Looking for a gourmet special occasion splurge of a dinner idea? Here is one from a favorite five-star restaurant. I absolutely love the Michael Mina chain of restaurants and have visited the San Francisco and Las Vegas locations. I’m typically in Las Vegas at least once a year on business, so while I’m there I always plan for a dinner at the Michael Mina restaurant in the Bellagio. Reservations are a must, and I will arrange my week around this dinner (they are closed on Sundays). Note that this restaurant will blow a sizable hole in your wallet, even if you’re on a typical corporate expense account. That said, the food, service, and ambiance are out of this world.
According to Zagat’s,
“An amazing dining experience” awaits at this Bellagio offshoot of Michael Mina’s San Francisco New American, where an “expertly prepared” menu starring “excellent” seafood (including a “scrumptious” lobster pot pie) is presented by “professional” servers who go “out of their way to discuss what’s special about every dish”; the “beautiful setting” is an “oasis of calm” amid the bustle of the Strip, bolstering agreement that the “steep” tabs are “worth every penny.”
My favorite entré is their phyllo-crusted sole which sells for $58. Another tempting menu item was always the lobster pot pie, which at $88 would scare me away as a bit too self-indulgent. I was thrilled a few years ago when I found the recipe online at the cookstr website and decided to try it at home. It is one of those recipes that I make when I see whole lobsters on sale at my local market for $9.99 per pound as you need a whole lobster for each individual pie. I usually find them at this price here in LA for New Year’s and again in the summer. Note that this recipe is easy to adjust if you just remember use one lobster per pie and adjust the remaining ingredients accordingly.
This recipe is not difficult, but it is a bit time-consuming. The ingredients are naturally a bit expensive because of the lobster so this is a special event splurge — think Valentine’s Day or New Year’s Eve dinners. Be sure to read through the entire recipe in advance as the directions aren’t in the order that you would make the pies and there are a lot of steps. Specifically, the pâte briséee preparation is in step 22, but this really should be your first action. You can make the pâte briséee ahead of time or use store-bought phyllo dough. The recipe suggests using a food processor for this crust, but as I worked on my #piegoals last year, I found that using my stand mixer enabled me to achieve even flakier results.
Another way to speed things up is by asking your seafood vendor to steam, clean, and crack the lobsters for you. This will save you a bit of prep time and you can use the largest shells when you prepare the cream sauce. I keep a jar of Better than Bouillon lobster base in my refrigerator and add a touch of it to the sauce for an extra rich cream sauce. One important change that I recommend is to lightly saute all of the vegetables, not just the mushrooms as you prepare to assemble the pies. Once the pies are assembled, you can sit back and relax while they bake and await the compliments. Enjoy, and have a fantastic Valentine’s Day!
I recently attended two classes that I signed up for this summer to improve my ability to bake pies from scratch, and I made my very first lattice pie. I think as a result that I’m on track to achieve my #piegoals this year. You can read more about the start of my 2017 pie making journey here.
Cut my pie into four pieces, I don’t think I could eat eight.
– Yogi Berra
I’ve baked four pies at home over the last month to reinforce what I’ve learned from those two classes. Let me first tell you about those experiences. I have taken a number of classes over the years at Sur La Table and was really excited last fall when a new, more convenient location opened in Westwood Village. I also had the opportunity to take my first class at The Gourmandise School in Santa Monica, CA. Both of these classes were taught by professional pastry chefs, and these experiences have really helped me grow my skills this summer.
The Easy as Pie class at Sur La Table featured a Lattice Top Strawberry Rhubarb pie and a Dark Chocolate Ganache and Salted Caramel Tartlet. These were two very different fillings and used very different techniques so there was a definite broadening of my skills here. Specifically around tempering chocolate, making a ganache, and making caramel. This is a little embarrassing, but I will admit that I had never had a pie with baked strawberries, let alone one with strawberries and rhubarb so it introduced me to a whole new universe of strawberry pie making. The only type of strawberry pie I experienced growing up here in Southern California was like those served at Marie Callender’s restaurants. These are more like a fresh strawberry tart with a glaze and whipped cream on top. I suspect there are regional customs at work here. If anyone can enlighten me further on this I’d love to understand more.
The class at Gourmandise was titled (most appropriately I might add) 4th of July Pies and had us preparing two fresh fruit pies — one with apples, and a second with peaches. In addition to making the pie crust entirely by hand, we also made a crumble topping by hand for the peach pies. I had lots of left-over pie dough after class to play with so I made a fresh cherry pie (pictured at the start of this post) for my family 4th of July gathering. More on that later.
I learned a lot from the two classes and walked away with loads of tips from each. In some ways, the instructors contradicted each other just a bit. For example, at Sur La Table we were encouraged to start with a disc of dough if we wanted a round piece of dough when we finished rolling, or a square if you wanted a square piece when finished. To me, this made a lot of sense. At Gourmandise, we started with somewhat triangular wedges (we cut each disc into quarters to begin rolling) which to me made things a bit more difficult. In both classes, however, we got great tips which enabled us to roll out the dough in such a way that it remained flaky and baked up nicely. Other differences I think were based on the preferences and experience of the instructor and I just needed to decide for myself. One example is cutting your butter into cubes instead of starting with whole sticks. I don’t think you can skip cutting the butter into the cubes if you are using a machine. A second difference is using an egg wash versus milk. Either wash will work and provide good results as confirmed in Art of the Pie by Kate McDermott, but I think I have a preference for the nice shine you get from an egg wash.
One of the things I loved about the Sur La Table class is that we were able to get hands-on experience with four different methods of preparing dough — strictly by hand, by hand with a pastry cutter, with a food processor, and with a stand mixer. Before attending class, I was a food processor method aficionado. Now, I prefer the mixer approach with my KitchenAid stand mixer. It is nice and neat (unlike the hand methods) and I get an even flakier result that I was getting with the food processor. We also got to make a sweet tart dough which was delicious with the ganache and caramel tarts.
Overall I was also very pleased with the Gourmandise experience. For me, they are a great local resource but in my opinion, one of the greatest testaments to the quality of their culinary program is the fact that we had a number of attendees traveling 60+ miles by car to attend, and one attendee who flew in from Austin, TX. The in-class discussions about different types of flours, fats, and pie pans were really helpful. We were encouraged to be confident when working with our dough (I was a bit timid) as it can smell fear a mile away .
After attending any class or lesson I believe that you need to put your newly gained knowledge to work. In this case, it meant making more pies at home. Following the Sur La Table class, I decided to make a Strawberry Rhubarb pie at home using their recipe. Although it worked, I had way too much liquid in the pie filling after baking so that was a disappointment. If I were to make this one again, I would need to use more thickener as the amount in the recipe clearly wasn’t enough.
I still had a bit of pie dough leftover and decided to use it for a small blueberry pie. Since I had a small amount of dough, I used a small oval baking dish and just under a pint of berries. After the watery filling with the Strawberry Rhubarb pie, I decided to try tapioca flour as the thickener with the blueberries and it worked but I still had juices overflowing. I didn’t really follow a recipe, rather I improvised from a recipe in The Art of the Pie using 2 tablespoons of sugar, 2 teaspoons of tapioca flour, a few drops of lemon juice, a pinch of nutmeg and about a teaspoon of Grand Marnier. This was delicious although the filling bubbled up over the decorative flowers I made as I was short on dough. Definitely, needs more dough — overlapping flowers would have helped reduce or elminate the overflow..
Small Blueberry Pie Ready to Bake
After the class at Gourmandise, I made the cherry pie pictured here and at the top of this post. I used leftover dough from class and followed the recipe linked to above from Art of the Pie. This pie was a real crowd pleaser with very positive critical feedback from my uncle. His feedback was that the dough needed more salt (I agreed). I took some more of the remaining dough, rolled it out after sprinkling with freshly ground sea salt and used it for a mini pie with a bit of leftover cherry filling and it was fantastic! By the way, for this lattice pie I rolled my dough into a square before cutting the strips which worked really well. Notice that this pie did not have juices running over. I bought a pie bird to help with this problem, but I forgot to use it. Fortunately it wasn’t really necessary this time around.
By the way, the book Art of the Pie has been a great resource for me. I think a hands-on class like one of the two I took is really helpful and provides supervised hands-on experience. The book, however in my mind really shines when it comes to the recipes. I wasn’t really blown away by any of the fruit pie recipes from the classes, but when I’ve followed Kate’s recipes at home I’ve had great results (like that fresh cherry pie following this recipe or the fresh apple pie you can read about in the post about my 2017 #piegoals). This fresh cherry pie was my latest, and tastiest fruit pie ever. I did not experience any overflow from the juices so it was neat and tidy unlike the two prior baked-at-home pies.
Whew, it has been a busy pie baking summer. I have plans for a savory summer pie as well as a review of some of my favorite pie making tools that I will share soon. Be sure to follow the blog or you can follow me on social media to stay up to date. In the meantime, enjoy the remainder of summer and take advantage of the season’s bounty. Enjoy life, eat more pie!