CHEATER OYSTERS ROCKEFELLER

With the holidays fast approaching, especially Christmas Eve, the Mother of all Fish Meals, this recipe is quick, easy, and great to transport for a last minute show stopper for Friendsgiving or even Brunch. I call it Cheater Oysters Rockefeller. It was developed over Manhattans and dinner with my dear friends MD and AF while eating some creamed spinach from our favorite butcher, DellaPietra in Brooklyn Heights. For ingredients for four persons as a starter (3 per person), you need a dozen oysters, 12 Tablespoons of the aforementioned creamed spinach, grated Pecorino Romano (or Parmigiano Reggiano if that is what you have), and a splash of Pernod or Sambuca or even fennel seed or fennel pollen if you have for that taste of sweetness and licorice.

To prepare, heat your over to 500. You will be steaming the oysters open but not cooking them through. Cover a sheet pan with aluminum foil and crunch in spots to make a small pocket for the oysters to save the liquor that may seep out, you will want to use that later. Place the oysters on the sheet pan rounded side down and let them cook in the oven until the flat top starts to separate from the bottom; watch carefully, this only takes a few minutes. Take them out as this happens so that early openers don’t overcook. Let cool until you can handle, I use a potholder for this step, and pry the top from the bottom. When all are opened, pour any oyster liquor into a bowl and place the oysters back their shells. Usually the top comes off without the oyster attached, but if that does not happen, just scrape it off with a knife and place into the shell. This step requires a bit of patience if the tops don’t pop easily. Just work at them gently and they will open. I have an oyster knife but it isn’t necessary, use whatever you think will make the job easier for you. Even a flat head screwdriver works. Add any liquor that may have accumulated in the pan to the reserved juices and strain to remove any nasty shell bits that may have come off. Remove the tinfoil and replace with a new piece and cover that with a wire pan grate. Next, add the liquor to the creamed spinach and also add the splash of Pernod (or a pinch of ground fennel or fennel pollen) and salt and pepper to taste. You can preheat the spinach if you want but I don’t find that a necessary step. Spread each oyster to cover the entire opening with about a tablespoon of spinach and place on the wire grate. Top all with the grated cheese to your liking (isn’t more better?) and place back into the oven until the cheese is melted and the spinach warm.

If you are making to transport, place the shells, oysters, juice and spinach in separate containers and combine just before heating.

Serve, maybe with a glass of champagne? After all, it is the holidays and they are called Oysters Rockefeller!

BEST EASY GARLIC BREAD

You have the ribs cooking, the burgers prepped, the dogs waiting patiently for their turn on the grill. Salads, cupcakes, all the stuff that make a BBQ on the Fourth what it is. So what’s missing? Scratch your head, um, er, aha! you forgot the garlic bread, what fourth of July celebration should be without it? (Well most of them if you aren’t of Italian heritage, but a post for a different date). So this is as easy as it gets. What you need is a loaf of Ciabatta bread (or loaf of your choice, but Ciabatta works best), a stick of butter (per loaf), chopped garlic (I use my microplane, this way you don’t get big chunks and the garlic melts into the butter), a rimmed baking sheet, and that’s it. If you want to get fancy and add chopped herbs, have at it, but wait until the butter garlic mix is done. Slice the Ciabatta loaf in half as shown so that you have two pieces. Grill the bread to get nice marks (or put under the broiler to toast), and set aside. While bread is grilling, place the butter and garlic in the baking pan and melt, stirring to make sure all blended. You can do this on the grill or in the oven as well. When the butter is melted and mixed with garlic (slightly toasty NOT BURNT) place the grilled sides of the bread on the sheet pan into the butter mix and let the bread soak up the mixture. Place the two sides back together, slice lengthwise, and VOILA! Best Easy Garlic Bread! You will never make it another way, I promise.

NOT BORING BERRY SALSA

Just in time for America’s favorite holiday, I bring you Red, White, and Blue Berry Salsa. This beautiful side is can be served in a multitude of ways with a multitude of savory or sweet items, is easy to make, doesn’t require a great deal of time to prepare, involves a minimal amount of chopping and no heat, and looks gorgeous on the plate! What more could you ask for in a party food? And how and what do you need to prepare it? Think your regular salsa ingredients: onion–use Vidalia, white, or the white part of scallions; pepper-use Fresno to keep the color theme, but if you can’t find them, Jalenpeno works fine, even a pinch of red pepper flakes in a pinch-you need some heat; a splash of Balsamic to keep the sweet, a splash of olive oil and coarse sea salt to keep the savory; finally, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, even blackberries, whatever you like to keep the red and blue idea. Mix the ingredients together and let sit for about 1/2 hour to allow the flavors to marry. Serve along side grilled steak, hamburgers, or sausages. Serve atop vanilla ice cream. Leftovers? Serve the next day on some toast or yogurt for breakfast. See? Berries, they’re not just for whipped cream and scones, and certainly not boring! One more thing, as it is a celebration, don’t forget the champagne! Happy Birthday America!

Yotem Ottolenghi, the master of many ingredients, has published a new book called SIMPLE. It is a beautiful text and in fact does have many simple and ingredient pared recipes. Among them, I found this, and with the preponderance of beautiful mini cauliflowers of many colors still in the green markets, I was inspired to make it. It is indeed simple: ingredients-the aforementioned cauliflower, a Tablespoon each of butter and olive oil, and flaky sea salt, Maldon if you have it. He adds a green dipping sauce, but I found the sweetness and crunchiness of the cauliflower more than enough (I did serve some Greek yogurt alongside because I had a purple cauliflower and it looked so beautiful). I made this with a mini sized head, but the recipe works for any size. Here are the directions. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Rinse the cauliflower, trim the stem to flatten it, but do not remove the leaves (they get crunchy and delicious in the roasting process) and place in salted boiling water head down for 5-6 minutes. Don’t worry if the head is not completely immersed. After 6 minutes, remove and place head down in a colander to drain for 10 minutes. Place drained and cooled head on a sheet pan or an oven proof dish head side up (you can use the dish for serving) and top with butter, olive oil, and a sprinkle of the the sea salt. Roast in oven for 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours depending on the size of the head. Remove from the oven and let cool. Sprinkle with a bit more salt and pepper. Serve as is either on the sheet pan or on the dish. Just break off the florets and eat. It is crunchy on the top, and creamy in the middle, the leaves get potato chip like, just a great vegetarian lunch or dinner side. And so much more inventive than the tiresome cauliflower rice.

Better than Blini Corn Crepe Pancakes. This is a very simple recipe and the crepes can be prepped in advance and even frozen after cooking if need be. If you live in an area where fresh sweet corn is still available (I am lucky to say I do), you can use that, but the recipe works just as well with drained or defrosted niblets. Here is the basic batter to make 3 large crepes (I cook mine in an 8″ non stick pan–easy to make, easy to clean): 2 ears of corn, 2 Tablespoons of flour, 2 eggs beaten, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, 2 Tablespoons of butter, melted, 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Take the corn off the cob. (I have found the easiest way to do this is to break the ear in half, lay the half ear on its side and cut the kernels around–as shown). You can par cook the corn if you like, but if it is fresh and sweet there really isn’t a need. Your choice. Combine the flour and eggs into a batter and add the baking powder and 1 Tablespoon of the melted butter. Mix in the corn and the parsley. (NOTE: if you want to make the whole mixture in advance, wait until you are ready to cook before adding the baking powder. It loses its rising mojo if it sits in the batter too long). Add the remaining Tablespoon of butter to the pan and add a ladleful of the mixture. Flatten it out and let it cook until golden-about a minute. Flip, cook a minute longer and voila. Done. Place on a warm plate and serve. If freezing for later use, lay a piece of parchment paper or a Silpat on a rimmed baking sheet and top with the crepes until the crepes are frozen, then bag. If you want to jazz it up a bit, you can add some spices like cayenne or cumin or paprika (or a bit of all three). Change up the parsley for thyme or chives. The crepes are delicious when eaten alone, but if you want something heartier, top with some avocado (a quirky twist on avocado toast), or even a fried egg. If you want something festive or party like, make them smaller and top with creme fraiche and smoked salmon, and even black, red, or salmon caviar. Or top them with pepper jelly or syrup and have for breakfast. Try doing that with a blini!

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This is a one ingredient appetizer. It isn’t Potato Chips. It isn’t olives. It’s Frico! What is Frico? It is a nibble made from cheese. Hard cheese, like Parmigiano Reggiano, or Manchego, or Asiago. It isn’t much in terms of a recipe, it is more about technique and a tiny bit of practice, but once mastered, you will find yourself making them often for aperitivi hour. Grate cheese so that you have 2 Tablespoons per bite. If you are only doing two, you can use a non stick pan, but for more than that it’s easier to use a rimmed baking sheet lined with either parchment paper or silpat. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Measure your cheese and lay on baking sheet and flatten to rounds of about 3 1/2 inches leaving space between each round. Place in oven and bake for about 2 minutes. Watch carefully, you want them to be golden, if they brown too much they become bitter. When done, remove from pan with a spatula and place on a plate to serve. Once you get the hang of it, and while the Frico are still warm, you can drape the finished rounds over a bowl or a rolling pin to create a shape as shown below. If you want to jazz up your Frico, you can add some fennel or ground black pepper, some cayenne if you want some kick, its really a matter of taste. Don’t be discouraged if the first one doesn’t work. Once you get the hang of it, they go really fast, in the oven AND into your tummy.

This is a great recipe for a spread or something more exotic (that comes later). When I a make my weekly visits to Chinatown, I always end up buying more mushrooms than I need. So there are always packages clogging up the veggie drawer in the fridge. Here is a really tasty and easy way to use them. The finished product can either be used immediately or can be frozen to reuse at a future date. MUSHROOM DUXELLES. What you need for 1 cup of duxelles are 8 ounces of mushrooms of any type or a combination thereof. An aside here–mushrooms generally come in 5 ounce packages so a couple of packages will suffice with a bit left over. Just use the whole package. You won’t go to Duxelles Jail, I promise. Also you will need 2-3 Tablespoons butter, a garlic clove, minced, 2 large shallots, minced (about 3 Tablespoons) and a Tablespoon of chopped parsley. Shallots are the traditional ingredient, but if you don’t have shallots, a small white onion or a few chopped scallions will work to the same quantity. See above comment re Duxelles jail. Now on to how to make. First, chop the mushrooms. I generally do this in the food processor with a few pulses, much easier. You need a fine chop, don’t go overboard and make mush, see photo below. Remove and set aside. Next, also in the food processor, chop the garlic and shallots. You want as fine a mince as you can get, again , see below. At medium heat, melt the butter in a skillet large enough to hold your ingredients, add the garlic and shallots and sweat, don’t brown. The best way to do this is to add some water to the pan with the butter and the garlic/shallot mixture. The water will boil away and while it does that, it will sweat the vegetables. Listen for a sizzle, the louder the sizzle, the closer you are to the right stage. Now add the mushrooms, another pinch of salt and pepper and cook down for about 10 minutes. The mushrooms have alot of water, you need to cook all that out. You want a dried finished product. Stir occasionally and scrape the bottom of pan to avoid burning the mushrooms. After 10 minutes or when mushrooms are dried (see below), add the parsley. Stir through and take off heat. Set aside to cool. At this point, the duxelles can be frozen if not used right away. I generally store in 2 Tablespoon servings in a freezer bag. Here are some great ways to eat. Idea 1: Mushroom crostini are a very popular snack to go with aperitivi in Tuscan cuisine. Just toast some baguette slices and top with duxelles. Idea 2: Seve to your vegetarian friends as mushroom fried rice. Why not, cauliflower fried rice is all the rage, and this is soooo much better! Idea 3: use as a filling for Sunday brunch omelets. Idea 4: thicken gravy to use with roast chicken or for whatever you may be making gravy (that Thanksgiving turkey comes to mind). And now for the mother of all uses. At the beginning of this post I promised you something exotic. As a topping for beef. But not just any beef, easy Beef Wellington. Remember those sheets of puff pastry we used to make straws the other day? Here is another use for them. Traditional Beef Wellington utilizes a large and costly cut of meat. Rather than buying the “chateaubriand”, buy individual filet mignons, one per serving. Cook in your traditional manner until the steaks are 1/2 done. Allow steaks to cool completely. You can do this hours even a day before serving. You need the beef cool because it will help the puff pastry puff and you don’t want to over cook the beef when it goes into the oven a second time. When ready to serve, preheat oven to 350. Melt some butter to top the Wellingtons. Lightly roll out a one of your squares, one for each serving. Place a tablespoon of duxelles on top of each steak and lay a square of pastry on top of all. You can fuss with wrapping if you like, but I promised easy. Place each Wellington on a parchment or silpat lined baking sheet and top with melted butter. If you are artsy, you can slice a design on top of the pastry but DO NOT CUT ALL THE WAY THROUGH! Also, if you have cooked your steak for different degrees of doneness for your guests, you can mark the Wellingtons with either their initials or R for rare, M for medium, or, God forgive me, W for well. Cook for about 20-25 minutes or until pastry is golden and cooked through. Pour yourself a glass of Gigondas, Chateauneuf-de-Pape, Cabernet, whatever you like. You’ve earned it. Your dinner will be gorgeous, easy to prepare, and you will look like a rock star. Bon Appetit!

The world’s easiest biscuits from one of my favorite web sites, thekitchn.com. 2 ingredients. Full Fat Greek Yogurt and Self Rising Flour. I love this recipe because the end product can be served either with savories or sweets. They work for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Even that late night walk about snack. You can add things that you think will please everyone, here I used cheddar and a toasted nut and seed mix. Other ideas might be finely chopped dried fruits (like cranberries–Thanksgiving is coming, these would be perfect), fresh chopped herbs, other types of cheese (blue, parmigiano reggiano, asiago, etc), cooked diced bacon, the possibilities are only limited by your imagination. And if you don’t eat them right away, they can be frozen. Having a dinner party? these make a great do ahead prep, and everyone loves biscuits. They take a nanosecond to prepare and cook for about 15-20 minutes. Here is what you do. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a rimmed baking sheet with either parchment paper or a silpat. If you are adding extras, put them into a large bowl with equal parts of flour and the yogurt. 1 cup of each will give you ~~4 biscuits, so use that as a guide for the quantity you want to make. Mix all well. Measure out ~~ 1/4 cup for each biscuit and drop onto the baking sheet. Pop into the oven and bake until slightly toasty on top. When done, remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes. If you like, you can make them smaller (adjust your cooking time slightly) and serve as little sandwiches for a pre dinner nibble (savory) or post dinner nibble (sweet). Or just have them for breakfast with some butter and a good cup of coffee. Fresh biscuits. It’s what’s for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert.

Grilled Cheese and Bacon with a twist because white bread, Kraft American slices and Hormel bacon are soooo yesterday. This little bite incorporates butter, gluten free corn tortillas, Boursin Cheese (you know you have it somewhere in the back of the fridge), and leftover prosciutto from the melon salad you served over the weekend. Let the cheese come to room temperature. Melt some butter in a non stick pan. While the butter is melting, slather two tortillas with Boursin cheese. Place a slice of prosciutto between the two slices and press together. Now place the “sandwich” on the butter and cook until toasty, turn and repeat. Slice into quarters and there you have it! If you prefer, you can use a neutral oil in place of the butter, but why? If you want to use those little prosciutto bits, brown them first before adding to the tortilla. You can even serve it for breakfast which is what I have done for the past two mornings. For those of you who do classy tailgate parties, these can be made ahead of time and wrapped in wax paper or clear wrap until ready to cook. Easy to cook, virtually no clean up, makes room in the fridge, and really tasty.

Tis Tomato Time. What is the first thing you think of? Yep, Caprese Salad. But just simple Caprese Salad. No balsamic, no onions, no capers, no bread on the plate. Great in season tomatoes, Heirlooms, different colors and shapes. Best mozzarella. Torn basil. Olive oil. Flaky sea salt (Maldon if you can find it) and pepper to taste. Period. Cut tomatoes into rounds, quarters, slices–vary the shape, they look beautiful on the plate. Then take the mozzarella and tear it into pieces, don’t cut it. Next, olive oil to taste. Scatter torn basil pieces over top. Finally, add the sea salt and pepper to taste. Too hot to cook? Make the salad bigger and serve for dinner, maybe with some fresh bread on the side and a plate of prosciutto and cheese. In any case, don’t forget the wine.

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