Saturday, August 17, 2013

Oysters Rockefeller, hold the oysters

As many of you know, my roots on my mother's side are Cajun, and Catholic. So Lent was always a big deal in our house, growing up. There was always fish or seafood on Fridays. I preferred the seafood; the fish we usually could afford either had many tiny bones or freezer burn.

My first trip to New Orleans was a real treat, and what I remember best was the Oysters Rockefeller. All the major food groups on a shell. I still love them today, and whenever I see fresh oysters inland, that's usually how I prepare them. If I'm on the coast, or the Northern Neck, I just open them and sip them up. (Note to my West Coast and Gulf Coast friends: If you ever get a chance to sample Rappahannock River oysters, don't pass them by. They are exceeding tasty and mild little treats.)

But if oysters are not available, this vegetable dish is the next best thing.

Spinach with Pernod

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped shallots
4 cups fresh spinach leaves, cleaned
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon Pernod

Heat the butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and stir for 30 seconds. Add the spinach and cover. Cook until wilted, two to three minutes. Add the salt, pepper and Pernod. Cook, uncovered, for 30 seconds. Remove from heat and serve. Makes 2 servings.

Want to get really fancy? Use only the tablespoon of olive oil in the recipe above, then in another small skillet, sauté about 1/4 cup of bread crumbs in a tablespoon of butter and sprinkle over the spinach before serving.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Asparagus - expensive to buy, but that's not all

Photograph © 2013,  Lori Korleski Richardson
Asparagus is a very tasty vegetable, easy to fix, forgiving if a little under or overdone - but at more than $3 a pound, it's considered a luxury item.

To keep it in top condition, you need to cut off the ends and stick it in water; if some of the spears look dehydrated in the store, pass on that bunch. Likewise, make sure that all the spears have their tips, and the tips aren't soggy and soon to rot.

When you prepare it correctly for cooking, it loses even more value. To make the most of what's been bought and give it the proper presentation, many chefs will trim all the ends so the spears are all the same length, and if they more ambitious, peel the bottom half. This makes the ends taste better and make the texture somewhat less stringy, but it's still not the optimum preparation.

Asparagus has a natural breaking point to each spear. Take each spear, and starting from the bottom, bend it until you find the point where it snaps without effort. Above that point, the spear is tender and doesn't need to be peeled at all; below, it is tough and woody. Cook only the top parts - steamed, microwaved, baked or grilled, but not past the point the vegetable is no longer bright green - and you will be assured of tender asparagus.

Save the ends in the freezer to add to vegetable broth or toss them in the compost.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Smoky egg breakfast taco

Photographs © 2013, Lori Korleski Richardson

One of the best things about camping is getting up and having a hearty breakfast. The charred wood from the campfire the night before gives an aroma that announces that yes, yes indeed, you are nowhere near civilization, and whets the appetite - along with the perking elixir of life, coffee, and the sizzle of bacon on the griddle.

Yet back at home, the aroma of charred wood brings more alarm than charm, and we're trying to cut down on our bacon consumption as well.

So what's left? In a couple of words: Smoked salt.

I picked up a jar of Falksalt smoked salt crystals on our sabbatical, and I've loved the delicate flavoring it has added to many things: insalata caprese, black beans, steak. And today's super-easy recipe:

Smoky Egg Breakfast Taco
Serves 1

1 teaspoon butter
1 egg
Smoked salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 slice provolone
1 corn tortilla
1 ripe plum tomato, seeded and sliced (or chopped, your choice)

Melt butter over medium low heat. Crack and add egg. Season with salt and pepper, then break yolk. When whites have set, loosen egg from pan, all around the edges, then flip. Cover with the cheese, then tortilla. Count to 10, then flip, so that the tortilla is on the bottom. Cook for an additional minute, then remove to plate, add the chopped tomato, fold and eat.

Falksalt Crystal Flakes Natural Sea Salt Smoke 4.4 Oz

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Best summer salad ever - insalata caprese

Photograph © 2013 Lori Korleski Richardson
One salad defines summer, and that's the Italian insalata caprese (salad in the style of Capri).

Simply, it's a ball of buffalo mozzarella, sliced thinly; fresh, very ripe tomatoes, also sliced thinly; fresh basil leaves, cut horizontally into tiny ribbons; salt, pepper, balsamic vinegar and olive oil to taste.

Some notes and variations that I have tried this summer and enjoyed:

  • Many cooks don't have the technique needed to thinly slice a whole ripe tomato, especially a large heirloom, and don't even think of slicing a tomato without sharpening your knife first. To make it easier on yourself, core the top stem area, cut the tomato in half, put the cut sides down, then slice. This makes cutting up the mozzarella easier, too.
  • Replace the salt with finely ground sel gris or other gray sea salt, or smoked salt crystals.
  • Buffalo mozzarella too dear? Skip the commercial varieties (too bland and bad texture) and try some goat cheese, provolone, or even a triple cream that's somewhat on the firm side (Cowgirl Creamery on the West Coast and Caromont on the East have good ones). 
  • A mixture of colored tomatoes are great for a party platter.
  • Don't like vinegar? Don't want the extra calories of olive oil? Allergic to pepper? Can't tolerate salt? Fine. As long as the tomato is fresh and ripe, it can stand on its own.

As my husband can tell you, I'm rather harsh in my judgment of tomatoes, grilling waitstaff on whether the tomatoes in the salad are ripe (I do this only in season; out of season, I don't bother ordering salads with tomatoes in them) and sending the salad back if they aren't. I know why a restaurant may have food-service tomatoes even in August and September, but I don't have to pay for their lack of awareness or bad business practices.