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Susan Axelrod

Susan Axelrod's food writing career began in the kitchen; she owned a restaurant and catering business for 15 years before turning to journalism. By day, she is the social media editor for Portland Press Herald. To relax, she bakes, gardens and hikes with her husband and their two dogs, preferably followed by a cocktail or a Maine beer. Susan can be contacted at 791-6310 or On Twitter: @susansaxelrod

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Posted: August 5, 2013

Lobster plain and fancy at the Maine Lobster Festival Cooking Contest

Written by: Susan Axelrod

All photos: Ted Axelrod/Axelrod Photography

If it weren’t for Allison Fishman Task, I’m not sure I would have gone up to Rockland on a chilly, rainy Friday morning for the 66th Annual Maine Lobster Festival. When I’m hungry for lobsters, I usually cook them at home and crowded festivals aren’t my thing. But Task, the host of Yahoo’s original web series Blue Ribbon Hunter, had asked if she could interview me as part of a segment on the festival (more on that next week) — and since she’s also a good friend I hadn’t seen in several months, I made the trek. Plus, I was intrigued by the festival’s cooking contest, which Allison was judging along with the irrepressible Lynn Archer, owner of the Rockland restaurants The Brass Compass and Archer’s on the Pier and Melanie Beckett Hyatt, editor of Maine Food & Lifestyle magazine.

I’ve been a judge for lots of cooking contests — involving both professional and amateur chefs — and this one was pretty impressive. A few weeks prior, organizers chose five finalists from a field of about 40 who sent in recipes, according to Celia Knight, who spearheads the contest. The recipes had to contain Maine seafood (Knight admitted her committee was partial to lobster), be original, relatively easy to create and show the potential for good flavor.

When I got to the contest tent at a little after 9 a.m., the finalists were just getting underway at their cooking stations: John Ruppert of Brunswick on Maine Lobster Mac-N-Cheese; Justin Libby of Port Clyde on Buzzy’s Lobster Casserole; Adam Marcus of Owl’s Head (by way of Louisiana) on Lobster Etouffee; returning champion Tyrrell Hunter of Brunswick on Spectacular Seafood Cannelloni; and Gerald Huang of Jersey City, N.J. (yes, New Jersey!) on his version of the iconic Malay dish, Singapore Chili Crab, Chili Lobster.

A couple of hours and many lobster shells later, the judges tasted each of these dishes at tables that had been set and decorated by the finalists in advance to showcase their food — a clever touch and the only time the contestants could enlist help. Marcus’ setting featured beach stones; others included shells and starfish. The cooks also paired “adult beverages” with their dishes, some from Maine: Libby offered Allagash White with his casserole and Ruppert served a viognier from Cellardoor Winery in Lincolnville with his mac-n-cheese

And the winner was … Tyrrell Hunter’s Spectacular Seafood Cannelloni! Check out her unorthodox method for cooking lobsters; I may give this a try. And as a bonus, read on for Justin Libby’s super-easy recipe for Buzzy’s Lobster Casserole. A fisherman whose childhood nickname was Buzzy — you gotta love a guy who enters a cooking contest with a recipe that includes cream of mushroom soup and a box of cornflakes.

For photos of people eating themselves silly at the Maine Lobster Festival, see the Seen Gallery.

Spectacular Seafood Cannelloni/Photo by Ted Axelrod

Spectacular Seafood Cannelloni

Serves 5-6

4 ( 1 1/4 pound each) Maine lobsters, cold water cooked method (see below), shucked. After removing the tail vein, cut the tail and claws into 1/2- inch chunks, mix with knuckle and body meat. Save the shells and bodies of two lobsters but discard the tamale. Refrigerate all until needed.
1 pound large sea scallops – with muscle removed
1 tablespoon unsalted butter (need total of 10 tablespoons for complete recipe)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
2 tablespoon onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, washed, dried and chopped
1 tablespoon fresh basil, washed, dried and chopped
1 tablespoon sun-dried tomatoes – packed in oil, drained and chopped
1 teaspoon anchovy paste
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon white pepper

Lobster shells and bodies
3½ cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
8 tablespoon unsalted butter
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon white pepper
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg, grated
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated (divided in half)
½ cup pecorino cheese, grated (if you can’t find pecorino, you can increase the Parmesan by ½ cup)

Pasta shells:
12 no-boil lasagna noodles

Early preparation – even a day or two in advance:
Lobsters – Next time you cook lobsters, try starting them in cold, heavily salted water (about 2 Tablespoons for large pot). Turn on heat to high (we use a gas turkey fryer outside) and bring to a rolling boil. This should take about 20-30 minutes, depending on how many lobsters are in the pot. For this recipe, you want to take 4 lobsters out as soon as they come to a boil and plunge them into cold water to stop their cooking. You want the lobsters under-cooked because the meat will finish cooking in the Cannelloni. (We cook other lobsters to eat that evening by boiling those lobsters just two more minutes for a traditional boiled lobster dinner. We use the partially cooked lobster in a variety of recipes, such as this Cannelloni recipe, over the next few days. The beauty of the cold water method is the meat is very tender because all the lobsters cook at the same temperature and the lobsters weren’t shocked entering hot water.)

About 1 ½ to 2 hours prior to serving:

Make the lobster sauce:
Thoroughly strain any liquid that may have accumulated from the lobster shells. In a large saucepan on medium-low heat, steep the milk and cream with the lobster shells (without tamale!) for ½ hour, stirring a few times. Strain, reserve the milk mixture, and set aside. Discard the shells and bodies.

In the same large saucepan over medium heat, melt 8 Tablespoons unsalted butter; then stir in ½ cup flour. Stir for 1 minute to slightly cook the flour. Stir in the nutmeg, salt, and white pepper. Whisk in the hot milk/cream mixture and whisk for 5-7 minutes until the sauce is thick and smooth. Stir in ½ cup Parmesan and set aside off heat.

Prepare the pasta shells:
Soak the no-bake lasagna noodles in a large bowl of warm water for about 8-10 minutes or just until they are pliable so you can bend them easily. Take out of water, pat dry, cut each noodle to 5½-6 inches long, then stack between paper towels.

Make the filling (Preheat oven to 375º while making the filling):
In a large sauté pan on medium-high heat, melt one Tablespoon of butter with one Tablespoon olive oil. Sprinkle the scallops with salt and pepper. Add scallops and onions to the pan and quickly cook the scallops about 20-30 seconds per side; add the minced garlic and sauté for 30 seconds more. Cut the scallops into quarters or eights (about the same size of the lobster tail cut-up pieces; the scallops will not be completely cooked at this point). Stir in the lobster meat, sun-dried tomatoes, herbs, and sauté for one minute to combine flavors. Drain off any accumulated water/juices. To 2/3 cup of Lobster Sauce, stir in the anchovy paste. Then add this sauce mixture to the seafood and mix gently to combine. Taste and add more salt and pepper, if needed. Take pan off heat.

Assemble and bake the cannelloni:
In a 13 x 9-inch pan, pour 1½ cups of the sauce and spread to cover the bottom of the pan. Put ½ cup of the filling mixture across the short side (about 3 ½ inches) of a pasta shell and roll up, putting it seam-side down in the pan. Repeat with the other shells, leaving a little space between the shells. Pour the remaining sauce over all the shells, covering completely, and sprinkle the top with the remaining ½ cup Parmesan and ½ cup pecorino. Dot with an additional Tablespoon of butter cut into small pieces. Cover pan and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 20 minutes. If needed, lightly golden brown under the broiler just before serving.

Suggest serving with a crisp salad and toasted garlic bread.

(Can be prepared in advance of final baking and refrigerated for up to 24 hours; let sit at room temperature for ½ hour, then bake for 30 minutes covered and 20 minutes uncovered, lightly brown under broiler if needed.)


Justin Libby’s Buzzy’s Seafood Casserole/Photo by Ted Axelrod

Buzzy’s Seafood Casserole

Serves a lot

4 cups cubed potatoes
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 pint sour cream
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 pound diced lobster meat
1 large onion, diced
1 stick butter, divided in half
1 tablespoons salt
Box of corn flakes

Preheat oven to 400.

Combine potatoes, soup, sour cream, cheddar cheese, lobster and onion. Drizzle with 1/2 stick melted butter and mix well. Place mixture in large (13 x 9) casserole dish.

Crunch up cornflakes and put a decent layer over the top. Melt the other 1/2 stick of butter and drizzle over cornflakes

Cover dish with foil and bake for 45 minutes.

Remove foil and bake for another 15 minutes.

Let stand for 15 minutes before serving.


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