Did you know there used to be a law regulating the maximum number of times a week servants could be served lobster? It was such a cheap food that many folks overdid it so they regulated it to a maximum of two times a week. From junk to dear. When I found out that I was one of the 24 bloggers chosen by Foodbuzz to do a New Year's Eve dinner, I knew lobster was going to be on the menu. You see, there's a stipend involved. That'd allow us to order lobster from Salty Lou on Cape Cod. And, since the lobsters themselves aren't terribly expensive there but shipping them to Indianapolis is, we decided to order enough to have Mom over for dinner on December 30th. She's not had lobster for many years so this would be a major treat for her. We also decided to prepare one lobster Connie's mom's favorite way. Unfortunately, I never got to meet his mom. She died several years before we met. My guess is that I'd have really liked her. She wasn't much of a cook but she did like good food. And, she loved Lobster Thermidor.
Before I go any further, let me tell you about Salty Lou. For those of you unfamiliar with Cape Cod, there are three main roads across the lower part of the Cape. The southern road is 28. It's the shopping mall mecca. You'll find all of the chains and kitschy shops. Tourist traps. And, you'll find some great restaurants like Cap'n Parkers (best clam chowder I've ever had) and the Yarmouth House (scallops and about anything else on the menu!) The middle road is the limited access highway - 6. The northern road is the old "highway" 6A. It meanders along and is one of the prettiest drives you can take. Lots of Cape Cod style homes. Stone walls. Quaint shops. A few restaurants. Only a couple of gas stations. Absolutely beautiful.
On one of our trips to the Cape, Connie and I drove over to Sandwich. In my opinion, it's the quintessential New England village. We took 6A because we weren't in a hurry and wanted to enjoy the scenery. I saw a sign at the end of a driveway that said, "Fresh Lobsters." We decided to find it on the way back and buy our lobsters there instead of hiking over to the exit east of my sister-in-law's house and buying lobster from the seafood store in the strip mall there. It was getting dark and we weren't sure we'd find the place again but we got lucky and did. Salty Lou had made a Christmas tree from lobster pots in his front yard. It was gorgeous. We knocked on the door and there was no answer. Connie said, "Let's leave, there's nobody here," just about the time Salty Lou answered the door. The lobster had been caught that day. We've been back practically every trip since.
What better way to get our lobster for New Year's Eve? Except for the fact that we couldn't get ahold of Salty Lou. My guess he was so swamped with local orders that he didn't have the time for an order from Indy. Oh, well. Plan B. Goose the Market. You've heard me chatter on about Chris Eley and his wonderful butcher shop. It's actually much more than just a butcher shop. It's been named one of the best sandwich shops in the nation. And, he's got a wonderful selection of gourmet foods along with in-season fresh veggies and such. Order by 4:00 on Thursday and pick up after 2:00 on Friday. The lobsters were going to be a pound and a half or so, so we'd need three.
Lobster dipped in butter, lobster thermidor, lobster with brie and wild mushrooms anda lobster roll. Chris also listed manila clams on his email of what was available. Neither Connie nor I had ever had manila clams. Time to research.
So, there we sat at 11:00 on Thursday night. We'd gotten home from the theatre and I'd gone online to work for a bit. Finally off to bed. And we started talking about Friday and Saturday's dinners. Downstairs went Connie and back upstairs with a load of cookbooks. Cape Cod ones, Rays Boathouse, seafood ones... Cookbooks piled all over our bed. Hunting for a way to cook manila clams. And, to make sure we had everything we'd need on the grocery list. I do believe I've turned Connie into a foodie :-)
This is the tale of Friday evening. New Years Eve Eve. Dinner with Mom.
Here's our menu:
Escargot, Ramp and Morel Broth
Lobster Dipped in Butter
Rays Boathouse is a fabulous restaurant in Seattle. We had an incredible meal there several years ago. So incredible that I bought the cookbook. That's where I found the recipe for manila clams. They were perfect. The broth was wonderful - and in fact has been saved to be the base for some clam chowder. The clams were tiny and beautiful.
Everything we'd read said they were smaller and sweeter than other clams. Best of all, they're farmed and are sustainable. The three of us split a pound of clams. It was the perfect amount. And the perfect recipe.
Rays Boathouse Manila Clams
3 lbs manila clams
1/2 c unsalted butter
1 t dried dill
1 t kosher salt
1 c Chardonnay
Pour the wine into a large saucepan. Add the butter, dill and salt.
Simmer gently until you're ready to cook the clams and the butter is melted. Rinse the clams well under cold, running water. Bring the wine and butter mixture to a boil and add the clams. Cover the saucepan. Cook the clams for 5-6 minutes. Shake the pan occasionally. Discard any clams that don't open. Serve immediately.
My eldest stepson, David, is working on what wines go with what. When I saw a cookbook called Wine Mondays about the wine pairing meals served on Mondays at l'Espalier in Boston, I picked it up thinking he'd enjoy it. Except for the fact that the recipes are in no way their kind of cooking. For the most part the ingredient lists are as long as my will and the instructions are not for the faint of heart - or the average home cook. For the most part it's very special occasion food. Needless to say, I found a couple of recipes for our New Years Eve Eve.
The first was a soup. They called it a broth. Well, it was. Kind of. The broth is pureed with onions and garlic then some cream is added. It's much lighter than your normal cream soup. But, it's not a broth. I made a couple of changes. First, ramps just aren't available in December. So, I used green onions. You could also use a leek chopped very finely. But, my guess is you'd want to sautee it briefly before adding it to the soup. I also used a couple of dried morels and reconstituted them. When time came to finish and serve the soup I thought it was a bit thick so I added the mushroom broth. I cut the recipe in half and we had three lovely servings in my great-grandmother's soup bowls.
What did we think? Spectacular. Perfect.
Broth of Escargots, Ramps and Morels
2 T olive oil
1 Vidalia onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 c white wine
1/4 c sweet sherry
1 c vegetable broth
4 oz dried morels, or 2 oz dried and reconstituted
12 ramps, washed and trimmed, or 12 green onions, chopped
24 escargots, washed and drained
1 T fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 T fresh chives, chopped
1 t fresh thyme
1/4 t ground nutmeg
1/2 t fresh lemon juice
1/4 c heavy cream
Saute the onions in the olive oil. When they're translucent, add the garlic and saute it for about a minute or two. Add the wine, sherry and broth. Simmer that for a few minutes then remove it from the heat and allow it to cool a bit. Puree it in a blender and pour it back into the pan. (nb: the original recipe called for wiping out the pan then sauteeing the green onions, mushrooms and escargot in 2T of butter. If you want to add those calories, go ahead. I thought it'd be plenty rich without two more tablespoons of butter.) Add the mushrooms, escargot and green onions and simmer until the onions are softened. Add the parsley, chives, thyme, nutmeg and lemon juice. If you've reconstituted the mushrooms, you can add that broth also. Allow to barely simmer until you're ready to serve the soup. Just before you serve it, add the cream and stir to combine.
Next up was lobster thermidor. We've got a cookbook called Fish & Shellfish that takes you through the various types of fish and shellfish with great descriptions of the basics. We decided we'd try their lobster thermidor recipe. It was going to be one lobster tail split between the three of us.
The whole process is pretty messy. Cook the lobster. Chop it in half. Mix the lobster meat with a sauce. Put the meat back in the shell and sprinkle it with cheese. Broil it. Now, the sad part about all of that work is that just plain old lobster dipped in butter tastes better. Fortunately, we did that with the rest of the lobster and another tail.
2 live lobsters, cooked and cooled
3/4 c butter, divided
16 green onions, chopped
2 T flour
2 t English mustard (Colman's)
1/4 c white wine
1 c milk
1/4 c heavy cream
2 T fresh parsley, finely chopped
4 oz Gruyere, finely shredded
Melt 1/4 c of the butter in a small saucepan. Add the green onions and cook until they're softened. Add the flour and mustard and cook for two minutes. Slowly add the white wine, whisking continuously. Add the milk and cook until the sauce is thickened.
Add the cream and parsley. Remove the pan from the heat and add the lobster meat.
Stuff the lobster shell with the mixture,
sprinkle with the Gruyere and broil for five minutes. You're actually supposed to serve it in the shell but since I was dividing one among the three of us I opted for spooning a bit onto each plate.
Last but not least, dessert. Bittersweet chocolate terrine with warm pumpkin sauce and shaved black truffles. Since this post is already a mile long, I'm going to save the recipe for another day. Suffice to say the terrine was heavenly. The pumpkin sauce amazing. And, the truffles. Blah. They didn't taste like the truffles we've enjoyed at restaurants. fortunately, they weren't terribly expensive - which is also why they were probably blah! Here's a photo of our dessert: