Shrimp and Lobster Bisque

Christmas Eve dinner somehow has become a seafood feast that features ravioli. This year Tyler asked me to make the Shrimp and Lobster Bisque like we used to make in the restaurant. It takes a bit of effort but it sure is an indulgent soup!

Perfect for a special dinner.

So here goes.

Make Shrimp and Lobster Stock

Shrimp and lobster1# fresh wild-caught shrimp, any size (I used 26-30’s for this recipe)

1- 2 ounce lobster tail per person + 1

You can use a whole lobster and use the claws for decoration or you can use frozen lobster meat. Tails were on sale at the grocery so I bought some. Perfect!

1#  thickly sliced carrots

1/2 pound chopped celery

1/2 pound chopped onions

1/4 cup  tomato paste

Sprig of fresh thyme

3 cloves fresh garlic, smashed

1/4 cup brandy, flambeed to remove alcohol

1 gallon water

1 pint heavy cream (later, to finish)

Remove the shells and tails from the shrimp, reserve the shells and tails for making the stock.

Set shrimp aside, keep it cold.

Remove the tail meat from the lobster, run a skewer down the underside of the tail to keep it from curling while cooking. Keep the tails cold.Insert a skewer to prevent curling

Roughly chop the shells with your knife. put the chopped shells and shrimp shells into a 2 gallon stock pot.

Over high heat, saute the shells until they turn red and pink.

Add the chopped carrots, onions, celery, thyme and garlic to the pot and saute the vegetables until they soften a bit.

Saute the shells and vegetables

Saute the shells and vegetables until they turn pink.

Add the tomato paste and stir to coat everything as much as you can with the paste.

Do not allow this to burn. Once you see a bit of color forming on the bottom of the pan, add the 1/4 cup brandy. Since you are working in a stock pot, you will have to ignite the brandy fumes with an extension lighter. Just place the flame over the edge of the pot to ignite the brandy. Let the fire burn until it extinguishes. This burns out the raw alcohol.

Flambe with Brandy

Flambe with Brandy

When the flames go out, stir and then add 1 gallon cold water.

Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and allow this to simmer for at least 1 hour, 2-3 hours is best.

Do not cover the pot, do not boil the pot and do not stir. Doing any of these things will make your stock cloudy.

Strain, reserving the liquid, throw away all of the vegetables and shells. Use a fine screen strainer to ensure all shell fragments are removed from the finished stock.

Cool and reserve for making the bisque.

To Make the Bisque:

Reserve a few shrimp whole for garnish. Roughly chop the remaining shrimp. Season with salt and white pepper.

Season the skewered lobster tails. Trim the bamboo skewers used to keep the lobster straight so they fit into the saute pan.

Saute the tails and shrimp in a small bit of olive oil. Deglaze the pan with the brandy, allow to flambe to cook out the alcohol.

Saute and deglaze the lobster  and shrimp with brandy before adding to the bisque.

Saute and deglaze the lobster and shrimp with brandy before adding to the bisque.

Perfect consistency is when the soup coats the back of a spoon and it stays separated when you draw a line through it with your finger.

Perfect consistency is when the soup coats the back of a spoon and it stays separated when you draw a line through it with your finger.

Mound a bit of the cooked seafood in the bottom of the serving bowl; pour the hot soup over the shrimp and lobster.

Mound a bit of the cooked seafood in the bottom of the serving bowl; pour the hot soup over the shrimp and lobster.

Garnish with sour cream and chives or scallions.

Garnish with sour cream and chives or scallions.

Bring the stock to a boil and add the heavy cream simmer until the consistency coats the back of a spoon. This may take 30-40 minutes, depending on how fast you simmer.

Alternatively, you could use 4-6 ounces of roux to thicken and simmer the stock and cream for 15-20 minutes to cook out the flour taste. I prefer to use the reduction method for better flavor and less fat and flour in the final dish. Using roux is the classic method.

When the stock and cream are at the consistency you desire, add the flambeed shrimp to the soup.

Remove the skewer from the tails and slice each tail into nice neat disks.

Place 3-5 disks of lobster  in the center of the soup bowl and ladle the hot broth over the lobster.

Garnish with a small dollop of sour cream, whipped cream or creme fraiche.

Saute the

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Baking from a Box

 

My friend Joanie asked me if I would make up a batch of cupcakes from a box mix. She was curious about whether they would live up to the name associated with the high-priced mix.

“Would it be the same if I made it vs. a professional chef?” she asked.

Presenting me with the challenge of using a boxed mix I told her I would give it a whirl.

She wants to know:

Would I make any changes to the directions?

Is it easy like baking from a box promises?

Are the results as promising as the names on the box: in this case, Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa and the German Chocolate Cupcake and Frosting Mix.

The mix is distributed by Stonewall Kitchens although nowhere on the box does it say where the mix was put together.

So, here goes.

First, the mix costs $13.95 for 12 cupcakes.

My first thought is “expensive”. Is it worth the money?

I notice the frosting mix contains cornstarch which is something I wouldn’t use as in my opinion, it is a cheap way out of proper thickening techniques. But we will see.

Inside the box are three bags: one contains the chocolate cake mix, another granular frosting mix and lastly, a small bag of sweetened shredded coconut.

I need to supply:

  • 1-1/2 sticks of butter
  • 2  whole eggs
  • 2 egg yolks (I see macarons in the near future!)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

The directions seem to be simple enough, so I pull the eggs and butter from the fridge and go for a run while they come to room temperature.

Instead of using plain cups for the cupcakes, I am going to use the fun flower ones I found out shopping one day.

Fast forward to finished baking these. All I can say it they are definitely NOT worth the price, let alone the extra cost of a fancy paper cup. Not only did they not turn out, they were also hard as rocks one they cooled.

They also had a funny smell as they were baking. Usually when you bake chocolate, the aroma is thick in the air. The aroma from these had you checking the bottom of your shoes.

Nice expensive cupcake mix
Don’t waste your money!

Now after that fiasco, my curiosity was up, how would the normal cake mixes found in the grocery store work out?

So I hauled up to the grocery and bought one of each kind of German Chocolate Cake Mix; there were three.

All three had me supply eggs, oil and water. That’s it. Frosting was extra, but was that tiny bag of coconut in the expensive mix worth the $13? (No)

So I made each of these mixes, each mix made 24, the expensive mix made 12.

I made a quick coconut caramel frosting from scratch to frost the cupcakes with, and I used the frosting mix from Barefoot Contessa’s box. It was OK, nothing great and it looked rather dull. I’m wondering if they ever passed this box mix by Ina to see if she approved. I can’t imagine they did.

So at the end of the day, we had so many cupcakes and bowls of coconut frosting lying around, Robert was afraid of us eating them all.

I wrapped plated of the cupcakes up in cellophane and sent Robert around the neighborhood giving them to all our neighbors.

One little boy was asking his mom why they didn’t have anything good around the house to eat, like cupcakes, the night before.

When he answered the door and Robert was standing there with an entire plate of cupcakes, all he could say was “Really! Thank you! Thank you so much!” Grinning ear to ear, he disappeared into the house with a plate of cupcakes. I could imagine him hiding them in his room so his older brothers wouldn’t get any.

I love sharing the sweets I make because if I didn’t, #1, we would weigh as much as a horse, #2 I wouldn’t make them just because of #1.

And I do love to make pastries, bread and lots of great food. Sharing it is the only way to keep from wearing it.

As a side note, I did make macarons from the egg whites, I should have given away more of them. I need to add a few more miles to my running schedule.

I did figure out that if you are going to bake cupcakes, forget the boxes and make the batter from scratch. It will be cheaper by far and you will know exactly what you are eating.

My advice? Joanie, get your money back.

If you want to use a mix Duncan Hines or Pillsbury or any of the organic mixes work just fine.

My opinion is Contessa needs to go back to the kitchen to re-work her box mix.

I never would have done this if Joanie didn’t ask.

 

Potatoes Au Gratin

I have been on a comfort food kick the past few days; Potatoes au Gratin are one of my favorite creamy delicious side dishes.

We always had them as a kid sometimes from scratch and sometimes from a box. The box variety always fascinated me.

The clear plastic looking chips, the powdered sauces, pour over boiling water and bake. Voila! Potatoes au gratin or Scalloped Potatoes all from a box. It was amazing stuff.

Making the same potatoes from scratch is far more satisfying, both nutritionally and esthetically.

First you have to get some good starchy potatoes – russets are the best as they are a ‘high-starch, low moisture’ category of potato.

Peeling is your option, but be sure to scrub them clean.

Have everything ready to go before you start slicing the potatoes so they don’t turn colors on you.

If you don’t know what I mean about potatoes turning color, take a slice and just let it sit out on the counter or on a plate. Look at it again in 5 minutes. It is oxidizing with exposure to air. Process potatoes quickly to avoid this color change happening.

“Green” on the potatoes is called “Solanin” and it is a sign of a potato that has been stored incorrectly with an exposure to light.  To avoid green potatoes, always store potatoes in a cool, dark place.

While it would take quite a bit of solanin to cause severe damage, it is an intestinal irritant. Simply cut away the green with your peeler. It isn’t very deep.

Do not store potatoes in the refrigerator, the cold converts the starch to sugar. Restoring to room temperature, over a few days will convert back to starch.

I made this dish for Robert and me but it would easily feed four. I used an All-Clad oval stainless baker pan, you can use any oven-proof dish you want. Adjust the quantities if using a large pan.

Potatoes Au Gratin

Serves 2-4

  • 1 or 2 large russet potato, peeled and sliced thinly
  • 4 whole large shallots, peeled and sliced thinly
  • 1/2 container Herbs and Garlic Boursin cheese (or 1/2 cup any shredded cheese of your choice)
  • 1 cup heavy cream, brought to a boil
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • Salt and pepper
  • Optional: Monterrey Jack cheese to top and get all golden brown

Method:

Thinly slice potatoes and shallots by hand or use a mandolin.

Be careful when slicing on a mandolin! Slicing on the mandolin ensures even slices so they cook at the same rate.
HINT: Slice shallots by hand.

Butter the dish, place a single layer of sliced shallots on the bottom of the pan, top with potatoes laid in a single layer, top with shredded cheese, spoon 1/4 cup of warm cream, sprinkle with salt and pepper, drizzle a light sprinkling of flour and repeat layering until the dish is full. The top layer should be cheese.

Here is the layering sequence again:

  1. sliced shallots
  2. sliced potatoes
  3. cream
  4. salt and pepper
  5. flour
  6. cheese
  7. repeat leaving cheese as the top layer

Butter the dish, layer shallots then potatoes

Notice how the potatoes are shingled into a layer

Sprinkle flour over the cheese and potato layers

Keep alternating layers to the top

Top with cheese and bake

Place the filled dish on a parchment paper lined baking sheet to catch all spills. Place in a 400°F oven for 1 hour or until the dish is bubbling and golden brown on top.

We usually gobble these up pretty quickly but if you have any leftover, cut them into shapes and reheat either in the microwave or the oven until nice and warm in the center.

Variations on the theme:

  • Scalloped Potatoes: Leave out the cheese and make sure enough cream covers the top slightly. Top with breadcrumbs; Bake the same way.
  • Add your favorite herbs for an herbal variety.
  • Use different cheese: Goat cheese, Havarti, Asiago, fontina, add some bleu to the mix.
  • Use cheese that you know will melt nicely. If you want to make this with cheddar, please add some hoop cheese to it for melting purposes. Cheddar does not melt well all on its own.

I’m sure your family will enjoy this as much as mine does. Your home will smell wonderful as they cook. Since they are in the oven for so long, it is a good time to plan a baked chicken or pork chop to go along with the potatoes.

Sometimes I’ll have a plate of just potatoes au gratin for lunch, if there is any left over.

Plated Potatoes au Gratin