This dinner was inspired by two things: Finding frozen lobster tails on sale for a really great price and having the song Sea of Love stuck in my head.
There are a lot of steps and it seems very complicated, but it's actually very simple, so don't be intimidated. I may not have broken things down as much as I should have, so if there is anything that isn't clear, please let me know and I will try to fix it. I am a beginner myself and I have likely made a few mistakes along the way, so I welcome any tips and advice as well.
Appetizer: Shrimp Cocktail
First Course: Crab Cakes with Fennel and Apple Salad
Main Course: Steamed Lobster Tails with Clarified Brown Butter, Fresh Hand Made Pasta in Creamy Garlic Sauce, Roasted Vegtables
Dessert: Watermelon Ice
Step 1: Lovely Shrimp Cocktail
I came up with this cute variation on the standard shrimp cocktail for Valentine's Day. It looked a lot 'cuter' when all the shrimp were still in the glass... but you get the idea. And the ones that are missing were really tasty. ;-)
What You Need:
Cooked shrimp, tail on*
Small sharp knife
Serving dishes and garnishes of your choice
1) To form the heart, push skewer through the tail and head of one shrimp. Then push it through the head of the other shrimp on an angle. Join the tails of the two shrimp to complete the heart just by tucking the ends together. You may need to make a very small incision in one of the tails with a knife, then tuck the other one in, if they won't stay together on their own.
2) Add some grape tomatoes, pieces of red pepper, or whatever else you like, for garnish. For a little extra fun, I cut the pieces of red pepper to look like an arrow stuck through the heart and made some quick and easy flowers with the tomatoes and some green onions for leaves.
To serve, I placed the skewers in a glass filled with some glass beads, to hold them in place better. I wrapped the glass in paper and secured it with a ribbon to make it extra pretty.
*I had a shrimp ring left over from New Year's Eve, so instead of buying more shrimp, I thawed the ring in cold water for just a few minutes until I was able to break off the number of shrimp I wanted and return the rest to the freezer. The original plan was to make homemade seafood sauce, but when I got home from shopping, I discovered the jar of horseradish I bought was leaking, so I just used the sauce that came with the shrimp ring.
Step 2: Hearty Crab Cakes and Fennel Salad
I noticed when reading the weekly flyers that fennel was on sale and I have been wanting to try fennel salad for awhile now. It seemed like a good way to change things up a bit with this dinner, since fennel pairs so well with seafood. The crisp apple, tangy lemon, and sweet orange really brightened it up and brought out the flavour of the fennel.
I would recommend doubling the amount given here for the dressing. I was being over cautious, not knowing if the flavours were really going to work or not, and found it left me wanting more.
What You Need:
Cooked crab meat, approx. 8 ounces*
Crushed soda crackers - approx. 1/2 cup
Fresh parsley- 2-3 Tbs
Chopped green onion- 2-3 Tbs
Mayonnaise- 2-3 Tbs
Fresh lemon juice and zest- approx. 2 tsp of each
Salt, pepper and dried tarragon to taste
1/2 bulb of fennel
2 Tbs lemon juice
2 Tbs orange juice
Lemon and orange zest
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
For the crab cakes, gently stir together all of the ingredients, divide into 6 portions and press together lightly to form patties. Fry in melted butter until golden brown on both sides and heated through.
For the salad, slice the fennel very thin using a mandolin or sharp knife. Remove the core from the apple and julienne (I did this by hand because my $10 bargain basement mandolin doesn't have a julienne blade). Toss the apple pieces with some lemon juice to keep them from browning, then toss the apple and fennel together. Just before serving, add dressing and toss again.
* I only had 4 ounces of crab meat, but I had some left over fish sticks that need to be used up. I removed the breading from the fish sticks, chopped them them up, and added them to the crab to make roughly 7 ounces in total. The fish blended in perfectly and there was no noticeable difference in the taste.
Step 3: Get Fresh Pasta
This was my first time making fresh pasta, so it didn't turn out quite the way I would have liked, but it wasn't too bad. I always thougt it would be too hard to roll it out without a fancy pasta machine, but it was surprisingly easy. It is still a lot of work, but inexpensive and well worth the effort to get that unique homemade quality.
What You Need:
2 Cups all purpose flour
3 Large eggs
1/2 tsp. salt
Large work surface
Muscles and patience
(or a pasta machine)
1) Place the 2 cups of flour on your work surface (or in a large mixing bowl) and make a well in the center.
2) Crack eggs separately, one at a time, then pour carefully into well. Sprinkle 1/2 tsp salt over eggs.
3) Begin mixing, lightly beating eggs with fork or finger tips and gradually pulling in flour, working your way around the circle evenly. Continue incorporating flour until dough forms, then knead, adding more flour if needed, until it is smooth and elastic.
4) Wrap dough tightly and leave to rest at room temperature for 20 minutes- to 1 hour.
5) Take a small piece of dough and begin rolling it out. And rolling.... and rolling... and rolling.... and then rolling some more... Once it's the right thickness, trim the edges to make them straight (more or less) then cut into even (more or less) strips.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and drop noodles in. Cook for about 8-10 minutes.
You can make the pasta dough up to two days in advance and store it in the fridge. Bring it to room temperature before rolling it out.
I read several pasta recipes before trying this and they generally say something like 1/16 of an inch, or 5 mm, thickness. I judged mine to be ready when I could see through it easily (demonstrated by the photo where you can see the blade of my knife under the sheet of pasta. This seemed to give me just the right thickness.
For the Sauce:
2 Tbs Butter
2-3 Tbs red onion, finely chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 Tbs Flour
1 or 2 bay leaves (fresh or dried)
1 Cup Milk (approx.)
Cracked black pepper, salt, and a pinch of nutmeg
1) Finely chop onion and garlic.
2) Melt butter in sauce pan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until softened, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. (Watch that the butter doesn't burn.)
3)Add in bay leaves, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add flour and cook for 2-3 minutes more.
4) Whisk in milk, bring to a boil, stirring frequentl, then reduce heat and simmer until thickened. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Remove bay leaves and discard.
Toss the pasta with the sauce and top with chopped fresh parsley. I thought it looked a little too bland, so I quickly threw a few tomato roses on the plate just for some added colour.
Step 4: What a Catch Steamed Lobster Tails With Oven Roasted Veggies
Another first for me, these lobster tails were a little more work than I anticipated. Cutting the shells and loosening the meat, without mangling it, is not quite as easy as it looks on YouTube. I chose the simplest cooking method, steaming, to make it less intimidating for my first attempt, though broiling seems to be more popular.
What You Need:
Assorted veggies, such as zucchini, red pepper, and red onion
Fresh garlic cloves
Olive oil, salt and pepper, dried or fresh herbs
Two lobster tails, fresh or frozen
One fresh lemon
Seasonings of choice (I used black pepper, sea salt and paprika)
A frying pan and some water
Kitchen shears and a small knife
For the Veggies:
Cut veggies into similar sized pieces. Toss with olive oil, garlic cloves, salt and pepper, dried oregano and basil (or whatever you prefer). Cover with foil and cook at 450 F for 15 minutes. Remove foil, stir, cook for an additional 15-20 minutes, or until done to your liking.
I left my garlic cloves whole because I like to just eat the roasted garlic along with everything else. If you prefer, you can chop it up and mix it in, or just smash the cloves and use them to infuse the veggies with flavour, then remove them. It all depends on how much you like garlic.
For the Lobster:
1) Defrost tails if frozen by leaving in fridge over night or soaking them in cold water for 30 minutes
2) With a pair of kitchen shears, cut all the way down the center of the tails, stopping just before the fluke, on the top side. Leave the bottom of the shell intact.
3) Using a small knife, or your fingers, carefully loosen the meat around the edges and bottom.
4) Pull the meat up out of the shell. close the shell underneath it, and lay it on top. (This is known as "piggy backing" and is mostly done for presentation in the restaurants. I did it because I didn't have a rack that would fit in my pan to keep the lobster above the water so that it would steam, not boil, and so the shells acted as a rack.)
5) Season with salt, pepper and paprika (or whatever you like). Add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, if desired.
6) Place in pan with about 1/2 cup boiling water, cover, steam for about 6-7 minutes, until meat is firm and opaque.
Step 5: Cool It Down Watermelon Ice
A light and refreshing dessert to finish off your meal. I was planning on going with something a little more decadent, and a little more chocolatey, but after seeing all the food I was preparing, I decided there might not be much room left for dessert. (And I also needed to use up my over ripe watermelon before it went to waste.)
The little bottle of Martini Asti is another leftover from New Year's. These mini bottles only cost around $4.00 and are the perfect amount for two people who aren't big wine drinkers. With it's low alcohol content and sweet, fruity flavour, it made a really nice addition to the watermelon ice.
What you need:
1 cup watermelon, puréed or very finely chopped
2 Tbs Orange juice
2 Tbs Sparkling white wine (optional)
1\2- 1 tsp Orange zest
1) Chop watermelon and scoop into a mixing bowl. (I lost a bit of juice doing it this way, but I wasn't worried because it was really watery to begin with and I was adding more liquid.)
2) Add orange juice, wine, and orange zest. Mix well and transfer to a pan large enough to spread it out thinly for quick freezing.
3) Freeze until firm. (I forgot to keep an eye on it so I don't know how long this took, but an hour should be plenty of time.)
4) When ready to serve, take watermelon mixture out of freezer and let thaw for 5 minutes if necessary to soften it a bit, then break it up with a fork. For a smoother texture, pop it in the blender or food processor and give it a whirl.
Scoop it into some pretty dishes and garnish as you like. I didn't have any fancy dessert dishes handy so I used these wine glasses and quickly added a gold twist tie with a little heart shaped bead to each for decoration. I just used a simple orange twist for garnish because that's what I had available.
Step 6: Come With Me... to the Sea...
...The Sea of Love...
All in all, for a first attempt, it turned out pretty good. Next time you want to have a special night with that special someone, try this simple seafood dinner that can be prepared at home, with ingredients you already have on on hand, for less than half the cost of a similar dinner in a restaurant. If I can do it, you can too!
The most costly part of this was actually the crab, at just over $5.00 for a little 4 oz can. If you really want to make it budget friendly, you could substitute imitation crab, or make fish cakes, or omit them and just have salad. Lobster is very high in protein, so it's really not necessary to have any other meat with it.
***Our "date night" was cancelled, as neither of us were feeling well on Valentine's Day, so this dinner was actually prepared on two separate days. As a result, I can't give any really accurate instructions for how to time everything properly to get it to the table at the right time. Well, really, I couldn't anyway, since I have never timed anything properly in my whole life. But my advice is to do as much in advance as possible. Really the only things you have to do right before dinner are prepare the lobster and crab cakes and cook the pasta and veggies. Even the sauce can be made in advance and reheated.