Party On! How to cook fancy

Fancy Cookin' - Broiled lobster, lemon braised leeks, and mashed potato gratin

Sometimes life just demands a fancy meal. You know those occasions – to celebrate a big promotion or raise or because it’s Wednesday. But cooking a fancy meal at home can be intimidating. Sure, you might be a master at every day meals, but if the thought of cooking something fancier than a spaghetti dinner leaves you queasy, this is the Party On! for you.

Cooking fancy at home can be achieved by following 3 simple rules.

1. Have one ‘fancy’ ingredient. A fancy ingredient should be high quality, very yummy, and something you wouldn’t eat every day. It will be the star of the meal, so a high quality protein is the best fancy ingredient. Think filet mignon, oysters, extra jumbo shrimp, lamb chops.

2. Individual portions. This is key. Even though everyone will be eating the same meal, by serving them already plated in individual portions (just like at a restaurant) you up the fancy. This means portioning and plating everything BEFORE you serve to the guests. No communal passing of bowls or serving at the table. Bonus points to you if you have enough small plates, bowls, ramekins, etc. that can be used for serving an individual portion.

3. Make it look fancy. Garnish. Broil to golden brown. Use fresh herbs with abandon. TOP WITH CHEESE! A fancy meal should look like you went the extra mile to make it special.

Fancy Cookin' - Broiled lobster, lemon braised leeks, and mashed potato gratin

Here’s how I applied the rules for fancy cookin’ and whipped up a kick butt fancy dinner for the husband.

1. Have one ‘fancy’ ingredient. One word – lobster. Lobster tails are available frozen at any good grocery store. Let them thaw overnight in the fridge and they’ll be ready for action. Lobster tails also give the WOW factor of eating lobster without the ick factor of lobster homicide via a pot of boiling water. They’re also much easier to handle than whole lobsters, and they are cleaner to eat.

2. Individual portions. I used small ramekins to hold each serving of mashed potatoes. I also made a bed of leeks as a side dish but the leeks double as a pretty garnish under the lobster when plated. Each lobster tail is already portioned for one serving.

3. Make it look fancy. I split the lobster tail in half lengthwise to expose the meat. Then I brushed it liberally with fresh herbs, a little vegetable oil, and salt and pepper. The potatoes got topped with cheese and put under the broiler to get browned and crunchy. Again, the bed of leeks under the lobster is a fancier presentation than plopped in a pile on the side. Lastly, I added a few touches of fresh parsley to green up the plate.

Fancy Cookin' - Broiled lobster, lemon braised leeks, and mashed potato gratin

Now, onto the actual recipes for this fancy dinner! I pretty much used this exact video recipe from Wegman’s except I used Maine lobster and fresh herbs. The video shows exactly how to half the lobster tail, so I recommend watching it if you’re nervous about cutting through the shell.

Roasted lobster tails with fresh herbs

1 Maine lobster tail per person, thawed overnight in the fridge.

1 teaspoon (per lobster tail) fresh chopped herbs any mixture of parsley, oregano, and thyme

1 teaspoon (per lobster tail) vegetable oil

salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Lay one lobster tail flat on a sturdy cutting board. Using a strong, sharp knife, cut through the lobster shell down the middle lengthwise to create two halves. Lay the halves meat side up on a baking sheet. Repeat with remaining lobster tails.

Combine the herbs and oil in a small bowl. Brush oil and herbs over the meat of each lobster tail half. Season with salt and pepper.

Place lobster tails in the preheated oven and cook about ten minutes or until the shells have turned bright red (SCIENCE!) and the meat is opaque.

Braised leeks with white wine and lemon, serves 2 (can be doubled)

3 leeks

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup white wine

zest from 1/2 lemon

juice from 1/2 lemon

salt and pepper

Trim roots from leeks and trim off the darker green ends of the leeks. You only want to use the white and light green portion of the leeks. You should have anywhere from a 4″ to 6″ piece of white and light green per leek, depending on the size of the leek. Quarter each leek lengthwise to make long strips. Fill a large bowl with cold water and add leek strips. Swish the leeks around in the water to loosen any dirt (and leeks tend to be quite dirty). Let the dirt settle to the bottom of the bowl then remove the leeks and pat dry on a clean kitchen towel.

Melt butter in a large pan over medium high heat. When melted, add leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, until the leeks begin to brown, about 5 minutes.

Add the wine and lemon zest to the pan. Lower the heat to low and cover the pan. Allow to cook covered for 15 minutes or until the leeks get very tender. Remove the lid and add lemon juice and salt and pepper.

Divide the leeks into 4 servings and pile onto each plate. Top with the roasted lobster tails.

Fancy Cookin' - Broiled lobster, lemon braised leeks, and mashed potato gratin

I’m not going to lie. These mashed potatoes were leftovers I fancied up. If you don’t have leftover mashed potatoes laying around, you don’t have to make them from scratch. Just pick up some pre-made mashed potatoes and pretty them up. The refrigerated brands of pre-made mashed potatoes are so good no one will suspect they’re not home made when served like this, though the Irish woman in me hates to admit it! Also, it’s not fancy, but the microwave will do a better and faster job of heating the potatoes. But don’t skip running them under the broiler or you’ll lose the fancy effect.

Fancy Mashed Potatoes, serves 4

4 cups leftover mashed potato or 1 container pre-made refrigerated mashed potatoes (Country Crock or Bob Evans are good brands)

1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Move the oven rack to the 2nd top position and preheat the broiler. Divide the potatoes into 4 servings and fill 4 small bowls or ramekins with the mashed potatoes. Cover and microwave for 2-3 minutes, stir, and microwave about 1 minute more until hot.

Top each serving with 1/4 of the cheese and place the bowls on a rimmed baking sheet. Put under broiler to melt the cheese and brown the top, can take anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes depending on your oven. Just keep an eye on them so they don’t burn. Remove and serve when golden brown and yummy looking.

There you go, a whole fancy meal that’s easy to prepare whenever the mood strikes. Just pick up some individual pastries or tiny cakes for dessert and you’ll be ready to go!

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