Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Joys of Summer: Lobster

I just returned from a few days in Maine, where I feasted on fresh lobster served by the water's edge. I chose the type (hard or soft shelled), the size, and the cooking method (boiled or baked). Then I sat at an outdoor table and waited while my lobster was plucked from the water, cooked, and brought to me with assorted eating implements. For many folks, this is the quintessential New England summer dinner.

I'm one of those people who eats every possible morsel; a friend once said I reminded him of the scene in Splash, where Darryl Hannah bites into the middle of the lobster's back and then proceeds to devour it from there. I not only enjoy the tail and claw meat, but I rip off the little skinny legs and chew on them; I open the carapace and root around inside. To me, picking the lobster apart and digging out the sweet meat is part of the whole experience and pleasure. Luckily, my dining companion felt the same way, because eating a lobster this way takes time and creates a giant mess. And you smell like lobster for hours, despite the little wet wipes that most places give you.

If time is an issue, I'm likely to order lobster roll instead of boiled lobster. To a New Englander, lobster roll means just one thing: lots of lobster meat held together either with a bit of mayonnaise or just melted butter (and sometimes celery) piled atop a hot dog roll that is split on top and lightly toasted. You can buy lobster rolls in many places, including supermarkets and fast food restaurants, but I really wouldn't bother. Wait until you get to a place that makes them to order and makes them well.

I confess that I have never actually cooked a lobster; I can't stand hearing their claws scratching on the kettle. But this doesn't stop me from enjoying them. I always wonder about the first person who ate a lobster. When you look at one raw, it looks pretty unappetizing—a bit like a giant greenish-brownish bug. I salute the person who first decided to try eating one.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Cottage Cheese: A Bum Rap as Just a Diet Food

my favorite brand and type
Cottage cheese has a bad reputation, and I hope to change that. For some reason, it is seen primarily as a tasteless food eaten by long-suffering dieters. It is a good food for dieters, since it is high in nutrition and low in calories, but it is also a great staple for everyone else. Its blandness makes it extremely versatile: cottage cheese can be enjoyed for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or dessert.

Cottage cheese is a protein powerhouse, offering twice the protein of yogurt. A single serving of cottage cheese provides half of an adult's daily protein requirement. People on budgets should remember this.

Cottage cheese is the original curds and whey enjoyed by Little Miss Muffet of nursery rhyme fame. It is essentially just milk components and salt, and today the salt is negotiable. Cottage cheese can be bought in many different forms: small curd, large curd, low sodium, low fat, nonfat, and flavored with sweet (pineapple, jam) or savory(chives, garden vegetables) items. I buy mine plain, adding flavors depending on how I use it. I'm not a fan of the low-fat varieties, but you may feel differently.

In hot weather, I often add a glob of cottage cheese to a tossed green salad. It turns it into a complete meal without making it appreciably heavy. I also eat this cheese on toast, bagels, or English muffins in the morning. (Richard Nixon ate cottage cheese for breakfast every morning, but he put ketchup on his.) In winter, I usually add a dollop of cottage cheese to a baked potato. If I'm in need of comfort food, I enjoy it in noodle kugel, a dish unknown to most of my friends but luckily not to my children. (Noodle kugel is a slightly sweet noodle pudding familiar to most Jewish kids of Ashkenazi descent.)

Cottage cheese is also an ingredient in one of my favorite summer desserts, a light and refreshing cheese cake--more accurately a cheese pie, I guess. It's easy to make and is lighter and more custardy than typical cheesecakes.

Graham Cracker Crust--make or buy.
Preheat oven to 350.
Blend the following ingredients or beat well at high speed

  • 1 eggs
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 6 oz. cottage cheese
  • 6 oz. cream cheese
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla

When thoroughly blended, pour into the crust and bake for 20 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes while you raise the oven temperature to 475.

Now mix 1 1/2 cups sour cream, 2 TBSP sugar, and 1/2 tsp vanilla together. Spread on pie and then bake in the hot oven for 5 minutes.

Chill thoroughly before eating.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Eggplant Surprise

these little eggplants are only 3-4 inches long

Silly me! I thought an eggplant was just an eggplant, a member of the nightshade family. Yes, I had seen a few types at my local farm stand, but they looked essentially similar, except for the white ones, which just look freaky. But that was before my farming neighbor stopped by with a little basket of Fairy Tale eggplants. These cute veggies look like more like small purple zucchinis than they do eggplants.

Before cooking these miniatures, I did a bit of research and was well rewarded. I learned that eggplants come in numerous varieties, and that the Fairy Tale eggplants I had received required very little cooking. They are less bitter and more tender than standard eggplants, and their skin melts in your mouth. However, they do not have a long shelf life and should be eaten soon after picking.

I read a few recipes and then decided to try one that looked quick and simple. It was wonderful. (While I was cooking the pepper, I threw in a few mushrooms and added them to the final mix.) I cooked the split eggplants in hot olive oil briefly, added them to the other ingredients, and then feasted on the results. I was so encouraged that I may even try a white eggplant next.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Beautiful Beets

golden beets, straight from the farmer's market

One of my daughters shuns beets, saying they taste like dirt. This always surprises me, since this daughter loves to cook and eats a wide variety of foods. But never beets. The other daughter enjoys this vegetable as I do. To me, beets taste sweet. I like all varieties, but for salads I especially like golden beets, because they don't discolor the greens.

Last week, I bought a bunch of golden beets at a local farmer's market, prompted only by their sheer beauty. I steamed them and have been eating them almost every day in various salads. I love beets in salad combined with goat cheese and also with citrus fruits. I often make a luncheon salad like this one, substituting oranges for the grapefruit, since I cannot eat the latter. 

My other favorite beet dish is borscht. There are dozens of recipes for borscht online, so I won't bother linking to any one. Suffice it to say, that I like borscht made with cabbage and carrots and flavored with lots of dill. In wintertime, my borscht is thick and hot and includes slivers of beef, while in summertime I serve it ice cold with a hot boiled potato and a dollop of sour cream. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Bubble Bursting: Sun Tea

making sun tea

I have made sun tea for years and always felt good about it. Using the sun's natural energy, I could make a refreshing summertime drink that tasted delicious and was practically free. Furthermore, it was crystal clear and looked lovely. All I needed, I thought, was a sunny day.

Then, somewhere, I got an inkling that I didn't actually need the sun to make sun tea. I ignored that inkling, because what fun was that? Then I visited my daughter, who remarked in passing that you don't actually need sun to make sun tea. I could not ignore this, because I never ignore my daughter.

I came home and did a bit of Internet research and confirmed that the sun was not a requirement. In fact, the article that I read suggested that tea made in the refrigerator actually tasted better.  So the sun doesn't impart any sort of cosmic goodness into the drink? Apparently not.

I was slightly disappointed to learn this but even more upset to discover that sun tea can actually be bad for you. (When you research information on the Internet, you discover all sorts of related topics, and this one, sadly kept cropping up.) According to Snopes, sun tea can harbor icky bacteria unless you jump through all sorts of hoops first. That sort of takes the romance out of making sun tea.

So for now on, I'll make mine in the refrigerator. I just need to come up with a good name for it--a romantic name that speaks to my love of summer.