Splurge at Home with a Delicious Maine Lobster Pot Pie

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.

The dining room at Michael Mina in Las Vegas from Forbes Travel Guide

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.

btb_p-08_lobster-baseAnother 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!



Monthly Blog Post – Rose’s Bread Bible Bakers: July 2017

I’ve been participating in and posting about my baking experiences with Rose’s Bread Bible Bakers for just over a year now and it has been a fantastic experience.  Rose’s Bread Bible is so rich with instruction, recipes, and inspiration.  My fellow bakers are a true group of bread aficionados and I learn a little something extra as I read their monthly posts.  As I continue this bread making journey, I am surprised by the number of recipes in the book that I had never tried, but have become favorites as a result of this journey.

Our July selection is a good example of this.  In browsing through the book over the years, I never had a serious interest in baking this one because based on the title I thought it seemed strange.  The secret ingredient for this bread is a poorly kept one as it is listed in the title.  Frankly, my pre-conceived notions about the results that ingredient would yield, despite what Rose says in the introduction caused me to miss out on this fantastic bread for no good reason.  Perhaps I would have tried it sooner if the name had simply been “Feather Loaf.”

While this isn’t the quickest recipe to make due to the sponge and multiple rises, the results are delicious with a subtle sweetness from a combination of honey and banana.  In addition to acting as a sweetener, the banana when coupled with a touch of butter keeps the bread moist.  The full name for this wonderful bread is Banana Feather Loaf.  I must warn you, the recipe produces a result that is nothing like the photo below.  Now there is nothing wrong with a traditional banana nut bread, I do bake and enjoy them, but when thinking about this recipe you have to get this image out of your head.  By the way, the texture of this bread reminded me of our June project which I’ll link to here.

no banana bread-2459926_1920.jpg

Image of peeled and sliced banana
The surprise ingredient in this bread which provides subtle flavor

Before we continue further, I wanted to share an article I found which details 16 Surprising Facts About Bananas.  Here are three of the 16 facts I found particularly surprising:

  • Bananas were first introduced to American consumers in 1876 at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition.
  • Americans consume over 28 pounds of bananas each year, with over 96 percent of households purchasing bananas at least once each month.
  • A small banana provides 27 mg magnesium, which may help boost mood. Men and women need 420 mg and 320 mg of magnesium per day, respectively. Low levels of this mineral are linked to depression, anxiety, irritability and other mood disorders. Since many of us don’t get enough magnesium in our diets, consider a banana as your chill pill.
Image of three whole bananas in a wire basket
One of these bananas will add subtle sweetness and moisture to this bread

Putting this bread together is a breeze if you have experience with Rose’s recipes and techniques.  I had a couple of concerns which as I’ll explain were unfounded.  Because I was short on time, I let my starter ripen for about four hours before mixing.  Additional time would of course further develop the flavor, and there is no concern about the banana taking over since it is not added until you go to mix the dough.

Although I’m in that 96% of households that typically purchase bananas monthly, I did not have any fresh bananas on hand.  I regularly visit the little area in the back of the produce department when I grocery shop to look for overly ripe bananas which have been marked down.  This enables me to save a bit on the purchase (although according to the article cited above banana prices have been on a steady decline) and then I prepare them for freezing.  I typically peel the banana, slice it and wrap it in wax paper before placing in a ziplock freezer bag.  I normally use these frozen bananas for smoothies, but I decided to use one for this recipe.  It works fine, however, when thawed, the banana will have a bit of extra moisture which I recommend pouring out before mashing.  Also. the banana does brown a bit as it thaws, but the little bit of browning that occurs doesn’t seem to discolor the finished dough.

Preparing the dough was simple and straight forward, although I did feel there was a little less dough than normal for my loaf pan, and that it was a bit slow to rise.  Once the dough went in the oven it was necessary to reset the timer and change the temperature several times.  This bread really does brown quite a bit, and I fought the urge to tent it with foil as Rose did indicate that it browns quickly which is why the multiple temperature changes are needed.  When I took it out of the oven I was a bit concerned about the color and whether it would taste burnt — the color of the crust did not seem to impact the deliciousness of this bread in the least.

If you have an overly ripe banana lying around your kitchen, this is a great recipe to use it for as the other ingredients are likely to already be in your pantry.  By the way, if you’ve been following the blog, you’ll know that one of the tests that I put my loaves to is whether it makes a good sandwich.  This bread was the foundation for a fantastic grilled ham and cheese sandwich and a really tasty smoked turkey sandwich.  It was also nice toasted so it’s a versatile, all around winner that deserves a spot in your baking rotation.



Celebrate With an Easy Classic Summer Refresher – the Pimm’s Cup

Here in the U.S. we are about to enter the long July 4th holiday weekend, and we also have the Wimbledon tournament starting up. The upcoming start of Wimbledon reminded me of the classic tournament beverage — the Pimm’s Cup.   These drinks are sold all over the grounds of the All England Lawn and Tennis Club and are traditionally garnished with fresh strawberries which are also a mainstay at the tournament. According to an article on the Trip Savvy website, Wimbledon is the largest annual sports catering event in Europe, and in 2015 320,000 glasses of Pimm’s were sold which makes it the second most popular beverage sold on site – 330,000 cups of tea and coffee were sold.

What is Pimm’s, or more specifically Pimm’s No. 1 which is the original formula you might ask? It is a gin-based “tonic” or herbal remedy first developed in 1823 to aid the digestion. This combination of gin and herbs became popular in England, and is often served as a mixed drink in a cup with either lemonade or ginger beer and garnished with assorted fruits. There are many recipes or approaches to making the drink so I will share mine with you here.

The version I prepared for this post used a ginger beer from a company called Q Drinks. This beverage is intended to be a mixer, and has a very spicy ginger taste and lots of carbonation. Other ingredients in the Q ginger beer include agave, coriander, cardamom, lime, and chili peppers. To prepare the cup, I used 1 part Pimms to 3 parts of the ginger beer.
Ingredients for 4 tall glasses as shown:


Two key ingredients for my version of the classic Pimm's Cup
Two key ingredients for my version of the classic Pimm’s Cup
  • 4 ounces Pimm’s No. 1
  • 750 ml bottle Q Drinks Ginger Beer, chilled
  • Strawberries (6-8)
  • Orange
  • English cucumber
  • Mint (4-6 sprigs)


  • Cut up a 3-4” piece of the cucumber and place it in a glass or measuring cup with 4 ounces of Pimm’s and a sprig of the mint. Muddle these and set aside to “stew” for a few minutes while you prepare the other ingredients.
  • Halve the strawberries, slice the orange and the cucumber. Aim for a couple of strawberries and a couple of slices of the orange and the cucumber for each cup.
  • Add crushed ice to each of your serving glasses, as well as the fruit and cucumber.
  • Strain the Pimm’s and pour 1 ounce into each glass.
  • Top off with the ginger beer, swizzle and enjoy!

Melinda Lee’s Fresh Cranberry Chutney

red-63861_640With Thanksgiving right around the corner, I wanted to share with you a recipe which rocked my sister-in-law’s world.  Let me explain.  Several years ago we had a potluck Thanksgiving dinner at my mother’s house and Sharon (AKA SIL) was new to the family.  This is one of the recipes that I took to dinner.  If you are accustomed to the typical Oceanspray canned cranberry sauce, or worse that jelly looking version (sorry Oceanspray) you are in for a new and exciting culinary experience.
_dsc0169The taste and texture of fresh cranberries, even after cooking is totally different from the canned stuff.  SIL didn’t know that you could buy and cook fresh cranberries — I know she is not alone.  Heck, I was raised on the canned stuff and happened upon the bagged fresh cranberries in the produce department when I moved to the city.  If you’d like to experience the taste and texture of fresh cranberries, this is a good starter recipe.  The mix of spices gives the chutney a nice kick, and it is so good I highly recommend making extra so that you have plenty to eat.  It also makes a great foodie gift.


The finished chutney

Per the recipe, it makes about a quart which is 32 servings — roughly one ounce per serving.  You can put this into Mason jars and refrigerate it where it will keep for up to a year.  It is so great on sandwiches!  By the way, if you make a batch now as I did, you can enjoy some now for Thanksgiving and have it again next month for Christmas.  My one caution is that this recipe is a tad on the pricey side as you add up the cost of ingredients like crystallized ginger, nuts, currants, dates and the various spices.



Melinda Lee is a local cooking show radio host, and I copied this recipe from her website.  She has a variety of recipes for fresh cranberries so if chutney just isn’t your thing I’m sure there is something else you can try.

0e4c5a70e7d90bd4This is a great recipe to give your food processor a workout with.  If you haven’t cooked fresh cranberries before, be aware that they do make a popping noise as they cook.  FYI, I always make this with blanched, slivered almonds which I think are ideal.  I’m not sure I’d really like one of the substitutions.


Here’s an interesting alternative to the traditional cranberry sauce. This chutney must be made a day or more in advance, to allow the flavors to “bloom” – but the good news is that it can be made up to a year ahead, and will keep in the refrigerator or freezer for use as a condiment with other meats or poultry for all that time.

MAKES ABOUT 1 QUART (32 SERVINGS)  Note:  I made 1.5 times the recipe amount in the pot above and was able to fill four 17 ounce canning jars.

4 cups (one pound), cranberries – picked over, washed and dried
2 cups, water
1 cup, sugar
½ cup, cider vinegar
1 medium-size, onion – chopped fine
1 large clove, garlic – minced
1 tablespoon, cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon, allspice
1 teaspoon, salt
1/8 teaspoon, cayenne pepper
1 cup, chopped, pitted dates
1 cup, dried currants
2/3 cup, dark brown sugar (packed measure)
1/2 cup, crystallized ginger – minced [this is one, 4-ounce package, if purchased in a package]
1 cup, slivered, blanched almonds (or chopped pecans, or other nuts)

In a saucepan, combine the water, sugar, cider vinegar, onion, garlic and seasonings listed (through cayenne pepper) not including the cranberries, and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Add the cranberries, dates, currants, brown sugar and ginger, and continue to simmer for 10 minutes longer. Stir in the nuts.

Let me know if this recipe is a hit with your holiday dinner guests!

Cool mixture, transfer to a bowl or other container, cover and refrigerate for at least one day to blend flavors. Best served at room temperature.

Monthly Blog Post: Rose’s Bread Bible Bakers October 2016

soda-bread-portrait-imgOur recipe this month was for Rose’s Royal Irish Soda Bread.   Since I had never had soda bread, I took it upon myself to do a bit of research on the topic. My first finding is that this bread would not be considered to be an authentic Irish Soda Bread in the mind of a purist. In fact, I learned through an article in Epicurious (AKA Bon Appétit) that soda bread purists will tell you that this is not the real thing. Indeed, there is a society dedicated to the preservation of Irish Soda Bread – who knew?

According to an article published in the Tampa Bay Times (which includes this recipe) Irish Soda Breads, as Rodney Dangerfield would say just don’t get no respect. These are humble breads –prepared with the most basic set of ingredients: flour, salt, buttermilk, and baking soda. Any additions like butter or raisins are not true to the original recipe. These were considered to be luxury add-on items. As stated by Irish chef Rory O’Connell in the Epicurious article, when modified with these luxe items it should be considered as “_____ [you fill in the blank] bread on a soda bread base”.

I would consider this to be the simplest bread we have made thus far as there is no yeast, therefore no need to allow the bread time to rise. The finished product has some similarities with the scones we made back in June. You can find that post here.

plain-soda-breadAs usual, Rose provides solid techniques and at least one variation. If you’ve followed my Bread Bible posts, you know that I always like to try the variations, and I actually baked this recipe twice. My first time around, I omitted the raisins as I wanted a more authentic bread as described in the Epicurious article. I also used a blend of 50% all purpose flour and 50% whole wheat flour. Rose provided a whole wheat blend as an option, and for this bread, I used King Arthur’s white whole wheat due to its milder taste. This bread became a lovely golden brown throughout. It reminded me of cornbread perhaps because of its texture and the buttermilk and baking soda combo.

raisin-soda-loafThe second time around I stuck close to the original recipe. I used King Arthur’s all purpose flour and instead of soaking the raisins in Irish whiskey, which I didn’t have, I used dark rum. I figured that nobody would really know the difference, as the flavor from the alcohol is subtle. I still ended up with a very golden bread, I suppose because although the raisins were drained there was a tiny bit of brown fluid to color the dough.

I will note two products that I used which I had not had experience with before. For both loaves I used an organic “cream top” buttermilk from Kalona Farms. kalonaAccording to their website, they use sweet cream to produce their buttermilk which they say “…allows us to not only improve the health benefits of our product but it is also more sustainable. We now can use every drop of sweet cream buttermilk that is created when we produce butter. “ I am not a buttermilk connoisseur and would never drink the stuff, but it did have a nice smell and produced a very tender result. Kalona has an interesting story. They are based in Iowa and source their raw materials from a community that is largely comprised of Amish and Mennonite farmers. Here in Southern California we typically have a single brand of buttermilk, in our grocery stores. It is typically sold in one-quart cartons, it is mass produced, and it is not organic. The Kalona product caught my eye because it was the exact opposite –it’s available in a pint size bottle, it’s not mass produced, and it is organic.  I plan to purchase this again for future baking projects.

Both versions were moist and delicious due to the addition of butter, and this is another area where I did a bit of experimentation. For the loaf without raisins, I used Trader Joe’s unsalted butter. When shopping for ingredients my intention was to try the Kerrygold brand as I had not used it before. When I got home I realized that I had accidentally picked up their garlic and herb butter instead of plain unsalted butter. I ended up using the garlic butter on the freshly baked loaf and it tasted really good.

I went back to the store before baking the second loaf and bought the unsalted Kerrygold for that loaf. I believe the butter and buttermilk combined in the second loaf to create a very moist loaf with a nice sweet buttery flavor. I plan to use the Kerrygold in some additional baking projects so that I can continue to compare the results. I did research butter taste tests, and the one test I read ranked Kerrygold third or slightly ahead of my regular Land o’Lakes butter. I’ll also plan to seek out Plurga and Presidént butters for further experimentation during the holiday season. If you have any opinions on these I’d love to hear them.

The final point I’d like to share is that I am a strong believer in using modern tools in my cooking and baking projects. With our busy modern lifestyles, we need to boost our productivity in the kitchen wherever possible. For this soda bread, I used my Breville Sous Chef that I purchased this summer. I used the same technique as described in my June post on making scones. The key with this approach is to use the plastic blade (not the steel blade) and to pulse the ingredients very briefly so that you still have buttery bits. These are necessary for the proper texture so don’t over process it. You want to add the liquid through the feed tube quickly and not over mix. It is okay to use a little flour when shaping the dough (a few spoonfuls) but you don’t want to add too much and toughen the dough up.

Once the dough has been shaped, slash the top and pop it into your pre-heated oven quickly. I did find that I needed a few extra minutes (less than five) in the oven so that a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out dry.

There you have it – an easy but delicious bread.   By the way, I did find an interesting recipe for a seeded version from Noreen Kinney that I look forward to trying. You can find that recipe here. Let me know your thoughts and whether you have tried soda bread. I want to hear all about it!