Kill my finances, that is. Sorry, no Christmas this year; mommy spent all her money on pre-cooked and shelled fresh lobster meat. Thank god I don’t actually have kids.
The weather turned punishingly cold today, so it was time for something soothing and rich. Oh, and it had to taste good, and cost an inordinate amount of money. Ergo: Charlie Palmer, whose Guide to the New American Kitchen has never let me down, tasting-good-wise. Many of the dishes call for reasonably priced ingredients, but since I was going for “inordinate,” I opted for the lobster risotto with roasted squash, arugula spinach and vanilla.
Above, witness the vanilla oil steeping. It contributed to the inordinate cost by (1) involving a vanilla bean (which I had around, but spent good money on at some point) and (2) requiring grapeseed oil, which you’d think would be cheap because who gives a shit about the seed of a grape? but is not. Whatever, it made the house smell really good. And now I have a whole big-ass bottle of grapeseed oil to do WHATEVER I WANT with! Because you know they don’t sell that shit in small bottles, and how many times have I been rummaging through the pantry searching for that non-existent bottle of grapeseed oil?
Okay, maybe like, none times. A girl’s gotta rationalize what a girl’s gotta rationalize.
While the vanilla oil steeped I roasted off a butternut squash, a squash which contributed to the total meal bill only negligibly.
It just took me 4 tries to spell that correctly.
My love for Charlie Palmer notwithstanding – and it is strong – the squash exemplifies one of my tiny bones with him: the complete omission of certain key directions from the book. For example, this recipe called for “1 butternut squash, roasted.” As in, you better already know how to roast a damn squash, because I’m not telling you. Luckily, my culinary prowess is great enough that I was able to roast the squash entirely under my own power, but is it so hard to give an oven time and temperature? I contend that it is not. Unless there’s some medical reason why Charlie Palmer can’t tell us, in which case maybe I’ll feel slightly guilty.
(Note, however, that I will continue to recommend this book to the heavens because every recipe is the most wonderful recipe ever.)
While the squash was finishing up, I started the risotto. This recipe is in the “Formal Home Cooking” section of the book, and is meant to teach you the technique for risotto. My risotto-making skills are already at the advanced level, which must explain why I totally forgot to buy onions and picked up a white wine that was way too sweet.
I sweated some red onions down (they were already in the house, and no amount of cajoling was going to get Brian to go out into the arctic blast to get me a yellow onion, especially since he doesn’t actually like lobster all that much*), toasted the rice with the onion and butter, poured in more wine than I was supposed to, and started the stirring process. I kept my stock hot in a teakettle for easy pouring, and am not ashamed to admit that I pulled a bar stool over in front of the stove so I could sit and look at the Christmas tree while I stirred instead of standing like some kind of chump.
At some point, I also pulled the squash from the oven, went to scoop it out of its skin and immediately realized, hey! Maybe you should wait more than 3 seconds before handling molten squash! Just a thought! (Brian wasn’t in the room, or I would’ve just gotten him to use his magical nerve-less fingertips to pry the flesh from the skin. He’s useful for tasks where being numb is a virtue.)
*Yes, you heard that right.
I also pulled out my lobster meat, both to take the chill off it and to cut it into bite-sized chunks.
Yes, look at this photographic evidence that I am a giant pansy. I could not make myself buy whole lobsters and plunge my knife into their little lobstery heads, so I wussed out and paid out the ass to have someone else do it for me. And when I say I paid out the ass? Yeah, only at Christmastime.
In my defense, my squeamishness is less about killing the lobster and more about the fact that lobsters look like giant sea bugs. And I? Am more scared of bugs than most people you will meet in your lifetime. A story:
Once, when I was a teenager, an aunt was visiting from out of state. She came to me and told me that she may have found a roach, killed it and put it under a bell I had on my dresser, along with a hundred bucks. If I could make myself lift the bell, the money was mine; I might have to come face to face with a bug, but I might not. I learned two things that day: One, my aunt was kind of a bitch, because there was no damn roach OR money. And two, even the prospect of free money ($100 to a 13 year old? JACKPOT.) was not enough to get me to lift that fucking bell. Eventually, I had to get my dad to go and check because I couldn’t fall asleep in a room where there may or may not have been a dead bug securely trapped under a bell.
Lobsters being giant sea bugs, there’s no way I’m putting my hands on a live one. So, like my teenaged self, I am perfectly willing to give up money not to have to do so.
When the risotto was a nice al dente I folded in the lobster chunks, then stirred in some mascarpone – because this was not decadent enough – and the squash, along with some spinach that was supposed to be arugula but I’ve said a gazillion times that I hate arugula. One day, I’ll try a recipe and actually use arugula to see if my tastes have changed and I now like it – after all, I once hated onions, for god’s sake – but I’m not going to risk it on lobster risotto.
Once the spinach had wilted ever so slightly in the hot rice, I plated up a bowl and drizzled on some of the vanilla oil. Then I sat down at the kitchen table and started eating before Brian had even finished taking his portion because MY GOD. I’d tasted a mouthful straight from the pot, and knew there would be no pretense of waiting.
There’s almost no point in me writing to tell you that this was really, amazingly, wonderfully, aromatically, mouth-wateringly, fuckingly good. I mean, it’s RISOTTO filled to the gills with fricking LOBSTER and fortified with MASCARPONE CHEESE. There were layers upon layers of different kinds of sweetness – the wine, the earthy sweetness of the squash, the fresh dairy sweetness of the mascarpone, the fragrant sweetness of the vanilla oil and of course, the delicate sweetness of the lobster. All mixing and mingling and punctuated by the occasional mineral bite of some spinach. You might think it sounds maybe too sweet, but YOU ARE WRONG. And of course, it was hearty and rich on top of that; utterly perfect for this frigid evening.
Charlie Palmer you, through me, have hit another one out of the park. Collectively, we rule the school.