Archive for the ‘restaurants’ Category

My daughter and I recently had our quarterly “fodder/dodder dinner” at our Providence Capital Grille. Their signature cocktail, the Stoli Doli, reminded me it was time to make a new batch of what I like to think is an upgraded version: my Velvet Elvis.

A Stoli Doli is simply Stoli vodka that has been infused with fresh pineapple. If you sit at the bar at the Capital Grille, you won’t be able to miss the very large jar of freshly-cut pineapple pieces swimming in vodka. They literally pour it “from the tap,” and serve it straight up, like a martini, or on the rocks. It’s delicious, and I’ve certainly had my share of them.

I decided to make my own at home one day, to serve to my friends at an upcoming party. But to my disappointment, I didn’t have any Stoli vodka in the house. (An embarrassment to most Lithuanians.) But…I found a bottle of Stoli Vanil, the vanilla-flavored vodka, and it was a real game-changer! I used that instead of regular Stoli and I came up with a sweeter, smoother drink that is now legendary among my friends.

VELVET ELVIS

2 ripe, sweet pineapples, peeled, cored, and sliced
1.75ml Stoli Vanil

Find a gallon-sized glass jar with a lid. Peel, core and slice the pineapples and drop the pieces in the jar. Pour the vodka in, mix well, and seal the jar. Keep it at room temperature for 7–10 days, giving it a gentle shake every day.

After 7–10 days (don’t worry…a little longer won’t hurt anything), strain it, squeezing the pineapple pieces to get every bit of liquid out. Discard the pineapple pieces. (As much as you might think they would be fun to munch, they’ve given up all their flavor to the cocktail, and taste terrible!)

Keep the Velvet Elvis refrigerated. Serve with rocks (or 1 big rock!), or shaken and poured into a martini glass.

As a martini, or on the rocks!

These pancakes, based on a recipe from chef April Bloomfield (The Spotted Pig and The Breslin in NYC), are made from fresh homemade ricotta cheese. Light as air…and really delicious! I’ve made a few batches of fresh ricotta cheese in my day, but when the family has a craving for these pancakes at the last minute, a good-quality store-bought ricotta cheese will do.

 

 

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I use Cup4Cup GF flour if I want to make these gluten-free)
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups milk
2 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup fresh ricotta

 

In a large bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda. In another large bowl, whisk together the milk, ricotta,  and egg yolks. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.

In a large stainless steel bowl, whisk the egg whites until they are stiff, but not dry. Fold gently into the batter.

Spray a non-stick griddle with a little cooking spray and drop about 1/4 cup of batter per pancake. Cook over medium heat for about 2 minutes per side, until golden and fluffy.

pancake

PAN PIZZA, TWO WAYS

Posted: February 9, 2022 in Food, pizza, Recipes, restaurants
Tags: , , ,

Today is National Pizza Day! So let’s talk pan pizza you can make at home…

I got my first restaurant job when I was 17, working at Pizza City East, just down the street from my childhood home in Plainview, NY. It wasn’t a great job, but I learned an awful lot about food preparation. It’s where I opened and tasted my first clam on the half shell. It’s where I had my first sip of espresso and cappuccino. And it’s where I learned a lot about how to make really good pizza. My buddy, Mel, and I worked the counter. Mel made the pies and I did the rest: sandwiches, espressos, clams, and eventually even cooked in the kitchen. We were 2 hard-working slobs in high school, but we bonded in a way that kept us friends to this very day, over 40 years later.

So you could say pizza was in my blood. For me, the true test of a great pie is a simple slice with only sauce and cheese. It’s not easy to get that right, despite how easy it may look.

And for me, there was no other pizza than New York style Neapolitan pizza, the classic round pie with thin crust. I have no doubt that it would be my choice for the classic question: “If you were stuck on a desert island, and you could only have one food, what would it be?”

But then I discovered Sicilian pizza: it was thicker, square, and was baked on a large sheet pan. The crust was crisp on the bottom, and light and airy inside. I thought: OK, I have room for 2 favorite pizzas. And then, believe it or not, I went to Uno’s…(Pizzeria Uno back in the day)…and I had my first pan pizza. It was thick like Sicilian, but somehow different, and heavier on the sauce. But absolutely delicious. I finally settled on 3 favorite pizzas.

Despite having 3 favorite styles of pizza, I always cooked a Neapolitan pie when I made pizza at home. Perhaps it was a bit easier, or perhaps I just never felt I really made the perfect pizza, and I needed to keep trying. In either case, it meant that after 40 years of making my own pizza, I finally made a pan pizza for the first time just last year. And it was good…really good.

The dough is stretched out and ready to accept whatever tasty toppings you like!

The dough…

The key ingredient is 00 flour, and it can be found in specialty stores, or online. Using ready-made store-bought dough saves a lot of work, and it’s great, too. Ratios for my dough recipe depend on the humidity in my kitchen on any given day, but my basic pizza dough recipe is as follows:

4–5 cups 00 flour
1 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
1 tablespoon salt
1 packet Italian pizza yeast or regular dry yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)
a squirt of extra virgin olive oil

I mix all the dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer, then slowly add the water as it mixes. After the ingredients are well mixed, and the dough pulls from the side of the bowl, I remove it to a floured board, where I knead the dough by hand for another 5 minutes, until it is smooth and elastic, shaping it into a ball. I rub a little olive oil over the ball of dough, place it in a bowl covered with plastic wrap, and let it rise for 2 hours, punching it down after that. I roll it back into a ball, cover it, and let it rise another 2 hours again.

Let’s talk pans. For me, nothing beats a real heavy duty cast iron pan for this recipe…and I’ve got a large one. I brush olive oil generously all over the inside of the pan–even on the sides–and then place the dough in the center. Slowly, using my fingertips, I spread and flatten the dough out from the center evenly all the way around. I keep spreading and stretching until the dough just starts to come up the sides of the pan. I cover the pan with a clean towel, and turn the oven on to 450 degrees to pre-heat.

I use a pizza stone for standard pizzas, but there’s no need for it when making deep-dish pizzas.

Leaving the pan on the stove top while the oven pre-heats will help the dough rise again. Meanwhile, I get my ingredients ready for my pizza.

Crumbled sausage on top of the pizza.

White pizza…

3 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil
mozzarella
Parmigiano Reggiano
Provolone cheese
dried oregano
crumbled Italian sweet sausage

The first time I made a pan pizza, my daughter requested a white pizza. I minced a bunch of garlic and lightly sautéed it in olive oil, being sure not to burn it. I set that aside.

I grated mozzarella cheese and Parmigiano Reggiano, setting them aside. I also use sliced provolone.

And this time, my daughter asked for sausage on the pizza, so I got a few mild Italian sausages, cut open the casings, and crumbled the meat in a bowl, setting it aside.

I gave the oven at least a half-hour to pre-heat. I removed the towel covering the pizza dough, and stretched it out a bit more. Using a spoon, I spread the garlic and oil mixture evenly on the dough. I placed 5 or 6 slices of provolone down first. I then sprinkled the Parmigiano Reggiano on top, followed by the mozzarella. I crumbled the sausage meat over half the pie (I like my side plain), and then I finally gave the pizza a sprinkling of oregano.

The pizza went into the oven for 15 to 20 minutes. I kept an eye on it to make sure it didn’t burn.

My first pan pizza: half sausage white pizza.

My second pan pizza was a classic tomato sauce recipe…

I use canned crushed tomatoes for my tomato sauce pizza.

Tomato sauce pizza

1 cup crushed organic tomatoes
1 teaspoon sugar
mozzarella
peperoni, sliced thin
dried oregano

I like my tomato sauce to be a little chunky for my pan pizza, so I bought a can of crushed organic tomatoes. I placed about a cup of the crushed tomatoes in a bowl and added a teaspoon of sugar, mixing it well. This cuts the acidity of the tomatoes, and makes the pizza even better! I spooned out the tomatoes onto the the pizza dough. I sprinkled the mozzarella over the sauce. I put slices of pepperoni on half the pizza (like I said, I like my side plain!), and I gave it a sprinkling of oregano.

Don’t skimp on the pepperoni!

The final product!

Delicious! Crispy crust on the outside, soft on the inside.

I’ve had a lot of pizza in my life. But truly great pizza? I can probably count that on one hand: Sicilian at Ben’s in the Village in NYC…Pizza Montanara at Pizzarte on W 55th in NYC…a coal-fired oven-baked clam pizza at Frank Pepe’s in New Haven, CT…Sicilian at La Piazza in my hometown of Plainview, NY…and now…my house!

My dog, Fellow, turned 12 on November 5th. He stood by me in the kitchen while I created this dish, so I decided to name it after him.

 

 

The original Oysters Rockefeller recipe is a closely guarded secret, created in 1899 at the famous New Orleans restaurant Antoine’s. Jules Alciatore, the son of founder Antoine Alciatore, developed the dish when they had a shortage of escargot, substituting locally available oysters. Antoine’s is still the only place in the world where you can be served the original Oysters Rockefeller recipe.

If you Google “Oysters Rockefeller,” you’ll find hundreds of recipes that claim to be the real thing, or close to it. But here’s the catch: most of them use spinach in the dish, and the folks at Antoine’s insist there was never any spinach used in the original recipe. So, before attempting my own version, I decided I would leave spinach out of my recipe…and I like it better that way.

My version, my Oysters Rock-a-Fellow, is a cheesier and gooier than the original. I use large, meatie oysters like Wellfleets from Cape Cod or local Rhode Island oysters. And, as you’ll see below, you can make the cheese portion of this dish the day before, saving yourself a lot of time on the day you want to serve it.

So, if you’re doing this the day of…start here. If you’re doing it the day before, start with the cheese mix below, then come back to the oysters the next day.

 

24 oysters, washed to remove grit

Scrub the oysters under cold water to get them clean.

Here’s how I make opening the oysters easier. (Plus the hot water cleans the oyster shells nicely.)

In a large pot, pour in enough cold water to fill the pot about halfway. Turn the heat on high and bring the pot to a boil.

The moment you reach a boil, turn the heat to medium and drop in 6 oysters, letting them bathe in the liquid for only 30 seconds. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and place them in a bowl to cool. If the oysters open, they’ve been in there too long! You want them to stay closed. Do the same with the rest of the oysters, 6 at a time. Once all the oysters have had their 30 seconds, move the oyster bowl to a cutting board. Discard the liquid in the pot.

Pour Kosher salt onto a large sheet pan lined with foil.

Once the oysters have cooled enough for you to handle, carefully remove the top shell off each one, discarding it, and lay the oysters on the bed of salt in the sheet pan, trying not to spill any of the precious oyster liquor inside. The salt holds the oysters in place.

 

Salt holds the oysters perfectly in place.

 

Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees.

1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1/4 cup low-fat milk
salt and pepper
3 cups (tightly packed) fresh arugula, finely chopped, about a 5 oz. container
6 oz. mild cheddar cheese (the white one), grated
6 oz. mozzarella, grated
Fine bread crumbs (Using GF breadcrumbs will keep this dish gluten-free)

In a sauce pan, melt the butter and then add the onion and garlic. Cook until the onion is translucent.

Add the milk, season with salt and pepper, and then add the arugula a little at a time, letting it wilt before adding more. Use all the arugula.

Once all the arugula is in the saucepan, sprinkle the cheese in a bit at a time, letting it melt, until you’ve used all the cheese: the cheddar and then the mozzarella.

Pour the gooey cheese mix into a lasagna pan, smooth it out with a spatula, and place it in the fridge to cool.

 

 

You can do this all the day before, because the cheese mix hardens and becomes easy to cut into cubes with a sharp knife.

 

 

Then simply place a cube of the cheese mix on each oyster…

 

 

…sprinkle a little bread crumb on top…

 

 

…and bake in the 425-degree oven for about 8–10 minutes until it’s golden and bubbly.

 

 

Whoever said that cheese and seafood don’t go together, never tried this!

I buy Udi’s gluten free frozen bread for my breadcrumbs. I take the loaf, toast the slices, then put them through the food processor. The taste is far better than buying pre-made GF breadcrumbs. Use regular breadcrumbs if you don’t need to worry about gluten.

 

Good news if you’re on a gluten-free diet. These fritters can be made GF! And they’re delicious.

I have both recipes–gluten-free and the original–below!

They key ingredient in making a good fritter batter is beer. But until recently, there weren’t many gluten-free beers to choose from…and the ones that were out there tasted like crap. All that has changed.

Now you can pretty much find a gluten-free craft beer in every state, and there are several regional gluten-free beers as well. Easy enough to find: just go to a good beer store and ask. They almost always carry a couple of brands.

Gluten-free beers can be divided into 2 types: truly gluten-free: brewed with gluten-free ingredients and safe for Celiacs to drink…and gluten-reduced: beers that are brewed with ingredients containing gluten, then had an enzyme added to reduce  the gluten. These are fine for those that have an intolerance to gluten, but are not Celiac. Read the labels!

 

 

The beer that I used for my recipe is a beer that they say  is “crafted to remove gluten,” meaning there’s still a small amount left in there.

Ultimately, if gluten is not an issue for you, follow the recipe at the bottom of this page. It’s my original, and not only uses a tasty lager full of gluten, but also a special fritter flour, which can be found in many stores.

However, if you have to “live the gluten-free live,” and you’ve told yourself you can never have another fritter, I have good news for you: you can…and they’re delicious! This is a large batch, so feel free to reduce it if needed.

 

In making this recipe, I tested 3 types of gluten-free flour: Cup4Cup all-purpose flour, Bob’s Red Mill GF Baking Flour, and a Canadian brand (not available here yet.) Cup4Cup (far left) was the clear winner for taste and texture of the fritter.

 

1 lb. all-purpose gluten-free flour (I like Cup4Cup)
2 lbs. frozen or fresh mussels
1/2 cup (or more) gluten-reduced lager beer (I used Omission)
oil for frying (I stay away from canola, but use what you like)

 

Pour an inch of water in the bottom of a pot, and place a strainer on top. Pour the mussels, fresh or frozen, onto the strainer and cover the pot. Set the heat on high and steam the mussels until they’re cooked, about 5 minutes. If you’re using fresh mussels, throw out any of the ones that didn’t open. Frozen mussel meats (without the shell) are also available in many areas. They work with this method, too.

 

Steamed New Zealand green-lipped mussels. Available frozen in many stores. Get the plain ones, not the ones that already come with sauce.

 

Remove the meats from the shells, and toss them in a food processor. Give them a quick chop…not too fine, because you want to see and taste them in the fritter.

Save the “mussel juice,” the water in the bottom of the pot. It’s got lots of mussel flavor.

Place the flour in a large bowl. Add the chopped mussels. Add a 1/2 cup of the mussel juice and a 1/2 cup of the beer. Mix thoroughly, using a fork or your hands, until you get a batter that’s a bit gooey, but not really wet. You might need to keep adding small amount of broth, beer or flour to get just the right consistency. Once you’ve done that, let the batter rest for 10 or 15 minutes. Keep it at room temperature, and do not stir again! If you need to wait a while before frying, cover the bowl with a wet towel.

In a heavy pan or a fryer, heat the oil to 350 degrees.

 

 

Once the oil is hot, take small meatball-sized globs in your hands and gently drop them into the oil. Don’t fry too many at once or the oil temperature will drop quickly. Fry them until they’re golden brown and cooked all the way through. Drain the fritters on paper towels, and season them immediately with salt and a little pepper.

The dipping sauce recipe I have listed at the bottom is not gluten-free. But most tartare-type sauces usually are, and are equally delicious.

Of course, you can make fritters with anything, from mussels to shrimp to lobster!

 

You’d never know they were gluten-free!

 

Here’s the original recipe, full of glorious gluten!

It was a fall afternoon in Newport, Rhode Island, at the now-defunct Newport Yachting Center’s annual Oyster Festival. We’re gorging on freshly shucked oysters and clams, boiled shrimp, and…what have we here? I never heard of a mussel fritter before, but once I took a bite, there was no turning back.

They couldn’t be easier to make, but it is crucial to have the right fritter batter. And that starts with a Rhode Island product called Drum Rock fritter mix. If you live in New England, you can find it in just about any seafood department at Whole Foods. If you live further away, you can check out their website (www.drumrockproducts.com) or try your luck with a local brand of fritter mix.

 

fritter ingredients

 

If you’re using fresh mussels, be sure to clean them well and remove the beards. Steam them in a pot over a small amount of water. As they open, they will release their flavorful juices and you want to save every drop of that broth for the fritters. Here in New England, frozen mussel meats are available in some seafood stores. All you need to do is thaw them, steam them saving the broth, and you’re ready to go.

For the fritters:
1 lb. fritter mix
2 cups cooked mussel meats
1/2 cup mussel broth (saved from steaming mussels)
1/4 to 1/2 cup good quality beer (I use Sam Adams Boston Lager)
Oil for frying

 

Steam the mussel meats until they’re just cooked. Remove the mussel meats, and reserve 1/2 cup of the broth. Pulse the mussel meats in a food processor, but leave ’em chunky…or chop by hand.

Put the fritter mix in a large bowl. Add the mussel meats, mussel broth, and beer. Stir gently until just mixed. Let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes and do not stir again. (If you’ve got guests coming, you can prepare up to this part ahead of time, covering the bowl with a wet towel, and leaving it at room temperature.)

Using a thermometer, heat the oil in a deep pan to 350 degrees, and using a small spoon or scoop, drop the fritters in the hot oil, turning gently, cooking 3 to 4 minutes until golden.

Drain them on paper towels, and season with salt and pepper immediately. Serve right away!

 

IMG_3043

 

An easy, delicious dipping sauce:
1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup Ponzu sauce

The perfect dipping sauce for these mussel fritters is made from two ingredients: mayo and Ponzu sauce, a citrus-based soy sauce. Combine both ingredients in a bowl. Keep it in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.

As the warmer weather slowly makes its way to New England, I start dreaming about the opening day of one of my favorite seasonal seafood restaurants: The Back Eddy in Westport, Massachusetts.

One of their best-selling appetizers is deviled eggs. Years ago, they would top those deviled eggs with raw tuna, and I ordered it every time I dined there.

But when they took that dish off the menu, I had to take matters into my own hands.

My version has none of the finesse of their original dish, but it has a lot more tuna and all the flavor…which works for me!

 

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6 hard-boiled eggs
1/4 cup + extra mayonnaise
8 oz. high quality raw tuna
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon chili oil
1/4 cup finely chopped scallions
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
handful fresh spinach, or cucumbers (see below)

My favorite method of hard-boiling eggs is to put them in a pot of cold water. Turn the heat on high and bring it to a boil. As soon as the water boils, take the pot off the heat, and cover it with a lid. Let it sit for 15 minutes. Perfect eggs every time. Remove the eggs from the water and cool them in the fridge, or in a bowl of ice water if you’re going to be serving this dish right away.

Here in Rhode Island, very often I can get fresh tuna right off the boat. Ideally, they say you should freeze all raw seafood before eating it. In general, killing parasites requires freezing and storing fish at a surrounding temperature of -4 degrees Fahrenheit or colder for seven days; or freezing at a surrounding temperature of -31 degrees or colder until the fish is solid and storing at the same temperature for 15 hours; or freezing at a surrounding temperature of -31 degrees until the fish is solid and storing at -4 degrees or below for 24 hours.

That’s way too much of a hassle.

I find that I can get high quality tuna already frozen into convenient bricks at Whole Foods or on-line at websites like Vital Choice, one of my favorites for extremely high quality, responsibly sourced seafood.

 

I always try to buy responsibly sourced, fair trade seafood, like this beautiful ahi tuna.

 

If the tuna is frozen, I let it thaw a little. If it’s fresh, I place it into the freezer for about 10 minutes to firm up. That makes it easier to cube up. I slice the tuna carefully into the smallest cubes I can make. Once done, I place the tuna in a bowl and put it back in the fridge to continue its slow thawing until ready to use.

In a separate small bowl, I combine the soy sauce and the chili oil, and set it aside.

I finely chop the scallions, and set them aside.

Once the eggs have cooled, I peel them and cut them in half. I scoop out the yolks and place them in a bowl, starting with 1/4 cup of the mayonnaise, adding more if needed. I use a fork or whisk to get as many of the lumps out as possible. If I wanted to get serious, I could put them in a blender or food processor to make a creamy puree. An option is to place the puree in a piping bag and carefully squeeze it out into each egg half. I simply use a spoon.

Once all the egg halves are filled, I place them on a spinach leaf-covered dish and put them back in the fridge until ready to serve. Or, instead of the bed of spinach, I peel a cucumber and cut the ends off, then slice the cuke into 1/2″ thick slices. Using a melon baller, I carefully scoop out the seeds from the center to make a “cuke donut.” I use these as little stands to hold the eggs on the plate.

When it’s time to serve, I take the tuna out of the fridge, pouring the soy sauce/chili oil mix into the bowl with the tuna and I mix well. I let the tuna marinate for just 2 minutes, pouring off the excess marinade. I don’t want it to marinate too long, or it’ll get very salty.

I remove the plate of eggs from the fridge and carefully put a small spoonful of tuna on top of each one. I garnish with the sesame seeds and the chopped scallions and serve immediately.

 

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Al Forno in Providence, RI, is a legendary Italian restaurant that was established in 1980 and has graced the pages of many a food magazine ever since. Chefs Johanne Killeen and George Germon made it a culinary destination, creating dishes that many have copied, but never equaled. 

One of those creations was the grilled pizza. These days, you can find grilled pizzas just about anywhere in the country, but it was Al Forno that started it all.

Sadly, George Germon passed away in 2015, but the restaurant continues, despite only being open for takeout these days, due to the pandemic. And although the menu offers a wide variety of dishes for takeout, the one my daughter and I crave–that isn’t on the menu–is their 5-cheese pasta dish. It’s not baked ziti. It’s not lasagna. It’s something way beyond.

 

 

Taking the recipe from one of Johanne and George’s cookbooks, my daughter and I decided that we would re-create this magical dish at home as best we could.

One element obviously missing in our home is a wood-fired oven, something Al Forno uses with every dish. (I’ll be able to tackle that end of the recipe in a few months, when my Ooni wood-burning pizza oven arrives.)

And looking at their list of 5 cheeses (mozzarella, Pecorino Romano, fontina, ricotta and gorgonzola), I found that gorgonzola was a bit of a surprise. Having had the 5-cheese pasta dish at least 4 times at Al Forno, I never detected even a hint of blue cheese. In fact, if I would have, I don’t think I would’ve ordered it again. So we chose to remove the gorgonzola and add another favorite, sharp provolone, instead. It turned out to be an excellent choice.

Other than that, we stayed true to the recipe, using shell pasta because that’s what we always got at the restaurant.

2 cups heavy cream
1 cup chopped canned tomatoes in heavy puree (San Marzano’s, if you can get ’em)
4 oz. thinly sliced mozzarella cheese
1.5 oz. grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1.5 oz. coarsely shredded Fontina cheese
1.5 oz. grated Provolone cheese
2 tablespoons ricotta cheese
3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt, plus more for the pasta water
6 fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
1 lb. conchiglie (medium shell) pasta
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, sliced thinly
Shavings of raw scallion for garnish (optional)

 

Preheat the oven to 500°, or as close to it as your oven will get.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

In a mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients except the pasta and the butter. Stir well to combine.

 

 

Drop the pasta in the boiling water and parboil it for about 4 minutes. Drain it in a colander and add it to the ingredients in the mixing bowl. Combine it well.

 

 

Divide the pasta mixture into small ceramic dishes, or just use one large baking dish. You want it to sit in a relatively shallow 1-inch layer.

 

 

Dot the top of the dish with the butter, and bake it until it’s bubbly and brown, about 7 to 10 minutes at 500…a little longer at lower temperatures.

 

Funny how help arrives when it’s all about pasta and cheese!

 

It’s the creamiest, cheesiest pasta dish you’ll ever have…and everyone will fight over those little charred pasta shells!

 

Optional: When I ordered this dish at Al Forno, they would top it with thin shavings of raw scallion on top. I loved that touch and do that at home as well.

 

My dog, Fellow, stood by me in the kitchen while I created this dish. I decided to name it after him. It makes a great Thanksgiving appetizer.

The original Oysters Rockefeller recipe is a closely guarded secret, created in 1899 at the famous New Orleans restaurant Antoine’s. Jules Alciatore, the son of founder Antoine Alciatore, developed the dish when they had a shortage of escargot, substituting locally available oysters. Antoine’s is still the only place in the world where you can be served the original Oysters Rockefeller recipe.

If you Google “Oysters Rockefeller,” you’ll find hundreds of recipes that claim to be the real thing, or close to it. But here’s the catch: most of them use spinach in the dish, and the folks at Antoine’s insist there was never any spinach used in the original recipe. So, before attempting my own version, I decided I would leave spinach out of my recipe…and I think it’s better because of that.

My version, my Oysters Rock-a-Fellow, is a cheesier, gooier version. I use large, meatie oysters like Wellfleets from Cape Cod or local Rhode Island oysters. And, as you’ll see below, you can make the cheese portion of this dish the day before, saving yourself a lot of time on the day you want to serve it.

So, if you’re doing this the day of…start here. If you’re doing it the day before, start with the cheese mix below, then come back to the oysters the next day.

24 oysters, washed to remove grit
2 cans beer (any extra beer you have is fine)

Scrub the oysters under cold water to get them clean.

In a large pot, pour in the beer along with enough cold water to fill the pot about halfway. Turn the heat on high and bring the pot to a boil. Adding beer to the water imparts a little flavor to the oysters, and the hot water will further clean the outside of the shells.

The moment you reach a boil, turn the heat to medium and drop in 6 oysters, letting them bathe in the liquid for only 30 seconds. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and place them in a bowl to cool. If the oysters open, they’ve been in there too long! You want them to stay closed. Do the same with the rest of the oysters, 6 at a time. Once all the oysters have had their 30 seconds, move the oyster bowl to a cutting board. Discard the liquid in the pot.

Pour Kosher salt onto a large sheet pan lined with foil.

Once the oysters have cooled enough for you to handle, carefully remove the top shell off each one, discarding it, and lay the oysters on the bed of salt in the sheet pan, trying not to spill any of the precious oyster liquor inside. The salt holds the oysters in place.

Salt holds the oysters perfectly in place.

Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees.

1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1/4 cup low-fat milk
salt and pepper
3 cups (tightly packed) fresh arugula, finely chopped, about a 5 oz. container
6 oz. mild cheddar cheese (the white one), grated
6 oz. mozzarella, grated
Fine bread crumbs (Using GF breadcrumbs will keep this dish gluten-free)

In a sauce pan, melt the butter and then add the onion and garlic. Cook until the onion is translucent.

Add the milk, season with salt and pepper, and then add the arugula a little at a time, letting it wilt before adding more. Use all the arugula.

Once all the arugula is in the saucepan, sprinkle the cheese in a bit at a time, letting it melt, until you’ve used all the cheese: the cheddar and then the mozzarella.

Pour the gooey cheese mix into a lasagna pan, smooth it out with a spatula, and place it in the fridge to cool.

You can do this all the day before, because the cheese mix hardens and becomes easy to cut into cubes with a sharp knife.

Then simply place a cube of the cheese mix on each oyster…

…sprinkle a little bread crumb on top…

…and bake in the 425-degree oven for about 8–10 minutes until it’s golden and bubbly.

Whoever said that cheese and seafood don’t go together, never tried this!

I buy Udi’s gluten free frozen bread for my breadcrumbs. I take the loaf, toast the slices, then put them through the food processor. The taste is far better than buying pre-made GF breadcrumbs. Use regular breadcrumbs if you don’t need to worry about gluten.

If you’re really strict about gluten, you can use GF beer in the pot of water or simply eliminate the beer altogether.

Though it may sound Japanese, the word “saganaki” refers to a small frying pan used in Greek cooking. The most famous of these dishes, simply called saganaki, is a fried cheese, often flamed at the end with a little ouzo.

Shrimp saganaki is one of my favorite Greek dishes, and it usually involves cooking shrimp in a tomato-based sauce with plenty of feta cheese sprinkled in. It’s simple yet fantastic if the ingredients are fresh. Doesn’t hurt to be sitting in a taverna on the beautiful island of Santorini while eating it, either!

 

You can find Graviera cheese in most supermarkets.

 

I found a slab of Graviera cheese at a local supermarket, and decided to recreate shrimp saganaki using that instead of feta. It was pretty darn amazing.

I like using peeled and deveined 24–30 shrimp, because larger shrimp don’t always cook through. These smaller shrimp will be bite-sized and delicious.

 

Melty, gooey, delicious!

Melty, gooey, delicious!

 

200g package (7 oz.) grated Graviera cheese
1 can (28 oz.) whole tomatoes
1 lb. (about 24) shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 medium onion, chopped
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, through a press
pinch red pepper flakes
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh dill, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, finely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons Ouzo
salt and pepper

 

Peel and devein the shrimp (or you can buy them that way already.) Place them in a bowl. Squeeze the juice of  1/2 of a lemon on to the shrimp and toss. Set them aside.

In a large pan, saute the onions in the olive oil until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for a few seconds more.

Crush or puree the tomatoes and add them to the pan. Add the red pepper flakes, dill and oregano, and salt and pepper. Add the Ouzo.

Let this sauce cook down for a bit until all the flavors have blended together.

Pour a layer of the sauce on the bottom of a metal broiler-proof pan. Lay the raw shrimp in a single layer into the sauce. Cover the shrimp with the rest of the sauce and sprinkle the grated Graviera on top.

Place the pan in a pre-heated 350-degree oven and bake until the cheese is golden brown and bubbly and the shrimp have cooked through. I like to finish it under the broiler for a few minutes to get the cheese brown and melty.

 

shrimp saganaki

 

 

I have to give credit for this recipe where it’s due. A couple of years ago, we traveled to Washington, DC, and one of our best dining experiences was at the Blue Duck Tavern, a stunning restaurant matched by its unique and beautifully prepared plates. (Along with Chef Jose Andres’ restaurant Jaleo, it is the restaurant I recommend to any friends in the DC area, and one I would go back to in a heartbeat.)

One of the most memorable appetizers I enjoyed was the roasted beef bone marrow, which had a delicious pretzel crumble on top. The moment I had a taste, I knew that I would have to recreate this for myself at home.

 

The bone marrow plate at the Blue Duck Tavern in Washington, DC. (Enough garlic for ya?)

 

Bone marrow played an important role in the evolution of early man. Perhaps that’s why some of us still have that primitive craving for it.

Early man had small teeth and ate anything he could lay his hands on, especially meat. But he was no hunter. Attracted by circling vultures, he probably scavenged the leftovers from a big kill such as an antelope left in a tree by a leopard, or a large animal such as a wildebeest that had been slaughtered by lions.

Because meat is relatively easy to digest and rich in calories and nutrients, early man lost the need for the big intestines of apes and earlier hominids. This freed up energy for use by other organs. This surplus of energy seems to have been diverted to one organ in particular – the brain. But scavenging meat from under the noses of big cats is a risky business, so good scavengers needed to be smart. At this stage in our evolution, a big brain was associated with greater intellect. Big brains require lots of energy to operate: the human brain uses 20% of the body’s total energy production. The concentrated calories and nutrition found in meat was responsible for an increase in the brain size of early humans.

But around two million years ago, telltale cut marks on the surface of animal bones reveal that early humans were using crude stone tools to smash open the bones and extract the marrow. Stone tools allowed early man to get at a food source that no other creature was able to obtain – bone marrow. Bone marrow contains long chain fatty acids that are vital for brain growth and development. This helped further fuel the increase in brain size, allowing our ancestors to make more complex tools. Many historians believe that the blunt force required to break bones with tools to extract the bone marrow was a crucial ingredient in the development of the human hand, and the unique dexterity it has over that of apes.

Of course, these days, we can simply go to our butcher and ask them to slice some beef bones for us so that we can enjoy the marrow like our ancestors did. It’s much more civilized.

 

My box o’ frozen bones. I ordered about 25 lbs. of marrow bones from Slanker’s, a grass-fed beef farm in Texas.

 

They key to roasting marrow bones properly is to keep an eye on them. The bones can go from frozen solid to blazing hot in no time, and that means the marrow can go beyond its rich, gelatinous perfection into a puddle of fat at the bottom of your pan in mere moments.

 

3 lbs. beef marrow bones (I like them sliced lengthwise)
3/4 cup finely ground salted pretzel sticks
1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
1 teaspoon granulated onion
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
olive oil

 

I keep the beef bones frozen, moving them to the fridge until I’m ready to roast them.

Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees.

 

Grind them up!

Place a handful of salted pretzel sticks in a food processor, and pulse them until the pretzels are ground fine. When you’ve got 3/4 cup of ground pretzel powder, move it to a bowl and add the parsley, onion, garlic and black pepper. No salt is needed if the pretzels are salted.

 

 

Lay the bones flat on a baking pan. If they wobble, place them on a layer of coarse salt to hold them steady. Sprinkle the pretzel mix on the bones, a little drizzle of olive oil on top, and place them in the oven.

 

 

Now you watch…there’s that one point where they go from “not quite yet” to perfection to “Oops! Too much!” …so be careful!

 

Perfection!

 

Some toasted bread on the side is all you need!

 

If you’re cooking gluten-free, try Snyder’s of Hanover GF pretzels. They are awesome…you’ll never know the difference.