23 August, 2006

ready, set, EAT!

Have you ever received a big box from Fedex and opened it up to discover a dozen tomatoes from your very own father's garden, wrapped up like Christmas ornaments? That's actually a rhetorical question because I'm virtually certain that no one else I know has a father so obsessed with tomato-growing, a family so devoted to Frederickson Tomato Eating, or indeed a family crazy enough about the whole thing to think that sending them across country is a reasonable thing to do! However, we do, and it is. The love wafting up from the box, once opened, was almost visible! Or maybe it's the whiff of insanity. In any case, for the uninitiated, Paul Frederickson tomatoes have a patent pending. They have fan clubs (with waiting lists). They are, quite simply, Manna From Indianapolis. So in honor of my in-laws' visit from Iowa, my father packed up twelve of his babies and sent them here to Red Gate Farm. There they were joined in holy matrimony with four pound-and-a-half lobsters from David Thomas Lobster in Islesford, Maine, and a dozen ears of corn from Starchak Produce in Southbury, Connecticut, and there has never been a better dinner. EVER. As soon as I get a jpeg from my mother-in-law, I'll post a picture of the whole dinner. Unbelievable. Added to it was a generous helping of mayonnaise infused with garlic and lemon juice, and little baguette rounds brushed with olive oil and lightly toasted. Were we lightly toasted? The single-malt Glenkinchie Scotch was flowing nicely! I don't think any of us has ever had a better culinary experience. Even Avery, who doesn't eat lobster, was happy, because her besotted mother pan-sauteed a little filet mignon, just for her. Actually her father got the best end of the deal: she couldn't eat it all, so he ended up with the ultimate Surf and Turf!

Basically all we did during John's parents' visit was eat. Actually, shop, cook, eat, clean up, and then talk about what we just ate. Sick! I'll give you the highlights. And it's been suggested to me by readers of this blog that I turn my incoherent ravings about food into more actual recipes, to convince you all to try things. So here goes.

First of all, if you love lobster, scallops, or crab (or all three), may I suggest you go online to David's lobster site and order you up some. They will arrive alive, overnight, surrounded by ice and wet newspaper, and what you should do is open up the box to make sure they're still alive, then close it again and leave it till dinner time (the box doesn't have to be refrigerated). When you're ready to eat, boil about three inches of water (seawater if you live by the sea!) in a very large stockpot (you can buy the cheapest enameled thing on earth, sometimes from a hardware store) with a lid. Then one by one, quickly drop the lobsters in headfirst and put the lid on with something to weight it down (don't think about why). After 13 minutes, take them out and put them on a large platter and let cool for five minutes or so. Then with your napkin tucked into your shirt collar and very clean hands, the fun can begin. Some people don't bother with the legs, but they have yummy meat inside that can only be sucked out. Oh, don't forget to have a set of crackers for each person: some people buy fancy task-specific lobster crackers, in the shape of lobsters and bright red, but save your money and buy nutcrackers. Just as good, IMHO. I start with the claws because I like them best and I rarely can get through a whole lobster, so start with the best is my philosophy. Then move onto the tail, then the legs. If you're still hungry you can scoop out the tomalley from the body of the lobster and it it on a saltine. Truth to tell, the tomalley grosses me out so I pretend it isn't there. If you have the tail leftover (both Rosemary and I did, defeated by all the other food), put it to one side and after dinner you can rinse it and put it in the refrigerator, and then the next day you cut it up and either dress it with a tablespoon of mayo mixed with lemon juice and put it in a toasted hot dog bun (this is called a "lobster roll"), or eat it with an avocado dip of my own invention:

Avocado Dip a la Little Cranberry Island

1 avocado, nice and ripe (so you can make an indentation in the flesh, but don't go crazy doing this), peeled and the seed taken out)


Let me interrupt myself and teach you how to prepare an avocado. I had to learn the hard way, where you mangle many, many avocados and are finally taken to task by some more knowledgeable dinner guest watching you be your idiot self. You hold it in one hand and using a nice paring knife, pierce the avocado with the tip till you feel the seed inside, then run your knife all the way around the avocado, making contact with the seed at all times. Then hold each half of the avocado in a hand and twist till it comes apart. Then VERY CAREFULLY ease your knife tip into the seed (I once completely stabbed myself in the palm doing this, so deeply that it didn't even bleed, and it had to be patched up by my dinner guest who happened to be a doctor -- a dermatologist, but I couldn't be choosy). Wiggle the knife in the seed VERY CAREFULLY till you dislodge the seed and then discard it. Now pull the skin off the whole avocado and either slice nicely for a salad or in this case...

Place avocado in food processor or blender. Add:

three tablespoons sour cream
three tablespoons goat cheese
several shakes Tabasco
juice of a lime, juice of a lemon
salt to taste

Whizz till completely smooth. This with lobster or crab is DIVINE. Unless, like my mother who is otherwise perfect, you feel that avocado is inferior to modelling clay as a food.

The evening of the Currans' arrival we had a gorgeous dinner as well, if I do say so myself, and really a diet chicken salad dinner. For when you're in a no-carb mood. The chicken salad idea is modified from a lovely lunch my friend Kathleen served to me at her house in Mystic, Connecticut. With it I served my pink gazpacho (recipe in an earlier post from May).

Guilt-free Chicken Salad
(serves four)

three whole bone-in chicken breasts
salt and pepper
half stick of butter

1 large bag or bunch of baby spinach, or mixed leaf salad
8 very small tomatoes (preferably on the vine)
1 avocado, sliced prettily
dressing of your choice

Place 1/4 stick butter on each chicken breast and salt and pepper it. Roast at 425 degrees for an hour, then five minutes under the broiler or until nice and crispy (if you really want it a diet salad, remove the skin after roasting; removing it before roasting will make it dry out). While the chicken cools, arrange the greens on a large platter, prepare your avocado, quarter the tomatoes and mix your dressing. Remember this basic rule, taught to me by the mother of the French family I lived with when I was sixteen, never forgotten. Three parts oil to one part vinegar (or other acidic liquid like fruit juice. Then you can add whatever other things occur to you with abandon (mustard, Tabasco, mayo, pesto, you name it). Slice the chicken breasts and arrange them on the greens, then scatter the tomatoes and avocado all over and around. Drizzle a minimum of dressing on just before serving.

After dinner, if you're feeling at all energetic, put the breast bones in a stockpot and cover with water, and quite a bit of salt. If any salad is left, you can throw that in too. Boil pretty high for at least an hour, strain through a colander (throw the bits away taking care not to attract skunks!) and refrigerate. In the morning you can take the fat off the top of the pot and you've got chicken broth, good on its own or perfect as the basis of any good chilled summer soup!

Mmm. We're going out for dinner tonight, but right now I'm pretty sure it won't get better than that! Enjoy whatever is on your plate tonight...

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