WFD? Warm Lobster Salad with Rhubarb, Fiddleheads, and Bacon

What’s for dinner? Warm salad of Lobster, Bacon, Green Grapes and Tarragon, served over gently-poached Rhubarb and Fiddleheads.

Back in the day when I worked in a professional kitchen, I cooked lobsters by the tub-full around this time of year. It was nothing to add “cook and clean 20 lobster” to my already lengthy prep list every day and I had to be quick about it too. I may have winced the first few times, but eventually the task of grasping a live, writhing crustacean with my two hands and wringing him in two became as old hat as peeling potatoes.

Danny brought home a few lobster the other day, as they are at their most affordable right now, and it was fun to introduce Noah to them and show him the whole process. He was quite excited and couldn’t wait to eat them.

If you’ve only ever dropped a whole lobster into boiling water to cook it, allow me to show you another way that, I believe, produces better results.
The tail of the lobster is more delicate than say, the claws, and doesn’t need as long as a cooking time, so you start by separating the lobster into pieces. Here is a short video demonstrating how to do it (with Noah chirping away about how he wants to eat it).

Cooking your Lobster:

Once you have your lobster divided up into four parts (tail, head, claws and legs from claws), prepare a poaching liquid, or in French, a court bouillon.

1 large pot of cold water
1 carrot, peeled and chopped into 4
1 onion, same as above
1 generous handful of parsley
5-6 whole peppercorns
1 leek, washed and roughly chopped

Bring everything to a boil and let simmer a few minutes. Skim out solids and discard; bring your fragrant liquid to a boil again and salt generously, as you would for pasta.

Now you are ready to poach your lobster! Boil the claws for 7 minutes, the legs 6 and the tail 3 minutes. Cool everything and remove from shells.

This recipe just kind of evolved, but the result was amazing. I knew I wanted to use bacon and some fresh tarragon from my garden, but that left me with an incredibly rich and poorly balanced dish! I decided to add some sweet green grapes and do a compote of rhubarb for some tartness. Fresh lemon supremes added a perfect element of citrus. I wondered if I had too many elements, but in this case more was indeed merrier!
I also did a lobster butter using the carcass of the lobster (instructions below) and this is what I tossed the salad with. It was fantastic.
Warm Salad of Lobster, Bacon, Green grapes, and Tarragon with Poached Rhubarb and Lobster Butter
Serves 2

Meat from one poached lobster
1/4 cup green grapes, sliced in half
1 lemon

8 slices thick slab bacon
2 Tablespoons fresh tarragon
1/2 cup lobster butter (recipe to follow)
poached rhubarb (recipe below)
fiddleheads, pre-blanched

For the poached rhubarb:

2 cups apple juice
5 or 6 thin stalks of rhubarb, washed

Slice rhubarb diagonally in to 1 inch lengths. In a medium pot, bring apple juice to a boil. Add rhubarb and turn off the burner. Allow the mixture to cool for about 10 minutes and occasionally check the rhubarb for doneness with a knife. Remove when tender. Time will vary depending on thickness of rhubarb. Keep at room temperature.
For the lobster butter:

2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 leek, washed and chopped
1 carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
4-5 whole black peppercorns
2 lobster carcasses, crushed slightly
1 pound butter, cubed

In a heavy-bottomed pot, sweat leek, onion and carrot in olive oil. With the heat on medium-high, add lobster carcasses and color them. Keep stirring the mixture, scraping the sticky parts off the bottom and being careful not to burn anything. When the carcasses take on a nice red color, reduce the heat to low and add the butter. As the butter melts, stir the mixture a few times.
Allow to cook very gently for a half an hour or so. Turn off heat and allow to
cool. Cover and place in the fridge overnight.

The next morning, heat over a low flame until the butter re-melts, strain through a fine sieve and discard the lobster carcases and vegetables. You should have a beautiful, golden and fragrant lobster butter.

For the warm salad:

Slice whole lobster tail in half lengthwise (pictured above on the left). Roughly chop claws and leg meat. Cube slab bacon into 1/2 inch pieces. Fry until golden, dry on a paper towel and reserve. Cut lemon into supremes and roughly chop those supremes. Chop tarragon into 1/2 inch lengths.
In a saute pan, melt 2 tablespoons of lobster butter. Add the two tail pieces, cut side down and heat gently, basting with butter. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from pan a keep warm. Melt 1/4 cup of the lobster butter in the same pan. Add lemon supremes and swirl in the hot butter until they disintegrates into little pieces. Add chunked lobster, bacon, green grapes and tarragon to the pan and coat in the lemon-butter mixture. Heat gently while you add salt to taste.
Caution: do NOT cook over high heat OR more than a few minutes or your lobster will over cook and be rubbery and your grapes will turn to mush.
Turn off heat and reserve.

In another pan, saute fiddleheads in the remaining lobster butter.

To Dress:

Microwave the poached rhubarb to warm it slightly and place in the center of the plate. Place the 1/2 tails of lobster, cut side down, on top of the rhubarb. Top with half of the warm lobster and grape mixture and drizzle a little lobster butter around the plate. Add fiddleheads to plate any way you like and serve.

WFD? Seafood Creole Tagliatelle

Let the good times roll! Here is a pasta recipe worth blogging about and one that I am so excited to bring to you! I have to admit, most of my pasta dishes are usually inspired by a cleaning-out-the-fridge frenzy: Penne with….over-ripe tomatoes, wilted basil, molding provolone, and questionable slab bacon. It tastes great when it all comes together, but it’s nothing new.
However, I am happy to report that this recipe for Seafood Creole Pasta is much more than your average blah-blah pasta dish; it’s decadent enough to serve guests at a dinner party. I tend to steer away from serving pasta when I entertain because it is so, well,
week-night supper, but I think this is going on the menu really soon!I have to credit the talented Montreal chef Phillipe de Vienne for this recipe as it is yet another fantastic recipe from his titillating cookbook. Seriously, if you haven’t bought it yet, go get it (available in French only).

Seafood Creole Pasta
1 lb shrimp, with their shells
1 lb Tagliatelle or Fettuccine
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup butter, cold and cubed
6 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 bundle of green onions, sliced finely
1 cup lobster or crab or oysters or scallops
For the Shrimp Stock: Shrimp shells
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 stalk of celery, chopped
1 cup white wine Ground Spices: 2 teaspoons Cajun Spice Blend(see below)
½ teaspoon white pepper
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried garlic Cajun Spice Blend: 3 Tablespoons paprika
1 teaspoon Cayenne
2 teaspoons black pepper
2 teaspoons white pepper
3 tablespoons dried onion flakes
½ tablespoon dried thyme Place all the ingredients for the shrimp stock in a pot with 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 30 minutes uncovered. Strain and reserve the fragrant stock. (I did this the day before.)

Combine in a spice grinder the Cajun blend, white pepper, dried oregano and dried garlic. Pulse until fine.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add some salt and cook pasta.

At the same time, place a large pot on medium-low heat. Add 1 1/2 cups of the shrimp stock, ground spices and lemon juice.
Bring it to a boil and add butter, shrimp, garlic and green onion.
Stir constantly until the butter is all melted and the sauce becomes creamy. Add the remaining seafood ( I used lobster) and cook gently another 1-2 minutes.

Check to see if the pasta is cooked and when it is ready, strain it well and add to the sauce.
Mix well, gently cook another minute and serve immediately.


Mama’s Meatballs and One Night with Rocco

Most people know Rocco DiSpirito as the cute but slightly self-centered chef from the 2005 reality show “The Restaurant”, or maybe you read about him in a cooking magazine or saw his pretty face on a talk show (he’s also recently popped up as a guest judge on Top Chef).
Part chef, part business man, he certainly has made a name for himself, but his character has earned quite a reputation as well; unfortunately, it’ s not as pretty as his face.
I experienced this first hand back in 2002 when I had had the ‘pleasure’ of working with Rocco. This was long before his reality show aired, when he was executive chef at New York City’s Union Pacific. I was working as a line cook at one of Montreal’s top restaurants and we hosted Rocco as a guest celebrity chef for two nights. The place was packed out as Montreal gourmets came to sample a 7-course tasting menu featuring Rocco’s Union Pacific food and to meet the young star. I’m sure he was smooth as butter in the dining room, but my kitchen experience was rather different.
Rocco’s presence in the kitchen was wildly irregular. Half of the time he chatted and laughed into his cell phone, barely glancing at plates as they went out, and the rest of the time he played the roll of a typical tyrannical Head Chef, snapping at people and letting us know he was far, far superior.
I kept my head down and worked my butt off, but it was hard not to smile to myself at his silly get-up: carefully tousled hair, snug designer jeans, pinstriped button down shirt and a chef’s jacket that looked more like an after thought. I guess it was fitting, as the only work he did all night was shave a few black truffles onto his osso bucco. I was plating two of his starters that night: Maine scallops in tomato water and some sort of nasty lobster in a Reisling jelly. He had a few choice words for my plating style, sneering at me with such mockery it took my breath away. His sarcasm was sharp and his arrogance unmistakable. Classy.
After the service was over, my ever-hospitable and gracious boss brought a few bottles of Dom Perignon into the kitchen and Rocco stole the show by dramatically slicing the tops off the bottles with a cleaver and flamboyantly filling the glasses as if he was hosting his own party. He was all smiles now, running his fingers through his hair and flirting with the girls. A few of the staff were having him sign that evenings’ menu as a keepsake, but a few of us hung back, not wishing to stroke his massive ego further and really not caring if we got his autograph or not. Eventually he approached us. He lifted himself up onto my work station, and to my chagrin, stretched out full length on the stainless steel. He propped his head up on his hand, crossed his legs and said sweetly,
“Don’t you want my autograph, too?” Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up.
Google “Rocco’s meatballs” and you will get a whopping 32, 700 hits . He’s taken his mama’s recipe and turned it into an empire. People raved over them on his reality show and now Dull Normals like us can order them online for only $39, or make them ourselves as the ‘top secret’ recipe is out! I am not really a spaghetti and meatballs kind of girl, but my little Noah was sick with a cold this week and I wanted to make him some home style comfort food. They didn’t end up under the high chair, he tucked right into a bowl, so I guess if it’s good enough for New York’s elite, it’s good enough for him!
We enjoyed them too; I’ll be making them again.
Thanks Mama Dispirito!

Mama’s Meatballs 1/3 cup chicken stock
1/4 yellow onion
1 clove garlic
¼ cup fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped fine
1/2 lb ground beef
1/2 lb ground pork
1/2 lb ground veal
1/3 cup plain breadcrumbs
2 eggs
1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp salt
3-6 cups of your favorite marinara sauce
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil 1. Place the chicken stock, onion, garlic and parsley in a blender of food processor and puree.

2. In a large bowl, combine the pureed stock mix, meat, bread crumbs, eggs, Parmigiano-Reggiano, red pepper flakes, parsley and salt. Combine with both hands until mixture is uniform. Do not over mix.

3. Put a little olive oil on your hands and form mixture into balls a little larger than golf balls. They should be about ¼ cup each, though if you prefer bigger or smaller, it will only affect the browning time.

4. Pour about 1/2-inch of extra virgin olive oil into a straight-sided, 10-inch-wide sauté pan and heat over medium-high flame. Add the meatballs to the pan (working in batches if necessary) and brown meatballs, turning once. This will take about 10-15 minutes.

5. While the meatballs are browning, heat the marinara sauce in a stockpot over medium heat. Lift the meatballs out of the sauté pan with a slotted spoon and put them in the marinara sauce. Stir gently. Simmer for one hour.

6. Serve with a little extra Parmigiano-Reggiano sprinkled on top. Serve alone or over spaghetti (in which case, you will need 6 cups of marinara). Serves 6.

WFD? Asparagus Gruyère Tart for Spring

I keep a small pad of paper on the nightstand next to my bed for those occasional nights where my body is exhausted, but my mind can’t seem to shut down.
Often some of my best menu ideas come as I am tossing and turning and so I jot them down for future reference in my notebook.

“What are you writing?” My husband will ask, knowing full well the answer.

“Oh, just a little menu planning” I’ll say,
“How does this sound?”

and I’ll rattle off to him a well-rounded cocktail menu for that upcoming wedding shower I am helping out with or list a trio of desserts I want to make for that weekends’ pot-luck with friends.

I realize this makes me sound really food-crazy, so I will reiterate that I occasionally menu-plan in bed and only when something genius comes to me and I don’t want to forget it in the morning.

This asparagus and gruyère tart was jotted down in the notebook, underlined a few times, with the note next to it:

“A must-try for spring. Ideal for an elegant outdoor meal.”

After making it this week, I would have to say it is ideal for several reasons.
First of all, it is ridiculously easy to make: if you can roll pastry and grate cheese, you can make this tart.
Secondly, it’s mighty tasty: what’s not to love about flaky pastry, a good strong cheese and toothsome spring asparagus?
Thirdly, look how pretty it is!

You’ll find the original recipe here with a how-to video that I fell asleep while watching.

Asparagus Gruyère Tart

Flour, for work surface
1 sheet frozen puff pastry

5 1/2 ounces (2 cups) Gruyère cheese, shredded

1 1/2 pounds medium or thick asparagus

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a floured surface, roll the puff pastry into a 16-by-10-inch rectangle. Trim uneven edges. Place pastry on a baking sheet. With a sharp knife, lightly score pastry dough 1 inch in from the edges to mark a rectangle. Using a fork, pierce dough inside the markings at 1/2-inch intervals. Bake until golden, about 15 minutes.

Remove pastry shell from oven, and sprinkle with Gruyère. Trim the bottoms of the asparagus spears to fit crosswise inside the tart shell; arrange in a single layer over Gruyère, alternating ends and tips. Brush with oil, and season with salt and pepper. Bake until spears are tender, 20 to 25 minutes

Two Favorites: A spice blend and a photography duo

WFD? Cornish Game Hen Roasted with Ethiopian Berbéré Spices, Sour Cream Gnocci, Acorn Squash and Braised Baby Bak Choy.

Finding a great new restaurant is no easy feat. One must take friend’s suggestions and critic’s raves with a grain of salt. Not until you have tried a place yourself can you really be sure that it’s a place you will be often retuning to and making your own.
Finding a great photographer is kind of like choosing a restaurant—just a lot more risky. You are entrusting someone to encapsulate an event or milestone in your life that can’t be repeated. There is no rewind button for a wedding day, infants only get bigger, not smaller, and unless those moments are captured expertly on camera, they are gone for good.

Yes, I really am pregnant! Cooking lunch around my 7 month baby bump.

Recently we had the good fortune of welcoming not one, but two, photographers into our home for a personal family photo shoot and lunch. The goal: to capture my growing baby bump and this momentous time in our lives. While we weren’t really sure what to expect from Tim and Angela, we were thrilled with the stunning results from these talented photographers and their moving photographs.
We sat down to a hot lunch after the photo shoot and Angela continued snapping away as I put the finishing touches on our roasted guinea hen. I loved her work so much and was so excited when she graciously allowed me to use a few of her shots for this post. She makes my food look really good!

It is with utmost sincerity that I recommend Tim and Angela from
They specialize in weddings, so if you (or someone you know) are planning to tie the knot in the Montreal area, give them a call. You will be hard pressed to find a more dedicated team to capture your big day in a truly personal way.

And now for my current favorite dinner dish!

I almost never use the word sensational, but with this exotic spice blend, I am tempted to. ..
The guinea hen for our lunch was rubbed with an authentic Ethiopian splice blend called Berbéré that is available from Montreal spice guru, Philippe de Vienne. Called the curry of Africa, it is an absolutely transporting melange of 14 different spices that come together to create an unforgettable flavor. Black cardamom, fenugreek, cassia, paprika, and coriander are just a few of the spices that tickle your palate.

I love this aromatic traditional blend so much, I practically buy it in bulk when I drop by his store, Olives et Épices ( Marche Jean Talon, 7070 Henri-Julien étal C-11, Montreal)

If you are not in the area, you can order your berbéré blend online; however, if you want to make your own, Philippe gives the recipe in his new cookbook, La cuisine et le gout des épices, and I will pass it on to you at the bottom of the post.

Berbéré Roasted Chicken
4 garlic cloves, chopped 3 Tablespoons Berbéré, ground 1 teaspoon salt 3 Tablespoons butter, melted 3 Tablespoons lemon juice 1 whole chicken, 3-4 lbs, or two plump Cornish hens 4 onions
Preheat the oven to 375F. Mix together the berbéré, garlic, butter, lemon juice, and salt. Cut the chicken into 8 and brush with spice mixture. Peel onions and slice into thick slices. Place the onions on the bottom of a roasted pan and arrange chicken pieces on top. Roast for about 1 hour. Baste occasionally with cooking juices.

Philippe de Vienne’s Berbéré Spice Blend
2 Tablespoons dried ginger 2 teaspoons green cardamom 1 teaspoon cloves 1 stick cinnamon 1 stick cassia 2 teaspoons fenugreek ½ whole nutmeg 1 teaspoon all-spice 2 teaspoons black pepper 1 teaspoon black cardamom 2 tablespoons coriander 1 teaspoon adjwain (lovage) 3 whole, dried Cayenne peppers ¾ cup paprika

Ed. Note: Huge thanks and props to Tim and Angela for the photos. You guys rock!