Saturday, September 26, 2015

Lobster and Corn Chowder with Bacon

With the last of the summer sweet corn still available and the lobster catch still ample, today I'm making a New England favorite; lobster and corn chowder. You can of course make corn chowder without the lobster, but trust me; it's better with!

Julian's Lobster and Corn Chowder with Bacon
We often say lobsters are 'in season' this time of the year, but there is no special Maine lobster season for the hard-shell lobsters as they can be caught year-round in the waters off Maine.  However, more lobsters are caught in the summer months because the demand is higher, and in the winter months lobsters move further offshore. Coupled with the harsher weather conditions, this makes prices typically higher in winter. As such, just like sweet corn, now is the time to enjoy these end-of-season delicacies.

Julian with live lobster, preparing for the execution.
In the recipe below, I suggest three to four lobster shells and the meat from at least two lobsters. You can easily use the meat from all of them if you prefer. I typically roast three or four lobsters and we eat one or two of them and use the the meat from the remaining in the soup. I really hate to prepare lobster and not just east one of them dipped in butter. But certainly using the lobster meat from all three or four will make the soup even better.

I also use a stick blender to puree half of the potatoes to give the soup a thicker, creamier texture. This is optional and if you are using nothing but heavy cream, unnecessary. However, as I typically use whole milk, I prefer to puree some of the potatoes and leeks.

Preparing and Cooking Live Lobster: If you haven't cooked a live lobster previously, there are various techniques. As shown below, you can simply flip them over on a cutting board sitting inside a baking sheet (to catch any liquids) and insert the knife point just below the main front claws. Then quickly cut down through the head. Turn the knife and cut the remaining tail section in half. Note that a lobster has a decentralized nervous system and no brain, so legs will continue to move even after you've cut the head in half. You need not cut all the way through the shell on the other side, as you can flip them over and cut the top shell separately, with a knife or heavy kitchen scissors.

Killing and splitting the live lobster.
If you are squeamish, you can drop them into boiling water or a steamer.  As I prefer to roast them first, and eat at least the meat from one of them, I rinse out the inedible head section and stuff it with deviled crab. But you can simply clean them out, and roast them on a cookie sheet in a 400F degree oven for 20 minutes, or even on the grill. If you are boiling/steaming them, cut them in half after they cool slightly and remove the material in the head section, then remove the meat from claws and tail, reserving the meat and any juices. Then proceed with the recipe below. You may, of course, do this several days ahead reserving shells and meat.

Ingredients  (Makes 12-14 cups, about 6 large bowls)

3-4 (1½ ­pound) cooked lobsters,  split/cleaned
3-5 ears corn (more is better)

For the stock:
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 celery stock, roughly chopped
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1 cup white wine
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
7-8 cups water (enough to cover during cooking)

For the chowder:
1 tablespoon good olive oil
1/4 pound bacon, large diced
2-3 cups large ­diced Yukon gold potatoes, peeled
1 leek or 2 medium onions, chopped
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 cups lobster/corn stock (above)
sweet corn kernels reserved (above)
4 cups whole milk, cream, half and half or combo
1/4 cup cream sherry (optional)
chopped parsley or cilantro (garnish)
salt/pepper/paprika to taste

For the stock, remove the cooked meat from the shells of the lobsters. Cut the meat into large cubes and place them in a bowl, cover and refrigerate. Clean out the shell head and reserve the shells and juices.  Cut the corn kernels from the cobs, place them in a bowl, cover and refrigerate. Save the cobs.

In a large stockpot or Dutch oven add vegetable oil and heat over medium high heat until hot. Add the chopped onion, celery and carrot and cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes, until translucent but not browned, stirring occasionally. Add the white wine and paprika and cook for 1-2 minute until simmering.

Potatoes and Leeks in Bacon Drippings 
Add the lobster shells, their juices, corncobs and the water to cover the ingredients and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot and simmer the stock over the lowest heat for a minimum of 60 minutes. I usually simmer for up to 90-120 minutes to fully extract flavor. Remove from heat and let cool somewhat. Strain the solids from the liquids and discard solids. You should now have 6-7 cups of stock as it cooks down somewhat. You may pause at this point and refrigerate the stock until you are ready to make the chowder. The proceed as below.

For the chowder, In a heavy pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil and cook the bacon for 4 to 5 minutes over medium-­low heat, until browned and crisp. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and reserve. If there are many browned solids in the bottom of the drippings, pour off the clear drippings and discard browned solids. Return the drippings to the pot. Add the potatoes and leeks/onions, salt and pepper to the pot and saute in the bacon drippings for 5 minutes. Add just enough lobster stock to cover the ingredients and bring to a boil until the potatoes are fork tender, about 15-20 minutes longer. Using a slotted spoon, remove half of the potato mixture from the pot and reserve.

Add the remaining stock and the milk/cream to the pot and stir to combine. Using a stick blender, puree the remaining potato/leek mixture until smooth. Add the reserved potato/leek mixture and the corn back to the pot, and heat until warmed through and slightly thickened, about 5-10 minutes. If you'd like it more thick, add a slurry of flour/water. Stir in the optional sherry, cooked lobster and season to taste, heating gently for 2 minutes. Taste and correct seasoning, by adding more salt, pepper and/or paprika as needed. Serve hot with a garnish of crisp bacon, parsley/cilantro and freshly ground black pepper.

Julian's Lobster and Corn Chowder with Bacon

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Italian Stuffed Mini-Peppers

You may have seen these little cuties in the store and wondered what you are supposed to do with baby bell peppers. So I purchased a package and decided they would be good for an appetizer. They could also be used on a buffet if the crowd isn't too large. As say that because it can be tedious cleaning out so many little peppers when you only get a bite or two from each one.

Preparing the mini-peppers
The recipe is pretty easy and much like a meatball except I'm using Italian sausage as the main ingredient. This is a spicy Italian sausage as I know my group likes that but you could really use any type of filling you prefer.

6-8 mini bell peppers
1/3 pound Italian sausage, bulk
1 egg
1/3 cup grated mozzarella cheese
1 teaspoon oregano
2 cloves garlic, minced
fresh ground black pepper
1/3 cup panko bread crumbs
1/3 cup mozzarella cheese for topping

Preheat oven to 350F degrees or heat your grill with the lid closed to a similar interior temperature.

Wash and clean the mini peppers removing the stem and cleaning them out through the opening as shown. Remove as much of the inner fibers as possible without damaging the pepper.

Stuffed and ready for baking.
Mix together the remaining ingredients and stuff into each pepper.  Place in a casserole dish and bake or in a grill-safe dish, place on the grill (closed).  Bake for 45 minutes or until a thermometer inserted into the center of the largest pepper reads 170F degrees.  Top with remaining mozzarella cheese and bake for 5-10 minutes until melted or brown quickly under the broiler.

Bacon Ranch Chicken Rotini

A cross between pasta carbonara, macaroni and cheese and a casserole, this flavorful dish is popular and a good choice for family or to take to social functions.

Julian's Bacon Ranch Chicken Rotini
You can make the using freshly cooked chicken breasts and I'll give instructions for that below, or you can substitute a good quality canned chicken. That's what I'm using today because I'm trying to use up a few ingredients in my pantry.

With a bacony, cheesy top! Yum

1 1/2 to 2 pounds chicken, cooked and cubed
1 pound rotini pasta noodles, cooked
12-16 ounces bacon, cooked and chopped up
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 -2 cups milk or half and half
3/4 cup Ranch Dressing
3 tablespoons butter
2 cups Mexican Cheese Blend
1 small can green chiles, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste

A Note on the Chicken: if you are using fresh chicken, poach the breast following these instructions. Otherwise, good quality canned chicken will work fine. Chop the chicken in large but bit-sized chunks and mince the garlic cloves.

Fry the bacon until crispy in a large frying pan reserving two tablespoons of the drippings in the pan. Chop the bacon. Boil and drain the noodles per package directions until al dente, about 7 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Prepare a large casserole dish by spraying with food release (Pam) or rubbing with butter or vegetable oil.

Over medium heat, warm bacon drippings and stir in the butter until melted. Saute the onion 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for one minute more while stirring. Add the chicken and the flour and cook for about 1 minute while stirring. Add 1 1/2 cups milk and Ranch dressing. Stir over medium heat for 2-3 minutes until slightly thickened.

Stir in 1 cup of the cheese until melted and blended in. Gently fold in the noodles, half the bacon and chiles until well blended. If it is too thick and seems dry, stir in more milk. Taste and correct seasoning by adding salt and pepper, if necessary. Transfer to the prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle the remaining cup of cheese over the top of the casserole followed by the remaining bacon. Bake for 15-20 minutes covered. Uncover and bake 10-15 minutes more until cheese is melted and bacon is crisp.

Creamy, delicious and full of flavor.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Korean Style Grilled Beef Short Ribs

Whether in Seoul or suburban Chicago, you can always get these specialty ribs at Korean restaurants and Kevin and I very much enjoy them. Grocers that carry a good supply of Asian products usually have these in the meat case. The one's shown below are a little thicker than I typically get, but all do quite well on the grill.

Julian's Korean Short Ribs
Unlike American short ribs, which include a thick slice of bone-in beef, Korean-style short ribs are cut lengthwise across the rib bones. The result is a thin strip of meat, about 8-10 inches in length, lined on one side with 1/2-inch thick rib bones. The thin slices make for fast cooking on the grill and when seasoned as I have recommended below, bring a taste of Korea to your table. Quite delicious!

Korean Short Ribs, Cut in Half
Today I'm making a smaller batch good for just the two of us for dinner but I'll give you the full recipe that feeds 6-8 easily. I don't measure the ingredients and you need not either. Just toss them in approximate quanties into a bowl and mix them together.

5 pounds Korean style beef short ribs

In the Marinade
1 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup vinegar
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1/2 cup honey
1 small onion, peeled and finely grated
3 garlic cloves, crushed or minced
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

2 green onions, thinly sliced (optional)

If using for a main course, keep pieces whole. If using as an appetizer, side or party dish, cut each piece in half or smaller as desired.

In a bowl, whisk together marinade ingredients. Transfer beef into a large zip locked freezer bag or two. Add marinade, press out excess air from bags, and seal. Turn bag over several times to ensure beef is evenly coated. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight on a flat surface in the refrigerator. Turn the ribs several times during marination to ensure evening flavor distribution.

Heat grill to medium-hot. Drain excess marinade off beef. Grill short ribs, turning once, until cooked through and completely done, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. These are typically cooked completely so there is pink remaining. Garnish with thinly sliced green onions.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Wax Beans al Fresco

This is recipe I make most summers and haven't posted it before because it really is so simple to make. But I've found recently not everyone is familiar with this variety of beans.

Julian's Wax Beans al Fresco
Wax beans are similar to the green beans usually found on the tables of most of Europe and the Americas. They are yellow in color and similar in taste to string beans and I use them in a variety of dishes when they are fresh. Here in the north of the USA we typically get them starting in mid-summer and they produce through the early autumn. This is a great dish for picnics, cookouts and outside dining in general, as they can be made in advance and served chilled or at room temperature.

Wax beans are loaded with vitamins A and C, while being low in calories.


1 pound or so wax beans
1 shallot or mild onion
1/2 small red/orange bell pepper
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon or more honey
1 teaspoon dried dill
salt and pepper, to taste

Wash the beans and discard any that are discolored or soft. Cut off the dry ends and cut the beans to the length you prefer. I usually leave them mostly whole for appearance, but cut into bite-sized pieces is fine too.

Bring a pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Drop in the beans and let them cook for 3-4 minutes, testing them for doneness. They should still be somewhat crunchy.

Remove the beans to cold water to stop the cooking, then drain completely.  Chop the shallot/onion and the pepper finely. Mix together the oil, vinegar and honey whisking it rapidly. Toss the beans in the dressing and sprinkle with dill, salt and pepper. Taste and correct seasoning as necessary. Serve at room temperature or chilled.