Monday, January 5, 2009


I have decided to declare a single New Year’s resolution. But don’t be fooled, this is a resolution that contains multitudes.

I resolve in 2009 to master the art of manageable list making. Like others, I make lists I never keep, lists I seldom even refer to once made. This year I hope to become adept at making lists of tasks that are actually feasible, lists of things I may actually accomplish before the list itself is a distant memory.

On the surface this may not seem to have much to do with our house, but it will. Our next post will pertain directly to home’s on the list.

Of course, just because I’m going to make practical lists doesn’t mean I’ll stop making the big dream lists—the ridiculous, implausible, random lists of ideas and projects and goals, the lists to spill my dreams onto—just to see how they look on paper.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!

Table for two featuring our beautiful new dinner plates from ceramicist extraordinaire and Nova Scotian, Jim Smith

Last night we decided we would stay in and cook an ambitious dinner for two chez nous. We took our inspiration from the New Year's Eve menu emailed to us from our favourite, but at 2000 km away, inaccessible, restaurant Fleur de Sel in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. With chef Martin Ruiz Salvadore's menu in hand we devised a slightly simpler one for our own cozy dinner party.

hors d'oeuvre
fresh Oysters
(beausoleil and raspberry point)
warm Gougères

First course
Oysters Rockefeller
Gosset Champagne

Second course
Bibb lettuce Salad with Roquefort dressing

Main Course
Butter poached Lobster
Fennel Risotto with Lobster essence
Gosset Champagne

Chai infused Panna Cotta
Ginger Crisps
Mandarin Oranges
Muscat Beaumes de Venise

Before the real preparations began, we whipped up a batch of pâte à choux from the truly excellent coobook Country Cooking of France by Anne Willan. The pâte à choux with the addition of gruyere would become a plateful of gougères, lovely golden puffs of pastry to eat between sips of champagne or Ricard. We met gougères for the first time in Champagne, France and were smitten forever. Now we can make them ourselves.

Making gougeres--in its sweet incarnation pâte à choux is the basis for profiteroles. The leftover savory version with gruyere cheese for the gougères, above, made a wonderful pizza crust for lunch today

First thing on New Year's eve morning we raced out to pick up two fresh lobster and oysters for our main courses. We needn't have worried. Our fishmonger, Caudle's Catch had received an early morning delivery to meet the demand. The place was incredibly busy. Even with lower lobster prices, our two magnificent lobsters, 2 1/2 lbs apiece, were still a pricey indulgence.

One of our magnificent feisty creatures

N bought a lobster knife and yesterday acquired the new skill of shucking an oyster. I can do it too, but why when it's so much more fun to eat them? Before the main cooking event, we shucked our little oysters and ate them plain.

N shucks oysters, beausoeil and Raspberry point varieties, with newly acquired skill and aplomb

So, after taking care of any pre-supper stomach rumblings, we set to the real work of cooking. Our big new technique of the day, aside from Oyster shucking, was butter poaching lobster. On a previous trip to Nova Scotia we had indulged twice in butter poached lobster and are now haunted by the memories. Meltingly tender and sweet lobster served out of the shell is indescribably good. Apparently the butter poaching technique was pioneered by Thomas Keller of the French Laundry and Bouchon. Thanks to the myriad bloggers working their way through Keller's cookbooks, and a fantastic explanation of Beurre Monté (the surprisingly simple butter and water emusion used as the poaching liquid) on the Food and Wine website here, and the printed recipe for Keller's lobster "Mac and Cheese" published in Veranda magazine (June 2008), we had many sources of reference for our own version of butter poached lobster.

The barely-cooked lobsters emerge from their two minute bath

The secret, apparently, is to cook the lobster gently by submerging it in just boiled water for only two minutes. We then brought the lobster out of the water, pulled off tails and claws, and resubmerged the claws for an additional five minutes. Then we removed claw and tail meat from the shells and refrigerated it on paper towel until poaching time. We removed the heads and tomalley from the remaining carapaces and made a rich lobster stock in the usual way with onion, celery, and herbs, which we used for our risotto.

Beurre Monté--the luxurious poaching emulsion of water and butter kept just below boilling at180 to 190 degrees
Today we discovered that the leftover lobster infused poaching butter makes for decadent hot popcorn!

Before the final ta-da, I'l descibe the Oysters Rockefeller of which their are so many versions it is hard to know the definitive one

The characteristic flavours of Oysters Rockefeller: anise, watercress, parsley, shallot, Pastis

The restaurant that is said to have originated the recipe, Antoine's of New Orleans guards it to this day. Our version was lovely with the fresh and aromatic flavours of fennel, watercress, shallot, pastis, and fewer breadcrumbs than seem to top many of the versions I saw on the web. The recipe we followed loosely is from the New York Times Cookbook by Craig Claiborne, recipe here .
We learned that large oysters are best for Oysters Rockefeller, in fact, the larger, the better

The aromatic green purée is spooned over the oysters, nestled on a bed of rock salt, and spread to the shell edges before cooking in a hot oven

Oysters Rockefeller--delicious.

Finally, our main course, butter poached lobster and fennel risotto

Happy New Year Everyone!