Olive Oil Cans & A Corkscrew

Ordinarily whatever happens to be on the dining room table inspires a dinner, but this time around the reverse was true.  I really wanted to make lobster risotto for our gourmet group which made me think an Italian theme would be a nice accompaniment. After looking around to see what would work to make that happen, these old olive oil cans  and an antique corkscrew from a Florence flea market got the table started.

From there creating a look with an Italian flair got pretty easy.  Of course, I couldn’t resist adding a few bottles of flowers from the garden.    All were on a beautiful handwoven textile made with threads as fine as a strand of hair.

There was no question about what dishes to use.  The colors in the centerpiece made these harlequin patterned ones the perfect choice.   These are among my oldest, and I never tire of using them as they lend themselves to such a variety of accessories.  Here the plate is on a copper toned charger which added a touch of texture.

Also from Italy, Cortona I believe, are my favorite napkin rings cast to depict a variety of herbs.

Because I’m not a real rule follower, I like mixing and matching.  This time I chose to do that with flatware.

My rule for setting a table is to keep it as simple as possible for the comfort of guests so I avoid using more pieces than are required for the meal.  Here only a bowl for the risotto and a salad plate were necessary.

Keeping it simple doesn’t mean sacrificing warmth or interest which together welcome guests to your table.

A word about the lobster risotto or any risotto for that matter.  Many people steer away from risotto thinking it has to be made  just before serving.  Not so!  You can make it ahead of time saving enough liquid to add at the last minute.  Then all you have to do is heat until all the liquid is gone, dish it up and serve.  That takes all the stress away.

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Tablescape Thursday

Tips for Making Risotto

Risotto is a frequent dish at our house because there are so many variations and it’s NOT difficult to prepare.  Many are quite surprised when I say that as for some reason risotto has a reputation for being troublesome.

Part of the reason for this perception is the notion that it has to be cooked and stirred at the last minute meaning that if guests are coming for dinner you are standing at the stove.  Not so!  Risotto can be made before guests arrive except for adding the last liquid.  Right before you are ready to serve, add the last 1-2 cups of liquid and finish it off in only a few minutes.

One of the keys to preparing risotto is to have the liquid, usually chicken or vegetable broth, very hot as it is an important part of the cooking process.  Second is to not overcook.  Like many pastas, risotto is best when it is al dente, otherwise it’s a bit mushy.

No matter what ingredients are added, risotto is a very satisfying meal that requires nothing more than a good salad, crusty bread and a glass of wine.  Go ahead, try it and here’s a recipe sure to be a hit.

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Butternut Squash Risotto

1/2 pound peeled butternut squash
6-7 c. chicken or vegetable stock
3 T. unsalted butter
1 medium leek, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 c. arborio rice
2 rosemary branches
3/4 t. kosher salt
1/3 c. dry white wine

Finely grated zest of one lemon
1 t. lemon juice or more if you like a lemony taste
Freshly ground black pepper 
1/4 c. chopped salted pistachios
Grated parmesan cheese

 Shred the squash in a food processor or with a grater. In a small saucepan, bring stock to a simmer. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add leeks and cook until soft. Stir in the garlic and cook  about one minute. Add rice, squash, rosemary, and salt. Stir until the rice is slightly browned, about 3-4 minutes. 

 Add the wine and let it reduce for about two minutes. Add stock, 1 c. at a time, and cook, stirring often until most of the liquid has evaporated and the risotto has become creamy and thick.  This will take about 25-30 minutes.*  Remove rosemary stems and stir in lemon zest, lemon juice, and black pepper.  Garnish with the pistachios and optional cheese before serving.

*If you are preparing for guests, cook the risotto for about 15 minutes. Five minutes or so before you are ready to serve, finish it off by adding the last 1-2 c. of liquid.  Remember the liquid must be hot.

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Foodie Friday

Company’s Coming

When folks come to visit, I like to have the first night’s dinner well underway when they arrive so they can settle in and relax after what has probably been a long day of travel.  Maine is not the easiest place to get to!

tablescapeAlready on the breakfast room table are these wonderful antique beer bottles, but instead of being filled with beer, they hold a stem or two of near season’s end hydrangeas.  I love how the bloom changes from white to green as it matures.

tablescapeDinner is a casual affair, so I’m going for comfort with simple black square plates from Ikea  on these placemats of many colors.  I love the flared top of the placemat which creates just enough space for a glass.

tablescapeHmmm, there are salad plates to match the larger ones, but now seems a good time to use the black and white ones scored at Goodwill last week.  I’m beginning to like shopping there for new treasures!

wine bottle holderThe wine bottle holder is one that I brought back from a spring trip to Vietnam, and it is a definite conversation piece as everyone is intrigued by how it stays balanced!

tablescapeAdded to the mix are the much used King’s Crown thumbprint glasses and flatware from TJ Maxx, another of my favorite shopping haunts.

Now, it’s to the kitchen to start dinner which features very fresh scallops.  I promise you this dish is what we call a real moaner as moans of appreciation replace words at the table!

scallops/mushroom couscous risottoCarmelized Scallops with Mushroom Couscous Risotto

Couscous

2 T. olive oil

2 T. finely diced yellow onion

1 t. minced garlic

1 c. Israeli couscous (I like the tricolored)

1 1/4 c. water

2 t. sea salt

In a 3-4 quart saucepan, saute onions in olive oil over medium high heat.  When they start to brown, add garlic, stir for 1 minute, then add water, couscous and sea salt.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and cook for 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir gently.

Mushroom Risotto

1 T. unsalted butter

4 T. diced yellow onion

4 t. minced garlic

2 c. oyster mushrooms cut in 1/2″ pieces

1 c. heavy cream

prepared couscous

2 T. chopped parsley

2 T. chopped chives

Preheat large saute pan over medium high heat.  Melt butter and saute onions, garlic and mushrooms until they start to brown around the edges.   Add cream and salt.  Bring to a boil, add couscous, breaking up any clumps.  Cook until most of the cream has soaked into the mixture.  Gently fold in herbs and adjust salt and pepper.

Scallops

1 T. canola oil

1 1/2 lbs.  sea scallops

1/2 c. sweet Vermouth

1 c. heavy cream

Preheat saute pan over high heat.  When hot, add oil and immediately add scallops with a flat side down.  Sear only one side until you see a light brown caramelization coming up the sides.  Remove from heat and add vermouth.  Gently remove scallops from pan to a room temperature casserole dish.  Add cream to pan and return to high heat.  Bring to a boil, then immediately pour over scallops and let rest for 2-3 minutes to finish cooking scallops.

To serve place a serving of “risotto” in the center of a bowl or rimmed plate.  Place scallops around the risotto and pour 3-4 T. of sauce over the scallops.  Garnish with parsley and chives.  Makes 4 servings.

This dish is just as good as it looks and is quite easy to prepare.  Using couscous for the risotto takes the pain out of making it and yields a surefire success.  As with any seafood dish, the real key is having good and fresh seafood.  To complete this dinner, all you need is a green salad and some crusty bread to “sop” up the sauce.  No one will leave the table unhappy!

By the way, this recipe is inspired by one in a beautiful cookbook Fresh From Maine.

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On the Menu Monday

Summer is for Lobster

lobsterSummer is for lobsters, and lucky me, I have made friends with a lobster guy in Rockport Harbor from whom I get them right off the boat.

Having such easy access means opportunity for experimenting with lobster in a variety of dishes.  One of my favorites is lobster risotto, usually the one here.   Yummy as is, I decided to tweak it a bit for this night’s dinner with friends.  Corn and lobster are a natural combo  and with corn being plentiful and sweet this time of the summer, it seemed a perfect addition as did roasted heirloom tomatoes.  

lobster risottoI can’t tell you whether this recipe was significantly better than the other, but I can tell you everyone went for second helpings! 

lobster tablescapeFor any table where lobster is served, some combination of the same things are used.  Since risotto is a little more “uptown” than steamed lobster these table runners replace newspaper.

lobster tablescapeA lobster print fabric was cut and the edges serged for quick and easy napkins

lobster tablescapefolded in a much used fan shape.

lobster tablescapeThe more traditional thumbprint glasses complement contemporary lobster plates

lobster tablescapeand  Lobbie makes his way through vases of bright summer blooms from the garden.  This is one lobster that is safe from the pot!

lobster tablescapeNow, let’s bring on the risotto!

Lobster Risotto

3 T. butter

1 medium onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 c. Arborio rice

1 c. fresh corn kernels

1 c. white wine

4 c. seafood broth or clam juice  (if you steam your own lobster, the water can be used)

1 1/2 c. cooked, chopped lobster meat

1/3 c. fresh basil, chopped coarsely

1/4 c. Parmesan

salt and pepper to taste

12 small heirloom or Roma tomatoes, roasted

To roast tomatoes, core and cut into quarters.  Spread on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper.  Roast, stirring a couple of times, for about 1 1/2 hours. 

Melt butter in a large skillet.  Add onion and garlic and cook for 3-5 minutes until softened. Add the rice and stir until it is coated with butter.  Add corn and wine, bring to a boil and cook until wine has almost evaporated.

Heat the broth and add to rice 1/3 at a time.  Continue until all broth is used.  With last addition, add lobster, basil and Parmesan.  Stir until rice is tender, adding more liquid if necessary.  To serve, put tomatoes on top of the risotto and garnish with basil.

4 generous servings

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Bubba of Lobster

Remember Bubba in Forrest Gump? He prided himself on how many dishes he could make with shrimp.  Well, I’m taking him on when it comes to lobster!  

I can grill it, steam it, make lobster bisque and lobster stew.  

I can make lobster rolls, ravioli, enchiladas and tacos.  

Want a lobster salad or omelet?  Come on over.  It’ll be ready in a few minutes.  All I have to do is run to the fish market or catch one of the boats just coming in to pick up a few lobbies.

Oh, there’s lots more to whet your appetite, and I’ll give you one of the best, lobster risotto.  It’s not  difficult  to make, especially if you buy the lobster already cooked and shelled, and I promise you it is a dish your family will want again and again and dinner guests will rave over.


lobster risottoLobster Risotto

1 t. olive or vegetable oil

4 T. unsalted butter

2 shallots, finely chopped

1 1/2 c. arborio rice

1/2 t. cayenne pepper

1/3 c. dry white vermouth (white wine will work, too)

6-6 1/2 c. chicken stock, heated

8 oz. cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered (can be omitted if

you aren’t crazy about tomatoes or don’t have them on hand)

2-3 T. cream (I use heavy but whipping is OK)

2 c. lobster meat cut into chunks

2 T. dill

salt/white pepper

Heat oil and half the butter in large pan over medium heat. Add

shallots and cook til softened. Add rice and cayenne; stir for

about 2 minutes til rice is well coated with oil and butter.

Add vermouth (or wine) and about 1 c. of broth. Stir til stock

is absorbed. Continue the stock addition til all is gone. This

takes about 20-25 minutes. I’ve found you don’t have to

constantly stir, but keep an eye on the risotto so it doesn’t

cook dry. It should have a creamy texture and be tender but

firm to the bite.

Stir in tomatoes and cream and cook for about 2 minutes.

Add the cooked lobster, remaining butter and dill and cook til

lobster is heated through.

Enjoy! The recipe makes  4-6 servings. You don’t need

anything with this but a green salad and a yummy bread.

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Lobster Risotto

lobster risottoHaving easy access to lobster most of the year, I have become the Bubba (think Forrest Gump) of lobster.  It’s good just about any way you fix it, but one of my favorite recipes is lobster risotto.  Don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s difficult because it’s not, and it’s a dish that will have your dinner companions asking for more.  

Lobster Risotto

1 t. olive or vegetable oil

4 T. unsalted butter

2 shallots, finely chopped

1 1/2 c. arborio rice

1/2 t. cayenne pepper

1/3 c. dry white vermouth (white wine will work, too)

6-6 1/2 c. chicken stock, heated

8 oz. cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered (can be omitted if

you aren’t crazy about tomatoes or don’t have them on hand)

2-3 T. cream (I use heavy but whipping is OK)

2 c. lobster meat cut into chunks

2 T. dill

salt/white pepper

Heat oil and half the butter in large pan over medium heat. Add shallots and cook til softened.

cooking away/lobster risottoAdd rice and cayenne; stir for about 2 minutes til rice is well coated with oil and butter.

Add vermouth (or wine) and about 1 c. of broth. Stir til stock is absorbed. Continue the stock addition til all is gone. This takes about 20-25 minutes. I’ve found you don’t have to constantly stir, but keep an eye on the risotto so it doesn’t cook dry. It should have a creamy texture and be tender but firm to the bite.

Stir in tomatoes and cream and cook for about 2 minutes.  Add the cooked lobster, remaining butter and dill and cook til lobster is heated through.

  This is enough for about 4-6 servings, and you don’t need anything else but a green salad and  yummy bread.

Enjoy!

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