YIN-YANG CHILI

In spite of the wild weather in Southern California, Peter and René braved a drive down the 5. One of their daughters is a big Harry Potter fan. The purpose of the trip was to celebrate her birthday with a visit to Universal Studios and Harry Potter Land. It turned out to be a great visit. They helped with hanging pictures and moving heavy furniture. But the highlight was the gathering around the family table at Carol’s house. The star offering before dinner was what Carol called a cheese tart. There will be more about it in a later post, but it was beautiful and delicious with layers and layers of filo (and butter) filled with four different cheeses and then baked.

Dinner turned out to be a wonderful gathering with simple food and lots of laughter. Carol specifically wanted to keep it simple, so she made a salad and chili. She asked me to make something else because she planned to cook her chili without onions in deference to her and her allium-averse family. I could appease the onion lovers. She wound up making black bean chili with tender chunks of beef rather than the usual ground beef. So I decided to cook white chili with chicken and white beans. The result posed a dilemma for some of the folks around the table: they couldn’t choose between black and white; they wound up opting for both. I made some southern buttermilk cornbread, and Carol made a delicious lemonade birthday cake for the celebrant. It was an outstanding family gathering, and no one wanted to break it up, but Harry Potter beckoned early in the morning. It was a long drive across LA.

Here’s the recipe for White Chili. There are those in our family who cannot tolerate any spiciness, so this recipe uses only mild green chiles. But you can pep it up with hot green chiles or hot sauce. You can also put a bottle of hot sauce on the table so that each person can adjust according to his or her preference.yin-yang

RECIPEimg_0899

White Chili

Ingredients

  • 1 pound great northern beans
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 large boneless chicken breasts
  • 1 quart chicken stock
  • 1 large carrot cut into thirds
  • 1 stalk celery, cut into thirds
  • ½ large onion
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 7 ounce can chopped green chiles
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoons dried Mexican oregano
  • salt and pepper
  • Siracha, to taste (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons yellow cornmeal

Method

  1. The night before, place the beans in 2 quarts of water to which has been added the baking soda. Bring to the boil, boil for 2 minutes, cover, and remove from the heat. Let the beans soak overnight.
  2. In a large cooking pot, place the chicken breasts in the chicken stock along with the carrot, celery, and onion. Bring to the boil. Boil gently for 25 – 30 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. Remove the chicken to a plate. Cool and strain the cooking liquid, and set aside. Rinse and dry the pot.
  3. Heat the oil in the clean pot over medium-low heat. Add the onions, stir, and cover. Sweat for 5 minutes. Do not brown the onions. Add the green chiles and cook, uncovered for an additional 5 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook for another few minutes to remove the raw taste of the flour. Add the reserved cooking liquid along with the garlic powder and cumin. Crumble the oregano between your hands and add to the pot. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
  4. Drain the beans and stir into the soup. Return to the boil and boil slowly until the beans are tender.
  5. Cut the chicken into ½ inch cubes and add to the mixture. Adjust the seasoning again. Add the optional Siracha to taste.
  6. Stir in the cornmeal and simmer for another 5 minutes until the soup is thickened.
  7. Serve immediately. You may wish to add garnishes such as Fritos chips, chopped onion, chopped cilantro leaves, grated cheddar or Monterey jack cheese, and sour cream.

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EXPLORING FOOD IN SAN FRANCISCO

I’ve discovered that Californians like to identify significant landmarks with “The” tacked on to the front. This last week, we visited our children and their families in The Bay Area. To get there, we drove up The 405 (Interstate Highway 405) and then The 5 (Interstate Highway 5). We stopped at my son’s house in Silicon Valley (Why no “The”?) and then up The 101 to stay with my daughter in The Presidio. We didn’t visit The Mission or The Tenderloin, but you get the idea. Of course, in Texas, alums are adamant that you know that they were graduated from The University (of Texas at Austin, of course.)

A visit to San Francisco always means we will do a lot of eating, so we went prepared, and we were not disappointed. This post will describe some of the places where we ate. You will probably not have heard of most of them. San Francisco is filled with temples of fine dining that you already know about. They all get lots of publicity, so they don’t need any more. The places we visited on this trip are neighborhood spots in parts of the city away from tourist meccas like Fisherman’s Wharf, Union Square, or Golden Gate Park and Golden Gate Bridge. The food may not be as fancy as in the high-end restaurants, but it is every bit as delicious.

Of course, one of our stops was Rich Table in Hayes Valley. Sarah joined us at the dinner table while Evan worked as expediter at the pass. He used the opportunity to send us one of everything on the menu. Lucky – and stuffed – us. RT is known for its changing menu of cocktails. One thing they like to do is to put a twist on the old classics. The Southern Belle is a delicious variation on the whiskey sour, The Jefferson is a dressed up old fashioned, and the Paradisi is a refreshing spin on the margarita. Probably next week the choices will be completely different. One of the appetizers was described as fried chicken madeleines with Tsar Nicoulai caviar and crème fraiche. The madeleines were made with bits of crispy chicken skin and tasted of fried chicken. I have never before had a savory madeleine. Pork shank spring rolls looked like regular spring rolls, but the filling was seasoned so differently and so elegantly that they were unique. They were paired with black garlic dipping sauce. Black garlic can’t be compared with regular garlic; it has a rich and complex flavor. French onion dip was as far removed from the Lipton’s onion soup variety as you can get. Besides, it was topped with trout roe and wheatgrass and served on a crisp wafer of lavash. For just a bite, pomelo wedges were combined with sansho pepper and wrapped in thin ribbons of hearts of palm. Very tasty and very refreshing. Miyagi oysters in their zebra-stripe shells came from Marin, and were served with a toasted sunchoke mignonette. There was more and more, but I have to describe the desserts as well. We had three different ones. The big hit had just come on the menu. It was described as coconut cake with lime meringue and brown-butter ice cream, but it was so much more than that. There is an even newer dessert, but we didn’t get to taste it because Sarah was still working out the recipe. It’s called the Rich Table Candy bar. The components include chocolate cremeaux, pecan butter crunch, and sorrel. The pecans are caramelized and then toasted to give an ethereal crunch. Sarah sent me a picture.

The next day we checked out the space for Sarah and Evan’s new venture, RT Rotisserie. The future restaurant is in the next block, and they have completely renovated the interior. They hope that they will be up and running in a month or so. Renovations always take longer than you think.

While we were in the neighborhood, we decided to have lunch in a bakery and pastry shop just across the street from Rich Table. The place is called 20th Century Café; it is owned by a woman who has been the pastry chef in a number of high-end, high-pressure kitchens. She knows what she is doing. When you enter the front door, you immediately get the subtle joke. The place is retro from the antique sconces on the wall to the marble-topped tables and mismatched chairs. Most of the menu items are updated versions of old timey classics, and the pastries are like those that you remember from your childhood. They make their own bagels so you know that they are fresh while still being retro. The owner goes along with her own joke. Her red hair is done in bangs and she has bright red lipstick. She wears a frilly flowered dress with matching necklace, and her feet are shod in low high heels and bobby sox. We enjoyed the perfectly cooked baked eggs and “everything” bagels with salmon and a schmear of cream cheese. Three of us shared a slice of the impossibly 10-layered Russian honey cake. Honey was the predominant flavor, but it was not overpowering.

Another day we spent in Outer Richmond. We did just a quick pass down Balboa Street. Outer Richmond is one of the many San Francisco neighborhoods that are rich with small restaurants and a dizzying choice of cuisines. In a single block on Balboa one could choose pho, bánh mi (separate shops), two kinds of Italian, Thai, Chinese, American, Indian, Middle Eastern, French, and probably several others. For our first stop was at an eclectic café called Cassava that specializes in breakfast and in eggs. It also turned out to be a good choice for lunch. The fried egg and avocado sandwich was delicious, with a runny-yolk egg peeking out from the toasted bread. The Randwich! was a hunk of focaccia filled with turkey, cheddar cheese, pesto, and a poached egg – similar ingredients, but a totally different flavor profile. The baked burrata and summer squash was creamy but it reminded me a bit of queso fundido without the chorizo. It was delicious, and with a glass of wine to wash it down, it was outstanding. The evening menu sounds to be much more adventuresome, with braised beef cheeks, salmon, octopus, and fish collar.

Next we stopped by the Marla Bakery because we were out of bread and had enjoyed one of their loaves earlier in the week. The store front caught my eye because of the artistic display of an enormous selection of artisanal breads. Once inside, we bought a loaf of sprouted wheat and another of sourdough. It was not our intention to sit down. But hey, how can you pass up a slice of chocolate cake? We didn’t.

Before we headed home, we stopped back in Silicon Valley to say goodbye to my son and his family. Peter, Susan, and I had lunch at the Cuisinett. This little bistro on the main street of San Carlos gives a fond nod to France. Many of the decorative posters are in French, several of the wait staff speak French, an impressive wine list is French, and the menu is definitely French comfort food. I had the French steak sandwich with brie and excellent frites, Peter had the salmon Provençal special, and Susan chose a delicious soup.

Then it was home. It rained every day while we were in the Bay Area. Apparently it rained every day in LA. When we drove by the San Luis Reservoir on Pacheco Pass it was filled nearly to the brim – something I had never seen. The same was true at Pyramid Lake just before you head down the Grapevine into the LA Basin. I hope that neither reservoir will have the tragic problems they are experiencing at Oroville.img_0888

 

 

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BAKED WONTONS

The Sunday family dinner with Carol and her family has become a regular thing. Carol always comes up with interesting and delicious things to cook. In general, she has also tried to make things that are relatively simple so that she and the family can spend most of Sunday on the beach or at one or another family activity. Still, that puts the pressure on me to come up with something that is easy and tasty – with the added requirement that it is not a repeat of one of our earlier menus. This last week my assignment was appetizer and dessert. For dessert I made a mixed berry galette. I have included the recipe in an earlier post, but I had never made it for our family dinners, so its inclusion seemed legitimate. Berry galette bakes up beautifully and has the fresh, sweet taste of spring (even though it’s winter) I have made the recipe a number of times. My most important insight is that you should bake the galette on a parchment or Silpat lined jelly roll pan and NOT a cookie sheet. No matter how hard you try to seal the crust around the berries, some of the juice well leak out. If you have no sides to the baking pan, they will spill into the oven creating a lot of smoke and a huge cleanup project.

For the appetizer, I was looking for something simple and tasty. There is a recipe for deep-fried cheese-filled wonton wrappers in our family cookbook which served as the beginning idea. A search of the internet revealed a large number of versions of filled wontons, baked or fried, lots of fillings, often centered on crab. Since some of the family have an aversion to crab (How is that possible?), that was out. One of our diners has a great affinity for goat cheese. That was in. I picked shrimp, spinach, and mushrooms as other good stuffing ingredients.

These wontons are basted in olive oil and baked rather than deep-fried. I’m not sure if that cuts back on the calories, but it makes one feel more righteous. Our family recipe just calls for the wonton wrapper to be folded over the filling into a triangle. That seems dull. This version pulls the corners of the wonton wrapper into a little pyramid that bakes up with a golden crust. They look difficult to make. Actually, they are just as easy as the boring triangles

There was enough filling for 40 to 60 individual baked wontons. At the end of the evening there were none left. I call that success.

RECIPE

Baked Wontons

Shrimp filling

Ingredients

  • ½ cup crumbled goat cheese (may substitute softened cream cheese)
  • ½ pound small (51-60/pound) shrimp (sometimes called salad shrimp), cleaned, peeled and cooked
  • zest and juice of ½ lemon
  • ½ teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. Pulse the goat cheese in a food processor until smooth.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients and pulse only until combined, leaving shrimp bits to your liking.
  3. Set aside until ready to fill the wontons.

Mushroom and spinach filling

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 crimini mushrooms, chopped coarsely
  • 4 handfuls fresh baby spinach leaves
  • ½ cup goat cheese (may substitute softened cream cheese)
  • zest and juice of ½ lemon
  • 1 teaspoon Pernod
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. Heat the olive oil in a medium sauté pan over medium-low heat
  2. Add the mushrooms and sauté for a few minutes until the mushrooms are cooked through. Add the spinach and cook until the spinach is completely wilted.
  3. Pulse the mixture in the bowl of a food processor until the desired consistency.
  4. Add the goat cheese and pulse until well combined. Add Pernod and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
  5. Set aside until ready to fill the wontons

Baked wontons

Ingredients

  • 1 package of wonton wrappers (should have at least 60 wrappers)
  • fillings as above
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon water
  • olive oil

Method

  1. On a clean, dry surface, arrange wonton wrappers for filling.
  2. Place about 1½ teaspoons of filling in the center of each wrapper. Be careful not to overfill so that the wontons will stay sealed during baking.
  3. In a small bowl, beat the egg and water together until well combined. With your finger, trace the outer edge of a wonton with the wash. Then, pull up adjacent corners of the wonton and press together. Repeat with the other corners to form a four-sided “tent”. Make sure that the edges are all well sealed.
  4. Repeat with the remaining wontons. Repeat the entire process until you have used up all the filling or have gotten tired.
  5. Lightly oil a baking sheet with olive oil. Arrange the filled wontons so that they do not touch one another. With a pastry brush, lightly brush the tops of the wontons with more olive oil.
  6. Bake for 10-12 minutes in the middle of an oven pre-heated to 400°F.
  7. Cool on a rack. Serve while still warm or later reheat in a 300°F oven for no more than 5 minutes. Makes about 40-60 wontons.

 

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ZUCCHINI AND SPINACH UN-QUICHE

We are entering our third week of unpacking. We had thought that by now we would be able to have Carol and her family over for our alternating family Sunday dinner. Unfortunately that was not to be although our kitchen is in good enough order to do some cooking. This week I was scheduled to make the main dish and sides. Carol was scheduled to make appetizers and dessert. The modified modified plan was for me to cook in our kitchen and then take it to Carol’s house for the dinner.

Carol made some outstanding appetizers and a delicious bread pudding (I forgot to make the promised whiskey sauce, but not to worry – there was whipped cream and/or ice cream to substitute.) Carol calls the appetizers puff pastry pinwheels. She had two kinds: pesto and sun-dried tomato. She says that the family’s favorite is prosciutto. It would have to be great to beat the two that she baked. Her bread pudding was made from an extra Christmas panettone augmented with chocolate and raisins.

Puff pastry pinwheels

Puff pastry pinwheels

For the main dish I roasted a whole chicken along with Hasselbach potatoes.  The challenge was the green vegetable. This time of year you can always find broccoli, broccolini, and green beans, but for me they have worn out their welcome. I know that summer squash is out of season, but in Southern California everything seems to be in season all year long. Unfortunately zucchini often cooks up watery with not much color. I decided to combine it with another watery vegetable but with more color: spinach. And mushrooms. Cheese and mushrooms sounded like good additions, and suddenly you have the makings of a quiche. The crust was definitely too much effort and too filling for a side dish, but the stand-alone filling sounded good.

Here’s the whole menu – puff pastry pinwheels, roast chicken, Hasselbach potatoes,  zucchini-spinach un-quiche, and panettone bread pudding.

RECIPE

Zucchini and Spinach Un-Quiche

Ingredients

  • 3 medium zucchini
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 generous handfuls, more or less, fresh baby spinach
  • 5 crimini mushrooms, sliced
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons Pernod
  • 2 ounces Swiss cheese, coarsely grated
  • 3 eggs, well beaten
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • ¼ cup panko
  • ¼ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Method

  1. Wash the zucchini and cut off the stems. Grate with the coarse side of a box grater. In a clean towel or with clean hands, squeeze as much liquid as you can from the grated zucchini.
  2. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large sauté pan. Add the grated squash and sauté until the squash gives up its liquid. Then add the spinach and cook until the leaves are completely wilted and they have given up their liquid. Add the mushrooms and sauté for another 3-5 minutes. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper. Add Pernod
  3. Transfer the mixture to a strainer. Drain. Use a heavy spoon to press out as much moisture as you can. Place in a well-buttered 2 quart baking dish or soufflé bowl.  Top with grated Swiss cheese.
  4. Combine the well-beaten eggs and cream. Add a little bit more salt and pepper. Pour over the zucchini/spinach mixture and stir until well combined. Sprinkle the top with panko and grated Parmesan cheese. Dot with butter.
  5. Bake in the middle of an oven preheated to 350°F for 1 hour or until bubbling and well-browned. Remove from the oven, cool for 5 minutes, and serve while still warm.

Cook’s Notes

  • The casserole will deflate as it cools. It will not reinflate with reheating, but it will still taste good if it is rewarmed.
  • You can turn this into quiche by baking it in a blind-baked pie shell at the same temperature for the same time.
  • You can turn it into a soufflé by separating the eggs, combining yolks with the cream, and gently folding in the stiffly-beaten egg whites. Use the same time and temperature.

 

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EASY AS APPLE PIE

I have been away from the blogosphere for much of the month of January. Instead, Susan and I have been opening boxes after our move from Santa Fe to Southern California. In spite of downsizing, we are still trying to figure out how to cram the accumulations of over 50 years of marriage into our condo that is a lot smaller than the house we left.

For nearly three weeks, our focus has been on getting settled in, but we have made time to spend with our daughter and her family. Carol has suggested that we start a new tradition with family dinners, alternating between our homes every Sunday. Everyone gets a part of the meal to cook. This week, I was assigned dessert. Carol is a great dessert cook, and so is her mother. The pressure was on. It occurred to me that apple pie is a favorite for most, and it certainly fits in with family tradition.

I was right. Apple pie was a big hit, especially with the teenagers who went back for seconds. The recipe I used was my modification of a recipe published by Sam Sifton in the New York Times. His recipe was a modification of one by Kierin Baldwin, a well-known NYC pastry chef. The key to the pie’s success is cooking the filling before you put it in the pie. I added lemon juice and a good splash of Calvados. Cream instead of the usual egg wash gives the pie a nice sheen. I also increased the cornstarch so that the filling became custard-like. For that reason, it is extremely important to let the pie cool completely before you serve it. Also, use a glass pie pan if you can. Everything seems to bake more evenly. Confession: I used a commercial pie crust. If you’re a purist, make your own.

One other diversion we have been able to do when we can’t open another box is to go to the shore and watch the sunsets. This image is of Point Vicente and its lighthouse just as the sun is setting. Truly a beautiful spot.

Point Vicente at sunset

Point Vicente at sunset

RECIPE

Apple Pie

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 5 large Jonagold apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 8 wedges each
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • ¼ cup Calvados
  • 1 carton commercial ready-made pie crusts (2 discs)
  • cream
  • 1 tablespoon turbinado sugar

Method

  1. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the prepared apple slices and stir until they are well covered with butter.
  2. Combine the sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt. Sprinkle over the apples and stir until the apples are completely coated. Continue to sauté until the apples are softened and the coating begins to caramelize. Sprinkle in the flour and cornstarch. Stir and cook until the mixture is smooth, about 3-5 minutes.
  3. Stir in the lemon juice and Calvados. Transfer to a bowl and cool completely.
  4. When you are ready to assemble the pie, remove the pie crusts from the refrigerator. Line a glass pie plate with one of the crust circles. Fill with the apple mixture, mounding it slightly in the middle. Dot with bits of the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter.
  5. Paint the rim of the filled pie shell with cream. Top with the second crust circle and press the rim firmly to seal the crust. Turn the edge of the assembled crust under and crimp with a fork or your fingers. Paint the top crust of the pie with cream. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Cut 4 slits near the center of the pie. Lower-down slits will encourage the filling to bubble out during baking.
  6. Place the pie on a rimmed baking sheet that has been preheated in the middle of a 425°F oven. Bake for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375°F and continue to bake for an additional 30-40 minutes or until the pie is golden brown.
  7. Remove to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely, 2 hours or more.
  8. Serve with whipped cream, ice cream, or sharp Cheddar cheese.

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BLUE APRON WELCOME

After an experience that could only be described as “The Move from Hell’ we are settled into our condo in sunny Southern California – well, actually it has been rainy and overcast since we got here, and actually, much of our furniture and clothing has not yet arrived. Still, it is comfortable to be settled once again after six months of preparing our house for sale, decluttering  (but not enough), dickering with the buyers, removing a hot tub, worrying about an unexpected radon inspection, working through a harried packing day, and rushing through a hurried cross-country drive with a midway stay in Lordsburg, New Mexico.

To top that off, the alarm was ringing when we entered the front door of our new home. In our efforts to disarm the alarm, I unknowingly sent a medical alert to the local fire department. We wondered why the flashing red lights outside, and then in full firefighting regalia the rescue team knocked on our front door. Everyone agreed that there was no emergency, and the team went back to their station, only to reappear about fifteen minutes later. The alarm company insisted that the team had not done their duty, and we still had a medical emergency. We got the matter resolved, and the leader of the team said we should get the alarm company to disarm the system. My call to do so was unsuccessful as I did not know the password. Several calls later, and after the revelation that neither the current nor past owners of the condo were recognized as the responsible person for the service, the alarm company refused to do anything. Finally, with pathetic pleadings from me, a supervisor’s supervisor intervened without my ever knowing the password.

All of this would have finally done the trick in contributing to a mental decompensation from either or both my wife and me. Our daughter was at the rescue. She had arranged for gift cards to local restaurants, subscriptions to the LA Times, and – best of all – a trial of Blue Apron.

If you don’t know about Blue Apron, you should get acquainted. It is a nation-wide service that is computer-based and geared to the busy home cook. Our daughter has two teenagers, a full-time job, and lots of volunteer activities so it is perfect for her. Once a week the subscriber chooses from two to four or more menus for the week. You can choose 2 or 4 portions for each meal. The menu selection is large. Then, once a week Blue Apron delivers a box filled with the ingredients, illustrated instructions, and recipes for preparing the meals in 30 minutes or less. No fighting the crowds and long lines at the grocery store!

Our trial meal was salmon with orange & soy glaze, sautéed book choy and mushrooms, with rice. It turned out to be fun, easy, and delicious. And there were leftovers enough for lunch the next day. Our daughter has made us believers in Blue Apron. The service is more expensive than buying your own ingredients but cheaper than a restaurant, and you compensate with convenience and professional portion control and recipes.

I’m happy to be in Southern California. And I wish you a Happy New Year.

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OYSTERS ROCKEFELLER WITH BAKED EGGS

This year we decided to stay home for Thanksgiving and not cook. All of our children are spending time with the other grandparents, and we are pleased that they can all get together. Our friends are doing overnights at local but interesting places. We’re filling up boxes; cooking/cleaning up was the last thing that either of us wanted to do. Our neighborhood bistro had an offer that was tough to pass up: complete turkey dinner with clam chowder, salad, all the fixin’s, and five choices of pie all boxed up. That’s what we decided to do, but somehow Thanksgiving seemed to call out for a little bit more. (Isn’t that the nature of Thanksgiving?)

We always like oysters at the holidays, and oysters Rockefeller is one of our favorites. Then I thought how about baked eggs instead? (I had been reading Michel Roux’s beautiful little book, Eggs.) Then I thought, how about combining the two? So that’s what I did.

Oysters Rockefeller is a New Orleans classic that has become popular all over the country. The dish was invented in 1899 by Jules Alciatore, the son of the founder of Antoine’s, the famous French Quarter restaurant in New Orleans. The story his great-grandson tells is that Alciatore was looking for a luxurious dish, but one that would incorporate extra table garnishes like scallions, parsley, and celery. The most “luxurious” name he could think of was Rockefeller who was then the richest man in the world. Rockefeller was never really served oysters Rockefeller at Antoine’s. No matter. The name stuck.

To this day, the original recipe is a closely guarded family secret. The family swears that Antoine’s oysters Rockefeller contain not a single shred of spinach. That is an interesting assertion, because recipes for the dish are plentiful. Almost all include spinach. There are three separate versions in the legendary River Road Recipes of the Baton Rouge Junior League. Every one includes spinach.  So does mine. Obviously, I am not privy to the family secret.

There are a couple of cooking notes. First, it is important to cook the spinach sauce over as low a flame as possible. It is very easy to scorch it, and then it is ruined. Second, you can choose not to use the water bath with the baked eggs, but you then run the risk of having tough egg whites instead of the custard-like fusion of cream and egg white. The water bath is the same technique as you might use with panna cotta, flan, baked custard, etc. The contents of the cooking vessel are cooked more evenly than they would be when depending upon uneven air circulation in the oven.

Here is a twist on my version of oysters Rockefeller with the added fillip of baked eggs.

RECIPE

Oysters Rockefeller with Baked Eggs

Ingredients

  • 6 strips bacon
  • ¼ cup panko
  • butter, softened
  • 4 scallions
  • ½ cup Italian parsley leaves, stems removed
  • 1 rib celery, strings removed
  • 9 ounce package frozen spinach
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 6 ounce jar oysters, about 4-6 medium with liquor
  • water as needed
  • 2 teaspoons Pernod
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 dash or to taste Tabasco (optional)
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 4 tablespoons heavy cream
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • boiling water for the water bath

Method

  1. Sauté the bacon until it is browned and completely rendered. Cool and drain on paper towels, chop,  and set aside.
  2. In a small, dry skillet, lightly brown the panko, being careful not to burn. Set aside.
  3. Butter the insides of 4 ramekins and arrange in a baking pan with tall sides that has been lined on the bottom with waxed paper or parchment.
  4. Chop the scallions, parsley, and celery finely. Cook the spinach according to package instructions. Squeeze the cooked spinach with your hands to remove as much water as possible. Chop the spinach finely.
  5. Combine the scallions, parsley, celery, and spinach in a food processor. Pulse 6 to 10 times, enough to mince the vegetables but not so much as to purée them. The vegetables should retain some of their texture.
  6. In a small saucepan, melt the unsalted butter, add the flour, and cook over very low heat for about 5 minutes until the flour is cooked and the mixture forms a smooth paste. Stir in the liquor from the jar of oysters.
  7. Add the minced vegetables. You may need a little extra water to form a thick sauce. Add the Pernod. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Add optional Tabasco. Cook, covered, over the very lowest heat for 1 hour. Stir frequently. Do not let the mixture come to the boil.
  8. When you are ready to assemble,  arrange one oyster in each of the ramekins. Divide the spinach sauce equally among the four ramekins and spread gently to cover the oysters. Sprinkle with about 1 teaspoon of crumbled bacon, reserving enough to top the dish.
  9. One by one, break the eggs into a small dish. Slide an egg onto the top of each oyster and sauce. Repeat until all four ramekins have been assembled. Pour 1 tablespoon of cream over each egg, being careful not to cover the yolk. Sprinkle on the remaining bacon along with Parmesan and panko.
  10. Pour boiling water into the baking pan around the ramekins, being careful not to get water into the dishes. Place the pan with the ramekins in the middle of an oven that has been pre-heated to 325°F (165°C). Bake for 14 minutes or until the egg whites have set, but the yolks are still runny. Remove from the oven. The eggs will continue to cook after you have removed them from the oven. Serve immediately.

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