Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Labor Party

Our annual Labor Day celebration has become one of my favorite events of the year.  For an entire long weekend, I get to plan a menu and cook every meal for a group of food and drink-loving and appreciating friends.  For some people this might sound like a nightmare, but for me its a dream come true.  I get to design a menu and theme meals using the freshest late-summer produce, explore new recipes, re-invent classics, and feed it all to my wonderful (and drunk) friends who enjoy every bite.  And we get to do all this at my favorite place in the world - our Cape house!
I was especially excited this year because we got to start our weekend early.  The house was empty as of Thursday, so we were able to drive down Thursday night and stay all the way until Monday.  Even with a grumpy gentleman called (Hurricane) Earl attempting to derail our plans.  As of Thursday morning, it was not looking good.  This hurricane was predicted to nail us Friday night with heavy wind and rain.  Our little cottage has been through a lot of storms.  According to family legend it was even picked up and moved down the street during one in the 60s.  My grandfather and his brother rolled it back in place on telephone poles.  Uphill.  With one hand.  In the snow.  With no shoes on.  You get the picture, its been through a lot.  But, you definitely do not want to be inside it when its faced with a storm.  I was quite nervous, but figured we needed to head down to batten the hatches, so we braved it with Colucci and Daisy and drove down Thursday night.  Thank god I had a serious blogger with me.  I totally forgot my fancy camera so many of these pictures are stolen from Daisy.  And check out her adorable and clever posts about the weekend!  Daisy brings the wit, I'll bring the recipes.

We woke Friday morning to a rather lovely day.
And even though it wasn't Saturday, I made a batch of blueberry pancakes and bacon with the last blueberries of the season (tear).
We moved all the furniture off the deck, but it was so nice out all day that we ended up moving it back so we could hang out on it.  We went for walks on the beach and swam.
Colucci assembled the Red Baron and got it in the air.
There was a lot of kite-flying this weekend.
Daisy and I tackled an impossible black and white Ansel Adams puzzle.
And then it was time for more eating and drinking.  Colucci made a batch of delicious Tom Collins, squeezing endless lemons and limes and mixing them with simple syrup, club soda, and gin.
Friday night's dinner had an Italian theme, so I started assembling bruschetta for appetizers.
Please ignore the hurricane hair.
Tomato-Olive Bruschetta
1 baguette, sliced
2 Tbs olive oil, plus more for brushing bread
3 large ripe tomatoes
1 clove of garlic, diced
1/4 cup sliced kalamata olives
2 Tbs torn basil
1 Tbs red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
  • Pre-heat oven to 350º
  • Brush both sides of baguette slices generously with olive oil and place them on baking sheet.  Bake about 15 minutes, turning once, until crisp and golden.
  • Meanwhile, chop tomatoes and add them to a medium bowl.  Stir in garlic, olives and basil.  
  • Whisk together 2 Tbs olive oil and 1 Tbs vinegar, pour over tomato mixture and toss.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Spoon tomato mixture over bread slices and serve immediately.
As apps were being served, it started to get dark and ominous outside.
But we drew a line in the sand that Earl would not cross.
We actually just took bets on how high the water would come up.  And I won because I was still convinced that this storm was going to be brutal.  Turns out, it was nothing but a little wind and rain.  Lisa even drove down to join us during the heart of the storm!  But first, dinner is served.
I've posted pictures of my famous seafood lasagna on the blog before, but never shared the recipe.  Its a crowd-pleaser every time.  Its starts with your basic red sauce, ricotta, pasta and mozzarella, but a couple twists make it extraordinary.  First, there are layers of sauteed shrimp, scallops and lobster meat.
Then each slice is topped with a healthy serving of tomato-basil bechamel.
Its rich, savory and decadent.  Perfect served with a ceasar salad made with homemade dressing and croutons.
So at long last and by popular demand...

Seafood Lasagna with Tomato Basil Bechamel
Serves 10
Adapted from Seasoned by the Sea by Cynthia & Robert Ahern
1 lb medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 lb scallops
2 small cooked lobster tails
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp pepper
1 quart tomato sauce
1 lb box no-boil lasagna noodles
2 lbs part-skim ricotta
2 eggs
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 cup grated fresh mozzarella
For Bechamel:
4 Tbs unsalted butter
6 Tbs flour
1 1/2 cups seafood stock
1 1/2 cups milk
2 Tbs tomato paste
2 Tbs chopped basil
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of nutmeg
  • Cut shrimp, scallops and lobster meat into bite-sized chunks.  Not too big, not too small.  Heat olive oil in a large saute pan and cook shrimp and scallops for 2 to 3 minutes.  And lobster, oregano, basil and pepper and cook until just heated through.  Remove the seafood and set aside, and drain the liquid and set aside of bechamel.
  • Preheat oven to 350º
  • Mix together ricotta, parmesan, and eggs.  In a 10-by-13 baking dish, begin with a layer of tomato sauce.  Top with a layer of lasagna noodles.  Spread one third of ricotta mixture on top of pasta and top with a third of seafood.  Top with noodles, tomato sauce and ricotta and continue layering until you have 3 seafood layers, then top with a generous amount of tomato sauce.
  • Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes.  Remove foil, sprinkle with mozzarella and cook for another 15 minutes until bubbly and lightly browned.
  • Lasagna should set for about 30 minutes after cooking, so account for that time in your schedule.
While lasagna cooks, make bechamel:
  • In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat.  Stir in flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 4 minutes.  Mix together cooking liquid from seafood and seafood stock and pour into roux, whisking to eliminate lumps.
  • When sauce is hot, stir in tomato paste, salt and pepper, nutmeg and basil.
  • Just before serving, stir in milk and heat until hot and thick but not boiling.
  • Serve lasagna cut into squares, topped with bechamel and garnished with fresh basil.
Then go swimming at midnight in a hurricane, if you're my stupid husband.
We weathered the storm, the house stayed in place, and we woke up to a beautiful morning.
And egg sandwiches made with my favorite buttermilk biscuits.
Then enjoyed another fun day of swimming, kite flying, bocce and boating.
To be honest with you, Saturday night's dinner was the meal I was looking forward to the least.  The last couple years, Derek and I have talked about cooking lobster for everyone.  I said I'd be happy to serve lobster as long as I didn't have to put the lobster in the pot.  And did my darling husband say, "of course I'll cook the lobster for you, you do so much for all of us this weekend, its the least I could do"?  Oh, no. He gently reminded me of my former vegetarian belief that if you're going to eat something, you should be able to kill it, and tactfully pointed out how hypocritical I was being by eating the lobster and pawning the murder part off on someone else.  So I had always just refused to serve lobster.  But with my new meat-eating ways, I decided this year I would suck it up and treat everyone to a big lobster feast.  And big it was.
This critter was 10 pounds.  Huge!  I wasn't even sure if he'd fit in the pot.  Oh, but he did.  And I put him in myself.  I stuck him in the freezer for about 15 minutes before cooking to numb him, because that's supposed to be less painful.  Perhaps I should taken a few minutes in the freezer myself.
Yes, there was screaming and crying.  It reminded me of driving the OCV in New Zealand.  But I did it!

And it was worth it because this guy was delicious.  Luckily, Derek took over for the dismembering.
And left quite an impression on the kitchen window.

To serve with the lobster, I went simple and traditional.  Steamed corn on the cob and roasted potatoes.  
I made one of my favorite salads, not traditional New England fare, but still local and seasonal.
Watermelon Feta Salad
5 cups watermelon, seeded and chopped into 1" chunks
8 oz. feta cheese, chopped
1/4 cup sliced basil
1 Tbs red wine vinegar
2 Tbs olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
  • Toss watermelon, feta and basil in a large bowl.
  • Whisk together vinegar, olive oil, and salt and pepper.
  • Pour over salad and toss.  Serve immediately.
After dinner, we walked over to the Sand Bar to see the legendary Rock King perform, which is also becoming a Labor Day tradition.  Last year, Rock celebrated his 50th year performing at the Sand Bar.  So you can imagine how old his jokes are. 

We returned home to these amazing Lemon Blueberry Ice Cream Sandwiches.
As I was serving Baked French Toast and more bacon Sunday morning, I realized that I might be trying to kill my guests this weekend with fat and calories. 
But Lisa reminded me that I was playing to my audience.  And this audience likes their bacon.

Lunch was, of course, lobster rolls.
And the theme for Sunday's dinner was very near to my heart (and might be clogging it) - Southern food night!  Starting with Pimento Cheese, of course.
I'm cheating with this picture - its from the Kentucky Derby!  But same food, same setting.

Pimento Cheese
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup copped roasted red peppers
3 Tbs mayonaise
hot sauce to taste
salt & pepper
  • Stir together all ingredients in a small bowl, seasoning with hot sauce and salt and pepper to taste.
  • Serve with celery sticks and Ritz crackers.  Or use as a sandwich spread.
The centerpiece for this meal turned out pretty amazing.  I based it on Smitten Kitchen's recipe for Sweet and Smoky Spareribs.  They cooked low and slow in the oven for 6 hours, and were meltingly tender, perfectly tangy and just a little sweet.
Sweet and Smoky Spareribs
inspired by Smitten Kitchen
Serves 8
8 - 10 lbs pork spareribs
1.5 cups brown sugar
1 Tbs chipotle chili powder
1 Tbs smoked paprika
3 tsp salt
2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tsp smoked paprika
1 Tbs red wine vinegar
Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees. 
  • In a mixing bowl, combine the brown sugar, chipotle, paprika, salt, onion powder, garlic powder, cloves and ginger.  Mix together with a fork.
  • Place each slab of ribs on a piece of foil large enough to fold into a packet. Sprinkle
  • spice rub over the ribs, patting it in generously on all sides.
  • Turn the ribs meat side down and tightly fold the foil to make sealed packets.
  • Place each packet on its own baking sheet (I had 3) and place it in the oven. 
  • Bake for 4 hours at 200 degrees, then reduce the temperature to 175 for another two hours or until a fork easily penetrates the meat.
  • Open each packet carefully and pour the accumulated juices into a saucepan. Boil the juices and reduce them by half, at which point you will have a syrupy sauce that easily coats a spoon. Stir in paprika and vinegar.
  • Remove the ribs from the foil and serve the sauce alongside the ribs.
On the side, I served more of my biscuits, a peanut lime slaw, white wine braised kale, and baked beans. Well, they weren't exactly baked as I cooked them all on the stovetop.  But you get the idea.  The flavors complimented the ribs perfectly.
Root Beer Stove-Top Beans
2 Tbs canola oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 19 oz. cans cannellini beans, drained
1 1/2 cups root beer (preferably artisanal)
3 Tbs apple cider vinegar
3 Tbs molasses
2 Tbs tomato paste
2 Tbs Dijon mustard
1 tsp chipotle chili powder
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add onion and saute until softened and starting to brown.
  • Add garlic; stir 1 minute. Add beans, root beer, vinegar, molasses, tomato paste, mustard, chipotle powder, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper; mix. 
  • Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a low simmer.  
  • Simmer until sauce is reduced and very thick.  Serve hot.  With ribs.
To one big happy family....
Monday had to come and we had to leave the beach once again.  Our delicious drunken weekend is over for this year.  Now I just have to start planning next year's menu.