Sundried tomato lobster risotto

It’s okay to be selfish with shellfish

Originally appeared in the October 4, 2012 edition of the Southside Times.

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Don’t get me wrong, I love shellfish.  But a little bit goes a long way.  Give me a modest-sized yet high-quality disc of lump crabmeat formed into a crispy, golden cake and it’s aces in my book.  Then there’s the alternative: a hearty portion of a mostly-breaded concoction formed into a rubbery puck.  No thanks, friend.  What I’m trying to tell you is this: you don’t need to break the bank to impart all the hallmarks of high-quality ingredients—particularly lobster.

You only need a little lobster here.  (In fact, I’d rather have you focus on technique with the cooking of the risotto grains, but we’ll get to that in a second.)  We’re just looking to impart a little flavor and permeate this creamy dish with the distinctive aroma of lobster.  The sundried tomato adds a bit of tartness to counterbalance the sweetness from the lobster.

Now, back to technique.  If, while stirring your risotto, it seems as though your arm might fall off, you’re doing things precisely right.  This takes a little labor, but as I’ve said before:  it’s worth it.  And although it’s perfectly fine to be selfish with shellfish, don’t forget to share.

Sundried tomato lobster risotto

Serves 4

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 shallots, fine chop
  • 2 tablespoons chopped sundried tomato
  • 1 ½ cup Arborio or carnaroli rice
  • ½ teaspoon or to taste cayenne
  • 1/3 cup dry white vermouth
  • 6 ¼ cups shellfish, fish, or light chicken stock, simmering
  • 8 ounces cherry tomatoes, quartered and seeded
  • 2-3 tablespoons heavy or whipping cream
  • 2 cups cooked, coarsely chunked lobster
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chervil or dill

1.  Heat the oil and half the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add shallots and cook for several minutes until tender; add sundried tomatoes and cook until tender.  Add the rice and cayenne and cook, stirring frequently for about 2 minutes, until rice is translucent and coated with hot fat.

2.  Pour in vermouth (it will bubble and steam rapidly).  Stir continually until liquid is absorbed.  Add in a large ladleful (about 1 cup) of simmering stock, and continue to stir constantly until liquid has absorbed.

3.  Continue adding the stock, about half a ladleful at a time, allowing each addition to be absorbed before adding the next installment.  Never allow rice to cook completely dry.  This should take 20-25 minutes.  The risotto should have a creamy consistency and the rice should be tender, but firm to the bite.

4.  Stir in tomatoes and cream, and cook for a couple minutes.

5.  Add the cooked lobster with the remaining butter; add in chervil or dill.  Cook long enough to just gently heat the lobster.  Serve immediately.

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Grilled chicken skewers with honey-lime corn salad

Skewer de force

Originally appeared in the August 23, 2012 edition of the Southside Times.

Back in culinary school, I was acquainted with a jovial bloke who had a comical hatred for, what he called, “food on sticks.”  I never really questioned my culinary comrade, just laughed along with everyone else at this particular idiosyncrasy.

Otherwise admiring my friend’s insight, I didn’t necessarily agree with his take on skewered fare.  For one, just about every noble cuisine has a version of the aforementioned execution—whether it be kebob (see also kabab, kibob) or satay or souvlaki; plus, cooking “food on sticks” can be a labor-light technique that yields savory, bite-sized servings.  My cast-iron grill has accumulated some signature flavors over the years, so it’s the cooking device of choice when it comes to skewers.

A caveat: Once again, this installment’s co-star carries the capability to transcend its side-dish status.  By not only complimenting the grilled chicken, the honey-lime corn salad is a pleasantly complicated recipe that you might find yourself employing over and over again either as a stand-alone dish, or pairing with a multitude of suitable proteins.

So as long as the refreshing weather lingers, fire up your grill and break out your sticks.  Don’t let the humble kebob get impaled by anybody’s bad rap.

Grilled chicken skewers with honey-lime corn salad

Serves 2 -3

  • 3 large, free-range chicken breasts
  • As needed, olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon each, chopped fresh basil and dill
  • 2 ears sweet corn, kernels cut from cob
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 ½ tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • To taste, kosher salt and cracked black pepper
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 5-6 cherry tomatoes, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons goat cheese, chunked

1.  Cut each chicken breast into three large chunks and place in large bowl.  Pour in enough olive oil to generously coat the meat; add fresh basil and dill and gently toss, distributing evenly.  Allow meat to rest in fridge.

2.  Meanwhile, bring roughly 1 quart of water to a boil, and add in ¼ teaspoon of baking soda (this will help soften the kernel).  Add cut kernels to water, and cook for about 4-5 minutes (or until kernels are tender).  Thoroughly drain corn and allow to cool in a bowl.  In a separate bowl, combine lime juice and honey, and slowly whisk in olive oil to form a emulsion; season to taste with kosher salt and cracked black pepper.

3.  Preheat grill.  Remove chicken from fridge.  Using four sticks, arrange several large pieces of meat along two skewers each.  Season with salt and pepper and grill on all sides until meat is cooked; allow to rest.

4.  When corn has cooled, add honey-lime dressing, fresh cilantro, cherry tomatoes, goat cheese, and gently fold together; adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.  Serve with grilled chicken skewers.

Pad Thai

Pad Thai: an inclusive noodle

Originally appeared in the July 19, 2012 edition of the Southside Times.

Most cultures have a mind-numbing variety of noodle or pasta dishes, but one of the most versatile and flavorfully complex is the popular Pad Thai.

Pad Thai is composed of, well…it depends.  Like many stir-fry specimens, the profile for pad Thai will have requisite variations, but it is the homogenous arrangement of often numerous individual ingredients that contribute to its singular personality.  What you can be certain of is the presence of rice noodles, sautéed onion, perhaps some for form of protein (pork, chicken, tofu, eggs), with hints of citrus and sweetness along with a nuttiness from the oil and crushed peanuts.  And then there’s the issue of heat.  If you’re dining out, you can often request a heat level for many stir-fry dishes; but if you’re cooking at home, you won’t have that problem, will you?  All it takes is a little Pad Thai tinkering and crushed pepper experimentation.

My suggestion is that you take advantage of the season’s fruits and vegetables by incorporating generous amounts of citrus and fresh herbs (pad Thai is known for fresh scallion).  Stir-fries are inclusive and unpretentious dishes, so approach this with a friendly attitude, because you should be prepared to share.

Pad Thai

Serves 4 – 6

  • 1 pound dried, rice-stick noodles
  • ½ cup fish sauce
  • ½ rice wine vinegar
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 2 ounces garlic, mashed to paste
  • 10 ounces chicken, cut into thin strips
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 teaspoons or to taste Thai chili powder or cayenne
  • 4 ounces scallion, bias-cut into thin rings
  • 4 ounces unsalted peanuts, fine chop
  • 3 cups mung bean sprouts
  • ¼ cup minced fresh cilantro

Condiments­

  • Bean sprouts
  • Fine chop unsalted peanuts
  • Lime wedges
  • Thai chiles, thin slice
  • Minced cilantro

1.  Soak rice sticks in bowl of warm water until soft (about 15 minutes).  Meanwhile, combine fish sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, and ketchup in a small bowl.  Stir until sugar has dissolved.  Drain noodles—reserve until needed.

2.  Heat oil in wok or wide-bottomed sauté pan; add chicken and sauté until meat begins to turn white; add garlic and cook briefly (don’t burn).  Add fish sauce mixture, and bring to a boil; add noodles and gently toss with sauce.  Continue to cook until noodles have absorbed sauce (about 2 minutes).

3.  Pour eggs into the pad Thai mixture, and mix thoroughly until egg is set.  Add chili powder or cayenne, along with scallions; cook until scallions are softened.  Stir in peanuts and bean sprouts until incorporated well.  Sprinkle pad Thai with cilantro, and serve with condiments.

Roasted corn and brie ravioli with sage and browned butter

A ravioli to rave about

Originally appeared in the April 12, 2012 edition of the Southside Times.

To be quite honest, I considered taking a shortcut here, with the pasta.  In an effort to save you, dear reader, a step or two in this recipe’s execution, I tried tracking down fresh sheets of pasta that you could utilize for ravioli.  But then I realized: the time it takes to get your hands on a package of fresh pasta sheets, is time better spent in the comfort of your kitchen, happily knocking out batch after batch of homemade ravioli.  So, for the sake of time, let’s get to it, shall we?

Homemade ravioli is, to employ an overused word, easy.  All that’s required are four ingredients, a rolling pin (if you have a pasta machine, use that, but it’s not necessary), a clean counter, and some pastry cutters.  The technique to use is the “well method,” in which a small indention is made in a mound of flour; the egg mixture then gradually incorporates the flour.  Once you’ve accomplished a batch of this homemade pasta, you’ll be eager to experiment with your own fillings.  The combination of corn and brie was something I’ve tinkering with, but don’t be afraid to simply substitute with your own amalgamation of ingredients.  Just make it fun, filling, and fulfilling.

Roasted corn and brie ravioli with sage and browned butter

Makes approximately 12 – 14 ravioli

  • 2 large eggs
  • 5 ½ ounces bread flour (plus more for kneading and rolling)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • 2 ears of sweet corn, peeled form husk and kernels sliced from cob
  • 6 ounces brie, cut into small cubes
  • ½ tablespoon chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 ½ tablespoons chopped fresh sage
  • As needed, toasted breadcrumbs and grated parmesan

1.  Using the “well method,” pour flour onto clean counter surface, and create a small indention; place eggs, oil, and salt in this indention.  Using a fork, swirl the liquid against the flour, slowly incorporating the flour to create a soft dough.  When it’s dry enough to be workable, knead the pasta dough for about five minutes until the texture is smooth.  Form dough into a rectangular shape, wrap tightly in plastic, and place in refrigerator to rest.

2.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  In a bowl, toss corn kernels with a bit of olive oil (just enough to coat) and a pinch of kosher salt.  Place aluminum foil on a sheetpan, spray with nonstick cooking spray, and pour kernels out evenly.  Place in oven and roast until kernels have gained golden color (about 15 minutes).  Remove corn from oven and place in bowl to cool; when cooled completely, add in cubed brie and basil.  Set aside.

3.  Remove pasta from plastic and cut in half, rewrapping the other half and setting aside.  Dust clean work surface with a small amount of flour, and lightly dust a rolling pin.  Maintaining the rectangular shape of the pasta, roll dough out into a long, thin sheet, rotating and flipping sides as you go.  Once the pasta is very thin, add a small spoonful of filling to bottom half of the dough, allowing enough room at the top to fold the pasta over the filling (sort of like a pasta sleeping bag).  Use a bit of eggwash (just a broken egg) to trace around the filling (this will act like glue).  Fold top portion of dough down over the bottom, allowing for a small amount of space around the circumference of the filling.

4.  Use your fingers to squeeze out any excess air, and use round pastry cutters to cut out the ravioli.  Set completed ravioli aside.  Once one batch is ready (about 6 at a time), gently drop into salted boiling water and cook for about 3 – 4 minutes.  Meanwhile, place 2 tablespoons of butter in a sauté pan over medium heat.  Allow butter to gain some browned color.  Use a slotted spoon to remove drained ravioli from water, and place pasta into sauté pan with browned butter.  Add in sage and toss to coat ravioli.  To garnish, sprinkle with toasted breadcrumbs and parmesan.