Fries with Lemon Salt & Rosemary

fries with lemon salt & rosemary

Lemon sugar revolutionized baking for me. Lemon salt promises to do the same for everything else. Though my use of this flavored salt extends to this single recipe — “straw potatoes” seasoned with lemon salt (thanks to April Bloomfield) and fried with rosemary (thanks to Jamie Oliver) — the possibilities are endless. Salt might just become lemon salt from here on out.

I know deep frying can be intimidating — vats of hot oil are never fun — and somewhat wasteful — even small-batch frying requires a fair amount of oil — and smelly — your kitchen (house?) inevitably will smell of fast-food — but sometimes these sorts of annoyances are worth the trouble. This is one such case. You won’t be disappointed. I promise.

julienned potatoes

lemon zest & salt

mortar & pestle with sea salt and lemon zest

potatoes, rosemary, lemon salt

fries with lemon salt & rosemary

fries with lemon salt & rosemary

A few notes:

• This recipe requires a mandoline — the fine shape of the julienned potato allows them to fry up first time around (as opposed to thick-cut fries, which require a double fry) — and calls for deep frying.
• When deep frying, be very careful. Use a pot with high sides to be safe, and make sure the oil is not filled as far as half-way up the sides — two or three inches should do.
• Fry in small batches: If you add too many potatoes to the hot oil, the oil will bubble over the side of the pan and creep along your stove top, creating a huge mess and posing a serious danger to you and anyone crawling around your floor. Too many potatoes at one time, too, will bring the temperature of the oil down, which will cause the potatoes to take longer to cook also making them soggy in the process.

April Bloomfield’s Rosemary Straw Potatoes with Lemon Salt
Source: Cooking with Jamie

for the lemon salt:
zest of one lemon
4 tablespoons sea salt (I used 3)

sunflower oil (I used a mix of canola and vegetable oil)
1 3/4 lb. potatoes, peeled and julienned* (I used Yukon Gold, and I didn’t peel)
a few sprigs of rosemary

* The potatoes can be julienned in advance — about an hour or so — before they start turning slightly brown. A little brown is OK, but too much brown is probably not a good idea. Storing the potatoes in water will prevent browning, but you also must dry the potatoes very well before you start frying, which is kind of a pain.

1. Make the lemon salt: In a mortar and pestle, bash together the lemon zest and salt until salt is flavored, colored, and fine. Place in a dish. Use whatever you need right away or allow it to dry out for a couple of hours before storing it. (I made my lemon salt a day in advance and stored it in the mortar wrapped in plastic wrap.)

2. Heat 2 to 3 inches of oil in a sturdy, high-sided pan; bring to deep-frying temperature (350°F; to avoid oil catching fire, be sure to maintain its temperature at 350°F). Jamie’s tip: place a potato in the cold oil before you turn the burner on. When the potato rises to the top of the oil and begins to turn golden brown, the oil is ready. Remove the potato piece and start frying in small batches.

3. Pat the julienne strips dry with some paper towels to remove any excess starch. Making sure you’ve got a slotted spoon or spider (which is like a flat colander with a handle) and a big pile of paper towels to one side (I did not use paper towels, but instead transfered the finished fries to a large aluminum bowl, which allows for easy tossing), carefully place some of your potatoes into the pan of oil (don’t overcrowd it) for a couple of minutes (1 to 2) until golden brown and crisp. Cook potatoes in batches until they are all used up. Add the rosemary for the last 30 seconds. (Note: It’s hard to judge when the last 30 seconds will be, but the rosemary can be in the oil for as few as 10 seconds. I basically added the rosemary in at the last few seconds of each batch). Remove the potatoes and rosemary to the paper towels (or a large bowl) to soak up any excess oil; dust with your lemon salt. Serve immediately, perhaps alongside a blue cheese burger as they are at the Spotted Pig.

Homemade Vanilla Extract, Moo Labels

vanilla bottles

I know it’s hard to think about the holiday gift-giving season when it’s 1000 degrees outside, but if you’re the type that likes to be prepared, I suppose it’s never too early. Here’s a fun little project to undertake the next time you find yourself trapped indoors this summer: homemade vanilla extract.

To start, you’ll need some vanilla beans. IndriVanilla, supplier of Fair Trade bourbon vanilla beans at beyond reasonable prices, is a great source. Since discovering them back in January, I have reintroduced vanilla beans to my pantry and have never been happier.

Next, a little alcohol. I made two batches with what I had on hand — vodka and rum — but the type of alcohol can vary from Frangelico to butterscotch schnapps to spiced rum to amaretto, all of with which Whitney Olsen, owner of IndriVanilla, has experimented. With 50+ variations of extract now bottled, Whitney has learned a few things, namely that the longer the beans steep and the more that are used, the stronger the vanilla extract will taste. And, moreover, because sugars in lower-proof alcohols can inhibit steeping, the higher the proof of the alcohol — 80 or above is ideal — the better the extract will taste.

And that’s really it. With vanilla beans and alcohol on hand, you are all set to start making homemade extract. The process couldn’t be more simple: heat alcohol just to its boiling point; pour it over split vanilla beans; let the extract steep for at least six weeks.

If you feel like turning your homemade vanilla into gifts, here’s what you’ll need:

Bottles. I, for once, was practical (thanks to guidance by Whitney) and didn’t order cute cork-topped bottles, which leak and apparently can impart unpleasant odors. I ordered 4-oz. amber glass bottles on Uline. Each bottle holds about 7 tablespoons (just under 1/2 cup) of liquid. At $1.05 a piece, my 24 bottles cost $25.20 and shipping brought the total to $36.81, making the ultimate cost per bottle $1.53.

Labels. There are lots of great resources for printing labels at home, but I love Moo.com, so I ordered my labels there. If you like the look of these, I’ve enclosed links to the files below, which you can download and order from Moo, too. There are three color options, and depending on when you get around to making the vanilla, you can choose a label with the appropriate 1-, 2-, 3-, 4-, 5- or 6-month-aged stamp.

Got it? Get crackin’. At the very least, order some beans and pick up some alcohol. The bottling and labeling can wait for a day this winter when you might find yourself trapped indoors again with any luck snow falling outside your windows.

filling the vanilla

vanilla bottles

vanilla beans

vanilla caviar

vanilla caviar

vanilla beans

vodka & rum

beans in jar

ball jars

bottles overhead

homemade vanilla, bottled


Homemade Vanilla Extract

Recipe adapted from Cooks Illustrated; much guidance sought from owner of IndriVanilla, Whitney Olsen, who happens to be the nicest person on the planet and is always willing to offer advice with anything vanilla related. Check out her FB page for recipes and ideas.

Whitney’s notes:
• For the Indonesian vanilla beans (the variety IndriVanilla supplies), Whitney believes that rum complements the flavor of the vanilla best.
• For strong extract ready to use in 6-8 weeks, you’ll want to use a minimum of 3 luxury vanilla beans or 4 ultra-premium vanilla beans or 5 gourmet vanilla beans per 8 oz. of alcohol.
• Steep for a minimum of 6 weeks, but the longer the better.
• Cheesecloth or coffee filters work well for straining if you wish to do so.

Cooks Illustrated proportions:
1 vanilla bean
3/4 cup alcohol of choice (Cooks Illustrated used Smirnoff vodka; Whitney recommends something with a proof of at least 80)

1. Split a fresh bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Place the seeds and split pod in a sealable container such as a mason jar. Meanwhile, heat the alcohol just to a boil, then pour over seeds and pod. Let the mixture cool to room temperature. Seal the container and store at room temperature for at least 6 weeks. Strain the extract, if desired (I didn’t), and store in a cool, dark place. The extract should keep indefinitely.

Labels for Download:
Order a pack of 50 on Moo for $16.99

Red Label, Aged 1 month
Red Label, Aged 2 months
Red Label, Aged 3 months
Red Label, Aged 4 months
Red Label, Aged 5 months
Red Label, Aged 6 months

Green Label, Aged 1 month
Green Label, Aged 2 months
Green Label, Aged 3 months
Green Label, Aged 4 months
Green Label, Aged 5 months
Green Label, Aged 6 months

Blue Label, Aged 1 month
Blue Label, Aged 2 months
Blue Label, Aged 3 months
Blue Label, Aged 4 months
Blue Label, Aged 5 months
Blue Label, Aged 6 months

Box of Moo labels:
box of Moo labels

moo labels

homemade for you

Acrobatic Granola Bars

limber granola bar

At batch 25, I discovered what I wanted a granola bar to be able to do for me: a backbend. No, no — it’s not just that I’m overcome with Olympic spirit and am counting the seconds till I see tumblers spinning across my tv. Well, that too, but it’s mostly that I’ve realized that a granola bar that can hold a backbend without falling apart has just the chew I like.

Over the past few months, many experimentations with various recipes have led to the below formula, which yields a chewy, not-too-sweet bar that can be stored at room temperature in ziplock bags (in contrast to some bars, which require refrigeration to maintain their shape.) During this granola bar-making journey, I’ve gathered elements from many recipes along the way but from three in particular: Sara’s granola bars on Food52 inspired the use of almond butter, which doesn’t dominate in flavor the way peanut butter does; the Barefoot Contessa’s recipe inspired the base mixture of oats, coconut, and sliced almonds in nearly the same ratio as her granola recipe, which is my favorite; and an All Recipes’ recipe inspired the ratio of the “glue” that binds the bars together.

These bars are nearly perfect for me, but that’s not to say they’ll be perfect for you. The “best” granola bar is kind of a personal thing, and if you care to start experimenting, I have one little tip that might help you out: commit to a base mixture and make a big batch of it. As soon as I resolved that oats, almonds and coconut would be my base, I mixed up a big batch and stored it in a ziplock bag. With this base on hand, whipping up new variations of the bars became effortless.

One final note: I am loath to admit that the “glue” in these bars contains corn syrup. Obviously you don’t have to use it if you are opposed. The corn syrup can be replaced with honey, which I can promise will produce just as delicious a granola bar. I just can’t promise it will produce any backbends. It’s your call.

cut granola bars

granola bar mix with blueberries and cashews

almond butter

baking pan

ready for the oven

cut granola bars

cut granola bars

oats, coconut and almonds

Note: I have supplied a “recipe” for a big batch of the granola bar mix, which I have been keeping on hand to facilitate easy experimentation. I use two cups of the mix per batch of granola bars, but if you don’t feel like making a big bag of mix, I have provided the smaller quantities that comprise the two cups in the recipe below.

Chewy Granola Bars
yield = 18 per batch; granola bar mix yields 4 batches

Granola Bar Mix:

4 cups rolled oats
2 cups sliced almonds
2 cups sweetened coconut

1. Combine all in a bowl. Place in a ziplock bag until ready to make the granola bars. (As noted above, this bag will yield 4 batches of granola bars.)

Granola Bars

1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
6 tablespoons brown sugar (1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons)
1/3 cup almond butter or peanut butter (I prefer almond butter. PB definitely dominates.)
1/4 cup corn syrup (or honey, just know that the honey might not provide as chewy a texture as you might like)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups of the above mix (or use 1 cup of rolled oats + 1/2 cup slivered almonds + 1/2 cup sweetened coconut)
3 tablespoons wheat germ (toasted or untoasted)
3/4 or 1 teaspoon kosher salt (I use 1 teaspoon, but if you are sensitive to salt, perhaps start with 3/4)
1/2 cup chopped cashews* (I used toasted and unsalted)
1/4 cup dried fruit**

* Almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios — pick your favorite
** In the photos, I used dried blueberries, which I thought I was going to love, but which I found to be a little too overpowering. I prefer dried cranberries and raisins, but imagine cherries, apricots, dates and figs would work nicely, too.

1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Lay a piece of parchment paper over a 9×9-inch baking pan so that it will cover the bottom as well as the sides of the pan. Press the paper into the pan to line it. (If you can secure the parchment paper to the pan with clips, it will help when you are spreading the batter into the pan.)

2. Melt the butter (if you haven’t already), then add it to a small mixing bowl along with the brown sugar, butter, corn syrup and vanilla.

3. In a large mixing bowl, add the granola bar mix (or the noted smaller quantities of oats, almonds and coconut) along with the wheat germ, salt, cashews and dried fruit. Toss with your hands to combine. UPDATE: I just made a batch this morning (7-17-2012), and this time I pulsed all of these dried ingredients (cashews and dried cranberries included) in the food processor. I like the texture of the baked bar when the ingredients have been pulsed briefly. It’s your call. You lose a bit of the chunky texture, so if you like that, maybe try one batch with the dry ingredients pulsed and another batch with them not pulsed. Also, you don’t want to purée the ingredients so that they start clumping together. The nuts and dried berries should still be in coarse pieces. (See photo below.)

4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix with a spatula until nicely combined. Spread into prepared pan and flatten. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until lightly browned on top. (The longer you bake it, the firmer the final bar will be. It might take a batch or two for you to realize what texture you prefer.) Remove from oven and let cool on rack for 25 minutes. Pull up on the parchment paper and remove the block from the pan. Lay it on a cutting board and cut the bar into pieces. Let cool completely before storing.

Update 7-17-12: In the batch I made this morning, I pulsed the ingredients briefly in the food processor. I like the texture of the baked bar when the ingredients have been pulsed briefly and will be doing this from here on out.
pulsed granola mix

granola mix

cut granola bars

Sorry. Couldn’t resist.
olympic granola bar

Maryland Crab Cakes

just-broiled crab cakes

My only goal for my week in Virginia Beach was to eat a good crabcake. Thanks to Dockside, I did. Broiled, lightly seasoned, meaty, the Dockside crabcake embodies everything I hope for in a crabcake.

Finding myself dreaming about this delicacy upon returning home, I called Dockside to find out the details, which they so graciously offered: crabmeat, mayonnaise, panko bread crumbs and Old Bay seasoning. They keep it pretty simple, which came as no surprise. Had they told me they used nothing but crabmeat, I wouldn’t have questioned them.

Recreating the Dockside crab cake was surprisingly easy. Because the cakes are broiled — as opposed to pan fried, which (and sorry for stating the obvious) involves flipping — the cakes can (and should) be delicately and loosely formed. In fact, if your cakes are almost falling apart as you’re placing them on your broiling pan, it’s probably a good sign. A nearly falling-apart crab cake will ensure that the mayonnaise and panko (or pulverized Saltines or bread crumbs or whatever you are using) are doing their job as binders but nothing more.

These cakes broiled for five minutes and disappeared in two. They were delicious.

Final note, crabmeat is expensive. Like, pit-in-your-stomach expensive. Like, oh-shit expensive. Like, how-can-I-rationalize-this-purchase expensive. But, it’s worth it. A good crab cake starts with good crab. The rest is simple.

crab meat

unbaked crab cakes

ready for the broiler

just-broiled crab cakes

Maryland Crab Cakes
Yield = 8 cakes, serves 2 to 3

Note: This crab cake recipe is inspired by the crab cakes served at Dockside in Virginia Beach. Dockside uses Old Bay seasoning in their crab cakes, but I could barely taste it and because I’m not a huge fan of it anyway, I just omitted it. If you like Old Bay, go for it, but don’t over do it — the crabmeat is so tasty on its own. Also, I used tarragon mayonnaise (because I had it on hand), which I feared might be overpowering, but which definitely was not. The tarragon adds a lovely flavor. If you don’t feel like making the tarragon mayonnaise, however, some freshly chopped tarragon or other herb — parsley or chives, perhaps — would be a nice addition to the crab cake mix.

1 lb. jumbo lump or backfin crabmeat
kosher salt
1/4 cup mayonnaise, preferably homemade with tarragon
6 tablespoons (1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons) panko bread crumbs
squeeze of lemon (less than half of a lemon, so maybe a teaspoon)
a couple of tablespoons of freshly chopped tarragon, parsley or chives (see note above), optional

melted butter, for brushing

lemon wedges, for serving
tartar sauce (recipe below), for serving, optional

1. Place crabmeat in a large mixing bowl. Being careful not to break up the lumps too much, spread out the crabmeat into a single layer in the bowl. Season lightly with salt. Add the mayonnaise, panko, lemon juice and herb (if using). Gently fold all of the ingredients together using your hands or a spatula. The mixture should barely hold together when formed into a cake.

2. Preheat the broiler. (Rack should be about 4 inches from the heat source.) Lightly grease a sheet pan with butter. (Note: Before doing this, take a look at your broiler and make a visual note about where the burning elements will line up with your pan. For instance, I have two coils in my broiler, so when I greased my sheet pan with butter, I greased only the parts where I was planning on placing the crab cakes, which would eventually line up with the two heating elements in the broiler. Hope that makes sense.) Portion your crab mixture into 8 cakes. I used my 1/4 cup measuring cup as a portioner and used my hands to gently form the cakes. Place cakes on sheet pan and chill in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes.

3. Brush each cake with melter butter. Broil five minutes. Serve with lemon wedges and tartar sauce on the side if desired.

Tartar Sauce

I didn’t measure — sorry! — but you kind of can’t mess this up. Also, this can be made days in advance. It tastes better with each passing day.

1/4 cup mayonnaise, preferably homemade with tarragon
8 cornichons, minced
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 small shallot, minced
pinch kosher salt

1. Place all ingredients in a bowl. Stir. Taste. Adjust accordingly.

tartar sauce

just-broiled crab cakes

No-Knead Oatmeal Toasting Bread

cut loaf

Before heading to the beach last week for a little vacation with the family, I spent some time in the kitchen preparing a few items to pack along: granola, granola bars (which, unfortunately, were inedible) and this no-knead oatmeal toasting bread, a tried-and-true family favorite. The goal was meal supplementation — to avoid eating every meal out — and in retrospect, I wish I’d prepared more, namely biscotti, which were sorely missed, and something chocolaty to satisfy our post-dinner sweet tooths — midweek we caved and stocked up on chocolate-almond Hershey bars from the local convenience store … never have they tasted so good.

But this bread was a savior. We ate it every morning toasted and slathered with peanut butter and nearly every afternoon, at times with lettuce, tomato and bacon wedged in between, at others with nutella and peanut butter, and at others with a thick layer of melted cheese and sliced tomato.

It is a cinch to prepare — true to the title, no kneading is involved — and the bread, chewy in texture and slightly sweet, is just straight-up delicious, a treat to have on hand on vacation or not. My only goal tomorrow is to restock my freezer with another two loaves, and thanks to the 100ºF forecast, I’m almost certain to achieve it. Perhaps insufferable heat isn’t all that bad? Just trying to stay positive. Hope you’re all staying cool.

soaking oats, brown sugar & butter

mixed dough

dough, risen

dough, punched down

generously buttered loaf pans

splitting the dough into loaves

loaves, about to rise

loaf, rising

baked loaves

baked loaves

baked loaf

No-Knead Oatmeal Bread

Yield = 2 loaves
Adapted from Kathleen’s Bake Shop Cookbook

3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 3/4 cups old-fashioned oats
3 cups boiling water
2 tablespoons of butter
1 pkg active dry yeast = 2.25 teaspoons
1/4 cup warm water
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 cups whole wheat flour

1. Place brown sugar, salt and oats in a large mixing bowl. Add boiling water. Add butter. Let stand till lukewarm. Note: This is the only place where you could mess up the recipe. The mixture must cool to a lukewarm temperature so that it doesn’t kill the yeast.

2. In a small bowl, sprinkle yeast over the 1/4 cup warm water. Let stand for about 5 minutes. Stir. Add this yeast mixture to the oat mixture and stir.

3. Add the flours a little bit at a time. My old recipe says to add it one cup at a time, but I’m never that patient. Add it as slowly as you can tolerate, stirring to combine after each addition.

4. Transfer dough to a lightly greased bowl and cover with a damp tea towel or plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm spot until doubled in bulk, about 2 hours. This is what I always do for my “warm spot”: preheat the oven to its hottest setting for 1 minute. TURN OFF THE OVEN. (Note: Only preheat the oven for 1 minute total — in other words, don’t wait for your oven to heat up to 500ºF and to sit at that temperature for 1 minute. You just want to create a slightly warm spot for your bread to rise.) Place covered bowl in the oven to rise until doubled.

5. Grease two standard sized loaf pans generously with butter. When dough has risen, punch it down. I use two forks to do this. I stab the dough in the center first, then pull the dough from the sides of the bowl towards the center up onto itself. Then I take my two forks and, working from the center out, I divide it into two equal portions. Place each portion into your prepared loaf pans. Let rise until dough creeps above the rim of the loaf pan.

6. Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Bake loaves for 10 min. Reduce heat to 350ºF. Bake for another 40 to 45 more minutes or until the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped — you have to (obviously) remove the loaf from the pan to test this. Turn loaves out into wire racks immediately to cool.

We had a wonderful time on vacation. We stopped in Williamsburg on the way to Virginia Beach (obviously to give Ella and Graham a little history lesson); we stayed in awesome cabins; we bought as-fresh-as-fresh-can-be fish (rockfish and sea bass) every night from Dockside, which we grilled whole and devoured; and we spent hour upon hour at the beach.
vacation

cut loaf

Homemade Tarragon Mayonnaise + A Squeeze of Lemon = Unbelievable Lobster Rolls

lobster roll

With lobster rolls on my brain for weeks, it was high time to brush up on my homemade mayonnaise making. I took my mother’s advice and made Mark Bittman’s food processor mayonnaise, which, as my mother promised, was both delicious and foolproof thanks to a teeny hole in the food-pusher insert (see photo below). From start to finish (including cleanup), the whole process took five minutes, the mayonnaise itself coming together in less than one minute once the blades started spinning.

In preparation for the lobster rolls, I threw in some tarragon at the end, an ingredient I’ve always associated with a good lobster roll — a good lobster roll made at home I should say. It has been too many years to say for sure, but I don’t recall any tarragon present in the $3 lobster rolls my mother and I inhaled three times a day for a week straight at the various roadside stands dotting the Maine coastline during one summer road trip. Those were the best lobster rolls I’ve ever tasted, ones I’ve never even tried to replicate at home.

At home I make lobster rolls just as my mother does with nothing more than homemade mayonnaise, fresh tarragon and a squeeze of lemon. They are so simple — with the exception of the whole killing/boiling/cracking of the lobsters process — and so delicious. It never feels like summer till I’ve had my first lobster roll, at a roadside stand or not, and these, despite arriving just days before the Fourth, were no exception. Happy Fourth Everyone!

A few notes on buying/killing lobsters: The consensus seems to be that it is more humane to kill a lobster by thrusting a sharp knife through the lobster’s shell behind its eyes than by dropping the live lobster into boiling water. A little internet research led me to a youTube video featuring Eric Ripert, whose comments and demonstration finally gave me the courage to kill the lobsters before boiling them. If you have any inclination to do this, watch Ripert’s video, and then go for it. As Ripert says:

“It’s not a pleasant experience, but when you eat lobster and when you eat any kind of animal, that animal has been alive and it’s very important to be aware that we are taking that life away and that we are going to eat it, and if we do a good job, we are actually paying homage to the lives that we sacrifice.”

I’ll be honest, it wasn’t a pleasant experience, and I had the jitters before, during and after the process (they seemed to linger all afternoon in fact), but it was worth it.

Finally, Seafood Watch’s Ocean Friendly Seafood App lists wild-caught lobster from California or Florida as the “Best Choice” and trap-caught lobster from the Northeastern U.S. and Canada as a “Good Alternative.” Wild-caught lobster from Brazil is on the SW’s “Avoid” list.

lobsters

lobster meat

lobster meat

lobster meat mixed with tarragon mayonnaise

See this teeny hole? It’s this hole that allows the oil to enter the food processor in a slow steady stream, allowing the mixture to emulsify perfectly into mayonnaise.

Cuisinart stopper

mayonnaise ingredients

homemade mayonnaise

fresh tarragon

tarragon mayonnaise

You all know how to cut a lemon, right? I mean the pretty way? Not sure? Check this out. It’s not necessary to cut lemons this way but it makes for a nice presentation.
lemon slices

Unbelievably Delicious Lobster Rolls
Serves: 3, but the recipe can be multiplied as necessary

3 lobsters, about 1 lb to 1.25 lbs each
kosher salt
homemade tarragon mayonnaise (recipe below)
fresh squeezed lemon juice, to taste
additional lemon for serving (cut like this for a pretty presentation)

hotdog buns (or homemade brioche hotdog buns)

1. Bring a very large pot of water to a boil. (Since I do not own a lobster pot, I used my two largest stock pots.) Kill lobsters, as described above (if desired), then plunge into boiling water. Boil for 10 to 11 minutes. Remove lobsters from pots, let cool briefly, then start cracking. Remove meat from lobster, chop coarsely and place in a large bowl.

2. Spread the lobster meat out in the bowl into a single layer. Season with kosher salt. Add tarragon mayonnaise to taste. To give you an idea, my three lobsters yielded 13.5 oz of meat, and I used a quarter cup of the homemade tarragon mayonnaise. Add lemon juice — I used about half a lemon — to taste. Gently mix the ingredients with a spatula. Taste. Adjust seasoning as necessary.

3. Toast hotdog buns, if desired. (My buns had been baked that day, so I did not toast them.) Spoon lobster meat into buns. Serve with additional wedges of lemon on the side.

Homemade Mayonnaise
Source: Mark Bittman and The New York Times

1 egg yolk or whole egg (I used a yolk)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice or sherry or white wine vinegar (I used white balsamic vinegar)
1 cup neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn, or extra virgin olive oil, or a combination (I used extra-virgin because it was all I had)

fresh tarragon (optional) — I threw in a whole bunch (5 to 6 tablespoons maybe?)

1. Put the yolk or egg, mustard, salt, pepper and lemon juice or vinegar in the container of a food processor and turn the machine on. While it’s running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream. (Your food processor should have a teeny hole in the food pusher insert in the top). When an emulsion forms you can add it a little faster. (Again, the little hole makes this unnecessary.) Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Add the fresh tarragon (if desired) and pulse until chopped.

Homemade brioche hotdog buns:
brioche hotdog buns

Lemon Blueberry Crisp

blueberry crisp

Several months ago I watched Dorie Greenspan make madeleines on the Martha Stewart Show. While the madeleines looked divine, what struck me most from her demonstration was her handling of the lemon zest. Rather than whisk the zest directly into the dry ingredients, she placed it in a small bowl with the sugar and massaged the two ingredients together with her fingertips until she had created a moist and fragrant citrus sugar, a technique, she says, that serves to release oils from the zest into the sugar, making the lemon flavor twice as pronounced.

I still haven’t made the madeleines, but, when I remember to, I employ this citrus-sugar technique when appropriate when I’m baking. While it’s not critical — freshly grated zest, massaged into sugar or not, always adds a nice flavor — I have found that the technique does heighten the citrus flavor, which is especially nice in cakes and muffins and cobblers. Moreover, making the citrus sugar is kind of fun. Try it. It smells so good! And it makes just about the best fresh squeezed lemonade you could ever imagine.

The most recent dish I’ve given the citrus-sugar treatment to is my mother’s blueberry crisp, one of my favorites. Like most crisps, this one takes no time to prepare, and if you have a food processor, the topping — a mixture of flour, sugar, almonds and butter — comes together in seconds. The absence of oats and brown sugar in this crisp topping makes it particularly light and allows the lemon-sugared blueberries to really shine. Have a Happy Fourth Everyone.

crisp topping ingredients

Cuisinart with crisp topping

colander with blueberries

blueberries and lemon sugar

Lemon Blueberry Crisp
Serves 8-10

6 cups blueberries (3 pints), washed and stemmed
zest of one lemon
1/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/4 teaspoon table salt (or 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt)
1 stick (1/2 cup) cold, unsalted butter cut into 1/2-inch cubes

vanilla ice cream for serving

1. Preheat oven to 425ºF.

2. Place blueberries in 9×13-inch baking pan. In a small bowl, rub zest and sugar together with your fingers until sugar is moist and fragrant. Spread over blueberries and toss to combine.

3. Pulse sugar, flour, almonds and salt in food processor until nuts are chopped. Add butter and pulse until mixture begins to clump. Spread over blueberries. Bake 25 minutes or until crisp topping is browned and blueberries are bubbling.

4. Serve with ice cream if desired.

unbaked crisp

Benriner Mandoline & Turning Slicer, Kevlar Gloves

sliced cucumbers, potatoes and summer squash

Shortly after posting the summer squash spaghetti entry, I received a message on Facebook from a reader. It said: “I just ordered the mandoline! My husband is shaking his head. Just wait!” Shortly after reading the comment, a few images flashed through my head: a dismembered finger, an angry husband, and a couple sitting in the ER waiting room cursing my name. What had I done?! Statements and suggestions from that post had to be followed up, sooner rather than later.

Let’s start from the beginning. In that post, I noted that I prefered my Benriner mandoline to my Benriner turning slicer for the long thin wisps it creates. This is true. The Benriner mandoline is great for, among many reasons, creating julienned summer squash and cucumbers, for slicing potatoes into rounds to be baked or fried into chips, and for thinly slicing radishes and kohlrabi for salads. Moreover, it, unlike some mandolines, can be adjusted so that it truly makes paper-thin slices (others stop at 1/4-inch or 1/8-inch).

What I perhaps love most about the Benriner mandoline, however, is its size, which measures only 13.5 x 6 x 1-inch, making it compact enough to fit right against the inside wall of any of my kitchen cupboards, allowing for easy access and stowage. Having never owned any other mandoline, I have only my mother’s to compare, which sits in the same cumbersome box in which it was packaged and lives someplace in her basement. It’s no wonder she never uses it.

The Benriner mandoline is not perfect, however, and if you decide to get one, it is important to keep a few things in mind:

1. Because it is handheld, it is necessary to have some way of securing its bottom edge while you are using it. I have a wooden cutting board with a back raised ledge (see videos below), which works perfectly, but a wall (if your counters aren’t too deep) or a brick (maybe?) could serve the same purpose.

2. Because it does not have one of those protective plastic shields — or if it came with one, I have no idea where it is — it has the potential to seriously injure whoever is operating it. With this is mind, reader Dee G left a great comment on the pasta post: “Love my mandoline, and I use it with no fear after purchasing kevlar gloves from Amazon. I could never make the pushing thing work for me and always used my fingers…a dangerous proposition. Those gloves are simply fantastic! And you really only need one, so buy a pair and share with a friend. I promise you’ll use that mandoline much more often!”

Dee G was right. The gloves give you all the confidence you need to pass any vegetable swiftly down the mandoline plane right through the razor sharp blade. I purchased these kevlar gloves and would like to share one half of my pair with one of you. Leave a comment if you are interested.

3. Finally, Kevlar glove on or off, the Benriner mandoline is not the best tool for certain jobs. Julienning potatoes, for instance, I found to be very challenging with the Benriner mandoline. In contrast, the turning slicer seemed to magically and effortlessly multiply my single potato into a beautiful web of thinly sliced strands, the perfect shape for frites (or a frites nest I should say).

In sum, if you’re in the market for a mandoline, I highly recommend the Benriner, but I would sleep better knowing you purchased a pair of kevlar gloves along with it. And if you have room for another gadget, the Benriner turning slicer (I’ve discovered this past week) does in fact have a place in the kitchen — for certain vegetables it is a much safer and better tool to use than a mandoline, and if you’re at all frightened by the idea of using a mandoline, the turning slicer might be the way to go.

fried potatoes

slicers & kevlar gloves

This salad is so summery and refreshing, perfect aside grilled meat or fish.
cucumber, feta and mint salad

potatoes & slicers

Benriner slicers

One note: I used a cucumber that I had sliced on the turning slicer for this salad. It was beautiful but a little bit awkward to serve — the turning slicer creates insanely long strands of whatever it is slicing up. One way to avoid this situation is to either use a mandoline or a knife (neither a turning slicer or mandoline is necessary to cut up cucumbers — just slice the cucumber into thin rounds or small dice) or to chop up the cucumber “nest” created by the turning slicer before tossing it with the feta, mint and dressing.

Cucumber, Feta and Mint Salad
Serves: However many you like

cucumbers, julienned or diced or sliced into rounds
feta cheese
mint, thinly sliced
extra-virgin olive oil
white balsamic vinegar

1. Combine cucumbers, feta and mint in a bowl. Toss with equal parts olive oil and white balsamic. As a reference, I used 1 tablespoon of olive oil and one tablespoon of vinegar for the 1 cucumber I sliced up. Season with salt if necessary — I found that the feta added enough saltiness so I didn’t add any additional salt.

cutting board

cucumber, feta and mint salad

fried potatoes

The Bran Muffin To End All Bran Muffins

Nancy Silverton's bran muffins

Many of you already know of this bran muffin, a Nancy Silverton creation served at the widely adored La Brea Bakery. Made with toasted wheat bran, freshly grated orange zest, and simmered and puréed raisins, it is one of the most delicious muffins — bran or otherwise — out there. This is a true bran muffin, not a brown muffin under the guise of bran muffin. Despite being nearly one hundred percent whole grain in makeup, it is perfectly sweet and super moist. This is a muffin you feel almost OK about eating by the half dozen and one you feel truly OK about packing into lunch bags and taking on road trips.

Is it a little fussy? Toasted bran, grated zest, plumped and puréed raisins? Yes, a little bit. But I would argue that the bran muffin to end all bran muffins deserves to be so. I think you’ll agree.

orange and raisins

puréeing simmered raisins

batter

scooping batter into the pan

scooping batter

Nancy Silverton’s Bran Muffins
Adapted very slightly from Nancy Silverton via More Than Burnt Toast and David Lebovitz
From Nancy Silverton’s Pastries from the La Brea Bakery

Notes: Because I don’t love the texture of raisins in baked goods, I puréed all of them in step 3 versus saving a half cup to fold in at the end. If you like the texture of raisins, however, by all means, save a 1/2 cup to be folded in at the end.

2 cups (125g) wheat bran
1 1/2 cups (190g total) dark raisins
1 1/2 cups (370ml total) water
1/2 cup (120g) buttermilk or plain low-fat yogurt (I used buttermilk)
zest of one orange
1/2 cup (105g) packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup (125ml) vegetable oil (I used canola)
1 large egg
1 large egg white
1/2 cup (65g) flour
1/4 cup (35g) whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners or grease with butter or oil or use these free-standing paper liners, which are fun and pretty.

2. Spread the wheat bran on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for six to eight minutes, stirring a few times so it cooks evenly. Let cool.

3. While the bran is toasting, heat 1 cup of the raisins with 1/2 cup of the water. (Note: I simmered all of the raisins (1.5 cups) at once with 3/4 cups water, then added the remaining 3/4 cup water to the batter (step 4) afterwards.) Simmer for ten minutes, or until the water is all absorbed (I simmered for 10 minutes and all of the water was not absorbed, but I figured it was OK, and it was). Puree the raisins in a food processor or blender until smooth.

4. In a large bowl, mix together the toasted bran, buttermilk or yogurt, 1 cup water (or 3/4 cup water if you have simmered all of the raisins with 3/4 cup water), then mix in the raisin puree, orange zest, and brown sugar.

5. Stir in the oil, egg and egg white.

6. Mix together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and sift (or not) directly into the wet ingredients. Stir until the ingredients are just combined, then mix in the remaining 1/2 cup raisins (if you haven’t puréed all of them already).

7. Spoon the batter into the muffin tins, making sure the batter is mounded slightly in each one. Because muffin tins can very in size, if your tins are larger, make fewer muffins.

8. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the muffins feel set in the center.

Nancy Silverton's bran muffins

Summer Squash Spaghetti

zucchini spaghetti

Several years ago I bought a Benriner turning slicer. It is a ridiculous (but fun) tool that sits in my cupboard 364 days a year. To justify hanging on to it, I pull it out every year, just once, at the start of zucchini season, when I set out to make one of my favorite spaghetti recipes, the very dish that inspired its purchase.

I had read about the turning slicer in Michael Chiarello’s Tra Vigne Cookbook, which extolled the tool for its ability to cut vegetables into long spirals, perfect for making cucumber salads or for preparing potatoes for the deep fryer or for turning out zucchini slices for this very spaghetti recipe. That sounded like fun, I thought, and I ran out to Fante’s to see for myself.

While the gadget works beautifully and while it, unlike some of my other slicers, poses no risk to my fingers, my experimentation has extended no further than this single recipe. Truthfully, I prefer the shape of the long thin wisps created by a mandoline.

While neither tool is required to prepare this pasta recipe, having one helps. The beauty of the dish lies in the delicateness of the zucchini and summer squash strands, which cook in the final minute of the assembly process while they’re being tossed with the just-boiled spaghetti.

The sauce for this pasta is simple: extra-virgin olive oil heated briefly with minced garlic and crushed red pepper flakes. Lemon zest and lots of chopped basil and parsley add a touch of freshness. Grated Parmigiano Reggiano is a must.

I love this pasta. It’s simple and summery, and it always inspires me once again to unearth such a promising gadget. Maybe this summer will be different? Maybe we’ll take to feasting on whimsical cucumber nest salads and carrot and daikon radish slaws? Maybe we’ll grow accustomed to sliding our grilled steaks onto beds of crispy potatoes? It’s unlikely, but I’ll be sure to keep you posted.

benriner turning slicer

sliced zucchini

zucchini & summer squash

Love my Benriner mandoline:
benriner mandoline

ingredients

adding the parsley & basil

Zucchini Spaghetti
Adapted from Michael Chiarello’s The Tra Vigne Cookbook
Serves 2 to 3

Notes: The original recipe called for 3/4 lb. spaghettini, 3/4 lb. zucchini and 1/2 cup olive oil. I have reduced the amount of pasta and olive oil, but essentially kept the amount of squash the same. I also added lemon zest, which goes nicely with zucchini and adds a touch of brightness. Also, don’t be confused by the photo with the halved lemon and reamer — I don’t actually add any lemon juice, though I can’t imagine a squeeze would do too much damage. Your call.

1/2 lb. spaghetti
kosher salt
1/2 lb. or more zucchini or yellow squash (I used 11 oz. weighed after being trimmed sliced)
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil (or more or less)
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
zest of one lemon
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
¼ cup finely chopped parsley (optional — sometimes I just use basil)
½ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
freshly ground pepper

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a big pinch of salt. Meanwhile, using a mandoline or Benriner turning slicer, cut the squash into long thin strips. Alternatively, cut the squash with a knife as thinly as you are able. Place the sliced squash in a colander in your sink. Cook the pasta until al dente, reserving ½ cup of the pasta cooking liquid (though you might not even need it — I never seem to with this dish).

2. Place the oil, garlic and red pepper flakes in a small skillet and turn heat to high. When the oil and garlic begin to sizzle, turn off the heat. (If you have an electric burner, as I do, remove pan from the heat source if the garlic begins to brown.)

3. Drain the pasta over the colander containing the squash, then transfer pasta and squash to a large bowl. Add the garlic-red pepper oil to the bowl. (Note: I add all of the oil at once, because I like the pasta to be nicely coated, but I could see how some people might find it too oily. If you are wary of oil, add about half of the oil to start, then add more as needed.) Add the zest and the herbs. Add the Parmigiano. Toss. Taste. Season with kosher salt (if necessary — I add a lot of salt to the pasta water so I usually don’t have to add any extra salt) and pepper to taste. If necessary, add some of the reserved cooking water (I didn’t need any), more olive oil (didn’t need it) or salt and pepper.

Have a nice weekend.
graham & ella