Thursday, June 16, 2016

Three Lobster Rolls Compared on National Lobster Day

Yesterday was national lobster day. Gail went on a quest and got us three different lobster rolls from Wegmans (left), D'Angelo's (middle) and Roche Bros. (right). She tried to get one from Market Basket, but they didn't have one.

Here are the results of our taste test:

Wegman's ($10): 4oz. of lobster meat. The New England-style roll was beautifully seared with a criss-cross pattern, and the lobster meat was packaged separately to avoid making the bread soggy. Despite this, the bread was a little south of fresh. This was a good lobster roll with big chunks of lobster in a very light mayonnaise. It had decent flavor and no sense of the traditional celery salt seasoning. On the plus side, the bread was toasted with a noticeable amount of butter that made each bite taste like fresh lobster dipped in drawn butter.

D'Angelo's ($10.99): 4oz. of lobster meat. This roll also had a New England-style roll that was south of fresh. The lobster meat was lightly cooked and had just the right amount of mayonnaise. It also had a decent flavor with a hint of celery salt.

Roche Bros. ($5.99): 3oz. of lobster meat. This was a bigger potato roll that was perfectly fresh. The roll was lined with iceberg lettuce, which filled the space but gave a nice cool tasting crunch to the sandwich. The meat was lightly cooked and coated with a bit too much mayonnaise. This gave the mouth impression of mixed tunafish more than chunky lobster meat. While it also had a hint of celery salt, the flavor was the mildest of the set.

Each one had strong merits and each one was good, but none of them stood out as being the best. That said, after this tasting we had a better sense of what makes a great lobster roll: We like a fresh New England-style roll, toasted with plenty of butter. The lobster meat should be chunky but cooked lightly, coated in a medium amount of mayonnaise and seasoned liberally with celery salt.

UPDATE: Two more lobster rolls reviewed here.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Summer Dinners: Thai Beef Spinach Salad

Hi all! Noele here, Ken's daughter, in for a guest post. I'm closing out my first year as a public school teacher in New York City and getting ready for the ultimate teacher job perk: summer off! Cooking is one of my favorite things to do with my downtime, and I thought I'd pop in this summer and share some of the meals I make and enjoy on my patio. I hope you enjoy what is hopefully the first of a summer dinners series!

Thai Beef Spinach Salad 

I was inspired to make this Thai Beef Spinach Salad by this awesome restaurant in Redhook that I went to recently with my boyfriend. We had a dish called Muu Paa Kham Waan -- thin strips of boar that were limey, garlicky, and so spicy that they came with a palate cleanser/cooler (mustard greens served over crushed ice) in case you couldn't take the heat! I loved the concept of the dish and wanted to come up with a weeknight dinner version of it that would be easy for a home cook to tackle. 

My version of this dish swaps in eye of round steaks for boar, is served over a bed of spinach, and features quick-pickled cucumbers and red grapes. It took about an hour of "on" time to make and could feed two hungry people or three or four as an appetizer or light dinner. 

Here's what you'll need: 

1 thumbs length of ginger, minced and separated (about 2 tbsp) 
1 bunch cilantro, washed, roughly chopped, and separated (about 1/2 cup chopped) 
10 cloves of garlic, more or less, minced and separated
Juice from 3 limes, separated
1/4 cup soy sauce, separated 
2 tbsp sesame oil, plus a little extra for cooking 
1 tsp honey 
red pepper flakes, 1/2 tsp-2 tsp 
1 tbsp sesame seeds

2 pickling cucumbers
1/2 lb eye of round steaks, boar, or other red meat of your choice 

1 bunch fresh spinach, washed and chopped
1/2 cup red grapes, halved 
To start, I prepared a marinades for the steaks and the cucumbers. 

1. This should go without saying, but you can really use as much ginger, garlic, or cilantro as you like. I like all of these ingredients quite a lot and wanted them to really coat the meat, so I went ham and used as much as I could before it got ridiculous. If you're one of those "cilantro tastes like soap" people, I can see this recipe being still delicious if you swapped in the cilantro for some thai basil. Chop everything up so that it's pretty fine, especially the ginger -- you're not going to get the same effect with big hunks of ginger in your marinade. 
Now that you have your garlic, ginger, and cilantro chopped up, get two bowls handy so that you can make the two separate marinades at the same time -- they share a lot of ingredients. Put all the cilantro, 2/3rds of the garlic, and 2/3rds of the ginger in one bowl. This is the start for your meat marinade. Shake some red pepper into this bowl to taste. (I held back a little bit and only used about a teaspoon because my sister Anna who doesn't love spicy food was coming over.) Put the remaining 3rd of the garlic and ginger in the second bowl (no big if some cilantro clings on). This is the start of your pickling juice for the cucumbers.
This is probably a good time to open up a beer and pour it into a frosted glass. I chose Cisco Brewer's Summer of Lager and poured it into one of my belgian beer glasses. Yum. This meal pairs great with a light ale or lager. If you can get it, drink Singha (thai beer)! Anna was drinking Sixpoint's Sweet Action, which is always a good summer choice. 

Squeeze the juice from two limes and add it to the meat marinade (bowl with cilantro & red pepper flakes). Squeeze the juice from the remaining lime and add it to the cucumber marinade. Put 2 tablespoons of soy sauce into each bowl. Add the honey to the cucumber bowl and the sesame oil to the meat bowl. Add the sesame seeds to the cucumber bowl. 

Stir them both up. Add the meat to the marinade, make sure it's fully coated on all sides, cover it, and put it in the fridge to chill for a while. I left mine for about an hour and it was delicious, I'm sure more or less time would be fine too. 

Cut up the cucumbers as shown below: into little half moons. Or really, cut up the cucumbers however you want to cut the cucumbers. Toss those cucumbers into the pickling juice, cover them, and put them in the fridge with the meat. 

Go chill in your backyard, drink some beer, read a book, or whatever while your cukes and meat soak up the marinade. 

When you deem it time, take the meat out of the fridge and drain it through a fine sieve so that it is free of excess liquid but still has all the goodies (ginger, garlic, cilantro, red pepper) clinging to it. Be advised that the meat will no longer be pink because of the lime juice. Heat some oil (I used sesame, vegetable would be fine) in a small frying pan until it's sizzling. Lay the steaks in the oil and give them about a minute on each side. My steaks were relatively thin, so this was the perfect time to keep them a little pink on the inside. Use your discretion if you have large steaks or like your meat more or less well done. I served my meat cool/room temperature, but you could certainly serve it hot or even completely chilled. In any case, when you're ready to serve, slice up the steaks into thin strips. 

To serve, put a bed of spinach on the bottom of a plate. Sprinkle the red grapes on top of the spinach, followed by the pickled cucumbers. You can use the remaining pickling juice as a light dressing. Finally, lay your steak over the salads. I also made scallion pancakes using this recipe, which is surprisingly easy and really rounded out the meal. 

Enjoy with loved ones! 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Try the World Box: Portugal

Our second Try the World box contained treats from Portugal. Let's start with the before and after:

Everything in the box was delicious, but the whole box was a bit less coherent than the Thai box. There wasn't quite as clear a meal plan for a single Portuguese experience. The second picture above shows everything in the box, but features the mackerel and cod dishes we had for dinner. We started with mackerel on toast and finished with a Portuguese bacalhau. Bacalhau means cod, usually salt cod, but also appears to refer to any dish made with cod.

Our bacalhau was a breadcrumb crusted cod broiled with tomatoes and collards. We used fresh cod instead of salt cod. The recipe also called for chorizo but we substituted some ham we had on hand. The only thing from the box in the dish was a drizzle of olive oil and a small amount of the codfish seasoning.

The dish was a good cod dish, but the flavors were familiarly New England. Gail and I talked about the similarity of geography and latitude between Portugal and Boston, which made the flavor similarities seem natural to us. We used these three ingredients from the box for the dinner dishes:

Hands on Earth Codfish Seasoning - This seasoned the cod dish wonderfully, and I think we will use it again. I don't know what was in it, and that's too bad, because we won't know how to make more from our own spices when we want to.

Olivais do Sul Extra-Virgin Olive Oil - a nice medium bodied olive oil. This oil is good for dipping, but not too spicy for less adventurous tastes.

Briosa Gourmet Canned Jack Mackerel - Putting these plump mackerel filets on lightly oiled toast was a simple and delicious appetizer. I typically get smoked mackerel, but I loved them just as well unsmoked. I would happily get these again.

The box also had a number of items that were mostly for use singly:

It Apple and Cinnamon Black Tea - We made this into a refreshing iced tea. We both wish we had more.

Casa Lucena Lemon Cookies - This is a traditional Portuguese cookie, that I can best describe as Nilla Wafers with lemon flavor. I love Nilla Wafers. Nabisco should make them with lemon flavor like this.

Frutaformas Crunchy Apple Rings - These were very dehydrated apple slices. They were good, but nothing more than dried apple slices.

RARE by Quinta de Jugais Rocha Pear & Port Jam - This was one of the highlights of the box. We had this jam spread on a simple slices of bread. The pear flavor was not overly sweet. While I barely tasted port wine, the overall effect was a delicate jam that I could eat and eat without being overwhelmed by sweetness.

Paladin Piri-Piri Hot Sauce - This was another highlight. This pepper sauce had both a nice flavor and decent kick of heat. Unusually, though, the heat dissipates quickly so it doesn't feel scary to use it liberally. This is a great alternative to Sriracha or Tabasco.

Bottom line on this box: we enjoyed everything in it, but would have like a little more coherent curation and recipe suggestions like in the Thai box.