Pears and Oysters – Your Typical Christmas Combination?

It’s Christmas Eve people, CHRISTMAS EVE! That means that tomorrow is finally Christmas!!!!! FINALLY CHRISTMAS!!!!!!!!!! The only sad part about all of this is that December 24th marks the final day of my Lindt Chocolate advent calendar. Mr. Santa has long since worked it’s way through my digestive tract. It was nice knowing you buddy.
My dad’s present came early, he got it in the mail last night. Clever isn’t it? For those of you who don’t follow hockey, we are major Boston Bruins fans. Well my dad is the original one but he’s managed to brainwash the rest of us over the years. So much so that I cried when they lost to Montreal during the 2004 play-off run. Needless to say, when they won the Stanley Cup on June 15th, probably the best day of the year (if not my dad’s entire existence….well other than the day I was born).
This morning I woke up and poached some pears for dessert tomorrow. I wanted to let the pear flavour come through as purely as possible so there are only 4 ingredients, sugar, water, vanilla and pears. Does water even count as an ingredient?
Poached Pears
Ingredients
– 5 Bartlett pears, peeled and cored
– 3 cups water
– 2 cups white sugar
– 1 vanilla bean
Honestly this couldn’t be more simple. Prepare your pears (pairs of pears?). Bring the water to a boil with the sugar and vanilla bean (scrape out the seeds and throw the whole pod in the pot). Allow the sugar to dissolve, add the pears, turn it down to a simmer, put the lid on and let everything cook away for about 45 minutes. Or until the pears are soft, however long this takes. Because I am serving them tomorrow, I removed the pears from the poaching liquid and let them cool off on a plate. I strained the liquid into a bowl and allowed it to cool separately. Then I put the pears back in the liquid to keep until tomorrow. Before I am ready to serve I will reheat them and then reduce the liquid to a thick syrup to drizzle over top. If you are serving immediately, you can just ignore the whole cooling and refrigerating part. It will be a nice light way to end of the Christmas meal.

On a completely unrelated note, I decided to pick up some Malpeque oysters to shuck for lunch. It was messy but it was worth it. They weren’t as good as getting them right in PEI but let’s face it, they had to travel all the way across the country. And at $14.99 for one dozen, that sure beats paying $3 each in a restaurant!

 
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone! Santa will be here in less than 12 hours! Not Mr. Chocolate Santa though, he’s already in my tummy!


Spinach Salad with Seared Salmon and Truffle Vinaigrette

Get ready everyone, this is going to be advanced…spinach salad with salmon and a truffle vinaigrette! Don’t freak out, I was just kidding about the advanced part, it’s a quick and easy meal you can throw together any time of day. Inspired by “fridge explosion” as we call it in my family, I made use of all the ingredients in my refrigerator that are getting close to their expiration dates. I can’t stress enough that when cooking for one, the last thing you want to do is buy in bulk. Honestly you end up forgetting about half of it and it just goes bad anyway. Don’t be scared to ask for one pork chop, one steak, or in this case, one salmon fillet. Enjoy!

Ingredients for the vinaigrette:

– 1 tbsp. of apple cider vinegar
– 1/4 tsp. of dijon mustard
– 2-3 tbsp. of light olive oil
– a few drops of white truffle oil (optional)
– salt and pepper to taste

Whisk together the dijon and the vinegar. Gradually drizzle in the oil (while whisking) then season with the truffle oil, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Ingredients for the salad:

– 1/2 cup turnip, medium dice
– olive oil, as needed
– salt and pepper to taste
– one salmon fillet
– 1 mini portabello mushroom, cut in strips
– 1-2 handfuls of spinach

Heat your oven to 375 F. Toss the turnip with a splash of oil and season with S&P. Place it on a cookie sheet and bake for at least 1 hour (obviously you want the turnip to be soft, not raw and crunchy). As I discovered turnip is much harder than let’s say, a potato. So it does take a while to roast down and become pleasantly edible. For the salmon, I simply cooked it over medium-high heat in a stainless steel saute pan. Season all sides liberally with salt and pepper, lightly oil the pan and you are good to go. If you want to develop an extra crispy exterior, press down on the fish (just using a flipper or a spatula or even your hands…make sure to wash them afterwards though!) as it is cooking. The extra pressure adds to the gorgeous, golden crust. My piece took under 10 minutes total and it was ready. Remove from the pan and while it is resting, cook up the mushrooms (in the same pan). They soak up all the wonderful omega-3’s that the salmon released which helps them to brown up nicely. Once they are finished, you can assemble. Toss together the spinach, vegetables and vinaigrette. As a side note, please don’t be lazy and just pour the dressing over top. You NEED to make sure every last piece is coated!!! No one wants one mouthful full of dressing, then another that is completely dry, it’s awful! Come on, you made it this far, it might as well be 100% legit. Display that beautiful piece of salmon YOU were responsible for perfecting, straight on top. Bon appetit!

An Italian Feast

Italian feast
Italian feast
Squid stuffed with shrimp and goat cheese

Two words; Italian feast. See you are already interested right? Everyone loves Italian cuisine so when Marco (if you haven’t already read about him in my previous entries, he is a fellow student, and he’s Italian) suggested that we cook up a big, family style meal, I was all for it. 5 hours, 7 dirty pots and 10 rolls of paper towel later we were all finished, and exhausted mind you, but it was well worth both the time and effort. Do you know how difficult it is to cook a three course meal for five people, in a cramped littly one bedroom dorm? Somehow we managed to pull it off though, and it tasted a lot better than the instant noodles I am sure many of our peers are consuming!

We started with an arugula salad, dressed with lemon juice and garnished with onion, pancetta, roasted bell pepper and balsamic reduction. It was honestly that simple. My only advice is be careful with the balsamic vinegar, don’t over-reduce it or it will harden like a rock. I tried to explain this to Marco but he refused to listen! However, balsamic “candy” can be saved. Gradually add drops of water until the viscosity thins, that’s is all you need to do.
Italian feast
Arugula Salad with Balsamic Reduction
Our second course was bruschetta with anchovy and garlic rapini. The rapini, we blanched in boiling water until it turned green, then we sauteed it in olive oil with lots of minced garlic. Marco taught me that in Italy, they often put the tomatoes on the bruschetta while the bread is toasting in the oven. So we did that until they were crisp. When we removed them from the oven, each crustini was topped with an anchovy. This added the perfect amount of salt yet wasn’t fishy in the least.
Italian feast
Blanched rapini, waiting to be sauteed in garlicky oil
Italian feast
Bruschetta with Anchovy and Rapini
On to the main. This was by far the most labour intensive dish. We decided to make our own pasta (yes, not dried, from scratch). The dough itself wasn’t a problem (all you do is mix together flour, eggs, and water until it is smooth and elastic). But just try rolling it out without a pasta machine. In fact, we didn’t even have a rolling pin! We had to use a TUMBLER to roll out probably a pound of pasta dough. Do you have any idea how long that takes?????? Just knowing the effort we put into it made it taste that much better though. The pasta was served with a tomato ragu (no, not Ragu brand, homemade of course!) and stuffed calamari.
Italian feast
Our labour of love
Italian feast
Tagliatelle with Stuffed Calamari in Tomato Ragu

 

What an evening! It was quite the sight, all five of us jammed around a tiny table with tacky plastic chairs, enjoying a completely gourmet Italian feast. We didn’t even have enough utensils so we were forced to wipe off our plates between courses! Then we ran out of counter space and started putting pots on the floor! Regardless, I am sure Marco’s grandmother would be proud!
Italian feast
A random zucchini that Marco found. It wasn’t actually used in any of our dishes but I had to include it because I have never seen one so gigantic. It’s almost as long as the baguette and twice as wide!

 

Salad Dressing from SCRATCH!

Life lesson #27 – Store bought salad dressings suck, always make your own. Really there is no excuse for destroying fresh fruits and vegetables by drowning them in preservative filled alien gloop. Be honest with me here; does that consistency really look natural? I didn’t think so.
Let’s go through the basics of making your own. You can truly use any ingredient under the sun as long as the finished product is pourable. It is all about balancing flavors. Sweet, salty, sour and bitter. If you don’t know where to start, use a culture for inspiration. Peanut butter, soy sauce and lime juice make a great Asian dressing. Olive oil and balsamic vinegar are classic Italian. What is more American than ranch? All you need is some combination of mayo, buttermilk, sour cream or yogurt along with seasonings like onion and garlic. Anyways, let your creative juices flow!
The recipe I made recently is a sort of Asian/Italian/French fusion. Sounds strange but the flavors balance and it works.

Ingredients:

– 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
– 1/2 tsp honey
– 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
– salt to taste
Sriracha or any other hot sauce, to taste (Sriracha is great because it does double-duty, it has both spice and hints of garlic, etc.)

Mix everything together in a bowl (I just did it in the bottom of the same bowl I used to eat my salad out of). I tossed it together with wild blueberries, mixed greens, cherry tomatoes and mushrooms and added seared scallops for protein. You have yourself a salad that not only tastes good, but you know it is actually good for you. No mysteries, just simple, fresh and straight-forward. Goodbye Kraft!

In Search of Perfection: The Hunt for the Best Lobster Roll

During my recent trip from Charlottetown, PEI to Biddeford, ME, Boston, MA and back, I was on a mission. I gave myself the task of finding the best (or at least my favorite) lobster roll along the Eastern Seaboard. Born and raised in the west, lobster is definitely a special treat. I can honestly say that it failed to grow old, even after eating it religiously for nearly three weeks straight.
In order to determine the winner, I had to come up with a criteria for judging each roll. I based it upon three categories: the roll, the lobster itself and the overall value. In the end, it came down to three rolls, all of which I ate at places in Maine. I guess it’s fitting considering the state’s reputation for this tasty crustacean.

#3 – Pool Lobster Co. in Biddeford Pool, ME

Located in the secluded village of Biddeford Pool, this seafood market would have passed me by had it not been for the magnet I noticed on the fridge at our beach house rental. You know the lobster is going to be good when it is coming direct from ocean to plate. The roll was a toasted New England Style hot dog bun. Warm and doughy but golden brown and slightly crisp on the exterior. But the lobster meat was what truly caught my attention. It was the first roll I consumed in which only tail and claw meat were used. And it was so lightly dressed, that at first, I didn’t realize that there was even any mayo at all. This allowed the sweet, delicate lobster flavor to come through. The only other addition was a dusting of Old Bay Seasoning on top. Taste-wise, I cannot say this added anything. However it did elevate the vibrant, red color of the meat, making the sandwich more appealing to the eye. At $13.95 with no side, the price was average, not ridiculously high but not cheap either. All things said, it was enough to take 3rd place.

#2 – Alisson’s Restaurant in Kennebunkport, ME Alisson's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

I actually chose Alisson’s after reading an article about the best lobster rolls in the New York Times. If it’s on their radar, it better be good, right? Although I hated the restaurant itself, with it’s family oriented vibe and poor service, I can’t complain about the quality of the lobster roll. For $18.95 it was pricy, but the roll itself was one of the longest I have seen and it was filled to the brim. It also came with your choice of side (the usual fries, coleslaw, corn, etc.). Again, the New England style roll was freshly toasted. I appreciated how liberal they were with the butter. It may not be too good for the arteries but it sure complimented the chunks of claw meat, tossed in a light coating of mayo. Their twist was the addition of shredded romaine at the bottom of the roll. It provided good texture without taking away from the lobster. I would love to try their lobster roll again, but next time, I would take it to-go.

#1 – Federal Jacks in Kennebunkport, ME Federal Jack's Restaurant and Brewpub on Urbanspoon

I must admit, this brewpub was the last place I expected to find my favorite lobster roll. The place was absolutely packed and after waiting over 20 minute for a table I just wanted food, any food. Needless to say my discover was a pleasant surprise. Federal Jacks uses, you guess it, a traditional New England hot dog bun. It may have been shorter than average, but don’t let the size fool you. Rather than skimping on lobster, it allowed for a more favorable meat to bread ratio. I’m talking so overloaded that you almost had to tackle this baby with a knife and fork. The massive bites of tail and claw meat (no knuckle in sight) tossed lightly in mayo had the tendency to jump overboard – make sure you don’t waste any of the precious morsels! The lettuce leaf had the important function of lining the bun, preventing the sog factor. Still, you must be prepared to get messy. The saucy juices stream down your hands and face, making you feel like a child all over again. For a mere $12.99, with a side of creamy coleslaw, the only cheaper option is to make one yourself. What a small price to pay for something so utterly delectable!

On my journey I tried some pretty unique lobster rolls. From rye bread and to hoagie buns to pineapple, cilantro salsa and homemade aioli, every place had a different take on this east coast favorite. But at the end of the day, it is another classic example of “simple is best”. Lobster rolls are exactly as they sound, nothing fancy, nothing fussy. It may sound boring but the best of these sandwiches contain no more than succulent chunks of lobster, a touch of mayo and a toasty bun. Just like your parents always told you, “some things are perfect just the way they are”.