Saturday, October 31, 2009

Oysters Williams--AKA Rockefeller

Sadly, I don't have a picture of the oysters, but I thought it appropriate to showcase my favorite pirate on this Hallowed Eve!

Sometimes the things that happen unexpectedly work out better than my very best plans.

Yesterday morning our neighbor down the street called, offering a tub of fresh oysters—about a peck. I know NOTHING about oysters, except that you only eat them in months sporting an 'r'. OctobeR—check, so I said 'yes'. I have google. Surely I can figure this out.

And I know I love Oysters Rockefeller—well, let me say I 'enjoy' Oysters Rockefeller. The diet plan I just joined emphasizes that you don't 'love' food, you 'enjoy' it. Whatever. I 'enjoy' oyster shots, too.

After checking all my best food sources, I had a plan formulating, and left for the grocery store, via the liquor store. Seems Oysters Rockefeller recipes all have some kind of licorice flavored alcoholic beverage involved. One look at the prices, and I was about to leave, when the lady at the register asked if she could help. I told her what I was trying to do, and she had the answer: Anisette $9/bottle—that was more like it. She assured me we would never know the difference between that and the $30 Sambuca. She also gave me an oyster tip: put them in the freezer for a little while, and they open much easier. Sounded like good advice, since another neighbor uses a similar strategy with clams. Plus, I overheard the cash register lady saying while I was searching for cheaper liquor that her husband was a shrimper—had to shoo the cat out of the bed whenever he got home from a trip. That qualified her as a legitimate seafood information source to me.

My grocery list consisted of: fresh spinach, heavy cream, parmesan cheese, onion, garlic, bacon—well, to be honest, I couldn't find a recipe that even mentioned bacon, but bacon makes everything better—plus a bunch of seasoning stuff I had on hand: salt, pepper, tabasco and Worcestershire.

Just as I got home from the store, Doug came in from a morning golf game. He was armed with more oyster information from his personal oyster authority. Seems we should put the oysters in the oven at a high temperature for a few minutes, until they opened on their own, and proceed from there.

We opted for the oven method.

I also bought a box of rock salt at the store, and after lining a sheet pan with foil, I covered the foil with a nice layer of salt. I've been served oysters on the half shell resting on a bed of rock salt. There must be a good reason, or not, but I didn't want to take any chances.

So oysters went into the 450° oven for about ten minutes before they started opening on their own.

Meanwhile, I made the 'Williams-Rockefeller' part. Chopped up six slices of thick bacon, browned it and removed it from the pan, leaving enough bacon drippings to cover the bottom of the pan. Added half a sweet onion, finely chopped, 3 garlic cloves, minced, and after the onion was transparent, a 9 oz. Bag of baby spinach well chopped went into the bacon drippings. Stirred to combine and cooked until spinach was wilted. Then added about one-third cup shredded parmesan cheese, two tablespoons heavy cream, 1 teaspoon salt, half teaspoon pepper, one teaspoon Zatarains Blackened Seasoning (just because I was looking for more heat), dash of Worcestershire Sauce, and Tabasco to taste. Doug came in for a taste test, and as we tasted and re-tasted, we decided we'd better stop tasting, or there would be none left for the oysters. It was GOOD!

When the oysters began to open, I took them out of the oven and removed the top shell loosening the oyster from its lid. Next I poured about a teaspoon of Anisette onto each oyster along with a few bacon pieces. Finally about half a tablespoon of spinach mixture went over each oyster and a sprinkling of toasted buttered bread crumbs. Back in the oven for about 7 minutes, until everything was nice and hot and browned. And then we ATE them... Just delicious.

Can't wait to hear what I 'should' have done, but for a test drive, I'd say we were cruising!

Thank you, Bill and Maria for the oysters, AND the perfect wine pairing: Prosecco!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Indulgent Dulce de Leche Chocolate Dessert

Need a dessert that works for most any occasion? If you like chocolate, then I have one that will fit the bill. I promise it is melt in your mouth delicious.

I'm a huge fan of dulce de leche, whether it's spread between cookies, added to an apple pie, or swirled into this scrumptious dark chocolate batter. The nice thing about this recipe is that it will bake little two-bite mini muffins, indulgent brownies, or a rich cake that has the decadent flavor of one of those flour-less chocolate cakes.

While the recipe takes very little active time, and really couldn't be easier, it does require some preplanning.

Here's the deal: you can either buy prepared Dulce de leche, or make your own from a can of sweetened condensed milk. Making it takes a little over an hour in the oven, then a couple of cooling hours before you can use it. You can certainly make it ahead and store it in the frig until you're ready to put the dessert together.

Another little time element has to do with the chocolate ganache icing. I like to let my icing set up after I decorate by letting it rest in the frig for a couple of hours before serving.

This is a good 'make the day before' recipe. Take it out a few minutes before serving and let it get its 'room temperature' legs. If you choose the cake format, serve with a little whipped cream or ice cream.

(I found the basic recipe for Dulce de Leche Brownies on which is packed with GREAT food information. Then I started fooling with it a little...)

Indulgent Dulce de Leche Chocolate Dessert

One stick butter

three-fourths cup dark chocolate pieces

one-fourth cup unsweetened cocoa

3 eggs

1 cup sugar

1 tsp. Vanilla

1 cup regular flour

Dulce de Leche made from one 14oz. Can sweetened condensed milk* or about one cup, already prepared

Chocolate Ganache Icing**

*Dulce de Leche (Caramelized Sweetened Milk)

1 (14oz.) can Sweetened Condensed Milk

Preheat oven to 450°.

Pour can of sweetened condensed milk into clear glass baking dish. Cover tightly with foil. Place dish in larger pan or casserole dish, to make a 'bain marie' (water bath), and fill larger dish with hot water to come up about half way on the outside of the baking dish holding milk.

Place in oven for about one hour, or until milk caramelizes. You may have to add more water to outer pan.

When milk thickens and turns a nice caramel color, remove from oven and cool. Beat with fork or whisk until smooth. This is just beginning to caramelize and needs a little more oven time.

Get all your cake ingredients together.

For cake or brownies:

Preheat oven to 350°.

Line an 8 x 8 baking pan (for brownies), or 8 inch round baking pan (for cake) with heavy foil or parchment paper. Spray with butter flavored Pam. If making bite sized mini-muffins, line pan with muffin wrappers.

Melt butter over double boiler. Add chocolate pieces, and stir until melted and combined.

Remove from heat and stir in cocoa until smooth.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating with whisk.

Beat in sugar and vanilla, and finally flour, briskly whisking until well combined.

Pour half the batter into prepared pan.

Spoon half of Dulce de Leche onto batter in teaspoons, and gently swirl.

Pour in remaining batter, and follow by spooning and swirling remaining Dulce de Leche.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until just beginning to firm when touched in center. Do not overcook.

Remove from oven and cool.

**Chocolate Ganache Icing:

3 T butter

three-fourths cup dark chocolate pieces

2 T heavy whipping cream

Melt butter in small saucepan. Stir in chocolate pieces and stir until melted. Whisk in heavy whipping cream until smooth.

When cake is cool top evenly with chocolate ganache.

Refrigerate until icing is firm.

Remove brownies or cake from pan by gently pulling on foil or parchment. Remove paper and discard.

Place brownies on a cutting board, and cut into 9 squares, then cut each square into two triangles.

Or place cake on serving platter, and cut into small slices (it's very rich!)

Happy Birthday, Ed!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Prepare-Ahead Holiday Meal: Manicotti

2009 Chickie Award – And the Winner is….

The 2009 Chickie Award contest featuring top recipes for 2009 has selected its winner:

Manicotti with Red Sauce submitted by Annelle Williams of Annelle’s Table from Martinsville, VA.

Hosted by The Food Wine Chickie

Over the river and through the woods—it's time for family and friends and lots of company. Whether you're hosting a Thanksgiving get-together, or you're going to be the guest, here's a suggestion for easing the work load. You can prepare this dish now, freeze, and serve anytime. Our family holidays consist of more than one day, and certainly more than one big meal, and I'll bet yours do, too!

This Manicotti recipe has been part of our holiday menu for years. The 'noodles' are similar to crepes, and can be prepared much earlier and refrigerated or even frozen. I usually make them while my sauce is cooking. (Save the parchment paper squares that you stack between the crepes and reuse them.) The crepe 'noodles' are quick, easy, and give the dish a great flavor and texture.

Omit the Italian sausage from the sauce, and you have a delicious vegetarian main course. Give it a try: serve it yourself, or deliver it as a frozen hostess gift. I promise you'll be happy with the results!

Manicotti with Red Sauce


One-fourth cup extra virgin olive oil

One and one-half cups finely chopped onion

1 garlic clove, crushed

1 lb. Sweet Italian sausage

One-half cup red wine

6 cups diced tomatoes with juice

1 small can tomato paste

1 cup water

2 T chopped parsley

2 tsp. salt

1 T sugar

1 tsp. Dried oregano

1 tsp. Dried basil

One-fourth tsp. Pepper

One-fourth tsp. Red pepper flakes (optional)

2 heaping T basil pesto


6 eggs, room temp.

One and one-half cups all-purpose flour

One-fourth tsp. Salt

One-fourth tsp. Pepper

One-fourth tsp. Dried Thyme

One and one-half cups water


2 lb. Ricotta

1 lb. Mozzarella, diced

One-half cup shredded Parmesan Cheese

2 eggs

1 tsp. Salt

One-fourth tsp. Pepper

1 T chopped parsley

Pesto (optional)


1 cup shredded Parmesan Cheese


Add olive oil to large sauce pan over medium heat and saute onions and garlic 5 minutes. Add wine and reduce a little. Add sausage, and brown. Mix in rest of sauce ingredients. Bring to boil, and reduce heat. Simmer mixture, covered and stirring occasionally 1 hour. Add pesto, and check seasoning.

For Manicotti, in medium bowl, combine 6 eggs, flour, salt, pepper, thyme and water. Whisk just until smooth. Let stand half an hour or longer—even over night in frig. Slowly heat an 8 inch non-stick skillet. Pour in 3 T room temperature batter, rotating skillet quickly to spread batter evenly over bottom.

Cook over medium heat until top is dry and bottom is not brown. Turn out on a wire rack to cool.
Continue cooking until all batter is used. As the manicotti crepes cool, stack them with waxed paper or parchment between them. (You can make a day or two ahead and store in frig.)

For filling, combine ricotta, mozzarella, Parmesan cheese, the eggs, salt, pepper and parsley. Stir well to combine.

Remove sauce from heat and blend with immersion blender.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Spoon one and one-half cups sauce into each of two medium sized casserole dishes, or line one dish with foil to freeze, and prepare exactly the same. Sometimes, I make three small casseroles, two to share with the kids, and one for us. You'll have plenty of sauce!
If using pesto, spread a scant teaspoon of pesto on manicotti crepe before adding cheese mixture.

Spread about one-fourth cup filling down the center of each manicotti and roll up.

Place eight rolled manicotti seam side down in single layer. Top with five more. Cover with 1 cup sauce.

Sprinkle with shredded Parmesan Cheese.

Bake, uncovered half an hour, or until bubbly.

To freeze: line baking dish with large piece of heavy duty foil. Assemble as before. Fold foil over to seal and freeze in dish. When frozen, remove dish and replace foil wrapped casserole in freezer. To serve, unwrap, place in baking dish, and let stand for 1-2 hours to thaw. Bake, covered 1 hour, until cooked through and bubbling.

Buon Appetito!!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Creamy Potato, Leek and Bacon Soup with Parmesan Cheese Garnish

Julia Child has definitely been at the center of my cooking interest for the past couple of months. It's hard not to be drawn into the aura of Julia. The first recipe in her Mastering the Art of French Cooking is for Potage Parmentier, Potato and Leek Soup. It didn't sound terribly exciting. But then I accidently stumbled onto a food blog ( that focuses on guiding you through recipes with visual images. One of the currently featured recipes on this blog is her take on Julia's classic, and the photographs to lead you through the preparation. By the time I made it to the bottom of the pictorial, my mouth was watering for the soup. It didn't hurt that the weather had suddenly turned cold, and soup was my top choice for dinner. Plus, the ingredient list is quite short, and I don't think there could be an easier soup recipe.

So, here is my take on a combination of Julia's recipe, and The Hungry Mouse version, plus a few pictures to entice you.

Visit The Hungry Mouse, and have a look. I can't wait to try the cheesecake recipe!

And, by the way, this soup is truly delicious.

Creamy Potato, Leek and Bacon Soup with Parmesan Cheese Garnish

2 tsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

4 slices of thick bacon, cut in half longwise, and then diced

3 cups sliced leeks, one-fourth inch rings (white part of 2-3 leeks)

3 cups white potatoes that have been peeled and diced (last joint of ring finger size)

7 cups water

1 T sea salt

2 tsp. Dried minced Thyme, or 1 T fresh Thyme leaves, minced

One-fourth tsp. Pepper

3 T butter

One-half cup heavy cream

1 T Cognac for each bowl, optional

Chopped fresh parsley for garnish

Fresh Parmesan cheese, shredded, for garnish

Add the olive oil to your soup pot over medium heat. Then add the diced bacon, and cook, stirring occasionally, until well browned.

Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside on paper towels to drain.

Remove most of the bacon drippings from the pot and discard, leaving about a tablespoon in the pot.

Add the leeks, stirring to coat, and cook for several minutes.

Then add potatoes, stir to combine.

Add water, salt and thyme.

Bring pot to a boil, cover with lid slightly ajar, reduce heat and cook at a low simmer for 45 minutes.

Remove soup from heat, and with a stick blender, puree soup.

Return soup to low heat.

Add pepper, butter and cream to soup and stir until heated through.

Place about one tablespoon of cognac in the bottom of each soup bowl.

Ladle soup into bowl.

Garnish with crisp bacon, a little parsley, and shreds of Parmesan cheese.

Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Taste of Fall: Fried Pies

Fried Pies: a must-have fall treat! I've made them a little more 'doable' by cutting down on the prep time, and more all-purpose by expanding the usual sweet variety to include a few savory offerings. Fried pies are a Southern tradition, and even though I don't often indulge in fried foods, this is one extravagance I can't give up and a tradition I'm obligated to continue.

The new improved version is bite sized, paying homage to portion control. They can either begin your meal or end it with with a taste of nostalgia bumped up with an extra layer of flavor to surprise your taste buds. Make them the day before, and serve at room temperature, give them a quick heat up in the oven, or make it a party and get the assembly line rolling.

Savory Caprese Fried Pies with Fire Roasted Tomato Dipping Sauce

1 T extra virgin olive oil
One-half sweet onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 (15oz.) can fire-roasted, crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon sugar

One pie crust recipe for 2 crust pie, or 2 prepared, unbaked pie crusts
24 pieces fresh mozzarella, about 1'' by 2 ''
12 cherry tomatoes, halved (can substitute pieces of sun-dried tomato)
One-half cup basil pesto, divided
4 very thin slices prosciutto

1 qt. Peanut Oil

Add olive oil to medium sized skillet over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and saute until becoming transparent. Add tomatoes and sugar, stir to combine, reduce heat to low, and let slowly simmer while making pies. This will cook down to a thick dipping sauce.

Prepare filling 'stacks' before rolling crust. Top each piece of mozzarella with a half teaspoon of pesto, then a cherry tomato half, cut side down, and finally a bite sized piece of prosciutto.

Roll out half of pie crust very thinly on floured surface. Cut about twelve (approximately) 4 inch circles of dough. Place a prepared mozzarella stack on each circle. Wet the outer edge of the circle with a little water, fold over and seal with a fork or with your fingers. Place on a sheet pan and refrigerate while you prepare the remaining crust.

Add peanut oil to ten inch iron skillet over medium heat. Skillet should be about half full of oil. Heat oil to 365°. Fry 4-5 pies at a time for 3 minutes, or until they turn golden brown. Remove to a rack to cool.

Add 2 tablespoons pesto to reduced tomato sauce and stir to combine.

Serve savory pies warm, or room temperature with fire-roasted tomato dipping sauce.

Pie Crust Recipe and stacks of savory mozzarella-pesto-sundried tomato-prosciutto ready to meet the dough.

Pie Crust Recipe taken from Tutorial by Scott Peacock

2 sticks butter

One-fourth cup crisco

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 tsp. Salt

1 tsp. Sugar

8-12 T ice water

Place butter and crisco in freezer for ten minutes.

Whisk flour, salt and sugar to combine. Place flour on board, or counter.

Add cold butter and crisco. Roughly cut butter and crisco into flour with pastry scraper or large knife.

Working quickly, gather flour mixture into a long mound, and with your finger form a trough running down the center.

Pour one tablespoon ice water down center of trough. With upturned fingers, fluff flour with fingertips.

Repeat shaping, and continue adding one tablespoon at a time with remaining water.

Dough should begin to clump (add more ice water if needed).

Pull dough together with pastry scraper, and working quickly, smear egg sized pieces of dough with heel of hand, repeating until all dough has been 'smeared'.

Regather dough and repeat 'smearing'.

Gather dough, wrap in double thickness of saran wrap, flatten with palms of hands, and refrigerate for 2 hours or up to 24 hours.

On a lightly floured surface, roll chilled dough to about one-half inch thickness. With pastry brush, brush off excess flour. Fold dough into thirds, brushing excess flour off undersides.

Halve dough, lightly press with a rolling pin, wrap in saran wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or up to 24 hours.

On lightly floured surface, roll dough to one-eighth inch thickness, or to size needed.

They're chilled and ready to fry.

Don't crowd the pan (I love my iron skillets! This one was Mama Nell's.)

The end product: beautiful and delicious two-bite pies!