Easy Lobster Fettuccine

I mentioned our local grocery chain, Big Y, in an earlier post. They are known for their BOGO (Buy One Get One) specials, but last week had a Buy One Get TWO special on Orion brand frozen, cooked lobster meat. Normally if I want to do something with lobster, I’ll buy them live and then pick the lobster myself. However, Chris and I are planning our annual Mardi Gras party and this is taking up a lot of our time and cash, so easy was the key for last night’s meal. And as far as price goes, sure, they usually sell this product for $19.99. But I was getting three for that price. You can do the math, but it was worth it for me on this particular night. I pondered what to do with the lobster, and finally decided on making Lobster Fettuccine. I set ½ pound of fettuccine to boil in salted water and then began the sauce. In a large skillet I melted 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter. While it was melting, I minced a large shallot. I sauteed the shallot until the pieces were translucent. Then I split one vanilla bean and scraped the seeds into the skillet. I added the lobster and cooked the sauce enough to heat it through. By that time, the fettuccine was done. I added a couple of tablespoons of the pasta water to the sauce just to thicken it up a bit. After draining and serving out two dishes pasta, I topped them each with half the sauce and sprinkled it with a tiny bit of Hawaiian red salt. It wasn’t a difficult meal – it was done in the length of time needed to boil fettuccine – but it added an unexpected elegance to a weekday meal.


Pizza with Brie, Caramelized Onions and Pancetta

When I said I was going to post about this meal, Chris wanted to know if I was going to change the name of our blog to A Couple Eats Pizza. I guess I’ve been a little pizza-focused, but after this one, I’ll give that particular food a hiatus. We made the best pizza last night that I can’t not write about it. Our local grocery chain is called Big Y and they have a great pizza dough that goes for about $1.00 a pound. When you figure the local delivery place is charging almost $20 for a pie, you know that making it at home is the smarter choice. I picked one up, and instead of buying specific toppings, I thought maybe it would be fun to see what we had around the house. It was slim pickin’s but we were determined. We found an onion and some brie, both of which needed to be used asap. Thus, our Brie and Caramelized Onion Pizza. Chris tossed and shaped the dough while I began to caramelize the onion. I cut it into relatively thin slices and sauteed the slices in a cast-iron pan on medium-low heat with olive oil and butter. The trick to this is patience and stirring. In the meantime, Chris brushed the dough with some olive oil and cut up the brie. One more peek into the fridge unearthed some diced pancetta. Chris slid the dough onto our pizza stone. We put on our brie, onions and pancetta toppings and cooked it in a 450-degree oven for about 15 minutes. We both really enjoyed the thickness of the chewy dough, the sweetness of the caramelized onions, the creaminess of the ripe cheese, and the saltiness of the meaty pancetta, and had to pat ourselves on the back with this one.


Quick Ravioli App

Back in late August, Chris and I, like so many of us foodies, were doing our best to use up the last of our delicious summer garden vegetables. The gardening is his domain, and between his herbs and our parents’ vegetable gardens, we had a lot of peppers and tomatoes to go through. I suggested we make some easy homemade ravioli and use the vegetables in a sauce. We did that, and it was delicious, as anything made with garden-fresh ingredients tends to be. But, that’s not my point on this blustery day when snow is in the forecast yet again. I want to talk about what I did with the extra ravioli I had stuck in the freezer.

It was a school night and we had taken out a couple of steaks to thaw, figuring we’d steam some Trader Joe’s frozen haricots verts for a relatively well-rounded meal. Then we had an unexpected dinner guest, a rare thing for a school night, but it does happen sometimes. There was definitely not enough meat for three, and I was looking around for something to enhance the dinner. That’s when I remembered the raviolis, and thought they would make a nice little prelude that would tempt the palate and stretch the food out just a bit.

Now the raviolis were what I call the cheating kind, as Santa still has not brought me the pasta maker I keep asking for. Instead I used wonton wrappers that I purchased from the local Asian market. But first I made the filling with the following ingredients all mixed together in a bowl: 1 oz. soft fresh goat cheese, ¼ cup shredded Parmesan cheese, ¼ cup shredded Romano cheese, 2 oz. Marscapone, and ½ tablespoon each of the following chopped fresh herbs – thyme, tarragon, parsley, chives. I laid out a dozen wonton wrappers at a time on a floured surface, filled, folded, and repeated until I was out of wrappers and/or filling. My notes say I ended up with 39 “ravioli,” plenty for dinner that day and some for the freezer.

I wanted to use the ravioli this time as a quick appetizer. I didn’t have a lot of time to start messing around with a homemade sauces or fresh herbs and vegetables, mostly because I didn’t really have any! First I filled a shallow bowl with hot water and put six frozen ravioli in to thaw and separate a bit. When they had loosened up, I let them sit on a wooden board to dry. I took a medium non-stick frying pan and put in 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter. I melted the butter and added a few shakes of dried ground sage. I put the ravioli in and let them brown in the butter. Then I covered them and let them cook for two minutes. I flipped them and did the same on the other side. Right before taking them out of the pan, I “bathed” them in the butter by spooning the butter over them a few times. I put them on small plates, one resting over the other, with the slightest bit of nutmeg. Chris and J were quite impressed, and the little “filler” did its job.


Simply Sunday

It was Sunday, and although we had the entire day free, neither of us was feeling particularly creative. We hadn’t made pork in forever, so I looked deep into the freezer and found a 2-lb. pork loin. I went to the basement for some inspiration from our bookshelves of non-perishables. My mother loves to order from Pampered Chef, Tastefully Simple, and those kinds of things, but she doesn’t cook much, so we seem to end up with a lot of interesting sauces, condiments and marinades. One that caught my eye was Tastefully Simple’s “Sweet and Sassy Mustard Sauce,” since mustard and pork are so great together. The ingredients to this sauce include sugar, distilled vinegar, stone-ground mustard, brown sugar, white wine, the elusive “spices,” maple granules, and garlic. All good with pork, right? My addition? A can of jellied cranberry sauce. Chris got the slow-cooker while I cut the pork in half. We threw the pork in and added the entire can of cranberry sauce and the whole bottle of mustard sauce. We gave it a stir and let it do its thing for about 4 hours. Besides the fact that the house smelled fabulous all day, that night we had a wonderfully easy pork dinner. The pork was juicy and fork-tender, and the sauce was both tangy and sweet. Thanks, Tastefully Simple and Ocean Spray!


Friday Night Pizza Toss-Down

Chris and I are both high school teachers. I know what you’re thinking – how nice to only work half a year and have so much time off. Yeah, well, my answer to you would be that the old refrain from judging until you walk a mile in our shoes. The kids were crazy this week and we both felt like they had kicked our butts. So when we got home at 5 (yes 5, not 3 like most people think), we headed straight for the kitchen. I had called Chris and told him to pick up some pizza dough at the local market. I thought the process would be calming – we’d be cooking, saving money vs. ordering delivery, and I was all about carbs after the day I’d had. He agreed. He got home with the dough and we started the discussion. I had visions of a regular crust topped with good red sauce, lots of cheese and some sort of meat. He was thinking a really thin white pie. This was the start of the “Pizza Toss-Down.” We’d split the dough and have a little friendly competition, concentrating enough on beating the other that teenagers would be pushed out of our minds for the evening.

I began with a salsa simplice, or a simple red sauce. I emptied a 28-oz. can of Tuttarossa crushed tomatoes with basil into a bowl. I added a few shakes each of salt, basic and garlic seasoning, red pepper flakes and oregano. Next I added about a tablespoon each of garlic-infused olive oil and tomato paste (I recently discovered Amore’s line of products in a tube – tomato paste, garlic paste, and more, and I highly recommend them as being much more flavorful and efficient than cans). A pinch of sugar and a good stir finished it off. I heated my pizza stone in a 500-degree oven and began to stretch my dough. Let me admit that I am not good with dough. After a lot of stretching and pulling my dough was a strange oval shape, but I was hungry and getting frustrated so I went with it. I carefully spread the dough out on the hot stone and started to prep my toppings - some fresh mozzarella and a Chianti-salami that I bought at Trader Joe’s. After spreading on some of the sauce, I added the cheese and salami, then I sprinkled a handful of shredded four-cheese blend and some salt and pepper. It went in the oven for 25 minutes. Here’s what Chris had to say: “The sauce is delicious. It has a ripe density of flavor and really makes the pizza stand out.” We both thought it was a delicious pie although I thought the crust was a little too bread-like for me. Mine is the picture on the bottom.

Chris started his pizza journey by turning on the gas grill. We have grilled pizza before and loved the results, so my stomach was gurgling happily with high expectations. He sliced up four cloves of garlic razor-thin (think the dinner-in-prison scene from GoodFellas) using a knife. He got so into it, when he was done he said, “Wow. That was therapeutic. I was practically hypoxic for a minute.” Did I mention he’s a science teacher? Luckily, I’m a Latin teacher and I can figure out scientific words like hypoxic – lacking oxygen. In other words, he stopped breathing but in a good way. He, with more skill and patience than I, tossed the dough to a paper-thin level, brushing it with olive oil as he went. I saw him walk through the kitchen to the back deck with the dough over his arm and followed him. He threw it on the grill and brushed it again with oil. Then he sprinkled on the garlic and a few slices of fresh mozzarella. He only cooked it for a few minutes on a medium heat. After one taste, my first comment was, “It’s like the thinnest, least greasy, crispiest garlic cheese bread I’ve ever had.” C's is the picture on the top.

The verdict: It was very difficult to decide who won our little competition. Both pizzas were so different from the other that we couldn’t really compare. But that just means we were both winners, and with a Tenimenti Conti Novi Valpolicella Ripasso (2005), we settled into a wonderful start to a cold winter’s weekend.


More Turkey - This Time It's Pot Pie

The turkey meat is almost gone. It lasted five meals - the fried turkey dinner, two turkey soup lunches each and one large pot pie that we had for dinner and then for leftover-lunch. A tasty and thrifty start to 2008. So about the pot pie, which obviously could be done with chicken and chicken broth. In a large saucepan, I melted 1/2 stick of unsalted butter. To that I added one medium chopped onion, two chopped celery stalks, and a bit of salt and pepper, and cooked those down until the onions were translucent. Now, if you're like me, you don't always have celery in the house, so go ahead and use 2 teaspoons of those dried celery flakes that are that are in the back of your spice cabinet. Then I added 6 tablespoons of flour and cooked, stirring for about four minutes. I stirred in my leftover two cups of homemade turkey stock, but again, store-bought is fine. I brought this to a boil, then reduced the heat and allowed it to simmer until it was pretty thick. I added a cup of milk (I'm pretty sure it was 2% - I use whatever I have), some salt and pepper, and stirred it some more. Then I went rooting around for some vegetables. I usually throw in two cups. In the past, I've used precooked veggies, like diced potatoes and carrots, but those all went into that delicious soup. So this time, I went with a cup of frozen corn and and some canned peas. Then, of course, two cups of the turkey meat, cut into bite sized chunks. When all of it was nicely mixed, I poured it into a casserole dish. I placed one thawed sheet of Pepperidge Farm puff pastry on top and put it in the oven at 400 for a half hour. It was a great dinner for a bitter cold evening - under the flaky pastry was a piping hot, creamy, chunky stew, enough for two dinner servings and a smaller portion of leftovers for tomorrow's lunch. After that, I think we'll both be turkey-ed out.


Fried Turkey for Two

I used to live in New Orleans and it was there that I tasted my first fried turkey. The crisp saltiness of the skin, the juicy tenderness of the meat - it had everything I ever wanted in a bird! When we bought our house, my mother, God bless her, gifted us with a turkey fryer. Chris has spent many Mardi Gras parties perfecting the art of the fried turkey, but as hosts, we never seem to get even a small bite. So the other day, after the craziness of the holidays subsided, I asked him to make one just for the two of us. We bought the smallest turkey we could find, a 12-pounder, and began to plan not only for the fried turkey dinner itself, but also for the array of dishes we could make with all the leftover meat. I would like to focus on those dishes.

After we had our fill of fried goodness, we picked the bird clean and prepared to make a good stock. To do so, we rough-chopped an onion (skin on), three celery stalks, three carrots (unpeeled), and four cloves of garlic (again, just smashed with the skin on). Chris says that surface area is important in making a stock, so we did the celery and carrots in 1 inch pieces. We sweated these in a large stock pot with a small bit of oil, then added the broken up turkey bones. We did not add salt because the seasoning on the turkey skin was pretty salty, and some of that ended up in the stock pot as well. However, we did add three bay leaves, and some fresh oregano. As the vegetables softened, we added water to cover the contents of the pot. We let that simmer for about four hours, never allowing it to boil. After straining, we were left with almost two quarts of rich, hearty, homemade turkey stock. We allowed it to cool completely then skimmed the fats off the top.

We put two cups aside for a future turkey pot pie. We then turned our attention toward making soup. We boiled some chopped carrots and celery and added them to the stock when they were soft. After throwing in some white and dark turkey meat, we searched for the various leftover vegetables our fridge had acquired over the holidays, including white corn and green beans, a
nd added those. We let our soup simmer, stirring often enough, and both agreed it was the best soup we had ever created.


Welcome to "A Couple in the Kitchen"

Happy New Year to all. I just started reading "The Last Chinese Chef," a novel by Nicole Mones. The very first passage really spoke to me: "Great food should never be taken alone. What pleasure can a man take in fine cuisine unless he invites cherished friends, counts the days until the banquet, and composes an anticipatory poem for his letter of invitation?"

It is with this passage in mind that I begin this blog, an invitation, as it were, to the culinary adventures of a couple of foodies who happened to find each other through the personal ads and fall in love.