Oyster Stew

Oyster Stew

It wouldn’t be the holidays without oyster stew. When I was a kid this was always a thin soup that had more oyster crackers in it than actual oysters. These days I like to make it as thick and creamy as possible.

1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 pint oysters and liquor
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
2 stalks celery,  finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup gluten-free flour
1 teaspoon celery salt
1 teaspoon Chesapeake Bay seasoning
1 1/2 teaspoons hot sauce
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon fresh parsley
Salt and pepper

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-ish heat. Add the celery and onion and sweat the veggies until they start to soften, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat and stir in the flour to make a roux. Cook the mixture, stirring often, until the roux just starts to darken, about 5 minutes.

Slowly add the milk and cream, stirring constantly. Add the celery salt, Chesapeake Bay seasoning, hot sauce, and lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding salt and pepper as needed.

Bring the soup almost to a simmer. Almost being the key word, as bringing the soup to a boil will cause the cream to separate. Cook over very low heat for 15 minutes until the soup is thick and creamy and the veggies are very soft.

Add the oysters and their liquor and cook for another 3-5 minutes until the edges of the oysters start to curl.

Garnish with fresh parsley and serve with more hot sauce on the side and some crusty bread for dipping.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
This turned out downright decadent.  The roux is so simple, but makes a lot of difference in how creamy and rich the stew is.

Holiday Survival

The recipe for surviving the holidays with your family? Man, I sure wish I knew that. The only wisdom I have to share is this little sanity-saving video that helps to remind us all to keep our perspective. Remember – it could always be worse ;).

Best wishes! Hope everyone has a happy and a merry!

Gift Ideas

It’s 8°F outside and my Big Green Egg is covered with a thick coating of snow, which means it’s probably time for my holiday gift guide. If you’re looking for gifts for your grill geek, here are some goodies that I’ve had a chance to try out over the past year and can highly recommend:

Google Nexus 7 Tablet – this has become my go-to device for checking recipes, updating grocery lists, and checking email. It’s easier to use than a smartphone and easier to carry around than a laptop.

Fat Daddio’s 15-Inch x 2-Inch Cake Pan – this heavy-duty pan fits perfectly inside an upturned large Big Green Egg plate setter, making it an ideal drip pan.

Tagine – I can’t tell you how many uses I’ve come up with for my Emile Henry Flame Tagine. It not only makes a great dutch oven, but I use the base all the time as a casserole dish or serving platter.

Oster Counterforms Blender – this inexpensive blender is a nice alternative to a food processor. I “wet blend” a lot of sauces to save food prep time.

Toastabags – I use these so that I can toast my gluten-free bread in a non-GF toaster, or so that my dear wife can toast her bread in our GF toaster.

On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen – Harold McGee’s definitive book on kitchen science is focused on the both the “hows” and “whys” of cooking.

Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing – Michael Rhulman’s book is the undisputed authority on making confit, salami, prosciutto, pâtés, as well as smoked meats and seafood.

Cuisinart Elite Collection 4-Cup Chopper/Grinder – small, but mighty. Perfect for making whirly sauces.

Red Boat Vietnamese Fish Sauce – this artisanal nuoc mam puts the puts the “ooh” in umami.

Microplane Professional Coarse Grater – excellent for grating cheese, garlic, or zesting citrus fruit. Also makes fancy chocolate garnishes.

Stainless Steel Vented Chimney Cap – this Big Green Egg replacement cap from Smokeware easily does the job of both the ceramic cap and the daisy wheel and offers better features than either.

Thanksgiving Recipes

Thanksgiving

We will be traveling to see family for Thanksgiving this year, but decided to put together a few of our favorite T-day recipes a week early and share them with some good friends.

Thanksgiving

The bird was made with what is becoming my standard turkey recipe on the Big Green Egg.

A new recipe for this year was Michael Ruhlman’s custardy Thanksgiving Dressing.

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Dressing
1 cup butter
4 medium onions, chopped
6 tablespoons fresh sage, minced
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
12 eggs
6 cups turkey or chicken stock
16 cups cubed white bread (1 Udi’s gluten-free commercial 33 ounce, 20 slice loaf), torn into 1-inch chunks and left out to stale overnight
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a large sauté pan over medium heat,  melt the butter and then sweat the onions until they begin to soften (about 5 minutes). Add the sage and thyme and season with a tablespoon of sea or kosher salt and some freshly ground black pepper.

Reduce the heat a bit and continue cooking until the onions have just about melted themselves into the butter, but have not started to brown (about another 5 minutes). Remove from heat and let cool.

Whisk the eggs together in a medium bowl. Add the turkey stock and whisk to combine.

In the biggest bowl you can find, combine the onion mixture, bread, custard (eggs and stock mixture), and parsley. Toss everything to coat, then set aside while the bread soaks up the custard. Stir and press the bread down into the liquid every 10 minutes or so until all of it is wet.

Butter a 6-quart baking dish (this recipe expands as it cooks, so use a bigger dish than you think you need) and pour in the stuffing. Dot the top of the stuffing with extra butter. Cover and bake until the mixture has set (45 to 60 minutes), then uncover and bake until golden and crispy on top (another 15 to 30 more minutes).

Thanksgiving

Continuing with the butterscotch kick I’ve been on, dessert was Nancy Silverton’s Butterscotch Budino topped with David Lebovitz’s Best Chocolate Sauce.

Butterscotch Budino
3 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons firmly packed raw or dark brown sugar
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 large egg
3 large egg yolks
4 tablespoons cornstarch
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 tablespoons dark rum

In a large bowl, combine the cream and milk and set aside.

In a large, heavy pot, combine the sugar, water, and salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking often to prevent burning. Cook until the sugar has caramelized to deep, dark brown and starts to smells nutty.

Reduce the heat slightly and continue whisking for a teensy bit longer until you get that first bitter whiff of the sugar starting to burn.

Remove from the heat immediately and slowly whisk in the cream mixture. Be careful – as it will steam and spit and the sugar will seize. Return to the heat and continue whisking until the sugar melts and caramel is fully combined. Increase the heat and bring to a boil while stirring frequently. Remove from the heat.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, egg yolks, and cornstarch. Temper the egg mixture by slowing adding  about half of the caramel cream, 1/2 cup at a time, while whisking constantly.

When the egg mixture is warm, pour it back into the caramel cream and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until a very thick custard forms (about 2 to 3 minutes).

Remove the custard from the heat and whisk in the butter and rum, stirring until the butter has completely melted. Pour the custard into your serving dish, cover, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

The Best Chocolate Sauce Recipe
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-processed)
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips

In a small saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the water, sugar, corn syrup, and cocoa powder. When all of the sugar has dissolved and it just begins to boil, remove from heat and stir in the chocolate chips until melted.

Pour into a covered container and stash in the refrigerator until just before you are ready to use it. Rewarm before serving.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
Between these recipes and the dishes our friends brought, it was a very fine meal, a lovely evening, and we have much to be thankful for.

I see all of these recipes making repeat appearances on our table. This is the second year for this turkey recipe, and it is definitely a keeper – moist, tender, and tasty.

The dressing was just plain outstanding. I never would have thought of dressing as just a savory custard, but it tasted great – very rich and dense, but not at all gummy like some dressings can get.  Next time, I would combine the stock with the onion/herb mixture, let them simmer together for a bit to infuse the flavors, then taste and adjust seasonings before mixing everything together. Also, adding a bit of sausage wouldn’t hurt either.

The budino was amazingly rich and thick. It was almost more of a ganache than a pudding or custard. And the chocolate sauce was the perfect foil for it – the semi-sweetness playing well with the burnt sugar to keep it from being too sweet. Definitely a dish to serve with coffee.

Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving, everyone!

New Year’s Prime Rib

Prime rib has become a New Year’s Eve tradition at our house. So much so that I started craving it a good two weeks ago. While researching recipes, I ran across Michael Ruhlman’s grill/roast method. It involves searing the roast on the grill, letting it rest, and then finishing it in the oven.

Perfect.

We had plans to go see a comedy show with friends, so the goal was to have all the prepping and searing done in advance and quickly finish it when we got home.

Prime Rib
1 6-pound Hereford Beef boneless ribeye roast
2 tablespoons ground black pepper
2 tablespoons dried rosemary leaves
2 tablespoons dried thyme or oregano
2 tablespoons kosher or sea salt
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon paprika

Prepping the roast started on New Year’s Eve eve. First I scored the fat cap (deckle) on the roast, making shallow diagonal cuts in a diamond pattern at about 1-inch intervals. Then I combined the salt and spices to make a rub inspired by Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow Crust from AmazingRibs. I put the roast into a jelly roll pan and start working the rub into the meat, making sure to get it into the slashes in the deckle – sprinkling, rubbing, rolling, and repeating to coat all the sides. Working over a 6-pound hunk of meat is not the time to be shy. I picked up any rub that had fallen off by bouncing the roast against it, making manly grunting sounds as needed ;).

When the roast was heavily crusted with rub, I moved it to a rack set over a roasting pan, and then moved the whole works to the fridge, letting the roast sit uncovered overnight.

On New Year’s Eve afternoon, I removed the roast from the fridge and let it sit out while I fired the Big Green Egg up to nuclear temps – 800°F on the dome thermometer, meaning the grate was probably about 1000°F.

I took the roast off the rack and seared it on the grate for 2 minutes on each side (considering this was a $50 piece of meat, those were some of the longest 4 minutes of my life). I removed the roast to the rack and closed the vents on the BGE to reduce the heat to 500°F. I put the roast back on the grate for another 2 more minutes on each side.

I moved the roast back to the rack and inserted a Maverick remote thermometer. While the outside was wonderfully crispy, the internal temp was only 42°F (about air temp). I stashed the roast in the garage with a disposable drip pan as a cover and went inside to get ready for our guests.

By the time we were ready to leave for the show, the internal temp had risen to 75°F. When we returned it had dropped to 60°F.

I let the oven heat to 300°F, added about a cup of water to the roasting pan to keep the juices from burning, and put the roast on the middle rack of the oven to finishing cooking.

“Wait a minute – you let a beef roast sit naked in the fridge overnight, seared it so it was still raw inside, then let is sit for 4 hours in a garage, and you still plan to serve this to guests?!? Don’t you like them? How can that be safe?”

I hear you, but it’s perfectly okay. While I wouldn’t do this with ground meat, the inside of a roast is largely a sterile environment. Any nasties that get on the meat in the fridge are not going to grow because of the cold and the salt in the rub. Searing kills anything on the meat, and 4 hours in a unheated garage in a northern climate is pretty much the same as storing it for that long in the fridge. Yes, the internal temp is 75°F, but there’s no way for anything to contaminate the inside, and finishing it in the oven again kills off anything on the outside that might give you the gleep.

It took 2 1/2 very long hours for the roast to hit 125°F internal  (good thing for appetizers, wine and great conversation!). I removed it from the rack and let it rest, covered, on a cutting board for 20 minutes while I made the Yorkshire pudding.

The Verdict: ★★★★½ While it was midnight before the meal hit the table, our hungry (and extremely patient) friends said that it was well worth the wait. I gotta agree – the crust was thick and tasty with lots of salt and herbs while the inside was an almost perfect rosy rare.

But while the food was a hit, the timing was amiss. The show ran longer than we expected and that not only meant that the roast was late getting in the oven, but that it took longer to cook because its internal temp had dropped. Prime rib does taste wonderful with champagne, but I don’t think dining at midnight is going to become a tradition around here.

The Nutrition: Meals like this are the reason people make resolutions. Make it a great new year!

Stuff I Like

Tiz that time of year when folks start looking for gifts for their favorite foodie. Because every cook has different tastes, and because your mileage may vary, this year I’m going to try to avoid making recommendations.

Instead, here are some products that I’ve enjoyed using this past year. I wholeheartedly give them the Food & Fire Seal of Approval (for what that’s worth ;)). If you think your grill guy/girl might appreciate some of them, go for it and enjoy the great food that (hopefully) may come your way in return!

Steel Grill Roaster from Williams-Sonoma – It’s a perforated stainless steel pan, so the food gets directly exposed to the flame, but it’s raised up a bit so it cooks more evenly. Great for roast veggies and shrimp.

Cholula Hot Sauce – There are now 4 flavors of Cholula: Original, Chili Garlic, Chili Lime, and Chipotle. I’ve been a big fan of their original sauce for years – not much heat or vinegar, but a solid chili taste that works great on almost any Mexican dish. The new sauces take that original flavor and add some very nice accents to it.

Bayou Classic Cast Iron Griddle – I’ve had this for a while, but really put it to work this year. I’ve made some excellent blackened steaks and sizzling fajitas on it.

Thermapen Splash-Proof Thermometer – The new version of my favorite  instant-read thermometer adds a splash-proof seal. It’s fast, accurate, and easy to read. I like it so much I now I have the new one in my grill table and old one in the kitchen.

High-Que Fire Grate Upgrade – I’ve been cooking with this new grate for the Big Green Egg for 6 months and it works as promised. The Egg comes up to temp faster and burns between 25°F and 50°F hotter than it did with the old grate. I’ve not had any problems with ash clogging the grate, even though I usually reuse the lump.

Emile Henry Flame-Top Cookware – I’ve been lucky enough to get to try out Emile Henry’s new line of flameproof ceramic that’s designed to go directly on a live flame. I’ve tried their tagine, Dutch oven, and pizza stone and they all cook like champs.

All-Clad d5 Stainless Pans – My dear wife gave me a nice set of new All-Clad pans almost a year ago. I’ve cooked the hell out of them since then, and continue to be very pleased with them. They heat evenly, respond quickly to temperature changes, and are easy to clean.

Wishing you all a happy and a healthy and a merry!

Polenta Dressing

Being a northerner with not a speck of Italian heritage, my experience with corn grits has been pretty limited. Growing up, it (sadly) just wasn’t a food that was on my radar.

Since becoming gluten-free, however, that’s all changed. Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Corn Grits/Polenta has become my new best friend. My dear wife makes wonderful pizza crusts with it, and I’ve served it as both a cheesy side dish and as a pasta-replacement topped with pork ragú. This year for Thanksgiving, I wanted to try a polenta dressing in place of my usual cornbread recipe.

6 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 cups coarse-ground grits
16 ounces cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 cup milk
6 large eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion,chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
1 medium bell pepper, chopped
8 ounces Andouille sausage, chopped
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
1-2 tablespoons Louisiana-style hot sauce

Preheat your oven to 350°F and grease up a 4-quart Dutch oven.

In a large saucepan, bring the broth, salt, pepper, and Cajun seasoning to a boil. Whisk in the grits. Bring to a low boil, whisking frequently, then reduce the heat to low and simmer until the grits are thick, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

While the grits are cooking, heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, celery, bell pepper, and garlic and saute until the onion softens (about 5 minutes). Add the Andouille and cook until it is heated through and starts to give off some oil (about another 5 minutes). Remove the pan from the heat and let cool.

In a small bowl, whisk the eggs and milk together. In a large bowl, pour in the polenta and then stir in both the cheese and sausage mixture. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper, and hot sauce.

Gradually stir the egg mixture into the polenta, mixing until everything is combined. Pour the works into the Dutch oven.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the center is set and the edges are a bit brown.

The Verdict: ★★★★½
While this was way too spicy for my relatives, my dear wife and I loved it – rich, creamy, crunchy, and spicy. I still miss my Mom’s gluteny stuffing, but this got me through Thanksgiving without feeling too deprived.

The Nutrition:
Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha….

A Little Turkey Dinner

I hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving! We traveled to see family, so I had one of those rare meals where I got to be a guest. All I had to do was bring a side dish and carve the bird. It was a very relaxing trip. When we got back, my dear wife wanted just a little Thanksgiving dinner for the two of us, so I decided to try a boneless turkey breast.

1 (3-pound) boneless turkey breast (buy a prepared one, or ask your butcher to debone and net a fresh one)
1-2 tablespoons of your favorite barbecue rub (Tasty Licks Ribit Rub in this case)

I set the Big Green egg up for an indirect cook at 300°F using an inverted plate setter to diffuse the heat. While the grill was coming up to temp, I dusted the breast heavily on all sides with the barbecue rub.

When the grill was ready, I added a chunk of pecan wood for smoke, and when the smoke turned from white to blue, I loaded the breast on the grate.

I cooked the breast, turning every 30 minutes, until the internal temp hit 155°F – about 1 1/2 hours total. I moved it off to a cutting board and let it rest for 15 minutes before removing the netting and slicing.

I served the turkey up with some sautéed green beans  and the polenta dressing left over from our big family meal.

The Verdict: ★★★★½
Very tasty – the turkey picked up a lot of the flavor from the smoke and the rub and was nice and juicy. I’m thinking about doing up a couple more of these and then running them through the meat slicer for sandwiches. To keep the costs down, I’m probably going to have to learn to bone and net my own bird. This video shows how to do it with a leg of lamb, but same idea.

The Nutrition:
If we’re just talking about the green beans and the turkey, life is good – 3 ounces of skin-on turkey breast is only 2 Weight Watchers points and the green beans are (mostly) free. Dare not, however, try to figure out the points for the dressing. I did and it made the poor little points calculator cry. Definitely a dish for special occasions.

Valentine’s Day

I would no more go out to eat on Valentine’s Day than I would go out celebrating on New Year’s Eve.  It’s amateur night – too many packed restaurants with uninspired food and iffy service. Plus, since we’d both been sick, I didn’t want to be out with a whole bunch of people. I just wanted to be home with something tasty – oh, and a good meal too.

Earlier in the week I had gotten a couple of really nice ribeyes out of the freezer and my dear wife had caught a deal on a some king crab legs, so we were set.

I fired up the Big Green Egg and set the oven to 350°F. I seasoned up the steaks with a little sea salt and fresh ground black pepper. When the Egg got up to 600°F, I put the crab legs on a jelly roll pan in the oven and headed out to the grill.

The ribeyes went on for 90 seconds of undisturbed searing. Then I rotated the steaks 90 degrees and gave them another 30 seconds on that side. I flipped the meat and repeated the process on the other side. I flipped them back over and checked for doneness. I gave them another minute on the grill and pulled them when the big one had hit 130°F.

I pulled the steaks off to a plate, covered them with another plate and let them rest for 10 minutes. By then the crab was heated through and my dear wife had bowl of roasted brussels sprouts ready.

A better-than-going-out Valentine’s dinner on the table by 7pm. Not too shabby.

Sweetness Day Surprise

I’ve been old and boring and sick all this week – winter and the crud have had me down. So we were just going to take it easy this weekend. Imagine my surprise when I woke up this morning and my dear wife presented me with an early Valentine’s Day treat – chocolate-covered strawberries!!!

She’d gotten up early to make them for us. She even took photos of the preparations (did this food geek marry well or what?). They were absolutely decadent – rich and sweet and juicy.

Isn’t she the best?

Sadly, sharing chocolate-covered strawberries is also a great way to share the crud and now she’s down sick :(. Not to worry, I’ll nurse her back to health and it’s supposed to hit 40°F this week. Winter isn’t over, but I can see the end from here.