage cheese. Then, as you will see, you have to separate three eggs and beat first the yolks and then the whites.
On my first foray into egg separating, I got egg yolk in with the whites, and had to dump the whites. Then, I successfully separated three egg whites, but discovered after I beat them into the desired consistency, that they tasted like soap. I thought about not dumping the beaten whites, but decided that soap would not be a harmonious flavor for cheesecake, so I beat them a third time. The third time I hit the jackpot. Beaten egg whites without soap! At that point it was around 3:30 and the cheesecake had to bake for an hour and a half and then sit in the oven for 45 minutes.
At 5:00 when the baking process was supposed to be over, my husband suggested I test the cheesecake with a knife to see if it was done. Do not do this. It makes it fall. It wasn't done, so, needing the oven and feeling somewhat frantic, I jacked up the oven to 350 and stuck the cheesecake back in. The final product was tasty and well received, but with the egg whites and the whipped cream, it was probably supposed to be more of a souffle and less of a cheesecake. What I got was more cheesecaky and not at all souffle-y. So, start the night before, and be patient. Follow the directions.

Cottage Cheese Cheesecake

16 zwieback (graham crackers) crushed into crumbs
1/4 cup butter melted
1 1/4 cup sugar
3 eggs separated
1/4 cup of flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 pounds small curd cottage cheese forced through a sieve
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 cup heavy cream whipped

1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
2. Combine the zwieback (graham cracker) crumbs and one-quarter cup of the sugar. Press half the mixture into bottom of a buttered nine-inch spring-form pan.
3. Beat the egg yolks until thick.(This takes about 2 minutes.) Add the flour, salt, cottage cheese, lemon rind, lemon juice, and three-quarters cup of the remaining sugar. Mix well.
4. Beat the egg whites until foamy. (Omit the soap.) Gradually add remaining sugar. Beat until stiff. Fold with the whipped cream into cheese mixture. Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle with remaining crumbs. Bake one and one half hours, or until set.
5. Turn off the oven heat and allow cake to remain forty-five minutes in oven with door ajar. Cool on a rack. Chill.
Serves 8.