Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Getting Things Started

So, I set up this blog a few weeks ago, and hadn’t been able to take the plunge until now. I’ve been cooking, don’t get me wrong. But each time I think to myself ‘Oh this is a good recipe, maybe I should try this one’ it turns out all wrong, or I run out of time, or the pictures don’t come out. Which reminds me, let me apologize for the pictures that will be on this blog. I am not very adept at using my camera and I still need to purchase a tripod. So if the pictures are slightly blurry, please know that I tried.

Anyways, my idea for this is to share with you recipes that I try, adapt and eat which seem worthy. And believe me there are a lot out there that are not worth sharing. I am pretty hard on myself when it comes to cooking, especially if I want other people to try it. And Joe (you’ll hear more about him as this progresses) is always very complimentary about the food I make. As long as it isn’t peppers stuffed with vegetables.

So in lieu of that, I came across a recipe from an issue of Gourmet last year - Baked Penne with Farmhouse Cheddar and Leeks. And I must tell you that I am sucker for macaroni and cheese. All kinds. Powdery fake cheese like substance, rich and creamy homemade stuff, dry and old sitting at the bottom of a restaurant pan, anything. It’s almost shameful how I lust for mac and cheese. So when I came across this - I figured, farmhouse cheddar cheese? yes. leeks? yes. penne? yes. This recipe also calls for “hot pepper sauce”. Which may seem a little strange at first -but trust me (yes you hardly know me, but I won’t steer you wrong). I once had a scallop chowder at a restaurant on Catalina Island and the waiter recommended that I add a few dashes of hot sauce to round out the flavor. Now this was by no means a fabulous restaurant, so I didn’t expect much, but when I did… wow! So the addition of hot sauce won’t be too much here, just enough to…wow!

The real reason I finally tried this recipe was because lobsters were on sale this week at the grocery store and I had a coupon. Now, I am not rubbing anything in here, but I live in Maine. So when the opportunity comes along to buy a lobster with a dollar off coupon - it’s hard to pass up. The only problem was, my coupon was only for ONE lobster. And it would be cruel to steam one lobster for one person while the other gets sprayed with errant lobster juice. So I decided to add my discount lobster to the pasta dish. If all those chefs can do it - then why can’t we? And what better way to kick this thing off then with some fancy schmancy mac n’ cheese.

Baked Penne with Farmhouse Cheddar, Leeks and Lobster!
(Or Fancy Schmancy Mac n’ Cheese)
as adapted from Gourmet March 2009

This recipe calls for 5 cups of leeks. Well, leeks weren’t on sale this week, so I used about 3 cups, and the recipe still tasted great, but 5 cups would have made it more complex - so I recommend 5 if you can get them. Try to get good extra sharp cheddar, but any extra sharp will do. As for the hot sauce, if you have a favorite brand, use it. If not try Sriracha, since it’s all the rage now.

1/4 cup butter
5 cups chopped leeks (white and pale green parts only; about 5 large)
1/4 cup all purpose flour
3 1/2 cups whole milk, warmed to room temperature
1 pound extra-sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated (about 4 cups packed)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 pound penne pasta
1 (1-1 ½ pound) lobster (or more if you have more coupons)

First put about 1” of water into the bottom of a large pot, and place on medium-high heat. You can add flavorings to this water if you want, but since it’s for a lobster that will be coated in cheese, I say don’t bother. Once the water is boiling, place the lobster in the pot and cover. Steam the lobster for about 6-7 minutes, or until it turns bright red. It doesn’t need to be completely cooked through, but the shell should still be red.

Once the lobster is done, remove it from the pot and let rest until cool enough to handle. Don’t worry about keeping the lobster chunks pretty, they will be cut up anyway. I like to pull off the claws first, and then attack the tail. But do it any way it’s easiest for you. Once the lobster has been picked, set the meat aside.

Lightly butter 15x10x2-inch baking dish. Melt 1/4 cup butter in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add leeks; stir to coat. Cover saucepan and cook until leeks are tender, stirring occasionally, about 12 minutes (do not brown). Uncover saucepan; add flour. Stir 2 minutes. Add the milk; bring to simmer, stirring often. If the milk starts to boil, remove it from the heat, and turn down your burner - you don’t want it to be too hot or your sauce will break. Add cheese, mustard, and pepper sauce. Stir until cheese melts. Remove from heat. Season cheese sauce to taste with salt.

Whisk eggs in medium bowl. Slowly whisk in 1 cup cheese sauce, to warm the eggs to sauce temperature. Stir egg mixture into cheese sauce in saucepan.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain. Return to pot.

Stir cheese sauce and lobster into pasta in pot. Transfer to prepared baking dish.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Bake pasta until cheese sauce is bubbling around edges and some ends of pasta are golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes.

Let stand 15 minutes. Serve hot.

I find that leftovers of this are best served cold from the refrigerator. Most cheese/egg sauces don’t enjoy being in the microwave. But re-warming it in the oven should be ok.

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