Cleanin’ Out My Cabinets: Lobster Mac and Cheese

This one feels vaguely out of season, but we’ve been traveling on the weekends to weddings and fake college reunions so I haven’t had much time in the kitchen.  I had a choice between using photos from recent meals I haven’t written about or potentially ruining half of tonight’s grilled pizza with a combination of canned goose pate and grape balsamic reduction.  Went with the former, though I need to give that pizza a shot at some point when dinner doesn’t depend on it.

After a trip to Maine this summer we headed home with the usual 6 lobsters, for the absurdly low price of $20, that we planned to steam and shell for use in various meals throughout the week.

The meat looks great and all, but that Tupperware in the background contains the Man of the Match for this meal.  The process of cooking and shelling 6 lobsters makes me sweat an illogical amount

A portion of this meat will always have to be designated to a few lobster rolls on Maier’s Potato Rolls…

Look, I’m seeing these pictures for the first time in awhile myself, and I have no idea how my toe worked its way into the background of this shot.  I am certainly not flexible enough to have my foot that close to food that I am consuming

I love me a good lobster roll, but the majority needed to be saved for the meal I’ve always loved the concept of but has never lived up to my lofty expectations; Lobster Mac & Cheese.  I haven’t sought out or done research on where to find good Lobster Mac (today’s ‘breve), but invariably the ones I’ve tried have been a little bland and lacking the lobster flavor I was looking for.  Needless to say, I had some ideas for how to improve on that and babbled about them to anyone that would listen.  Time to put them to the test.

I got started by making a broth with the lobster shells and some aromatics.  Someone needs to explain to me why this always ends up green in color when I expect it to be pink.

Not as bad as when I made the lobster marinara, but still not an appetizing sight.  Kinda like the header I chose to put on this food blog that makes most visitors vomit before they can even get to a post

Each time I’ve made lobster broth, it ends up smelling strongly of lobster but mostly just tastes like a standard fish stock.  I reserved some of the broth for the cheese sauce, but most of it was earmarked for cooking the macaroni.

A few years ago Kristi and I had pantry moths.  Now we are just hippies, with all dried goods stored in mason jars.  We labeled all the jars based on Phish song related puns.  Spoof’n, can you imagine how infuriating it would be to bake in a kitchen like that?

The macaroni boiled in the lobster broth for a little over half of the normal cook time before being strained and set to the side.  I kind of expected it to pick up some of the green coloring from the broth, but of course it didn’t.  Just like everything else I expect to happen in the kitchen.

“I’m sorry, I don’t want to fight, I’m not in a bad mood or mad at you.  It’s just, I don’t get… I mean, why do you have to use the flash when you take action shots?” – me, as Kristi stares at me in rightful disbelief

With the pasta cooked and the lobster meat ready, it was time to get started on the cheese sauce.  To add some flavor to the dish and the sauce, I started off by cubing a quarter pound of duck prosciutto for browning.

Yeah, had some leftover from the duck prosciutto making festivities over the past few months.  Worked deliciously with the lobster.  Duck and lobster.  Size XL on my monocle, please

The duck prosciutto went into a couple tablespoons of butter to sautee for a few minutes on the stovetop.  Once the prosciutto had browned a bit, it joined the cooked macaroni and chopped lobster in a bowl.

Nobody beats themselves up more than me when an inadequately small bowl for mixing together ingredients is chosen.  Let’s just say I was cursing myself out far more than necessary over having to wash an extra dish when I transferred this to a larger bowl

With the leftover melted butter and duck fat still on the stove, I whisked in 2-3 tablespoons of flour and let it cook on the stovetop for a 10 minutes.  I was carefully to stir it regularly to avoid burning, but I certainly don’t mind a nice brown roux.

Dats a good lookin’ roux

At this point the standard cheese sauce process started; add some milk (plus a little of the broth) then some shredded cheese, then some milk, and so on until you have enough cheese sauce of the right consistency.  I am not going to attempt to explain what that means because I would do so awfully and no one comes here to learn.

I went with straight sharp cheddar for this one, but I knew the secret weapon in this sauce had nothing to do with the cheese and milk, it had to do with this:

“Potentially Poisonous Guacamole of the Gods?!?! Sign me up!” – Line from the imaginary food show I host in my kitchen when Kristi goes to bed

That’s right, when dismantling the lobster bodies I saved the tomalley (lobster offal) and roe in this little container for questionable future use.  It looks gross, and there have been warnings about possible pollutants from the ocean bottom being concentrated in it, but the flavor of it is rich and lobstery.  Perfect for spiking the flavor of the cheese sauce with the lobster note it was missing, so in it went.

You can see it hiding in there now that I’ve told you about it, but I certainly didn’t tell people about it before they tried it

The majority of this pot got stirred in with the other ingredients in a large(r) bowl before going into a Pyrex dish that by some stroke of luck held it perfectly.

I’ll admit I didn’t use all of the cheese sauce and ended up regretting that slightly.  Always becomes less cheese saucy during baking when the macaroni starts a little underdone.  Again, I was acting like a self-hating cartoon character

After a dusting with some breadcrumbs and grated parm, the dish headed into a 375 oven for about 20 minutes until the cheese was bubbling and the top was browned.  Served it while it was hot with some token vegetables to make us feel like we were doing something healthy.

That zucchini looks even more pathetic in hindsight.  I probably acted like it tasted like poison since vegetables occasionally make me act like I am 8 years old when there is something else I would much rather be eating

Between the pasta cooked in lobster broth and the lobster bits in the cheese sauce, I had accomplished my goal of making something that didn’t just taste like mac and cheese with lobster chunks.  It tasted like lobster mac and cheese.  The cheese sauce had the slightly seafoody sweetness of lobster mixed with rich cheese flavor.  Every chunk of lobster was a great bite and the contrasting crispy pieces of prosciutto were a nice change of pace.  I kinda blew it by not using all of the sauce but, I learned a lesson, and will likely do it right next time.  Then I will make the same mistake again the following time.

Before I wrap up, a quick shout out to occasional blog villain Matt, his wife Wendy and their adorable daughter Sage who has fought mightily through her first four months of life.  Sage underwent a liver transplant yesterday morning at Children’s Hospital in Boston and could use the positive thoughts and hope of everyone who reads this blog as she recovers.  Our thoughts and prayers are with the little Swaddled Warrior, and I hope yours will be too.

Weird Crap I Cook: Paneer-za (feat. homemade paneer)

Last week a friend from school requested I give a shot to making Indian food, specifically a paneer.  In case you didn’t figure it out from the Cabot desserts or the salt baked fish, I am a sucker for requests/challenges and incapable of passing them up.  So, if you’ve got requests, feel free to throw them my way and I will do my best to accommodate.

Anyhoo, I’ve been thinking about getting into cheese making for awhile, so reading about paneer and seeing how quick and easy it is made it a bloggin’ no brainer.  Around noon on Friday, I texted Conman and asked him to pick me up the necessary whole milk, buttermilk and cheesecloth.  Eight hours later, after a dece dinner and post work imbibing with Con and Trisha, I returned home with them to the scene of such memorable meals as fried bone marrow and salmon wings and got started on the cheese.

First up was putting a quart of milk in a large pot over medium/high heat.

The debut of the iPhone as a primary photo taker since I forgot to bring a camera.  I don’t think I will willingly make the iPhone the main camera moving forward

The idea was to bring the whole milk to a boil then stir in 8 ounces of cold buttermilk which would help separate the milk into curds and whey.  The only problem was that boiling milk almost immediately expands enormously and boils over in seconds no matter how big the pot is.  I’ve got scorch marks all over my oven from boiling celery root in milk.  Since I was at Con and Trisha’s, I wanted to avoid that so I heated it slowly while standing over it and staring.

Now for a washed out picture of buttermilk.

The Dowley’s have excellent stouts in their fridge and keep the glasses full of them.  I use buttermilk so rarely when cooking, but every time I do it makes something delicious.  Pancakes and anything deep fried are 10x better with buttermilk involved

After sitting and watching the milk for 10 minutes or so with no change, I finally got impatient and stirred the pot, which is when I recognized my lazy mistake.  As I stirred, some lightly browned pieces of scorched milk came off the bottom of the pot meaning I should have been stirring the whole time.  Whoopsie daisy, now you finally have proof that I’m not perfect.

The bits of tannish-orange are what came off the bottom of the pot.  I tasted one to make sure it wasn’t too scorched and the flavor was fine.  Oh well, made for a more colorful block of cheese.  I liked seeing the bubbling under the milk skin

With the milk starting to boil and not wanting to get boiling stanky milk everywhere, I stirred in the buttermilk.  Pretty cool how quickly it started clumping and separating into curds and whey.

Back in the early days of living in Boston when I had a closet for a kitchen and minimal interest in cooking, I would often use milk that looked like this in my coffee.  I hated throwing away food, even when it was clearly spoiled.  I was basically a Far Side cartoon version of a bachelor

After a few more minutes over the heat and some additional stirring, the curds clumped together more and looked ready for the next step.

At this point Trisha had been asleep for 30 minutes on the couch while Con and I yapped nonsense in the kitchen.  I think it was 9:30.  Every year since I turned 25 has shaved a half hour off my Friday nights

The pot gets poured directly into a colander lined with a couple layers of cheese cloth.

I knew it would be delicious eventually, but I was also distinctly aware of the fact that it looked like a pile of dog vomit

As soon as the cloth was somewhat handle-able, I pulled up the edges of the cheese cloth and shaped the curds into a ball.

Reminds me of the “bulldog” picture from the markets of Morocco.  Apparently my brain is permanently in the gutter

From there I twisted down the cheese cloth from the top until it was tight on the ball of curds and let it hang from the faucet for 30-45 minutes.  During that time Con and I watched the Aziz Ansari comedy special with little dialogue between us and occasionally acknowledged each other’s presence in the room.  We were pooped dudes.  Eventually I walked home with 5 bags attached to various parts of my shoulders and the buttermilk and cheese cloth sack occupying my two hands.

Once home, I took the sack of curds and placed it on a plate lined with paper towels, then put a couple heavy cast iron pans on top of it.

Really enjoy the improvised weights that homemade cheese and salumi require for proper preparation. You gotta press that sh*ts

After an additional hour or two under the cast iron pans, soaking the paper towel beneath with all the excess liquid.  I like the traditional crumbly paneer, but I was hoping to make something that had a texture a little closer to fresh buffalo mozzarella.  When I unwrapped the cheese cloth, I was happy to see it looked the way I had hoped.

I think the rough surface look was due to me tightening the cheese cloth on the curds before they had cooled significantly. I’m happy I did that, since it would have been confusing for you readers if I made something that was actually nice to look at

The paneer went into the fridge to rest overnight and firm up a bit more.

The next day I wasn’t 100% on what I wanted to do with the paneer but it appeared that my work golf outing wouldn’t get me home until 9, and we had folks coming over for Celts/Heat game 7.  So, I had to come up with something.

I may have a golf swing that looks like I had a previous debilitating back injury and a dump in my pants, but I contrast that with an outstanding golf wardrobe

I decided on an Indian-style pizza, or paneer-za, since I thought it would be easy to throw together for a halftime snack.

Once home, I started things out by throwing a package of thawed spinach, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, crushed red pepper, and salt in the mini-prep.

Let’s get the admission of guilt out of the way.  I had Kristi pickup some packaged naan bread and a jar of tikka masala sauce at Whole Foods instead of attempting to make them from scratch.  Just didn’t have the patience to do all that during the game.  I steenk

There was a lot of flavor packed into this mini prep, but I new that the un-salted, un-aged cheese would be pretty bland so I was trying to make up for that.  I wanted the combined flavor and texture of the cheese and spinach to have the flavorful punch of sog paneer, but without any knowledge of the Indian spices required to accomplish that.  Still came out dece.

After a few pulses in each direction, I had the smooth, creamy, pesto-like consistency I was hoping for.

I once stuffed a similar strength mixture into crescent dough and served them as pinwheels which doubled over both Kristi and Conman with stomach pain in the hour that followed.  No sympathy from me, they are the same idiots that devoured them through constant complaints about their strength

The pizza stone went into the oven and I preheated to 450F.  The nan breads got a heavy smear of the spinach mixture and then slices of the paneer.

When I first saw how small the ball of paneer was, I was a little bummed out.  But thank god I didn’t make the full size of the recipe I referenced which would have been 4x as much.  This was plenty

Then a bunch of dollops of the masala sauce and into the oven.

Dupee points out regularly how stupid it is that I don’t have a pizza slide.  After a year of pretending it didn’t bug me when pizzas stuck to cookie sheets and that it was “my plan” to just put the cookie sheet on the stone, I think I am ready to get myself a slide and blame my previous mistakes on Janet or something

After 10-12 minutes in the oven, the smell was fantastic and the paneer had softened up nicely, so the paneer-zas headed from the oven to the cutting board.

The more slices cut the better, since there will always be one leftover that no one wants to eat, and it might as well be small to avoid wasting food.  I’ve got no problem with wasting a caption, though

This came together pretty well.  The naan had a nice crispy crunch without being burned, and the spinach, paneer, and masala was a very tasty combination of flavors.  I really enjoyed the texture of the paneer since it was soft and melty when hot without the stringy/stretchy texture that you associate with melted cheese.  I like the usual stringiness, but this was completely different and also enjoyable.  All in all, I would definitely make it again, but I likely don’t have an excuse to not make my own naan and masala next time.

That was fun, I’ll grill something good this weekend.

Cleanin’ Out My Cabinets: Cheese Rind Mac and Cheese

I wish I could make this a Pete’s Recipes, but I’ve made this multiple times and never come even close to keeping track of quantities.  As an example, I checked out a few sites to see approximately how many pounds of cheese go into a normal mac and cheese since I guessed anywhere between 1/2 pound and 2 pounds for a pound of pasta.  In related news, I might be getting worse at this whole blogging thing, and you’re all going down with the ship.  Enjoy the ride!

I think the title of this one says it all, but I’ve found that the best mac and cheese usually involves several different flavorful cheeses in addition to the old mainstay, cheddar.  What better way to make a mac & cheese with those ingredients than to use the leftovers from a good cheese plate.  We’ve done this two ways; start a full day (football Sunday) party with a cheese plate and end the party with an awesome mac and cheese or just save the cheese rinds in the freezer for later use.

A little short on images for this post, took this one a few minutes before sitting down to write.  Each time I’ve made this I’ve remembered to photo document a portion of the process, then forgot the rest.  I’m considering home schooling Janet just so she can focus on photography for this blog

The idea is to use not just the cheese ends, but the wax rind too.  The rind adds a funky mushroom-like flavor when used in a cheese sauce, which works really well in a mac and cheese.

Before we get into the mac process (there’s not much to it so I need to kill some time), lets gab about the other ingredients that make mac and cheese great.  I have two go-tos, prosciutto/pancetta/bacon and peas OR mixed mushroom.  I like to do the prosciutto and peas version when I can get my hands on a reasonably priced shank.

I would rename this blog “Cheap Meat” if I wasn’t scared of drawing a seedier element that was disappointed with the non-racy content of the site

I know I say “write that down” a lot sarcastically here, but if you live in Boston you need to write down the name on that label.  They cure a whole leg of prosciutto for 14 months, but they can’t sell the narrow area by the shank for the standard $20-25 a pound, so they price it for a reasonable $4.  Again, write that North End address down, it makes a great ingredient in any meal.

Unlike the cheese, it’s good to cut away the fatty rind before cubing the prosciutto shank for use in your mac and cheese.  You can also immediately see the extra fattiness that makes this perfect for a punch of extra flavor in a cheese sauce when browned in the roux pan.

The extra fat is why the shank shouldn’t be bought for raw consumption.  Con and I both tried mightily on that front, lots of floss was required in the aftermath and generally it’s just much better as a cooked ingredient

With the meat and (possibly) vegetables prepped, it’s time to start boiling water for the macaroni.  I generally do a pound of macaroni which I boil just over half the recommended length of time, then strain and rinse in cold water to stop the cooking.  Put that off to the side while you brown your salty pork product.

And I’ve switched up the event.  This is from a different time when I used half a pack of leftover bacon.  I really didn’t want to insult your intelligence and pretend that picture was of the cubed prosciutto.  Please thank me at your earliest convenience

Once the meat and/or vegetables have browned, I use a slotted spoon to fish out the ingredients and leave the cooked off fat and liquids behind over medium/low heat.  Add to the pot two tablespoons of butter then whisk in around three tablespoons of flour, and you have a solid roux base for the cheese sauce.  I let that cook for 10 minutes stirring often to avoid overly browning or burning.

This is when it becomes a balancing act with milk and cheese (I don’t think the fat content of the milk matters, I’ve used skim and whole).  I usually whisk milk in slowly until the sauce has a thin gravy consistency, then add in handfuls of the grated cheese, starting with the rinds, melting/blending completely before adding more.  Season heavily with white pepper and salt plus some onion powder and ground mustard if you’re feeling a little wacky.

I am pretty sure I would put cheese sauce on anything and everything, which is why I wonly make it for mac & cheese.  I am incapable of controlling myself.  I’ve never made cheese fondue or gone to a fondue restaurant because I know I would eat the whole cauldron myself.  Cheese Eatin’ Problems!

Once the rinds are blended in, I usually add in as much cheddar as necessary to make enough sauce, using milk along the way to match the consistency I am looking for.  All told, I think I use 4-5 cups of shredded cheese or around a pound of cheese per pound of dry pasta.  I have no basis for those general measurements, but they sound right.

With the cheese sauce ready to go, preheat the oven to 350F and put 3/4 of the partially cooked pasta in a bowl along with the reserved other ingredients.  The goal is to avoid having too much or too little cheese sauce so I try to make sure there is enough cheese sauce before adding in the rest of the pasta.

You can make the prosciutto and pea mac or the mushroom mac, or just cook every possible ingredient in your fridge and dump it all into the mixing bowl.  I even thawed some frozen peas that are hiding in there somewhere.  Also, contrary to my previous caption, I despise the whole Jersey Shore “____ ____ Problems!!!” spoof

Once the cheese sauce is fully stirred in and you have the pasta/cheese proportion right, I dump it all into a 9×13 baking dish and level it out.

If I remember correctly, I under-cheesed this one.  Had it right, then haphazardly added in the last of the macaroni.  I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum, and under-cheesing is a little better because it’s ends up like a good baked pasta that you can add some parm to.  Nobody who reads this blog or has seen me with my shirt off expected me to be in favor of under-cheesing

The mac is ready for the oven like this, but if I have some panko breadcrumbs a good sprinkling over the top always make the meal a few percents better.  Just one, maybe two percents better.  Pandering to the Pumping Iron documentary fans with that spoof!

After about 20 minutes in the oven, the top is usually browned and the bottom is bubbling.  Which means it’s ready for eating.

Yeah, definitely the one I under-cheesed.  I’m sure I ate the living sh*t out of it with a sprinkling of parm and a drizzle of olive oil

I’m not going to wrap up this blog the way I normally would by explaining how the mac tasted since I’m guessing you’ve all had homemade mac and cheese.  On the other hand, I recommend that if you are using an aged and funky cheese rind, definitely consider complimenting with some mixed mushrooms and truffle salt.  So freaking good, just a lot of earthy, umami-type flavors all mixing together and separating it from a normal mac.

But if you also have salty crispy browned prosciutto shank, you can push it into a whole new world of deliciousness.  Mostly I’d just recommend trying anything, since it’s bound to at least be edible since you’re combining a bunch of good things.

Still don’t have my grill, it’s going to be a game changer whenever it arrives.  I also need to figure out where to hang the meat that is curing in my fridge sometime in the next week and I have a sinking suspicion it’s going to be inside a cardboard box in my basement since I don’t know how to use real men tools.  Food Blogger Problems!!!