Thursday, January 27, 2011

Grilled oysters and clams

I love oysters. I've enjoyed them Rockefeller'd in New York, slurpled them raw with a spash of local hot sauce in Houma, La., and devoured them fried to melting perfection at the Carolina coast. I've even lightly breaded and fried them at home with reasonable success.

I have not, however, ever cooked them from scratch -- that is to say, still tucked inside their rock-hard shells. Technically, I still haven't, since Tim wisely consulted James Peterson's Fish & Shellfish and grilled the ones we had for dinner.

We knew we'd be dining well tonight because oysters and clams were the promised fresh catch from Walking Fish CSA, which makes weekly deliveries from Beaufort to Durham to its appreciative members. While it seems obvious now, we had not anticipated that the oysters would arrive unshucked.

Grilling oysters is a bit trickier than grilling clams, which yield luxuriously and reveal a shiny puddle of briny juice in a matter of minutes; lift them gingerly to a serving bowl avoid sloshing these salty droplets, which add welcome brio to pasta or rice. According to Peterson, oysters will be done after about three minutes, when their lids loosen enough to easily pull off.

Unlike clams, it is not obvious when oysters give in to the grill, so you have to trust that they have in fact steamed in their own juice. Some needed to be tweaked open with the tip of a sharp knife -- one actually required a few robust whacks with a table knife -- but most did indeed open as predicted. While a dip in creamy basil mustard was tasty, these plump bites really needed no adornment short of a light squirt of lemon.

We served the oysters and clams atop an absorbant bed of bulgur pilaf with sauteed shallot and asparagus.

2 cups water or chicken stock (or mix)
1 cup dry bulgur pilaf, or medium bulgur
1 shallot, minced
1 lb asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1" pieces
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp olive oil
juice of 1/2 lime
drizzle of Persian lime oil (or olive oil with lime zest)
salt, pepper

Bring water or stock to boil with a generous pinch of salt; add bulgur and stir to combine. Reduce heat and cook covered 10-15 minutes until liquid is absorbed and pilaf is fluffy. Remove from heat and keep covered.

Meanwhile, saute shallot in olive oil over medium heat 2 minutes, then add tomato paste and stir well. Add asparagus, salt and pepper, and cook over low flame about 10 minutes or until tender and lightly browned. Remove from heat and stir in lime juice.

Turn pilaf into large bowl; add asparagus mix and toss to combine. Adust seasonings (it needed a fair amount of salt) then transfer to serving dish and drizzle with lime oil.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Shrimp dip with roasted bell pepper

We had the pleasure of cooking for a friend last night we had not seen in months and likely won't see again for many more, given that he now lives in California. He mentioned a longing for North Carolina seafood, so I decided to use some in an appetizer.

I bought about 3/4 pound of plump shrimp and thought about the Lee Brothers' delicious shrimp burgers, which lightly poach shrimp in an Old Bay-ish spice mix then chops them to form tender patties. I also thought of a luscious red bell pepper I'd roasted and peeled that morning.

I was pretty sure this "hmmm" moment would translate to "mmmm," so I started to scan the store for other assorted nibbles. I was briefly tempted by housemade pimento cheese, but while it fairly screamed North Carolina, I set it out of my mind in favor of the healthier option I already picked.

Surprisingly, though, after poaching and then dicing the shrimp in the processor with the roasted pepper, the result look strikingly like pimento cheese (sadly, the photo does not do it justice). Serve chilled with lavash crackers and vegetable crudites.

3/4 lb. fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 tbsp. Old Bay, or to taste
1 medium red bell pepper, roasted and peeled
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp. mayonnaise
hot sauce, to taste
kosher salt, freshly-ground pepper

Fill a large sauce pan about half way with water, add Old Bay and bring to a boil. Add shrimp and stir. After 2 minutes, or just until pink, turn off heat and leave in broth another 2 minutes. Drain and cool slightly.

Chop roasted bell pepper coarsley and place in processor with shrimp; pulse to combine. Add mayonnaise, hot sauce, salt and pepper. Pulse until coarse chopped and well blended. Taste to adjust seasoning -- it wanted more salt than I'd guessed. Refrigerate at least an hour or until ready to serve.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

NYTimes: How the Microplane Grater Escaped the Garage

I'm a longtime fan and have given their superior graters as wedding and birthday gifts, but I had no idea Microplane was so diverse. Received a pair of their snazzy kevlar "cut-resistant" gloves just last night to use with my new Super Benriner.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Bulgur-cashew veggie burgers

Hats off, once again, to BrokeAss Gourmet. The mix of nutty bulgur and nuts is inspired. I was out of cumin and substituted rogan josh. Also, instead of spicy aoil, I opted for tadziki with cilantro in place of dill. Even Graham pronounced them delicious.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Shrimp piccata, hold the pasta

Shrimp and pasta with a light piccata sauce is one of our favorite quick dinners. However, a variation we made tonight ditched the pasta in favor of delicious pan-seared cauliflower and tomatoes that simmer briefly in the savory sauce.

Start with a Weight Watchers recipe for sauteed cauliflower and tomatoes as the base. Once done, pour into a covered serving bowl to keep warm.

Add a tablespoon of oil to the pan, then a pound of plump peeled and devined shrimp. As soon as they turn pink, add about a half-cup of white wine, 2 tablespoons drained capers and a tablespoon each of butter and honey mustard (substitute the more traditional Dijon, if you prefer). Stir well to combine and bring to a bubble. Return cauliflower-tomato mixture to the pan, cover and simmer 4-5 minutes. Transfer to bowl and serve.

Tip:  If you have culinarily alert dogs, drizzle any leftover sauce on their kibble. I cannot begin to describe how happy our pups are right now.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A French Table-inspired New Year's feast

Some folks swear by collards or black-eyed peas. Others vouch for downing a dozen grapes at the stroke of midight to guarantee 12 sweet months.

We have no set New Year's Eve traditions, other than typically spending the last night of the year at home. Our menu varies from year to year, though the one in which Tim made a big pot of gumbo does stand out as particularly memorable.

This year's inspiration came largely from Dorie Greenspan's excellent new Around My French Table. I waited my turn to try out this critically acclaimed book from the library, but I'm certain I'll soon have a copy for my permanent collection.

When I checked out the book, the librarian sighed deeply when she saw the title, then set about scanning the index for her personal favorite. Flipping to Marie-Helene's Apple Cake, she grabbed a sticky note and pressed it on the page. "You must make this," she said. "It is sooooo good."

Never one to argue with a librarian, I took her advice to heart. After a quick skim, I decided to not only make the cake but also Dorie's salmon rillettes and tadziki. Each was simple and delicious. Actually, the cake, which was the grand finale to our New Year's feast, was sublime.

We built up to these tasty morsels gradually, starting with take-out sushi (blue crab and eel) and a flavorful shaved seaweed salad. Next up was the Weight Watcher's-friendly tadziki, her traditional take on a classic, with a colorful plate of veggies, pretzel crisps and mixed nuts. Then came a simple bruschette of grilled baguette slices rubbed with garlic, topped with melting blue cheese or feta (Graham's preference) and crowned with a twist of rare roast beef.

Things got serious with the salmon rillettes, which Graham helped make by dicing the salmon, managing the quick poach and gently mashing in the smoked salmon and butter. The mixture set beautifully and made a most elegant spread. I foresee using leftovers in a fritatta dotted with dabs of creamy chevre.

The pièce de résistance, as I think the French might say, was indeed the highly recommended apple cake, which features chunks of four different types of apples (whatever you like best) and a lush, buttery batter. It smelled divine while baking and looked like something you'd be glad to be served at your favorite bistro.

While it certainly needed nothing more than a fork, I could not resist a drizzle of caramel sauce on the dessert plates before serving -- an addition I mentioned when I wrote with grateful praise on Dorie's popular Facebook page. Her reply was, indeed, the icing on my New Year's cake:
ME: Oh Dorie. The librarian was right: the apple cake was sublime! I gilded the lily by serving it on a puddle of caramel sauce. Also made salmon rillettes and tadziki. So good!
DORIE: A puddle of caramel sauce sounds perfect! I'm delighted that you liked the cake and the rillettes and tatziki, too. Happy new year!