Cooking Lobsters On Vacation

Fried seafood is good, but it’s not my favorite. That distinction goes to the water spiders known as lobsters. Actually, I probably like the taste of crab a little better, but tearing into a lobster is just too much fun not to do whenever possible. Considering they’re expensive and I live in New York, it’s not a possibility most of the time, but when you’re spending a week in Ipswich, Massachusetts and the lobsters are all around, take advantage!

Last Friday wound up being lobster day and I was pretty darn excited. We swung by a local place and got two lobsters because apparently I’m the only one in the family who likes them. I believe they were soft shell, but I was in the car with the baby when they were purchased so I’m not sure. When we got back to the house, I helped get the cooking set up ready.

Basically you put a bunch of stuff in the bottom of a pot with water, put a grate down, and toss the lobsters in once it’s steaming until they turn red. Make sure, though, that the lobsters don’t touch the water. That’s what I was told. I helped get the stuff ready, but can’t remember everything that went in. My mother in law cooks off the top of her head and instructed me as I went, so this won’t be an exact recount. She did tell me to throw a few limes in that I had squeezed most of the juice out of already, I think a lemon, a bunch of herbs (stems included), salt, pepper and seaweed. Seaweed?! Yes, seaweed. That’s a tip my mother in law told me, you should always ask the fishmonger for it because it adds another layer between the lobsters and the water.

I can’t remember what else went into the pot. I think we vetoed a few suggestions like grapes and apples (or maybe we did put the apple in). Once the steam got going with the lid slightly ajar, it was time to drop the sea bugs into the pot. My mother in law handled this. I know it’s cowardly, but I still have trouble looking my food in the eye before it dies.

Gotta say, it was great. I have a method that was taught to me by my father in law years ago when I first gave lobster a go in New England (I had been offered it a few times before that by my folks, but it wasn’t my thing at the time), popping all the legs off and sucking the meat out. I then move on to the big arms, working my way up the arm to the claw. From there it’s a struggle to get the back shell off. I’ve actually still got a little nick on my thumb from prying that sucker open. It was worth the pain and bloodshed though. Still, gotta say, it can get pretty gross when you crack the back open and all that goop plops out. Totally worth it though. I love me some lobster. I think if I lived in New England near the water I’d spend most of my days writing on outdoor porches and checking my lobster trap. That seems like a good life to me.

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Vacation Restaurant Review: Clams & Scallops From The Clam Box

The Clam Box
246 High Street
Ipswich, MA 01938
(978) 356-9707

I’ve gone to Ipswich, Massachusetts to visit my wife’s family for the last six or seven years. My wife’s grandmother grew up in the area and the high point of her year is renting a place for a month after summer ends and we usually go down to visit for a weekend. This year, though, we wound up renting the house for a week ourselves along with my wife’s parents to celebrate my mother in law’s birthday. It was a great vacation that I’ve documented over on The Monkee Diaries, but I saved the food posts for Monkeying Around The Kitchen, of course!Every year we go to Ipswich we wind up at the Clam Box, which any New Englander will tell you is world famous. They say that about a lot of things I’ve never heard of, but what are you gonna do? The Box is renowned for their fried seafood. If you’re only in town on the weekend, you’ll usually have to wait outside in a long line, so we thankfully went on a week day. I wound up getting the 2 Way Combo Plate which came with fried scallops, clams and onion rings as well as coleslaw. I honestly can’t remember what I’ve had there before because, since I’m nowhere near a seafood expert, one fried thing tends to look like the others, though I do believe their scallops are a recurring theme in my ordering. Like I said, I’m no fried seafood expert, but I like what I’ve had at the Box. The batter isn’t ultra distracting from the flavor or whatever you’re eating. The food is all local so you know it’s fresh and they actually close in the middle of the day to change out the oil, so it’s not one of those situations where the frying process makes things a little fishy. I even liked the slaw, which is a food I always want to like but tend to get disappointed by. It’s not too watery yet still has a nice tang to it.

Overall, I’d recommend heading over to the Clam Box if you’re in the area, but I’d honestly like to check out a few other places to compare and contrast. Just try to head over on a weekday so you can actually get a seat inside or outside, depending on the water.

Food TV: The Great Food Truck Race Season 2 Finale

Sorry for the lack of posts this week. I was on a fantastic vacation that you can check out over on my photo diary blog The Monkee Diaries and am working on some posts about the great food we cooked and ate on that trip. In the meantime, we got home in the early afternoon today, which meant we had plenty of time to watch The Great Good Truck Race‘s second season finale. In reality, I wound up missing the first 10-15 minutes because my wife was putting our daughter to bed while I was caught up in the Steelers/Colts game.

It will come as no surprise to anyone who read my previous post about this show, but I was rooting pretty hard for Hodge Podge. Not only are they from Cleveland–my mom’s home town and where my grandmother still lives–but the Lime Truck really didn’t sit well with me from the beginning. They just seemed so full of themselves, superior and looked down at every town they were in because it wasn’t sophisticated like California. I hate that shit. Did anyone else notice that the interview scenes shifted away from the really cocky kid–the hype man of the group–and shined the spotlight on the dudes who were actually the cooks? I wonder if that was a result of fan feedback or the fact that they wound up winning and Food Network didn’t want their winner to come off as total D-bags. By the end, I actually wound up liking the two chefs a lot more, but still had trouble with that guy.

Anyway, as I said, I missed the beginning of the episode. I think there was something about their trucks getting towed away, right? I do know that they had to get to a certain amount of money before running to meet host Tyler Florence and getting the prize money. By the time I tuned in, they were getting shut down for the first night and had to go fishing. They had to turn whatever they caught into a meal that would win them a substantial prize. Lime won that one, but Hodge wound up getting a pretty good spot, so it didn’t seem like that big of a deal. The next day’s task was to serve only dessert, which worked out fine for both trucks it seemed. They did some plucky editing to make it look like both trucks got to the money marker at the same time and then Florence did a whole schtick with the Lime guys who got their first about how, if they open this brief case and it has money in it, they won. As it turned out, Lime Truck did win and they only got there about five minutes before Hodge Podge, which was a bummer.I don’t remember a lot about the first season of The Great Food Truck Race other than that I did watch it and think I liked it, but I have a feeling I’ll remember this batch a lot more. We started off with the cute vegan girls and the upstart dudes from Boston who wound up coming in third. Lime Truck played the villain of the piece, being dubbed the Slime Truck by some of the other teams. Hodge was the boisterous guy who seemed to get by on sheer willpower and of course you’ve got the Korilla truck who cheated and got sent home. I’m still surprised that there was no footage of them cheating or interview explanation of why they did what they did. I mentioned something like this on Twitter the day that episode aired and someone responded back that they thought they weren’t going to win, so they put extra money in. Don’t you just love when people explain what was just explained on television? But, nope, we were left with something being said as they drove away and that was it. Wild stuff.

Much as I did like this season, I think there’s a helluva lot more interesting show going on behind the scenes here that would work on a different network. You’re sending a group of young, heady people out all over the country, making them wear goofy uniforms and putting them against each other in increasingly odd challenges. The real show should be what these guys and gals do at the hotel between stops. Let’s see that show.

Wife Lessons: Coffee Cubes

This is another one of those things that my lovely wife told me about and then I mentioned to her a week or so later after reading about online somewhere and she glared at me. It’s okay, I can be dense that way. Anyway, the idea here is that, when you brew coffee you don’t want to put water in it and thin it out. So what’s the solution? Iced coffee cubes!

As far as Wife Lessons go, this one’s super simple. Just brew about a cup and a half to two cups of coffee, let it cool and then pour it into an ice cube tray. Freeze that tray and then you’ve got an easy way to cool down your coffee without lessening the caffeine intake too much. My wife also tipped me off to the fact that places like Marshalls, TJ Maxx and Home Goods have great deals on coffee. Just go back to where all that funky old olive oil and weird chocolates are and you’ll probably see a few interesting coffees you want to try out. I’ve had pretty good luck getting my buzz out of those bags and think you will too!

Pizza Party: Mama Theresa’s Eggplant Napoleon Pizza & Pizza Rustica Balls

Mama Theresa’s Pizzeria & Italian Eatery
Big V Towncenter (in the Kmart plaza)
New Windsor, NY 12553
(845) 561-6262

One of the great things about living in Orange County is that we’re never lacking a great place to pick up some pizza. Just off the top of my head I can think of three amazing place, two pretty good ones and one that I’d get if driving by and pretty hungry. The down side is that this embarassement of pizza riches has ruined me for ‘za in pretty much any other place, with few nostalgic exceptions. I don’t want to be a pizza snob, but I think I might be one.

Anyway, Mama Theresa’s is about five minutes from our house in a Kmart strip mall. It’s pretty unassuming, but it’s got some of the best pizza around. It’s our usual go to when we want to eat a few slices in the house (we head to Cornwall if we want to eat out). A week or two back, we tried a few new things from them.

The pizza is the Eggplant Napoleon and is described on the menu as “Mama Theresa’s fried eggplant, fresh mozzarella, fire red roasted peppers and our own balsamic vinegar glaze.” The combination of flavors was fantastic and the balsamic glaze was tangy, sweet and even creamy, I’ve never had anything like it. We also tried the Pizza Rustica Balls: “Ricotta, mozzarella, Roman cheese, salami, prosciutto, ham, cappicola cover with Mama Theresa’s bread crumbs. Fried golden brown. Served with Mama Theresa’s tomato sauce.” I don’t remember a lot about this tasty little morcels aside from the fact that they were full of salty, Italian goodness.

I wish I had taken notes and given a better review, but hopefully if you’re in the area, you’ll give these tasty treats a shot next time you’re looking for pizza!

My Brand New Knife

I feel kind of bad that I can’t remember when I got my first real knife. I can’t remember if it was when I first learned to cook in college or if it was around the wedding. I believe it was the former and a gift from my parents, but I know we got a few more when my wife and I got hitched. And, frankly, we’ve got some damn good knives. We’ve got a serrated, Santoku and paring knife from Wusthof along with a few others you can see in the picture below. They’re all housed in this great knife block we got from Bed, Bath & Beyond called the Kapoosh Universal Cutlery Block that allows for a wide variety of different knives, which, as you can tell, is great for us. Instead of having designated slots, the body of the block is made up of tightly packed bristles that allow for whatever arrangement that works best for you. You can either pull it out and wash it, which I clearly need to do in the near future.

Even with a good variety of knives, though, I’ve been thinking about picking a new one up. In the beginning of Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook, he sets aside a mini-chapter about knife care and selection. He says it doesn’t really matter how big or expensive the knife is, but that it feels comfortable in your hand. You don’t want something so big and unwieldy that you’ll be lopping off a finger or two. He also said you should wash them when you’re done, dry immediately and not put them through the dishwasher. Also, sharpen before every use.Like a lot of things I’ve read from Bourdain, I took this to heart and realized that I haven’t been treating my knives well. They still work, though they’re definitely looking worse for wear. There’s also maybe some dullness that I only recently realized. With that in mind, I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled every time we go to a Marshall’s, TJ Maxx or Home Goods for an affordable knife that will work for me. Some of those nice Wusthof knives I mentioned before were actually purchased at those places for short money.Two weekends back, we were at a mega TJ Maxx/Home Goods in Poughkeepsie and I saw a 7-inch Santoku that I liked. There was also a chef’s knife, but it was even bigger, I think 8-inches or so. I walked away to look for a food mill in that gigantic place (no luck there) and then caught up with Em and Lu. The knife had lodged itself into my consciousness and wouldn’t go away. And, hey, it was around $15, so I wound up buying it.

Cut eggplant

Of course, the next week (last week) wound up not involving any cooking because of scheduling problems, so I didn’t really get to put it to use until a few days back when I made pasta sauce and botched some eggplant, but at least I got to use it! Every time I do the dishes, I scrub the knife down with soap and water, wipe it down with a towel and after I know it’s all the way dry, I sharpen it and then return it to the block. I’m not taking any chances with this one!

Cooking Tacos

While at the farm stand down the road on Monday I saw that they had tomatillos for about a buck a pound. That got the wheels turning. A while back I saved the link for Alton Brown’s Taco Potion #19, a homemade version of that packets you buy at the store. I wanted to give that a try, so when I saw the tomatillos I immediately thought to make tacos along with an altered version of Tyler Florence’s Roasted Tomatillo Chile Salsa. I’ve made the full enchilada recipe that this sauce accompanied, but have been wanting to try it with just regular tacos and will also be taking the extra along with me next week when I make those awesome fish tacos for everyone on vacation next week.

This meal wound up taking a while because there were so many steps. I started off making the Taco Potion which was super easy. The “hardest” part was blending the coriander in the Magic Bullet and the only trouble there was reaching for the Bullet. You literally just throw everything in a jar and mix it up, so there’s no real work there. I didn’t even have to buy anything because we had all the ingredients in house.

After that I put together the altered Tomatillo Chile Salsa. I skipped the jalapenos and cilantro because I’m not a fan of heat and my wife despises cilantro. I also didn’t have any actual limes in the house, so I went with some of that stuff that comes in the lime-shaped bottle. Also, since our oven doesn’t work, I just cooked the tomatillos, onion and garlic in a large pan with olive oil. To keep the heat in, I put the lid on and let them go on medium heat for 10-15 minutes. When they got blackish, I took them off the heat and eventually blended them up in the Cuisinart along with the other ingredients. I honestly didn’t notice a difference in taste with the different cooking method.

While the sauce cooled, I started cooking the ground beef for tacos in an iron skillet. I’ve made tacos enough using the directions on the taco kit box to know the basics. You brown the meat, drain the fat, add the taco spices and water, cook down and you’re done! When we have it, I throw some salsa or V8 juice in there which adds even more flavor. As the meat cooked I got the other elements of the taco bar together. I cut up some green onions from the cup with kitchen scissors, chopped lettuce, put out the tomatillo sauce, sour cream and hot sauce (my wife likes red while I like green) and shredded the cheese. Once the tacos were done cooking (ie most of the liquid had cooked off or been absorbed), I put that on a plate and started lightly toasting the tortillas on the stove with some tongs.

I’m always a fan of taco bar night going back to when I was a kid and mom made them, so this meal was great for me. However, the taco potion was a little off. I don’t think I’m a huge fan of the smoked paprika in there. The taco meat wound up tasting almost like sausage with it’s smokey flavor. It was an interesting taste, but didn’t exactly scream “tacos!” The tomatillo sauce was a great mix of tangy and sour, which is what makes it such a good taco companion. I highly recommend giving either recipe a shot next time you feel like heading south of the border. On a personal note, I like that I’m getting to a place where I’ve cooked enough recipes to know which pieces of them might make sense with other flavors and how to switch up some methods and come out with something pretty similar. I’m starting to feel like an actual cook!

Cooking Tomato Sauce With Onion & Butter and Breaded Eggplant

I had come up with a pretty lofty group of recipes to try out last week, but after not making it to the farmer’s market OR the grocery store, we wound up eating Spaghetti-Os. This week, I decided to take it a little easier on myself and go with a few recipes I’ve done before. In fact, I’ve written about making Smitten Kitchen‘s wonderful recipe for Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter previously, but this time I had a few more things going on and took more pictures, so I figured I could double dip a bit. Note that I double the sauce recipe completely when I make it, hence the extra canned tomatoes, butter and onions (I went with one and a half instead of two full ones, actually). Earlier that day I had also gone to the farm stand right down the street from us and came across these awesome eggplant specimens. I think. Honestly, I don’t know how to tell if I got good ones or not yet. How do you know if an eggplant is good? Since our oven still isn’t working, I took Ingrid Croce’s recipe from FoodNetwork.com for Breaded Eggplant and tried cooking them on the stove. You’ll just have to wait and see how that turned out.

As you can see in that first picture above, I really had to utilize my dinky kitchen and also my time management skills. The eggplant was supposed to be cut, salted and left to drain/sweat for an hour, so I did that first. I laid the slices on a plate, put another plate on top, did the same and then used another plate with the tomato cans on top to add pressure. After that I got the onion and butter ready for the sauce and put them aside. Then I trimmed the fat off the chicken (an addition I made to the recipe for some added protein) and tossed them in a small baking dish I have with some olive oil, salt and pepper to marinate in the refrigerator for a while.

Once the prep stuff was done, I poured the two 28 oz cans of peeled plum tomatoes into the pot and got the heat going. Smitten Kitchen’s recipe calls for one can, but I double it to get even more of that saucy goodness. That simmered for 45 minutes or so, with occasional stirring and tomato squishing. With that in the works, I grilled the chicken on my George Foreman, chopped it up and tossed it in with the sauce as it simmered. Around this time, I also got the pasta water boiling. I went with wheat which doesn’t always taste great in recipes but I think works pretty well with the bold flavor of the sauce.

While the chicken cooked, I got the eggplant ready, dabbing it dry with a paper towel and transferring them to just one plate. I then got the egg mixture together and a bowl of panko crumbs. Instead of using the oven, I heated a pan with some olive oil up and got to cooking them after the chicken was in the sauce. This is where I realized things weren’t working out so well. The eggplant didn’t take the egg wash very well, the panko didn’t stick, the eggplant soaked up the olive oil in the pan and the panko crumbs started to burn in the pan. Overall they just weren’t looking right. I’ve seen really good breaded eggplant from my mom and this was not it.

The pasta finished cooking and I added that all to the sauce because I’ve heard all over the place that you’re supposed to finish cooking the pasta in with the sauce. My only goof with the sauce was not taking the onion out before adding the pasta, but that’s not so bad. The onion bits I didn’t pick out actually tasted alright. At least one of the problems I had with the eggplant was that I forgot to salt the pieces during the sweating process. Salting draws the water out and I don’t think much of that got done in the hour I left them to drain. I’m sure the wetness factor screwed with the already-altered cooking method. It’s too bad because I really do love some great breaded eggplant. The pasta itself was just as great as always. I love the buttery tone under the familiar red sauce. I make this recipe about once every month or two and it’s a real favorite.

Food Book News From Anthony Bourdain & Michael Ruhlman

Apologies to anyone who reads both this and my pop culture blog UnitedMonkee because I’m about to double dip a bit. As I mentioned over there in my link-blog post Casting Internets, there were a few bits of chef book news that I found pretty interesting. First up, Anthony Bourdain will be getting his own imprint through Ecco which itself is part of HarperCollins. I read about this over on The New York Observer who had the following quote from Bourdain:

We look forward to publishing an unusual mix of new authors, existing works, neglected or under-appreciated masterworks, and translations of people from elsewhere who we think are just too damned brilliant not to be available in English. We’re presently looking at an initial list composed of chefs, enthusiasts, fighters, musicians and dead essayists.

I’ve read and seen enough of Bourdain to understand that the man has a lot of influences both in and out of the cooking world that he will hopefully bring to better light. I’m curious to see what the three to five books per year he’ll have his name grace, at least as a logo. Meanwhile, in the world of books that are actually available at the moment comes Michael Ruhlman’s Ruhlman’s Twenty. I first experienced Ruhlman on the Cleveland episode of Bourdain’s No Reservations, which instantly endured him to me (I have a kinship for that city because it’s where my mom was born). He’s been on a few other episodes and even popped up as a judge on Iron Chef America. I don’t know a lot about him other than he’s really into cooking, smoking, curing and preparing meat, which I appreciate. I just started checking out his website, just in time to see him writing about this new book that posits there are only 20 techniques you need to know to cook anything. He explains himself better in a post on his site. I like the sound of this book because it’s part recipes and part text book. I think I can use a few textbooks on the cooking class that is life (ooh, that was deep…).

Restaurant Review: Lititz Family Cupboard

Lititz Family Cupboard

Lititz Family Cupboard
12 West Newport Road
Lititz, PA 17543-8019
(717) 626-9102

As I chronicled over in my photo diary (here and here), we went down to Lancaster, Pennsylvania for our friends’ wedding this past weekend. We got in Friday night, hung out with some friends and then went to bed. On Saturday, we had some time before more friends and my parents got in town so we looked around on Urban Spoon for a place that might serve country/Amish food and came across Lititz Family Cupboard.

Beef Cubes & Gravy

Family Cupboard had a pretty sizable buffet that I scoped out, but because we were going to a wedding and reception later that day, I went with just one meal. I can get a little crazy when it comes to buffets. My wife doesn’t have the same problem, so she went for it and enjoyed everything she had, especially their homemade pies which she really dug. I went with Beef Cubes and Gravy because it sounded good, hearty and it came on mashed potatoes which I order whenever I can.

Mac & Cheese side

For my side, I kept things light by ordering macaroni and cheese, another food that I order pretty much every opportunity I get. So, how was everything? Pretty darn good. The mashed potatoes and gravy were top notch. Not as good as my mom’s, but that’s how it goes with such things. The beef was a little bland, but I added some salt and the world was good. The mac and cheese was great with the perfect amount of cheese. After eating a few bites of each, I decided to combine the mac and cheese with the potatoes and beef cubes. It was one of my better decisions as the cheese and gravy mixed together to make something pretty special.

I’d definitely recommend checking out Lititz Family Cupboard if you’re in the Lancaster, PA area. The people there were really nice, the buffet would have been my jam were we not going to a wedding and the overall atmosphere was pleasant. They also have a separate bakery where you can buy cookies, pies, cakes and the like. My wife got a whoopie pie that she really liked and I had a coffee that was rock solid. My only regret is not trying the pig stomach from the buffet as I’m trying to broaden by organ meet horizons.