Friday, August 13, 2010

Lobster Lobster Mac'n'Cheese, and a menu in "Fun"



This past week, I finally had my first dinner party in the longest time ever.  It used to be a more common occurrence for me to have people over, but in the past year or so, I've just been too busy, and a lot of my good friends have moved further afield--too far, unfortunately, to just drop by for a dinner party (i.e., airfare would need to be involved).  But, at last, I was able to invite my lab over for dinner, and it was wonderful to be able to sit down to a nice and proper meal and just get to know everyone and chat about things outside of work and research.  (Our lunch meetings usually revolve around whatever campus food we can scrounge up and lots of statistics talk, so this was a pleasant and welcome change, I think!)

[prep work]

Anyways, after not having had a dinner party for a while, I was a bit rusty at everything.  I used to be really good at timing and menu planning and organization, but this time around, it all took a bit longer than it used to--you really have to be "in shape" and in practice to throw a party!  In the end, though, I'm really happy with the menu and how everything turned out, so I thought I'd share the menu with you here along with a recipe for the main course: lobster lobster mac'n'cheese.


The inspiration for this menu comes from the head of our lab, who is known for always saying things like, "It doesn't matter how hard we have to work, as long as we have FUN."  or, more generally, "the goal this summer, whatever else we do, is to have FUN."  Always said with an emphasis and drawn out "fuuuun." (though her idea of fun must also involve lots of statistics and writing and discussion, because we actually do lots of work, too.)  So, this menu is a FUN -inspired menu, with re-interpreted traditionally "fun" or comfort foods.  I also wanted to take full advantage of the incredible fruits and vegetables that are currently in season, so I ended up incorporating fruit all throughout the meal--from the appetizer through dessert.  If you haven't already noticed, I absolutely love playing with mixes of sweet and savory (e.g., here, here, here, or here), so this turned out to be especially FUN for me!

the "Fun" menu

Ginger Strawberry Lemonade
ginger beer, strawberries, lemonade, sparkling water

BBQ White Peach Pizza
white peach, slivered red onions, smoked gouda, bbq sauce, herb crust

Crab and Corn Soup
with local Brentwood corn

Plum and Blue Cheese Salad
purple and green plums, cave-aged raw milk blue cheese, toasted soy beans, herb mix
with honey Dijon mustard balsamic vinaigrette

Lobster Lobster Mac'n'Cheese
lobster, lobster mushrooms
in a lightly spicy sharp cheddar, fontina, and gruyere mac'n'cheese

English Peas'n'Candied Carrots
English peas, green onions, candied carrots

Thyme Roasted Gravenstein Apples
Gravenstein apples tied with fresh thyme

Pomegranate Hibiscus Strawberry Popsicles
pomegranate and hibiscus juices, with floating strawberries

"Gimme S'more" Cakelettes
graham cracker genoise, chocolate souffle cake,
homemade graham cracker, dark chocolate ganache, Italian meringue


[the sides]

The menu was quite massive, and suffice it to say that, true to form, I made way too much food for the number of people (it's a Chinese thing, okay?)!  But, it was all delicious, IMHO.  (of course, I'm biased, right?)  The ginger strawberry lemonade is one of my favorite drinks for when I'm doing research or studying, so I thought it would be fitting to share it with the rest of my lab.  One of my favorite parts of the meal was the BBQ white peach pizza, but I'm saving that recipe to post at some later point in time--plus, it was completely devoured almost immediately out of the oven, so there was nothing left to photograph!  The crab and corn soup is based off of one of my favorite comfort foods--corn soup--, which, incidentally, is also the first thing I ever learned to cook.  The plum and blue cheese salad came about because there's this beautiful, hand-made, cave-aged, and raw milk blue cheese available at one of my local markets that I absolutely adore, and I just really wanted to incorporate it somehow into the menu!

As for the main course, I thought that the lobster lobster mac'n'cheese--with both fresh lobster and lobster mushrooms was a clever little combination.  It's super cheesy, ever-so-slightly spicy from added Sriracha, and boasts a wonderfully crispy panko-and-gruyere crust--then, when you get to the bites with bits of mushroom and lobster meat, extra yum ensues.  The peas and carrots side were a perfect accompaniment to the cheesy creaminess of the mac'n'cheese.  With fresh peas, especially, you get a burst of freshness that helps to lighten up the main course, as did the bit of crunch from the candied carrots.  The thyme-roasted apples were a recipe from a recent issue of Donna Hay that I'd been wanting to try, and they came out fantastically spiced with thyme flavor and soft and sweet.

Finally, for dessert, I wanted a combination of something light and summery (opting for these pomegranate hibiscus strawberry popsicles) and something rich and chocolaty-- Here's a quick preview, but you'll have to come back next week to read more about these little cakelettes!  Let's just say that they'll leave you wanting s'more... I promise.  ;-)


Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

[flowers for the table]

Read on for recipe...



Lobster Lobster Mac'n'Cheese
makes one 2-quart baking dish
The base mac'n'cheese recipe here has been very loosely adapted from Joan Schwartz's Macaroni & Cheese: 52 recipes, from simple to sublime.
Note that I don't have the exact measurements for the seasonings, since those will depend on the flavor and saltiness of your cheeses. Please season to taste.

1 lb macaroni
2 1/2 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 lb. lobster mushroom, chopped into chunks
4 Tbspn butter, plus more for buttering pan and saute-ing mushrooms
1 cup onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup flour
1/4 lb sharp cheddar, grated
1/4 lb fontina, grated
salt
freshly ground black pepper
Tabasco or Sriracha (see Tip)
freshly ground nutmeg
meat from one ~1.5 lb. steamed lobster, chopped into chunks (see Tip)
panko bread crumbs
1/4 lb cave-aged gruyere, grated

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the baking dish and set aside.
2. Cook the macaroni in well-salted and oiled boiling water for one to two minutes less than it takes to become al dente. Drain immediately and run under cold water. The macaroni should be just approaching al dente but not there yet. Set aside.
3. In a large saucepan, saute the mushrooms with a bit of butter or oil until they soften. Remove from the saucepan and set aside.
4. Meanwhile, heat the milk and cream in a separate saucepan until just before it simmers. Set aside.
5. Return the large saucepan to heat and melt the 4 Tbspn of butter on medium heat. Once melted, add in the onion and cook until they are soft and translucent but before they turn brown.
6. Once the onions are soft, gradually add the flour, whisking constantly until it bubbles gently and turns lightly golden.
7. Gradually add the warmed milk and cream to the onion and flour mixture, whisking constantly. Bring to a simmer, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon, until the mixture is smooth and slightly thickened.
8. Stir in the grated cheddar and fontina cheeses to the milk mixture and remove from heat, stirring until the cheese is completely melted.
9. Season to taste using the salt, pepper, tabasco, sriracha, and freshly ground nutmeg.
10. Mix the cooked macaroni with the cheese sauce, making sure to stir until the cheese is equally distributed throughout the pasta. Fold in the cooked lobster and lobster mushrooms.
11. Pour the macaroni into the prepared baking dish. Top with a layer of panko bread crumbs and the grated gruyere cheese.
12. Bake the macaroni and cheese in the oven for 25-30 minutes, until a crust forms on top and turns slightly golden brown. Remove from the oven and serve.

Tip: For the lobster, use the tail, knuckle, claw, and leg meat. To remove leg meat, use a rolling pin, start from the closed end of the leg, and roll upwards, squeezing the meat out of the top opening.

Tip: I prefer Sriracha to Tabasco because it doesn't have the same vinegary taste and is thicker, so a little bit goes a long way!



Enjoy!

18 comments:

  1. Wow dude - that is one MEGA menu for a dinner party - you surely outdid yourself. And that dessert- can't wait to see it on here.

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  2. Have a wonderful weekend you too!
    :)

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  3. wow another delicious recipes - also i loveeeee your pictures - can i as you how you achive those dreamy effect on prep pictures - photoshop?

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  4. I'm such a macaroni and cheese fan, and lobster just kicks it up about 8 levels. I want this!

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  5. Thank you so much, everyone!

    @Joanna: I took the prep pictures while I was cooking on my iPhone with the ShakeItPhoto app. I highly recommend it--only and best app I've actually *bought*.

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  6. Wow. Wow. Wow. I'm speechless, your guests are so lucky! I love your fun summer menu, and now I have a terrible craving for lobster mac n cheese!

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  7. The entire menu sounds so tasty! Lucky guests :)

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  8. Wow. Wonderful blog! I am inspired by this ambitious fun summer dinner party idea. What a way to celebrate.

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  9. Pretty photos as usual Steph and the food sounds amazing! I tried a tiny bite of a friend's lobster mac & cheese at a fancy restaurant once and it was great. Thanks for the recipe!

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  10. For someone who hasnt entertained in a while, it looks like you havent missed a beat!

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  11. Stephanie -- just discovered this webpage (from a hint by Jason) and it brings back wonderful sensory memories of the entire feast. I'm sending the link to family and friends.... bravo!!
    (Hope your hand is healing fast.)

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  12. I find your blog inspiring! I'm a grad student as well, but I've only just started cooking. I plan on having my first dinner party to get better acquainted with everybody in my lab...I love your recipes and I would love to incorporate this mouth-watering mac&cheese into the menu!! Awesome!

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  13. lobster lobster mac'n'cheese sounds so much better than just lobster mac'n'cheese.

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  14. I find your blog inspiring! I'm a grad student as well, but I've only just started cooking. I plan on having my first dinner party to get better acquainted with everybody in my lab...I love your recipes and I would love to incorporate this mouth-watering mac&cheese into the menu!! Awesome!

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  15. Thank you so much, everyone!

    @Joanna: I took the prep pictures while I was cooking on my iPhone with the ShakeItPhoto app. I highly recommend it--only and best app I've actually *bought*.

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  16. Hello -  I used your recipe sans the lobster mushrooms and onions and IT WAS AMAZING!!!! THANK YOU.  I had a dinner party and it was my first time ever making lobster mac and cheese, and it was simply divine.  Thank you for helping me leave a great impression with my friends.  I did use 1/2 pound of the fontina instead of 1/4. 

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I love hearing from you and reading your comments! Thanks so much for stopping by the blog. Happy feasting!

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