Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Yummy Birthday Treats!

Today is my wife's birthday and I treated her to a nice dinner meal which I planned and prepared over the course of the day. While the dinner went well, the day really did not start off very well for me. Got involved in a small fender-bender with another car that accidentally backed up into mine when I was dropping my daughter off at her gymnastics school. Fortunately, no one was hurt and we exchanged our insurance information and I got on with the rest of my day. Got to my local supermarket and bought all the necessary ingredients for my dinner "extravaganza," including a Carvel ice-cream cake.

So here are my plans: I mapped out 4 items on the menu tonight. First is a lobster dish, which was specially requested by my wife. I decided to go simple with this one by boiling the lobster but notch it up with a nice savory creamy sauce. The second item on the menu is a baked spinach and lump crab-stuffed flounder with roasted red pepper sauce. The third item, which is more like a small appetizer, is shrimp fritters and finally, I wrapped my wife's favorite vegetable, fresh asparagus in phyllo sheets and baked them.

Let me start with the lobster dish. This is the season for soft-shell lobsters and I purchased 3 of them for $4.99/pound, which came up to just under $20. Soft-shells appear when lobsters molt, or outgrow their current hard shell and grow a new one. The new shell starts off soft but hardens over time. For lobsters of equivalent sizes, soft-shells usually have less meat. As the name suggests, the shells easily crack open and no additional tools are needed except for your hands. I wanted to make a sauce with lobster stock, so the minute I got home, I got the stock going in a pot containing the lobsters bodies, tomatoes, sherry, worcestershire sauce, onions, carrots, celery and bay leaves, bringing it to boil and then simmering it for 2-3 hours to extract the maximum flavor out of the ingredients. To make the sauce, I started out with a roux (cooking the same amount of butter and flour makes this thickening agent) and then I added the strained lobster stock, which came to a saucy consistency. Then I added some dry sherry and cream and continue simmering the sauce. Finally, I added fresh squeezed lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. The lemon juice adds a little hint of freshness and acidity to the heavy sauce. Finally, I garnished the sauce with some finely chopped scallions (chives are an acceptable substitute as well), which, like the lemon juice, acts to lighten up the sauce. As for the lobster meat, just boil them in a pot for 15-20 minutes and they should be ready to go. Shucking these soft-shells is as easy as peeling shrimp shells.

For the next big component of the meal, we need flounder fillets, spinach and lump crab meat, as well as some breadcrumbs. First, sauté some shallots and garlic with the washed spinach leaves, season with salt and pepper and allow it to cool down. After letting the spinach cool down, fold the crab meat into the spinach together with some bread crumbs. If you've seasoned the spinach well, there is no further need to season the new mixture anymore as the crab meat by itself is naturally sweet. Lay out a flounder fillet flat and scoop a spoonful of the crab-spinach mix onto it and roll. Repeat for however many fillets of the fish you have on hand and put them in a casserole dish. Brush the rolled fillets with some butter and top each one with some breadcrumbs for some texture. As for the sauce, puree some roasted red pepper together with some parsley, onions and garlic. Transfer the puree to a pot, add worcestershire sauce and start heating it up. Season appropriately with salt and your sauce is ready.

For the vegetable, I used phyllo sheets to wrap stalks of asparagus (oiled and seasoned) and baked them in the oven. Another component that you see in the picture above is the shrimp fritters. Using the standard recipe for fritters (flour, eggs, milk, butter, salt, baking powder), I deep-fried shrimp coated in the batter. And that's it. Nothing complicated about these dishes, just maybe some extra prep time.

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